Biography (SGZ): Zhang Zhao (Zibu)

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Zhang Zhao (Zibu)
張昭 (子布)
(AD 155-236)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
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Zhang Zhao, styled Zibu, was a native of Pengcheng. From his youth he was dedicated to learning, and was excellent at the li style calligraphy. He studied The Spring and Autumn Annals According to Zuo under Baihou Zi’an, and, being well-versed in all areas of literature, he became friends with Zhao Yu from Langya and Wang Lang of Donghai, and together they became well-known. While he was still newly capped [i.e., around 20 years of age], he was nominated as a Filial and Incorrupt, but declined the position.

At that time, he, along with Wang Lang, was involved in the debate regarding the ceremonial avoidance of the personal names of deceased emperors, and his arguments were highly praised by the intelligentsia of the area, including Chen Lin. Then, the Inspector of the area, Tao Qian, recommended Zhang Zhao to be an official Scholar, but again Zhang Zhao turned down the recommendation. Taking it to be disrespect toward himself, Tao Qian ordered him imprisoned; it was only through great efforts on Zhao Yu’s part that Zhang Zhao was spared.

During the time of chaos at the end of the Han dynasty, many people from the Xu area sought refuge in the land of Yang, and Zhang Zhao went south of the River with them. When Sun Ce established his state, he made Zhang Zhao to be his Chief Clerk, and gave him the title of General of the Interior. Sun Ce treated Zhao as if an old friend, paying high respect to his mother, and commending all civil and military matters to Zhao’s discretion. Zhang Zhao often received letters from the scholars in the north, heaping praises on Zhao. Zhao was in a dilemma -- to hide the fact that he was receiving these letters would seem secretive [i.e. that he had secret ties with the north], but to disclose the matter was also inappropriate. Sun Ce heard about this, and laughed, saying, “Long ago, when Guan Zhong was the prime minister of Qi, everyone honored him as Father Zhong, and yet Duke Huan [of Qi] is still recognized as the greatest of hegemons. Now that I am able to employ the wise Zibu -- could it be that I am the only one who exults him?”

At his deathbed, Sun Ce entrusted his younger brother Quan to Zhang Zhao’s care. Zhang Zhao, leading all his peers, established Quan as lord and vowed to support him. He memorialized the court regarding this, and notified all those in cities in Sun Quan’s jurisdiction, commanding generals and captains of all stations to stay at their posts. Quan was then still too much in grief to put affairs in order, but Zhang Zhao said to him, “When one is the descendant of [a great man], honor lies in his being able to carry on the progress from before, establishing greatness, in order to accomplish immortal deeds. And now, all under heaven is simmering with activity like a boiling cauldron, and every hill is overrun with bandits. At this, o Filial and Incorrupt [Sun Ce’s official position at the time], how can you droop your head and mourn, as if you are a common fellow?” And thus he personally assisted Sun Quan to mount his steed, and, with troops in full formation, they emerged to the sight of all, at which all acknowledged the legitimate leadership [of Sun Quan]. Zhao continued to be Chief Clerk under Sun Quan, and was given the same responsibilities as before. and when Sun Quan was made General of Charioteers and Cavalry, Zhang Zhao became his chief military advisor.

Sun Quan had often gone hunting in the fields. Riding on his horse, he would shoot arrows at tigers, and often they would leap forward, grabbing at the saddle. Once Zhang Zhao came up to him sternly and said, “Why do you do this, o general? When one is said to be a lord over man, it means that he is able to rule over and command heroes of the time, but not that he can gallop through the plains wrestling with wild beasts! If there should be an accident one day, would the world not laugh at you?” Quan apologized to Zhao, saying, “I am young and do not think far, and have dishonored you in this.” But yet he could not stop [hunting]. And so he built a “tiger-shooting chariot”, which has square holes [to see and shoot out of], and often the roof is taken off. Having someone driving the chariot, Quan would stand in the centre and shoot. Occasionally there would be beasts traveling in groups that would attack the chariot, and Quan would fight hand-to-hand with them for fun. Even when Zhao admonished him, he would only smile and not answer Zhao.

In the second year of Huangchu of Wei (AD 221), a messenger, Xing Zhen, was sent to confer the title of Prince of Wu to Sun Quan. When Zhen arrived at the gates, he did not dismount from his carriage. Zhao said to Zhen, “There is no rule of propriety that is not honored, and there is no law that is not carried out. Now, sir, you dare to make yourself seem important – is it because you take us, being south of the River, to be poor and weak, and not having even an inch of steel to wield?” At that Zhen got off immediately from his carriage, and honored Zhao as General Who Pacifies the Distant Lands and the Marquis of Youquan.

When Sun Quan was in Wuchang, he held a drinking party at the Fishing Terrace, and got rather drunk. He ordered servants to sprinkle water on the officers [present], saying, ‘We are going to drink our fill today, and may we cease only when we start to collapse in the Terrace!” Zhang Zhao kept a serious look and did not speak, but left to sit in his carriage outside. Quan got someone to bring him back, and said to him, “We are simply having fun together. Why are you angry?” Zhao replied, “When [King] Zhou [of Shang] held his long nights of revelry at the Mounds of Grains and Pools of Wine, those present at the time also took it to be fun, and did not consider it harmful.” Sun Quan was silent and looked embarrassed, and thus the drinking was ceased.

Before that time, when Quan was going to appoint a prime minister, all was in favor of Zhang Zhao. Quan said, “Now the affairs [of the state] are complicated, and those in the position of a leader has a heavy responsibility. This would not be what [Zhang Zhao] would excel at.” Later, when Sun Shao died, all the ministers recommended Zhao again. Quan said, “Do I not love Zibu? The duties of a Prime Minister are many and aggravating at times, but this gentleman, being of such a stern temper, might bear grudge whenever his words are not obeyed. So it would not be beneficial [to use him].” Thus he appointed Gu Yong instead.

