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Zhuge Liang

Zhuge Liang Shu Han chancellor, military strategist

Shu Han chancellor, military strategist
Zhuge Liang
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Shu Han chancellor, military strategist
A.K.A. Zhuge Kongming
Is Engineer Inventor
From China
Type Business Engineering
Gender male
Birth 1 January 181, Yinan County, Linyi, Shandong, People's Republic of China
Death 23 August 234
Father: Zhuge Gui
Siblings: Zhuge JinZhuge Jun
Spouse: Huang Yueying
Children: Zhuge ZhanZhuge QiaoZhuge Guo
Zhuge Liang
The details


Zhuge Liang (181–234), courtesy name Kongming, was a chancellor (or prime minister) and regent of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. He is recognised as the most accomplished strategist of his era, and has been compared to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War. Often depicted wearing a Taoist robe and holding a hand fan made of crane feathers, Zhuge Liang was an important military strategist, statesman and accomplished scholar and inventor. His reputation as an intelligent and learned scholar grew even while he was living in relative seclusion, earning him the nickname "Wolong" or "Fulong" (both literally mean "Crouching Dragon").

Though Confucian oriented, Zhuge was also a self-avowed "Legalist". He compared himself with Guan Zhong, developing Shu's agriculture and industry to become a regional power. He attached great importance to the works of Shen Buhai and Han Fei, refusing to indulge local elites and adopting strict, but fair and clear laws. In remembrance of his governance, local people maintained shrines to him for ages.

Zhuge is an uncommon two-character Chinese compound family name. His name – even his surname alone – has become synonymous with intelligence and strategy in Chinese culture.

Early life

Zhuge Liang was born in Yangdu County, Langya Commandery, which is in present-day Yishui, Shandong. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his uncle, Zhuge Xuan. Later, he followed his uncle to live in Jing Province, which was governed by Liu Biao.

Zhuge Liang enjoyed reciting Liangfu Yin (梁父吟), a folk song popular in Shandong, his birthplace. He also liked to compare himself to Guan Zhong and Yue Yi, two famous historical figures. He developed close friendships with members of the local literati, such as Xu Shu, Cui Zhouping, Meng Jian and Shi Tao. Zhuge Liang also maintained close relations with other well-known intellectuals such as Sima Hui, Pang Degong and Huang Chengyan. Huang Chengyan once told Zhuge Liang, "I heard that you're seeking a spouse. I've an ugly daughter with a yellow face and dark complexion, but her talent matches yours." Zhuge Liang agreed and married Huang Chengyan's daughter.

Service under Liu Bei

Zhang Feng's painting (1654) depicting Zhuge Liang reclining on a daybed

At that time, Liu Bei resided at Xinye County while he was taking shelter under Jing Province's governor, Liu Biao. Liu Bei visited Sima Hui, who told him, "Confucian academics and common scholars, how much do they know about current affairs? Those who analyse current affairs well are elites. Crouching Dragon and Young Phoenix are the only ones in this region." Xu Shu later recommended Zhuge Liang to Liu Bei again, and Liu wanted to ask Xu to invite Zhuge to meet him. However, Xu Shu replied, "You must visit this man in person. He cannot be invited to meet you." Liu Bei succeeded in recruiting Zhuge Liang in 207 after paying three personal visits. Zhuge Liang presented the Longzhong Plan to Liu Bei and left his residence to follow Liu. Afterwards, Liu Bei became very close to Zhuge Liang and often had discussions with him. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were not pleased and complained. Liu Bei explained, "Now that I have Kongming, I am like a fish that has found water. I hope you'll stop making unpleasant remarks." Guan Yu and Zhang Fei then stopped complaining.

As a diplomat

In 208, Liu Biao died and was succeeded by his younger son, Liu Cong, who surrendered Jing Province to Cao Cao. When Liu Bei heard of Liu Cong's surrender, he led his followers (both troops and civilians) on an exodus southward to Xiakou, engaging Cao Cao's forces in a brief skirmish at the Battle of Changban along the way. While in Xiakou, Liu Bei sent Zhuge Liang to follow Lu Su to Jiangdong to discuss the formation of an alliance between him and Sun Quan.

