An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮

May 7, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234), courtesy name Kongming 孔明, style Wolong 臥龍, was a high minister and advisor to Liu Bei 劉備 (161-222), founder of the Shu-Han dynasty 蜀漢 (221-263) during the Three Kingdoms period 三國 (220-280).

Zhuge hailed from Langya 琅琊 (modern Yinan 沂南, Shandong) from an eminent family. At the end of the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE), his uncle Zhuge Xuan 諸葛玄 became a follower of the warlord Liu Biao 劉表 (142-208) in the province of Jingzhou 荊州 (approx. modern Hubei), where Zhuge Liang settled down in the town of Longzhong 隆中 (modern Xiangfan 襄樊, Hubei) as a "hidden scholar" engaging in agriculture instead of dedicating himself to a state office. Liu Bei, once hearing of Zhuge Liang's competence in political matters, tried to hire him, but Zhuge Liang refused two times to receive his visit before he welcomed Liu Bei and accepted his request to enter his service.

Zhuge's first political suggestion was that Liu Bei might ally with Sun Quan 孫權 (182-252), the warlord controlling the lower Yangtze region, in order to ward off the invasion of the northern warlord Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220). Towards the south, Liu Bei was to make peace with the native tribes of the Yi 夷 and Yue 越, and the Sichuan Basin, the province of Yizhou 益州, was basically to serve as his stronghold, from which he might be able to conquer the north of China.

In 208, Zhuge Liang travelled to the court of Sun Quan to convince his advisors Zhou Yu 周瑜 (175-210) and Lu Su 魯肅 (172-217) of the advantages of a southern alliance. Sun Quan agreed, and Cao Cao could be defeated in the decisive battle of the Red Cliff (Chibi 赤壁, modern Puqi 蒲圻, Hubei). Zhuge Liang was made leader of the court gentlemen commanding the army (junshi zhonglangjiang 軍師中郎將), a position he used to secure the commanderies in the province of Jingzhou. He then took over the command of Liu Bei's army that was to invade Sichuan. Zhuge Liang conquered the capital Chengdu and crushed the forces of Liu Zhang. For this success he was awarded with the title of General Commanding the Army (junshi jiangjun 軍師將軍) and virtually became Liu Bei's chief minister, taking over the civilian government when Liu Bei was campaigning.

When Liu Bei proclaimed himself emperor (known as Emperor Zhaolie 昭烈帝, r. 221-222) in 221, Zhuge Liang was appointed Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang 丞相). Liu Bei soon fell ill and entrusted his under-age son Liu Shan 劉禪 (known as the Last Ruler, Houzhu 蜀後主, r. 223-263 CE) into the hands of the loyal Counsellor. Zhuge Liang was also appointed regional governor (mu 牧) of the province of Yizhou and was invested as Marquis of Wuxiang 武鄉侯. Liu Shan proved to be a very weak persons, so that Zhuge Liang was in fact the regent of the empire of Shu-Han.

As the most powerful person in the empire, Zhuge Liang did nonetheless rely on both his own retinue he had brought with him from Jingzhou, as well as on officials that formerly were subjects of the warlord Liu Zhang. He also tried to win over the gentry of Yizhou. Zhuge Liang hired a lot of competent persons, regardless of their social and economical background, and was thus able to create a very stable and effective administration. The theoretical background of his politics can be called legalist because he tried to make use of laws, rewards and punishment in an objective and just way. It was especially the local elites against which he used harder measures to make them subservient to the new regime of the Shu-Han dynasty. Yet he saw even himself as subject to the objective laws when one military leader, Ma Su 馬謖, was defeated by the armies of Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang saw the fault with himself as having chosen not the right person, and asked for being demoted in rank and being appointed to a lower office. The emperor, of course, declined this wish.

In 225 Zhuge Liang undertook a campaign against the unruly native tribes of the region of Nanzhong 南中 (modern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou) and forced them under the rule of the Shu-Han empire by appointing chieftains as local officials.

The alliance with Sun Quan (r. 222-252), ruler of the empire of Wu 吳 (222-280), continued, so that all military campaigns could concentrate on the north. Yet the economical sources of Shu were too weak against the empire of Wei 魏 (220-265) in the north, ruled by Cao Cao's son Cao Pi 曹丕 (known as emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226). Shu was defeated in several battles and had soon to give up plans to conquer the north and to revive the Han dynasty. Zhuge Liang died during a campaign. He was posthumously bestowed the title of Marquis Zhongwu 忠武侯.

Zhuge Liang was a military strategist and is credited with the authorship of several military treatises, like Jiangyuan 將苑 (Xinshu 心書) and Bianyi shiliu ce 便宜十六策. His collected writings are called Zhuge Liang ji 諸葛亮集.

Zhu Zongbin 祝總斌 (1992). "Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮", 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, 1612.