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Fa Zheng

Fa Zheng
A Qing dynasty portrait of Fa Zheng
Advisor of Liu Bei
Born 176[1]
Died 220 (aged 44)[1]
Traditional Chinese 法正
Simplified Chinese 法正
Pinyin Fǎ Zhèng
Wade–Giles Fa Cheng
Courtesy name Xiaozhi (Chinese: 孝直; pinyin: Xiàozhí; Wade–Giles: Hsiao-chih)
Posthumous name Marquis Yi (Chinese: 翼侯; pinyin: Yì Hóu; Wade–Giles: I Hou)

Fa Zheng (176–220),[1] courtesy name Xiaozhi, was an adviser to the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty. Born in a family of high social status and of noble descent, Fa Zheng travelled to Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) in the late 190s and became a subordinate of Liu Zhang, the provincial governor. However, his feelings of alienation and perception of Liu Zhang as an incompetent governor eventually caused him to betray Liu Zhang and defect to Liu Bei in around 211. From 211 to 215, Fa Zheng assisted Liu Bei in overcoming Liu Zhang and seizing control of Yi Province, and became one of Liu Bei's most trusted advisers. In 217, he urged Liu Bei to launch the Hanzhong Campaign to capture the strategic Hanzhong commandery from a rival warlord, Cao Cao, but died a year after Liu emerged victorious in the campaign.

Fa Zheng's keen foresight and brilliance in formulating strategies earned him praise from his contemporaries such as Zhuge Liang and Chen Shou. However, he was also notorious for his vindictive personality: When he held office, he abused his power by taking personal revenge against those who had offended him before and killing them without reason. Nevertheless, he was still highly regarded and trusted by Liu Bei – to the point where Zhuge Liang once said that Fa Zheng might have been the only person capable of preventing Liu Bei from starting the disastrous Battle of Xiaoting in 221 if he was still alive.


  • Family background 1
  • Service under Liu Zhang 2
  • Helping Liu Bei seize Yi Province from Liu Zhang 3
  • Service under Liu Bei 4
    • Abuse of power 4.1
    • Role in the Hanzhong Campaign 4.2
  • Death and postmortem events 5
  • Appraisal 6
  • Modern references 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9

Family background

Fa Zheng's ancestral home was in Mei county (郿縣), Youfufeng commandery (右扶風郡), which is in present-day Mei County, Baoji, Shaanxi. His ancestor was Tian Fazhang, who was formally known as King Xiang of the Qi state in the Warring States period. Tian Fazhang's descendants changed their family name from "Tian" to "Fa" after the fall of Qi in 221 BCE.[2]

Fa Zheng's great-grandfather, Fa Xiong, served as the Administrator (太守) of Nan commandery (南郡; around present-day Jingzhou, Hubei) during the reign of Emperor An in the Eastern Han dynasty. Fa Xiong's son, Fa Zhen, was a reclusive scholar known for his lofty character – despite being a learned scholar, he led an unassuming and humble life and repeatedly rejected offers to serve in the government.[3]

Fa Zheng's father, Fa Yan (法衍), whose courtesy name was "Jimou" (季謀), also served as a government official and held the positions of an assistant to the Excellency over the Masses (司徒) and to the Minister of Justice (廷尉).[4]

Service under Liu Zhang

In the early Jian'an era (196–220) of the reign of Emperor Xian, when famines broke out, Fa Zheng and his friend Meng Da travelled to Yi Province (益州; covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) to join the provincial governor, Liu Zhang. Although Fa Zheng served as the Prefect (令) of Xindu county (新都縣) and later as a "Colonel Who Advises the Army" (軍議校尉) under Liu Zhang, he felt alienated because he neither held any important appointments nor made any significant achievements in his career under Liu Zhang. Besides, some of his fellows from Youfufeng who had also moved to Yi Province spoke ill of him. He maintained a close friendship with his colleague Zhang Song, who shared the same views as him about Liu Zhang being an incompetent and incapable governor.[5]

In 208,[6] Zhang Song travelled to Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan) to meet the warlord Cao Cao, who controlled the Han central government and the figurehead Emperor Xian. After returning to Yi Province, Zhang Song advised Liu Zhang to break ties with Cao Cao and build friendly relations with another warlord Liu Bei instead. When Zhang Song recommended Fa Zheng to be Liu Zhang's representative to meet Liu Bei, Fa refused to accept the task initially but agreed eventually. When Fa Zheng returned from his mission, he told Zhang Song that Liu Bei harboured grand ambitions and persuaded Zhang to follow him to serve Liu Bei.[7]

