An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhang Zhao 張昭

Jun 25, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhang Zhao 張昭 (156-236), courtesy name Zibu 子布, was a high minister of Sun Quan 孫權, the founder of the Wu dynasty 吳 (222-280), one of the Three Empires 三國 (220-280).

Zhang Zhao hailed from Pengcheng 彭城 (modern Xuzhou 徐州, Jiangsu), where he obtained the common education of the higher class, including the Confucian Classics. When the central government of the Later Han dynasty 後漢 (25-220 CE) lost its grip on the regions, and warlords took over the control over the provinces, Zhang Zhao left his hometown, crossed the Yangtze River and became a follower of the warlord Sun Ce 孫策 (175-200). Sun Ce made him first commandery aide (zhangshi 長史) and later Leader of the court gentlemen coordinating the army (fujun zhongliangjiang 撫軍中郎將).

Zhang Zhao was engaged in both civilian and military matters to such an extent that he was also called a "second Guan Zhong" 管仲. When Sun Ce was struck by the dagger of an assassin, he entrusted his younger brother Sun Quan to Zhang Zhao. The loyal minister was able to calm the court after the sudden death of its leader and invited all to participate in the strengthening of the arising state of Wu and to support Sun Quan.

Each time Sun Quan left his capital during campaigns, Zhang Zhao stayed to take over the government. Towards the growing power of Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220), who controlled the whole of northern China, Zhang Zhao was quite hesitant and was rather inclined to offer submission. In this respect, he took an opposite stance than Zhou Yu 周瑜 (175-210) and Lu Su 魯肅 (172-217) both of whom advocated resistance to Cao Cao. Cao Cao was defeated in the battle of the Red Cliff (Chibi 赤壁, modern Puqi 蒲圻, Hubei) in 208, so that neither he nor Sun Quan was able to control the whole of China.

After Sun Quan proclaimed himself emperor of Wu in 222 (posthumously known as 吳大帝, r. 222-252), he remembered Zhang Zhao's hesitant standpoint during that time and did not appoint him Counsellor-in-chief (xiang 相) but only awarded him the title of General Supporting Wu (fuwu jiangjun 輔吳將軍).

When the governor of Liaodong 遼東 in the northeast, Gongsun Yuan 公孫淵 (d. 204), declared his independence of the empire of Wei 魏 (220-265) in the north (ruled by Cao Cao's descendants), Sun Quan sent envoys to bestow Gongsun Yuan the title of King of Yan 燕. Zhang Zhao criticised Sun Quan for this step which made the emperor of Wu very angry. When Gongsun Yuan eventually killed the envoys, Sun Quan asked Zhang Zhao for pardon, but Zhang refused, deeply hurt in his heart until his death.

Zhu Zongbin 祝總斌 (1992). "Zhang Zhao 張昭", 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, 1509.