Liu Bei

Liu Bei

Portrait of Liu Bei as emperor of Shu Han in the Thirteen Emperors Scroll (Tang dynasty)
Emperor of Shu Han
Reign 221 – 223
Successor Liu Shan
Born 161
Zhuo County, Zhuo Commandery, China (present-day Zhuozhou, Baoding, Hebei)
Died 10 June 223 (aged 62)
Baidicheng, China (8 km east of present-day Fengjie County, Chongqing)
Burial Huiling (惠陵), Chengdu, Sichuan
Full name
Family name: Liu (劉)
Given name: Bei (備)
Courtesy name: Xuande (玄德)
Era name and dates
Zhangwu (章武): 221  223
Posthumous name
Emperor Zhaolie (昭烈皇帝)
Father Liu Hong (劉弘)
Liu Bei

"Liu Bei" in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese 劉備
Simplified Chinese 刘备
Alternative Chinese name
Chinese 玄德
Literal meaning (courtesy name)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Liu.

Liu Bei (Mandarin pronunciation: [li̯ou̯ pei̯]; 161 – 10 June 223),[1] courtesy name Xuande, was a warlord in the late Eastern Han dynasty who founded the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period and became its first ruler. Despite early failings compared to his rivals and lacking both the material resources and social status they commanded, he gathered support along disheartened Han loyalists who objected to Cao Cao's reign over the emperor and relied heavily on this support. Liu Bei overcame his many defeats to carve out his own realm, which at its peak spanned present-day Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Hunan, parts of Hubei, and parts of Gansu.

Culturally, due to the popularity of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Liu Bei is widely known as an ideal benevolent, humane ruler who cared for his people and selected good advisers for his government. His fictional counterpart in the novel was a salutary example of a ruler who adhered to the Confucian set of moral values, such as loyalty and compassion. Historically, Liu Bei like many Han rulers was greatly influenced by Laozi. He was a brilliant politician and leader whose skill was a remarkable demonstration of a Legalist. Liu Bei's somewhat Confucian tendencies were dramatized also and compared to his rival states' founders Cao Pi and Sun Quan, both of which ruled as pure Legalists. His political philosophy can best be described by the Chinese idiom "Confucian in appearance but Legalist in substance" (simplified Chinese: 儒表法里; traditional Chinese: 儒表法裡; pinyin: rú biǎo fǎ lǐ; Wade–Giles: ju2 piao3 fa3 li3), a style of governing which had become the norm after the founding of the Han dynasty.[2]

Physical appearance

The historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms described Liu Bei as a man seven chi and five cun tall, with long arms that extended beyond his knees, and ears so large that he could see them.[3]

The historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong gave a similar description about Liu Bei's physical appearance, but with additional features. It mentioned that Liu Bei was seven chi and five cun tall, with ears so large that they touched his shoulders and that he could even see them, long arms that extended beyond his knees, a fair and handsome face, and lips so red that it seemed as though he wore lipstick.[4]

Early life

According to the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, Liu Bei was born in Zhuo County, Zhuo Commandery (present-day Zhuozhou, Baoding, Hebei). He was a descendant of Liu Zhen, a son of Liu Sheng and a grandson of Emperor Jing. However, Pei Songzhi's commentary, based on the Dianlue (典略), said that Liu Bei was a descendant of the Marquis of Linyi (臨邑侯). The title of "Marquis of Linyi" was held by Liu Fu (劉復; grandson of Liu Yan), and later by Liu Fu's son Liu Taotu (劉騊駼). All three descended from Emperor Jing. Liu Bei's grandfather Liu Xiong and father Liu Hong were both employed as local clerks.

Liu Bei grew up in a poor family, having lost his father when he was still a child. To support themselves, Liu Bei and his mother sold shoes and straw-woven mats. Even so, Liu Bei was full of ambition from childhood: he once said to his peers, while under a tree that resembled the royal chariot, that he desired to become an emperor. At the age of 14, Liu Bei, sponsored by a more affluent relative who recognised his potential in leadership, went to study under the tutelage of Lu Zhi (a prominent scholar and former Administrator of Jiujiang). There he met and befriended Gongsun Zan, who would later become a prominent warlord in northern China. The adolescent Liu Bei was said to be unenthusiastic in studying and displayed interest in hunting, music and dressing. Concise in speech, calm in demeanour, and kind to his friends, Liu Bei was well liked by his contemporaries.

Yellow Turban Rebellion

In 184, at the outbreak of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Liu Bei became much more politically aware and called for the assembly of a volunteer army to help government forces suppress the rebellion. Liu Bei received financial contributions from two wealthy horse merchants named Zhang Shiping and Su Shuang and rallied a group of loyal followers, including Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Jian Yong.

Liu Bei led his army to join the provincial army. Together, they scored several victories against the rebels. In recognition of his contributions, Liu Bei was appointed Prefect of Anxi (安喜令) in Zhongshan Commandery (中山郡). He resigned after refusing to submit to a corrupt inspector who attempted to ask him for bribes. He then travelled south with his followers to join another volunteer army to suppress the Yellow Turbans remnants in Xu Province (present-day northern Jiangsu). For that achievement, he was appointed Prefect and Commandant of Gaotang (高唐令、高唐尉).

