Zhang Han, d.205 BC

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Zhang Han (pinyin)/ Chang Han (Wade-Giles) (d.205 BC) was an able Qin general who survived the fall of that dynasty, becoming king of Yong, but was then defeated by Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty, and committed suicide.

209 BC saw the first of a series of revolts against the harsh Qin dynasty. The leader of this revolt, Chen She, sent Zhou Wen, one of his generals, west to attack the Qin heartland. This general reached Hsi, but was then defeated by Zhang. Chen She’s army retreated, with Zhang in pursuit.

Zhang’s next target was Wei Jiu, king of Wei. Wei Jiu was forced to retreat to Linji, where he was joined by another rebel, Tien Dan of Qi. In the resulting fighting at Linji (208 BC) Zhang was victorious, and both rebel leaders were killed.

Map showing the main areas in revolt against Qin, 209-206 BC
Map showing the main
areas in revolt against
Qin, 209-206 BC

Zhang then moved on to attack Tien Rong, besieging him at Donga/ Tung-a. Liu Bang, then Lord of Pei, and Xiang Liang/ Hsiang Liang, king of Chu, and defeated him at Donga. Zhang retreated to Puyang, where he was defeated by the rebel leader Xiang Yu. Despite this setback Zhang managed to hold on to Puyang, where he received reinforcements. At the same time the rebels split their armies, leaving Xiang Liang to face Zhang alone. Zhang took advantage of this, launching a surprise night attack in which Xiang was defeated and killed (battle of Dingtao, 208 BC).

After this success Zhang Han crossed the Yellow River and invaded Zhao. Zhao Xie, king of Zhao, was forced to abandon his capital and was besieged in the city of Julu, from where he sent out a series of messages asking for help from his fellow rebels. The siege lasted into 207, and was conducted by another Qin general, Wang Li. The nominal rebel leader, King Huai of Chu, sent an army north, with Song Yi in charge and Xiang Yu as second in command. By now Xiang Yu was tiring of serving under other leaders. He murdered Song Yi and took command of the entire army. King Huai would survive for a little longer, but his position was increasingly vulnerable.

Xiang Yu defeated and captured Wang Li (battle of Julu). Zhang Han managed to escape, but his request for reinforcements was turned down by Zhao Gao, the power behind the throne in Qin. Zhang now realised that there was little point in fighting on, and surrendered his army to Xiang Yu. Soon after this Xiang had most of the surrendered soldiers murdered, but Zhang Han survived, and would soon be rewarded.

Map showing the Eighteen Kingdoms, 206-202 BC
Map showing the
Eighteen Kingdoms,
206-202 BC

After the fall of the Qin dynasty the rebel leader Xiang Yu split their former empire into nineteen kingdoms, one for himself and eighteen for subordinate rulers. Zhang Han was given the kingdom of Yong, the southernmost of three new kingdoms created from the former Qin heartland. In doing this Xiang Yu ignored an earlier agreement that this area would go to the rebel leader who successfully conquered it. The area had fallen to Liu Bang, soon to be founder of the Han dynasty, but his claim had been ignored and he had been made King of Han, the area to the south-west of Qin.

In 206 BC Liu Bang launched a surprise attack on Yong. Zhang Han advanced to engage him in battle, but was defeated at Ch’ents’ang. He then retreated to Haochih, where he was defeated for a second time. After this he pulled back to his capital at Feiqiu/ Fei-ch’iu, where he was besieged. Liu Bang himself headed east in an attempt to occupy Zhang Han’s capital, but despite a setback suffered on this campaign the siege of Fei-ch’iu continued. Eventually Liu Bang’s men flooded the city. Zhang Han committed suicide, and his kingdom became part of the growing Han domains.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 February 2012), Zhang Han, d.205 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_zhang_han.html

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