Their opportunity arrived in 211,[8] when Liu Zhang became fearful upon receiving news that Cao Cao was planning to attack the warlord Zhang Lu in Hanzhong, a commandery serving as the northern gateway into Yi Province. Zhang Song proposed to Liu Zhang to invite Liu Bei to Yi Province to assist them in countering the threat of Zhang Lu. Liu Zhang agreed and sent Fa Zheng as his envoy to contact Liu Bei. When Fa Zheng met Liu Bei, he secretly told him, "General, with your brilliance, you can overcome our incompetent and weak Governor Liu. Zhang Song, as a trusted adviser (of Liu Zhang), will serve as your spy. Upon acquiring Yi Province's wealth and resources, and having its natural barriers as protection, you can easily realise your grand ambitions." Liu Bei accepted Fa Zheng's advice and led his forces into Yi Province, where he met Liu Zhang at Fu county (涪縣; present-day Fucheng District, Mianyang, Sichuan). Liu Bei then led his troops north to Jiameng (葭萌; located about 20 km northeast of present-day Jiange County, Guangyuan, Sichuan) before turning south to attack Liu Zhang later.[9]

Helping Liu Bei seize Yi Province from Liu Zhang

Upon receiving news of Liu Bei's attack, Zheng Du (鄭度), an Assistant Officer (從事) from Guanghan commandery (廣漢郡)[10] serving under Liu Zhang, pointed out to his lord that Liu Bei's army lacked supplies and was composed of newly recruited soldiers who might not be loyal to him. He suggested that Liu Zhang adopt a scorched earth policy against Liu Bei by forcing the residents of Baxi (巴西) and Zitong (梓潼) commanderies to relocate elsewhere and destroy all the granaries and supply depots in the commanderies, and then fortify their defences while avoiding direct conflict with Liu Bei. He claimed that if this strategy was implemented, Liu Bei would run out of supplies within 100 days and retreat, and then Liu Zhang could attack him while he was retreating. Liu Bei felt frustrated when he heard about Zheng Du's plan and consulted Fa Zheng about it. Fa Zheng predicted that Liu Zhang would not heed Zheng Du's suggestion and was proven right: In response to Zheng Du's plan, Liu Zhang not only rejected it on the grounds that it would cause disturbance to the people, but also dismissed Zheng from office.[11]

In 214,[12] when Liu Bei's army surrounded Luocheng (雒城), one of Liu Zhang's strongholds, Fa Zheng wrote a long letter to his former lord, pointing out that Liu Zhang was already in a highly disadvantageous position and urging him to give up resistance and surrender to Liu Bei.[13]

Later that year, when Liu Bei's forces was besieging Yi Province's capital Chengdu, Xu Jing, a commandery Administrator serving under Liu Zhang, planned to surrender and defect to Liu Bei, but his plan was leaked out and hence aborted. Liu Zhang felt that he was already at the brink of destruction so he did not punish Xu Jing. He eventually surrendered and relinquished his control of Yi Province to Liu Bei. After taking over Yi Province, Liu Bei treated Xu Jing coldly because he felt that Xu was a disloyal person. Fa Zheng advised him, "Xu Jing is one of those who have an exaggerated reputation. However, my lord, you've recently built your foundation and you can't possibly explain the facts to everyone. Xu Jing's name is already well known throughout the Empire. If you don't treat him respectfully, others might think that you belittle talented and virtuous people. You should honour and respect him, and make this known to everyone, just like how the King of Yan treated Guo Wei (郭隗)." Liu Bei followed Fa Zheng's advice and treated Xu Jing generously.[14]

Service under Liu Bei

Abuse of power

Fa Zheng was appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Shu commandery (蜀郡) and "General Who Spreads Martial Might" (揚武將軍) by Liu Bei. He oversaw administrative affairs in the vicinity of Yi Province's capital Chengdu and served as Liu Bei's chief adviser.[15]

During this period of time, he abused his power by taking personal revenge against those who offended him before and killing them without reason. Some officials approached Zhuge Liang, another of Liu Bei's key advisers, and urged him to report Fa Zheng's lawless behaviour to their lord and take action against him. However, Zhuge Liang replied, "When our lord was in Gong'an (公安), he was wary of Cao Cao's influence in the north and fearful of Sun Quan's presence in the east. Even in home territory he was afraid that Lady Sun might stir up trouble. He was in such a difficult situation at the time that he could neither advance nor retreat. Fa Xiaozhi supported and helped him so much, such that he is now able to fly high and no longer remain under others' influence. How can we stop Fa Zheng from behaving as he wishes?" Zhuge Liang was aware that Liu Bei favoured and trusted Fa Zheng, which was why he refused to intervene in this matter.[16]

