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Han Dynasty: Zhang Liang's Winning Strategies for Emperor Gaozu (Art Of War Generals)

Zhang Liang Art Of War Expert
Zhang Liang's Art Of War Strategies

Many famous art of war generals were executed after the formation of the Han Dynasty. Emperor Gaozu (Liu Bang) probably feared that his generals may rebel and overthrow him.

However one of the surviving advisor was his advisor Zhqng Liang. A brilliant art of war strategist and advisor. And also a smart politician to learn from.

Zhang Liang, who was born in 251 to 189 BCE and was known as the "Three Heroes of Early Han Dynasty".

The "Three Heroes of Early Han Dynasty" were,

Zhang Liang (Advisor), Han Xin (Chief General, the God Of War) and Xiao He (Chancellor).

Zhang Liang is a Art of War strategist, politician and a brilliant courtier who served as an advisor when Liu Bang the was a rebel, turned king of Han.

And later Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty and declared himself as Emperor Gaozu.

Zhang Liang was a scholar and his father was a Prime Minister for two Kings and his grandfather was a Prime Minister for three King of the Hàn State.

Unfortunately Zhang Liang missed the opportunity to inherit his family's legacy as the Hán state was conquered by the Qin state in 230 BC as part of Qin's wars of unification.

Assassination attempt on Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huang

To avenge the fall of his native state of Han Zhang Liang dedicated his efforts to hiring assassins to kill Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of Qin. He spent his entire family fortune doing that and failed to give his deceased younger brother a proper funeral.

He managed to find a man with great physical strength to help him, and he had an iron hammer weighing 120 catties (that is roughly 160 lbs. or 72 kg) forged for the strongman.

In 218 BC, Zhang Liang heard that the emperor was going to Yangwu County 0as part of his inspection tour, and was due to pass by Bolangsha during the journey.

Zhang Liang and the strongman lay an ambush at Bolangsha and waited for the emperor's convoy to approach.

They saw that all the carriages that passed by were pulled by four horses and believed that the most decorated one in the middle was the emperor's personal carriage.

The strongman hurled the hammer towards it, and the heavy projectile hit and crushed the carriage, killing its occupants. Zhang Liang fled from the scene during the ensuing chaos.

However, the First Emperor was actually in the neighboring carriage and survived the assassination attempt, after which Qin Shi Huang ordered a massive manhunt for Zhang Liang. Zhang Liang eluded the dragnet for ten days by using fake identities.

Meeting Master Huang Shigong (The Art Of War Master)

As a wanted fugitive by the Qin government, Zhang Liang travelled to Xiapi and stayed there for some time, using fake identities to evade the authorities.

One day, Zhang Liang took a stroll at Yishui Bridge and met an old man there. The man walked towards Zhang Liang and chucked his shoe down the bridge on purpose, after which he yelled at Zhang, "Hey boy, go down and fetch me my shoe!" Zhang Liang was astonished and offended, but obeyed silently out of courtesy.

The old man then lifted his foot and ordered Zhang Liang to put on the shoe for him. Zhang Liang was furious but he controlled his temper and meekly obliged. The man did not show any sign of gratitude and walked away laughing.

As Zhang was brooding over the insult, the old man came back after walking a short distance and praised him, "This child can be taught!".

He then told Zhang Liang to meet him at dawn at the bridge again in five days.

Zhang Liang was confused but agreed. Five days later, Zhang Liang rushed to the bridge at the stroke of dawn but the old man was already waiting for him there. The old man chided him, "How can you be late for a meeting with an elderly man?

Come back again five days later!" Zhang Liang tried his best to be punctual the second time but the old man still arrived earlier than him, and he was scorned once more and told to return again five days later.

The third time, Zhang Liang went to the bridge at midnight and waited until the old man appeared. This time, the old man was impressed with Zhang Liang's fortitude and humility, that he presented Zhang with a book, saying, "You can become the tutor of a ruler after reading this book.

Within ten years, the world will become chaotic. You can then use your knowledge from this book to bring peace and prosperity to the empire.

Meet me again 13 years later. I'm the yellow rock at the foot of Mount Gucheng."

The old man was Huang Shigong (nicknamed the "Yellow Rock Old Man") . The book was titled The Art of War by Taigong (太公兵法) and believed to be the Six Secret Teachings by Jiang Ziya, while some called it Three Strategies of Huang Shigong.

In legend, Zhang Liang returned to the indicated site 13 years later and did see a yellow rock there. He built a shrine to worship the rock and the rock was buried with him after his death.

It is also said that Huang Shigong wrote the Lingqijing divination manual which was also given to Zhang Liang

Join the rebellion 

In 209 BC, during the reign of Qin Er Shi, the shortlived second Emperor of Qin, several uprisings erupted throughout China to overthrow the Qin dynasty.

Many of these rebel forces claimed to be restoring the former states that were annexed by Qin two decades ago.

Zhang Liang assembled about 100 men to start a rebellion as well, but his force was too small, so he initially led his followers to join Jing Ju, who was a pretender to the throne of the former Chu state.

