The Most Famous

MILITARY PERSONNELS from China

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This page contains a list of the greatest Chinese Military Personnels. The pantheon dataset contains 2,058 Military Personnels, 47 of which were born in China. This makes China the birth place of the 9th most number of Military Personnels behind Poland, and Greece.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Chinese Military Personnels of all time. This list of famous Chinese Military Personnels is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Chinese Military Personnels.

Photo of Chiang Kai-shek

1. Chiang Kai-shek (1887 - 1975)

With an HPI of 76.75, Chiang Kai-shek is the most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 119 different languages on wikipedia.

Chiang Kai-shek (31 October 1887 – 5 April 1975) was a Chinese politician, revolutionary, and military leader. He was the head of the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party, General of the National Revolutionary Army, known as Generalissimo, and the leader of the Republic of China (ROC) in mainland China from 1928 until 1949. After being defeated in the Chinese Civil War by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, he led the ROC on the island of Taiwan until his death in 1975. Born in Zhejiang, Chiang was a member of the Kuomintang, and a lieutenant of Sun Yat-sen in the revolution to overthrow the Beiyang government and reunify China. After the Soviet-led Comintern re-organized the Nationalist and Chinese Communist Party, he headed the Whampoa Military Academy. As commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, he led the Northern Expedition from 1926 to 1928, nominally reunifying China under a Nationalist government in Nanjing. Midway through the Northern Expedition, the KMT–CCP alliance broke down and Chiang massacred communists and KMT leftists inside the party, triggering a civil war with the CCP, which he eventually lost in 1949. As the leader of the Republic of China during the Nanjing decade, Chiang sought to modernize and unify the nation, although hostilities with the CCP continued. His government presided over economic and social reconstruction while trying to avoid a debilitating war with Japan. In December 1936 he was kidnapped in the Xi'an Incident, and obliged to form an Anti-Japanese United Front with the CCP. Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, he mobilized China for the Second Sino-Japanese War. For eight years, he led the war of resistance against a vastly superior enemy, mostly from the wartime capital Chongqing. As the leader of a major Allied power, Chiang met with British prime minister Winston Churchill and American president Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Cairo Conference to discuss terms for the Japanese surrender. When the Second World War ended, the civil war with the communists (by then led by Mao Zedong) resumed. Chiang's nationalists were mostly defeated in a few decisive battles in 1948. In 1949, Chiang's government and army retreated to the island of Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics during the White Terror. Presiding over a period of social reforms and economic prosperity, Chiang won five elections to six-year terms as President of the Republic of China in which he faced minimal opposition or was elected unopposed. Three years into his fifth term as president, and one year before the death of Mao, he died in 1975. He also held the position of director-general within the Kuomintang until his death. Chiang was one of the longest-serving non-royal heads of state in the 20th century and the longest-serving non-royal ruler of China, having held the post for 46 years. Like Mao, Chiang is a controversial figure. Supporters credit him with a major role in unifying the nation and ending the Century of Humiliation, leading the Chinese resistance against Japan, countering communist influence, and economic development in both mainland China and Taiwan. Critics portray him as a brutal dictator, head of a corrupt authoritarian regime, who massacred civilians and suppressed political dissent, and accuse him of being a fascist. He is also criticized for flooding the Yellow River and allowing the Henan Famine during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Other historians argue that Chiang's ideology differed from right-wing dictators of the 20th century, and that he did not espouse the ideology of fascism. They argue that Chiang made genuine efforts to improve mainland China and Taiwan's economic and social conditions, such as land reform. Chiang is also credited with transforming China from a semi-colony of various imperialist powers to an independent country by amending the unequal treaties signed by previous governments, as well as moving various Chinese national treasures and traditional Chinese artworks to the National Palace Museum in Taipei during the 1949 retreat.

Photo of Cao Cao

2. Cao Cao (155 - 220)

With an HPI of 76.36, Cao Cao is the 2nd most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 59 different languages.

