An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zhou Yafu 周亞夫

Dec 14, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhou Yafu 周亞夫 (d. 143 BCE) was a eminent general and minister of the mid-Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). He was the second son of minister Zhou Bo 周勃 and inherited his father's rank of marquis (hou 候) because the oldest son had been executed for committing a murder.

In 158 BCE, the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴 undertook a large-scale raid on the northernmost commanderies (jun 郡) of Shangjun 上郡 and Yunzhong 雲中, and the capital of Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) was prepared for defense. As a governor (taishou 太守) of the close commandery of Henei 河内, Zhou Yafu appointed general (jiangjun 將軍). His method of strictly drilling the army made it a very effective tool in battle, so that he was rewarded with the title of Commandant-in-ordinary (zhongwei 中尉). When Emperor Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE) mounted the throne, he bestowed him the title of General of Chariots and Cavalry (cheji jiangjun 車騎將軍).

During the rebellion of the Seven Princes Zhou Yafu took over command of one of the armies suppressing the rebellious princes. He was concurrently endowed with the title of Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉). He was able to defend the commandery of Xingyang 滎陽 and cut off the rebels' line of supply. After less than three months he had put down the rebellion.

In 149 he was appointed Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang 丞相), the highest minister of the empire. Not long after he was discredited by various parties. Zhou himself opposed the Emperor's intent to strip Prince Li 栗太子 off his title of heir apparent, contradicted his sovereign who wanted to make the Empress' brother Wang Xin 王信 a marquis, and also memoralized against the investiture as marquis of the Xiongnu defector Xu Lu 徐盧.

The final blow against Zhou Yafu was made by Prince Xiao of Liang 梁孝王 who slandered Zhou, so that the Emperor fired him in 147 BCE. Matters even became worse when Zhou Yafu's son committed corruption by seling weapons from the Imperial Storehouses. Both father and son were accused of treason, and his shame caused Zhou Yafu to cease eating. He died soon.

Tian Renlong 田人隆 (1992). "Zhou Yafu 周亞夫", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1606.