Peng Yang (Han dynasty)

Peng Yang (178–214), courtesy name Yongnian, was an official serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China.[1]

Peng Yang
Administrator of Jiangyang (江陽太守)
In office
Assistant Officer in the Headquarters Office (治中從事)
In office
Personal details
Guanghan, Sichuan
Died214 (aged 36)[1]
Courtesy nameYongnian (永年)

Early lifeEdit

Peng Yang was from Guanghan Commandery (廣漢郡), which is around present-day Guanghan, Sichuan.[2] Described as a man about eight chi tall and having an impressive appearance,[3] he was notorious for being conceited, arrogant, rude and condescending towards others. Among his contemporaries, he respected only Qin Mi, who was also from Guanghan Commandery.[4] He once recommended Qin Mi as a talent to Xu Jing, who was then the Administrator of Guanghan. In his recommendation letter, he compared Qin Mi to ancient sages such as Fu Yue, Jiang Ziya and Li Yiji, and praised Qin Mi for his virtuous, loyal, sincere and humble behaviour.[5]

Peng Yang later served as an official in his native Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) but never made it to any position higher than that of a scribe (書佐). His offensive behaviour also landed him in deep trouble when his colleagues slandered him in front of Liu Zhang, the Governor of Yi Province. Liu Zhang believed them and ordered Peng Yang to be shaved bald, put in chains, and sent to perform hard labour.[6]

Service under Liu BeiEdit

In 211, when the warlord Liu Bei led his forces into Yi Province to assist Liu Zhang in countering a rival warlord Zhang Lu in Hanzhong,[7] Peng Yang travelled north to find Liu Bei in the hope of joining him. He paid a visit to Pang Tong, one of Liu Bei's key advisers. When Peng Yang showed up at his house, Pang Tong was entertaining other guests as well, but Peng Yang did not care and he went straight to Pang Tong's seat and sat there comfortably. He told Pang Tong: "I will only speak to you when all your other guests have left."[8] After the other guests left, Peng Yang demanded that Pang Tong serve him food before they started talking. Peng Yang also stayed at Pang Tong's house for days and had long conversations with him. Pang Tong was so impressed with Peng Yang that he recommended him as a talent to Liu Bei. Fa Zheng, another of Liu Bei's key advisers, had heard of Peng Yang's talent so he also recommended Peng Yang to his lord.[9]

Liu Bei saw Peng Yang as an extraordinary talent and immediately recruited him. He often assigned Peng Yang the tasks of relaying military orders, and guiding and instructing his officers. Peng Yang performed his tasks well and became increasingly favoured by Liu Bei.[10]

In 214, after Liu Bei seized control of Yi Province from Liu Zhang and became the new Governor of Yi Province,[11] he appointed Peng Yang as an Assistant Officer in the Headquarters Office (治中從事) of Yi Province.[12] As he had risen through the ranks to a position much higher than his previous appointment as a scribe, Peng Yang felt very smug about his achievements and started behaving in an arrogant manner towards others.[13]

Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei's chief adviser, disliked Peng Yang but pretended to be accommodating and tolerant towards him. He secretly warned Liu Bei on numerous occasions that Peng Yang was a highly ambitious individual who might become a threat to them in the long term. As Liu Bei highly trusted Zhuge Liang and had been quietly observing Peng Yang's actions and behaviour, he believed Zhuge Liang was right so he started distancing himself from Peng Yang. Later, he sent Peng Yang away from Chengdu, Yi Province's capital, to serve as the Administrator of Jiangyang Commandery (江陽郡; around present-day Luzhou, Sichuan).[14]