Cao Cao (; [tsʰǎʊ tsʰáʊ]; Chinese: 曹操; c. 155 – 15 March 220), courtesy name Mengde, was a Chinese statesman, warlord, and poet who rose to power during the end of the Han dynasty (c. 184–220), ultimately taking effective control of the Han central government. He laid the foundation for what was to become the state of Cao Wei (220–265), established by his son and successor Cao Pi, who ended the Eastern Han dynasty and inaugurated the Three Kingdoms period (220–280). Beginning in his own lifetime, a corpus of legends developed around Cao Cao which built upon his talent, his cruelty, and his perceived eccentricities. Cao Cao began his career as an official under the Han government and held various appointments, including that of a district security chief in the capital and the chancellor of a principality. He rose to prominence in the 190s during which he recruited his own followers, formed his own army, and set up a base in Yan Province (covering parts of present-day Henan and Shandong). In 196, he received Emperor Xian, the figurehead Han sovereign who was previously held hostage by other warlords such as Dong Zhuo, Li Jue, and Guo Si. After he established the new imperial capital in Xuchang, Emperor Xian and the central government came under his direct control, but he still paid nominal allegiance to the emperor. Throughout the 190s, Cao Cao actively waged wars in central China against rival warlords such as Lü Bu, Yuan Shu, and Zhang Xiu, eliminating all of them. Following his triumph over the warlord Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu in 200, Cao Cao launched a series of campaigns against Yuan Shao's sons and allies over the following seven years, defeated them, and unified much of northern China under his control. In 208, shortly after Emperor Xian appointed him as Imperial Chancellor, he embarked on an expedition to gain a foothold in southern China, but was defeated by the allied forces of the warlords Sun Quan, Liu Bei, and Liu Qi at the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs. His subsequent attempts over the following years to annex the lands south of the Yangtze River never proved successful. In 211, he defeated a coalition of northwestern warlords led by Ma Chao and Han Sui at the Battle of Tong Pass. Five years later, he seized Hanzhong from the warlord Zhang Lu, but lost it to Liu Bei by 219. In the meantime, he also received many honours from Emperor Xian. In 213, he was created Duke of Wei and granted a fief covering parts of present-day Hebei and Henan. In 216, he was elevated to the status of a vassal king under the title "King of Wei" and awarded numerous ceremonial privileges, of which some used to be reserved exclusively for emperors. Cao Cao died in Luoyang in March 220 and was succeeded by his son Cao Pi, who accepted the abdication of Emperor Xian in November 220 and established the state of Cao Wei to replace the Eastern Han dynasty— an event commonly seen as a usurpation. This marked the transition from the Eastern Han dynasty to the Six Dynasties period. After taking the throne, Cao Pi granted his father the posthumous title "Emperor Wu" ("Martial Emperor") and the temple name "Taizu" ("Grand Ancestor"). Apart from being lauded as a brilliant political and military leader, Cao Cao is celebrated for his poems, which were characteristic of the Jian'an style of Chinese poetry. Opinions of him have remained divided from as early as the Jin dynasty (265–420) that came immediately after the Three Kingdoms period. There were some who praised him for his achievements in poetry and his career, but there were also others who condemned him for his cruelty, cunning, and allegedly traitorous ways. In traditional Chinese culture, Cao Cao is stereotypically portrayed as a sly, power-hungry, and treacherous tyrant who serves as a nemesis to Liu Bei, often depicted in contraposition as a hero trying to revive the declining Han dynasty. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), when Luo Guanzhong wrote the epic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which dramatises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period, he not only cast Cao Cao as a primary antagonist in the story, but also introduced, fictionalised, and exaggerated certain events to enhance Cao Cao's "villainous" image.

Photo of Guan Yu

3. Guan Yu (162 - 220)

With an HPI of 75.46, Guan Yu is the 3rd most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.

Guan Yu ([kwán ỳ] ; d. January or February 220), courtesy name Yunchang, was a Chinese military general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. Along with Zhang Fei, he shared a brotherly relationship with Liu Bei and accompanied him on most of his early exploits. Guan Yu played a significant role in the events leading up to the end of the Han dynasty and the establishment of Liu Bei's state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. While he is remembered for his loyalty towards Liu Bei, he is also known for repaying Cao Cao's kindness by slaying Yan Liang, a general under Cao Cao's rival Yuan Shao, at the Battle of Boma. After Liu Bei gained control of Yi Province in 214, Guan Yu remained in Jing Province to govern and defend the area for about seven years. In 219, while he was away fighting Cao Cao's forces at the Battle of Fancheng, Liu Bei's ally Sun Quan broke the Sun–Liu alliance and sent his general Lü Meng to conquer Liu Bei's territories in Jing Province. By the time Guan Yu found out about the loss of Jing Province after his defeat at Fancheng, it was too late. He was subsequently captured in an ambush by Sun Quan's forces and executed. Guan Yu's life was lionised and his achievements were glorified to such an extent after his death that he was deified during the Sui dynasty. Through generations of storytelling, culminating in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, his deeds and moral qualities have been given immense emphasis, making Guan Yu one of East Asia's most popular paradigms of loyalty and righteousness. He is remembered as a culture hero in Chinese culture and is still worshipped by many people of Chinese descent in China, Taiwan, and other countries today. In religious devotion, he is reverentially called the "Emperor Guan" (Guān Dì) or "Lord Guan" (Guān Gōng). He is a deity worshipped in Chinese folk religion, popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and small shrines to him are almost ubiquitous in traditional Chinese shops and restaurants.

