Biography (SGZ): Zhao Yun (Zilong)

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Zhao Yun (Zilong)
趙云 (子龍)
(AD 168–229)

San Guo Zhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
Translated by Sonken

Author’s Note: currently this biography contains a few known translation errors. While pending re-translation please cross-reference material with this alternative Sanguozhi translation. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Zhao Yun, Zilong (AD 168–229) hailed from Zhending of Changshan (present day Hebei Zhending). Zhao Yun was originally under Gongsun Zan and when Gongsun Zan ordered Liu Bei to assist Tian Kai to fend off Yuan Shao, Zhao Yun followed along as Liu Bei’s main cavalry forces (1). During the time when Liu Bei was pursued by Cao Cao’s forces at Dangyang Changban, Liu Bei abandoned his wife and child to flee south. Zhao Yun carried the young child, who was Liu Shan and also protected Lady Gan, the mother of Liu Shan, hence all of them were able to escape the dangers. Zhao Yun was later appointed as YaMen JiangJun (General of the Standard). While Liu Bei entered the Shu region, Zhao Yun remained in Jingzhou (2).

1: From Zhao Yun Bie Zhuan: Zhao Yun was 8 chi tall (approx 1.89m) and had a commanding appearance. In the earlier days, he held office in a county. In the second year of Chuping (AD 191), Yuan Shao was declared as the governor of Yizhou, and was contested by Gongsun Zan for the same place. The Changshan County appointed Zhao Yun as chief to lead the people to serve Gongsun Zan. However, this gesture of servitude was mocked by Gongsun Zan, who asked why Zhao Yun was offering to serve him instead of Yuan Shao, while the rest of their people supported the latter; and who remarked why they were the only ones who return from the way of delusion. Zhao Yun replied that the world was in turmoil with all the wars raging and it was difficult to differentiate the good from the evil and that in order to serve the people, the Changshan County’s decision was to serve the one who can be benevolent to the people. Hence from then on, Zhao Yun began his service in Gongsun Zan’s ranks. Yet in the same year, Liu Bei also joined Gongsun Zan. Liu Bei was very kindly and friendly toward Zhao Yun and had often assisted him in many matters. Zhao Yun thus viewed Liu Bei as a senior and a confidante and had thoughts of serving under him. After years of observation and fighting wars under Gongsun Zan’s command, Zhao Yun began to harbor dissatisfaction toward Gongsun Zan’s actions and judged him to be one that had no ambition, incompetent and only interested in guarding his own personal interests. Thus, Zhao Yun felt that Gongsun Zan was not a reliable master and wanted to find a chance to leave his ranks. Not long after, Zhao Yun received news of his elder brother’s death and requested to return back home. Liu Bei was reluctant to let him leave, knowing that he would not come back. When bidding Liu Bei farewell, Zhao Yun declared that he would never betray Liu Bei’s trust and friendship.

In the spring of the fifth year of JianAn (AD 200), Liu Bei was defeated by Cao Cao and had to seek refuge in Yuan Shao’s land. During the time when Liu Bei was escaping alone in dire straits, he chanced upon Zhao Yun in the City of Ye and both shared the same bed. Thereafter, he secretly sent Zhao Yun to recruit some hundred men and declared the troops to be serving under the Left General Liu (Liu Bei). From this point onwards, Zhao Yun served Liu Bei for the rest of his life.

2: From Zhao Yun Bie Zhuan: In the twelfth year of JianAn (AD 207), General Xiahou Dun from Cao Cao’s camp led an army south to attack Liu Bei. Liu Bei engaged the attackers at Bowang (present day City of Henanfang). During the battle, Zhao Yun captured an enemy general Xiahou Lan. Zhao Yun and Xiahou Lan were actually from the same village and had known each other since young. It was actually possible for Zhao Yun to let Xiahou Lan escape on his own accord if he were to be merciful, but by his own personal principle of not letting private matters into his protocol, he did not do so. After the war ended, on the account of Xiahou Lan’s sincere request for surrender, Zhao Yun proposed to Liu Bei not to execute him. Based on Xiahou Lan’s ability in dealing with military laws, Zhao Yun also proposed that Xiahou Lan be in charge of the army rules, instead of following the normal practice of keeping surrendered generals in one’s personal ranks. Although this is an insignificant event, it does show that Zhao Yun was a conscientious person in dealing with major or minor matters.

In the thirteenth year of JianAn (AD 208), Liu Bei was defeated in Changban of Dangyang and was forced to flee south with only tens of cavalry and also had to abandon his family in the process. Upon seeing that, Zhao Yun turned back and headed north into the enemies midst to locate Liu Bei’s family. At that time, someone told Liu Bei that Zhao Yun was heading north to surrender to Cao Cao. Liu Bei reacted by hitting the person with a halberd in his hand and said that Zhao Yun would never abandon him. Not long after, Zhao Yun, despite the dangers, came back carrying the Future Lord (Liu Shan) and also protected the Future Lord’s mother Lady Gan from the dangers. Before the battle of Chibi, Liu Bei gave Zhao Yun the rank of YaMen General (General of the Standard).