Later he met Liu Bang during his journey and was impressed with Liu's charisma that he changed his decision and joined Liu Bang instead.

Advisor to Liu Bang

Zhang Liang became a temporary advisor to Liu Bang and followed Liu to join Xiang Liang's rebel force. The following year, Xiang Liang installed Mi Xin as King Huai. Mi Xin who was a sheperd and was one of the Chu royal lineage

The installation of Mi Xin as King Huai II of Chu happened after eliminating the fake heir of the Chu throne, Jing Ju.

As for Zhang Liang, his main goal was to reestablish his native state of Hán, so he managed to persuade Xiang Liang to do the same for the Hán state. Han Cheng, a descendant of the royal family of Hán, was enthroned as King of Hán, while Zhang Liang was appointed as the Hán's chancellor.

Han Cheng's armies attempted to capture Qin cities that were formerly Hán territories but did not achieve much success and engaged in guerrilla warfare for about a year.

Later that year, Xiang Liang was killed in action at the Battle of Dingtao and King Huai II put Xiang Yu (who is Xiang Liang's nephew) and Liu Bang, each in charge of an army to attack Qin, promising that whoever entered Guanzhong (heartland of Qin) first would be conferred the title of "King of Guanzhong".

In 207 BC, the combined forces of Liu Bang and Han Cheng conquered Yangzhai, the former capital of the Hán state.

Han Cheng stayed behind to defend Yangzhai, while Zhang Liang served as a temporary advisor to Liu Bang.

Chu - Han Contention

Feast at Hong Gate

Once Liu Bang invaded Xianyang and captured of King Ziying, he entered the Epang Palace in Xianyang (the Qin capital). Liu Bang was tempted by the riches it housed and wanted to stay there.

Zhang Liang advises Liu Bang against the overindulgence in sensual pleasures.

Liu Bang then ordered his men to seal the treasures and move to Bashang to wait for Xiang Yu and the other rebel forces to arrive.

During this period of time, Liu Bang heeded Zhang Liang's advice and governed Guanzhong with benevolence, restoring peace and stability, and forbidding his men from pillaging the cities and harming the common people.

In 206 BC, Xiang Yu's army arrived at Hangu Pass (eastern gateway to Guanzhong) and Liu Bang ordered his men to prevent Xiang's forces from entering Guanzhong.

Xiang Yu was furious when he learnt that Liu Bang had beat him in the race to Guanzhong, and he wanted to kill Liu after being instigated by his advisor Fan Zeng and a defector from Liu's side, Cao Wushang.

Xiang Yu's uncle, Xiang Bo, was an old friend of Zhang Liang and he secretly warned Zhang that Xiang Yu was planning to attack Liu Bang.

Liu Bang was worried when he heard that, as his forces were too weak to counter Xiang Yu.

Zhang Liang advised Liu Bang to attend the Feast at Hong Gate hosted by Xiang Yu, to put Xiang off guard and dismiss Xiang's suspicions that Liu was intending to oppose him.

With help from Xiang Bo, Liu Bang managed to survive the dangerous banquet and Xiang Yu dismissed the idea of killing Liu.

However, Fan Zeng who was dissatisfied and he asked Xiang Yu's cousin Xiang Zhuang to pretend to perform a sword dance and use the opportunity to kill Liu Bang. Xiang Bo intervened again and saved Liu Bang's life.

Meanwhile, Zhang Liang left the tent to find Fan Kuai to save Liu Bang.

Following Zhang Liang's instructions, Fan Kuai burst in and openly chided Xiang Yu, making a speech about Liu Bang's accomplishments and affirming that Liu had no intention of opposing Xiang Yu.

Liu Bang left the banquet later on the pretext of going to the latrine and was received by Xiahou Ying, who had been waiting nearby on Zhang Liang's instruction.

Zhang Liang remained behind to hold Xiang Yu's attention while Liu Bang escaped.

Before leaving, Zhang Liang presented Xiang Yu and Fan Zeng with a pair of jade pieces.

The 18 Kingdoms

Xiang Yu divided the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. He allocated the land of Guanzhong to three surrendered Qin generals

Rightfully Guanzhong was rightfully Liu Bang's, according to King Kuai II's earlier promise.

But Liu Bang was relocated to the hilly and remote Bashu region instead and granted the title of "King of Han".

Han Cheng retained his rulership as King of Hán and Zhang Liang was moved from Liu Bang's side back to Hán to continue serving as Prime Minister.

Before parting ways, Liu Bang presented Zhang Liang with some gold and pearls, all of which Zhang gave to Xiang Bo.

Zhang Liang advised Liu Bang to destroy the gallery roads leading to Bashu during the journey to Hanzhong, in order to reduce Xiang Yu's suspicions that Liu was planning to return and challenge him.

Although Han Cheng was the king of Hán, Xiang Yu mislead him and did not permit him to govern his kingdom and forced him to accompany him back to his Western Chu's Pengcheng.