Zhuge Liang met Sun Quan in Chaisang and proposed two solutions to him, "If you can use the forces of Wuyue to resist the central government, why not break ties (with Cao Cao) in advance? If you cannot oppose, why not demobilise the troops, discard your armour and surrender to the north?" After Sun Quan's viceroy, Zhou Yu, analysed the situation and pointed out weaknesses in Cao Cao's army, Sun finally agreed to ally with Liu Bei in resisting Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang returned to Liu Bei's camp with Sun Quan's envoy, Lu Su, to make preparation for the upcoming war.

As a logistics officer

In late 208, the allied armies of Liu Bei and Sun Quan scored a decisive victory over Cao Cao's forces at the Battle of Red Cliffs. Cao Cao retreated to Ye city, while Liu Bei proceeded to conquer territories in Jiangnan, covering most of southern Jing Province. Zhuge Liang was appointed Military Advisor General of the Household (軍師中郎將). He was put in charge of governing Lingling (present day Yongzhou, Hunan), Guiyang and Changsha commanderies and collecting taxes to fund the military.

In 211, Liu Zhang, governor of Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), requested aid from Liu Bei in attacking Zhang Lu in Hanzhong Commandery. Liu Bei left Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and others in charge of Jing Province while he led an army into Yi Province. Liu Bei promptly agreed to Liu Zhang's proposal, but secretly planned to take over Liu Zhang's land. The following year, Liu Zhang discovered Liu Bei's intention, and the two turned hostile and waged war on each other. Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun led separate forces to reinforce Liu Bei in the attack on Yi Province's capital, Chengdu, while Guan Yu stayed behind to guard Jing Province. In 214, Liu Zhang surrendered and Liu Bei took control of Yi Province.

Liu Bei appointed Zhuge Liang as Military Advisor General (軍師將軍) and let him administer affairs of his personal office (office of the General of the Left (左將軍)). Whenever Liu Bei embarked on military campaigns, Zhuge Liang remained to defend Chengdu and ensured a steady flow of supply of troops and provisions. In 221, in response to Cao Pi's usurping of Emperor Xian's throne, Liu Bei's subordinates advised him to declare himself emperor. After initially refusing, Liu Bei was eventually persuaded by Zhuge Liang to do so and became ruler of Shu Han. Liu Bei named Zhuge Liang his chancellor and put him in charge of the imperial agency where Zhuge assumed the functions of the head of the imperial secretariat. Zhuge Liang was appointed Colonel-Director of Retainers (司隸校尉) after Zhang Fei's death.

Service under Liu Shan

A 20th century depiction of Zhuge Liang.

In the spring of 222, Liu Bei retreated to Yong'an (present-day Fengjie County, Chongqing) after his defeat at the Battle of Xiaoting and became seriously ill. He summoned Zhuge Liang from Chengdu and said to him, "You're ten times more talented than Cao Pi, and capable of both securing the country and accomplishing our great mission. If my son can be assisted, then assist him. If he proves incompetent, then you may take over the throne." Zhuge Liang replied tearfully, "I'll do my utmost and serve with unwavering loyalty until death." Liu Bei then ordered his son, Liu Shan, to administer state affairs together with Zhuge Liang and regard Zhuge as his father.

As a regent

After Liu Bei's death, Liu Shan ascended to the throne of Shu Han. He granted Zhuge Liang the title "Marquis of Wu District" (武鄉侯) and created an office for him. Not long later, Zhuge Liang was appointed governor of Yi Province and put in charge of all state affairs. At the same time, the commanderies in Nanzhong rebelled against Shu, but Zhuge Liang did not send troops to suppress the revolt as Liu Bei's death was still recent. He sent Deng Zhi and Chen Zhen to make peace with Eastern Wu and reentered an alliance with Wu. Zhuge Liang would consistently send envoys to Wu to improve diplomatic relations between the two states.