After the battle of Chibi, Zhao Yun joined Liu Bei in pacifying the various states and provinces in Jingzhou. Liu Bei gave Zhao Yun the rank of Pian General (Lieutenant-General) and ordered him to replace Zhao Fan as the governor of Guiyang Commandery (present day Hunan Chen Province). Zhao Fan had a widowed sister-in-law that was very beautiful, and he had desired to marry her to Zhao Yun in order to pull ties. Zhao Yun strongly rejected the proposal and someone tried to persuade him. In reply, Zhao Yun explained that Zhao Fan was forced to surrender and thus his motives were not known. Besides that, he argued that there are many women around, thus why risk with taking this woman. Not long after, Zhao Fan indeed escaped.

In the fourteenth year of JianAn (AD 209), Liu Bei married the sister of Sun Quan. Lady Wu practiced martial arts since her youth and she brought along with her from Eastern Wu some one hundred maids, several body guards and also family servants. Liu Bei felt very uneasy about the people that came along and was worried of possible troubles. Besides, these body guards were very arrogant and unreasonable and had been causing trouble outside, but no one dared to oppose them. Liu Bei felt that Zhao Yun was a strict person by nature and only he could bring those Wu followers into discipline and so, he gave him the responsibility of managing the internal household affairs for him. Not long after, the Sun family’s servants did improve their behaviors. After Liu Bei set off to Yizhou, Sun Quan sent out many ships to bring back his sister and also instructed her to bring along Liu Shan as hostage, but this was stopped by Zhao Yun and Zhang Fei who repelled the Wu navy with their troops and brought Liu Shan back.

In the seventeenth year of JianAn (AD 212), Liu Bei began to attack Liu Zhang and ordered Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun to assist him in Shu. Zhao Yun led his troops from Jiangzhou (present day Chong Qing) to Jiangyang (present day Sichuan Luzhou) and prepared to attack Chengdu. When Liu Bei conquered Chengdu, he appointed Zhao Yun as Yijun JiangJun (General of the Flying Army) (3).

3: From Zhao Yun Bie Zhuan: At the same time, Liu Bei wanted to distribute the middle class houses in the city as well as the farmlands outside to the generals. Zhao Yun proposed that since Yizhou had just suffered from war, the lands and houses should be given back to the civilians to live in so that it would be easier to manage the civilians and also obtain their loyalty and support in the future. Liu Bei accepted his proposal.

In the twenty-fourth year of JianAn (AD 219), Zhao Yun went with Liu Bei to attack Hanzhong. After the Shu army had killed Xiahou Yuan, Cao Cao gathered a large army to Hanzhong in response. There was an incident whereby the Cao army was transporting a large supply of grain to the bottom of the Northern Mountain. Huang Zhong saw that as an opportunity to intercept the food supply and he led his followers as well as Zhao Yun’s to attack the food supply chain. When Huang Zhong failed to return by the scheduled time, Zhao Yun brought along some light cavalry to assist Huang Zhong. After a short period of journeying, they met up with Cao Cao’s main force. Zhao Yun fought with Cao Cao’s vanguard but the latter’s troops were quickly reinforced in large amounts, forcing Zhao Yun to beat a retreat. The Cao army had Zhao Yun’s troops surrounded and by the time Zhao Yun managed to break out of the enemies’ lines, he realized that his subordinate Zhang Zhu was injured. Zhao Yun charged back into the enemies’ midst to rescue Zhang Zhu before they retreated back to their camp. At that time, the governor of Mianyang county Zhang Yi was helping to defend the camp. When he saw the size of the Cao army coming, he shut the gates and refused to defend. Zhao Yun realized of the immensity of the enemy’s troops and found it impossible to defend the camp. Thus he ordered for the gates to be opened, the flags taken down and the beating of drums ceased. When the Cao army arrived at the camp, they suspected of a possible ambush and retreated hastily. Zhao Yun then ordered for the drums to be beaten and also arrows be shot. The Cao army was taken by surprise by the sudden noise and was put to disarray and stampeding and many were drowned in the River Han nearby. The next day, Liu Bei came to Zhao Yun’s camp to inspect the outcome of the battle and could not help but praise Zhao Yun for his bravery. From then on, Zhao Yun was nicknamed among the Shu army as General of Tiger Valor (Hu Wei Jiang Jun).

