Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

The Liang Province Rebellion (Liángzhōu zhī luàn 涼州之亂) was, together with the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the Han's inner struggles and the usurpation of Dong Zhuo, a major cause for the downfall of Later Han. The rebellion began during the final stages of the Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184 A.D. and lasted for about 5 years.

The Battle[]

The Yellow Turban Rebellion was nearing its end when another rebellion was formed.[1] The Xianliang Qiang tribe in Beidi and Anding commanderies had joined forces with the bandits from the counties of Fuhan and Heguan of Longxi commandery in Liang province by the upper Yellow River. Beigong Boyu 北宮伯玉 and Li Wenhou 李文侯, two members of the Auxiliary of Loyal Barbarians from Huangzhong, were elected as leaders of the combined force.[2] This union meant that the rebels now had control of the band of territory along the Yellow River.

In the 9th lunar month (October-November) they mutinied and killed the Colonel Protector of Qiang, Ling Zheng 冷徵.[3]

In the meantime the Inspector of Liang province Zuo Chang 左昌 was raising troop, but also took the opportunity to embezzle great quantities of grain from the military supplies. When He Xun 蓋勳 protested, Zuo Chang sent him to an exposed outpost against the enemy, hoping he would be defeated or would commit some fault punishable by death under military law. He Xun, however, was successful in a number of engagements.[4] The main rebel force commanded by Beigong Boyu and Li Wenhou attacked Yuanya, capital of Jincheng commandery and He Xun urged Zuo Chang to go to the aid of the local troops, but since no relief was possible because of the before mentioned embezzling, he made no move and the territory was captured and hostages were taken.[2] Among these hostages were the former prefect of Xin'an, Bian Zhang 邊章 and the Attendant Official of Liang Province, Han Sui 韓遂.

When Jincheng's Grand Administrator Chen Yi 陳懿 went to the rebels' camp to negotiate for the release of the hostages, the rebels mutinied and killed him. Han Sui and Bian Zhang were then forced to join their army and were given positions among the leaders with particular responsibility for military affairs.[5] Some sources say that Han Sui and Bian Zhang weren't forced into joining the rebels, but they willingly joined them when they appeared before Yuanya city.[6]

When Yuanya was occupied it remained the main stronghold of the rebels henceforth.[3]

Then Bian Zhang and the others advanced to Hanyang commandery and besieged Zuo Chang’s headquarters in Ji city.[7] Zuo Chang requested reinforcement from He Xun and other outlying troops. Xin Zeng 辛曾 and other leaders, having their doubts, were unwilling to go, but He Xun said to them angrily:

"In ancient times, when Zhuang Jia was late for his appointment Sima Rangju put him to the sword. Do you think you’re more valuable than Zhuang Jia?"

This frightened the other leaders and they followed He Xun to aid Zuo Chang. When He Xun arrived at Ji city, he scolded Bian Zhang and his followers for their mutiny and rebellion. They all replied:

"If Commissioner Zuo had listened to what you said the first time and had sent soldiers to us, we might have been able to maintain our allegiance. But now things have gone too far and we cannot surrender."

They ended the siege and went away.[5]

Soon after, Zuo Chang was dismissed and replaced by Song Nie 宋臬. Believing that the cause of the trouble was a lack of education and moral cultivation among the people of the frontier, he was confident the rebels could be pacified by teaching them the Book of Filial Piety.[8]

Han Shui

With the replacement of Zuo Chang, the situation was not improved and the rebels from Qiang were besieging Xia Yu 夏育, who had replaced Ling Zheng as Protector of the Qiang. The rebels attacked Xia Yu and besieged him in the yamen of a horse park in Hanyang. He Xun collected troops from the commandery and province and went to Xia Yu in an attempt to relieve him. At Hupan, however, they were heavily defeated by the Qiang. He Xun was wounded three times and only 100 of his men were still alive. He sat down and refused to move. He pointed to a wooden mile-pillar and said:[5]

"Let my body rest here."

Dianyu 滇吾 of the Goujia tribe of the Qiang held the rest of the enemy at bay with his sword and said:

"Senior Clerk He is a worthy man. If one of you should kill him it would be a crime against Heaven."

He Xun looked up and cursed him, saying:

"You dog of a rebel, what do you know about it? Come and kill me quickly."