Han Cheng was demoted to "Marquis of Rang" later and killed on Xiang Yu's orders. Xiang Yu seized Han Cheng's kingdom and made his subordinate Zheng Chang the new King of Hán.

Zhang Liang was still the chancellor of Hán under the new arrangement but he was aware of his precarious position.

Zhang Liang fled from Hán later and returned to join Liu Bang in the winter of 206 BCE.

Liu Bang conferred on Zhang Liang the title of "Marquis of Chengxin" and Zhang became a permanent advisor to Liu from that time.

Conquest of the Three Qin and Battle of Pengcheng


Starting in 206 BC, after Liu Bang's forces conquered the Three Qins. Liu Bang and Xiang Yu engaged in a four-year-long power struggle for supremacy over China, historically known as the Chu–Han Contention.

In 205 BC, Liu Bang was defeated by Xiang Yu at the Battle of Pengcheng and he retreated to Xiayi.

After the setback, Zhang Liang proposed a strategy to Liu Bang to counter Xiang Yu, known as the "Xiayi Plan" (下邑之謀).

Which is a tactic to conquer or build allies surrounding the State of Chu which is occupied by Xiang Yu.

The intention is to surround and trap Xiang Yu. At the same time cut their food supply and crush their military morales.

Liu Bang followed Zhang Liang's advice: he sent Xiao He to persuade Ying Bu who is the vassal king of Jiujiang to join him;

Also, contacted Peng Yue and allied with him; and allowed Han Xin to lead part of his army to attack other territories on the northern front.

This is to ensure the northern territory is under Liu Bang's control.

In 204 BC, Liu Bang was trapped by Xiang Yu in Xingyang and both sides reached a stalemate.

Li Yiji suggested to Liu Bang to recreate the former states of the Warring States period and install the descendants of their royal families on their respective thrones.

This plan was intended to help Liu Bang gain the support of the vassal states' rulers, who would help him in the war against Xiang Yu.

However, Zhang Liang disapproved of the plan as he felt that the states were more likely to support Western Chu instead as Chu was superior to Han in terms of military might.

Liu Bang realised the problem and immediately dismissed Li Yiji's plan.

In 203 BC, after Han Xin's victory at the Battle of Wei River, Han Xin finally conquered the Qi kingdom and sent a messenger to Liu Bang, requesting that Liu appoint him as the acting King of Qi.

Liu was still trapped at Xingyang then and he was furious after hearing the request because he was expecting Han Xin to come to his aid.

Zhang Liang reminded Liu Bang that if he refused to approve Han Xin's request, Han might be discontented and declare independence from Liu, putting them in a dangerous situation.

Liu Bang reluctantly agreed and sent Zhang Liang to pass the king's seal to Han Xin. Zhang Liang met Han Xin and succeeded in reaffirming Han's loyalty to Liu Bang.

Battle of Gaixia

By late 203 BC, Zhang Liang saw that all is going to plan in favour of Liu Bang, as Xiang Yu had been surrounded on three sides.

Together with Chen Ping, and Zhang Liang suggested to Liu Bang to break the Treaty of Hong Canal and use the opportunity to eliminate Western Chu.

However, at the Battle of Guling, Liu Bang ordered Han Xin and Peng Yue to do a coordinated attack but was defeated by because the expected reinforcements from Han Xin and Peng Yue did not arrive.

Zhang Liang explained to Liu Bang that Han Xin and Peng Yue did not mobilise their troops because they did not have their fiefs yet, even though they had received their titles of vassal kings. Liu Bang followed Zhang Liang's advice and granted lands to Han Xin and Peng Yue.

Two months later, as Zhang Liang predicted, Han Xin and Peng Yue arrived with their armies surrounding Xiang Yu and formed a coordinated attack on Western Chu together.

Liu Bang's force, eventually defeated Xiang Yu at the Battle of Gaixia in 202 BC

Serving the Han Dynasty  

In 202 BC, Liu Bang ascended the throne and became historically known as "Emperor Gaozu of Han".

Following the establishment of the Han dynasty, Zhang Liang remained as a key advisor for one year to Emperor Gaozu even though he did not receive any formal appointment as a government minister.

At the same year, Emperor Gaozu decided to reward the Generals, nobels, advisors and other who contributed to the formation of the Han Dynasty.

It took a year to decide on the rewards as there were disputes who should get the most.

Zhang Liang got one of the most rewards but decided for a lesser amount. Which was a great political move.

Subsequently, Zhang Liang retired from state affairs in late 201 BCE and practised Taoism.

Emperor Gaozu rewarded the title of "Marquis of Liu" on Zhang Liang.

Many of the Generals that served Emperor Gaozu was executed because of suspicions of plotting a rebellion or post threat to the Han Dynasty future.

By being not involved in any formal government appointments, not seen interested in his political advancement, receiving a lesser amount of rewards and fief, Zhang Liang post no threat to Emperor Gaozu and the Han Dynasty.

He continued to serve the Han Dynasty as when his service is needed and most of his time was living peacefully and practicing Taoism. He died peaceful in 189 BCE.

Zhang Liang is a great art of war strategist and a politician.


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