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Zhou Qun

Zhou Qun
周羣 / 周群
Colonel of the Scholars (儒林校尉)
(under Liu Bei)
In office
214 (214) – ? (?)
Assistant Officer for Education (師友從事)
(under Liu Zhang)
In office
? (?) – 214 (214)
Personal details
Langzhong, Sichuan
ChildrenZhou Ju
FatherZhou Shu
OccupationOfficial, astronomer, diviner
Courtesy nameZhongzhi (仲直)

Zhou Qun (fl. 190s – 210s), courtesy name Zhongzhi, was an official, astronomer and diviner who served under the warlords Liu Zhang and Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. Two of his interpretations of comets are preserved in volumes 102–104 of the Book of the Later Han, presumably through quotation by Qiao Zhou.[1]


Zhou Qun was from Langzhong County (閬中縣), Baxi Commandery (巴西郡), which is present-day Langzhong, Sichuan. His father, Zhou Shu (周舒), whose courtesy name was Shubu (叔布), was mentored by the scholar Yang Hou (楊厚) from Guanghan Commandery (廣漢郡; around present-day Guanghan, Sichuan). Zhou Shu was second to two famous scholars, Dong Fu (董扶) and Ren An (任安), in terms of fame. On many occasions, he received invitations and offers to serve in the government of the Eastern Han dynasty, but he turned down all of them. Someone once asked him, "The Spring and Autumn Annals mentioned 'something tall on the road will replace the Han (dynasty)'. What does this mean?" Zhou Shu replied, "That 'something tall on the road' refers to Wei."[a] Other scholars in his hometown who heard him secretly shared and circulated what he said.[2]

As a child, Zhou Qun studied under the tutelage of his father and became well-versed in astronomy and divination. As he was born in a wealthy family with scores of servants, he built an observation tower in his residence, and ordered his servants to take shifts to observe the sky round the clock and keep him updated. Whenever there was something unusual, he would rush to the tower to see it for himself, regardless of whether it was in the day or at night. He was thus able to predict future events based on his observations.[3] Sometime between 194 and 214, when Liu Zhang was the Governor of Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), he recruited Zhou Qun to serve in his administration as an Assistant Officer for Education (師友從事).[4]

In 202, when there were reports of a trans woman in Yuexi/Yuesui Commandery (越巂郡; around present-day Xichang, Sichuan), Zhou Qun interpreted this as a sign that the ruling dynasty would change soon, because the last time something similar happened, the Xin dynasty replaced the Western Han dynasty. In 220, Zhou Qun's prediction came true as the Cao Wei state replaced the Eastern Han dynasty.[5]

In 207, when Zhou Qun saw an astronomical phenomenon, he said that the Governor of Jing Province would die soon and lose control over the province. In the autumn of 208, he was proven right as Liu Biao died and Jing Province came under the control of the warlord Cao Cao.[6]

In January 213, after seeing another astronomical phenomenon, Zhou Qun predicted that the warlords in western China would lose their territories. At the time in western China, Liu Zhang controlled Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), Zhang Lu controlled Hanzhong Commandery, Han Sui controlled Liang Province (涼州; covering present-day Ningxia and parts of Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia), and Song Jian (宋建) ruled Fuhan County (枹罕縣; southwest of present-day Linxia, Gansu). In the following year, the warlord Cao Cao sent his subordinates to lead troops to attack the various warlords in Liang Province. By early 214, Cao Cao's forces had eliminated Song Jian and defeated Han Sui, who met his end while taking shelter under the Qiang tribes following his defeat. By the autumn of 214, the warlord Liu Bei had defeated Liu Zhang and seized control of Yi Province from him. In the autumn of 215, Cao Cao defeated Zhang Lu at the Battle of Yangping and conquered Hanzhong Commandery.[7]

In 214, after the warlord Liu Bei took control of Yi Province, he appointed Zhou Qun as acting Colonel of the Scholars (儒林校尉) in his administration. Around 217, when Liu Bei was planning to launch a campaign to seize control of Hanzhong Commandery from his rival Cao Cao, he consulted Zhou Qun and asked him to predict the outcome. Zhou Qun said, "You will get the territory but you won't have its people. If you send a detachment of your main army to attack (instead of sending your main army), you will lose the battle. You should be very careful about this!" At the time, Zhang Yu, another diviner serving under Liu Bei, also said, "If you attack Hanzhong, your army will suffer a defeat." Liu Bei ignored their advice and proceeded with the campaign. Just as Zhou Qun predicted, Liu Bei defeated Cao Cao in the Hanzhong Campaign and captured the territories 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.[8]

