Yao Yizhong (280–352), posthumously honored as Emperor Jingyuan, was a Qiang military general of the Later Zhao dynasty during the Sixteen Kingdoms period. Starting out as an independent warlord during the Disaster of Yongjia, Yizhong soon found himself as a general of Later Zhao in 329, where he became a favorite of the state's third ruler, Shi Hu. As Later Zhao began to fall apart in 350, Yao Yizhong sided with Shi Zhi against Ran Min's growing state, becoming Shi Zhi's top commander. However, Yizhong was ultimately unable to prevent the state's destruction following Shi Zhi's assassination in 351. After Yizhong's death in 352, his fifth son Yao Xiang led his family to formally join Jin before becoming a contending warlord in the Central Plains. His twenty-fourth son, Yao Chang, would go on to establish the Later Qin dynasty in 384.

Yao Yizhong
Grand Chanyu (大單于)
In office
351 (351)–352 (352)
MonarchEmperor Mu of Jin
Grand Commander of the Western Qiang (西羌大都督)
In office
333 (333)–351 (351)
MonarchShi Hong/Shi Hu/Shi Shi/Shi Zun/Shi Jian/Shi Zhi
Prime Minister of the Right (右丞相)
In office
351 (351)–351 (351)
MonarchShi Zhi
Personal details
ChildrenYao Yi
Yao Ruo
Yao Xiang
Yao Chang
Yao Xu
Yao Yinmai
Yao Shuode
Yao Shao
Yao Jing
Yao Huang
32 unnamed sons
  • Yao Kehui (father)
Posthumous nameEmperor Jingyuan (景元皇帝)
Temple nameShizu (始祖)

Early lifeEdit

Ancestors and backgroundEdit

Yao Yizhong was a Qiang chieftain from Chiting county, Nan'an commandary (赤亭, 南安郡; southeast of present-day Longxi County, Gansu). His family claimed to be descendants of Yu the Great and had a long conflicting history with the Han dynasty. His ancestor, Tianyu (填虞) harassed the western regions during the time of Emperor Guangwu of Han's reign between 57 to 58 AD but was eventually driven out by the general Ma Wu. Yizhong's great-great-great-grandfather was Qianna (遷那), who submitted to Han and moved in to what became Yizhong's birthplace. Yizhong's father Yao Kehui (姚柯回) served Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period as General Who Conquers The West, Colonel Who Organizes The Rong and Protector of the Western Qiang. In his youth, Yizhong was characterised as dutiful and well-respected all around.[1]

Disaster of YongjiaEdit

In 312, a year after the Disaster of Yongjia, Yao Yizhong moved to Yumei (榆眉; east of present-day Qianyang County, Shaanxi) and set his base, where he opened himself to provide shelter to refugees from the east. He attracted thousands of both tribal and Han refugees wishing to escape the chaos. Soon, he proclaimed himself as Inspector of Yongzhou and Colonel Who Protects the Qiang.[2]

Submission to Han ZhaoEdit

After the emperor of Han Zhao, Liu Yao defeated the rebel Chen An in 323, Liu decided to formally appoint Yao Yizhong, who had previously been independent, as General Who Pacifies the West and Duke of Pingxiang.[3] Yizhong did not do anything of note during this period, and in 329, after Han Zhao was conquered by its rival state, Later Zhao, Yizhong submitted to the Later Zhao general Shi Hu. Yizhong advised Shi Hu to relocate the strong and influential families of Longshang (隴上; north of present-day Shaanxi and west of present-day Gansu) to the region surrounding their capital, Xiangguo. This, according to Yizhong, would keep the families in check while also strengthening the capital. Shi Hu considered his suggestion and persuaded his uncle, Zhao's ruler, Shi Le, to award Yizhong with the offices of General Who Maintains The West and Commander of the Left of the Six Tribes.[4]

Service under Later ZhaoEdit

Shi Le's reignEdit

In 330, the Jin rebel Zu Yue involved in Su Jun's rebellion fled to Later Zhao, seeking their protection. Shi Le entertained him initially but deep down he was not fond of Zu Yue, and even his close advisor Cheng Xia urged him to execute him and his family, believing that they could not be trusted. Yao Yizhong supported Cheng Xia's idea, sending Shi Le a memorial that states, "Zu Yue was a rebellious thief in Jin who drove the Empress Dowager to death and was not loyal to his lord. Yet, Your Majesty continues to spoil him, and your ministers fear this will sprout into chaos. This is simply the beginning." Shi Le took their advice and executed Zu Yue along with his family.[5]

Shi Hu's reignEdit

Shi Le died in 333, leaving the throne to his son Shi Hong. However, not long after Shi Le's death, Shi Hu seized the government in a coup and made Shi Hong a puppet emperor. Shi Hu acted out Yizhong's early suggestion of moving the powerful families of Longsheng to the capital region and appointed Yizhong Grand Commander of the Western Qiang, relocating him and thousands of families from the west to Shetou (灄頭; southeast of present-day Zaoqiang County, Hebei), Qinghe commandary.