When Quan assumed the imperial title, Zhao resigned his post and his military command on the account of being old and sick¹. So he was named General of Wu’s Support, with a rank just below the three great ministers. He was re-named the Marquis of Lou, with an enfeoffment of 10,000 households. As he had nothing to do at home, Zhao penned The Spring and Autumn Annals According to Zuo Explained, and Commentaries on the Analects. Once, Quan asked the Commandant of his Palace Guard, Yan Jun, “Would you recite to me something you have memorized as a child?” And so Jun recited the “Confucius’ Living”. Zhao said, “Yan Jun is a mediocre scholar; I ask to recite for Your Majesty.” And so he recited the [passage] “When the Gentleman serves his Superior”. Everyone agreed that Zhao recited the right thing.

Whenever Zhao was in audience with Sun Quan, his words and speeches would be brave and forceful, and his properness would show on his face. Once he defied a command with blunt language, and thus he was not admitted for a long time. Later, an ambassador of Shu came and extolled the virtues and splendor of Shu, to which none of the [Wu] officials were able to respond. Quan sighed and said, “If Master Zhang were here, that man would have been rendered useless even before we try to defeat him. How would he be able to go on in self-praising like this?” The next day, Sun Quan sent a messenger to ask after Zhang Zhao, and requested to see him himself. Zhao left his seat to honor Quan, but Quan knelt down to stop him. Zhao sat down again, and lifting his eyes up, he said, “In the past, the Empress Dowager and Prince Huan [i.e. Sun Ce] did not take me, your old servant, to be in the care of Your Majesty, but rather took Your Majesty to be in my care. And so I am determined to exert myself completely in the duties of a minister, in order to repay their benevolence, so that many years hence, one may still remember you. But yet due to my shortsightedness I defied your honorable orders, and so I have now confined myself, leaving the normal way of things, and not attempting to seek audience again nor to serve at decision-making. However, foolish though I am, my heart is set upon serving the country to the end of my life. As for changing my priorities and concerns, in order to snatch glory for myself -- this I am unable to do.” And so Sun Quan apologized and left.

Upon Gongsun Yuan’s declaring independence, Quan dispatched Zhang Mi and Xu An to acknowledge Yuan to be Prince of Yan. Zhao advised him against it, saying, “Yuan is afraid of Wei’s attack, having rebelled against them, and that’s why they are here – to ask for help, and [to befriend us] is not their real intention. If Yuan happens to change his mind and give himself up to Wei, the two messengers would not return to us, and would we not be the laughingstock of all under heaven then?” Quan debated against Zhao on this, but Zhao only became more and more determined, and Quan could not convince him otherwise. So, in anger, he put his hand on the hilt of his sword and said, “The people of Wu do homage to me when they walk into the palace, but once they leave they do homage to you. And I have also had utter respect for you. Yet you disagree with me many times in public, making me fear always that I have done something wrong.’ Zhao stared at Quan, then said, “Although I know that my words are not always taken, the reason why I pursue my loyalty as if a foolish man is that I can still hear in my ears the last words which the Empress Dowager spoke to me, entrusting you to my care.” At that his tears rolled down his face, and Quan, throwing his sword to the ground, wept along with him. But still, he sent Mi and An off eventually. Zhao was angry because his advice was not heeded, and took sick leave from his duties, staying at home. Quan resented that, and piled dirt at Zhang Zhao’s door to block it. Zhao, from the inside, sealed his door with dirt as well. In the end, Gongsun Yuan really killed Mi and An, and Quan tried to apologize to Zhao about it. However, Zhao did not come out. Quan then walked by his door, calling out for him, but Zhao declined the visit, saying that he was in the last stages of his illness. Quan then set fire to his door in an attempt to scare Zhao out, but rather than coming out, Zhao shut his doors even tighter. So Quan had to get someone to extinguish the fire, and stood there, staring at it for a long time. All the sons of Zhang Zhao picked Zhao up and helped him out the door, and Sun Quan took him in a carriage back to the palace, where he admitted guilt on his part, apologizing profusely. With no choice, Zhao returned to his work after that.

Zhang Zhao’s appearance was stern and composed, and carried an awe-inspiring air. Quan used to say, “When I speak with Master Zhang, I dare not utter a false word!” And the entire kingdom was apprehensive of him. Zhang Zhao died in the 5th year of Jiahe (AD 236), at the age of 81. He willed to be buried in his normal clothes, and in a simple coffin with a simple drape. Sun Quan personally mourned for him in mourning clothes, and bestowed upon him the posthumous title of Marquis of Letters. As Zhang Zhao’s eldest son, Cheng, had already been made Marquis, Zhao’s title was passed down to his younger son, Xiu.

(1) From Jiangbiao Zhuan: When Sun Quan had assumed the throne, he met with all his ministers together, and attributed his success to Zhou Yu. Zhao was about to lift his tablet to give praise to [the emperor’s] glory, but before he got to speak, Quan said, “If I had taken you, Sir Zhang’s, advice, I would be begging for food now.” Zhao was greatly ashamed, and he prostrated himself, sweating. Zhao, being loyal and righteous, has the characteristics of a great minister, and Sun Quan respected him greatly. However, the reason why he did not make him Prime Minister was because of his refuting Zhou Yu and Lu Su’s counsel in the past. <return>

Copyright © 2002 - 2003
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi