Liu Yao (warlord)

Liu Yao (157–198), courtesy name Zhengli, was a provincial governor and warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China.[1] He was a descendant of Liu Fei, the eldest son of the Han dynasty's founding emperor, Liu Bang (Emperor Gao). When he was 18, he became famous after rescuing a relative who was being held hostage by bandits. He started his career in the Han civil service after being nominated as a xiaolian, and was known for his incorruptibility. In 194, although he was appointed by the Han imperial court as the governor of Yang Province, he barely managed to gain a foothold over his jurisdiction because the warlord Yuan Shu controlled a large part of the territories around the Huai River region in Yang Province. In 195, conflict broke out between Liu Yao and Yuan Shu, who sent his ally Sun Ce to attack Liu Yao. Sun Ce defeated Liu Yao and forced him to retreat south into present-day Jiangxi, where Liu Yao defeated a minor warlord Ze Rong and died of illness shortly later. His elder brother was Liu Dai, another prominent warlord.

Liu Yao
Governor of Yang Province (揚州牧)
In office
195 (195) – 198 (198)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
General Who Inspires Martial Might
In office
195 (195) – 198 (198)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Inspector of Yang Province (揚州刺史)
In office
194 (194) – 195 (195)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Muping District, Yantai, Shandong
Died198 (aged 41)[1][2]
Nanchang, Jiangxi
RelationsLiu Dai (brother)
FatherLiu Yu
OccupationOfficial, warlord
Courtesy nameZhengli (正禮)

Family backgroundEdit

Liu Yao was from Muping County (牟平縣), Donglai Commandery (東萊郡), which is in present-day Muping District, Yantai, Shandong. He was of noble descent. His ancestor, Liu Xie (劉渫), who held the title "Marquis of Muping" (牟平侯), was a son of Liu Jianglü (劉將閭). Liu Jianglü was a son of Liu Fei, the eldest son of the Han dynasty's founder, Liu Bang (Emperor Gao).[4]

Liu Yao's grandfather, Liu Ben (劉本), was an eminent Confucian scholar. Liu Yao's father, Liu Yu (劉輿), served as the Administrator (太守) of Shanyang Commandery (山陽郡).[5] Liu Yao's uncle, Liu Chong (劉寵), served as the Grand Commandant (太尉) in the Han imperial court.[6]

Liu Yao's elder brother, Liu Dai, was a Palace Attendant (侍中) and later the Inspector (刺吏) of Yan Province.[7]

Early life and careerEdit

When Liu Yao was 18 years old, his relative Liu Wei (劉韙) was taken hostage by a gang of bandits. Liu Yao managed to rescue Liu Wei and bring him back safely. He became famous for his courageous act.[8]

Shortly after, Liu Yao was nominated as a xiaolian (孝廉; civil service candidate) to join the Han civil service. He was subsequently appointed as a Gentleman (郎中) and then the Chief () of Xiayi County (下邑縣; around present-day Dangshan County, Anhui). He resigned later after refusing to misuse his powers by helping influential elites in the commandery.[9]

Liu Yao was later recalled to serve as an official in Jinan State (濟南國). The Chancellor of Jinan was the son of an influential official in the central government. When Liu Yao caught him engaging in corrupt practices, he wrote a memorial to the imperial court to complain, resulting in the chancellor's dismissal.[10]

Tao Qiuhong (陶丘洪), an official from Pingyuan Commandery (平原郡), proposed to the Inspector of Qing Province to nominate Liu Yao as a maocai (茂才) for outstanding performance. The Inspector asked, "We already nominated Gongshan (Liu Dai) last year. Why should we nominate Zhengli (Liu Yao) this year?" Tao Qiuhong replied, "If you nominate Gongshan first, and then Zhengli, you'll be doing exactly what people call 'riding two dragons on a long journey' and 'letting two fine steeds run freely'. Why shouldn't you do this?" Liu Yao then received an offer to serve as an Assistant () to the Minister of Works (司空) and an Imperial Censor (侍御史), but he declined.[11]

Governorship of Yang ProvinceEdit

Map showing the major warlords of the late Han dynasty in the 190s

When chaos broke out in central and northern China in the 180s and 190s, Liu Yao fled south to the Huainan region (present-day central Anhui). In 194,[12] the imperial court appointed him as the Inspector (刺史) of Yang Province. Around the time, the warlord Yuan Shu controlled much of the territories in the Huainan region. Liu Yao feared Yuan Shu and did not dare to assume his appointment because much of his jurisdiction was under Yuan Shu's control. He headed further south, crossed the Yangtze River, and met Wu Jing and Sun Ben in Qu'e County (曲阿縣; present-day Danyang, Jiangsu). They helped him establish a base for his governorship of Yang Province in Qu'e County.[13]

