Fa Zheng

Fa Zheng (176–220),[1] courtesy name Xiaozhi, was a key adviser to the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty. Born in a family of high social status and of noble descent, Fa Zheng travelled to Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) in the late 190s and became a subordinate of Liu Zhang, the provincial governor. However, his feelings of alienation and perception of Liu Zhang as an incompetent governor eventually led him to betray Liu Zhang and defect to Liu Bei in 211. Between 211 and 214, Fa Zheng assisted Liu Bei in overcoming Liu Zhang and seizing control of Yi Province, and became one of Liu Bei's most trusted advisers. In 217, he urged Liu Bei to launch the Hanzhong Campaign to capture the strategic Hanzhong Commandery from a rival warlord, Cao Cao, but died a year after Liu emerged victorious in the campaign.

Fa Zheng
A Qing dynasty illustration of Fa Zheng
Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令)
In office
219 (219) – 220 (220)
MonarchLiu Bei
Succeeded byLiu Ba
General Who Protects the Army (護軍將軍)
In office
219 (219) – 220 (220)
General Who Spreads Martial Might
In office
215 (215) – 219 (219)
Administrator of Shu Commandery
In office
215 (215) – 219 (219)
Personal details
Mei County, Shaanxi
Died220 (aged 44)[1]
ChildrenFa Miao
FatherFa Yan
OccupationOfficial, adviser
Courtesy nameXiaozhi (孝直)
Posthumous nameMarquis Yi (翼侯)

Fa Zheng's keen foresight and brilliance in formulating strategies earned him praise from his contemporaries such as Zhuge Liang and Chen Shou. In less than a decade serving under Liu, Fa showed an near unmatched sense of timing where military geniuses like Cao Cao and his best advisers fell victim to his schemes. However, he was also notorious for his vindictive personality. When he held office, he abused his power by taking revenge against those who had offended him before, and by killing them without reason. Nevertheless, he was still highly regarded and trusted by Liu Bei – to the point where Zhuge Liang once said that Fa Zheng might have been the only person capable of preventing Liu Bei from starting the disastrous Battle of Xiaoting in 221 if he were still alive.

Family backgroundEdit

Fa Zheng's ancestral home was in Mei County (郿縣), Youfufeng Commandery (右扶風郡), which is in present-day Mei County, Shaanxi. His ancestor was Tian Fazhang, who is historically known as King Xiang of the Qi state in the Warring States period. Tian Fazhang's descendants changed their family name from "Tian" to "Fa" after the fall of Qi in 221 BCE.[2]

Fa Zheng's great-grandfather, Fa Xiong, served as the Administrator (太守) of Nan Commandery (南郡; around present-day Jingzhou, Hubei) during the reign of Emperor An in the Eastern Han dynasty. Fa Zheng's grandfather, Fa Zhen, was a reclusive scholar known for his lofty character; despite being a learned scholar, he led a humble life and repeatedly rejected offers to serve in the government.[3] Fa Zheng's father, Fa Yan (法衍), whose courtesy name was Jimou (季謀), also served as a government official and held the positions of an assistant to the Excellency over the Masses (司徒) and the Minister of Justice (廷尉).[4]

Service under Liu ZhangEdit

In the early Jian'an era (196–220) of the reign of Emperor Xian, when famines broke out, Fa Zheng and his friend Meng Da travelled to Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) to join the provincial governor, Liu Zhang. Although Fa Zheng served as the Prefect () of Xindu County (新都縣) and later as a Colonel Who Advises the Army (軍議校尉) under Liu Zhang, he felt alienated because he neither held any important appointments nor made any significant achievements in his career under Liu Zhang. Besides, some of his fellows from Youfufeng, who had also moved to Yi Province, spoke ill of him in front of Liu Zhang. He maintained a close friendship with his colleague Zhang Song, who shared the same views as him about Liu Zhang being an incompetent and incapable governor.[5]

