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War of Pacification in Nanzhong

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The War of Pacification in Nanzhong (Nánzhōng píngdìng zhàn 南中平定戰) was a battle fought between the forces of Shu-Han, led by Zhuge Liang, and the southern barbarians led by men such as Yong Kai and Gao Ding and later Meng Huo.

Zhuge Liang wanted to pacify the region of Nanzhong before embarking on a campaign against Wei.

The Region of NanzhongEdit

Main article: Nanzhong

Nanzhong was a region in the south of Yi Province. For the most part during early Three Kingdoms the Province of Yi was ruled by Liu Zhang.[n 1] The region consisted of the commanderies of Yizhou 益州, Yuexi 越巂, Zangke 牂柯 and Yongchang 永昌. The terrain, like most of the terrain in Yi Province, was difficult to pass, consisting of many natural barriers in the form of jungles, forests, mountains, etcetera.

The BattleEdit

Preceeding EventsEdit

In the year 215 AD Liu Bei took over Yi Province from his relative Liu Zhang, thus the region of Nanzhong also fell in his hands.

In the region of Nanzhong lived a man named Yong Kai 雍闓. He hailed from Yizhou commandery in southern Yi Province. Yong Kai was a local chieftain renowned in the southern region for his liberality and trustworthiness. Around 215 however, he attacked and killed the Grand Administrator of Yizhou Commandery Zheng Ang.[1] He sent envoys to various personages and also sought contact with Sun Quan.[2] Through Shi Xie in Jiaozhi commandery (Jiao Province), he managed to get in contact with Bu Zhi, Sun Quan’s Inspector.

In the year 218 AD a certain Gaoding 高定[n 2], a King of non-Chinese people, revolted and killed the general Jiao Huang.[3] He declared himself a king and then led an attack against the county city Xindao 新道 in Jianwei commandery 犍為.[3] The Grand Administrator of Jianwei, Li Yan 李嚴, repelled him.[4] It seems that this attack by Gaoding was made without co-operation from his future ally Yong Kai.

About 220 AD the Shu-Han Lieutenant-General Zhang Yi 張裔 was made Grand Administrator of Yizhou Commandery with instructions to settle the commandery.[5] In the meantime Yong Kai had established a general hegemony in the southern regions.[6]

In the year 222 AD Liu Bei, now Emperor of Shu-Han, was defeated by the forces of Wu at Xiaoting. In 223 AD Liu Bei died in the fourth month and was succeeded by his young incompetent son Liu Shan in month five.[7]

About that time Yong Kai revolted and seized Zhang Yi. He was sent to Sun Quan as a means of offering allegiance.[1] Sun Quan state appointed Yong Kai from afar as Grand Administrator of Yongchang Commandery.[1]

Yongchang commandery was part of Yi Province and thus belonged to Liu Shan. When Yong Kai went to pick up his post he was met with resistance from Shu-Han’s Lü Kai, an Officer of Merit in Yongchang commandery, and the official Wang Kang. The two men ordered their under-officials and the common people to refuse to accept Yong Kai and to defend the district by closing its borders.[1]

Gaoding, Zhu Bao and Meng HuoEdit

Yong Kai was unable to advance into Yongchang commandery and so had a certain Meng Huo 孟獲, a man of the district, entice and incite the various barbarian tribes of the region, who then followed him.[1]

Nanman Chieftain Locations

Chieftain locations

Two men (and their tribes) joined up with Yong Kai and Meng Huo and revolted. These men were:
  • Zhu Bao, the Grand Administrator of Zangke Commandery[1]
  • Gaoding, non-Chinese King of Barbarians from Yuexi commandery.[1][4]

Shu-Han’s Prime Minister Zhuge Liang was aware of the troublers in the south, but because of the recent death of the Emperor he did not yet wish to act against them.[1]

Pacifying NanzhongEdit

In the third month of 225 AD Zhuge Liang began his campaign against Yong Kai. His advisor Ma Su 馬謖 accompanied him for several tens of li to see him off.