Photo of Lü Bu

4. Lü Bu (161 - 199)

With an HPI of 74.47, Lü Bu is the 4th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 31 different languages.

Lü Bu (; died 7 February 199), courtesy name Fengxian, was a Chinese military general, politician, and warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of Imperial China. Originally a subordinate of a minor warlord Ding Yuan, he betrayed and murdered Ding Yuan and defected to Dong Zhuo, the warlord who controlled the Han central government in the early 190s. In 192, he turned against Dong Zhuo and killed him after being instigated by Wang Yun and Shisun Rui, but was later defeated and driven away by Dong Zhuo's followers. From 192 to early 195, Lü Bu wandered around central and northern China, consecutively seeking shelter under warlords such as Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao, and Zhang Yang. In 194, he managed to take control of Yan Province from the warlord Cao Cao with help from defectors from Cao's side, but Cao took back his territories within two years. In 195, Lü Bu turned against Liu Bei, who had offered him refuge in Xu Province, and seized control of the province from his host. Although he had agreed to an alliance with Yuan Shu earlier, he severed ties with him after Yuan declared himself emperor – treason against Emperor Xian of Han – and joined Cao and others in attacking the pretender. However, in 198, he sided with Yuan Shu again and came under attack by the combined forces of Cao and Liu, resulting in his defeat at the Battle of Xiapi in 199. He was captured and executed by strangulation on Cao's order. Although Lü Bu is described in historical and fictional sources as an exceptionally mighty warrior, he was also notorious for his unstable behaviour. He switched allegiances erratically and freely betrayed his allies. He was always suspicious of others and could not control his subordinates. All these factors ultimately led to his downfall. In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the details of his life are dramatised and some fictitious elements – including his romance with the fictional maiden Diaochan – are added to portray him as a nearly unchallenged warrior who was also a ruthless and impulsive brute bereft of morals.

Photo of Zhang Fei

5. Zhang Fei (167 - 221)

With an HPI of 69.81, Zhang Fei is the 5th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.

Zhang Fei () (died July or August 221 AD), courtesy name Yide, was a Chinese military general and politician serving under the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty and early Three Kingdoms period of China. Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, who were among the earliest to join Liu Bei, shared a brotherly relationship with their lord and accompanied him on most of his early exploits. Zhang Fei fought in various battles on Liu Bei's side, including the Red Cliffs campaign (208–209), takeover of Yi Province (212–214), and Hanzhong Campaign (217–218). He was assassinated by his subordinates in 221 after serving for only a few months in the state of Shu Han, which was founded by Liu Bei earlier that year. Zhang Fei is one of the major characters in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which dramatises and romanticises the events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. In the novel, Zhang Fei became sworn brothers with Liu Bei and Guan Yu in the fictional Oath of the Peach Garden at the start of the novel and remained faithful to their oath until his death.

Photo of Dong Zhuo

6. Dong Zhuo (139 - 192)

With an HPI of 68.77, Dong Zhuo is the 6th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.

Dong Zhuo () (c. 140s – 22 May 192), courtesy name Zhongying, was a Chinese military general, politician, and warlord who lived in the late Eastern Han dynasty. At the end of the reign of the Eastern Han, Dong Zhuo was a general and powerful minister of the imperial government. Originally from Liang Province, Dong Zhuo seized control of the imperial capital Luoyang in 189 when it entered a state of turmoil following the death of Emperor Ling of Han and a massacre of the eunuch faction by the court officials led by General-in-Chief He Jin. Dong Zhuo subsequently deposed Liu Bian (Emperor Shao) and replaced him with his half-brother, the puppet Emperor Xian to make him become the de facto ruler of China in the boy-emperor's name. The Eastern Han dynasty regime survived in name only. Dong Zhuo's rule was brief and characterized by cruelty and tyranny. In the following year, a coalition of regional officials (cishi) and warlords launched a campaign against him. Failing to stop the coalition forces, Dong Zhuo sacked Luoyang and relocated further west to the former Western Han capital at Chang'an (modern Xi'an, Shaanxi province). He was assassinated soon after in 192 by his subordinate Lü Bu in a plot orchestrated by Interior Minister Wang Yun.

Photo of Zhou Yu

7. Zhou Yu (175 - 210)

With an HPI of 68.32, Zhou Yu is the 7th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.

