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Zhang Yu (Nanhe)

Zhang Yu
Major of the Rear Section (後部司馬)
(under Liu Bei)
In office
214 (214) – 219 (219)
Assistant Officer (從事)
(under Liu Zhang)
In office
? (?) – 214 (214)
Personal details
Diedc. 219
OccupationOfficial, diviner, physiognomist
Courtesy nameNanhe (南和)

Zhang Yu (died c. 219), courtesy name Nanhe,[1] was an official, diviner and physiognomist who served under the warlords Liu Zhang and Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty of China.[2]


Zhang Yu was from Shu Commandery (蜀郡), which is based in present-day Chengdu, Sichuan, but he might not necessarily be from Chengdu since there were other counties in Shu Commandery. He started his career as an Assistant Officer (從事) under Liu Zhang, the Governor of Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing).[3]

In late 211,[4] Liu Zhang invited the warlord Liu Bei, who was based in southern Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan), to lead his troops into Yi Province to help him counter the threat of another warlord Zhang Lu in Hanzhong Commandery. Zhang Yu accompanied Liu Zhang when he met Liu Bei for a reception banquet in Fu County (涪縣; present-day Mianyang, Sichuan). During the banquet, Liu Bei saw that Zhang Yu had a thick beard, so he came up with a joke to make fun of Zhang Yu: "When I was in Zhuo County (涿縣), there were many people with the family name Mao.[a] They were everywhere, be it north, south, east or west. The Prefect even remarked, 'Zhuo County is surrounded by Maos!'"[3] Zhang Yu also cracked a joke to get back at Liu Bei: "Once upon a time, there was a certain Prefect of Lu County (潞縣) who was later reassigned to Zhuo County. After he retired, someone wanted to write him a letter but didn't know how to address him in a way that reflected the two appointments he held, so he thought of the term 'Gentleman of Lu-Zhuo' (潞涿君).[b]" Zhang Yu's joke was meant to mock Liu Bei, who had no beard.[5]

In 214,[6] after Liu Bei seized control of Yi Province from Liu Zhang, he appointed Zhang Yu as a Major of the Rear Section (後部司馬) in his new administration.[7] Around 217, when Liu Bei planned to launch a campaign to seize the strategic Hanzhong Commandery from his rival Cao Cao, he consulted Zhou Qun and asked him to predict the outcome. Zhou Qun told him that he would gain the territories in Hanzhong Commandery but not its people, and advised him to not send a detachment of his main army to attack the enemy.[8] At the time, Zhang Yu, who was known for being better than Zhou Qun in divining the future, advised Liu Bei against launching the Hanzhong Campaign.[7] Liu Bei ignored their advice and went ahead anyway. As Zhou Qun predicted, Liu Bei defeated Cao Cao and captured the territories in Hanzhong Commandery but not its people because they had already migrated elsewhere. During the campaign, Liu Bei also ordered Wu Lan (吳蘭) and Lei Tong (雷銅) to lead a detachment of troops from his main army to attack Wudu Commandery (武都郡; around present-day Longnan, Gansu), but, as Zhou Qun warned him, this detachment ended up being completely destroyed by Cao Cao's forces. After the successful conquest of Hanzhong, Liu Bei nominated Zhou Qun as a maocai (茂才; an outstanding civil servant),[9] probably to commend him for his earlier advice, but did not do the same for Zhang Yu.

Zhang Yu once privately made a prediction: "In the gengzi year, the ruling dynasty will change and the Liu clan's reign will come to an end. Our lord (Liu Bei) may have conquered Yi Province, but nine years later he will lose it between the yin and mao years." Someone secretly informed Liu Bei about his prediction.[10]

Liu Bei had been holding a grudge against Zhang Yu since the incident in Fu County, so he became angrier when he heard that Zhang Yu was predicting his downfall, and decided to take revenge against Zhang Yu. He accused Zhang Yu of making an inaccurate prediction about the Hanzhong Campaign, imprisoned him, and wanted to execute him. When Zhuge Liang pleaded with Liu Bei to spare Zhang Yu, Liu Bei said, "When something blocks your doorway, even if it were pretty flowers, you'll have to get rid of it." As Zhang Yu was well-versed in physiognomy, every time he saw his reflection in the mirror he grew weak and collapsed, because he knew he would die by execution.[11] Zhang Yu was subsequently executed by beheading and his body was dumped into the street.[12]

Zhang Yu's prediction about the end of the Liu clan's reign came true in the year 220 (a gengzi year in the sexagenary cycle) when the Cao Wei state replaced the Liu clan's Eastern Han dynasty. Liu Bei also died on 10 June 223,[13] about nine years after he seized Yi Province from Liu Zhang in June 214;[6] his year of death (223) was also a (gui)mao year in the sexagenary cycle and the year before (222) was a (ren)yin year.[14]

Zhang Yu once foretold Deng Zhi's future by telling him that he would rise to the position of General-in-Chief (大將軍) and gain a marquis title after he turned 70.[15]

See also


  1. ^ The Chinese character mao (毛) literally means "hair".
  2. ^ "Gentleman of Lu-Zhuo" (潞涿君) was an archaic Chinese term used to mock men who had no facial hair. See the dictionary definition.


  1. ^ (裕字南和。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 1088.
  3. ^ a b (初,先主與劉璋會涪時,裕為璋從事,侍坐。其人饒鬚,先主嘲之曰:「昔吾居涿縣,特多毛姓,東西南北皆諸毛也,涿令稱曰『諸毛繞涿居乎』!」) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  4. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 66.
  5. ^ (裕即荅曰:「昔有作上黨潞長,遷為涿令。涿令者,去官還家,時人與書,欲署潞則失涿,欲署涿則失潞,乃署曰『潞涿君』。」先主無鬚,故裕以此及之。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  6. ^ a b Zizhi Tongjian vol. 67.
  7. ^ a b (時州後部司馬蜀郡張裕亦曉占候,而天才過羣,諫先主曰:「不可爭漢中,軍必不利。」) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  8. ^ (先主欲與曹公爭漢中,問羣,羣對曰:「當得其地,不得其民也。若出偏軍,必不利,當戒慎之!」) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  9. ^ (先主竟不用裕言,果得地而不得民也。遣將軍吳蘭、雷銅等入武都,皆沒不還,悉如羣言。於是舉羣茂才。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  10. ^ (裕又私語人曰:「歲在庚子,天下當易代,劉氏祚盡矣。主公得益州,九年之後,寅卯之間當失之。」人密白其言。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  11. ^ (又曉相術,每舉鏡視面,自知刑死,未甞不撲之于地也。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  12. ^ (先主常銜其不遜,加忿其漏言,乃顯裕諫爭漢中不驗,下獄,將誅之。諸葛亮表請其罪,先主荅曰:「芳蘭生門,不得不鉏。」裕遂弃市。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  13. ^ ([章武三年]夏四月癸巳,先主殂于永安宮,時年六十三。) Sanguozhi vol. 32.
  14. ^ (後魏氏之立,先主之薨,皆如裕所刻。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  15. ^ (時益州從事張裕善相,芝往從之,裕謂芝曰:「君年過七十,位至大將軍,封侯。」) Sanguozhi vol. 45.
  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23-220 AD. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004156050.
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.
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