Wang Lang
Minister over the Masses (司徒)
In office
January or February 227 (January or February 227) – December 228 (December 228)
MonarchCao Rui
Preceded byHua Xin
Succeeded byDong Zhao
Minister of Works (司空)
In office
11 December 220 (11 December 220) – January or February 227 (January or February 227)
MonarchCao Pi
Succeeded byChen Qun
Grandee Secretary (御史大夫)
(in Cao Pi's vassal kingdom)
In office
6 April (6 April) – 11 December 220 (11 December 220)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Pi
Grand Judge (大理)
(in Cao Cao's vassal kingdom)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Minister of Imperial Ancestral Ceremonies (奉常)
(in Cao Cao's vassal kingdom)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Minister Steward (少府)
(in Cao Cao's vassal kingdom)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Administrator of Kuaiji
In office
192 (192)–196 (196)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Succeeded bySun Ce
Personal details
Wang Yan (王嚴)

Tancheng County, Shandong
DiedDecember 228[a]
  • Wang Su
  • two other sons and one daughter
OccupationPolitician, warlord
Courtesy nameJingxing (景興)
Posthumous nameMarquis Cheng (成侯)
PeerageMarquis of Lanling

Wang Lang (pronunciation ; died December 228[a][2]), courtesy name Jingxing (景興), was a Chinese politician and minor warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He served notably in the Han central government as Administrator of Kuaiji Commandery and in the later state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He was also the great-grandfather of Sima Yan, the founding emperor of the Jin dynasty, through his granddaughter Wang Yuanji's marriage with Sima Zhao.

Early life and career

Wang Lang was from Tan County (郯縣), Donghai Commandery (東海郡), which is around present-day Tancheng County, Shandong. His original given name was "Yan" () but he changed it to "Lang" () later.[3] He started his career as a Palace Gentleman (郎中) due to his academic proficiency, particularly with the Chinese Classics. When his teacher Yang Ci (楊賜) died, he left his post and went back to his home county to mourn him. Later, he served Tao Qian, the Governor of Xu Province, where he advised Tao Qian and several other warlords to pledge allegiance to Emperor Xian, citing the Spring and Autumn Annals. Tao Qian then sent an envoy to the Han central government in Chang'an to pledge allegiance to the Emperor, and in return received the appointment "General Calming the East". The Han central government also appointed Wang Lang as the Administrator of Kuaiji Commandery.

As a warlord

During Wang Lang's tenure as Administrator of Kuaiji Commandery, Wang Lang banned the worship of Qin Shi Huang, a widespread custom among locals, believing that he was a ruler without virtue.[4] Wang also formed a secret alliance with the Shanyue tribes. When the warlord Sun Ce started his Jiangdong campaign, Wang Lang financed the Shanyue leader Yan Baihu to fight Sun Ce, but Yan Baihu and the other Shanyue clan leaders lost to Sun Ce; at the time, Liu Yao, another warlord in the Jiangdong region, had also lost to Sun Ce in battle. Yan Baihu had become the head of a loose confederation composed of bandits and local officials, including Wang Lang, and he again gathered soldiers numbering tens of thousands. Despite opposition from his adviser Yu Fan, Wang Lang directly joined Yan Baihu in military operations against Sun Ce's forces, but they were defeated.

Wang Lang then escaped to Dongye (東冶). There, he gained the support from the Chief of Houguan (侯官長) and attempted to rebuild his power[5] with support from Zhang Ya (張雅), a rebel leader with a strong army. They succeeded in killing Han Yan (韓晏), the Commandant of the Southern Region (南部都尉) appointed by Sun Ce, but were ultimately defeated by He Qi, a general under Sun Ce.

Wang Lang tried to go further south to Jiao Province to recuperate, but was caught up and defeated by Sun Ce.[6] He then conducted a very humble speech to appease Sun Ce, who later accepted his surrender.

Service in Wei

Despite surrendering, Wang Lang entered into a self-imposed retirement from public life, refusing Zhang Zhao's request to serve Sun Ce. Eventually he was contacted by one of Cao Cao's spies and was asked to join Cao Cao in the new imperial capital, Xuchang, where the Han central government was based. Although he was initially hesitant, he became convinced after reading a letter from his old friend, Kong Rong, who praised Cao Cao and urged him to go to Xuchang. Thus, he travelled north and reached Xuchang about a year later. Cao Cao highly valued Wang Lang's talent and appointed him as Critical Grandee, and Advisor to the Army of the Excellency of Works. Wang Lang later served in key appointments in Cao Cao's vassal kingdom of Wei after the latter was enfeoffed as a vassal king by Emperor Xian, the last emperor of the Han dynasty.[7] In 220, after Cao Cao's death, his son Cao Pi became king, promoting Wang Lang as Censorate Grandee and enfeoffed him as Marquis of Yueping Village. Later that winter, the Emperor abdicated in favor of Cao Pi, who established the state of Cao Wei to replace the Han dynasty. After becoming the emperor, Cao Pi appointed Wang Lang as the Minister of Works and enfeoffed him as the Marquis of Anling Precinct. During Cao Pi's reign, Wang Lang made several suggestions regarding both military and civilian matters, such as security and the reduction of the state's employees and expenditures.

