Encyclopedia: Zhong Hui

Zhong Hui (Shiji); Chung Hui (Shih-chi); 鍾會 (士季)

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Zhong Hui (Shiji) 鍾會 (士季)

Lived: AD 225–264

None Available

Served: Wei

Close adviser of Sima Zhao. Later plotted rebellion and was killed by mutinous troops.

Officer Details

Wade-Giles: Chung Hui (Shih-chi)
Simplified Chinese: 锺会 (士季)
Pronunciation: Zhong1 Hui4 (Shi4ji4)
Min-Nan: Ciong Hwee (Su-kui)

Family and Relationships

Zhong Yao (Father); Zhong Yu (Brother)

Literary Appearances

Romance of the Three Kingdoms: 107, 110, 112, 115120

Search Results

Zhong Hui and Deng Ai
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Zhong Hui and Deng Ai’s Numbers
Date: 09/04     Replies: 17
What Would Have Happened if Zhong Hui Took Shu?
Date: 07/04     Replies: 16

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Historic (Confirmed)

Zhong Hui was a son of Zhong Yao. Zhong Yao had been an important commander of Cao Cao’s, and was also a famous calligrapher. (1) Like his father, Zhong Yao, Zhong Hui was also a man of many talents. Even as a teenager, Zhong Hui became renowned for his intellect alongside Wang Bi. (2) The latter was to become a famous commentator on the Laozi. (Zhong Hui apparently wrote his own commentaries on the Laozi (3) as well).

During Zhong Hui’s lifetime, the power of the Wei Emperors began to wane. At first, Cao Shuang, the son of the Wei general Cao Zhen, held power at the Wei court. Zhong Hui began his official career at this time as an assistant in the palace library. He was soon promoted as a deputy secretary at the Central Secretariat (4). In AD 249, Sima Yi managed to overthrow Cao Shuang’s regime and kill Cao Shuang as well as a great number of his partisans. Sima Yi’s son, Sima Shi, followed in Sima Yi’s footsteps as the dominant minister of the Wei court.

In the year AD 255, the Wei generals Guanqiu Jian and Wen Qin revolted against Sima Shi’s rule from the city of Shouchun. This was the second occasion that officers from the city of Shouchun had revolted against the Sima family (the first insurrection had been carried out by Wang Ling and Linghu Yu in AD 251 against Sima Yi (5)). At the time of Guanqiu Jian’s rebellion, Sima Shi had recently had a tumor removed from his eye (6). His injury was grave, and many officers suggested that Sima Fu or some other underling resist the rebels in Sima Shi’s place. Zhong Hui, Fu Jia and Wang Su, however, urged Sima Shi to lead the campaign himself. Sima Shi was hesitant initially, but eventually decided that the affair was urgent and required his personal attention. Zhong Hui served as an adviser to Sima Shi afterward, but his exact role in this capacity is somewhat unclear. (7)

Guanqiu Jian’s mutiny was eventually crushed, but Sima Shi died shortly afterward. When Sima Zhao followed in Sima Shi’s footsteps as the dominant minister of the Wei court, Zhong Hui became Zhao’s intimate adviser as well. (8) Along with other intellectuals such as Pei Xiu and Wang Chen, he frequently participated in scholarly discussions with the Wei Emperor Cao Mao. He received several titles from the Emperor. (9)

In AD 257, a third rebellion at Shouchun broke out, this time engineered by the Wei general Zhuge Dan. Zhuge Dan gathered together tens of thousands of men and declared himself a vassal of Wu. (10) Sima Zhao marched out to confront him, but before the city of Shouchun was completely surrounded, several Wu generals managed to get inside it with their troops. (11)

Outside the city, however, the Wu general Zhu Yi was defeated several times by Wei forces. More significantly, all of Zhu Yi’s provisions were burned by the Wei general Hu Lie, who led a surprise attack on them. Despite these repeated setbacks, the Wu commander Sun Lin (Sun Chen?) demanded that Zhu Yi renew the campaign. When Zhu Yi refused to continue on the grounds that his supplies had been exhausted, Sun Lin executed him and retreated from Shouchun with the bulk of the Wu forces. (12) The result of Wu’s failure to relieve Shouchun from the outside was that A.) Several Wu officers were now trapped within the city of Shouchun with Zhuge Dan and his co-conspirators. B.) No further Wu reinforcements were forthcoming for Zhuge Dan.