Southern Campaign

During his reign as regent, Zhuge Liang set Shu's objective as the restoration of the Han dynasty, which, from Shu's point of view, had been usurped by the state of Cao Wei. He felt that in order to attack Wei, a complete unification of Shu was first needed. Zhuge Liang was worried that the local clans would work with the Nanman tribes in Nanzhong to stage a revolt. Fearing the possibility that the peasants might rebel and press into areas surrounding the capital Chengdu while he was attacking Wei in the north, Zhuge Liang decided to pacify the southern tribes first.

In the spring of 225, regional clans, including Yong, Gao, Zhu and Meng, had taken control of some cities in the south, so Zhuge Liang led an expedition force to Nanzhong. Ma Su proposed that they should attempt to win the hearts of the Nanman and rally their support instead of using military force to subdue them. Zhuge Liang heeded Ma Su's advice and defeated the rebel leader, Meng Huo, on seven different occasions, as it was claimed in later histories such as the Chronicles of Huayang. He released Meng Huo each time in order to achieve Meng's genuine surrender. The story about Meng Huo's seven captures is recently questioned by many modern academics, including historians such as Miao Yue, Tan Liangxiao, and Zhang Hualan.

Realising he had no chance to win, Meng Huo pledged allegiance to Shu, and was appointed by Zhuge Liang as governor of the region to keep the populace content and secure the southern Shu border. This would ensure that the future Northern Expeditions would proceed without internal disruptions. Rich and abundant resources acquired from Nanzhong were used to fund Shu's military and the state became more prosperous.

Northern Expeditions and death

A Qing dynasty illustration of Sima Yi fleeing from Zhuge Liang.

After pacifying the Nanman, Zhuge Liang ordered the Shu military to make preparations for a large scale offensive on Wei. In 227, while in Hanzhong, he wrote a memorial, titled Chu Shi Biao, to Liu Shan, stating his rationale for the campaign and giving advice to the emperor on good governance. From 228 until his death in 234, Zhuge Liang launched a total of five Northern Expeditions against Wei, all except one of which failed. During the first Northern Expedition, Zhuge Liang persuaded Jiang Wei, a young Wei military officer, to surrender and defect to his side. Jiang Wei became a prominent general of Shu later and continued Zhuge Liang's legacy of an aggressive foreign policy against Wei. The other permanent gains by Shu were the conquests of the impoverished Wudu and Yinping commanderies, as well as the relocation of Wei citizens to Shu territories on occasion.

In the spring of 231, Zhuge Liang finally met his nemesis, Sima Yi (the newly appointed Wei commander), at the Battle of Mount Qi, the deadliest campaign of the five expeditions in terms of death toll. In late 234, Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi reached a stalemate at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains. Straining his energy on military matters big and small, Zhuge Liang fell seriously ill and eventually died in camp at the age of 53. Before his death, Zhuge Liang recommended Jiang Wan and Fei Yi to succeed him as regent of Shu. He was buried on Mount Dingjun according to his dying wish and posthumously granted the title "Marquis Zhongwu" (忠武侯; literally "loyal and martial marquis") by Liu Shan.

Family and descendants

A sculpture of Zhuge Liang in the Temple of Marquis of Wu in Chengdu, Sichuan.

Zhuge Liang's ancestor, Zhuge Feng (諸葛豐), served as the Colonel-Director of Retainers during the reign of Emperor Yuan of the Han dynasty. Zhuge Liang's father, Zhuge Gui (諸葛珪), served as an assistant officer in Mount Tai Commandery in the late Han dynasty. Zhuge Liang's uncle, Zhuge Xuan (諸葛玄), who raised Zhuge Liang and Zhuge Jun, served as the Administrator of Yuzhang Commandery before serving under Liu Biao, the Governor of Jing Province.

Zhuge Liang had an elder brother, a younger brother, and two elder sisters. His elder brother, Zhuge Jin, served under the warlord Sun Quan and later in the state of Eastern Wu. His younger brother, Zhuge Jun (諸葛均), served in the state of Shu Han. One of Zhuge Liang's sisters married Pang Shanmin, a cousin of Pang Tong, while the other sister married a member of the prominent Kuai family headed by Kuai Liang and Kuai Yue in Xiangyang Commandery.