Warlord state

Succeeding Tao Qian

In 192, after the splitting of the coalition against Dong Zhuo, China sank into civil war and chaos. Overrun by rebels, Liu Bei moved north to join Gongsun Zan, who was at war with Yuan Shao for control of Ji Province (Hebei) and Qing Province (Shandong). Gongsun Zan appointed Liu Bei as the Prefect of Pingyuan County under Tian Kai to fight Yuan Shao in Shandong, but was held off by Yuan Shao's eldest son, Yuan Tan, and later lost Gongsun Zan's interest in the area to Yuan Tan.[5] In 194, Yuan Shao's ally, Cao Cao, launched a campaign against Tao Qian in Xu Province. At the time, there were two opposing alliances — Yuan Shu, Tao Qian, and Gongsun Zan on one side, Yuan Shao, Cao Cao, and Liu Biao the other. In face of strong pressure from Cao Cao's invading force, Tao Qian appealed to Tian Kai for help. Tian Kai and Liu Bei led their armies to support Tao Qian.

Despite initial success in the invasion, Cao Cao's subordinate Zhang Miao rebelled and allowed Lü Bu to take over Cao's base in Yan Province (present-day western Shandong), forcing Cao to retreat from Xu Province. Tao Qian asked Liu Bei to station his army in nearby Xiaopei (present-day Pei County, Jiangsu) and gave him 4,000 more troops, in addition to 1,000 or so troops and some Wuhuan cavalry already under his command. Thus, Liu Bei deserted his supervisor Tian Kai for Tao Qian. Tao Qian became Liu Bei's mentor and benefited greatly from the tutelage from Tao who governed like a Confucian populist, which influenced Liu's future governance. Meanwhile, Liu Bei raised troops around the area, and actively built up connections with influential clans and people of the region. In a rather short period of time, he had gained the support of the two most powerful families in Xu Province: the Mi clan who were strong Han loyalists led by Mi Zhu and Mi Fang, and the Chen clan led by Chen Gui and Chen Deng. Liu Bei also married Mi Zhu's younger sister Lady Mi to draw support from the Mi clan.

Upon Tao Qian's death shortly after Liu Bei secured his position around the area by building up connections and an army,[6] the Mi clan strongly advocated the governorship be passed on to Liu Bei instead of Tao Qian's sons. Liu Bei was hesitant and apprehensive about taking the post when Chen Qun told him that Yuan Shu would contest the control of the province with him.[7] Liu Bei then consulted Kong Rong and Chen Deng, who advised him to switch ally and seek confirmation from the leading warlord, Yuan Shao. Liu Bei finally took over Xu Province after Yuan Shao recognised his "succession".[8]

Statue of Liu Bei in Zhuge Liang's temple in Chengdu

Conflict with Lü Bu

In 195, Lü Bu was defeated by Cao Cao and sought shelter under Liu Bei. In the next year, Yuan Shu sent his general Ji Ling with a large army to invade Xu Province. Liu Bei led his army to Xuyi and Huaiyin (in Guangling, south of Xu Province) to counter. They faced each other for a month without any decisive result.

Zhang Fei, who was left behind by Liu to guard Xiapi (capital of Xu Province), killed Cao Bao (chancellor of Xiapi when Tao Qian was still in charge of Xu Province) after an intense quarrel. Cao Bao's death caused unrest in the city, providing Lü Bu with an opportunity to seize control of the city, capturing the families of Liu Bei and his men during the surprise attack.

Liu Bei returned to Xiapi on receiving the news but his army disintegrated by the time he arrived. Liu Bei rallied his remaining men and moved to Guangling, where he was defeated by Yuan Shu. Liu Bei then retreated to Haixi (海西), Donghai Commandery (東海郡). Faced with enemies on both sides and a lack of supplies (Mi Zhu used his personal wealth to support the army), Liu Bei's army resorted to cannibalism, and finally surrendered to Lü Bu, who recognised Liu's pledge of allegiance, and returned his family as an act of good faith, and ordered Liu to help him resist Yuan Shu.[9] Lü Bu, fearing isolation, obstructed further attempts by Yuan Shu to eliminate Liu Bei. Liu Bei moved his camp to Xiaopei where he rebuilt his army, gathering over 10,000 men. Lü Bu became concerned and attacked Xiaopei. Liu Bei fled to Xuchang, where Cao Cao received him well, gave him some troops and provisions, and appointed him Governor of Yu Province (豫州牧). Liu Bei then reassumed his post in Xiaopei to keep an eye on Lü Bu.

In 198, Lü Bu renewed his alliance with Yuan Shu to stem Cao Cao's growing influence and sent Gao Shun and Zhang Liao to attack Liu Bei. Cao Cao sent Xiahou Dun to support Liu Bei but they were defeated by Gao Shun. Liu Bei had to flee to Cao Cao again. Cao Cao personally led an army to eliminate Lü Bu and achieved victory at the Battle of Xiapi.

