At the time of the widespread revolts against the Qin Dynasty, in 209 BCE, Zhang Han was one of the leading generals charged with crushing the rebellion. He is first mentioned as having been stationed as a treasurer at the First Emperor of Qin’s tomb, made famous by its terracotta warriors. When the rebellion broke out, he conscripted the local laborers and set out against the rebel forces. Zhang Han formed his recruits into a fighting force and crushed a rebel army led by a man named Zhou Wen. After a series of battles, Zhou Wen ultimately committed suicide.
Zhang Han continued to march his troops against rebel forces, who were beginning to consolidate under a leader named Chen She. The Qin general broke up a rebel siege at the city of Xingyang. Chasing the momentum, Zhang Han attacked several more rebel leaders—he scattered one band led by a man named Deng Yue and shortly thereafter defeated more rebels led by a certain Wu Xu. Finally, Zhang Han marched his troops toward the most influential rebel leaders. In the resulting battle, the Qin forces killed a major rebel general named Zhang Jia, and the original agitator of the revolt, Chen She, was assassinated not too long after the battle.
Although Zhang Han had not personally killed Chen She, he would have a much more hands-on involvement in the death of Chen She’s successor, Xiang Liang. When Zhang Han’s forces moved against Xiang Liang, the rebel leader sent two of his own generals out to challenge the approaching Qin forces. The two unlucky generals, a certain Yu Fanjun and Zhu Jishi, met the Qin in battle near the region of Li. In the resulting defeat, the former rebel was killed in battle and the latter was executed when he returned to his boss.
Despite the loss, the rebel hegemon, Xiang Liang, won a string of victories against the Qin. Yet, in 208 BCE, Zhang Han received more reinforcements and attacked Xiang Liang at the city of Dingtao and killed the rebel leader. Following the victory, Zhang Han moved his forces against the region of Zhao.
In the aftermath of Dingtao, Xiang Liang’s nephew, Xiang Yu, took control of the rebel forces. He proved to be a much more deadly force than his uncle. Xiang Yu annihilated a Qin army at the city of Julu. After that victory, he positioned his army across the Zhang River from Zhang Han’s own camp at Jiyuan. By this time, the Qin general supposedly feared that he had fallen out of favor with his emperor and began to send messages proposing an alliance with Xiang Yu. Despite the messages, the rebels attacked Zhang Han at least two more times before they considered his offer. According to the Grand Historian Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), Zhang Han was accepted into the rebellion and was crowned as the rebel king of Yong. The Qin troops he had been leading, however, were not so lucky—Sima Qian wrote that 200,000 of Zhang Han’s former troops were executed.
Unfortunately for Zhang Han, his kingdom of Yong was adjacent to the kingdom of Han. In 205 BCE, Liu Bang, the future first emperor of the Han Dynasty conquered Yong, prompting Zhang Han to commit suicide.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Mausoleum Terracotta Army of the Qin Emperor, [Public Domain] via maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com).
- The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.