Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Zhang He 張郃 was a highly decorated soldier of Wei. He originally served Yuan Shao, but left his service and joined Cao Cao because his advice was never heeded. Zhang He was a long-time vassal of the Wei dynasty, serving Cao Cao, Cao Pi and Cao Rui. It was Zhang He's actions at Jieting which shut down Zhuge Liang's first invasion north. However, he suffered an unfortunate death after he was ordered to pursue the enemy through dangerous terrain, despite his protests.


Like many at the time, Zhang He responded to the disorder caused by the Yellow Turbans by enlisting with the local forces. Zhang He served as a Major to Han Fu. When Yuan Shao managed to snatch Ji province away from Han Fu in the autumn of 191 A.D.[1], Zhang He joined up with Shao, along with his fellow soldiers. Shao promoted Zhang He to Colonel and sent him to repel Gongsun Zan. Zhang He earned many merits fighting against Zan and was promoted to General of the Household Who Brings Tranquility to the State.

Battle of Guandu[]

In 200 A.D., Yuan Shao engaged in combat with Cao Cao at Guandu (官渡). Shao's army dwarfed that of Cao Cao's, but Zhang He still thought they would not win a direct confrontation, so he said to Shao: "My Lord, although you achieved repeated successes, do not do battle with Duke Cao. Instead, quietly dispatch cavalry south of his position to cut his lines of communication, then his forces will defeat themselves."[n 1] But Shao did not heed his advice.[2]

Yuan Shao had tasked Chunyu Qiong with securing provisions, and he, and his 10,000 troops, had camped at Wuchao (烏巢) for the night. Cao Cao himself led 5,000 soldiers from his main camp to destroy the supply train.[3] Zhang He warned Shao, saying: "If Lord Cao's best troops have gone he is sure to defeat Chunyu Qiong. When Chunyu Qiong is defeated the affair is lost. I beg first to go and help him." But one of Shao's advisors, Guo Tu said: "Zhang He's plan is unnecessary. If you assault Duke Cao's main camp, he must certainly abandon his attack and return to defend it. In this way, you save save Qiong by attacking Cao." But Zhang He replied: "Lord Cao's camp is strong, if we attack it we shall certainly not succeed. If Chunyu Qiong and the others are taken then we shall all be captives."[4]

In the end, Yuan Shao only dispatched light cavalry to assist Chunyu Qiong and had his main force assault Cao Cao's camp. Zhang He and Gao Lan attacked Cao Hong[5], but they could not overcome his defences; and as expected Qiong was killed and the provisions destroyed. Guo Tu was shamed by the outcome of events, so he slandered Zhang He, saying: "Zhang He has been spouting impertinent words due to the rapid defeat of the army." Zhang He feared unjust reprisal[n 2], so he, along with Gao Lan, set fire to their siege engines and surrendered to Cao Hong.

Cao Hong was reluctant to accept Zhang He's surrender, but Xun You said to him: "Zhang He's plan was rejected. He is angry and he has come away. How can you have doubts?"[6][7] Thereupon, Hong accepted their surrender. Yuan Shao's army soon collapsed and Shao fled back north.[n 3]

Cao Cao was extremely delighted to have Zhang He join his forces, he said: "In former times, Zixu[n 4] did not leave early, and so he caused his own to wither. How better to be like Weizi submitting to Zhou[n 5] or Han Xin returning to the Han[n 6]." Zhang He was appointed as Lieutenant-General, ennobled as Marquis of a Chief Village and given a command to assist in the attack against the Yuans.

Zhang He then participated in numerous campaigns under Cao Cao: he followed in the attack on Yuan Tan at Bohai (渤海); he was given a separate command to attack Yongnu (雍奴) with Yue Jin; he fought in the vanguard alongside Zhang Liao and seize Liucheng (柳城), after which he was promoted to General Who Pacifies Barbarians; he defeated Guan Cheng at Donglai (東萊); then again fought with Zhang Liao, this time against Chen Lan and Mei Cheng.