Role in the Cao-Yuan conflict

A mural showing chariots and cavalry, from Dahuting Tomb (Chinese: 打虎亭汉墓, Pinyin: Dahuting Han mu) of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), located in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China

By 199, Cao Cao had Emperor Xian in his control and enjoyed a political advantage. Liu Bei joined a conspiracy headed by Dong Cheng, an imperial relative, and some others to remove Cao Cao from power. Moreover, he was anxious to leave Cao Cao's stronghold, Xuchang. Hence, on hearing that Yuan Shu had surrendered to, and was on his way, via Xiapi, to join Yuan Shao in the north, Liu Bei asked to lead an army to intercept Yuan Shu. Before his advisers were able to change his mind, Cao Cao consented, and commissioned Liu Bei and Zhu Ling with an army to move south. Having his path blocked, Yuan Shu turned back to Shouchun and died there later.

Zhu Ling returned to Xuchang, but Liu stayed behind with the army. Liu Bei seized the opportunity to kill Che Zhou, the Governor of Xu Province who was appointed by the imperial court after Lü Bu's defeat. Liu Bei took over Xu Province and left Guan Yu behind to guard Xiapi while he stationed himself in Xiaopei.

Yuan Shao, who earlier recognised Liu Bei's control on Xu Province, had defeated Gongsun Zan, and started moving against Cao Cao on the northern bank of the Yellow River. Knowing that he still had plenty of spies and cohorts inside the imperial capital, Liu Bei sent his messenger, Sun Qian, to Yuan Shao to request an immediate attack be launched against Cao Cao. However, Yuan Shao turned down Liu Bei's plea, even though his own strategists advised him to do Liu a favour. In 200, Dong Cheng's plot was discovered. All conspirators and their families were summarily executed. However, Liu Bei, as well as a few others who were outside Cao Cao's domain, survived the purge.

With his domestic situation settled, Cao Cao turned his attention to his last great rival in the north, Yuan Shao. Cao fortified many of the key crossing points on the Yellow River which divided his territory from Yuan's; he personally made camp at Guandu with his main army. To eliminate Yuan Shao's last southern ally, Cao sent his subordinates, Liu Dai and Wang Zhong against Liu Bei, but they were defeated.

Predicting that Yuan Shao would be hesitant to go on the offensive, Cao Cao led his army away from Guandu to personally overrun Liu Bei's position. He overcame Liu Bei in an extremely short period of time, leaving Yuan Shao no chance to aid Liu on second thought. Yuan Shao's attempt to reinforce Liu was repulsed by Yu Jin, whom Cao Cao had left in command of his troops at Yan Ford. Liu Bei's force disintegrated under the weight of Cao Cao's assault, but his trusted aides all survived the war. Zhang Fei protected Liu Bei when the latter fled from the battlefield, while Guan Yu surrendered to Cao Cao on terms that he could return to Liu Bei's service if the latter was alive.

Liu Bei fled north to join Yuan Shao, where he was received with respect by Yuan Shao and his son Yuan Tan. Liu Bei participated in the unsuccessful battles along the Yellow River, in which Yuan Shao successively lost two of his best generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou, with the former being slain by Guan Yu.

As Liu Pi in Runan rebelled against Cao Cao, Liu Bei persuaded Yuan Shao to "lend" him an army to help Liu Pi. Liu Bei and Liu Pi attacked Xuchang but were defeated by Cao Ren. Liu Bei returned to the north and urged Yuan Shao to ally with Liu Biao, governor of Jing Province (present-day Hubei and Hunan). Yuan Shao again sent him with an army to Runan to aid the bandit leader, Gong Du. They were able to kill Cao Cao's general Cai Yang there.

Taking refuge under Liu Biao

In 201, Cao Cao led his army to attack Liu Bei in Runan after defeating Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu. Liu Bei fled to Jing Province to seek refuge under Liu Biao. Liu Biao welcomed Liu Bei personally, treating him as an honoured guest. He also gave Liu Bei some troops and asked him to station in Xinye.

Liu Bei stayed in Jing Province for about seven years. During a meeting with Liu Biao, Liu Bei started weeping and the surprised Liu Biao asked why. Liu Bei answered "In earlier times, I've never left the saddle. My thighs were thin. Now I do not ride anymore, they are fat and flabby. The days and months pass like a stream, and old age will come, but I have achieved nothing. That's why I am sad.[10] In 202, Cao Cao sent Yu Jin and Xiahou Dun to attack Liu Bei. Liu Bei ambushed and defeated them at the Battle of Bowang.

In 207, Cao Cao planned a campaign to conquer the Wuhuan in the north, but was apprehensive that Liu Biao might attack his base but he was assured by Guo Jia that Liu Biao would not do so for fear of Liu Bei being more powerful than he was. Cao Cao agreed and Guo Jia's point was proven later, when Liu Biao refused to attack Xuchang when Liu Bei advised him to do so.

Away from the battlefields in the east and under Liu Biao's efficient rule, Jing Province was prosperous and a popular destination for literati fleeing from the destruction of war. Liu Bei asked Sima Hui, a revered recluse, about scholars. Sima Hui named Zhuge Liang and Pang Tong as exceptional talents who could comprehend important events of their time well. Xu Shu also urged Liu Bei to call on Zhuge Liang.

