Encyclopedia: He Zeng

He Zeng (Yingkao); Ho Tsêng (Ying-k‘-ao); 何曾 (穎考)

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You are viewing the profile of He Zeng (何曾), styled Yingkao (穎考), born in Yangxia County, Cheng State. “Son of He Kui. Advised Sima Zhao to make his eldest son Sima Yan his heir.” He Zeng was affiliated with the Wei Kingdom and the Jin Dynasty. Return to the Three Kingdoms Encyclopedia to learn more or explore our Encyclopedia Directory to browse by kingdom or category.


He Zeng (Yingkao) 何曾 (穎考)

Lived: AD 199–278

None Available

Served: Wei, Jin

Son of He Kui. Advised Sima Zhao to make his eldest son Sima Yan his heir.

Officer Details

Wade-Giles: Ho Tsêng (Ying-k‘-ao)
Simplified Chinese: 何曾 (颖考)
Pronunciation: He2 Ceng2 (Ying3kao3)
Cantonese (Yale): Ho Jang (Wing-haau)
Cantonese (Jyutpin): Ho Zang (Wing-haau)

Birthplace: Yangxia County, Cheng State

Other Names: He Ceng

Name Notes: Occasionally turns up as He Ceng.

Rank and Titles

Cavalier Gentleman Attendant, General of the Gentlemen of the Agriculture Colonies, Gentleman at the Yellow Gates, Cavalier Regular Attendant, Grand Administrator of Henei, Palace Attendant, Colonel Director of Retainers, Master of Writing, General Who Guards the North, Marshal of Hebei, General Who Conquers the North, Minister Over the Masses, Chancellor, Grand Commandant, Grand Guardian, Minister Over the Masses (AD 264–265), Grand Tutor, Grand Governor, Marquis of Yangwu, Marquis of Yingchang, Marquis of Langling, Duke of Langling

Family and Relationships

He Kui (Father)

Literary Appearances

Romance of the Three Kingdoms: 119

Sanguozhi: Wei 12


Internet Researched

He Zeng was born in Yangxia, Chen State. He served under Cao Wei and the Western Jin dynasties. His father, He Kui, once held the prestigious rank of Minister Coachman [taipu 太僕] and his great grandfather He Xia was once General of the Chariots and Cavalry [車騎將軍 juji jiangjun]. He was very studious and worked hard to achieve fame. His reputation was equal to that of Yuan Kan. Under the Jin dynasty, he held the ranks of Grand Guardian [taibao 太保], Grand Tutor[taifu 太傅], and Grand Governor [taizai 太宰].

He Zeng’s father died when he was young, and he inherited his father’s title as Marquis of Yangwu. At that time, future-emperor Cao Rui was still Marquis of Pingyuan, and He Zeng was appointed to help him with his literary studies. After Cao Rui became emperor, He Zeng held positions as Cavalier Gentleman Attendant [sanji shilang 散騎侍郎], General of the Gentlemen of the of Agriculture Colonies [diannong zhonglang jiang 典農中郎將] of Ji county, Gentleman at the Yellow Gates [huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎], and Cavalier Regular Attendant [sanji changshi 散騎常侍]. He was later made Grand Administrator [taishou 太守] of Henei, where he was greatly praised. After this, he was appointed to be a Palace Attendant [shizhong 侍中].

When Cao Fang took the throne after Cao Rui’s death, he served as a figurehead for the orders of Cao Shuang and the great minister Sima Yi. In 248, Sima Yi retired from court life and would no longer meet with Cao Shuang. He Zeng retired at the same time, claiming to be ill. In 249, Sima Yi returned and took control of Luoyang, forcing Cao Shuang to relinquish his authority. Cao Shuang was executed on charges of conspiracy shortly thereafter. After this maneuver, He Zeng once again took office in the government. He served as Colonel Director of Retainers [sili xiaowei 司隸校尉] from 249–254. During that time, the local official Yin Mo relied upon the favor of powerful patrons to shield him as he gathered wealth illegally. The local officials were afraid to prosecute him, but He Zeng was not. He indicted Yin Mo for his illegal activities, winning much praise from the imperial court. In 253, Sima Shi and the Empress Dowager Guo deposed Emperor Cao Fang on the grounds of his sexual debauchery. He Zeng was a participant in these maneuvers.