In 211 A.D., Cao Cao headed west in a campaign to annex Hanzhong (漢中) when the warlords of Liang province: Ma Chao, Han Sui, Yang Qiu et al. rebelled. Zhang He followed in the defeat of the rebels at Wei (渭) river and the subsequent surrounding of Anding (安定) and surrender of Yang Qiu. In 212 A.D., Zhang He then joined Xiahou Yuan in attacking the Wudu tribesmen and another of the Liang rebels, Liang Xing a bandit from Fu (鄜). They caught Xing attacking Hu (鄠) city, relieving the city and beheading Xing.[8]

After Ma Chao was defeated in Liang province, he fled south; he tried to seize Ji (冀) city, but the residents there had chased him away. Chao headed further south and allied with Zhang Lu of Hanzhong and returned with reinforcements. Xiahou Yuan quickly responded to the call for help and assigned Zhang He with 5,000 infantry and cavalry as the vanguard. Chao led 1,000 tribesmen to block Zhang He's advance, but fled as soon as he saw Zhang He and Zhang He seized all the military equipment left behind in their haste to escape.[9]

For over 30 years, Song Jian of Longxi (隴西) had occupied Baohan (枹罕) and created his own little state. Taking advantage of the chaos throughout the land, Song Jian had avoided repercussions, but with Liang province being annexed by Cao Cao, Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He were dispatched to deal with him. In the 10th month of 214 A.D., the Wei forces attacked Jian, massacring his people and beheading him.[10]

Struggle for Hanzhong[]

Cao Cao soon resumed the annexation of Hanzhong. In the 3rd month of 215 A.D., Cao Cao began his approach to Hanzhong. Di tribesmen had obstructed the roads south, so Zhang He and Zhu Ling were given 5,000 soldiers and ordered to clear a path through. Zhang He had managed to clear San Pass (散關) so that Cao Cao could head south with his main force, but over 10,000 Di had united under King of Di Doumao (竇茂) and remained lodged in the defiles. In the 5th month, Cao Cao turned his attention to the Di and massacred their forces.[11]

Zhang Lu soon surrendered Hanzhong to Cao Cao and Xiahou Yuan was left to oversee it, along with Zhang He, and protect it from Liu Bei to the south.

Zhang He was tasked with securing the surrender of Eastern Ba and Western Ba commanderies in order to resettle the populace therein closer to Hanzhong. But upon attacking Western Ba, Liu Bei dispatched Grand Administrator of Western Ba Zhang Fei to advance his forces to Dangqu (宕渠). Zhang He and Fei were locked in stalemate for over 50 days. Zhang Fei decided to employ a risky manoeuvre, he took 10,000 elite troops and circumvented Zhang He's position by taking paths through the mountains. Fei's gamble payed off and Zhang He was caught in a dangerous pincer attack at Wakou (瓦口), and his forces routed; Zhang He was forced to abandon his horse and flee into the mountains with only a dozen or so subordinates. Zhang He fled back to Nanzheng (南鄭).[12][13] Zhang He was appointed as General Who Terrifies Criminals.[n 7]

Battle of Mt. Dingjun[]

In 218 A.D., Liu Bei led his forces and invaded Hanzhong. Liu Bei camped at Yangping (陽平) and Zhang He and Xiahou Yuan came to Guangshi (廣石) to oppose him. There, the two sides remained in stalemate for the better part of a year. By the first month of 219 A.D., the Shu-Han forces had advanced east, crossed south over the Mian (沔) river and camped on Mt. Dingjun (定軍山).[14] The Wei forces had surrounded the mountain, Xiahou Yuan guarded the southern face and Zhang He the eastern face.[15]

During the night, Liu Bei personally led 10,000 elite troops, split into 10 division, against Zhang He's position in Zouma Valley (走馬谷). Liu Bei's forces also set fire to the defensive abatis surrounding the Wei camps, Zhang He was struggling against Liu Bei's elite forces and so Xiahou Yuan split half his forces to assist the eastern front whilst he tried to extinguish the fires. With Yuan's forces depleted, Shu-Han general Huang Zhong stormed down the mountain and destroyed Yuan's forces, killing Yuan.[16][17]

The Wei army collapsed with the death of their commander and Zhang He fled[n 8] The Wei forces were scattered and in disarray and afraid Liu Bei would come finish them off. It was then that Xiahou Yuan's Major Guo Huai said: "General Zhang is a celebrated leader of our state. Liu Bei is afraid of him. As the situation becomes more critical every day, our minds will not be easy unless General Zhang takes command."[18][n 9] Forthwith, it was unanimously decided that Zhang He would take command; He organised the forces and arrayed the forces to deter Liu Bei's advance. When Cao Cao heard, he dispatched an envoy to present Zhang He with the Staff of Authority to show he approved.