Zhuge Liang said to Ma Su:

Although I have been taking counsels from you for years, you may now still give me some excellent advice.[8]

Ma Su replied:

Relying on steep terrain and remoteness, the South has never long acknowledged our sovereignty. Although you may conquer it today, tomorrow it will rebel again. Now, if Your Excellency starts a northern campaign with the entire force of the land in order to engage the rebels, then they [the people of the southern region] will know that our own territory is weakly defended, and their rebellion will occur very soon. As for annihilating them entirely in order to avoid future trouble, first of all, that would not be in accordance with the heart of a benevolent man; and secondly, it could not be done in a hurry. Now, the Way of War is this: attacking the heart is the best, attacking walls is the worst; battle launched at the heart is the best, battle launched at soldiers is the worst. I would wish that Your Excellency subdue their minds only.[8]
Shu-Han route to Nanzhong

Shu-Han's route to Nanzhong.

When Zhuge Liang went off to campaign he took with him Li Hui 李恢 and Ma Zhong 馬忠 among others. The army left from Shu-Han's capital of Chengdu. At Anshang the army split into three:
  • Zhuge Liang, from Anshang took the water-route and entered Yuexi commandery. Through Yuexi he would enter Nanzhong.[9]
  • Ma Zhong was sent to attack Zangke (mentioned as Zangge on the map) commandery and enter Nanzhong from there.[9]
  • Li Hui went straight to Yizhou through Jianning[9] in Jiangwei commandery.

First ContactEdit

In Yuexi commandery Gaoding made his defense as he constructed a large number of fortifications at Maotou, Dingzo and Beishui.[9] Zhuge Liang quartered his troops at Beishui as he intended to wait until Gaoding’s men gathered together, so he could strike them all at once.[9] The barbarians’ intent was to draw Zhuge Liang deep into Yong Kai and Meng Huo’s lines, before Gaoding’s force attacked from the west, thereby encircling Zhuge Liang’s army.[10] However, the plan was not set in motion because some of Gaoding’s subordinates murdered Yong Kai and others, including gentry and common people.[n 3][10][11]

Meng Huo succeeded Yong Kai as ruler.[11]

Shortly after Yong Kai’s death Gaoding was defeated and put to death by Zhuge Liang.[11]

Around this time Ma Zhong beat Zhu Bao at Qielan 且蘭 and re-conquered Zangke commandery. Li Hui was initially less successful. As he marched towards Yizhou commandery he was besieged at the Kunming 昆明 lake in Yizhou commandery. His troops were few, but the enemy had big numbers. Without knowing of Zhuge Liang’s whereabouts, Li Hui decided to deceive the southerners by saying:

The governmental army, lacking provisions, is about to retreat. I have been out of my native district for a long time; now I have returned and cannot go back to the north. My intention was to return home and plan with you; it is from my sincerest heart that I speak this.

The southerners believed him and lowered their siege. Li Hui responded by striking them fiercely. The southerners fled south to the Banzhiang river and Li Hui persued them. They took a turn eastwards to Zangke commandery, where they met Ma Zhong's forces.[11]

Seven Captures of Meng HuoEdit

See also: Meng Huo
See also: Meng Huo defeated seven times (in fiction)
Meng Huo - Qing SGYY

Meng Huo

Since Yong Kai’s sudden death Meng Huo had collected his troops to form his own army. Meng Huo was respected by both the barbarians and the Chinese and, by Ma Su's advice, Zhuge Liang was determined to take him alive.[12] When Zhuge Liang captured him for the first time he made him inspect his camps, and asked:
What do you think of this army?[12]

Meng Huo replied:

Formerly I did not know the actual strength [of your army], hence I was defeated. Now that you have graciously permitted me to inspect the camps, which are only like this, I am certain to defeat you easily.[12]

Zhuge Liang laughed and released him and would go on to capture him again, and again, and again. In total Zhuge Liang captured Meng Huo seven times, and seven times he released him. After the seventh release Meng Huo finally submitted, saying:

Your Excellency has heavenly majesty. We southerners will not rebel any more.[13]

Following the PacificationEdit

Following Meng Huo's surrender Zhuge Liang divided two of the four Nanzhong commanderies to create an easier to administer region.