Liu Bei went to see Zhuge Liang and finally had an audience with him after three visits. Zhuge Liang presented Liu Bei with his Longzhong Plan, a generalised long-term plan outlining the takeover of Jing Province and Yi Province to set up a two-pronged final strike at the imperial capital.

Liu Biao died in 208 and his younger son Liu Cong succeeded him and surrendered to Cao Cao without informing Liu Bei. By the time Liu Bei heard news of Liu Cong's surrender, Cao Cao's army had already reached Wancheng (present-day Nanyang, Henan). Liu Bei led his troops away and abandoned Fancheng, leading civilians and his followers (including some of Liu Biao's former attendants) on an exodus to the south. By the time they reached Dangyang (当阳), his followers numbered more than 100,000 and they moved only 10 li a day. Liu Bei sent Guan Yu ahead to wait for him in Jiangling, where abundant supplies and arsenal were stored, with Jing Province's fleet.

Afraid that Liu Bei might reach Jiangling before him, Cao Cao led his cavalry on pursuit. In a day and a night, Cao Cao caught up with Liu and captured most of his people and baggage at the Battle of Changban. Leaving his family behind, Liu Bei fled with only scores of followers. With Guan Yu's fleet, they crossed the Mian River to Jiangxia and the Yangtze River to Xiakou and took refuge with Liu Qi, Liu Biao's elder son, and his men. Liu Qi objected to his brother's surrender to Cao Cao and was able to maintain Jiangxia and Xiakou allowing more of his father's former subordinates to escape from Cao.

Alliance with Sun Quan

Battle of Red Cliffs

Main article: Battle of Red Cliffs

When Liu Bei was still at Changban, Sun Quan's envoy Lu Su hinted to him that he should ally with Sun against Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang went to meet Sun Quan, as Liu Bei's envoy, together with Lu Su at Chaisang to discuss the formation of the alliance.

Liu Bei and Sun Quan formed their first coalition against the southward expansion of Cao Cao. The two sides clashed at the Red Cliffs (northwest of present-day Puqi County, Hubei). Cao Cao boasted 830,000 men (Zhou Yu claimed the realistic number was 230,000 to 270,000), while the alliance at best had 50,000 troops under the leadership of Zhou Yu.

Cao Cao's core troops were mostly northerners, so they were unable to adapt to the southern climate and naval warfare, and that posed a major disadvantage to Cao. Subsequently, a plague broke out that undermined the strength of Cao Cao's army. The fire attack masterminded by Zhou Yu and Huang Gai succeeded against Cao Cao's chain-linked vessels and most of Cao's navy was destroyed in the battle. The majority of Cao Cao's troops were burnt to death or drowned in the river while the survivors who successfully retreated to the riverbank were ambushed and killed by skirmishers. Cao Cao barely escaped after his defeat. He retreated back to the north and left behind Cao Ren and Xu Huang to guard Jiangling and Yue Jin to defend Xiangyang.

Taking Jing Province

Further information: Battle of Jiangling (208)

Sun Quan's forces led by Zhou Yu attacked Cao Ren after their resounding victory to wrestle for control of Jiangling. Liu Bei recommended Liu Qi to be the new Inspector of Jing Province (荊州刺史) and led his men to capture the four commanderies south of the Yangtze River - Changsha, Lingling (present day Yongzhou, Hunan), Guiyang and Wuling (武陵). Liu Bei set up his base at Gong'an and continued to strengthen his army. When Liu Qi died shortly after Liu Bei secured his position in the area, the latter succeeded the former as the new governor of Jing Province, and went to Jianye to marry Sun Quan's younger sister Lady Sun in order to legitimatise his succession. After the marriage, not only was Liu Bei's succession recognised by Sun Quan, but the land of Nan Commandery was also "lent" to him.

Subsequently, former subordinates of Liu Biao who were unwilling to serve Cao Cao came to join Liu Bei. After the death of Zhou Yu in 210 and Liu Bei's growing influence in southern Jing Province, Sun Quan's position in the north became more untenable. Lu Su succeeded Zhou Yu as the Grand Viceroy of Sun Quan's armies and moved the headquarters to Lukou (陸口), yielding all commanderies of Jing Province (except Jiangxia commandery) and access to the Yi Province to Liu Bei. In diplomatic terms, Sun Quan's side thought that they were "lending" Jing Province to Liu Bei as a temporary base that should be returned to them after Liu found another stronghold.

Summary of major events
161Born in Zhuo County, Zhuo Commandery.
184Volunteered in the fight against the Yellow Turban rebels in central China.
194Assumed governorship of Xu Province.
198Defeated by Lü Bu.
Allied with Cao Cao.
200Defeated by Cao Cao.
Escaped to Yuan Shao.
Joined Liu Biao.
208Allied with Sun Quan and won the Battle of Red Cliffs.
Took over Jing Province.
215Defeated Liu Zhang and took over Yi Province.
219Conquered Hanzhong.
Declared himself King of Hanzhong.
221Proclaimed himself Emperor of Shu Han.
222Lost the Battle of Xiaoting against Eastern Wu.
223Died in Baidicheng.

