Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Formerly I did not know the actual strength of your army, hence I was defeated. Now that you have graciously permitted me to inspect the camps, which are only like this, I am certain to defeat you easily.
—Meng Huo

Meng Huo 孟獲 was a local leader of barbarians in the south of Yi province. He succeeded the instigator of the Nanman rebellion Yong Kai and led seven battles against the Shu-Han chancellor Zhuge Liang.


Meng Huo's home of record was Zhuti commandery in Yi province. He was respected by both the Chinese and the southern barbarians[2] (nánmán 南蠻) and because of this the local leader Yong Kai 雍闓 in Yongchang commandery called upon him to entice and incite the various barbarian tribes. Earlier Yong Kai had seized Zhang Yi, a Grand Administrator of Yizhou commandery for Shu-Han, because Yong Kai did not acknowledge Shu-Han's sovereignty. He also attempted to enter Yongchang commandery after being appointed by Sun Quan as Yongchang’s Grand Administrator, but he was met with resistance from Lü Kai and Wang Kang.[3]

When Meng Huo went to tempt various tribes, Zhu Bao 朱褒, the Grand Administrator of Zangke commandery and Gaoding 高定, a King of Barbarians in Yuexi commandery both responded to him.[3]

War of Pacification[]

For some time Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 of Shu-Han was aware of the troubles in the south. In 225 AD he headed to Nanzhong to pacify the region.

The three leaders Yong Kai, Gaoding and Zhu Bao had come up with a plan that should’ve drawn Zhuge Liang deep into the terrain of Yong Kai and Meng Huo. Once this was done, Gaoding would attack Zhuge Liang from the west, thereby encircling Zhuge Liang. The plan was ultimately not set in motion, because subordinates of Gaoding had murdered Yong Kai. Later Zhuge Liang then defeated Gaoding and executed him.[2]

After Yong Kai's death Meng Huo collected the remainder of his troops.

Seven Captures[]

Meng Huo would go on to challenge Zhuge Liang a total of seven times. Everytime he would be defeated and captured, and after every capture he would be released.

Unlike the fictitious novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the official biography of Zhuge Liang in Records of the Three Kingdoms does not give a detailed account of Meng Huo's seven captures and releases.

Zhuge Liang was determined to capture Meng Huo alive, because of his ties with the Nanman. Having caught Meng Huo, he made him inspect his camps and asked:

What do you think of this army?[2]

Meng Huo replied:

Formerly I did not know the actual strength of your army, hence I was defeated. Now that you have graciously permitted me to inspect the camps, which are only like this, I am certain to defeat you easily.[2]

Zhuge Liang laughingly released him. After the seventh capture and release Meng Huo stayed and would not go, saying:

Your Excellency has heavenly majesty. We southerners will not rebel any more.[4]

After Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign[]

Following Meng Huo's submission to Zhuge Liang, the latter appointed the worthy and competent men in Nanzhong to be officials. Among them were Meng Huo, Meng Yan 孟琰[n 1] and Cuan Xi 爨習.[1] Meng Huo was made Assistant to the Imperial Counsellor (yùshǐ zhōngchéng 御史中丞).[5]

John Herman, in The Kingdoms of Nanzhong, adds that Zhuge Liang was so impressed with Meng Huo's tactical skills that he added him to his personal staff, and within a year Meng Huo was commanding Shu-Han troops battling along the Shu-Han/Wei front in what is now northern Sichuan.[6][n 2]

Point of Debate: Meng Huo's Existence[]

Meng Huo is not mentioned in Chen Shou's original 3rd century work Records of the Three Kingdoms. Meng Huo was added to the Records of the Three Kingdoms by Pei Songzhi in the 5th century.

The name 'Meng Huo' first appeared in the 4th century work Han-Jin chunqiu 漢晉春秋 by Xi Zuochi. Meng Huo is mentioned again in another 4th century work, the Huayang guo zhi 華陽國志 by Chang Qu.[7][5]

Pei Songzhi found certain parts of the Han-Jin chunqiu unreliable, such as Wang Ling's biography. He has not expressed doubts about Meng Huo's entry into this work. Meng Huo's entry was thus included in the Records of the Three Kingdoms,[n 3] but without additional commentary.

The Song Dynasty historian and leading compiler of the Zizhi tongjian Sima Guang also took Xi Zuochi's records in the Zizhi tongjian.

There were thus two sources in which Meng Huo was mentioned:

  • Han-Jin chunqiu 漢晉春秋
  • Huayang guo zhi 華陽國志

Which were later included in:

  • Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo zhi 三國志)
  • Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒

The Records of the Three Kingdoms and the Zizhi tongjian are two of the most popular Three Kingdoms sources. Yet, despite being included in these work various historians have found reasons to doubt Zhuge Liang's campaign against Meng Huo (especially the 7 captures and releases), but also Meng Huo's existence.

There are various reasons given for doubting Meng Huo's existence of the reliability of Zhuge Liang's campaign as mentioned in Han-Jin chunqiu:

  1. In Mandarin the name 'Meng Huo' is written as '孟獲'. The hanzi '獲' (Huo) literally means 'captured'.[8] Being captured a total of seven times, this makes the name 'Meng Huo' look suspicious.
  2. The story of Meng Huo being captured seven times within a rather short time is considered “too good to be true”.[9]

If Meng Huo indeed did not exist, then who was the man Yong Kai called upon to encourage the various barbarian leaders to revolt in Nanzhong? Or did he actually not call upon somebody? And who was it that collected Yong Kai's troops to oppose Zhuge Liang? Or was there nobody opposing Zhuge Liang after Yong Kai and Gaoding died?

