A Qing dynasty illustration of Meng Huo
Meng Huo was popularly regarded as a local leader representing the gentries of the Nanzhong region during the Three Kingdoms period of China. The Nanzhong region part of the territories of the state of Shu Han. When the Shu Han emperor Liu Bei died in 223 CE, the local people of Nanzhong rebelled against Shu Han, stating that there were three lords claiming to be the legitimate ruler of China and they no longer knew whom they should pledge allegiance to. In retaliation, the Shu Han chancellor Zhuge Liang launched an invasion on the Nanzhong region and successfully quelled the uprising. The Spring and Autumn Annals of the Han and Jin Dynasties (漢晉春秋) and the Chronicles of Huayang recorded that Zhuge Liang captured and released the local leader seven times until he finally swore allegiance to Shu Han.
Meng Huo's popular image comes from the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. The novel portrays Meng Huo as a southern barbarian tribal leader. He also marries the fictional Lady Zhurong, who claims descent from the fire deity Zhurong.
The absurdity of Meng Huo being captured and released seven times led many to doubt the story, and even of Meng Huo's existence. The Republican-era historian Zhang Hualan (張華爛) wrote in his article "Discussion on Meng Huo" (孟獲辯) that Meng was a fictional character invented by later historians, noting that the name "Huo" (獲), which means "captured" in Chinese, is too coincidental considering Meng's fate on being captured – a view shared by many academics.
Meng Huo and the record of his captures first appeared in the Spring and Autumn Annals of the Han and Jin Dynasties, written by Xi Zuochi in the Eastern Jin dynasty, and were also detailed in the near-contemporary Chronicles of Huayang. The Liu Song dynasty historian Pei Songzhi, when compiling his annotated version of the Records of the Three Kingdoms, found Xi's work unreliable at times. Pei did not specifically comment on Meng Huo's historicity, but pointed out elsewhere that Xi wrote history not found in earlier records, hence the historian Fang Guoyu (方國瑜) used Pei's doubts on Xi's unreliability to challenge the story of Meng Huo's seven captures. However, Fang did not go as far as to doubt Meng Huo's existence.
Sichuan University professor Miao Yue (繆鉞) contended Zhuge Liang would not be able to release the leader if the latter was indeed captured. Tan Liangxiao (譚良嘯), director of the Zhuge Liang Memorial Temple in Chengdu, also stated the "seven times freed" story to be "strange and unbelievable", but like Fang and Huang, he believes Meng Huo did exist in history.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
- Extracts from the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms about Meng Huo:
- Chapter 87
- "In the third year of Jianxing, a bulletin came to Yi Province announcing, "Meng Huo has led 100,000 Nanman tribesmen across our borders to plunder the villages.""
- "Despite protest from Court Councillor Wang Lian, Zhuge Liang leaves to lead 500,000 soldiers against the southern forces."
- "The Shu forces were led by Zhuge Liang. Zhao Yun and Wei Yan were his generals, their lieutenants being Wang Ping and Zhang Ni."
- "Meng Huo speaks to Zhuge Liang, "The whole of the riverlands once belonged to another. Your lord seized it by force and proclaimed himself emperor. My ancestors held these lands, which you have encroached upon so barbarically.""
- Chapter 88
- "Zhuge Liang captures and frees Meng Huo: "I can catch him again with ease whenever I choose to. But pacification of the south requires that we subdue the hearts of the Nanman people.""
- "During the conquest, Meng Huo was captured on seven different occasions, by Zhuge Liang. In addition, many Nanman generals and lieutenants were captured and treated with kindness. This caused many withdrawals and eventually the pacification of the south."
- Chapter 90
- Zhuge Liang: "I guessed the enemy would be looking for an ambush in the woods, so I set up decoy banners there to confuse them. There were never any troops. Next, I had Wei Yan lose a series of battles to strengthen their confidence... I ordered Ma Dai to deploy the black wagons in the valley - they had been loaded earlier with fire launchers called 'earth thunder', each containing nine missiles... We cut off the road and burned out the enemy...""
- "Finally, Meng Huo admits defeat: "Seven times captured, seven times freed! Such a thing has never happened! Though I stand beyond the range of imperial grace, I am not utterly ignorant of ritual, of what propriety and honour require. No, I am not so shameless!" He then stripped off one of his sleeves (a sign of swearing oath) and pledged: "By the Chancellor's celestial might, the Southerners will never rebel again.""
In popular culture
- Zhang, Hualan (張華爛). "Discussion on Meng Huo (孟獲辯)". Nanqiang Magazine (南強雜誌) (in Chinese).
- Zhang, Xinghai (张星海). "Zhuge Liang's "Seven Captures of Meng Huo" – Real or Fake? (诸葛亮"七擒孟获"真耶假耶？)". Beijing Sci-Tech Report (北京科技报) (in Chinese).
- (如此言之類，皆前史所不載，而猶出習氏。且制言法體不似於昔，疑悉鑿齒所自造者也？) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi zhu vol. 28. Pei accused Xi Zuochi of anachronistically inserting quotations in Wang Ling's biography that are unrelated to Meng Huo's passage.
- Fang, Guoyu (方國瑜) (1984). Draft History of the Yi People (彝族史稿) (in Chinese). Sichuan Nationalities Publishing House. p. 118.
- Huang, Chengzhong (黃承宗) (2000). Discussion on the Historicity of Meng Huo of Shu Han (蜀漢孟獲史實瑣談) (in Chinese). 1. Sichuan Research Institute on Yi Studies (四川彝學研究). ISBN 7-5409-2672-4.
- Tan, Liangxiao (譚良嘯). "Suspicions about Zhuge Liang's "Seven Captures of Meng Huo" (諸葛亮"七擒孟獲"質疑)". Journal of Yunnan Normal University (in Chinese).
- Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
- Luo, Guanzhong (2004). Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi). Translated by Moss Roberts. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22503-1.
- Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).