Point A was significant. The Wu officers within the city of Shouchun had been sent by Wu to reinforce Zhuge Dan. They had no specific loyalty to Zhuge Dan himself. Among the Wu officers within the city of Shouchun (i.e. on Zhuge Dan’s side) were several members of the Quan family. Quan Yi (Quan Cong’s son) and Quan Jing (Quan Cong’s grandson), among others, had both joined the defenders. Previously, other members of the Quan clan had surrendered to Wei after a family quarrel. Zhong Hui suggested to Sima Zhao that he could use this fact to bring about the defection of Quan Yi and his relatives within the city. Utilizing a strategy suggested by Zhong Hui, Sima Zhao had a letter forged and sent it to the members of the Quan family within Shouchun. The letter suggested that the leadership in Wu was furious that Quan Yi had been unable to relieve Wei’s siege of Shouchun. The letter suggested also that the state of Wu planned to put all members of the Quan family to death for their failure. This letter was passed on to the defenders.

The Quan kinsmen believed the contents of the letter. They may have interpreted it in several ways. First, they might have suspected that several Quan kinsmen had previously defected to Wei in order to avoid calamity. However, they also might have concluded that, in light of the previous history of defection by the Quan clan to Wei, the government of Wu was suspicious of the Quan family’s loyalty. Regardless, the members of the Quan family that had gone to reinforce Zhuge Dan began to have their loyalty shaken due to Zhong Hui’s forged letter plan. Quan Yi at length led several thousand men out of one of Shouchun’s gates to surrender to Wei. (13) This was one of a myriad of defections that would occur and ultimately undermine Zhuge Dan’s prospects of success.

It is worth noting that a later portion of the Zizhi Tongjian narrative describes Zhong Hui as, personally, an expert at crafting forgeries (see note 36). Whether he actually personally forged the letter that brought about the defection of Quan Yi is not explicitly stated, admittedly, but it is a possibility (albeit one with no concrete evidence backing it up).

Zhuge Dan’s plight grew more and more desperate by the day. Eventually he was destroyed. It is likely that Zhong Hui suggested several of the winning strategies Sima Zhao employed to defeat Zhuge Dan. It is stated in Achilles Fang’s translation of the Zizhi Tongjian (which in turn is stated by Achilles Fang to have been derived from the SGZ) that “In Sima Zhao’s conquest of Shouchun, Zhong Hui contributed many plans.” (14) Certainly, bringing about the defection of Quan Yi alone was a sizable achievement. Zhong Hui became one of Sima Zhao’s most trusted advisers in the aftermath of the siege. He was even compared to Liu Bang’s (the founder of Han’s) chief strategist Zhang Liang.

At this point in his career, Zhong Hui enjoyed a great deal of prestige and influence. He is described as “riding a magnificent steed and wearing fine light clothing, his retinue being so numerous it looked like clouds.” (15) His SGZ biography notes, “Zhong Hui was promoted to be sili jiaoyu. Although his was a function outside the Court, there was no political measure of the time that he did not direct.” (16)

On one occasion, Zhong Hui went to visit Xi Kang, a famed writer of the time. During the visit, Xi Kang almost completely ignored him. Zhong Hui left on a sour note, bearing a grudge. (17) He later used his influence to convince Sima Zhao to have Xi Kang killed. (18)

In the west, Jiang Wei of Shu-Han had led repeated campaigns against Wei. Although these were not successful, they represented a major annoyance to Sima Zhao. In AD 262, Sima Zhao proposed a counter invasion of Shu-Han. The overwhelming majority of court officials thought that an assault on Shu-Han was too risky. Zhong Hui, however, concurred that this was an ideal time to attack Shu. (19) Sima Zhao and Zhong Hui together studied topography and drew up plans for the invasion. Zhong Hui was appointed as a Commander-in-Chief of the troops of Guanzhong in preparation for the attack. In spite of Deng Ai’s objections to the campaign, Sima Zhao pressed onward. (20)

In AD 263, the campaign against Shu-Han began. Deng Ai, Zhong Hui and Zhuge Xu each led several tens of thousands of troops. (21) Zhong Hui’s Sanguozhi biography states, “Zhong Hui ordered the yamen Xu Yi to precede him and repair the road. Zhong Hui, who was following Xu Yi, came to a bridge in which there was a hole. One foot of his horse went through it. Thereupon he [Zhong Hui] killed Xu Yi {for shoddy repair work}. Xu Yi was a son of Xu Chu, a man who had earned merit in the service of the ruling House. Even he was not excused. Hearing of this, the troops were all filled with trepidation.” (22) With discipline thus established in his army, Zhong Hui directed Li Fu with ten thousand men to besiege Wang Han at Luocheng. He dispatched Xun Kai to besiege Zhang Bin at Hancheng. When Zhong Hui came to the Yang’an pass, he reportedly sent a man to offer sacrifices to the tomb of Zhuge Liang, the famous deceased Shu-Han Prime Minister, as a show of respect. (23)