Zhuge Liang married the daughter of Huang Chengyan. She was a maternal niece of Liu Biao and Lady Cai because her mother (Huang Chengyan's wife) was Lady Cai's younger sister. Although her name was not recorded in history, she is commonly referred to by the name "Huang Yueying" in popular culture.

Zhuge Liang had at least two sons. His elder son, Zhuge Zhan, served as a general in Shu and was killed in action during the Conquest of Shu by Wei. His younger son, Zhuge Huai (諸葛懷), lived as a commoner during the Jin dynasty. Zhuge Liang initially had no sons, so he adopted his nephew, Zhuge Qiao (Zhuge Jin's son). Zhuge Qiao served in Shu and died at a relatively young age. According to legend, Zhuge Liang had a daughter, Zhuge Guo (諸葛果), but her existence is disputed by historians.

Zhuge Qiao's son, Zhuge Pan (諸葛攀), returned to Eastern Wu after Zhuge Ke's death to continue Zhuge Jin's family line there. Zhuge Zhan had three sons. The eldest, Zhuge Shang, served Shu and was killed in action together with his father. The second, Zhuge Jing (諸葛京), moved to Hedong Commandery in 264 with Zhuge Pan's son, Zhuge Xian (諸葛顯), and came to serve the Jin dynasty later. The youngest was Zhuge Zhi (諸葛質).

Zhuge Dan, one of Zhuge Liang's cousins, served in the state of Cao Wei and masterminded the third of the Three Rebellions in Shouchun. He was killed after his defeat.

Zhuge Ziqi (諸葛梓岐; born 1983), also known as Marie Zhuge, is a Hong Kong model who claims descent from Zhuge Liang.



Zhuge Liang was believed to be the inventor of mantou, the landmine and a mysterious but efficient automatic transportation device (initially used for grain) referred to as the "wooden ox and flowing horse" (木牛流馬), which is sometimes identified with the wheelbarrow.

Although he is often credited with the invention of the repeating crossbow that is named after him and called the "Zhuge Crossbow" (諸葛弩), this type of semi-automatic crossbow is an improved version of a model that first appeared during the Warring States period (though there is debate over whether the original Warring States period bow was semi-automatic, or rather shot multiple bolts at once). Nevertheless, Zhuge Liang's version could shoot farther and faster.

Zhuge Liang is also credited with constructing the Stone Sentinel Maze, an array of stone piles that is said to produce supernatural phenomenon, located near Baidicheng.

An early type of hot air balloon used for military signalling, known as the Kongming lantern, is also named after him. It was said to be invented by Zhuge Liang when he was trapped by Sima Yi in Pingyang. Friendly forces nearby saw the message on the lantern paper covering and came to Zhuge Liang's aid. Another belief is that the lantern resembled Zhuge Liang's headdress, so it was named after him.

Literary works

Some books popularly attributed to Zhuge Liang can be found today. For example, the Thirty-Six Stratagems, and Mastering the Art of War (not to be confused with Sun Tzu's The Art of War) are two commonly available works attributed to Zhuge Liang. Supposedly, his mastery of infantry and cavalry formation tactics, based on the Taoist classic I Ching, were unrivalled. His memorial, the Chu Shi Biao, written prior to the Northern Expeditions, provided a salutary reflection of his unwavering loyalty to the state of Shu. The memorial moved some readers to tears. In addition, he wrote Admonition to His Son (諸葛亮誡子書) in which he reflected on his humbleness and frugality in pursuit of a meaningful life.

Zhuge Liang is also the subject of many Chinese literary works. A poem by Du Fu, a prolific Tang dynasty poet, was written in memory of Zhuge Liang whose legacy of unwavering dedication seems to have been forgotten in Du Fu's generation (judging by the description of Zhuge Liang' unkept temple). Some historians believe that Du Fu had compared himself with Zhuge Liang in the poem. The full text is:

蜀相 (武侯祠)


Premier of Shu (Temple of the Marquis of Wu)

Where to seek the temple of the noble Premier?
In the deep forests outside the City of Silk:
Such beautiful reflective scenery of spring,
And among the leaves the orioles sings.
Three visits brought him the weight of the world.
Two emperors he served with one heart.
But yet he failed to complete his quest before death.
That always makes heroes shed their tears like no other.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

A Qing dynasty portrait of Zhuge Liang

The wisdom of Zhuge Liang was popularised by the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong during the Ming dynasty. In it, Zhuge Liang is described to be able to perform fantastical achievements such as summoning advantageous winds and devising magical stone mazes.