In 208,[6] Zhang Song travelled to Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan) to meet the warlord Cao Cao, who controlled the Han central government and the figurehead Emperor Xian. After returning to Yi Province, Zhang Song advised Liu Zhang to break ties with Cao Cao and build friendly relations with another warlord, Liu Bei. When Zhang Song recommended Fa Zheng to be Liu Zhang's representative to meet Liu Bei, Fa initially refused to accept the task but eventually relented. When Fa Zheng returned from his mission, he told Zhang Song that Liu Bei had grand ambitions and persuaded Zhang to follow him to serve Liu Bei.[7]

Their opportunity came in 211,[8] when Liu Zhang became fearful upon receiving news that Cao Cao was planning to attack the warlord Zhang Lu in Hanzhong Commandery. As Hanzhong Commandery was located strategically at the northern route leading into Yi Province, Liu Zhang would be in great peril if Hanzhong fell into Cao Cao's hands. Zhang Song proposed to Liu Zhang to invite Liu Bei to Yi Province to assist them in countering the threat posed by Cao Cao. Liu Zhang agreed and sent Fa Zheng as his envoy to contact Liu Bei. When Fa Zheng met Liu Bei, he secretly told him, "General, with your brilliance, you can overcome our incompetent and weak Governor Liu. Zhang Song, as a trusted adviser (of Liu Zhang), will serve as your spy. Upon acquiring Yi Province's wealth and resources, and having its natural barriers as protection, you can easily realise your grand ambitions." Liu Bei accepted Fa Zheng's advice and led his forces into Yi Province, where he met Liu Zhang at Fu County (涪縣; present-day Fucheng District, Mianyang, Sichuan). Liu Bei then led his troops north to Jiameng (葭萌; located about 20 km northeast of present-day Jiange County, Sichuan) before turning south to attack Liu Zhang later.[9]

Helping Liu Bei seize Yi Province from Liu ZhangEdit

Upon receiving news of Liu Bei's attack, Zheng Du (鄭度), an assistant officer from Guanghan Commandery (廣漢郡; around present-day Guanghan, Sichuan)[10] serving under Liu Zhang, pointed out to his lord that Liu Bei's army lacked supplies and was composed of newly recruited soldiers who might not be loyal to him. He suggested that Liu Zhang adopt a scorched earth policy against Liu Bei by forcing the residents of Baxi (巴西) and Zitong (梓潼) commanderies to relocate elsewhere and destroy all the granaries and supply depots in the commanderies, and then fortify their defences while avoiding direct conflict with Liu Bei. He claimed that if this strategy was implemented, Liu Bei would run out of supplies within 100 days and retreat, and then Liu Zhang could attack him while he was retreating. Liu Bei felt frustrated when he heard about Zheng Du's plan and consulted Fa Zheng about it. Fa Zheng predicted that Liu Zhang would not heed Zheng Du's suggestion and was proven right: In response to Zheng Du's plan, Liu Zhang not only rejected it on the grounds that it would cause disturbance to the people, but also dismissed Zheng from office.[11]

In 214,[12] when Liu Bei's army surrounded Luocheng (雒城), one of Liu Zhang's strongholds, Fa Zheng wrote a long letter to his former lord, pointing out that Liu Zhang was already in a highly disadvantageous position and urging him to give up resistance and surrender to Liu Bei.[13]

Later that year, when Liu Bei's forces was besieging Yi Province's capital Chengdu, Xu Jing, a commandery Administrator serving under Liu Zhang, planned to surrender and defect to Liu Bei, but his plan was leaked out and hence aborted. Liu Zhang felt that he was already at the brink of destruction so he did not punish Xu Jing. He eventually surrendered and relinquished his control of Yi Province to Liu Bei. After taking over Yi Province, Liu Bei treated Xu Jing coldly because he felt that Xu was a disloyal person. Fa Zheng advised him, "Xu Jing is someone with an exaggerated reputation. However, my lord, you've recently built your foundation and you can't possibly explain the facts to everyone. Xu Jing's name is already well known throughout the Empire. If you don't treat him respectfully, others might think that you're belittling talented and virtuous people. You should honour and respect him, and make this known to everyone, just like how the King of Yan treated Guo Wei (郭隗)." Liu Bei followed Fa Zheng's advice and treated Xu Jing generously.[14]