Yang’an pass was guarded by the Shu-Han generals Jiang Shu and Fu Qian. However, Jiang Shu decided to defect to Wei. Convincing Fu Qian that he was marching out to fight Wei in open battle, Jiang Shu instead lead his troops out to welcome the Wei armies. Fu Qian believed that Jiang Shu would delay the Wei forces for awhile: Because of this, Yang’an was unprepared. Zhong Hui’s general Hu Lie took advantage of this situation and easily overwhelmed Shu-Han’s defenses, seizing the Pass. (24) The detachment Zhong Hui dispatched to attack Luocheng had failed (25), but the victory he achieved at Yang’an allowed him to press on regardless. In essence, he was making rapid progress into Shu-Han territory. Through the seizure of Yang’an, Zhong Hui acquired vast quantities of grain and other supplies to replenish his army as well.

The Shu general Jiang Wei was meanwhile defeated by Wei officers at the Battle of Qiangshui. (26) Jiang Wei managed to extricate himself successfully, though, and intended thereafter to reinforce Yang’an Pass. The treachery of Jiang Shu had resulted in Yang’an Pass falling before Jiang Wei could arrive, however. This resulted in a circuitous chain of events. Zhuge Xu had been directed to contain Jiang Wei, preventing him from reinforcing Hanzhong or Jian’ge [Killigrew 103–104]. Jiang Wei, however, turned the tables on him. Rather than marching toward Jian’ge, Jiang Wei marched North. This movement thoroughly confused Zhuge Xu, who now was convinced that Jiang Wei actually intended to cut off Zhuge Xu’s rear and attack him from behind. As a result, Zhuge Xu retreated from the field. Jiang Wei, then, with incredibly speed moved toward Jian’ge. He was able to successfully reinforce it. [Killigrew 104] Jiang Wei united his forces with Liao Hua, Zhang Yi, Dong Jue and several other Shu-Han generals. With his remaining forces, Jiang Wei and co. staunchly defended the pass of Jian’ge. (27) Zhong Hui marched to attack Jiang Wei, joining forces with Zhuge Xu’s battalion nearby Jian’ge. Zhong Hui, however, felt dissatisfied at not being in complete control over Wei’s forces. He memorialized that Zhuge Xu was a coward who refused to advance against the enemy. The charge resulted in Zhuge Xu being recalled to the capital. At the same time, Zhong Hui took full command of Zhuge Xu’s troops. (28)

Zhong Hui now faced off against Jiang Wei. He wrote a letter to Jiang Wei, which read, “With your civil and military accomplishments, Your Lordship cherishes plans for rescuing the world; through your achievements you brought succor to Ba-Han (i.e. the Han dynasty in the Ba region) and your fame permeates our China. Far and near, there is no one that does not honor your name. I always recall that we once shared the Great Rule (i.e. Jiang Wei was once a subject of Wei). The relationship between Gongzi Cha of Wu and Gongsun Qiao of Zheng (AKA Zichan, whose ming is generally given as Qiao. The said relationship is in the Zuozhuan) may describe our friendship.” (29) Despite this overture of friendship, however, Jiang Wei did not waver: He set his troops up to guard narrow defiles and offer resistance. Zhong Hui attacked Jiang Wei’s forces, but was successfully repelled. Due to the difficulty of transporting supplies through the harsh terrain of Shu-Han, Zhong Hui seriously contemplated retreat. (30) He had been successfully resisted.

The campaign to conquer Shu-Han might have ended there had another Wei general, Deng Ai, not embarked upon a daring plan. Deng Ai opted to march through uninhabited terrain and treacherous mountains to launch a surprise attack on Shu-Han, bypassing Jiang Wei’s army and aiming directly for the Shu-Han capital of Chengdu (Killigrew 105). Although supplies ran low and Deng Ai’s army suffered many hardships, his plan was a success. (31) After defeating one last major attempt at resistance offered by the Shu-Han general Zhuge Zhan (32), Deng Ai’s forces approached Chengdu. After some debate at the Shu-Han court, Liu Shan opted to surrender.

