Ma Yuanyi 馬元義 was a Large Division Leader of Yellow Turbans and a leader in planning for rebellion. He had followers in the provinces of Jing and Yang and even in the capital city of Luoyang.

Ma Yuanyi's main force of operations was in Ye city in Wei commandery, Ji province. He travelled to Luoyang, 200km southeast of Ye city, several times and claimed adherents there. He set a date for rebellion, but was discovered some time before the rebellion was to take place. He was taken captive and executed.


Ma Yuanyi was one of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who joined Zhang Jue 張角, Zhang Bao 張寶 and Zhang Liang 張梁 somewhere between the early 170's and 184 AD. When Zhang Jue spread his forces over thirty-six Divisions (Fāng 方), Ma Yuanyi was made a leader of a Large Division, meaning he controlled over 10.000 men.[4] He was also a leader in planning for rebellion.[1]

Ma Yuanyi, together with some others, gathered these men from the provinces of Jing and Yang and they made arrangements for a rising at Ye city in Henan commandery.[5] Ye city was the administrative center of Wei commandery and Ji Province.[5] It is said he collected several ten thousand followers from these provinces.[1]

Ma Yuanyi also visited the capital city of Luoyang on several occasions, travelling about 200 kilometers southeast from Ye city and claimed adherents there, even among the palace eunuchs Feng Xu 封諝 and Xu Feng 徐奉.[1]

Planning a RisingEdit

Together with the eunuchs Ma Yuanyi agreed on the fifth day of the third month, which was 3 April[6][7][8] for a massive rising which included an attack from within the capital and an attack from without[1] that were to coincide with the local risings throughout the empire.[8]

The Yellow Turbans were concentrated in three areas. One group was led by the three Zhang brothers north of the Yellow River near the commanderies of Julu and Wei. Ma Yuanyi, being active in Wei commandery, was part of this group and thus seems to have been rather close to the Zhang brothers. Another major rising was to take place in the Guangyang and Zhuo commanderies in You province, but names of the Yellow Turban leaders in these areas are lost. The third centre of rebellion took place in the three commanderies of Runan, Nanyang and Yingchuan. This third force was intended to co-operate with the traitors in Luoyang.[9] The force in Runan was possibly led by Peng Tuo 彭脫, the force in Nanyang was probably the force led by Zhang Mancheng 張曼成 and the force in Yingchuan was probably the force led by Bo Cai 波才.


In the spring of 184 AD a former disciple of Zhang Jue, a man named Tang Zhou 唐周, wrote a letter to the emperor in which he revealed the plot.[4] Thereupon Ma Yuanyi was arrested and torn into pieces by chariots in Luoyang. Other followers and sympathizers of the Yellow Turbans in Luoyang were tracked down and executed.[1] Orders were sent to Ji province that Zhang Jue and his followers should be arrested, but Zhang Jue had already learned of the fact his plot was leaked and messengers were sent to inform all Division leaders to launch their rebellion.[10]

The three rebel leaders Bo Cai, Zhang Mancheng and Peng Tuo, who probably were to work together with Ma Yuanyi's force in Luoyang, all started remarkably well, despite having lost a vital co-operating force. Zhang Mancheng killed the Grand Administrator of Nanyang commandery and occupied the territory for months. Bo Cai managed to defeat Han general Zhu Jun 朱儁, who previously had been very succesful in suppressing other rebel forces. In Runan a force possibly led by Peng Tuo defeated its Grand Administrator Zhao Qian.


  • It would seem Ma Yuanyi was rather close to the Zhang brothers. There were three main centers of rebellion, and Ma Yuanyi was part of the Zhang brothers' group. Furthermore the official biography of He Jin 何進 in History of the Later Han calls Ma Yuanyi Zhang Jue's assistant.
  • Ma Yuanyi is the only Yellow Turban leader who is mentioned in the History of the Later Han as having led a Large Division.
  • The official biography of He Jin in History of the Later Han says it was He Jin who discovered the plot of Ma Yuanyi. Possibly the letter Tang Zhou had sent had fallen into He Jin's hands.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Ma Yuanyi, page 661
  2. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Zhongping 1
  3. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 112
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 76
  5. 5.0 5.1 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 80
  6. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Guanghe 6
  7. Twitchett & Fairbank, Cambridge History of China vol. 1, page 338
  8. 8.0 8.1 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 81
  9. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 88
  10. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 82


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