All those present were looking at one another in amazement. Dianyu got down from his horse and offered it to He Xun so he might escape, but He Xun refused the offer and so he was captured by the Qiang. His loyalty and courage was admired by the tribesmen and He Xun was done no harm, but instead, sent back to Hanyang. Yang Yong 楊雍, the Inspector of Hanyang, later recommended He Xun as Grand Administrator of Hanyang. Xia Yu and his men had held out successfully.[9]

Though He Xun and Xia Yu survived, it appeared the provincial authorities were, at the time, overpowered. The shock that their collapse caused was grave, and it was even considered at the capital whether or not the province should be abandoned.[10]

After this, Zhu Jun 朱儁 was attacking the Yellow Turban leader Sun Xia 孫夏 at Wan with help from Sun Jian 孫堅. They beat him and the Yellow Turbans were scattered.

185 A.D. - Second Attack[]

In the spring of 185 A.D., Beigong Boyu and his men plundered in Jingzhao, Youfufeng and Zuopingyi commanderies. These commanderies were also known as the Three Adjuncts and were located around the old capital Chang'an.

By edict, Huangfu Song 皇甫嵩, the General of Chariots and Cavalry on the Left (左車騎將軍), was ordered to guard Chang'an and attack the rebels.[11] Dong Zhuo was sent with him as a subordinate general.[12] Though Huangfu Song was given a grand official send-off, he had offended the leading palace eunuchs. Firstly, while passing through Ye city, he noticed that Zhao Zhong's 趙忠 mansion was far more luxurious than the regulations allowed, so he sent in a memorial and had the mansion confiscated to the state[13]. Secondly, Zhang Rang 張讓 had privately solicited a bribe of fifty million cash and Huangfu Song refused to give it. These two now claimed that Huangfu Song was losing one battle after another and was wasting resources. Huangfu Song was therefore recalled. His seal as general was withdrawn, and his fief was reduced from a district with revenue from eight thousand households to only two thousand households.[14]

At this time, the whole of Liang province was in continual disorder and rebellion, and the court had to repeatedly call on the corvée services and the taxes. Cui Lie 崔烈 proposed that Liang province should be abandoned[10], and the Emperor called a council of the dukes, ministers and all court officials to discuss the question.[15] The Gentleman-Consultant Fu Xie 傅燮 spoke most vehemently against the idea, saying:

"If only the Minister over the Masses was executed, all the troubles of the empire would be at an end."

The Masters of Writing protested to the Emperor that Fu Xie had abused a great minister in open court, and the Emperor called upon Fu Xie to justify himself. Fu Xie replied:

"Fan Kuai considered Modun to be treacherous, and he gave his opinion very forcefully. In no way did he offend the conduct of a subject, but Ji Bu could still say, 'Fan Kuai should be executed.'"
"Now Liang province is one of the most important and valuable districts of the empire, and a bulwark of our state. When Gaozu first came to power, he sent Li Shang on a special mission to settle the lands west of the Long Mountain. When the Epochal Exemplar [Emperor Wu] held the government, he established four commanderies in that region, and all agreed that this was like cutting off the right arm of the Xiongnu."
"But now the official administrators have lost control, and they have let the whole province fall into rebellion. Cui Lie is one of the highest ministers, yet he takes no thought to the real needs of the state and he makes no plan for resorting order. Instead he is prepared to abandon ten thousand li of territory, and I have the gravest doubts of his plan. Should this region be occupied by the barbarians, so they could cause trouble by their great military strength, then this would be of the utmost danger to our empire and a serious loss to the nation."
"If Cui Lie failed to realise the consequences of his policy, he is a fool. If he knows what he is saying, he is a traitor."

The Emperor considered Fu Xie's proposal to be excellent and Cui Lie's proposal was rejected.

Response of the Government[]

In the eight month of 185 A.D., officers were sent to take care of the rebels.[16]

  • Zhang Wen 張溫, the then Minister of Works, was made General of Chariots and Cavalry to assume Huangfu Song's responsibilities.
  • Yuan Pang 袁滂, the Bearer of the Gilded Mace, became Zhang Wen's assistant.
  • Zhou Shen 周慎, the General Who Terrifies Criminals, was to act under Zhang Wen's command.
  • Dong Zhuo, the then General of the Gentlemen of the Household of the East, was made General Who Routs the Caitiffs and was to act under Zhang Wen's command.
  • and Sun Jian, who was the Advisor to the Army.[17]

