Biography (SGZ): Zhang Fei (Yide)

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Zhang Fei (Yide)
張飛 (益德)
(AD 167-221)

San Guo Zhi Officer Biography
Translator Notes in Green
Translated by Jack Yuan

Sanguozhi Scroll 36 Shu 6
<— Guan Yu | Zhang Fei | Ma Chao —>

Zhang Fei had the style Yide and was from Zhuojun. In his youth he served the Former Lord with Guan Yu. Guan Yu was a few years his senior and Zhang Fei treated him as an elder brother. The Former Lord followed Duke Cao and defeated Lü Bu, returning with the former to Xu. Duke Cao assigned Zhang Fei as a General of the Gentlemen of the Household. The Former Lord turned against Duke Cao and went over to Yuan Shao and then Liu Biao. Liu Biao died and Duke Cao entered Jingzhou. The Former Lord fled to Jiangnan. Duke Cao pursued and in one day and one night, caught up to him at Changban, Dangyang. The Former heard that Duke Cao’s great army was upon him, abandoned his family and sent Zhang Fei to cover the rear with twenty horsemen. Zhang Fei defended the riverbank and broke the bridge. He aligned his lance, his eyes bulging, and said: “This is Zhang Yide, come and duel to the death!” None of the enemy dared approach and disaster was thus averted. After the Former Lord secured Jiangnan, Zhang Fei was made Grand Administrator of Yidu and General who Campaigns against the Caitiffs, and enfeoffed as Marquis of Xinting. He was later transferred to Nanjun. The Former Lord entered Yizhou and turned to besiege Liu Zhang. Zhang Fei and Zhuge Liang followed the Jiang upstream and secured the various commanderies and prefectures. Reaching Jiangzhou, Liu Zhang’s general Yan Yan, Grand Administrator of Bajun, was defeated and captured alive. Zhang Fei upbraided Yan Yan, saying: “The great army has arrived, how dare you resist in battle and not surrender?” Yan Yan replied: “You people are outrageous and have invaded my province. Well, my province has only beheaded generals, not surrendered generals!” Zhang Fei was furious and ordered his subordinates take Yan Yan down to execution. Yan Yan’s expression did not change, he said: “Behead me if you will, but why throw a tantrum?” Then Zhang Fei saw that he was a true man and loosened his bonds, treating him as a guest. Zhang Fei was victorious wherever he went and he reunited with the Former Lord at Chengdu. After Yizhou was pacified, Zhuge Liang, Fa Zheng, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu were all rewarded, each with five hundred pounds of gold, a thousand pounds of silver, five thousand cash and a thousand sheep. The others were all rewarded accordingly. Zhang Fei was made Grand Administrator of Baxi.

Duke Cao defeated Zhang Lu, and left Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He to defend the Han valley. Zhang He led several battalions separately down to Baxi, intending to evacuate the locals to Hanzhong. He advanced to Dangqu, Mengtou, Dangshi and opposed Zhang Fei for some fifty days. Zhang Fei directed more than 10,000 elite soldiers through an alternate route to intercept Zhang He. In the narrow and treacherous mountain paths, without any chance of aid from either van or rear, Zhang Fei subsequently defeated Zhang He. Zhang He abandoned Mount Mayuan and retreated with little more than ten men through a minor path, leading the troops back to Nanzheng. The land of Ba was thus able to gain peace. The Former Lord became King of Hanzhong and assigned Zhang Fei General of the Right, with insignia bestowed. In the year of Zhangwu [221], he was promoted to become General of Chariots and Cavalry, with the role of Colonel Director of Retainers and further enfeoffed as Marquis of Xixiang. The edict decreed: “We are the heir of the Son of Heaven and inherited the great cause to eliminate turmoil and pacify disorder; this aspiration has not yet been fulfilled. At present bandits are causing disruption and the commoners suffer hardships. To think that the people of Han are watching Us intently like herons with their necks outstretched! For this We are distressed and cannot find peace sitting or sleeping, even food has no taste. We will exhort the troops and vow to administer the penalty of Heaven. Because you are loyal and resolute, comparable to Zhao Hu, and renowned near and far, you are purposefully authorised advance to the noble status and to direct the area of the capital. We hope that you will uphold the prestige of Heaven, propagate the virtues and bring the rebels to justice, as according to Our wishes. Is it not said in the Book of Songs: ‘Do not disturb the commoners, let the kingdom [of Zhou] be your standard. Swiftly establish meritorious service on the battlefield and you will be rewarded’? How can you not exert yourself?”

Initially, Zhang Fei’s courage and ferocity exceeded that of Guan Yu. The Wei advisor Cheng Yu amongst others praised Guan Yu and Zhange Fei as ‘equal matches of ten thousand men’. Guan Yu treated his soldiers very well but had no respect for his superiors. Zhang Fei respected his lords but had no sympathy for his subordinates. The Former Lord frequently exhorted: “You execute men in excess. Again you have used your whip, yet you leave the punished at your side. This is the path to disaster.” Zhang Fei did not repent. On the Former Lord’s expedition against Wu, Zhang Fei led ten thousand men at Langzhong to rendezvous at Jiangzhou. Before departure, the commanders under his own tent, Zhang Da and Fan Qiang, killed him and taking his head, fled downstream to Sun Quan. The Chief Controller of Zhang Fei’s camp reported it to the Former Lord in a memorial and when the Former Lord heard it, he said: “Alas! Zhang Fei is dead.” Zhang Fei received the posthumous appellation of ‘Marquis Huan’. His first son Zhang Bao, died early. His second son Zhang Shao succeeded, became Palace Attendant and then Supervisor of the Masters of Writing. Zhang Bao’s son Zhang Zun was Master of Writing and accompanied Zhuge Zhan at Mianzhu, battled Deng Ai and died.

Appraisal: It was said that Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were the match of ten thousand men and tiger generals of their times. Guan Yu repaid Duke Cao and Zhang Fei treated Yan Yan with rectitude; both had the airs of statesmen. However, Guan Yu was headstrong and Zhang Fei crude and heartless. It is the standard moral that they fell due to these weaknesses. Ma Chao relied on the Rong and was conceited in his valiance. For this his entire clan was exterminated, what a ignominy! But to gain peace in such a predicament, is this not some recompense? Huang Zhong and Zhao Yun were firm, courageous and both were of immense service. They were probably the like of Guan Ying and the Lord of Teng [Xiahou Ying].

Copyright © 2002 Jack Yuan
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi
All Rights Reserved