Cao Cao brought his main force in response to Liu Bei's invasion, but each side maintained one bank of the Han river (漢) so no battle was joined. In the end, Cao Cao withdrew, Zhang He was stationed at Chencang (陳倉) to guard the passes to the south.

Service to Cao Pi[]

The following year, Cao Pi acceded the throne of Wei. Zhang He was promoted to General of the Left and enfeoffed as Marquis of a Chief District. And when Emperor Cao Pi received the imperial throne, Zhang He was further enfeoffed as Marquis of Mao (鄚) Village. An imperial edict ordered Zhang He and Cao Zhen to then punish the Hu and Qiang tribesmen around An'ding (安定). They were then recalled to the imperial palace to discuss the pending invasion of Wu.

Towards the end of 222 A.D., Cao Pi invaded Wu. Zhang He was involved with the front led by Cao Zhen attacking Jiangling (江陵). The Wei forces then besieged Jiangling for several months. Wu general Sun Sheng was given 10,000 troops in an effort to relieve the siege; he led his forces to a river islet and started preparing defensive fortifications in an effort to support Jiangling from the outside. Zhang He took a detachment and drove the Wu forces from the islet and seized the fortifications for Wei;[19] several thousand Wu troops drowned in their escape attempt.[20] In the end, the city could not be taken.

Service to Cao Rui[]

After Emperor Cao Rui acceded the throne, Zhang He was dispatched south to Jing province with Sima Yi to attack Wu general 劉阿. They pursued him to Qikou (祁口), where they engaged him in battle and defeated him.

In 228 A.D., Shu-Han general Zhuge Liang announced he was invading Liang province. The Wei forces were quickly marshalled in response to the invasion. Zhuge Liang had attacked Mt. Qi (祁山) and had assigned Ma Su led the vanguard and camped at Jieting (街亭). Zhang He led forces against the Shu-Han vanguard. Upon arrival, Zhang He found Ma Su had ignored the cities and set up his camp on the mountains. Zhang He cut the water supply to the Shu-Han army and soon they disintegrated.

The Shu-Han army was dealt a crushing defeat and all of them scattered. Only General Wang Ping remained composed, he had his small force arrayed for battle and beat the drums himself. Zhang He suspected an ambush so did not push the enemy hard.[21] With the vanguard defeated, the Zhuge Liang's forces were forced to withdraw. Several of the Liang commanderies had been thrown into revolt due to the invasion, so Zhang He then assisted in the pacification of the revolting commanderies.

An imperial decree was sent down commending Zhang He's actions saying: "The rebel Zhuge Liang brought forth the rabble of Ba-Shu and roared like a tiger.[n 10] But while the masses panicked, General Zhang remained resolute and held his fighting spirit; he overcame the enemy and settled the public. I commend his actions and declare his fief increased by 1,000 households to a total of 4,300 households."

Sima Yi was raising a fleet in Jing province with the intention of sailing down the Mian (沔) river and attacking Wu. An imperial edict commanded Zhang He to oversee the various Guanzhong forces and lead them to Jing province to assist Sima Yi. However, the winter weather left the waters shallow so the great boats could not advance. In the end, Zhang He returned and camped at Fangcheng (方城).

Zhuge Liang launched another invasion north this time against Chencang. The Emperor wanted to see Zhang He off personally, so he came out to He'nan (河南) city, he prepared a feast for Zhang He as well as sending 30,000 troops and imperial bodyguard to escort him. When he arrived, the Emperor asked Zhang He: "Is it not possible that Zhuge Liang will have captured Chen Cang when you, General, arrive?" Zhang He calculated that the Shu-Han army would not have much provisions[n 11] and would not be able to sustain the attack so he said: "When I get there Zhuge Liang will already be gone; I calculate Liang's provisions will not last 10 days."[22] Zhang He marched day and night, but by the time he arrived at Chencang, Zhuge Liang had already left. Zhang He was promoted to General of Chariots and Cavalry Who Subdues the West.