In 195, Yuan Shu, who had the intention of usurping the Han throne and declaring himself emperor, ordered his forces to start conquering nearby commanderies and counties. Liu Yao sent his subordinates Fan Neng (樊能) and Zhang Ying (張英) to station troops near the riverbank to guard against Yuan Shu's advances. As Wu Jing and Sun Ben previously had served under Yuan Shu, Liu Yao distrusted them and forced them to leave. Yuan Shu appointed himself as the Inspector of Yang Province, and allied with Wu Jing and Sun Ben to attack Liu Yao. Fan Neng and Zhang Ying managed to hold their positions against enemy attacks for several days.[14]

In 195, the Han imperial court promoted Liu Yao to Governor () of Yang Province and concurrently appointed him as "General Who Inspires Martial Might" (振武將軍). Liu Yao managed to rally thousands of troops to defend his territories. In the same year, the warlord Sun Ce (allied with Yuan Shu) led his forces across the Yangtze River and defeated Fan Neng and Zhang Ying. Liu Yao fled south to Dantu County (丹徒縣; present-day Dantu District, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu).[15]

Battle of Yuzhang and deathEdit

At Dantu County, Liu Yao contemplated moving to Kuaiji Commandery (會稽郡; around present-day Shaoxing, Zhejiang) to take shelter. However, Xu Shao advised him to go to Yuzhang Commandery (豫章郡; around present-day Nanchang, Jiangxi) instead. He explained that Kuaiji Commandery had an abundance of resources so it would come under attack by Sun Ce very soon. Yuzhang Commandery, however, shared borders with Yu Province to the north and Jing Province to the west, so it would be more convenient for them to form alliances with other warlords such as Cao Cao and Liu Biao to counter the threat of Yuan Shu. Liu Yao heeded Xu Shao's suggestion and travelled to Yuzhang Commandery.[16]

Liu Yao and his forces reached Pengze County (彭澤縣; east of present-day Hukou County, Jiangxi) and garrisoned there. At the time, Zhou Shu (周術), the previous Administrator of Yuzhang Commandery, had died of illness so his office was vacant. Liu Biao, the Governor of Jing Province, supported Zhuge Xuan to be the new Administrator, but that became a problem because the Han imperial court had appointed Zhu Hao to succeed Zhou Shu. Liu Yao sent a subordinate, Ze Rong, to lead troops to attack Zhuge Xuan and help Zhu Hao. Xu Shao cautioned Liu Yao, "Ze Rong doesn't care about how others see him. Zhu Wenming (Zhu Hao) is too trusting of people. You should warn him to be wary (of Ze Rong)." After driving Zhuge Xuan away, as Xu Shao foresaw, Ze Rong killed Zhu Hao and took control of Yuzhang Commandery.[17][18]

Liu Yao led his forces to attack Ze Rong but was driven back. He then started recruiting more troops from the surrounding counties and eventually defeated Ze Rong, who fled into the hills and was killed by the Shanyue tribes. Liu Yao died of illness in 198[1] at the age of 42 (by East Asian age reckoning).[2]

Post-mortem eventsEdit

In 199, when Sun Ce was on his way to attack Jiangxia Commandery (江夏郡), he passed by Yuzhang Commandery, where he collected Liu Yao's remains, arranged a proper memorial service for Liu Yao, and treated Liu Yao's family kindly.[19]

Wang Lang wrote to Sun Ce, explaining how Liu Yao and Sun Ce's family used to get along well before the conflict broke out between him and Yuan Shu – the conflict turned Liu Yao and Sun Ce against each other because the latter was Yuan Shu's ally at the time. He told Sun Ce that Liu Yao died in regret because he wanted, but never had a chance to, reestablish friendly ties with Sun Ce after settling down in Yuzhang Commandery. He also praised Sun Ce for his kind gesture in arranging a proper funeral for Liu Yao and advised Sun Ce to treat Liu Yao's eldest son well.[20]


Liu Yao's eldest son, Liu Ji (劉基), came to serve under Sun Quan, Sun Ce's younger brother and the founding emperor of the state of Eastern Wu in the Three Kingdoms period. Sun Quan highly respected and favoured Liu Ji. After he became emperor, Sun Quan appointed Liu Ji as Minister of the Household (光祿勳). One of Sun Quan's sons, Sun Ba (孫霸), married Liu Ji's daughter.[21]

Liu Yao had two other sons, Liu Shuo (劉鑠) and Liu Shang (劉尚), who both served as Cavalry Commandants (騎都尉) under Sun Quan.[22]

In Romance of the Three KingdomsEdit

Liu Yao is a minor character in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the events in the late Eastern Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period. He appears in Chapter 15 and is depicted as an incompetent warlord in the Jiangdong region. He forms an alliance with two other Jiangdong warlords, Wang Lang and Yan Baihu, to counter an invasion by the warlord Sun Ce. Taishi Ci, a warrior under Liu Yao, was captured by Sun Ce, who treated him respectfully and managed to convince him to defect. Sun Ce ultimately defeated Liu Yao in battle, took over his territories, and forced him to flee to Yuzhang Commandery.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Liu Yao's biography in the Sanguozhi mentioned that he died at the age of 42 (by East Asian age reckoning)[2] in 198.[3] By calculation, his birth year should be around 157.