The historian Sun Sheng criticised Zhuge Liang's attitude towards Fa Zheng's abuse of power and called it a "lapse in the administration of justice". He felt that no subject should be above the law, even if he had made great contributions.[17]

Role in the Hanzhong Campaign

In 217, Fa Zheng urged Liu Bei to attack Hanzhong commandery, which was originally under Zhang Lu's control but was conquered by Cao Cao in 215. He pointed out Hanzhong's strategic importance and said that it was an opportune moment for Liu Bei to seize Hanzhong from Cao Cao's generals Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He. Liu Bei accepted his plan and started the Hanzhong Campaign.[18]

In 219, during the Battle of Mount Dingjun, when Xiahou Yuan led troops to attack Liu Bei's camps at Dingjun and Xingshi mountains, Fa Zheng suggested Liu Bei to strike the enemy. Liu Bei ordered his general Huang Zhong to lead his men on a charge down the mountain towards Xiahou Yuan's forces, with war drums beating in the background. Xiahou Yuan was defeated and killed in action.[19]

Later, when Cao Cao was leading his forces from Chang'an to reinforce Hanzhong, he received news about the strategy proposed by Fa Zheng to Liu Bei to attack Hanzhong. He remarked, "I know Xuande (Liu Bei) is not capable of doing this. He must be following somebody's advice."[20] The historian Pei Songzhi commented that Cao Cao made that remark – which suggests that Liu Bei was not wise enough to notice Hanzhong's strategic importance – because of his personal disdain for Liu, and that it should not be taken seriously. He felt that a lord acting on his adviser's suggestion should not be interpreted as a sign that the lord was not wise enough to make his own judgement. He pointed out that Cao Cao himself also followed the advice of his adviser Guo Jia.[21]

Death and postmortem events

In 219, after Liu Bei emerged victorious in the Hanzhong Campaign, he declared himself "King of Hanzhong" (漢中王) and appointed Fa Zheng as the "Chief Imperial Secretary" (尚書令) and "General Who Protects the Army" (護軍將軍). Fa Zheng died in the following year at the age of 45 (by East Asian age reckoning). Liu Bei cried for days when Fa Zheng died and he awarded Fa the posthumous title "Marquis Yi" (翼侯), which literally means "marquis of the flank".[22] Fa Zheng's son, Fa Miao (法邈), received the title of a "Secondary Marquis" (關內侯) and served as a "Commandant of Equipage" (奉車都尉) and the Administrator of Hanyang commandery (漢陽郡) in the state of Shu Han, which was founded by Liu Bei in 221.[23]

Fa Zheng and Zhuge Liang did not share the same moral beliefs but they had a good working relationship because of their common goal: to serve Liu Bei. Zhuge Liang was very impressed with Fa Zheng's brilliance. In 221, before the Battle of Xiaoting, many of Liu Bei's subjects advised their lord against going to war with his former ally, Sun Quan, who seized Jing Province from Liu in 219 and executed Liu's general Guan Yu. Liu Bei ignored them and proceeded with his campaign against Sun Quan. He was defeated in the following year at Xiaoting by Sun Quan's forces and had to retreat to Baidicheng, where he died in 223. Zhuge Liang sighed, "If Fa Xiaozhi was still alive, he could have prevented our lord from going on this eastern campaign; even if our lord did go on this campaign, he would not have ended up in this disastrous situation."[24]

Zhuge Liang might be right about Fa Zheng, as inferred from an incident during the Hanzhong Campaign. During one battle, when the situation appeared to be unfavourable for Liu Bei, Liu's subjects urged their lord to retreat but he stubbornly refused. They did not dare to advise him again for fear of incurring his wrath. Fa Zheng rushed forth and stood in front of Liu Bei when Cao Cao's forces rained arrows on their camp. Liu Bei told Fa Zheng to stay under cover to avoid the arrows, but Fa insisted on braving the arrows with his lord. Liu Bei then decided to retreat together with Fa Zheng.[25]


Chen Shou, who wrote Fa Zheng's biography in the Sanguozhi, appraised Fa as such: "Fa Zheng clearly foresaw success and failure, and conceived brilliant strategies and plans, but was not known to be of good moral character. In comparison with officials from (Cao) Wei, if Pang Tong was second to Xun Yu, Fa Zheng should be comparable to Cheng (Yu) and Guo (Jia)."[26]