Downfall and executionEdit

When Peng Yang learnt that he was going to be sent away from Chengdu to serve as a commandery administrator elsewhere, he felt very unhappy so he visited Ma Chao, one of Liu Bei's generals, and told him about it.[15] Ma Chao asked him: "You are an outstanding talent. Our lord trusts and regards you highly. You should be serving him alongside people like Kongming and Xiaozhi. When you accept your reassignment to a small commandery, doesn't that take you further away from your initial goal(s)?"[16] Peng Yang grumbled: "That old piece of leather[a] is ridiculous and muddle-headed! What else can I say?"[18] He also told Ma Chao: "You are outside while I am inside. The Empire can be pacified."[19] His words were interpreted as asking Ma Chao to join him in plotting a coup d'état against Liu Bei.[1]

As Ma Chao had only recently joined Liu Bei, he often feared that he would get into trouble so he did not respond even though he felt shocked after hearing what Peng Yang told him. After Peng Yang left, he secretly reported him to the authorities. As a result, Peng Yang was arrested and imprisoned for plotting treason against Liu Bei.[20]

While awaiting his execution, Peng Yang wrote a letter to Zhuge Liang as follows:

"I have had dealings with the other warlords in the past. I think that Cao Cao is cruel and barbaric, Sun Quan is unrighteous in his ways, and Liu Zhang is incompetent and weak. I saw that only our lord has the potential to become a ruler so I decided to assist him in bringing peace to the Empire. Because of this, I decided to change my goals, and this change brought me to greater heights. It was so fortunate that our lord came to the west while I was thinking of joining him. With help from Fa Xiaozhi and Pang Tong, I was able to meet our lord at Jiameng, share with him my ideas on ruling a state, starting a dynasty, and my plan for him to conquer Yi Province. You had a farsighted and brilliant plan as well, and you had the same thoughts as me. That was why our lord decided to seize Yi Province by force.[21]

In the past, I had nothing to my name in my native province, and I often got into trouble. I was lucky enough to live in an era of chaos and war, and be able to find a lord whom I admire and respect. I was thus able to realise my goal, become famous, and rise up from the status of a commoner to the position of a high-ranking official reserved only for the most talented. Our lord treated me like a son. Who else can treat me more generously than him? Because of my arrogance, I sought my doom and I will go down as a disloyal and unrighteous man! No person of sound mind would hold a map of the Empire in his left hand and hold a sword to his throat in his right hand. Besides, I am also someone who can tell the difference between beans and grains.[22]

I had complaints because I overestimated myself and wishfully believed that I had gained top credit so I did not deserve to be sent to Jiangyang. When I said that (to Ma Chao), I failed to understand our lord's good intention. I was full of unhappiness so I lost control of my mouth as I blurted out the word "old" after having a few drinks. I was foolish and shallow when I said this. Our lord is actually not "old" at all. Besides, why does age matter when it comes to starting a dynasty? King Wen of Zhou was still young at heart when he was already 90 years old. I have let down my lord who has been like a kind fatherly figure to me, and I deserve to die a hundred times for this.[23]

What I truly meant when I talked about "outside" and "inside" was that I hoped that Mengqi would fight for our lord at the frontline while I serve our lord in Chengdu, and we work together to bring down Cao Cao. Why would I have traitorous thoughts? Although Mengqi quoted me correctly, he misunderstood the true meaning of my words. I am extremely disappointed.[24]

In the past, I made a pledge with Pang Tong to follow in your footsteps and strive our best to help our lord achieve his goal, and leave behind our names in history like the wise sages of ancient times. Pang Tong met his tragic end, while I brought disaster upon myself. Who else can I blame but myself for getting into this situation? You are the Yi Yin and Lü Wang of the present. You should do your best to assist our lord in fulfilling his dream and achieving his goal. May Heaven and Earth bear witness to this, and may all the gods bless you. What else can I say? I sincerely hope that you will understand my most heartfelt intention. I wish you all the best. Take care! Take care!"[25]

