An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhang Fei 張飛

Jun 25, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhang Fei 張飛 (d. 221), courtesy name Yide 益德, was a follower and famous general of Liu Bei 劉備 (161-222), the founder of the Shu-Han empire 蜀漢 (221-263), one of the Three Empires 三國 (220-280).

Zhang Fei hailed from Zhuojun 涿郡 (modern Zhuoxian 涿縣, Hebei) and at an early point of time became a companion of Liu Bei, together with Guan Yu 關羽 (d. 219). Liu Bei at that time served the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220), especially during his campaign against Lü Bu 呂布 (d. 198). For his successful devotion in the war against Lü Bu, Zhang Fei was appointed Leader of the court gentlemen (zhonglangjiang 中郎將). The "trefoil" Liu-Zhang-Guan offered their services to the warlord Yuan Shao 袁紹 (d. 202) and later Liu Biao 劉表 (142-208).

When Cao Cao invaded the province of Jingzhou 荊州 (approx. modern Hubei), Liu Bei had to escape. During the flight Zhang Fei protected his retreat, so that Cao Cao was not able to capture Liu Bei. Shortly after, Cao Cao was defated at the Red Cliff (Chibi 赤壁, modern Puqi 蒲圻, Hubei) by a joint army of Liu Bei and Sun Quan 孫權 (182-252). Zhang Fei was for this victory appointed governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Yidu 宜都 and awarded the title of General Conquering the Enemy (zhenglu jiangjun 征虜將軍).

Liu Bei's counsellor Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234) suggested to conquer the region of Shu 蜀 (modern Sichuan) from the hands of the warlord Liu Zhang 劉璋 (d. 219). During the campaign, Zhang Fei captured general Yan Yan 嚴顔. In 215 Zhang Fei was appointed governor of Baxi 巴西. Cao Cao dispatched general Zhang He 張郃 (d. 231) with a large army to conquer this region, yet Zhang Fei resisted stubbornly and, when receiving support from outside, crushed the troops of Zhang He.

When Liu Bei proclaimed himself emperor of Shu-Han in 221, Zhang Fei was awarded the title of Chariot-and-horse general (cheji jiangjun 車騎將軍), was appointed metropolitan commandant (sili xiaowei 司隷校尉) and was given the title of Marquis of Xixiang 西鄉侯. In spite of his military talent, Zhang Fei was known was someone who treated his subordinated with exaggerated cruelty. During a campaign against Sun Quan in 221, he was therefore stabbed to death by one of his officers.

Zhu Zongbin 祝總斌 (1992). "Zhang Fei 張飛", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1497.