In the first year of ZhangWu (AD 221), Liu Bei commanded his troops to attack Wu. Zhao Yun petitioned that, “The traitor of the country was Cao Cao and not Sun Quan, thus Wei should be annexed first and following that, Wu would surrender willingly. Although Cao Cao had passed away, his son Cao Pi had ascended the throne amidst the wrath of many. Hence, it is best to annex Guanzhong, conquer the Yellow River, Shangyou of the Wei Waters, followed by an eastern expedition to force the Guangdong troops into action. Thus, it was best not to leave Wei untouched in a bid to fight Wu. Should the war between Wu and us start, it would be difficult to cease.” Liu Bei did not heed his advice and since Zhao Yun had brought up this proposal, Liu Bei did not allow him to take part in the coming battle and left him to be in charge of two provinces in Jiangzhou. After Liu Bei was defeated, Zhao Yun was too late in bringing in the reinforcements whilst the Wu army had retreated.

In the first year of JianXing (AD 222), Zhao Yun was appointed as Zhonghu JiangJun (General Who Protects the Center) and Zhengnan JiangJun (General Who Conquers the South), given the title of YongChang Tinghou (Marquis of Yongchang). In the early days of Liu Shan’s ascent to the throne, the diplomatic relations between Shu and Wu was very unstable and so subsequently Zhao Yun was appointed as the General Who Guards the East (Zhendong JiangJun) to be in charge of the army stationed at Ba. In the fifth year of JianXing (AD 227), he was stationed in Hanzhong with Zhuge Liang (4). In the next year, when Zhuge Liang went on a northern campaign, Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi’s troops went under cover to Jigu. After the retreat, Zhao Yun was demoted to Zhenjun Jiangjun (General of the Centre Army).

4: From Zhao Yun Bie Zhuan: At that time, Zhao Yun’s army had an excess supply of silk and he consulted Zhuge Liang on how to deal with the excess supply. Zhuge Liang instructed for it to be distributed to the ranks but Zhao Yun proposed for it to be kept in the treasury since there was no exploits hence no need for rewards. The store of silk can be distributed during the tenth month to make clothing instead. Zhuge Liang was very satisfied with this proposal.

Cao Zhen was commander to retaliate against Zhao Yun’s troops. Zhao Yun’s troops were weaker and lesser but they managed to manipulate the enemies’ forces. During the battle, Zhao Yun took the lead in the army and ordered for an attack on Qishan. The attack was futile and they were forced to retreat. After Zhao Yun put his troops back to order, he personally covered the rear and they retreated back steadily lest there be more losses to the army.

Zhao Yun died of illness during the seventh year of JianXing (AD 229) and he was around the age of sixty-one. During the time when Liu Bei was on the throne, only Fa Zheng was given an honorable title after his death. During Liu Shan’s reign, due to the immense contributions given by Zhuge Liang, Jiang Wan and Fei Yi, they were also given posthumous temple names to commemorate their efforts. The families of the deceased were also specially rewarded and taken care of by the state; similarly, Xiahou Ba who came from far was also rewarded an honorable title after his death. Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, Pang Tong, Huang Zhong and Zhao Yun were all subsequently compensated with a title during Liu Shan’s time and this title rewarding was deemed as a great honor (5). Zhao Yun’s deeds were thus also commemorated and he was given the posthumous temple name of the Marquis of Shunping in the fourth year of Jingyao (AD 261) (see Liu Shan’s bio) Zhao Tong succeeded his late father and was appointed Huben Zhonglang (General of Tiger Swiftness) and was in charge of an army. The second son Zhao Guang was appointed YaMen JiangJun (General of the Standard) and followed Jiang Wei in a later expedition but died during battle.

5: From Zhao Yun Bie Zhuan (records from Hou Zhu (Liu Shan)’s edict): “Zhao Yun served Liu Bei in the past and his contributions are commendable. I (Liu Shan) was able to escape dangers owing to his loyalty and dependability. Hence, it is only appropriate to speak of Zhao Yun as an important contributor to the country.” The Commander-in-Chief Jiang Wei and others deduced that since Zhao Yun served Liu Bei in the past and had significant contributions, was law-abiding hence his contributions should be recorded. The feat at Dangyang was a show of loyalty and righteousness. As such, the ruler would be eternally grateful to his subordinate. According to the rules of giving posthumous titles, the gentle, kind and virtuous would be given the character Shun; able to execute task well and able to stamp out disorder would be given the character Ping, hence Zhao Yun was given the posthumous title of Marquis of Shunping.

Chen Shou’s final thoughts on the Five Tiger Generals: Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, etc were known to be powerful generals who could fight ten thousand men and accredited to be among the best of their times. Guan Yu repaid Lord Cao’s favour, Zhang Fei’s releasing of Yan Yan out of righteousness were deeds held in high esteem in the country. However, Guan Yu was unyielding and overly self-respect, whereas Zhang Fei was hot-tempered and without kindness, their short-comings leading to their defeats. This is common logic indeed. Ma Chao betrayed the minority tribes and lacked courage; he was a disappointment for his people, what a pity! Having been able to rise from rags to riches, is this not better? Huang Zhong and Zhao Yun both strong and valiant were good subordinates of their lord, like the claws and teeth to a beast. Can they not compare to the likes of Guan Yin and Xiahou Yin?

Copyright © 2002–2004 Sonken
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi with Pei Songzhi’s annotations