When he surrendered, Liu Shan also gave orders to the Shu generals to lay down their arms. Zhong Hui forbade his men from plundering and accepted the surrender of numerous Shu-Han officials and military staff during this time. (33) Jiang Wei, reluctantly, also surrendered to him. When Jiang Wei and Zhong Hui first met, Zhong Hui said, “You are slow in coming.” Shedding tears, Jiang Wei replied, “Even my seeing you today is too early.” Zhong Hui admired Jiang Wei and became friendly with him. (34) On one occasion, Jiang Wei said to Zhong Hui, “I have heard that since the rebellion of Huainan (namely Zhuge Dan’s revolt), you have never committed a single mistake in strategy and that the prosperity of the House of Jin is all due to your service. Now that you have also conquered Shu, your prowess and virtue shake the world; the people respect you for your achievements and your master is afraid of your plans. What are you going to do with yourself? Han Xin did not revolt to the Han when conditions were unsettled and so his loyalty was doubted after he had conquered the Empire. The Great Officer Zhong did not follow Fan Li to the Five Lakes and so he stabbed himself to death. Is it that their sovereigns were unenlightened and they, who were subjects, foolish? It was all because of a difference in interests. Now, you have made great achievements and your great virtue has become well known. Why do you imitate Gao Zhugong (Fan Li) in floating a boat and effacing yourself in order that you may keep your achievements unsullied and protect your person, and finally climb the O’mei mountain and roam in the company of Chisongzi?” (35)

When Zhong Hui declined any intention of rebellion, Jiang Wei simply stated, “You have shown wisdom and power in many things. I, an old man, shall leave it to your own discretion.” (36) This apparently pleased Zhong Hui’s ego greatly. He had acquired control of Zhuge Xu’s forces and now commanded a great multitude of soldiers. As Jiang Wei predicted, Zhong Hui plotted rebellion. Zhong Hui was apparently a skillful imitator of other people’s calligraphy. While at Jian’ge, he intercepted Deng Ai’s messages, edited them to sound overly arrogant and sent them back to Sima Zhao. Moreover, he also forged Sima Zhao’s responses back to Deng Ai. His goal was to alienate Deng Ai and also to implicate him of planning rebellion. (37) Through these means, Zhong Hui could usurp control over Deng Ai’s men in a similar way as he had gained control of Zhuge Xu’s forces.

In AD 264, an order came from Sima Zhao for Deng Ai’s arrest. Zhong Hui sent Wei Guan with a small contingent of troops to carry this out. He hoped that Deng Ai, seeing Wei Guan’s meager force, would kill Wei Guan and thus further implicate himself of treason. (38) Wei Guan, however, was able to arrest Deng Ai and his son without any resistance. Moreover, Wei Guan assuaged Deng Ai’s soldiers with the promise that he would put in a good word for their commander. The arrest of Deng Ai, although it did not go exactly as planned, enabled Zhong Hui to acquire full control of all the troops stationed in the region. Feeling secure in his position, he initiated his insurrection. (39)

Zhong Hui, however, received a surprise when Sima Zhao sent him a message that read, “I am afraid that Deng Ai might not obey the order to return. Now I am sending the zhonghu jun Jia Chong with ten thousand infantry-men and cavalrymen to enter Yegu and station himself at Luocheng. I myself shall lead one hundred thousand men and station myself at Chang’an. We shall meet soon.” (40) Zhong Hui’s plans for revolt had hinged on a preemptive strike, but now it seemed as if Sima Zhao had prepared himself for such an eventuality. Sima Zhao’s grasp of the situation in Yizhou had been muddled by Zhong Hui’s tampering with documents, but he had also received several warnings about Zhong Hui from Shao Ti, Jia Chong (41) and even his own wife, Lady Wang (42). In light of this change of circumstances, Zhong Hui hastened his plans for rebellion. He summoned several officials of Wei as well as former officers of Shu-Han to an assembly mourning the death of the Empress Dowager of Wei. At this assembly, he produced a false posthumous edict from the Empress Dowager. The edict commanded Zhong Hui to take up arms against Sima Zhao. (43)

The seemingly inevitable showdown between Sima Zhao and Zhong Hui ended anti-climatically. Zhong Hui’s rebellion failed, even before it got off the ground, because Zhong Hui overestimated the loyalty of his subordinates. A rumor spread that Zhong Hui intended to massacre a large number of Wei officers. (44) The rumor, in turn, incited a mutiny. Jiang Wei said to Zhong Hui, “There is nothing else to do but strike at them {i.e. the mutineers}.” Jiang Wei fought to his death, killing five or six enemies himself before being slaughtered. After the rebels killed Jiang Wei, they killed Zhong Hui as well. (45) Zhong Hui was only 39 years old at the time of his death. (46)


As will be seen below, the vast majority of this was taken from Achilles Fang’s translation of several chapters from Sima Guang’s Zizhi Tongjian. Achilles Fang’s translation is called Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms. The notes in Achilles Fang’s book also include significant textual translations from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi and other historic sources. I used a bit of supplemental material for areas where the Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms mentioned little or appeared vague. These are listed in the works cited.

1: The A to Z of Medieval China on page 683 states, “He [Zhong Yao] was in charge of Guanzhong forces under Cao Cao, and appointed taiwei under Cao Pi and taifu (grand mentor) under Cao Rui. A calligraphic master of especially the kai (regular script) and li (official script) styles, he is mentioned with calligrapher Wang Xizhi as ‘Zhong-Wang.’” The source mentioned for Zhong Yao’s entry here is SGZ 13. Under Zhong Hui’s mini-bio on page 682, The A to Z of Medieval China states that Zhong Hui was the son of [Zhong] Yao.

2: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, AD 249, Note 19.3: “While still in their teens, Zhong Hui and Wang Bi of Shangyang both became renowned. Wang Bi was skilled in discussing Confucianism and Daoism; he was eloquent and keen. He wrote commentaries in the Changes and the Laozi. He became shangshulang and died in his twenties.” Also A to Z of Medieval China on page 522 states: He [Wang Bi] is best known for his commentary to the Laozi.

3: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s Biography on Zhong Hui

4: ibid.

5: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 251, Points 5–11

6: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 255, Point 5

7: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 255, Point 30. It is stated here: “Zhong Hui had been in the suite of Sima Shi, taking charge of confidential matters.”

8: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 255, Note # 30. Achilles Fang’s Note here translates part of Zhong Hui’s Sanguozhi Biography. “After Sima Jingwang {i.e. Sima Shi} died at Xuchang, Sima Wenwang {i.e. Sima Zhao} took command of the Six Armies; Zhong Hui became his intimate advisor.”

9: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 256, Point 5

10: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 257, Point 6

11: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 257, Point 10 Achilles Fang notes that this passage comes from the Sanguozhi.

12: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 257, Point 13

13: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 257, Point 16

14: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 258, Point 10

15: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 262, Point 12

16: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 262, Note 15.2 The context of this quote relates more specifically to Zhong Hui’s suggestion to Sima Zhao that Xi Kang (as well as Xi Kang’s friend Lü An) be executed.

17: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year 262, Point 12

18: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year 262, Point 15

19: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year 262, Point 18

20: Same section as (47).

21: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year 263, Point 3

22: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Note 7.3

23: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 8

24: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 9

25: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Note 9

26: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 10

27: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 11

28: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 17

29: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Note 18 Achilles Fang notes that this passage (i.e. the letter) appears in Jiang Wei’s Sanguozhi Biography.

30: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 18, Note 18.1 & Note 18.3

31: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 19

32: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Points 20–23

33: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Note 31.5

34: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Note 32.3.

35: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 44

36: Same as (48)

37: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 263, Point 46 and Note 45

38: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 264, Point 7

39: Chronicles of the three Kingdoms, Year AD 264, Point 8

40: Same as (49)

41: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 264, Point 6 It is mainly Shao Ti that is mentioned here. Jia Chong is only briefly mentioned as having said, “Do you somewhat doubt Zhong Hui?” To this, Sima Zhao replied, “Now that I am also sending you, should I doubt you too?”

42: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 264, Point 5 Wang Yuanji said to Sima Zhao, “Zhong Hui will cease to be loyal when he comes across profit. He is also enterprising and ambitious. If you show him too much favor, he will be certain to arise in rebellion. He should not be given too much trust.”

43: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 264, Point 9

44: Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Year AD 264, Point 13

45: Same as (50)

46: He is stated as being 40 years old at the time of death, but it must be noted that the old Chinese way of reckoning age is different from Western conventions. To clarify this point, Zhong Hui lived from the years AD 225–264.

Works cited:

Xiong, Victor c. The A to Z of Medieval China. N.p.: Scarecrow, 2010. Print.

Sima Guang. Zizhi Tongjian. Trans. Achilles Fang. N.p.: Harvard University Press, 1952. Print.

Chan, Alan K. “Zhong Hui (Biography).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. National University of Singapore, 16 June 2007. Web. 11 Aug. 2012.

Killigrew, John W. “A Case Study of Chinese Civil Warfare: The Cao‐Wei Conquest of Shu‐Han in AD 263.” Civil Wars 4.4 (2001): 95–114. Print.



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February 17, 2023