Establishing the Shu regime

Conquering Yi Province

In 211, Liu Zhang, governor of Yi Province (present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), heard that Cao Cao planned to attack Zhang Lu in Hanzhong. As Hanzhong was a strategic location and the "gateway" for attacks into Yi Province, Liu Zhang sent Fa Zheng to form an alliance with Liu Bei after persuasion from Zhang Song. Zhang Song and Fa Zheng, although Han loyalists, privately disapproved of Liu Zhang's style of governance and looked at Liu Bei as a solution for a legitimate successor. Liu Zhang invited Liu Bei to join him in Yi Province to capture Hanzhong before Cao Cao did.

Liu Bei led an expedition force into Sichuan after leaving behind Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun to guard Jing Province. Liu Zhang received Liu Bei warmly and provided him with more troops under his command as well as provisions and equipment. Liu Bei headed to Jiameng Pass (southwest of present-day Guangyuan, Sichuan) at the border between Liu Zhang and Zhang Lu's territories. Instead of engaging Zhang, Liu Bei halted his advance and focused on building up connections and gaining influence around the area.[11]

In 212, Fa Zheng, Zhang Shao, and another Yi official Meng Da started to privately undermine the idea of Liu Zhang as governor of Yi. Pang Tong outlined three plans for Liu Bei to choose from. The first was to advance swiftly to seize Chengdu from Liu Zhang with a special task force. The second was to take command of Liu Zhang's armies in the north and then move to capture Chengdu. The third one was to return to Baidicheng to await further action. Liu chose the second option. Liu Bei requested to Liu Zhang that he needed more troops to divert Cao Cao's attention away from the east (where Sun Quan was under attack), and requested that another 10,000 soldiers and additional provisions aid in the defence of Jing Province. Liu Zhang gave him only 4,000 troops and half of the other supplies he requested.

Zhang Su, Zhang Song's older brother, discovered his brother's secret communications with Liu Bei and reported the issue to Liu Zhang. Liu Zhang was furious and stunned when he heard that Zhang Song had been helping Liu Bei to take over Yi Province from him - he had Zhang Song executed, and ordered his generals guarding the passes to Chengdu not to let any word about his knowing reach Liu Bei. Still, Liu Bei was informed by his spies planted around Liu Zhang, Fa Zheng and Meng Da fled to Liu Bei's camp and before Liu Zhang's men could reach Yang Huai and Gao Pei, generals guarding Boshui Pass, Liu Bei summoned, captured, and after refusal to surrender executed them on charges of disrespect towards him. He then took over Yang Huai's and Gao Pei's troops, numbering under 5,000 and turned to attack Fucheng (涪城).

In the spring of 213, Liu Zhang sent Liu Gui, Ling Bao, Zhang Ren, Deng Xian, Wu Yi and other generals to defend Mianzhu Pass. All were soundly killed or captured by Liu Bei's more seasoned generals. Despite being the most trusted vassal of Liu Zhang, Wu Yi soon changed allegiance, so Li Yan and Fei Guan were sent to replace him, but they surrendered to Liu Bei as well. Now the remnant force was under command of Liu Zhang's son Liu Xun, and he retreated to Luo (northwest of Chengdu). There, Pang Tong was killed by a stray arrow, and the siege became a prolonged one, forcing Liu Bei to call for reinforcements from Jing Province.

In 214, Luo finally fell, but Liu Zhang continued to hold on inside Chengdu. Ma Chao, a former Liang Province warlord and a vassal of Zhang Lu, was persuaded by Liu Bei to kill his comrade, Yang Bai, and joined Liu. Upon seeing Ma Chao's army at the north of Chengdu, the citizens inside the city were terrified, but they still insisted on fighting a desperate war.[12] However, Liu Zhang surrendered after stating that he did not wish to see further bloodshed.[13] Liu Bei then succeeded Liu Zhang as governor of Yi Province and conferred on the latter the seal and tassel of "General Who Inspires Awe" before expatriating him to Gong'an.

Liu Bei married Wu Yi's sister and went on numerous public patrols to solidify his control on the newly conquered domain. Zhuge Liang was promoted to Grand Adviser in charge of the Office of the General of the Left, an office that granted him control over all affairs of state. Dong He was appointed "Household General of the Army" and acting deputy to Zhuge Liang. The rest of Liu Bei's followers, new and old, were entrusted with new responsibilities and promoted to new ranks.

Sun-Liu territorial dispute

After Liu Bei's conquest of Yi Province, Sun Quan sent Lu Su as an emissary to demand the return of Jing Province, but Liu refused. Sun Quan then sent Lü Meng and Ling Tong to lead 20,000 men to attack southern Jing Province and they succeeded in capturing Changsha, Guiyang, and Lingling commanderies. In the meantime, Lu Su and Gan Ning advanced to Yiyang (益陽) with 10,000 men (to block Guan Yu) and took over command of the army at Lukou (陸口)). Liu Bei personally went to Gong'an while Guan Yu led 30,000 men to Yiyang. When war was about to break out, Liu Bei received news that Cao Cao was planning to attack Hanzhong, and he requested for a border treaty with Sun Quan as he became worried about Cao Cao seizing Hanzhong. Liu Bei asked Sun Quan to give him back Lingling Commandery and create a diversion for Cao Cao by attacking Hefei; in return, Liu Bei ceded Changsha and Guiyang commanderies to Sun Quan, setting the new border along the Xiang River.