After his time as Colonel Director of Retainers, He Zeng became a Master of Writing [shangshu 尚書] in the Imperial Secretariat. During the Zhengyuan reign period (254–256) he was given the title General Who Guards the North [zhenbei jiangjun 鎮北將軍]. He was given jie authority and was made Marshal [dudu 都督] of Hebei. When He Zeng left the capital to assume his authority, Sima Zhao ordered that his sons Sima Yan and Sima You personally see him off. He was later promoted to General Who Conquers the North [zhengbei jiangjun 征北將軍] and made Marquis of Yingchang County.

He Zeng was made Minister Over the Masses [situ 司徒] in 264 and promoted to Marquis of Langling. After he became King of Jin Jin in 265, Sima Yan made He Zeng Chancellor [chengxiang 丞相] as well as a Palace Attendant [shizhong 侍中]. Shortly after this promotion, He Zeng, along with Pei Xiu, Wang Shen, and others, advised Sima Yan to take the imperial title. Later that year, Sima Yan received the abdication of Cao Huan and took the throne as emperor. He changed He Zeng’s rank to that of Grand Commandant [taiwei 太尉], making him Duke of Langling county with the tax revenue of 1,800 households.

In 267, He Zeng took the position of Grand Guardian [taibao 太保], though he retained his position as a Palace Attendant [shizhong 侍中]. In 273, He Zeng was again made Minister Over the Masses [situ 司徒], the position he held in 264. In 276, He Zeng was further honored with the title of Grand Tutor [taifu 太傅]. Throughout 278, He Zeng requested permission to retire many times due to his age. Instead of permitting this, Sima Yan gave him the title of Grand Governor [taizai 太宰] and greatly honored him, allowing him to wear his sword and shoes when he attended court. He Zeng was also allowed to ride in the Imperial carriage. He was further honored with gifts of money and silk. When summoned to court, He Zeng was permitted to wear ordinary clothing and eat regular food, and his two children were always invited to accompany and support their aged father.

He Zeng passed away in 279 at the age of 80. Emperor Sima Yan personally mourned for him and presented money and silk to his family, as well as a coffin and burial clothing. After He Zeng’s death, there was some debate over what his posthumous name should be. The Academic [boshi 博士] Pei Xiu suggested naming him Duke Choumiao, but Sima Yan ultimately decided to name him Duke Xiao, Meaning Filial. However, around the year 289, He Zeng’s son changed his father’s posthumous name to Duke Yuan.

He Zeng conflicted frequently with Ruan Ji, one of the so-called “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove”. He fiercely attacked Ruan Ji for rudeness he displayed in mourning, during which time he ate meat and drank wine, which was considered extremely vulgar when in mourning. He Zeng got into a direct confrontation with Ruan Ji in the presence of Sima Zhao. Sima Zhao did not wish to punish Ruan Ji due to his reputation, and he wanted He Zeng to get along well with him. However, He Zeng presented examples of Ruan Ji’s impropriety and debauchery, presenting his arguments with great sincerity and eloquence. This gained him the respect of many and the fear of dissolute officials.

He Zeng was never musically inclined, nor was he fond of pornography or eroticism. In his old age, he would always wear clothing when with his wife and he treated her very formally and respectfully. On the other hand, He Zeng had extravagant tastes. His bedclothes, chariot, horse, and clothing were always very beautiful. The food with which He Zeng supplied himself was known to be of extraordinary quality, surpassing even that which the emperor ate. It is even said that when Sima Yan was in court, he would not eat the meals prepared for him and would instead ask He Zeng for his food. Because of the great respect the ministers held for He Zeng, they did not criticize him for his luxurious lifestyle.

However, He Zeng also had a jealous streak in his personality, though he kept it well hidden. At one time, a court official named Liu Xiang presented a memorial to Sima Yan criticising He Zeng’s extravagant behavior. Sima Yan disregarded the memorial because of the great respect he held for He Zeng. After this, He Zeng offered Liu Xiang a position on his staff. Some advised Liu Xiang not to accept the position, but Liu Xiang counted on He Zeng’s good reputation and believed that he would not hold a grudge, so he accepted the job. However, He Zeng harshly punished Liu Xiang for trivial mistakes, even going so far as to beat him with a cane on at least one occasion.

He Zeng has also attracted criticism for being a member of Jia Chong’s political clique, attaching himself to Jia Chong’s rising star in spite of the vast difference in their ages.



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April 10, 2023