Way of Great Peace

Zhang brothers and Yellow Turbans

The Way of Great Peace (Tàipíng Dào 太平道), sometimes erroneous called the Way of Peace, was the name of the religious movement founded in the early 170’s by the brothers Zhang Jue 張角, Zhang Bao 張寶 and Zhang Liang 張梁. Through their teachings the Zhang brothers managed to gather hundreds of thousands of followers.


In his youth Zhang Jue was a follower of the Way of Huang-Lao (Huáng-Lǎo Dào 黃老道),[1] a cult concerning the Yellow Emperor (Huángdì 黃帝) and the sage Laozi 老子.[2]

Eventually Zhang Jue became an adept of the way of Huang-Lao and founded his own religious movement together with his brothers Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang[3]. An exact date of the foundation of this movement is not given, but it is often assumed it was in the early 170’s.[3] Not later than 175 A.D.[4]


The Zhang brothers (and Daoists in general) believed that illness was a form of sin. If someone was suffering from pain or an illness it was because they committed wrong-doings in their lives. If a person felt the need to pay visit to the Zhang brothers’ doctrine he or she would be treated using the following methods:[5]

  1. the patient was ordered to bow his head and kowtow before either of the brothers or one of the masters of the movement.
  2. the patient was then ordered to reflect on his sins and have faith in the Dao (the "Way").[n 1]
  3. the master would then recite magic formulae over water and hand it to the patient to drink with the expectancy to bring immediate cure.

If the treatment was successful, it was said it was because the patient had enough faith in de Dao. If the patient was not cured, he or she lacked faith in the Dao.[5]

The Zhang brothers may also have known of herbal and medical remedies to cure or mitigate the sufferings of their patients.[6]

Teachings and OmensEdit

Through their teachings the brothers ultimately gathered hundreds of thousands of followers.[7] The process of gathering these followers was quickened when Zhang Jue sent disciples to travel to every part of the empire and convert the people from the provinces Qing, Xu, You, Ji, Jing, Yang, Yan and Yu to his movement.[8]

To gain and keep his followers a host of omens were presented as concrete evidence that Heaven had withdrawn its mandate to rule from Emperor Ling. Known omens were:

  1. In the summer or autumn of 178 hen’s developed male characteristics, or either changed into males.[9][10][n 2]
  2. On 1 July 178 a wreath of black mist in the form of a dragon entered the imperial audience chamber.[11][10]
  3. Black mist in the form of a magpie obscuring the sun for months on end.[9]
  4. In the summer or autumn of 178 there was an occurrence of an earthquake which created a fissure in the earth.[11][10]
  5. Horses giving birth to humans.[9]
  6. Humans giving birth to freaks.[9]
  7. The appearance of a dark rainbow.[10]
  8. Plants suddenly adopting the shape of an animal.[12]
  9. Snakes, tigers and madmen sneaking in and out of the palace.[12]
  10. During the reign of Emperor Ling a née Huang (yellow) woman was allegedly transformed into a caterpillar. This was interpreted to mean that bearers of the colour yellow would replace the Han.[9]
  11. In the summer of 184 a virgin gave birth to a baby with two heads and four arms in Luoyang[12][13] (given the date, this may not have been an omen by Zhang Jue).

The Zhang brothers further stated that "the azure sky is dead and a Yellow Heaven will take its place" and that in the year jiazi (甲子; 184 A.D.), which was the first year of a new cycle, would usher in a new revolutionary religious era.[14]


*It is often assumed that Zhang Bao was older than Zhang Liang and thus the logical successor of Zhang Jue. Historical sources do not always agree with this statement though and some suggest that Zhang Liang was actually the older of the two. Furthermore no source says anything about which of the two brothers succeeded Jue, they might even have both ruled in his stead, or -being in the middle of battle- maybe neither of them did.


  • Zhang Jue spread his followers over thirty-six Divisions, each with a leader. In Daoism, Heaven has thirty-six layers (and Hell has ten). Zhang Jue and his brothers always spoke of a Yellow Heaven and his followers (thus including the 36 Division leaders) wore something yellow. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but more likely it is not.
  1. Dao is "the Way". The central concept to Daoism. It's the idea of the natural force and way of being and moving pervading through the universe.
  2. This is a symbolic warning that the monarch was allowing eunuchs to meddle in the affairs of the state.[11]


  1. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 81
  2. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, footnotes to Guanghe 6
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chen Qiyun, Confusian, Legalist and Taoist thought in Later Han in Cambridge History of China volume 1, page 801
  4. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 69
  5. 5.0 5.1 Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 217
  6. Levy, Bifurcation of the Yellow Turbans, page 253
  7. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, pages 100-104
  8. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Guanghe 6
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 214
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Yang Ci, pages 947-8
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Levy, Bifurcation of the Yellow Turbans, page 251
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Beck, The fall of Han in Cambridge History of China, volume 1, page 340
  13. Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, footnotes to pages 220-1
  14. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Zhongping 1


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