Hanzhong Campaign

Main article: Hanzhong Campaign

In 215, Cao Cao defeated Zhang Lu at the Battle of Yangping and seized Hanzhong. Sima Yi and Liu Ye advised him to take advantage of the victory to attack Yi Province, since it was still unstable under Liu Bei's new government and Liu himself was away in Jing Province. Cao Cao, who was not fond of the terrain of the region, refused and left Xiahou Yuan, Zhang He and Xu Huang to defend Hanzhong.

In anticipation of a prolonged war, Zhang He led his army to Dangqu (宕渠) in order to relocate the population of Ba (巴) to Hanzhong. Meanwhile, Liu Bei appointed Zhang Fei as Administrator of Baxi (巴西) and ordered him to take over the region. Zhang Fei and Zhang He faced each other for 50 days, which concluded with a victory for the former following a surprise attack on the latter. Narrowly escaping, Zhang He retreated to Nanzheng on foot, and the Ba region became part of Liu Bei's territory.

In 217, Fa Zheng pointed out the strategic necessities of seizing Hanzhong and advised Liu Bei to drive Cao Cao's force out of the area. Liu Bei sent Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, and several subordinate generals to Wudu (武都), while he assembled an army and advanced to Yangping Pass. Zhang Fei was forced to retreat after his aides Wu Lan and Lei Tong were defeated and killed by Cao Cao's forces. Liu Bei, engaging Xiahou Yuan at Yangping Pass, tried to cut the enemy's supply route by sending his general Chen Shi to Mamingge (馬鳴閣), but was routed by Xiahou's subordinate, Xu Huang. Liu Bei then pressed on Zhang He at Guangshi (廣石) but failed to achieve any success; at the same time, Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He were not able to hinder Liu Bei from mobilising forces around the area. The war turned into a stalemate, and Cao Cao decided to gather an army in Chang'an to fight Liu Bei.

In the spring of 218, Liu Bei and Xiahou Yuan had faced each other for over a year. Liu Bei led the main army to the south of the Mian River (沔水) and ordered Huang Zhong to set up camps on Mount Dingjun, where Xiahou Yuan's encampment in the valley below could be easily monitored. One night, Liu Bei sent 10,000 troops to attack Zhang He in Guangshi and set fire to Xiahou Yuan's barricades. Xiahou Yuan then led a small detachment to put out the fire and sent the main army to reinforce Zhang He. Fa Zheng saw an opportunity for attack and signalled to Liu Bei to launch an assault. Liu sent Huang Zhong to attack the weakened enemy from above. Huang Zhong targeted Xiahou Yuan's unit and completely routed it. Both Xiahou Yuan and Zhao Yong (趙顒), Cao Cao's appointed Inspector of Yi Province, were killed in the battle.

Zhang He, who had been informally elected to succeed Xiahou Yuan by Du Xi and Guo Huai, retreated to the northern bank of the Han River, and awaited Cao Cao's reinforcement. Meanwhile, Liu Bei secured all strategic points at the exit of the passes linking Chang'an and Hanzhong while Cao Cao was approaching via Yegu Pass. Liu Bei faced Cao Cao for several months but never engaged the latter in battle, effectively forcing Cao to retreat as his soldiers started to desert.[14] Zhang He also retreated to Chencang to set up defences for a potential invasion by Liu Bei. Liu Bei led his main army to Nanzheng and sent Meng Da and Liu Feng to capture Fangling (房陵) and Shangyong (上庸).

Becoming an emperor

Liu Bei declares himself king, portrait at the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace, Beijing

After Liu Bei secured Hanzhong, he was urged by his subjects to react politically to Cao Cao's "King of Wei" declaration so he declared himself "King of Hanzhong" (漢中王) and set up his headquarters in Chengdu. He appointed Liu Shan as the heir-apparent. Wei Yan was promoted to the rank of "General Who Maintains Distant Lands in Peace" (鎮遠將軍) and Administrator of Hanzhong (漢中太守). Xu Jing was appointed as "Grand Tutor" while Fa Zheng was made "Prefect of the Masters of Writing". Guan Yu was appointed as "General of the Vanguard", Zhang Fei as "General of the Right", Ma Chao as "General of the Left" and Huang Zhong as "General of the Rear".

