An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zu Yue 祖約

Feb 15, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald

Zu Yue 祖約 (d. 330), courtesy name Shishao 士少, was a general and rebel during the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420). He hailed from the district of Qiuxian 遒縣 in the commandery of Fangyang 范陽 (today's Laishui 淶水, Hebei), and was a younger brother of the famous general Zu Ti 祖逖 (d. 321). He was made magistrate (ling 令) of Chenggao 成皋 on the grounds of his "filiality-incorruptibility" (xiaolian 孝廉, see commandery quota system).

After the foundation of the Eastern Jin, he was made palace gentleman for service (congshi zhonglang 從事中郎), and after the death of Zu Ti, Yue inherited his position as General Appeasing the West (pingxi jiangjun 平西將軍) and regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of the province of Yuzhou 豫州, residing in Shouyang 壽陽 (today in Anhui).

Zu Yue thus commanded a large army which he used to participate in crushing the rebellion of Wang Dun 王敦 (266-324) in 322. He was therefore given the title of General Suppressing the West (zhanxi jiangjun 鎮西將軍), but felt that his merits were not really appreciated by the court, mainly by Yu Liang 庾亮 (289-340), who reigned for the child Emperor Cheng 晉成帝 (r. 325-342).

In the course of Wang Dun's rebellion, general Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328), residing in Liyang 歷陽 (today's Hexian 和縣, Anhui), had gained greatest military power. For fear that Sun might challenge Yu Liang's dominant position in the central government, the regent called Su back to the capital Jiankang 建康 (today's Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu), bestowing him the civilian title of Chamberlain for the National Treasury (dasinong 大司農). Knowing that this would deprive him of all influence, Su Jun declined and stage a rebellion.

In 327, Zu Yue decided to join Su Jun, and both marched against Jiankang. They met resistance, but in the first lunar month, the generals Zu Huan 祖渙 and Xu Liu 許柳 crossed the Yangtze and were able to conquer Jiankang. The rebels sacked the city, administrative buildings, palaces, and monasteries, plundered the state treasury, raped the palace women, and took the emperor as a hostage. Su Jun named himself cavalry general (piaoji jiangjun 驃騎將軍) and overseer of the imperial secretaries (lu shangshu shi 錄尚書事) and formally took over regency. Zu Yue was made palace attendant (shizhong 侍中) and appointed Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉), and Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu ling 尚書令).

Quite an interesting social aspect is that the armies of Su Jun and Zu Yue consisted mainly of refugees (liumin 流民) from north China which were not very welcome in the south.

In early summer 328, Yu Liang, who had fled with the court to Xunyang 尋陽 (Jiujiang 九江, Jiangxi), assembled new forces under the command of Wen Jiao 溫嶠 (288-329), regional inspector of Jiangzhou 江州, and Tao Kan 陶侃 (259-334), regional inspector of Jingzhou 荊州, and marched down the Yangtze. The rebels were also attacked from the east by Yu Bing 庾冰 (296-344, a younger brother of Yu Liang), Wang Shu 王舒 (d. 333), and Yu Tan 虞潭 (c. 263-c. 341). Xi Jian 郗鑒 (269-339) cut off the rebel's retreat to the southeast.

In autumn, Su Jun was killed, and while his younger brother Su Yi 蘇逸 was able to hold Jiankang for some time, Zu Yue withdrew with his remaining troops to the north. He sought refuge in the state of Later Zhao 後趙 (319-350). Yet its ruler, Shi Le 石勒 (r. 319-333), did not want to risk an attack from the south, and had Zu Yue killed.

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Wu Chengguo 吳成國 (1992). "Zu Yue, Su Jun zhi luan 祖約蘇峻之亂", in Chen Xiansi 陳顯泗, ed. Zhong-wai zhanzheng zhanyi da cidian 中外戰爭戰役大辭典 (Changsha: Hunan chubanshe), 77.
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