About Meng Huo[]

According to Zhang Hualan's Discussion on Meng Huo (Mèng Huò biàn 孟獲辯) Meng Huo indeed did not exist. Zhang claims that Meng Huo was invented by later historians to represent the various Nanzhong leaders who opposed Zhuge Liang. He supports this statement by saying that 獲 (Huo) means 'captured'.

It's indeed a coincidence that the name of the man that gets captured seven times literally means 'captured'. But does that mean that he is fictional?

If we answer with “no”, we could support it with the following example:

Just as with Meng Huo, these names indicate quite well what happened. Liu Bei founded a kingdom and did all the preparation to make it possible. Liu Shan would go on to surrender it to Wei. These two men were definately not fictional, so why should Meng Huo be?

On another note, it is not clear if Meng Huo was a Chinese or not. If Meng Huo was not of Chinese origin, then his name could've just sounded like 'Meng Huo' and the Chinese chose a humiliating hanzi to transcribe it with.

About the campaign[]

The campaign itself remains very dubious. Aside from Zhuge Liang's one victory over Gaoding and seven victories over Meng Huo we are not told much.

The Zizhi tongjian gives us the following dates:

In the third month of 225 AD (27 March - 25 April)[12] Zhuge Liang left the Shu-Han capital city of Chengdu to pacify the region of Nanzhong. Zhuge Liang probably left on the 23rd, 24th or 25th of April.[n 4][12]

In the seventh month (22 August - 19 September)[2] Zhuge Liang is said to have arrived in Nanzhong, “winning victories everywhere” (referring to Yong Kai and Gaoding, who were killed).[2]

In the twelfth month (16 January - 14 February 226) Zhuge Liang returned to Chengdu.[1]

If the journey back to Chengdu took as long as the journey from it, then Zhuge Liang pacified Nanzhong in only roughly one month.[n 5] With the lack of detail concerning this campaign it's rather difficult to varify if Zhuge Liang could've done the following in just one month:

  • Defeat and execute Gaoding.
  • Travel southwards to face Meng Huo.
  • Defeat Meng Huo.
  • Have Meng Huo inspect his camps and release him.
  • Let Meng Huo return to his camp, regroup and attack again.
  • Capture Meng Huo again and release him again for another six times.
  • Let Meng Huo assemble and prepare for another attempt.
  • Appoint Nanzhong natives to officials posts.
  • Rename the various commanderies.
  • Presumably hold a funeral for all those who died in the battle.
  • Acquire gold, riches and provisions.

A battle can be won in only a matter of hours. For example during the Yellow Turban Rebellion the Han General Huangfu Song was fighting Yellow Turban leader Zhang Liang in Guangzong city and after one initial set-back Huangfu Song regrouped, attacked and defeated Zhang Liang within 24 hours. Personally, I do not think any of Meng Huo's battles against Zhuge Liang took any longer than 24 hours. I think some of them might have taken no less than 12 hours. But that's just my opinion which can't be supported by any historical documents.

Another problem is that we can't determine how long it took Zhuge Liang to travel from Gaoding's location to Meng Huo's, or how far away lay Zhuge Liang's and Meng Huo's camp from each other. All in all we know just too little to determine if the campaign indeed went the way as written in the Records of the Three Kingdoms.

See also[]

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  1. Though Meng Yan bears the same surname as Meng Huo, nothing is said about a possible relation between the two men.
  2. The Kingdoms of Nanzhong is also the only source I've seen so far that claims Meng Huo commanded Shu-Han troops at the Shu-Han/Wei front and may not be all that reliable. By stating that Meng Huo was battling at the Shu-Han/Wei front within a year Herman indicates that Meng Huo fought in Zhuge Liang's first Northern Expedition. I have yet to run into a source other than this one that claims the same.
  3. Han-Jin chunqiu was not the only work by Xi Zuochi that Pei Songzhi included. The other being the Xiangyang jijiu zhuan 襄陽耆舊傳.
  4. In The Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, the English translation of the Zizhi tongjian, Zhuge Liang's leaving is mentioned on page 184 under a paragraph that starts with on the day i-ssŭ (Apr. 23).
  5. The journey from Chengdu to Nanzhong took about four months. Twelve - Four = Eight. Zhuge Liang arrived in month seven and left about month eight.

Fact vs. Fiction[]


  • ...Meng Huo did not have a wife named Zhurong.
  • ...Meng Huo did not have a daughter named Huaman.
  • ...Meng Huo did not have brothers named Meng You or Meng Jie.
  • ...In fact, nothing is known about Meng Huo's family.
  • ...Meng Huo did not have men such as Mangyachang, King Duosi, King Wutugu et al. assisting him. These men are fictional.
  • ...Meng Huo, nor any of his allies, were ever mentioned riding a "frizzy-haired horse the color of a red hare", a "yellow valiant horse", a "red haired ox", or "white elephants". These animals are only mentioned in fiction.
  • ...there is no mention of Meng Huo's equippings, thus no mention of wearing a shield, a rhinoceros hide, et cetera.
  • ...Meng Huo did not have the title "King of Nanman" or "King of Nanzhong".


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, page 196
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, page 185
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, page 143
  4. Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, page 186
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chang Qu, Huayang guo zhi, Records of Nanzhong
  6. Herman, The Kingdoms of Nanzhong in T'oung Pao 95, page 263
  7. Peirce, Kongming's Archives, biography of Meng Huo
  8. Wiktionary, page for
  9. de Crespigny, e-mail contact
  10. Wiktionary, page for
  11. Wiktionary, page for
  12. 12.0 12.1 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, page 182