The following year, Shi Hu killed Shi Hong and declared himself "Regent Heavenly Prince". Yizhong was not pleased with what had happened, so he feigned illness to avoid needing to congratulate Shi Hu. He was eventually forced to in the end, and when the two finally met, Yizhong sternly criticised his ruler for what he had done. Shi Hu defended himself by saying that Shi Hong was too young for a ruler and would not be able to handle affairs. Yizhong was not satisfied with Shi Hu's answer, but at the same time, Shi Hu did not dare to punish Yizhong. Eventually, however, Yizhong came to accept Shi Hong's fate.[6]

In 338, he served as the Champion General during the Later Zhao and Former Yan joint attack on the Duan tribe. In the assault, he and Zhi Xiong led 70,000 troops and headed the vanguard in attacking Duan Liao (段遼). Though the Duan were defeated, the campaign escalated into a war between Zhao and Yan after Shi Hu suspected Yan of betraying the alliance, although Yizhong's involvement in this is not recorded. [7] In 345, he was made Credential Bearer and Grand Champion General and given command over ten commanderies and the Six Tribes.

Yizhong stood out in Shi Hu court for being both humble yet very blunt with his words, his most notable habit being that he referred to everyone, including Shi Hu, as "you (汝; )" rather than their respective titles when talking to them. Shi Hu greatly valued him and put aside any judgement when it comes to him. On major discussions, Shi Hu always gave Yizhong the final say on what was to be carried out, and the ministers all feared him because of this. Despite Shi Hu's flattery, Yizhong remained stern and strict when it comes to the law. On one occasion, the brother of Shi Hu's favorite concubine, Zuo Wei (左尉), trespassed into his camp and harassed the soldiers. Yizhong eventually caught him and, despite Zuo Wei's relations, was set to have him executed for his crimes. Zuo Wei was said to have kowtowed relentlessly until his head began to bleed. Yizhong's subordinate urged him to let him off, and so Yizhong did.[8]

Liang Du's RebellionEdit

In 349, Shi Hu had chosen Shi Shi as his new heir and declared himself Heavenly Prince, but a crisis struck Zhao when Shi Hu was granting out amnesty. He had left out the guards of one of his sons, Shi Xuan (石宣), who were exiled to Liaodong after Xuan was executed for attempting to assassinate his father. The guards rallied under their captain Liang Du (梁犢) and marched south to capture Luoyang, defeating many generals in their way. The rebels' victories shocked Shi Hu so much that he was driven to illness.[9]

As the rebels approached Luoyang, Shi Hu ordered his son, Shi Bin to quell the rebellion together with Yizhong and Pu Hong. Before leaving to face them, Yizhong visited the capital to personally meet with Shi Hu. As Hu was sick, he refused to come out and instead had Yizhong treated with food at the royal table. Yizhong was furious by this and demanded Shi Hu to meet him at once. After Hu finally came out to see him, Yizhong scolded Shi Hu and said:[9]

"Is your dead child (Shi Xuan) what troubles you? Why else would you be sick? While your child was young, you failed to surround him with good men, so he became rebellious. And since he was rebellious, you had him killed. Why worry further? You have been ill for so long and your heir is a mere child. If something happens to you, the realm will be thrown into chaos. Worry about this rather than those thieves. Liang Du and his men rebelled because they were desperate and homesick, and the people are burdened by their killing and pillaging. They will surely not last long. Let this old Qiang handle it for you!"

Shi Hu immediately made Yizhong Commissioner Bearing Credentials, Palace Attendant, and General Who Conquers The West and gifted him an armoured horse without formality or ceremony as Yizhong disliked them. Before embarking, he said to Shi Hu, "Observe, do you think this Old Qiang will smash these rebels?" He wore his armour and mounted the steed that Shi Hu had given to him before leaving without any further say. Yizhong joined the Grand Commander Shi Bin (石斌) at Xingyang. Yizhong took Liang Du's head and destroyed the remaining rebel forces. With the rebellion crushed, Shi Hu awarded Yizhong with the title Duke of Xiping commandary.[9]