Zhou Yu (Chinese: 周瑜, ) (175–210), courtesy name Gongjin (Chinese: 公瑾), was a Chinese military general and strategist serving under the warlord Sun Ce in the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. After Sun Ce died in the year 200, he continued serving under Sun Quan, Sun Ce's younger brother and successor. Zhou Yu is primarily known for his leading role in defeating the numerically superior forces of the northern warlord Cao Cao at the Battle of Red Cliffs in late 208, and again at the Battle of Jiangling in 209. Zhou Yu's victories served as the bedrock of Sun Quan's regime, which in 222 became Eastern Wu, one of the Three Kingdoms. Zhou Yu did not live to see Sun Quan's enthronement, however, as he died at the age of 35 in 210 while preparing to invade Yi Province (modern Sichuan and Chongqing). According to the Records of the Three Kingdoms, Zhou Yu was described as tall and handsome. He was also referred to as "Master Zhou" (zhoulang 周郎). However, his popular moniker "Zhou the Beautiful Youth" (meizhoulang 美周郎) does not appear in either the Records or the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Some Japanese writers such as Fumihiko Koide believe that this was a later invention by Japanese storytellers such as Eiji Yoshikawa.

Photo of Zhao Yun

8. Zhao Yun (168 - 229)

With an HPI of 67.22, Zhao Yun is the 8th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Zhao Yun (Chinese: 趙雲 ) (died 229), courtesy name Zilong (子龍), was a military general who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty and early Three Kingdoms period of China. Originally a subordinate of the northern warlord Gongsun Zan, Zhao Yun later came to serve another warlord, Liu Bei, and had since accompanied him on most of his military exploits, from the Battle of Changban (208) to the Hanzhong Campaign (217–219). He continued serving in the state of Shu Han – founded by Liu Bei in 221 – in the Three Kingdoms period and participated in the first of the Northern Expeditions until his death in 229. While many facts about Zhao Yun's life remain unclear due to limited information in historical sources, some aspects and activities in his life have been dramatised or exaggerated in folklore and fiction. In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, he was lauded as a member of the Five Tiger Generals under Liu Bei.

Photo of Bai Qi

9. Bai Qi (-250 - -257)

With an HPI of 66.41, Bai Qi is the 9th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Bai Qi (Chinese: 白起; c. 332 BC – c.January 257 BC), also known as Gongsun Qi (公孫起), was a Chinese military general of the Qin state during the Warring States period. Born in Mei (present-day Mei County, Shaanxi), Bai Qi served as the commander of the Qin army for more than 30 years, being responsible for the deaths of over one million, earning him the nickname Ren Tu (人屠; lit. 'human butcher'). According to the Shiji, he seized more than 73 cities from the other six hostile states, and to date no record has been found to show that he suffered a single defeat throughout his military career. He was instrumental in the rise of Qin as a military hegemon and the weakening of its rival states, thus enabling Qin's eventual conquest of them. He is regarded by Chinese folklore as one of the four Greatest Generals of the Late Warring States period, along with Li Mu, Wang Jian, and Lian Po; he is also remembered as the most fearsome amongst the four.

Photo of Sun Jian

10. Sun Jian (155 - 191)

With an HPI of 66.28, Sun Jian is the 10th most famous Chinese Military Personnel.  His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.

Sun Jian (Chinese: 孫堅; pinyin: Sūn Jiān) () (155–191?), courtesy name Wentai, was a Chinese military general, politician, and warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He allied himself with Yuan Shu in 190 when warlords from eastern China formed a coalition to oust Dong Zhuo, a tyrannical warlord who held the puppet Emperor Xian in his power. Although he controlled neither many troops nor much land, Sun Jian's personal bravery and resourcefulness were feared by Dong Zhuo, who placed him among Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu and Liu Biao as the most influential men at that time. After the coalition disbanded in the next year, China fell into civil war. In 191, Sun Jian was killed in battle during an offensive campaign against Liu Biao. Sun Jian was also the father of Sun Quan, one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms era who eventually established the Eastern Wu state and declared himself its first emperor in 229, whereupon Sun Jian was given the posthumous title Emperor Wulie (武烈皇帝).

People

Pantheon has 61 people classified as Chinese military personnels born between 401 BC and 1942. Of these 61, 2 (3.28%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living Chinese military personnels include Chi Haotian, and Guo Boxiong. The most famous deceased Chinese military personnels include Chiang Kai-shek, Cao Cao, and Guan Yu. As of April 2024, 14 new Chinese military personnels have been added to Pantheon including Xu Chu, Lian Po, and Ling Tong.

Living Chinese Military Personnels

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Deceased Chinese Military Personnels

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Newly Added Chinese Military Personnels (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Military Personnels were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 9 most globally memorable Military Personnels since 1700.