Service under Liu BeiEdit

Abuse of powerEdit

Liu Bei appointed Fa Zheng as the Administrator (太守) of Shu Commandery (蜀郡) and General Who Spreads Martial Might (揚武將軍). Fa Zheng oversaw administrative affairs in the vicinity of Yi Province's capital Chengdu and served as Liu Bei's chief adviser.[15]

During this period of time, he abused his power by taking revenge against those who offended him before, and by killing them without reason. Some officials approached Zhuge Liang, another of Liu Bei's key advisers, and urged him to report Fa Zheng's lawless behaviour to their lord and take action against him. However, Zhuge Liang replied, "When our lord was in Gong'an, he was wary of Cao Cao's influence in the north and fearful of Sun Quan's presence in the east. Even in home territory he was afraid that Lady Sun might stir up trouble. He was in such a difficult situation at the time that he could neither advance nor retreat. Fa Xiaozhi supported and helped him so much, such that he is now able to fly high and no longer remain under others' influence. How can we stop Fa Zheng from behaving as he wishes?" Zhuge Liang was aware that Liu Bei favoured and trusted Fa Zheng, which was why he refused to intervene in this matter.[16]

The historian Sun Sheng criticised Zhuge Liang's attitude towards Fa Zheng's abuse of power and called it a "lapse in justice". He felt that no subject should be above the law, regardless of how great his past contributions were.[17]

Role in the Hanzhong CampaignEdit

In 217, Fa Zheng urged Liu Bei to attack Hanzhong Commandery, which was originally under Zhang Lu's control but was conquered by Cao Cao in 215. He pointed out Hanzhong's strategic importance and said that it was an opportune moment for Liu Bei to seize Hanzhong from Cao Cao's generals Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He. Liu Bei accepted his plan and started the Hanzhong Campaign.[18]

In 219, during the Battle of Mount Dingjun, when Xiahou Yuan led troops to attack Liu Bei's camps at Dingjun and Xingshi mountains, Fa Zheng suggested Liu Bei to strike the enemy. Liu Bei ordered his general Huang Zhong to lead his men on a charge down the mountain towards Xiahou Yuan's forces, with war drums beating in the background. Huang Zhong defeated and killed Xiahou Yuan in the midst of battle.[19]

Later, when Cao Cao was leading his forces from Chang'an to reinforce Hanzhong, he received news about the strategy proposed by Fa Zheng to Liu Bei to attack Hanzhong. He remarked, "I know Xuande (Liu Bei) is not capable of doing this. He must be following somebody's advice."[20] The historian Pei Songzhi commented that Cao Cao made that remark – which suggests that Liu Bei was not wise enough to notice Hanzhong's strategic importance – because of his personal disdain for Liu, and that it should not be taken seriously. He felt that a lord acting on his adviser's suggestion should not be interpreted as a sign that the lord was not wise enough to make his own judgment. He pointed out that Cao Cao himself also followed the advice of his adviser Guo Jia.[21]

Death and postmortem eventsEdit

In 219, after Liu Bei emerged victorious in the Hanzhong Campaign, he declared himself "King of Hanzhong" (漢中王) and appointed Fa Zheng as the Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令) and General Who Protects the Army (護軍將軍). Fa Zheng died in the following year at the age of 45 (by East Asian age reckoning). Liu Bei cried for days when Fa Zheng died and awarded Fa the posthumous title "Marquis Yi" (翼侯), which literally means "marquis of the flank".[22] Fa Zheng's son, Fa Miao (法邈), received the title of a Secondary Marquis (關內侯) and served as a Commandant of Equipage (奉車都尉) and the Administrator of Hanyang Commandery (漢陽郡) in the state of Shu Han, which Liu Bei established in 221.[23]

