Zhang Liao was both courageous
and keen-minded. He was a descendant of Nie Yi in the Eastern Han Dynasty.
To avoid envy and hatred of other people, his family name was changed
to Zhang. First he aided Ding Yuan, and then followed Dong Zhuo and
served under Lu Bu. Lu Bu relied on him as one of his commanders. Zhang
Liao was captured when Cao Cao overthrew Lu Bu at Xiapi. He was kindly
treated and followed Cao Cao thereafter, then he was sent on a mission
to win over the bandit leader Zang Ba. Later Cao Cao used him to woo
Guan Yu from Liu Bei. He persuaded Guan Yu to surrender to Cao Cao.
Initially Guan Yu resisted and threatened to commit suicide, but Zhang
Liao reminded him of his oath. "If you die now you will be guilty of
breaking three promises, your pledge to live and die as one with Liu
Bei, your responsibility as the caretaker of Liu Bei's family, and your
promise to restore the Han Dynasty to glory. Yield to Cao Cao for now."
Guan Yu responded with three conditions
for his surrender. "Firstly, I will not defer to Cao Cao, but to the
Emperor of Han. Next, I must be assured of the safety of Liu Bei's family.
Lastly, I must be allowed to leave Cao Cao's side the moment I learn
of Liu Bei's whereabouts." Zhang Liao agreed to these terms. Zhang Liao
proved his worth under Cao Cao. He aided Cao Cao in his conquest all
across the land. Most celebrated are the two times his tactics defended
Hefei from Sun Quan. The first time, he was preparing for an attack
when a fire broke out within the city wall amidst cries of "Tyranny!"
"The whole city could not be full of traitors,"
said Zhang Liao, and he traced down the trouble-starters, who were from
Wu. As this was just an attempt by Sun Quan to throw him from his own
castle. Zhang Liao reversed the plan to his benefit. He ordered cries
of "Tyranny! Treachery!" to ring out again, and threw open the city
gates. The Wu army marched in their offensive and was greeted by a shower
of arrows. The ambush killed Taishi Ci, a great warrior of Wu.
In the second instance, Zhang Liao fended
off a ten thousand man army. Cao Cao was on an expedition to overthrow
Zhang Lu, and had left instructions in case of an attack. They read,
"If Sun Quan should invade, Zhang Liao and Li Dian are to lead the army
to battle. Yue Jin is to guard the castle walls." The generals were
hesitant to follow the orders, but Zhang Liao explained, "If we remain
on the defensive, we will be destroyed before reinforcements arrive.
The letter instructs us to intercept the enemy's advance guard. Then
once we have broken their spirits, we can resume a defensive stance."
Having roused their fighting spirit, the generals rounded up brave soldiers,
and fended off their opponents with merely 800 men. It is said that
the name of Zhang Liao kept the children of the South Land quiet at
night. Cao Pi, the founder of the Wei Kingdom, later compared Zhang
Liao to the warlords of old, who overcame threatening enemies for the
preservation of the empire.
In 224 AD, Cao Pi led a huge army to subdue
Wu. Zhang Liao was appointed as one of his Chief Commanders. He rode
ahead but was wounded by an arrow of Ding Feng in the loins. He was
helped away by Xu Huang and got back to Xuchang. Unfortunately, his
wound was deep and he died at the age of 64.