Modern references

Fa Zheng became a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Fa Zheng's biography in the Sanguozhi stated that he died a year after Liu Bei declared himself "King of Hanzhong" in 219. He was 45 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died. (明年卒,時年四十五。) By calculation, Fa Zheng's birth year should be around 176.
  2. ^ (法雄字文彊,扶風郿人也,齊襄王法章之後。秦滅齊,子孫不敢稱田姓,故以法為氏。宣帝時,徙三輔,世為二千石。) Houhanshu vol. 38.
  3. ^ (法正字孝直,右扶風郿人也。祖父真,有清節高名。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  4. ^ (三輔決錄注曰:真字高卿, ... 正父衍,字季謀,司徒掾、廷尉左監。) Sanfu Jue Lu Zhu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  5. ^ (建安初,天下饑荒,正與同郡孟達俱入蜀依劉璋,乆之為新都令,後召署軍議校尉。旣不任用,又為其州邑俱僑客者所謗無行,志意不得。益州別駕張松與正相善,忖璋不足與有為,常竊歎息。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  6. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 65.
  7. ^ (松於荊州見曹公還,勸璋絕曹公而自結先主。璋曰:「誰可使者?」松乃舉正,正辭讓,不得已而往。正旣還,為松稱說先主有雄略,密謀協規,願共戴奉,而未有緣。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  8. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 66.
  9. ^ (後因璋聞曹公欲遣將征張魯之有懼心也,松遂說璋宜迎先主,使之討魯,復令正銜命。正旣宣旨,陰獻策於先主曰:「以明將軍之英才,乘劉牧之懦弱;張松,州之股肱,以響應於內;然後資益州之殷富,馮天府之險阻,以此成業,猶反掌也。」先主然之,泝江而西,與璋會涪。北至葭萌,南還取璋。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  10. ^ (華陽國志曰:度,廣漢人,為州從事。) Huayang Guo Zhi annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  11. ^ (鄭度說璋曰:「左將軍縣軍襲我,兵不滿萬,士衆未附,野穀是資,軍無輜重。其計莫若盡驅巴西、梓潼民內涪水以西,其倉廩野穀一皆燒除,高壘深溝,靜以待之。彼至,請戰,勿許,乆無所資,不過百日,必將自走。走而擊之,則必禽耳。」先主聞而惡之,以問正。正曰:「終不能用,無可憂也。」璋果如正言,謂其羣下曰:「吾聞拒敵以安民,未聞動民以避敵也。」於是黜度,不用其計。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  12. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 67.
  13. ^ (及軍圍雒城,正牋與璋曰:「正受性無術,盟好違損,懼左右不明本末,必並歸咎,蒙耻沒身,辱及執事,是以捐身於外,不敢反命。恐聖聽穢惡其聲,故中間不有牋敬,顧念宿遇,瞻望悢悢。然惟前後披露腹心,自從始初以至於終,實不藏情,有所不盡,但愚闇策薄,精誠不感,以致於此耳。今國事已危,禍害在速,雖捐放於外,言足憎尤,猶貪極所懷,以盡餘忠。明將軍本心,正之所知也,實為區區不欲失左將軍之意,而卒至於是者,左右不達英雄從事之道,謂可違信黷誓,而以意氣相致,日月相選,趨求順耳恱目,隨阿遂指,不圖遠慮為國深計故也。事變旣成,又不量彊弱之勢,以為左將軍縣遠之衆,糧穀無儲,欲得以多擊少,曠日相持。而從關至此,所歷輒破,離宮別屯,日自零落。雒下雖有萬兵,皆壞陣之卒,破軍之將,若欲爭一旦之戰,則兵將勢力實不相當。各欲遠期計糧者,今此營守已固,穀米已積,而明將軍土地日削,百姓日困,敵對遂多,所供遠曠。愚意計之,謂必先竭,將不復以持乆也。空爾相守,猶不相堪,今張益德數萬之衆已定巴東,入犍為界,分平資中、德陽,三道並侵,將何以禦之?本為明將軍計者,必謂此軍縣遠無糧,饋運不及,兵少無繼。今荊州道通,衆數十倍,加孫車騎遣弟及李異、甘寧等為其後繼。若爭客主之勢,以土地相勝者,今此全有巴東,廣漢、犍為過半已定,巴西一郡,復非明將軍之有也。計益州所仰惟蜀,蜀亦破壞;三分亡二,吏民疲困,思為亂者十戶而八;若敵遠則百姓不能堪役,敵近則一旦易主矣。廣漢諸縣,是明比也。