In early winter 219, Sun Quan's forces led by Lü Meng captured and executed Guan Yu, as well as conquered Jing Province. After hearing of Guan Yu's death, Liu Bei became furious, and ordered his troops to begin preparing for war with Sun Quan. Shortly after, Cao Cao died and his successor, Cao Pi, deposed Emperor Xian, and declared himself Emperor of Cao Wei. When Meng Da learned that Liu Bei was going to launch a campaign against Sun Quan, he became concerned that he would be punished for not sending reinforcements to Guan Yu earlier, and defected to Wei. At the same time, Zhao Yun reminded Liu Bei that he should focus his attack on Wei instead of Sun Quan, but Liu rejected his advice. Seeing that Liu Bei did not prepare strong defences against Wei, Meng Da suggested a plan to Cao Pi to attack Fanling, Shangyong, and Xicheng commanderies. Liu Bei's adopted son, Liu Feng, fought a desperate battle against the invaders, but he was betrayed by his subordinates and defeated. Upon his return to Chengdu, Liu Bei was furious with Liu Feng's loss and his refusal to send reinforcement to Guan Yu in 219, so he had Liu Feng executed. In 221, Liu Bei declared himself "Emperor of Shu Han" and claimed his intent was to carry on the lineage of the Han dynasty. He appointed his son Liu Shan as crown prince.

Defeat and death

Main article: Battle of Xiaoting
Tomb of Liu Bei

In the autumn of 222, Liu Bei personally led an army to attack Sun Quan to avenge Guan Yu and retake Jing Province, and left Zhuge Liang in charge of state affairs back in Chengdu. Even though Zhang Fei was murdered by his subordinates during the onset of the battle, Liu Bei was still able to achieve initial victories until Lu Xun, the commander-in-chief of the Eastern Wu forces, ordered a retreat to Yiling (present-day Yichang, Hubei). Lu Xun held his position there and refused to engage the invaders.

By summer, the Shu troops were camped along their invasion route and had grown weary due to the hot weather. Liu Bei then moved his camp into a forest for shade and ordered Huang Quan to lead a portion of his navy to camp just outside the forest. Knowing that his enemy was not expecting a sudden strike, Lu Xun ordered a counterattack and set fire to the Shu camps linked to each other by wooden fences. Forty camps of Liu Bei's expedition force were destroyed in the fire attack and the remaining troops were defeated and forced to flee west to Ma'an Hills (northwest of Yiling, not to be confused with Ma'anshan, Anhui), where they set up a defence. Liu Bei was caught up and besieged by Lu on the Ma'an Hills and was attacked before his men could recuperate. Liu Bei managed to escape overnight to Baidicheng, by ordering his men to discard their armour and set them aflame to form a fire blockade to stop Lu Xun's pursuing troops.[15]

Liu Bei died in Baidicheng in the summer of 223. On his deathbed, he named Zhuge Liang and Li Yan as regents to support his son, and his body was brought back to Chengdu and entombed at Huiling (惠陵; southern suburb of present-day Chengdu) four months later. Liu Bei was given the posthumous name of Zhaolie. His son, Liu Shan, succeeded him as Emperor of Shu, and Zhuge Liang revived the alliance with Sun Quan.

Family and descendants

Main article: Shu Han family trees

Appointments and titles held

In fiction

A block print portrait of Liu Bei from a Qing dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (wearing an anachronistic scholar's robe and a hat of medieval Chinese dynasties).

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 14th-century historical novel based on the events that occurred before and during the Three Kingdoms era. Written by Luo Guanzhong more than a millennium after the said period, the novel incorporated many popular folklore and opera scripts into the character of Liu Bei, portraying him as a compassionate and righteous leader, endowed with charismatic potency (called de (德) in Chinese)[16] who built his state on the basis of Confucian values. This is in line with the historical background of the times during which the novel was written. Furthermore, the novel emphasises that Liu Bei was related, however distantly, to the imperial family of the Han dynasty, thus favouring another argument for the legitimacy of Liu Bei's reign. In the novel, he wielded a pair of double edged swords called shuang gu jian (雙股劍).

See the following for some fictitious stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms involving Liu Bei:

General worship of Liu Bei

Liu Bei is worshipped as the patron of shoemakers in Chengdu, which is also known as the "City of Shoes" as more than 80 million pairs of shoes totalling five billion yuan in sales are manufactured there annually. It is said that in 1845, during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor in the Qing dynasty, the shoemakers guild in Chengdu, who called themselves "disciples of Liu Bei", sponsored the construction of the Sanyi Temple in Liu's honour. After being relocated many times, the temple can be found in Wuhou District today.

Since the mainland Chinese government loosened its control on religious practices in recent years, the worship of Liu Bei among shoemakers has again gained popularity in Chengdu. In 2005, a large procession was carried out in front of the Sanyi Temple to commemorate Liu Bei — the first such event since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.[17]

A commentary carried by the Yangtse Evening Post criticised such practice as mere commercial gimmickry to exploit the fame of Liu Bei.[18] It argued that although Liu Bei sold straw-woven shoes and mats for a living when he was young, he was hardly the inventor of shoes. According to legend, it was Yu Ze who made the first pairs of shoes with softwood during the time of the Yellow Emperor. However, the criticism did not dampen the enthusiastic shoe industry owners in their decision to erect a statue of Liu Bei in the West China Shoe Center Industrial Zone, which was still under construction in Wuhou District as of August 2005.

