Zu Yue (祖約) (after 266[1] - March to April 330[2]), courtesy name Shishao, was a Chinese military general and warlord of the Jin dynasty. He was the younger brother of the famed Jin general Zu Ti who marched north to reclaim lost lands from the barbarians. After Ti's death in 321, Zu Yue succeeded him but was said to have lacked his talents. In 327, dissatisfied with his treatment by the Jin court, he joined forces with Su Jun and took over the capital. However, he was defeated by loyalist forces in 329 and fled to Later Zhao, where he and his family were executed by Shi Le.

Zu Yue
Inspector of Yu Province (豫州刺史)
In office
321 (321)–329 (329)
MonarchEmperor Yuan of Jin/Emperor Ming of Jin/Emperor Cheng of Jin
Personal details
Qiuxian county, Hebei
RelationsZu Ti (brother)
Zu Gai (brother)
Zu Na (half-brother)
  • Zu Wu (father)
OccupationMilitary general, warlord
Courtesy nameShishao (士少)

Career under the Jin dynastyEdit

Zu Yue hailed from Qiuxian county, Fanyang commandery and was the younger brother of Zu Ti, who he had a friendly relationship with. In his youth, Zu Yue received the title of "Xiaolian (孝廉; Filial and Incorrupt)" and worked as the Magistrate of Chenggao County. After the Disaster of Yongjia in 311, he followed his brother south to join Sima Rui. There, he served a handful of offices such as the Attendant Officer of the Household Gentlemen and was said to be as equally famous as Ruan Fu (阮孚) of Chenliu.[3]

Despite his respectful career, Zu Yue nearly landed himself in trouble due to his marital problems at home. Zu Yue had a very jealous wife who was very suspicious of him to the point that Zu Yue feared her. One night, Zu Yue was suddenly injured by someone, and he suspected that this was his wife's doing. Zu Yue begged Sima Rui to allow him to resign but was rejected, so Zu instead abandoned his post. The Minister of Justice, Liu Wei (劉隗), wanted to execute him for his negligence but Sima Rui prevented him from doing so.[4]

While Zu Ti won merits in his northern expedition, Zu Yue too benefitted back home with promotions. After Zu Ti died in 321, however, Zu Yue was chosen to take over his army as General Who Pacifies The West and Inspector of Yuzhou. His half-brother, Zu Na (祖納) warned Sima Rui that giving his brother that much power would lead to rebellion, but Na was ignored as he was noted to be notoriously jealous of Yue. Zu Yue found his new position difficult to hold, as his lack of ability to impose discipline and poor relations with his brother's generals made him very unpopular among his men.[5] Shortly after Zu Yue's appointment, Later Zhao forces quickly retook lands that they had lost to Zu Ti. Zu Yue failed to hold out and lost Xiangcheng, Chengfu (城父, in present-day Bozhou, Anhui) and Chenliu as a result.[6]

In 324, Zu Yue joined the loyalist side during Wang Dun's second insurrection against Jin after he was summoned to the capital by Emperor Ming. Zu Yue drove out Wang's Administrator of Huainan Ren Tai (任台) at Shouyang (壽陽, in present-day Lu'an, Anhui).[7]

After the death of Emperor Ming the following year, his brother-in-law Yu Liang, became the regent for his nephew, Emperor Cheng of Jin. Zu Yue saw himself as an independent warlord and wished to exercise his own authority over his holdings. He had hope that the new government would give him the privilege to hand out offices to his subordinates, much like his contemporaries, but this did not happen. He soon sent multiple petitions demanding for it, but they were either rejected or ignored. Even worse, when an imperial edict promoting ministers was declared, he, along with Tao Kan, were left out from the edict, and all this caused Zu Yue to suspect that Yu Liang was purposefully snubbing him.[8]

In 326, Zu Yue was attacked by Later Zhao forces under Shi Cong (石聰) at Shouchun. Zu sent edicts to Jiankang demanding for help but none came. The court only considered action when Shi Cong attacked Junqiu (浚遒, in present-day Feidong County, Anhui) and Fuling (阜陵; in present-day Quanjiao County, Anhui). However, before reinforcements could be sent, the warlord, Su Jun, sent his general Han Huang first and repelled Shi Cong. Zu Yue's relationship with the court deteriorated even further when he heard of the court's plan to make a defensive dyke. The dyke would cut him off from the capital, leaving him isolated in the face of a future invasion.[9]