Battle of Shanggui[]

In 231 A.D., Zhuge Liang campaigned north for the fourth time. Cao Zhen had fallen ill, so Sima Yi was assigned to replace him. The battle did not too well for the Wei forces as Zhuge Liang continuously managed to outmanoeuvre Sima Yi. Zhuge Liang had fortified his position at Lucheng (鹵城) and Sima Yi had not yet actually engaged Zhuge Liang in combat. Zhang He said to him: "They have come far to meet us, and have sought battle in vain. They believe it is to our advantage not to fight with them, and intend to take recourse to some sly scheme to bring us under their control. Besides, those at Mt. Qi, knowing that our large forces are near at hand, are heartened; we could quarter our troops there and send out irregular expeditions to show that we are at the enemy's heels. We should not advance unless we dare to press hard, else we will make the people lose hope in us. At present Zhuge Liang's solitary army lacks provisions, and so will go away."[23] But Sima Yi did not heed his advice and pursued Zhuge Liang to Lucheng.[24]

The Wei forces arrived at Lucheng and Sima Yi began to establish fortifications but still did not battle. Although Zhang He had opted to take a more cautious approach, many of Sima Yi's advisor began to goad him into attacking. Sima Yi decided to attack Zhuge Liang's camp and set Zhang He with a detachment to attack Wang Ping at Nanwei (南圍).[n 12] Sima Yi was soundly defeated nor could Zhang He lift Wang Ping's siege.[25][26]

Zhuge Liang had beaten Sima Yi, but his provisions were exhausted so he had to withdraw anyway. Sima Yi had repeatedly tasted defeat and so he ordered Zhang He to pursue the retreating forces, but Zhang He said: "The Book of War says, 'An outlet must be made for a besieged city,' and 'Do not pursue an army that is withdrawing'."[27] But Sima Yi did not listen. In the end, Zhang He had no option but to follow his superior's orders so went in pursuit of the withdrawing forces. At Mumen (木門), Zhuge Liang had set up an ambush; he had numerous crossbowmen hiding among the mountains and they unloaded a barrage of bolts into the pursuit force. Zhang He was struck and killed.[28]


Zhang He died in 231 A.D. and was posthumously canonised as "Magnificent" (壯) Lord of Mao Village. Zhang He knew how to deal with changing circumstances; he was adept at arraying his camp; and understood the value of good terrain; even Zhuge Liang feared Zhang He. Although Zhang He was a valiant general, he also dedicated himself to scholarly pursuits. There was an edict sent down commending Zhang He's actions saying: "Externally, General Zhang manages the army, and internally, cherishes the dynasty. I commend the General's ideal and consider him worthy of becoming a court scholar."[n 13]



  • Zhang Xiong (張雄) - Eldest son and heir.
  • 5 others sons unnamed - The youngest is ennobled as a Secondary Marquis, the rest are ennobled as Marquises and Zhang He's household split between them.


