Zhang Yan
General of the Household Who Pacifies Disorder
In office
180s/190s (180s/190s)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
General Who Pacifies the North (平北將軍)
(under Cao Cao)
In office
204 (204)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Chu Yan (褚燕)

Zhengding County, Hebei
ChildrenZhang Fang
OccupationBandit leader, general, official
Other nameZhang Feiyan (張飛燕)
PeerageMarquis of Anguo Village

Zhang Yan (About this soundpronunciation ) (fl. 180s–205), born Chu Yan, also known as Zhang Feiyan, was the leader of the Heishan bandits during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He rose from a common criminal to a powerful warlord who was eventually acknowledged as a high-ranking official and granted a marquisate which his family maintained after his death.


Chu Yan was from Zhending County, Changshan Commandery, which is around present-day Zhengding County, Hebei. Because he was fast, agile, and brave, his men called him "Feiyan", meaning "Flying Swallow". He joined the bandit group of Zhang Niujue (張牛角) around 184.[1] When the group raided Julu Commandery in 185, however, Zhang Niujue was mortally wounded.[2] Before he died, Zhang ordered his men to obey Chu Yan as their new leader. Chu Yan thus changed his family name from "Chu" to "Zhang" to honour Zhang Niujue.[3]

Zhang Yan's force steadily grew in strength, until they were said to be one million strong. They became known as the Heishan bandits, and operated as bandit confederacy in the Taihang Mountains. All the commanderies north of the Yellow River were exposed to their attacks and the Han imperial court could do nothing to stop them. In order to pacify him, the government eventually appointed Zhang Yan "General of the Household Who Pacifies Disorder" and granted him the right to appoint officials in his territories.[1]

By the early 190s, Zhang Yan had formed an alliance with the warlord Gongsun Zan against their common opponent, Yuan Shao.[1] Around this time, Zhang Yan gave shelter to the military official Lü Bu who had previously fled from the capital Chang'an; when the de facto regent of the imperial court, Li Jue, offered a reward for Lü's capture, the latter defected to Yuan Shao.[4] In 193, Yuan Shao sent his armies (including Lü Bu and his followers) into the Taihang Mountains to destroy the Heishan bandits under Zhang Yan. The southern hills were overrun, but Zhang Yan managed to fight Yuan's forces to a stalemate and maintained his fief in Changshan.[5] When Yuan Shao grew dissatisfied with Lü Bu and tried to kill him, the officer promptly defected back to Zhang Yan before leaving for the south.[4] In 199, Zhang Yan responded to Gongsun Zan's request for help in the Battle of Yijing against Yuan Shao, but Gongsun Zan was defeated before Zhang Yan arrived.[1]

In 204, Zhang Yan made contact with the warlord Cao Cao, who at the time was warring against Yuan Shao's sons, Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang. Cao Cao appointed him General Who Pacifies the North (平北將軍). In the summer of 205, after Cao Cao defeated the Yuans, Zhang Yan officially surrendered to the Han imperial court and was enfeoffed as the Marquis of Anguo Village (安國亭侯). He thereafter ruled his territories as vassal to Cao Cao.[1] After his death, his son Zhang Fang succeeded him as marquis;[6] his family maintained their fief during the following decades.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f de Crespigny (2007), p. 1083.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 1070.
  3. ^ de Crespigny (2007), pp. 1070, 1083.
  4. ^ a b de Crespigny (2007), p. 624.
  5. ^ de Crespigny (2007), pp. 624, 1083.
  6. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 1042.

Works cited

  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD). Leiden, Boston: Brill. ISBN 9789004156050.

Further reading