Peng Yang was 37 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he was executed.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In ancient China, soldiers wore leather armour so "leather" could colloquially refer to soldiers. When Peng Yang called Liu Bei an "old piece of leather", he was essentially calling Liu Bei an old soldier.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d de Crespigny (2007), p. 695.
  2. ^ (彭羕字永年,廣漢人。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  3. ^ (身長八尺,容貌甚偉。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  4. ^ (姿性驕傲,多所輕忽,惟敬同郡秦子勑, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  5. ^ (... 薦之於太守許靖曰:「昔高宗夢傅說, ... 不亦美哉!」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  6. ^ (羕仕州,不過書佐,後又為衆人所謗毀於州牧劉璋,璋髠鉗羕為徒隷。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  7. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 66.
  8. ^ (會先主入蜀,泝流北行。羕欲納說先主,乃往見龐統。統與羕非故人,又適有賔客,羕徑上統牀卧,謂統曰:「須客罷當與卿善談。」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  9. ^ (統客旣罷,往就羕坐,羕又先責統食,然後共語,因留信宿,至于經日。統大善之,而法正宿自知羕,遂並致之先主。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  10. ^ (先主亦以為奇,數令羕宣傳軍事,指授諸將,奉使稱意,識遇日加。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  11. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 67.
  12. ^ (成都旣定,先主領益州牧,拔羕為治中從事。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  13. ^ (羕起徒步,一朝處州人之上,形色嚻然,自矜得遇滋甚。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  14. ^ (諸葛亮雖外接待羕,而內不能善。屢密言先主,羕心大志廣,難可保安。先主旣敬信亮,加察羕行事,意以稍踈,左遷羕為江陽太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  15. ^ (羕聞當遠出,私情不恱,往詣馬超。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  16. ^ (超問羕曰:「卿才具秀拔,主公相待至重,謂卿當與孔明、孝直諸人齊足並驅,寧當外授小郡,失人本望乎?」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  17. ^ (臣松之以為皮去毛曰革。古者以革為兵,故語稱兵革,革猶兵也。羕罵備為老革,猶言老兵也。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  18. ^ (羕曰:「老革荒悖,可復道邪!」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  19. ^ (又謂超曰:「卿為其外,我為其內,天下不足定也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  20. ^ (超羇旅歸國,常懷危懼,聞羕言大驚,默然不荅。羕退,具表羕辭,於是收羕付有司。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  21. ^ (羕於獄中與諸葛亮書曰:「僕昔有事於諸侯,以為曹操暴虐,孫權無道,振威闇弱,其惟主公有霸王之器,可與興業致治,故乃翻然有輕舉之志。會公來西,僕因法孝直自衒鬻,龐統斟酌其間,遂得詣公於葭萌,指掌而譚,論治世之務,講霸王之業,建取益州之策,公亦宿慮明定,即相然贊,遂舉事焉。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  22. ^ (僕於故州不免凡庸,憂於罪罔,得遭風雲激矢之中,求君得君,志行名顯,從布衣之中擢為國士,盜竊茂才。分子之厚,誰復過此。羕一朝狂悖,自求葅醢,為不忠不義之鬼乎!先民有言,左手據天下之圖,右手刎咽喉,愚夫不為也。況僕頗別菽麥者哉!) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  23. ^ (所以有怨望意者,不自度量,苟以為首興事業,而有投江陽之論,不解主公之意,意卒感激,頗以被酒,侻失『老』語。此僕之下愚薄慮所致,主公實未老也。且夫立業,豈在老少,西伯九十,寧有衰志,負我慈父,罪有百死。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  24. ^ (至於內外之言,欲使孟起立功北州,勠力主公,共討曹操耳,寧敢有他志邪?孟起說之是也,但不分別其間,痛人心耳。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  25. ^ (昔每與龐統共相誓約,庶託足下末蹤,盡心於主公之業,追名古人,載勳竹帛。統不幸而死,僕敗以取禍。自我惰之,將復誰怨!足下,當世伊、呂也,宜善與主公計事,濟其大猷。天明地察,神祇有靈,復何言哉!貴使足下明僕本心耳。行矣努力,自愛,自愛!」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  26. ^ (羕竟誅死,時年三十七。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  • 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).
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.