Shi Hu's death and war with Ran MinEdit

Shi Shi and Shi Zun's reignsEdit

Despite the rebellion's demise, Shi Hu's body had taken a toll on him and he would die shortly after in 349. He was succeeded by his preteen son Shi Shi as expected but many including Yao Yizhong were angry that actual power was held by Empress Dowager Liu and the Prime Minister Zhang Chai in the court. This was made worse when Liu and Zhang sent an army to kill the Minister of Works, Li Nong. While returning from their campaign against Liang Du, Yizhong and other prominent generals such as Pu Hong and Shi Min conspired with Shi Shi's half-brother, Shi Zun at Licheng (李城; in present-day Wen County, Henan) to overthrow the three. Later, Shi Zun took the capital and executed Shi Shi, the Empress Dowager and Zhang Chai along with their followers, proclaiming himself as the new emperor.[10]

Shi Zun did not last a year however, as he was executed following a coup by Shi Min, the adopted Han Chinese grandson of Shi Hu, who had found out of Zun's plans to kill him. Shi Min and his ally Li Nong installed Zun's brother Shi Jian as the new emperor, but power was virtually held by the duo. Shi Jian's brother, Shi Zhi, who was positioned in Xiangguo (襄國, in modern Xingtai, Hebei) called for a coalition against Shi Min and Li Nong. Many accepted it including Yizhong, who rose in Shetou.[11]

Wei-Jie WarEdit

The following year, Yao Yizhong camped at Hunqiao (混橋) to campaign against Shi Min (now named Ran Min). His sons Yao Yi (姚益) and Yao Ruo (姚若) managed to escape Yecheng and joined their father. Yizhong and the Di general Pu Hong both wanted the strategic position of Guanyou (關右, west of present-day Tongguan county, Shaanxi). Yizhong sent his son fifth son, Yao Xiang to capture it but Pu Hong routed him and occupied the area. Meanwhile, Shi Zhi formally declared himself as emperor after Shi Jian was killed by Ran Min, and Yizhong was appointed as his Prime Minister of the Right.[12] Meanwhile, Yizhong chose Yao Xiang as his heir due to the popular support that Xiang was receiving.[13]

Ran Min eventually besieged Xiangguo, and Shi Zhi desperately called Yizhong for help. Yizhong sent Yao Xiang to lift the siege, but not before asking him to swear that he would capture Ran Min, and contacted the state of Former Yan to send reinforcements. Former Yan sent Yue Wan and together with Yao Xiang and Shi Kun (石琨), they attacked Ran Min from three sides, dealing him a major defeat.[14] However, Ran Min managed to escape, and after Yao Xiang's return, Yizhong had him flogged for not fulfilling his promise.[15]

Shi Zhi and his ministers were later assassinated by a defector named Liu Xian (劉顯), allowing Ran Min to occupy the city. With the emperor dead, Yao Yizhong decided to submit to the Jin dynasty. Jin received his surrender and appointed him Grand Chanyu.[16]


In 352, Yao Yizhong grew deathly ill. He advised his sons to serve the Jin dynasty, as the Shi clan with the recent deaths of its last members under Shi Kun was no more. Yizhong died shortly after at the age of 72 and was succeeded by Yao Xiang, who marched with his followers south to formally join Jin. Although Yao Xiang served Jin for a while, he claimed independence after his ally Yin Hao grew suspicious of him and tried to kill him. Yao Xiang carried his father's coffin around until he was killed in battle in 357 when fighting Former Qin forces. Former Qin's emperor Fu Sheng ordered that his body be buried as a prince in Ji county (冀縣, present-day Gangu County, Gansu), Tianshui. When his 24th son, Yao Chang, became emperor of Later Qin in 386, Yizhong was posthumously named Emperor Jingyuan. [17]