Su Jun's RebellionEdit

The next year, Su Jun rebelled against the Jin dynasty. Su Jun knew of Zu Yue's grudge with Yu Liang and the government, so he was offered to join forces. Zu Yue was delighted, and sent nephew Zu Huan and brother-in-law Xu Liu to aid Su Jun in capturing Jiankang. There were attempts to discourage Zu Yue from joining Su Jun by Huan Xuan and Zu Ti's widow, but Zu Yue refused to listen.[10] When Su Jun took over the capital in 328, Su Jun appointed Zu Yue Palace Attendant, Grand Commandant, and Prefect of the Masters of Writing.

While the rebellion raged on in the south, Later Zhao attacked Zu Yue at Huaishang. One of Zu Yue's general, Chen Guang (陳光), betrayed and attacked him. Zu Yue's Attendant and also his look-alike, Yan Tu (閻禿), pretended to be superior while the real Zu Yue secretly escaped the city in the night.[11]

The Jin general, Wen Jiao, issued a call to arms against Su Jun and Zu Yue. Many loyalists rose up against them and gathered around the capital's region. While Wen Jiao was at the Qiezi river mouth (茄子浦, in present-day Nanjing, Jiangsu), his subordinate Mao Bao went against his orders and successfully attacked a shipment of rice that Su Jun was sending to Zu Yue, leaving Zu and his men starving without food.[12] Later, Zu Yue sent his generals Zu Huan (祖渙) and Huan Fu (桓撫) to attack Penkou (湓口, in present-day Jiujiang, Jiangxi). They managed to defeat Mao Bao at first, but he then returned to drive them off. Mao Bao proceeded to attack and capture Zu Yue's camps in Hefei.[13]

With his deteriorating relationship with his staff and the mounting defeats, Zu Yue's generals plotted with Later Zhao to kill him. Shi Cong and Shi Kan (石堪) attacked Zu Yue at Shouchun and his forces scattered, causing him to flee to Liyang.[14]

Su Jun was killed in battle in late 328 and was succeeded by his brother Su Yi (蘇逸). The situation for Zu Yue continued to worsen as the loyalist Zhao Yin (趙胤) attacked his base the next year. While his general Gan Miao (甘苗) fought Zhao Yin, Zu Yue secretly fled to Later Zhao with his families and followers. Gan Miao later surrender to Zhao Yin, thus ending Zu Yue's part in the rebellion.[15] Su Yi and the rest of the rebels were destroyed later that year.

Flight to Later Zhao and deathEdit

Although Zu Yue was under Zhao's protection, its emperor, Shi Le secretly despised him. His advisor Cheng Xia and general Yao Yizhong shared his sentiment and advised him to kill Zu Yue before he could rebel, citing the precedent of Liu Bang killing Ding Gong despite Ding having once saved Liu's life. Shi Le thus hosted a banquet for Zu Yue and his followers with the intention of trapping them there. At the banquet, Zu Yue soon realized that he had fallen for Shi Le's ruse and drank heavily. Zu Yue and his followers were then arrested and brought to the marketplace to be executed. Before he died, Zu Yue was said to have cried while holding his grandsons. The men were executed while the women were distributed among the tribes in Zhao. Only his nephew, Zu Xian (祖羡; original name Zu Daozhong (祖道重)), survived due to the help of Zu Ti's slave-turned-Later Zhao general Wang An (王安).[16]