Zhang Wen led over a hundred thousand men, consisting of horse and foot soldiers gathered from several commanderies, and set his camp at Meiyang.[18]

The rebels, this time led by Bian Zhang and Han Sui, also brought their troops to Meiyang of Youfufeng commandery, where the two forces clashed. Zhang Wen often failed to gain the advantage and was sometimes barely able to hold it's own,[10]but things began to change in the eleventh month. It is said that the rebels were demoralized by a shooting star which appeared to fall in their camp[19], shaking the rebels' resolve. Dong Zhuo took advantage of this. He combined his forces with Bao Hong 鮑鴻 of Youfufeng commandery and together they attacked the rebel army just outside Meiyang and they scored a major victory. Han Sui and Bian Zhang fled to Yuzhong city.[10]

Following Dong Zhuo's victory, which later earned him a district marquisate[19], Zhang Wen sent Zhou Shen to lead 30,000 men in pursuit of the rebels. Sun Jian said to Zhou Shen:

"The enemy have no supplies of grain in the city and they will have to collect it from outside. Let me have ten thousand men and I can cut their supply routes. If you, my general, follow me with the main body of the army, the enemy will be reduced to distress and will not dare to fight. They will run away to the Qiang, and then we can combine our forces to attack them and all Liang province will be settled."

Dong Zhuo

Zhou Shen, however, would not agree and he led his whole army to besiege Yuzhong city. In response, Bian Zhang and Han Sui sent soldiers out to camp at Kuiyuan Gorge. They did what Zhou Shen should've done; they cut his supply lines. The frightened Zhou Shen abandons his baggage train and fled.[20]

Zhang Wen also sent Dong Zhuo forward with 30,000 men to attack the Xianlian Qiang, but the Qiang and some other barbarians from the north surrounded Dong Zhuo north of Wangyuan and he was forced to flee.[20] It is said that Dong Zhuo extricated his force from a siege by the Qiang and other non-Chinese; pretending he wanted to catch fish to alleviate the supply problems. Instead, he dammed the river and used it to secretly transport his men across the river, while he had also kept a large reserve force to threaten the enemy and restrict their manoeuvre.[19]

Later, Dong Zhuo claimed that he had urged Zhou Shen to act as spearhead while he himself waited in reserve, but that Zhou Shen refused to co-operate and so both forces got into difficulties.[19]

186 A.D. and 187 A.D.[]

From late 185 A.D. to the winter of 186 A.D. the rebels Bian Zhang, Beigong Boyu and Li Wenhou vanished from the scene.[10][21] There is some confusion as to what happened to these three men. Bian Zhang might have succumbed to an illness,[22] though it is also taken into consideration that he and the other two men were killed in mutual quarrels[10][22]. The Zizhi Tongjian says all three men were killed by Han Sui.[21] Whatever happened, the three rebels no longer participated in the rebellion and their troops were taken over by Han Sui who now commanded over 100,000 men. They went forward to besiege the headquarters of Longxi commandery. The Grand Administrator, Li Xiangru, rebelled against the Han and made an alliance with Han Sui.[21]

During the winter of 186 A.D., Geng Bi 耿鄙, the Inspector of Liang Province, was leading the troops of six commanderies to attack Han Sui.[23] He had appointed Cheng Qiu 程球 as his Attendant Official at Headquarters, but the man was hated for corruption and extortion.[24]

While the attack was being prepared, the Grand Administrator of Hanyang commandery, Fu Xie, warned him:

"Commissioner, you have not had much experience in administration, and the people are not yet accustomed to you. When the rebels hear that your powerful army is approaching, they will all be united against you. Those men from the border country are excellent fighters, and it will be hard to match their attacks. On the other hand, our men have only recently been gathered together, and the officers and soldiers are not yet used to one another. If there should be some trouble within our ranks it will be too late for regrets."
"The best thing to do is let the army halt a while and build up morale. Make your rewards clear and your punishments certain. When you take the pressure off the rebels like this, they are sure to say to themselves that we are afraid of them. Such evil men will certainly struggle for power, and they will soon quarrel among themselves. After that, you will be leading people who know what they are fighting for, and bringing them against an enemy who is completely disorganised. You need only sit and wait, and success will come."

For whatever reason, Geng Bi chose to ignore the advice and in the summer, the fourth lunar month of 187 A.D., his army from the eastern commanderies came to Didao, the capital city of Longxi commandery.[24] There, his Aide-de-Camp led a mutiny and joined the rebels. First they killed Cheng Qiu and later Geng Bi followed.[23][24] Following their victory, the rebels came forward to besiege Hanyang commandery, under command of Wang Guo, a Didao native.