There is great confusion on whether the stories are historical or fictional. At least, the Empty Fort Strategy is based on historical records, albeit not attributed to Zhuge Liang historically. For Chinese people, the question is largely irrelevant, as the Zhuge Liang of lore is regardless seen as a mastermind, whose examples continue to influence many layers of Chinese society. They are also argued, together with Sun Tzu's The Art of War, to still greatly influence the modern Chinese strategical, military and everyday thinking.

See the following for the stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms involving Zhuge Liang.

  • Three visits to the thatched cottage
  • Battle of Bowang
  • Zhuge Liang's diplomatic mission to Jiangdong
  • Borrowing arrows with straw boats
  • Zhuge Liang prays for the eastern wind
  • Battle of Jiameng Pass
  • Battle of Xiaoting
  • Meng Huo captured and released seven times
  • Empty fort strategy

Events before Zhuge Liang's death

When Zhuge Liang fell critically ill during the Battle of Wuzhang Plains, he attempted to extend his lifespan by 12 years through a ritual. However, he failed when the ritual was disrupted by Wei Yan, who rushed in to warn him about the enemy's advance. Before his death, Zhuge Liang also passed his 24 Volumes on Military Strategy (兵法二十四篇) to Jiang Wei, who would continue his legacy and lead another eleven campaigns against the state of Cao Wei.

Worship of Zhuge Liang

There are many temples and shrines built to commemorate Zhuge Liang. Some of the most famous ones include the Temple of the Marquis of Wu in Chengdu, and the Temple of the Marquis of Wu in Baidicheng.

Zhuge Liang is also sometimes venerated as a door god at Chinese and Taoist temples, usually in partnership with Sima Yi of Wei.

In popular culture

Film and television

Notable actors who have portrayed Zhuge Liang in film and television include: Adam Cheng, in The Legendary Prime Minister – Zhuge Liang (1985); Li Fazeng, in Zhuge Liang (1985); Tang Guoqiang, in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1994); Pu Cunxin, in Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008); Takeshi Kaneshiro, in Red Cliff (2008–09); Lu Yi, in Three Kingdoms (2010); Raymond Lam, in Three Kingdoms RPG (2012).

Video games

Zhuge Liang's reputation for being an unparalleled genius is also emphasised in his portrayal in video games. Reflecting his status as the most highly regarded strategist in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, games such as Destiny of an Emperor and Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms game series place Zhuge Liang's intelligence statistic as the highest of all characters. He is also a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors, Dynasty Tactics and Kessen II. He also appears in Warriors Orochi, a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors.

Zhuge Liang is the protagonist in Koei's tactical role-playing game Sangokushi Koumeiden, where he can die at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains, as he did historically, or proceed to restore the Han dynasty under Emperor Xian.

Zhuge Liang appears in the turn-based strategy games Civilization IV and Civilization V as a great general along with Cao Cao.

Zhuge Liang appears as two separate spirits in the game Destiny of Spirits.

Zhuge Liang appears in at least two forms in the mobile game Puzzle & Dragons.

Card games

In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, there is a card named Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon" in the Portal Three Kingdoms and Commander (2013 Edition) sets.

Zhuge Liang is also featured in the Qun Xiong Zheng Ba (群雄争霸) and Ao Shi Tian Xia (傲视天下) sets of the collectible card game Generals Order.

Zhuge Liang is also a main character in the card game Legends of the Three Kingdoms.


The young Zhuge Liang is a member of the League of Infinity in the superhero pastiche Supreme by Alan Moore.

In the manhwa Faeries' Landing, the protagonist of the story is a high school student named Ryang Jegal, whose life is turned upside-down by a fairy and her heavenly (and not-so-heavenly) peers. Ryang Jegal, or Jegal Ryang in the proper Asian sequence, is the Korean translation of "Zhuge Liang".

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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