  1. ^ (姚弋仲,南安赤亭羌人也。其先有虞氏之苗裔。禹封舜少子於西戎,世為羌酋。其後燒當雄於洮、罕之間,七世孫填虞,漢中元末寇擾西州,為楊虛侯馬武所敗,徙出塞。虞九世孫遷那率種人內附,漢朝嘉之,假冠軍將軍、西羌校尉、歸順王,處之于南安之赤亭。那玄孫柯回為魏鎮西將軍、綏戎校尉、西羌都督。回生弋仲,少英毅,不營產業,唯以收恤為務,眾皆畏而親之。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  2. ^ (永嘉之亂,戎夏繈負隨之者數萬,自稱雍州刺史,護羌校尉,扶風公。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 5
  3. ^ (劉曜以弋仲為平西將軍。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 5
  4. ^ (及石季龍克上邽,弋仲說之曰:「明公握兵十萬,功高一時,正是行權立策之日。隴上多豪,秦風猛勁,道隆後服,道洿先叛,宜徙隴上豪強,虛其心腹,以實畿甸。」季龍納之,啟勒以弋仲行安西將軍、六夷左都督。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  5. ^ (後晉豫州刺史祖約奔於勒,勒禮待之,弋仲上疏曰:「祖約殘賊晉朝,逼殺太后,不忠於主,而陛下寵之,臣恐奸亂之萌,此其始矣。」勒善之,後竟誅約。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  6. ^ (及季龍廢石弘自立,弋仲稱疾不賀。季龍累召之,乃赴,正色謂季龍曰:「奈何把臂受託而反奪之乎!」季龍憚其強正而不之責。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  7. ^ (虎乃以桃豹為橫海將軍,王華為渡遼將軍,帥舟師十萬出漂渝津;支雄為龍驤大將軍,姚弋仲為冠軍將軍,帥步騎七萬前鋒以伐遼。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 96
  8. ^ (遷弋仲持節、十郡六夷大都督、冠軍大將軍。性清儉鯁直,不修威儀,屢獻讜言,無所回避,季龍甚重之。朝之大議,靡不參決,公卿亦憚而推下之。武城左尉,季龍寵姬之弟也,曾擾其部,弋仲執尉,數以迫脅之狀,命左右斬之。尉叩頭流血,左右諫,乃止。其剛直不回,皆此類也。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  9. ^ a b c (季龍末,梁犢敗李農于滎陽,季龍大懼,馳召弋仲。弋仲率其部眾八千餘人屯於南郊,輕騎至鄴。時季龍病,不時見弋仲,引入領軍省,賜其所食之食。弋仲怒不食,曰:「召我擊賊,豈來覓食邪!我不知上存亡,若一見,雖死無恨。」左右言之,乃引見。弋仲數季龍曰:「兒死來愁邪?乃至於疾!兒小時不能使好人輔相,至令相殺。兒自有過,責其下人太甚,故反耳。汝病久,所立兒小,若不差,天下必亂。當宜憂此,不煩憂賊也。犢等因思歸之心,共為奸盜,所行殘賊,此成擒耳。老羌請效死前鋒,使一舉而了。」弋仲性狷直,俗無尊卑皆汝之,季龍恕而不責,於坐授使持節、侍中、征西大將軍,賜以鎧馬。弋仲曰:「汝看老羌堪破賊以不?」於是貫鉀跨馬於庭中,策馬南馳,不辭而出,遂滅梁犢。以功加劍履上殿,入朝不趨,進封西平郡公。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  10. ^ (彭城王遵至河內,聞喪;姚弋仲、蒲洪、劉寧及征虜將軍石閔、武衛將軍王鸞等討梁犢還,遇遵于李城,共說遵曰:「殿下長且賢,先帝亦有意以殿下爲嗣;正以末年惛惑,爲張豺所誤。今女主臨朝,奸臣用事,上白相持未下,京師宿衛空虛,殿下若聲張豺之罪,鼓行而討之,其誰不開門倒戈而迎殿下者!」遵從之。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 98
  11. ^ (新興王祗,虎之子也,時鎮襄國,與姚弋仲、蒲洪等連兵,移檄中外,欲共誅閔、農;閔、農以汝陰王琨爲大都督,與張舉及侍中呼延盛帥步騎七萬分討祗等。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 98
  12. ^ (石祗稱尊號于襄國,以仲為右丞相。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 5
  13. ^ (姚襄字景國,戈仲第五子,雄武多才藝,能明察,善撫納,士民愛敬之,咸請為嗣。仲以襄非嫡,不許。石祗僭號,以襄為使持節驃騎將軍、護烏丸校尉。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 5
  14. ^ (二年三[二]月,閔攻襄國百餘日,祗怯,乃去皇帝之號,改稱趙王。遣太尉張奉乞帥于慕容雋。中軍張春請救于姚弋仲... 雋遣將軍悅綰帥甲士三萬。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 2
  15. ^ (襄擊閔于常盧澤,大破之而歸。弋仲怒襄之不擒閔也,杖之一百。) Book of Jin, Volume 116
  16. ^ (乃使使降晉。晉永和七年,拜仲使持節六夷大都督、督江淮諸軍事、儀同三司、大單于,封高陵郡公。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 5
  17. ^ (石祗為劉顯所弒,仲乃與燕連和。有子四十二人,常誡諸子曰;「我死之後,汝歸晉家,竭盡臣節。」...八年薨,時年七十三... 萇稱尊號追諡景元皇帝,廟號始祖,陵曰高陵。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 5