Attack on Hanyang Commandery; Sway Extension[]

Before this, in March 186 A.D., the Regular Palace Attendant Zhao Zhong was commissioned to re-examine the rewards and enfeoffments due to those who had served against the Yellow Turbans. He was told that Fu Xie did well during the campaign, but never received a marquisate. Zhao Zhong and his colleagues decided to offer Fu Xie his deserved marquisate, but Fu Xie indignantly refused. This angered Zhao Zhong and he had Fu Xie transferred to be Grand Administrator of Hanyang commandery.[17]

In the capital of Hanyang, in Ji county, there were few soldiers and no reserves of food, but Fu Xie, still held firm.

Several barbarian horsemen from Beidi commandery had been following the rebels and were now involved in the attack on Hanyang commandery. These barbarians had always been treated well in the past by Fu Xie and now they were reluctant to fight him and instead they asked him to accept their escort back to his native village in Beidi commandery.[25]

Fu Xie's 13 year old son, Fu Gan 傅幹, said to his father:

"The nation is in confusion and disorder, and that is why you have never received your true deserts from the court. You have too few soldiers now to maintain your defence, and you should accept the invitation of these Qiang and other tribespeople and go back to our homeland. Wait until a worthy man appears, and then join him."

Even before he had finished speaking, Fu Xie sighed miserably and said:

"You know that I must die. A sage is equal to any position, and even a lesser man should not fail his responsibilities. Zhou of Yin was cruel and tyrannical, yet Boyi died for him because he could not eat the millet of the conquering Zhou dynasty. I have met with a time of disorder and I cannot fulfil my true ambition. I have taken his salary, so how can I seek to avoid his time of danger? Where else can I go? I must die here! You have talent and understanding, I hope you will do your best. Yang Hui, the Master of Records, will act as my Cheng Ying."

Huang Yan 黄衍, the former Grand Administrator of Jiuquan commandery, was sent by Wang Guo to convince Fu Xie into joining them:[25]

"The empire is gone forever from the government of Han. Magistrate, would you be prepared to become our leader?"

Fu Xie, with hand to his sword, shouted:

"You, an official with a seal, have become the messenger-boy for a gang of rebels!"

Then, Fu Xie led an all-out desperate attack against the rebels. He died fighting.[25]

Around that time, the former Major of Geng Bi, Ma Teng 馬騰, brought his troops to join forces with Han Sui. Wang Guo was made leader and together they plundered the Three Adjuncts (Jingzhao, Youfufeng and Zuopingyi).[26]

Now, for the first time, the rebels had extended their sway over the whole of Liang province.[27]

The Siege of Chencang in 188 - 189 A.D.[]

In December of the year 188 A.D. the rebel Wang Guo felt strong enough to make another attack near the Wei valley.[27] He besieged Chencang, a gate to Chang'an, with a major force. The imperial court had, at that time, more or less left the province to take care of itself, but was now again forced to act.[28]

By edict, Huangfu Song was appointed as General of the Left and ordered to take command of the General of the Van Dong Zhuo. They were to combine their forces (a total of 40,000 men) and oppose Wang Guo at Chencang.[29]

Dong Zhuo said to Huangfu Song:

"Chencang's position is extremely dangerous, I ask permission to go quickly to its relief."

Huangfu Song replied:

"No, one may fight a hundred battles and be a hundred times victorious, but it is far better to make the other man's soldiers surrender without any fighting. Although Chencang is small, its defences are strong and in good order and it will not be easy to capture. Though Wang Guo is strong, when he has attacked Chencang and has failed to take it, his army will certainly be in low spirits. When they are discouraged, we will attack them. That is the way to complete success. Why would you relieve the city?"

In the spring of 189 A.D., the second lunar month of that year, the strength of the fortress had withstood Wang Guo's assault. His troops were demoralised and Wang Guo chose to raise the siege and set off.[27][30] Huangfu Song sent his men forward to attack him, but Dong Zhuo said:

"You cannot do that. By the rules of warfare, a desperate bandit is not pressed, a retreating army is not pursued."