  • Yizhou commandery was renamed Jianning 建寧 commandery.[14]
  • Yongchang commandery was divided to create Yunnan 雲南 commandery.[14]
  • Zangke commandery was divided to create Xinggu 興古 commandery.[14]

Zhuge Liang employed Nanzhong natives as officials, so that they could govern these commanderies themselves.[15][14] Among these were:

  • Meng Huo from Zhuti 朱提, who was made Assistant to the Imperial Counsellor (yùshǐ zhōngchéng 御史中丞)[14]
  • Meng Yan from Zhuti, who was made Auxiliary General (fǔhàn jiāngjūn 輔漢將軍)[14]
  • Cuan Xi from Jianning commandery, who was made General Leading the Army (lǐngjūn [jiāngjūn] 領軍[將軍])[14]

Someone advised Zhuge Liang against this measure, but Zhuge Liang replied:

If we leave behind outsiders, we must also leave soliders with them, and the soldiers back there will not have any provisions. This is the first difficulty. Then, the barbarians have lately suffered injury and destruction, their fathers and brothers being killed. Leaving behind outsiders and no soldiers would be certain to bring calamity. This is the second difficulty. Lastly, the barbarians have frequently committed the crime of deposing and killing governors and they are aware how serious their misdeeds are. If we leave behind outsiders, they will never be at easy. This is the third difficulty. Now I intend to leave no soldiers behind nor transport provisions, and yet to bring about some government and to make both barbarians and Chinese live mor or less peacefully with each other. Hence my measure.[13]

Zhuge Liang took their riches, plowing oxen and war horses and thus made good provision for both the army and the state. The rebels would not rebel again during the lifetime of Zhuge Liang.[13] With the south pacified and the newly acquired provisions Zhuge Liang started to train his army and prepare for his Northern Expeditions.[15]

See alsoEdit

Art GalleryEdit


  • This battle is also known as ‘Pacification of Nanzhong’ and ‘Zhuge Liang’s Southern Campaign’ (Zhūgě Liàng nán zhēng 諸葛亮南征).
  1. there are no recorded uprisings or rebellions from any of the southern tribes during Liu Zhang’s reign.
  2. Gaoding is also known as Gao Ding, Gao Dingyuan 高定元 and Gaodingyuan.
  3. John Herman in The Kingdoms of Nanzhong says Yong Kai was murdered by subordinates of Gaoding following a heated debate over tactics.[10]

Fact vs. FictionEdit


  • …Meng Huo was not a 'Nanman King'.
  • …there were many tribes involved, not just the Nanman tribe.
  • …there is no mention of Meng Huo having had a wife (Lady Zhurong) or a daughter (Meng Huaman). Both of these women are fictional.
  • …there is no mention of Meng Huo having had any brothers (Meng You and Meng Jie). Both these men are fictional.
  • …there was no battle involving poisonous springs and mist. These springs did not exist historically.
  • …there was no battle involving elephants.
  • …the Nanman chieftains and soldiers Ahuinan, King Wutugu, Tu An, Xi Ni, King Duosi, Mangyachang, Dailai Dongzhu, Dongtuna, King Mulu and Jinhuansanjie did not exist. They are all fictional.
  • …Gaoding did not have an officer called E Huan. E Huan is a fictional character.
  • …Yong Kai did not have an army of 50.000 men. The size of his army is not known.
  • Wei Yan, Zhao Yun, Ma Dai and Guan Suo did not participate in this battle.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 143
  2. Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 160
  3. 3.0 3.1 先主薨後,越嶲叟帥高定元殺郡將「軍」焦璜,舊衍軍字,漢人習稱太守為郡將,常兵統率於太守也。
    Chang Qu, "Records of Nanzhong" in Huayang guo zhi.
  4. 4.0 4.1 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Gaoding[yuan], page 246
  5. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhang Yi, page 1085
  6. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Yong Kai, page 989
  7. Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 140
  8. 8.0 8.1 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 182
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 194
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Herman, The Kingdoms of Nanzhong in T’oung Pao 95, page 261
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 195
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 185
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 186
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 196
  15. 15.0 15.1 Fang, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, volume 1, page 189


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