In 226, when Cao Rui came to the throne, he promoted Wang Lang from a district marquis to a county marquis under the title "Marquis of Lanling", increasing his marquisate to 1,700 taxable households, from his previous 1,200.

Wang Lang was later sent to Ye (in present-day Handan, Hebei) to visit the tomb of Empress Wenzhao, Cao Rui's mother. She had yet to be canonized as Empress at that point, so Wang Lang was given the tally and document that permitted him to do so, as well as the proper sacrificial animals for this. A special tomb was to be built for her as well. During his visit, he saw the populace was short on material; thus, he wrote to advise Cao Rui to be frugal, and to reduce the scale of the building of his extravagant palaces and ancestral temples. Wang Lang was later promoted to the position of Minister over the Masses.

Late life and death

After Wang Lang objected to Cao Rui's palace-building project, he noticed that Cao Rui had a small imperial harem and wrote to Cao Rui stating that an emperor should have more concubines in order to continue the imperial bloodline with more offspring. This time, Cao Rui wholeheartedly agreed with Wang Lang and started expanding the size of his imperial harem. Wang's advice had a profound influence: Nine years after Wang Lang's death, Cao Rui even ordered beautiful married women all be formally seized unless their husbands were able to ransom them, and that they would be married to soldiers instead – except that the most beautiful among them would become his concubines. Despite protests from some officials, this decree was apparently carried out, much to the distress of his people.[citation needed]

Wang Lang later focused on academic works and had published several books that were well received at the time. He died in 228 and was given the posthumous title "Marquis Cheng" (成侯), literally meaning "marquis of establishment".[b] He was succeeded by his son Wang Su, who continued serving as an official in Wei.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Wang Lang died at the age of 76 in 228. Despite his age, he led a group of soldiers and set up camp to do battle with Zhuge Liang. In the novel, Cao Zhen was defeated by Zhuge Liang. Cao Zhen called for his subordinates to help, and Wang Lang decided to try to persuade him to surrender (even though Guo Huai was sceptical that it would succeed) and engaged Zhuge Liang in a debate, but was soundly defeated. Zhuge Liang among other things scolded him as a dog and a traitor, from the shock of which he fell off his horse and died on the spot. There is no record of this in history, and instead, it is said that he merely sent a letter to Zhuge Liang recommending that he surrender. The letter was ignored.


A famous story of Wang Lang was recorded in A New Account of the Tales of the World:

Both Hua Xin and Wang Lang were fleeing in a boat. One person hoped to board, but Hua Xin was hesitant. Wang Lang said:" Fortunately the boat is still spacious. Why not?" Later, the bandits pursuing them approached, and Wang wanted to abandon the person whom they took along. Hua Xin said: "This is why I was originally hesitant. Now that we have accepted his entrustment of himself, can we abandon him because of emergency?" Therefore they carried and saved him as before. This is how people determined who is better between Hua and Wang.

— Volume 1. Virtuous Conduct, A New Account of the Tales of the World [9]

See also


  1. ^ a b Cao Rui's biography in the Sanguozhi recorded that Wang Lang died in the 11th month of the 2nd year of the Taihe era of Cao Rui's reign.[1] This month corresponds to 14 December 228 to 12 January 229 in the Gregorian calendar.
  2. ^ A person who helped to establish a regime or gave comfort to the civilians could be given the posthumous name "Cheng." Wang Lang qualified for the first provision due to his contributions to the establishment of the Cao Wei regime. The rules of assigning posthumous names are detailed in the Lost Book of Zhou.[8]


  1. ^ ([太和二年]十一月,司徒王朗薨。) Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 823.
  3. ^ (魏略曰:朗本名嚴,后改為朗。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 13.
  4. ^ (《朗家傳》曰:會稽舊祀秦始皇,刻木爲像,與夏禹同廟。朗到官,以爲無德之君不應見祀,於是除之。) Annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 13 by Pei Songzhi.
  5. ^ (時王朗奔東冶,侯官長商升為朗起兵。) Sanguozhi vol. 60.
  6. ^ ((王郎)欲走交州,為兵所逼,遂詣軍降。) Xiandi Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 13.
  7. ^ (魏國初建,以軍祭酒領魏郡太守,遷少府、奉常、大理。) Sanguozhi vol. 13.
  8. ^ (安民立政曰成。) Yizhoushu.
  9. ^ 華歆、王朗俱乘船避難,有一人欲依附,歆輒難之。朗曰:「幸尚寬,何為不可?」後賊追至,王欲舍所攜人。歆曰:「本所以疑,正為此耳。既已納其自託,寧可以急相棄邪?」遂攜拯如初。世以此定華、王之優劣。