Fa Zheng and Zhuge Liang did not share the same moral beliefs but they had a good working relationship because of their common goal, which was to serve Liu Bei well. Zhuge Liang was very impressed with Fa Zheng's brilliance. In 221, before the Battle of Xiaoting, many of Liu Bei's subjects advised their lord against going to war with his former ally, Sun Quan, who seized Jing Province from Liu in 219 and executed Liu's general Guan Yu. Liu Bei ignored them and proceeded with his campaign against Sun Quan. In the following year, he lost to Sun Quan's forces at the Battle of Xiaoting and had to retreat to Baidicheng, where he died in 223. Zhuge Liang sighed, "If Fa Xiaozhi was still alive, he could have prevented our lord from going on this eastern campaign; even if our lord did go on this campaign, he wouldn't have ended up in this disastrous situation (if Fa Xiaozhi was with him)."[24]

Zhuge Liang might be right about Fa Zheng, as inferred from an incident during the Hanzhong Campaign. During one battle, when the odds turned against Liu Bei, Liu's subjects urged their lord to retreat but he stubbornly refused. They did not dare to advise him again for fear of incurring his wrath. Fa Zheng rushed forth and stood in front of Liu Bei when Cao Cao's forces rained arrows on their camp. Liu Bei told Fa Zheng to stay under cover to avoid the arrows, but Fa insisted on braving the arrows with his lord. Liu Bei then decided to retreat together with Fa Zheng.[25]


Chen Shou, who wrote Fa Zheng's biography in the Sanguozhi, appraised Fa as follows: "Fa Zheng clearly foresaw success and failure hence he conceived brilliant strategies and plans for his lord however he was not known to be of good moral character. In comparison with officials from (Cao) Wei, if Pang Tong was akin to Xun Yu and Xun You then Fa Zheng should be comparable to Cheng (Yu) and Guo (Jia)."[26]

In popular cultureEdit

Fa Zheng became a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fa Zheng's biography in the Sanguozhi stated that he died a year after Liu Bei declared himself "King of Hanzhong" in 219. He was 45 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died.[1] By calculation, Fa Zheng's birth year should be around 176.