Modern references

Card games

Video games

See also


  1. de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 478. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.
  2. Throughout Chinese history, no successful emperor had ruled purely based on Confucianism (though some did purely use Legalism). Numerous studies such as Political Reality of Transforming Legalism by Confucianism in the Western Han Dynasty as Seen from Selection System by Wang Bao Ding, or Aspects of Legalist Philosophy and the Law in Ancient China: The Chi'an and Han Dynasties and Rediscovered Manuscript of Mawangdui and Shuihudi by Matthew August LeFande, have pointed out most ancient Chinese dynasties after Qin had ruled by a mix of Legalism and Confucianism.
  3. (身長七尺五寸,垂手下膝,顧自見其耳。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 32, Biography of Liu Bei.
  4. (生得身長七尺五寸,兩耳垂肩,雙手過膝,目能自顧其耳,面如冠玉,唇如塗脂) Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 1.
  5. Pingyuan lay on the border between Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan's territories, and was the only county Yuan Tan controlled before his expansion. Tian Kai assumed the title of Inspector of Qing Province under Yuan Shao, and acted as Liu Bei's direct supervisor.
  6. (時先主自有兵千餘人及幽州烏丸雜胡騎,又略得饑民數千人。既到,謙以丹楊兵四千益先主,先主遂去楷歸謙。) Excluding the support from the Mi clan, Liu Bei had already been consistently building up his army when he headed Xu Province. Once he gained enough power, he split from the forces of Gongsun Zan. See Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 32, Biography of Liu Bei.
  7. (群说备曰:“袁术尚强,今东,必与之争) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 22, Biography of Chen Qun.
  8. (獻帝春秋曰:陳登等遣使詣袁紹曰:「天降災沴,禍臻鄙州,州將殂殞,生民無主,恐懼奸雄一旦承隙,以貽盟主日昃之憂,輒共奉故平原相劉備府君以為宗主,永使百姓知有依歸。方今寇難縱橫,不遑釋甲,謹遣下吏奔告於執事。」紹答曰:「劉玄德弘雅有信義,今徐州樂戴之,誠副所望也。」) This passage from the Annal of Emperor Xian states that Chen Deng sent a messenger to Yuan Shao and asked the approval of the latter for Liu Bei to succeed Tao Qian.
  9. (英雄記曰:備軍在廣陵,飢餓困踧,吏士大小自相噉食,窮餓侵逼,欲還小沛,遂使吏請降布。布令備還州,並勢擊術。具刺史車馬僮僕,發遣備妻子部曲家屬於泗水上,祖道相樂。) Chronicle of Heroes. See note in Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 32.
  10. (九州春秋曰:備住荊州數年,嘗於表坐起至廁,見髀裡肉生,慨然流涕。還坐,表怪問備,備曰:「吾常身不離鞍,髀肉皆消。今不復騎,髀裡肉生。日月若馳,老將至矣,而功業不建,是以悲耳。」) From the note on the Spring and Autumn Annual of the Nine Provinces.
  11. (先主北到葭萌,未即討魯,厚樹恩德,以收眾心。) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 32, Biography of Liu Bei.
  12. (先主遣人迎超,超將兵徑到城下。城中震怖) This passage from Records of Three Kingdoms states that the residents within the city were stunned and terrified. See Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 36, Biographies of Guan, Zhang, Ma, Huang, and Zhao.
  13. (城中尚有精兵三萬人,谷帛支一年,吏民咸欲死戰。璋言:「父子在州二十餘年,無恩德以加百姓。百姓攻戰三年,肌膏草野者,以璋故也,何心能安!」遂開城出降,群下莫不流涕。) This passage from Records of the Three Kingdoms states that the residents of Chengdu wished to fight Liu Bei to the death, but Liu Zhang said to them that he did not want to see them die for him and surrendered. See Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 31, Biographies of the two Governor Lius.
  14. (及曹公至,先主斂眾拒險,終不交鋒,積月不拔,亡者日多。) Within this passage, "亡者日多" should be translated as "deserters increased in number as time passed" instead of "casualties increased with each passing day." See Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 32, Biography of Liu Bei.
  15. (備因夜遁,驛人自擔燒鐃鎧斷後,僅得入白帝城。) See Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 26, Biographies of Man, Tian, Qian, and Guo.
  16. Roberts 1991, pg. 942
  17. "武侯祠祭"鞋神"劉備". 四川在線. Archived from the original on April 6, 2007. Retrieved August 26, 2005. ; "宣傳成都民俗文化 武侯祠祭祀"鞋神"刘备". 文化産業網. Archived from the original on April 6, 2007. Retrieved August 26, 2005. (Both sources in Simplified Chinese)
  18. "劉備啥時候成了"鞋神"". 揚子晚報. Archived from the original on May 3, 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2005.
  19. "Liu Bei stats, skills, evolution, location | Puzzle & Dragons Database". Retrieved October 23, 2015.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Liu Bei.
Emperor Zhaolie of Shu Han
Born: 161 Died: 10 June 223
Regnal titles
New title King of Hanzhong
Merged in the Crown
Preceded by
Emperor Xian of Han
as Emperor of Eastern Han
Emperor of Shu Han
Succeeded by
Liu Shan
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Emperor Xian of Han
Emperor of China
Royal descent claimant
Reason for succession failure:
Three Kingdoms
Succeeded by
Liu Shan
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