Ma Yuan (Han Dynasty)

Ma Yuan (Han Dynasty)

:"For other uses, see Ma Yuan".Ma Yuan (Traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Mǎ Yuán; Vietnamese: Mã Viện) (14 BC – 49) was a Chinese general who served during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Ma Chao of the Three Kingdoms period was his descendant.

Life and career

His military and political achievements included helping Emperor Guangwu unite the empire and expeditions against the Vietnamese (putting down a rebellion led by Trưng Trắc (Traditional Chinese: 徵側; Zheng Ce) and her sister Trưng Nhị (Traditional Chinese: 徵貳; Zheng Er)) and the Wulin tribes (modern eastern Guizhou and northwestern Hunan). He fell ill during an expedition to modern Hunan in 49, and soon died afterwards. Prior to that, Ma Yuan contributed to Emperor Guangwu's defeat of the warlord Wei Xiao (隗囂), who controlled the modern eastern Gansu region.

He is considered one of the more famous generals in Chinese history, not only because of his military achievements, but also because he demonstrated perseverance and respect to his friends and subordinates. In addition to his military skills, his exhortations on personal disciple were also highly regarded. His daughter became empress to Emperor Ming and was also highly respected.

One of his greatest achievements was the subjugation of the territory of the Nanman regions. It was for this he earned his title "Queller of the Deep." He was reportedly revered in that area (as was often the case of great warriors of that period), and his temple was established somewhere there. The territory he subjugated corresponds roughly with North Vietnam, and an idea of the difficulty fighting in that sphere poses can be gained from the difficulties both the Americans and French faced campaigning there in the 20th Century.

He also subjugated the Qiang. In 34 A.D., the Xianlian Qiang and a number of other tribes, raided Chinese positions in Jincheng and Longxi commanderies and were defeated by Han armies. A few months later, Lai Xi was killed on campaign against Gongsun Shu, but his assistant, Ma Yuan, Grand Administrator of Lonxi commandery, continued operations against the Qiang. In 35, the Xianlian tribe were again defeated, first at Lintao in Longxi and then along the Xining river in Jincheng commandery. In the two separate campaigns, Ma Yuan captured more than ten thousand head of horses, cattle and sheep, together with considerable stores of grain. He was wounded in the leg during one of the final engagements, and he did not completely destroy the enemy, but he did drive them away from the valley lands of Jincheng, and he was rewarded with Imperial commendation and several thousand of the animals he had captured.

Though members of the Qiang had escaped across the borders, Ma Yuan's victories in 35 had broken the power of the Xianlian tribe and had made possible a restoration of Chinese positions on the old frontiers.

In 49, Ma, while on expedition against the Wulin tribes (in modern eastern Guizhou and northwestern Hunan), died during the campaign from a plague, which also killed a large number of his soldiers. After his death, Ma's deputy Geng Shu (耿舒), who had disagreed with Ma's strategy, and Emperor Guangwu's son-in-law Liang Song (梁松), who had prior grudges against Ma, falsely accused Ma of many crimes, most of which are unknown to us. Two specific accusations that are known are that Ma, by the route he took against the Wulin tribes, was responsible for the plague, and that he had, while on campaigns, embezzled pearls and rhinoceros horns. The latter accusation was a misunderstanding in that one of Ma's favorite foods (which he considered capable of warding off plague) was Job's Tears (Chinese pearl barley), produced in southern China and northern Vietnam, which Ma had transported in large quantities back to the capital Luoyang. Emperor Guangwu believed these false accusations and posthumously stripped Ma of his fief and title of marquess.

Ma Yuan was the source of two Chinese idioms. One, "wrapping one's body with horse leather" (馬革裹屍), refers to being dedicated to one's responsibilities that one is willing to die on the battlefield and have his body be wrapped in horse leather; Ma had given this phrase while talking to a friend as to why he wished to continue in military service. The other, "drawing a tiger improperly results in a dog" (畫虎不成反類犬), refers to his admonition to his nephews to be careful in their conduct and not to try to imitate a famed heroic figure of the time, Du Bao (杜保) -- in that if one tried to imitate Du but was not as heroic as he was, one would end up becoming a frivolous hoodlum.


It is said that during Zhuge Liang's attempts to suppress Meng Huo and the barbarians, he was inspired by a statue of Ma Yuan which helped him to overcome one of Meng Huo's most difficult obstacles.

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