  1. ^ a b c (明年卒,時年四十五。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  2. ^ (法雄字文彊,扶風郿人也,齊襄王法章之後。秦滅齊,子孫不敢稱田姓,故以法為氏。宣帝時,徙三輔,世為二千石。) Houhanshu vol. 38.
  3. ^ (法正字孝直,右扶風郿人也。祖父真,有清節高名。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  4. ^ (三輔決錄注曰:真字高卿, ... 正父衍,字季謀,司徒掾、廷尉左監。) Sanfu Jue Lu Zhu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  5. ^ (建安初,天下饑荒,正與同郡孟達俱入蜀依劉璋,乆之為新都令,後召署軍議校尉。旣不任用,又為其州邑俱僑客者所謗無行,志意不得。益州別駕張松與正相善,忖璋不足與有為,常竊歎息。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  6. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 65.
  7. ^ (松於荊州見曹公還,勸璋絕曹公而自結先主。璋曰:「誰可使者?」松乃舉正,正辭讓,不得已而往。正旣還,為松稱說先主有雄略,密謀協規,願共戴奉,而未有緣。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  8. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 66.
  9. ^ (後因璋聞曹公欲遣將征張魯之有懼心也,松遂說璋宜迎先主,使之討魯,復令正銜命。正旣宣旨,陰獻策於先主曰:「以明將軍之英才,乘劉牧之懦弱;張松,州之股肱,以響應於內;然後資益州之殷富,馮天府之險阻,以此成業,猶反掌也。」先主然之,泝江而西,與璋會涪。北至葭萌,南還取璋。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  10. ^ (華陽國志曰:度,廣漢人,為州從事。) Huayang Guo Zhi annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  11. ^ (鄭度說璋曰:「左將軍縣軍襲我,兵不滿萬,士衆未附,野穀是資,軍無輜重。其計莫若盡驅巴西、梓潼民內涪水以西,其倉廩野穀一皆燒除,高壘深溝,靜以待之。彼至,請戰,勿許,乆無所資,不過百日,必將自走。走而擊之,則必禽耳。」先主聞而惡之,以問正。正曰:「終不能用,無可憂也。」璋果如正言,謂其羣下曰:「吾聞拒敵以安民,未聞動民以避敵也。」於是黜度,不用其計。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  12. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 67.
  13. ^ (及軍圍雒城,正牋與璋曰:「正受性無術, ... 以保尊門。」) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  14. ^ (十九年,進圍成都,璋蜀郡太守許靖將踰城降,事覺,不果。璋以危亡在近,故不誅靖。璋旣稽服,先主以此薄靖不用也。正說曰:「天下有獲虛譽而無其實者,許靖是也。然今主公始創大業,天下之人不可戶說,靖之浮稱,播流四海,若其不禮,天下之人以是謂主公為賤賢也。宜加敬重,以眩遠近,追昔燕王之待郭隗。」先主於是乃厚待靖。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  15. ^ (以正為蜀郡太守、揚武將軍,外統都畿,內為謀主。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  16. ^ (一飡之德,睚眦之怨,無不報復,擅殺毀傷己者數人。或謂諸葛亮曰:「法正於蜀郡太縱橫,將軍宜啟主公,抑其威福。」亮荅曰:「主公之在公安也,北畏曹公之彊,東憚孫權之逼,近則懼孫夫人生變於肘腋之下;當斯之時,進退狼跋,法孝直為之輔翼,令翻然翱翔,不可復制,如何禁止法正使不得行其意邪!」初,孫權以妹妻先主,妹才捷剛猛,有諸兄之風,侍婢百餘人,皆親執刀侍立,先主每入,衷心常凜凜;亮又知先主雅愛信正,故言如此。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  17. ^ (孫盛曰:夫威福自下,亡家害國之道,刑縱於寵,毀政亂理之源,安可以功臣而極其陵肆,嬖幸而藉其國柄者哉?故顛頡雖勤,不免違命之刑,楊干雖親,猶加亂行之戮,夫豈不愛,王憲故也。諸葛氏之言,於是乎失政刑矣。) Sun Sheng's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  18. ^ (二十二年,正說先主曰:「曹操一舉而降張魯,定漢中,不因此勢以圖巴、蜀,而留夏侯淵、張郃屯守,身遽北還,此非其智不逮而力不足也,必將內有憂偪故耳。今策淵、郃才略,不勝國之將帥,舉衆往討,則必可克之,克之日,廣農積穀,觀釁伺隙,上可以傾覆寇敵,尊獎王室,中可以蠶食雍、涼,廣拓境土,下可以固守要害,為持乆之計。此蓋天以與我,時不可失也。」先主善其策,乃率諸將進兵漢中,正亦從行。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  19. ^ (二十四年,先主自陽平南渡沔水,緣山稍前,於定軍、興勢作營。淵將兵來爭其地。正曰:「可擊矣。」先主命黃忠乘高鼓譟攻之,大破淵軍,淵等授首。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  20. ^ (曹公西征,聞正之策,曰:「吾故知玄德不辨有此,必為人所教也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  21. ^ (臣松之以為蜀與漢中,其由脣齒也。劉主之智,豈不及此?將計略未展,正先發之耳。夫聽用嘉謀以成功業,霸王之主,誰不皆然?魏武以為人所教,亦豈劣哉!此蓋耻恨之餘辭,非測實之當言也。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  22. ^ (先主立為漢中王,以正為尚書令、護軍將軍。明年卒,時年四十五。先主為之流涕者累日。謚曰翼侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  23. ^ (賜子邈爵關內侯,官至奉車都尉、漢陽太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  24. ^ (諸葛亮與正,雖好尚不同,以公義相取。亮每奇正智術。先主旣即尊號,將東征孫權以復關羽之耻,羣臣多諫,一不從。章武二年,大軍敗績,還住白帝。亮歎曰:「法孝直若在,則能制主上,令不東行;就復東行,必不傾危矣。」) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  25. ^ (先主與曹公爭,勢有不便,宜退,而先主大怒不肯退,無敢諫者。矢下如雨,正乃往當先主前,先主云:「孝直避箭。」正曰:「明公親當矢石,況小人乎?」先主乃曰:「孝直,吾與汝俱去。」遂退。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  26. ^ (評曰: ... 法正著見成敗,有奇畫策筭,然不以德素稱也。儗之魏臣,統其荀彧之仲叔,正其程、郭之儔儷邪?) Sanguozhi vol. 37.