  1. ^ Since his older brother Zu Ti was born in 266, Zu Yue must be born after 266.
  2. ^ Volume 94 of Zizhi Tongjian recorded that Zu Yue was killed after Shi Le declared himself "Heavenly King"; this took place in the 2nd month of the 5th year of the Xianhe era of Emperor Cheng's (of Jin) reign, which corresponds to 6 Mar to 4 Apr 330 on the Julian calendar.
  3. ^ (祖約,字士少,豫州刺史逖之弟也。初以孝廉為成皋令,與逖甚相友愛。永嘉末,隨逖過江。元帝稱制,引為掾屬,與陳留阮孚齊名。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  4. ^ (後轉從事中郎,典選舉。約妻無男而性妒,約亦不敢違忤。嘗夜寢於外,忽為人所傷,疑其妻所為,約求去職,帝不聽,約便從右司馬營東門私出。司直劉隗劾之曰:「約幸荷殊寵,顯位選曹,銓衡人物,眾所具瞻。當敬以直內,義以方外,杜漸防萌,式遏寇害。而乃變起蕭牆,患生婢妾,身被刑傷,虧其膚髮。群小噂嚃,囂聲遠被,塵穢清化,垢累明時。天恩含垢,猶復慰喻,而約違命輕出,既無明智以保其身,又孤恩廢命,宜加貶黜,以塞眾謗。」帝不之罪。隗重加執據,終不許。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  5. ^ (及逖有功於譙沛,約漸見任遇。逖卒,自侍中代逖為平西將軍、豫州刺史,領逖之眾。約異母兄光祿大夫納密言於帝曰:「約內懷陵上之心,抑而使之可也。今顯侍左右,假其權勢,將為亂階矣。」帝不納。時人亦謂納與約異生,忌其寵貴,故有此言。而約竟無綏馭之才,不為士卒所附。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  6. ^ (祖逖旣卒,後趙屢寇河南,拔襄城、城父,圍譙。豫州刺史祖約不能禦,退屯壽春。後趙遂取陳留,梁、鄭之間復騷然矣。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 91
  7. ^ (及王敦舉兵,約歸衛京都,率眾次壽陽,逐敦所署淮南太守任台。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  8. ^ (約以功封五等侯,進號鎮西將軍,使屯壽陽,為北境籓捍。自以名輩不後郗、卞,而不豫明帝顧命,又望開府,及諸所表請多不見許,遂懷怨望... 先是,太后使蔡謨勞之,約見謨,瞋目攘袂,非毀朝政。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  9. ^ (石聰嘗以眾逼之,約屢表請救,而官軍不至。聰既退,朝議又欲作塗塘以遏胡寇,約謂為棄己,彌懷憤恚。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  10. ^ (及蘇峻舉兵,遂推崇約而罪執政,約聞而大喜。從子智及衍並傾險好亂,又贊成其事,於是命逖子沛內史渙,女婿淮南太守許柳以兵會峻。逖妻,柳之姊也,固諫不從。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  11. ^ (穎川人陳光率其屬攻之,約左右閻禿貌類約,光謂為約而擒之,約逾垣護免。光奔于石勒。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  12. ^ (陶侃、溫嶠軍于茄子浦;嶠以南兵習水,蘇峻兵便步,令:「將士有上岸者死!」會峻送米萬斛饋祖約,約遣司馬桓撫等迎之。毛寶帥千人爲嶠前鋒,告其衆曰:「兵法,『軍令有所不從』,豈可視賊可擊,不上岸擊之邪!」乃擅往襲撫,悉獲其米,斬獲萬計,約由是飢乏。嶠表寶爲廬江太守。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 94
  13. ^ (約眾潰,奔曆陽。遣兄子渙攻桓宣於皖城,會毛寶援宣,擊渙,敗之。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  14. ^ (而約之諸將復陰結於勒,請為內應。勒遣石聰來攻之,約眾潰,奔曆陽。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  15. ^ (趙胤復遣將軍甘苗從三焦上曆陽,約懼而夜遁,其將牽騰率眾出降。約以左右數百人奔于石勒。) Book of Jin, Volume 100
  16. ^ (勒薄其為人,不見者久之。勒將程遐說勒曰:「天下粗定,當顯明逆順,此漢高祖所以斬丁公也。今忠於事君者莫不顯擢,背叛不臣者無不夷戮,此天下所以歸伏大王也。祖約猶存,臣切惑之。且約大引賓客,又占奪鄉里先人田地,地主多怨。」於是勒乃詐約曰:「祖侯遠來,未得喜歡,可集子弟一時俱會。」至日,勒辭之以疾,令遐請約及其宗室。約知禍及,大飲致醉。既至於市,抱其外孫而泣。遂殺之,並其親屬中外百餘人悉滅之,婦女伎妾班賜諸胡。) Book of Jin, Volume 100