  1. ^ a b c d de Crespigny (2007), p. 574.
  2. ^ a b c (繇進討融,為融所破,更復招合屬縣,攻破融。融敗走入山,為民所殺,繇尋病卒,時年四十二。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  3. ^ (會劉繇卒於豫章, ...) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 62.
  4. ^ (劉繇字正禮,東萊牟平人也。齊孝王少子封牟平侯,子孫家焉。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  5. ^ (續漢書曰:繇祖父本,師受經傳,博學羣書,號為通儒。舉賢良方正,為般長,卒官。 ... 續漢書曰:繇父輿,一名方,山陽太守。岱、繇皆有雋才。) Xu Han Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  6. ^ (繇伯父寵,為漢太尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  7. ^ (繇兄岱,字公山,歷位侍中,兖州刺吏。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  8. ^ (繇十九,從父韙為賊所劫質,繇篡取以歸,由是顯名。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  9. ^ (舉孝廉,為郎中,除下邑長。時郡守以貴戚託之,遂棄官去。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  10. ^ (州辟部濟南,濟南相中常侍子,貪穢不循,繇奏免之。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  11. ^ (平原陶丘洪薦繇,欲令舉茂才。刺史曰:「前年舉公山,柰何復舉正禮乎?」洪曰:「若明使君用公山於前,擢正禮於後,所謂御二龍於長塗,騁騏驥於千里,不亦可乎!」會辟司空掾,除侍御史,不就。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  12. ^ (侍御史劉繇,岱之弟也,素有盛名,詔書用為揚州刺史; ...) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 61.
  13. ^ (避亂淮浦,詔書以為揚州刺史。時袁術在淮南,繇畏憚,不敢之州。欲南渡江,吳景、孫賁迎置曲阿。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  14. ^ (術圖為僭逆,攻沒諸郡縣。繇遣樊能、張英屯江邊以拒之。以景、賁術所授用,乃迫逐使去。於是術乃自置揚州刺史,與景、賁并力攻英、能等,歲餘不下。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  15. ^ (漢命加繇為牧,振武將軍,衆數萬人,孫策東渡,破英、能等。繇奔丹徒, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  16. ^ (袁宏漢紀曰:劉繇將奔會稽,許子將曰:「會稽富實,策之所貪,且窮在海隅,不可往也。不如豫章,北連豫壤,西接荊州。若收合吏民,遣使貢獻,與曹兖州相聞,雖有袁公路隔在其間,其人豺狼,不能乆也。足下受王命,孟德、景升必相救濟。」繇從之。) Han Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  17. ^ (... 遂泝江南保豫章,駐彭澤。笮融先至,殺太守朱皓,入居郡中。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  18. ^ (獻帝春秋曰:是歲,繇屯彭澤,又使融助皓討劉表所用太守諸葛玄。許子將謂繇曰:「笮融出軍,不顧命名義者也。朱文明善推誠以信人,宜使密防之。」融到,果詐殺皓,代領郡事。) Xiandi Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  19. ^ (後策西伐江夏,還過豫章,收載繇喪,善遇其家。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  20. ^ (王朗遺策書曰:「劉正禮昔初臨州,未能自達,實賴尊門為之先後,用能濟江成治,有所處定。踐境之禮,感分結意,情在終始。後以袁氏之嫌,稍更乖剌。更以同盟,還為讎敵,原其本心,實非所樂。康寧之後,常願渝平更成,復踐宿好。一爾分離,款意不昭,奄然殂隕,可為傷恨!知敦以厲薄,德以報怨,收骨育孤,哀亡愍存,捐旣往之猜,保六尺之託,誠深恩重分,美名厚實也。昔魯人雖有齊怨,不廢喪紀,春秋善之,謂之得禮,誠良史之所宜藉,鄉校之所歎聞。正禮元子,致有志操,想必有以殊異。威盛刑行,施之以恩,不亦優哉!」) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  21. ^ (繇長子基,字敬輿, ... 權為驃騎將軍,辟東曹掾,拜輔義校尉、建忠中郎。 ... 權稱尊號,改為光祿勳,分平尚書事。年四十九卒。後權為子霸納基女,賜第一區,四時寵賜,與全、張比。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  22. ^ (基二弟,鑠、尚,皆騎都尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
  • 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.
  • Luo, Guanzhong (14th century). Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi).
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.