He hailed from Dongping 東平 (modern Dongping, Shandong) and was known as a very competent and skilled person during his youth so that he was called one of the "eight endowed ones" (bachu 八廚 the others were Du Shang 度尚, Wang Kao 王考, Liu Ru 劉儒, Humu Ban 胡母班, Qin Zhou 秦周, Pi Xiang [sic!] 蕃向 and Wang Zhang 王章). He was appointed governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Chenliu 陳留, so that he was also known as Zhang Chenliu 張陳留. When Dong Zhuo 董卓 usurped the power of the central government, Zhang Miao, together with his brother Zhang Chao 張超, joined the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 and took part in the alliance with Yuan Shao 袁紹 to defeat Dong Zhuo. Arrogant Yuan Shao was not very fond of Zhang Miao, felt provoked by his critics and ordered Cao Cao to kill him.
In 194 therefore, Zhang Miao conspired with another general of Cao Cao, Chen Gong 陳宮, and rebelled against Cao Cao when the latter was on a campaign against Tao Qian 陶謙. They joined their troops with Lü Bu 呂布 and prepared for an invasion in the region of Puyang 濮陽. Lü Bu was defeated by Cao Cao#s troops and took refuge in the camp of Liu Bei 劉備. Zhang Miao for his part asked Yuan Shu 袁術 for support, but he was defeated by Cao Cao before he reached his stronghold in Shouchun 壽春. He was killed by his own troops during his flight after the battle of Yongqiu 雍丘.