  1. I'm not too sure what the successes were, Cao Cao had repeatedly outperformed Yuan Shao, but Shao's sheer momentum allowed him to continually roll southwards. Presumably, Zhang He was referring to the fact that Shao advance could not be stopped.
  2. Yuan Shao has repeatedly accepted slanderous remarks in the past, so Zhang He was quite right to be concerned.
  3. There's a slight discrepancy between Cao Cao, Yuan Shao, Xun You and Zhang He's SGZ here. Zhang He and Xun You's SGZs say the collapse happened prior to the surrender, but the other two say the opposite. Considering Cao Hong's reluctance, I imagine Zhang He surrendered prior to the collapse when there was a chance it was a ruse. Cao Cao would also be more grateful towards those who surrendered prior to the actually defeat, and he bestows a few honours of Zhang He afterwards.
  4. Courtesy name of Wu Yun, I think. Due to the King of Chu wronging his son, he then feared he might rebel. Thus the King killed his son and his tutor, Wu She, Zixu's father, and also wanted to exterminate his clan. Zixu tried fleeing but was trapped within state borders. Supposedly, the intense stress whitened his hair and aged his features so he was able to escape.
  5. Weizi was the brother of the despotic King of Shang. Weizi tried remonstrating with his half-brother, but was ignored so he left the court. When the Duke of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty, Weizi submitted to the Zhou kingdom and was not only spared but later given a fief.
  6. Han Xin served Xiang Yu, but was poorly treated. As a result, Han Xin defected to Liu Bang's side where he was soon appointed General-in-Chief and helped establish the Han dynasty.
  7. I've used Zhang Fei's SGZ's account of the battle here because it's more detailed but I'm not entire sure how accurate it is. The Shu accounts say Zhang He was "defeated", but it wasn't a "great defeat", so fleeing on foot seems extreme. Zhang He's SGZ says he met resistance and withdrew; He was also promoted, so that also doesn't fit a serious defeat. If Zhang He had detected Fei before it was too late and his forces scattered, casualties might not be too high and if he had already secured Eastern Ba, it might be worth a promotion.
  8. His SGZ says he fled to Yangping, but to reach Yangping, Zhang He would have to go across Liu Bei's position, it's more likely that he fled east away from the Shu-Han forces to Nanzheng, the capital of Hanzhong.
  9. The Wei lue quoted in Zhang He's SGZ says that Liu Bei feared Zhang He over Xiahou Yuan, which sort of follows Guo Huai's statement.
  10. I think this refers to the fact that Zhuge Liang announced his invasion in an attempt to draw the Wei forces away from his actual target.
  11. Probably because they had only just attacked north (Jieting).
  12. Commentary in Zhuge Liang's SGZ says He Ping, but this is a reference to Wang Ping.
  13. There's more this edict, but I couldn't translate it all. It starts by comparing Zhang He to Zhai Zun becoming general.

Fact vs. Fiction[]


  • …In the novel, it was Sima Yi's idea to surround Ma Su, it was Zhang He's plan. Furthermore, at that time Sima Yi was not involved with the western campaigns.
  • ...In the novel, Zhang He proposes pursuing the retreating Shu-Han forces. But Zhang He argued against it with was forced to give chase by Sima Yi.
  • ...In the novel, Cao Hong mocks Zhang He after his defeat by Zhang He. But the fact that he was promoted after the campaign shows it was not a complete disaster.


  1. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao.
  2. SGZ: Hanjin chunqiu quoted in Biography of Zhang He.
  3. SGZ: Biography of Yuan Shao.
  4. de Crespigny. Chapter 63 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 5, section AA
  5. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao.
  6. de Crespigny. Chapter 63 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 5, section AA
  7. SGZ: Biography of Xun You.
  8. SGZ: Biography of Xiahou Yuan.
  9. SGZ: Biography of Xiahou Yuan.
  10. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao.
  11. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao.
  12. SGZ: Biography of Zhang Fei.
  13. SGZ: Biography of Liu Bei.
  14. SGZ: Biography of Liu Bei.
  15. SGZ: Biography of Xiahou Yuan.
  16. SGZ: Biography of Xiahou Yuan.
  17. SGZ: Biography of Huang Zhong.
  18. de Crespigny. Chapter 68 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 24, section C
  19. SGZ: Biography of Zhu Ran.
  20. SGZ: Book of Wei quoted in Biography of Cao Pi.
  21. SGZ: Biography of Wang Ping.
  22. Fang. Chapter 10 in The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms
  23. Fang. Chapter 12 in The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms
  24. SGZ: Hanjin chunqiu quoted in Biography of Zhuge Liang.
  25. SGZ: Hanjin chunqiu quoted in Biography of Zhuge Liang.
  26. SGZ: Biography of Wang Ping.
  27. Fang. Chapter 12 in The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms
  28. SGZ: Wei lüe quoted in the Biography of Zhang He.


  • Chen Shou 陳壽 (233–297). Sanguo zhi 三國志 “Records of the Three Kingdoms”, with official commentary compiled by Pei Songzhi 裴松之 (372-451).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Vol. 1. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996. 2 vols.
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Vol. 2. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996. 2 vols.
  • Fang, Achilles. The Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms. Vol. I. Harvard University Press, 1952. 2 vols.