An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhao Yan 趙儼

Jun 2, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhao Yan 趙儼 (170-243), courtesy name Boran 伯然, was a high minister of the Wei period 曹魏 (220-265).

He hailed from Yangdi 陽翟 in the commandery of Yingchuan 穎川 (today's Yuxian 禹縣, Henan). With the age of 27 sui he assembled a group of local militia to support the warlord Cao Cao 曹操, who made him mayor of Langling 郎陵. During the conquest campaign against the province of Jingzhou 荊州 (central China), Zhao Yan was governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Zhangling 章陵 and commander-in-chief of the metropolitan army (dudu hujun 都督護軍) and secured the rear area of the advancing armies of Yu Jin 于禁, Zhang He 張郃 and Zhang Liao 張遼. Cao Cao thereupon made him recorder of the Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang zhubu 丞相主簿), and then governor of Fufeng 扶風 and commander of the metropolitan army in the Guanzhong 關中 region.

When Guan Yu 關羽 from the state of Shu 蜀 besieged the town of Fancheng 樊城, Zhao Yan was entrusted with the command of a relief army. He and Xu Huang 徐晃 liberated the city and suggested not to pursue the forces of Guan Yu, but instead to observe the clash between Guan Yu and the armies from the common enemy in the southeast, the empire of Wu 吳. Emperor Wen 魏文帝 (r. 220-226) therefore rewarded him with the post of palace attendant (shizhong 侍中), and then made him commandant-escort (fuma duwei 駙馬都尉), then Vice Minister of the Agricultural Office (diannong zhonglangjiang 典農中郎將), and gave him the title of Marquis within the Passes (guanneihou 關內侯).

A successful campaign against Sun Quan 孫權 brought him a promotion as Neighbourhood Marquis of Yitu 宜土亭侯 and the post of chief steward for writing (shangshu 尚書), and then Vice Minister of Revenue (duzhi zhonglangjiang 度支中郎將). During the reign of Emperor Ming 魏明帝 (r. 226-239 CE) he was given the title of Chief Township Marquis (duxiang hou 都鄉侯) and entrusted with the supervision of military affairs in the province of Jingzhou. An illness prevented him from assuming this post, and he was instead made Chamberlain for the National Treasury (dasinong 大司農). Emperor Cao Fang 曹芳 (r. 239-254) gave him the supervision of military affairs in Liangzhou 涼州 and Yongzhou 雍州 (Gansu and Shaanxi), regions of great strategic importance as they were bordering the northern parts of the empire of Shu in Sichuan. Zhao Yan's last engagement was that of Minister of Works (sikong 司空). His posthumous title was Marquis Mu 穆侯.

Zhang Shunhui 張舜徽, ed. (1992). Sanguozhi cidian 三國志辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 556.