又魚復與關頭實為益州福禍之門,今二門悉開,堅城皆下,諸軍並破,兵將俱盡,而敵家數道並進,已入心腹,坐守都、雒,存亡之勢,昭然可見。斯乃大略,其外較耳,其餘屈曲,難以辭極也。以正下愚,猶知此事不可復成,况明將軍左右明智用謀之士,豈當不見此數哉?旦夕偷幸,求容取媚,不慮遠圖,莫肯盡心獻良計耳。若事窮勢迫,將各索生,求濟門戶,展轉反覆,與今計異,不為明將軍盡死難也。而尊門猶當受其憂。正雖獲不忠之謗,然心自謂不負聖德,顧惟分義,實竊痛心。左將軍從本舉來,舊心依依,實無薄意。愚以為可圖變化,以保尊門。」) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  14. ^ (十九年,進圍成都,璋蜀郡太守許靖將踰城降,事覺,不果。璋以危亡在近,故不誅靖。璋旣稽服,先主以此薄靖不用也。正說曰:「天下有獲虛譽而無其實者,許靖是也。然今主公始創大業,天下之人不可戶說,靖之浮稱,播流四海,若其不禮,天下之人以是謂主公為賤賢也。宜加敬重,以眩遠近,追昔燕王之待郭隗。」先主於是乃厚待靖。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  15. ^ (以正為蜀郡太守、揚武將軍,外統都畿,內為謀主。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  16. ^ (一飡之德,睚眦之怨,無不報復,擅殺毀傷己者數人。或謂諸葛亮曰:「法正於蜀郡太縱橫,將軍宜啟主公,抑其威福。」亮荅曰:「主公之在公安也,北畏曹公之彊,東憚孫權之逼,近則懼孫夫人生變於肘腋之下;當斯之時,進退狼跋,法孝直為之輔翼,令翻然翱翔,不可復制,如何禁止法正使不得行其意邪!」初,孫權以妹妻先主,妹才捷剛猛,有諸兄之風,侍婢百餘人,皆親執刀侍立,先主每入,衷心常凜凜;亮又知先主雅愛信正,故言如此。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  17. ^ (孫盛曰:夫威福自下,亡家害國之道,刑縱於寵,毀政亂理之源,安可以功臣而極其陵肆,嬖幸而藉其國柄者哉?故顛頡雖勤,不免違命之刑,楊干雖親,猶加亂行之戮,夫豈不愛,王憲故也。諸葛氏之言,於是乎失政刑矣。) Sun Sheng's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  18. ^ (二十二年,正說先主曰:「曹操一舉而降張魯,定漢中,不因此勢以圖巴、蜀,而留夏侯淵、張郃屯守,身遽北還,此非其智不逮而力不足也,必將內有憂偪故耳。今策淵、郃才略,不勝國之將帥,舉衆往討,則必可克之,克之日,廣農積穀,觀釁伺隙,上可以傾覆寇敵,尊獎王室,中可以蠶食雍、涼,廣拓境土,下可以固守要害,為持乆之計。此蓋天以與我,時不可失也。」先主善其策,乃率諸將進兵漢中,正亦從行。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  19. ^ (二十四年,先主自陽平南渡沔水,緣山稍前,於定軍、興勢作營。淵將兵來爭其地。正曰:「可擊矣。」先主命黃忠乘高鼓譟攻之,大破淵軍,淵等授首。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  20. ^ (曹公西征,聞正之策,曰:「吾故知玄德不辨有此,必為人所教也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  21. ^ (臣松之以為蜀與漢中,其由脣齒也。劉主之智,豈不及此?將計略未展,正先發之耳。夫聽用嘉謀以成功業,霸王之主,誰不皆然?魏武以為人所教,亦豈劣哉!此蓋耻恨之餘辭,非測實之當言也。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  22. ^ (先主立為漢中王,以正為尚書令、護軍將軍。明年卒,時年四十五。先主為之流涕者累日。謚曰翼侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  23. ^ (賜子邈爵關內侯,官至奉車都尉、漢陽太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  24. ^ (諸葛亮與正,雖好尚不同,以公義相取。亮每奇正智術。先主旣即尊號,將東征孫權以復關羽之耻,羣臣多諫,一不從。章武二年,大軍敗績,還住白帝。亮歎曰:「法孝直若在,則能制主上,令不東行;就復東行,必不傾危矣。」) Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  25. ^ (先主與曹公爭,勢有不便,宜退,而先主大怒不肯退,無敢諫者。矢下如雨,正乃往當先主前,先主云:「孝直避箭。」正曰:「明公親當矢石,況小人乎?」先主乃曰:「孝直,吾與汝俱去。」遂退。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 37.
  26. ^ (評曰: ... 法正著見成敗,有奇畫策筭,然不以德素稱也。儗之魏臣,統其荀彧之仲叔,正其程、郭之儔儷邪?) Sanguozhi vol. 37.

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