Huangfu Song disagreed and replied:

"No. At first, I did not attack because I wanted to avoid their early strength. Now I am attacking them to take advantage of their weakness. What I am attacking is an army that is discouraged, not an army that is in retreat."
"Moreover, Wang Guo's army is running away and they have no intention of fighting. With disciplined troops we strike at confused ones, and this is no matter of desperate bandits."

Huangfu Song went on alone to attack the rebels while Dong Zhuo was left behind as the rear-guard. In several battles Huangfu Song completely defeated the rebels. Over 10,000 heads were taken. Dong Zhuo was ashamed and angry and from this moment on he despised the man who had just become saviour of the dynasty a second time.[27][30]

Because of his failure, Wang Guo was deposed by Han Sui and other leaders and the former Prefect of Xindu, Yan Zhong 閻忠 of Hanyan commandery, was forced to take his place. Not long after, Yan Zhong became seriously ill and he passed away. Strife broke out among his deputies; they began to kill each other which gradually weakened them.[30] The rebel forces eventually split-up in three important groups:[6]

  1. Han Sui in Jincheng commandery
  2. Ma Teng in Longxi commandery
  3. Song Jian 宋建 on the upper Yellow River
  4. Petty warlords north of the Wei valley

Further Developments[]

Song Jian returned to Fuhan county in Longxi commandery where he proclaimed himself 'King of the Sources of the River Who Will Pacify Han (河首平漢王), established an independant state among the region of Fuhan and Heguan counties and held power there for nearly 30 years, until he was destroyed by Cao Cao's general Xiahou Yuan in 214 A.D.[31]

After Ma Teng established himself in Longxi commandery he maintained frontier warfare against the non-Chinese Qiang and Di.[32] In 190 A.D. Ma Teng, with Han Sui, were persuaded by Dong Zhuo to assist him in his campaign against "Loyal Rebels".

See Also[]


  1. See Yellow Turban Rebellion; Zhang Jue had fallen ill and Liang and Bao replaced him but died in the 10th and 11th month respectively. The Liang rebels took their first victim in the 9th.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 25; HHS 72/62, 2320 (1b), the Biography of Dong Zhuo. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "h119" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 G. Haloun, The Liang-Chou Rebellion, page 120. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "h120" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of He Xun, page 529; HHS 58/48:1879-84
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 26; HHS 58/48, 1879-81 (10b-12a), the Biography of He Xun.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Han Sui, pages 301/-2; HHS 72/62:2320-21
  7. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Zuo Chang, page 1929; HHS 7:314, 78/68:2522
  8. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Song Nie, page 1234-1235; HHS 58/48:1880
  9. Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 27; HHS 58/48, 1879-81 (10b-12a), the Biography of He Xun.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 G. Haloun, The Liang-Chou Rebellion, page 121.
  11. Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 42; HHS 8, 351 (12b), the Annals of Emperor Ling.
  12. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Dong Zhuo, page 274; HHS 72/62:2319-32
  13. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Zhao Zhong, page 1824; HHS 78/68:2534-37
  14. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Huangfu Song, page 592; HHS 71/61:2299-2307
  15. Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 42; HHS 58/48, 1875 (8a-b), the Biography of Fu Xie.
  16. Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 44; HHS 72/62, 2320 (1b-2a), the Biography of Dong Zhuo.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Rafe de Crespigny, Generals of the South, chapters on Sun Jian. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "h147" defined multiple times with different content
  18. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Zhang Wen, page 1762; SGZ Wu 1:1095
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Dong Zhuo, page 274; SGZ 6:171-79
  20. 20.0 20.1 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 45; HHS 72/62, 2320 (2a-b), the Biography of Dong Zhuo.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 56; HHS 72/62, 2321 (2b).
  22. 22.0 22.1 Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Bian Zhang, page 59; SGZ 1:45.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 56; HHS 58/48, 1877-78 (9a-10a).
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Geng Bi, page 248; HHS 58/48:1877.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 57; HHS 58/48, 1877-78 (9a-10a), the Biography of Fu Xie.
  26. Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 6, page 57; HHS 72/62, 2321 (2b-3a), the Biography of Dong Zhuo.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 G. Haloun, The Liang-Chou Rebellion, page 122.
  28. Rafe de Crespigny, The Northern Frontier.
  29. Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 7, page 5.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Rafe de Crespigny, Huan-Ling part 7, page 10.
  31. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Song Jian, pages 753/-4; SGZ 1:44-45
  32. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Ma Teng, page 650; HHS 72/62:2333, 2343