Liu Bei later nominated Zhou Qun as a maocai (茂才; an outstanding civil servant).[9] Zhou Qun died in an unknown year. His son, Zhou Ju (周巨), inherited much of his knowledge and skills.[10]


According to the Shi Yi Ji, Zhou Qun used to study astronomy as a hobby and not in a serious manner. One day, while he was gathering herbs in the Min Mountains, he encountered a white ape who climbed down from a steep cliff and stood right in front of him. When he threw his scraping knife at the ape, it transformed into an old man carrying an eight-chi-long jade tablet. As the old man gave him the tablet, Zhou Qun asked him, "When were you born?"[11]

The old man replied:

"I'm so old that I've forgotten when I was born, but I remember the days of the Yellow Emperor when I started studying astronomy. Fenghou (風后) and Rongcheng (容成), who served as the Yellow Emperor's historians, learnt astronomy from me. When it came to Cangjie's time, I studied the movements of the sun, moon and stars, and noticed many discrepancies. In the Spring and Autumn period, people like Ziwei (子韋), Ziye (子野) and Bizao (禆竈) managed to think of more accurate means of calculating time, but they never truly grasped the essence of astronomy. In more recent times, as the ruling dynasty keeps changing, astronomers only inherit the knowledge of their predecessors and do not make any progress. During the Han dynasty, there was one Luoxia Hong who understood the complexities of astronomy very well."[12]

Zhou Qun felt so inspired by the old man's words that he put in more effort into studying astronomy from then on. Through his studies and observations, he determined that the state of Shu was destined to fall. The people of Shu called Zhou Qun the "Later Sage" (後聖), while the people of Shu's ally state Wu praised him for his expertise in astronomy and divination.[13]


  1. ^ See Du Qiong's article for an explanation on what this saying means.

See also


  1. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 1147.
  2. ^ (周羣字仲直,巴西閬中人也。父舒,字叔布,少學術於廣漢楊厚,名亞董扶、任安。數被徵,終不詣。時人有問:「春秋讖曰代漢者當塗高,此何謂也?」舒曰:「當塗高者,魏也。」鄉黨學者私傳其語。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  3. ^ (羣少受學於舒,專心候業。於庭中作小樓,家富多奴,常令奴更直於樓上視天灾,纔見一氣,即白羣,羣自上樓觀之,不避晨夜。故凡有氣候,無不見之,是以所言多中。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  4. ^ (州牧劉璋,辟以為師友從事。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  5. ^ (續漢書曰:建安七年,越嶲有男子化為女人,時羣言哀帝時亦有此,將易代之祥也。至二十五年,獻帝果封于山陽。) Xu Han Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  6. ^ (十二年十月,有星孛于鶉尾,荊州分野,羣以為荊州牧將死而失土。明年秋,劉表卒,曹公平荊州。) Xu Han Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  7. ^ (十七年十二月,星孛于五諸侯,羣以為西方專據土地者皆將失土。是時,劉璋據益州,張魯據漢中,韓遂據涼州,宋建據枹罕。明年冬,曹公遣偏將擊涼州。十九年,獲宋建,韓遂逃于羌中,被殺。其年秋,璋失益州。二十年秋,曹公攻漢中,張魯降。) Xu Han Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  8. ^ (先主定蜀,署儒林校尉。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!」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。」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。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  9. ^ (於是舉羣茂才。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  10. ^ (羣卒,子巨頗傳其術。) Sanguozhi vol. 42.
  11. ^ (周羣妙閑筭術䜟說,遊岷山採藥,見一白猿從絶峰而下,對羣而立。羣抽所佩書刀投猿,猿化為一老翁,握中有玉版長八寸,以授羣。羣問曰:「公是何年生?」) Shi Yi Ji vol. 8.
  12. ^ (答曰:「已衰邁,也忘其年月。猶憶軒轅之時,始學厯數、風后、容成,皆黃帝之史,就余授厯術。至顓頊時,考定日月星辰之運,尤多差異。及春秋時,有子韋、子野、禆竈之徒,權略雖驗,未得其門。邇來世代興亡,不復可紀,因以相襲。至大漢時,有洛下閎,頗得其㫖。」) Shi Yi Ji vol. 8.
  13. ^ (羣服其言,更精勤筭術及考校年厯之運,驗於圖緯,知蜀應滅。及明年歸命奔吳,皆稱周羣詳隂陽之精妙也。蜀人謂之「後聖」,白猿之異有似越人所記,而事皆迂誕似是而非。) Shi Yi Ji vol. 8.
  • 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).
  • Wang, Jia (4th century). Shi Yi Ji.
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