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Liu Bei
Liu Bei Tang.jpg
Founding emperor of Shu Han
Born 161
Zhuozhou, Baoding, Hebei, China
Died 21 June 223 (aged 62)
Baidicheng, Chongqing, China
Reign 221–223
Successor Liu Shan
Simplified Chinese 刘备
Traditional Chinese 劉備
Pinyin Liú Bèi
Wade-Giles Liu Pei
Courtesy name Xuándé (玄德)
Posthumous name Zhāoliè (昭烈)
literary meaning: Shining Accomplishment
Era names Zhāngwǔ (章武; 221–223)
Other names
  • Yùzhōu (豫州)[1]
This is a Chinese name; the family name is 劉 (Liu).

Liu Bei (161– 21 June 223), styled Xuándé (玄德), was a general, warlord, and later the founding emperor of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of China. Despite having a later start than his rivals and lacking both the material resources and social status they commanded, Liu overcame his many defeats to carve out his own realm, which at its peak spanned modern day Sichuan, Guizhou, Hunan, part of Hubei and part of Gansu.

Culturally, due to the tremendous popularity of the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Liu Bei is widely known as the ideal benevolent, humane ruler who cared for his people and selected good advisors for his government. His character was a salutary example of a ruler who adhered to the Confucian set of moral values, such as loyalty and compassion.




Early life

Born in Zhuo Commandery (涿, present day Zhuozhou, Baoding, Hebei), Liu Bei was a descendant of Liu Zhen, the son of Liu Sheng, a son of Emperor Jing. His grandfather Liu Xiong (劉雄) and father Liu Hong (劉弘) 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 and his mother sold shoes and straw-woven mats. At the age of fourteen, 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, at the time, former Administrator of Jiujiang). He met and befriended Gongsun Zan (a prominent northern warlord in future) there.

The adolescent Liu Bei was said to be unenthusiastic in studying and displayed interest in hunting, music and dressing. Few of words, calm in demeanor, and kind to his friends, Liu Bei was well-liked by his contemporaries. He was said to have long arms and large earlobes[2].

Yellow Turban Rebellion

In 184, at the outbreak of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Liu Bei called for the assembly of a volunteer army to help the imperial forces suppress the rebellion. Liu received financial contributions from two wealthy horse merchants and he rallied a group of loyal followers, of whom Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were the most outstanding ones.

Liu Bei led his army to join the provincial army. Together, they scored several victories against the rebels. In recognition of his contributions, Liu was appointed Prefect of Anxi (安喜令), Zhongshan commandery (中山). He resigned after refusing to submit to a corrupt inspector who attempted to ask him for bribes.

Liu traveled south with his followers to join another volunteer army to suppress the Yellow Turbans remnants in Xu Province (徐州, northern Jiangsu). For that achievement, he was appointed Prefect and Captain of Gaotang (高唐令、高唐尉).

Succeeding Tao Qian

In 192, after the splitting of the coalition against Dong Zhuo, China sank into war and chaos. Overran by rebels, Liu Bei moved north to seek safety with Gongsun Zan, who was at war with Yuan Shao for control of Ji Province (Hebei) and Qing Province (Shandong). Gongsun Zan sent him to help Tian Kai (to fight Yuan Shao) in Shandong. For this, Liu was later appointed Prefect of Pingyuan County (平原)[3].

In 194, Cao Cao launched a campaign against Tao Qian in Xu Province. At the time, there were two opposing alliances — Yuan Shu and Gongsun Zan on one side, Yuan Shao and Cao Cao the other. In face of strong pressure from Cao Cao's invading force, Tao appealed to Tian Kai for help. Tian and Liu led their armies to support Tao.

Cao Cao's subordinate Zhang Miao rebelled and allowed Lü Bu to take over Cao's base in Yan Province (兗州, present day western Shandong), forcing Cao to retreat from Xu Province. Tao Qian asked Liu Bei to station in nearby Xiaopei (小沛, present day Pei County, Jiangsu) and gave him 4000 more troops, in addition to 1000 or so troops and some Wuhuan cavalry already under his command.

Later that year, Tao Qian died. On his deathbed, he resolved to let Liu Bei take charge of Xu Province and entrusted Mi Zhu to carry out the transfer of power. Hesitant initially, Liu Bei refused but eventually accepted on advices from Kong Rong and Chen Deng.

The statue in Zhuge Liang's temple, Chengdu,China

Conflict with Lü Bu

In 195, Lü Bu was defeated by Cao Cao and sought refuge 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 (淮陰, 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 Bei to guard Xiapi (capital of Xu Province at the time), 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 and Lü captured the families of Liu Bei and his men during the surprise attack as well.

Liu Bei returned to Xiapi on receiving the news but his army disintegrated by the time he reached there. Liu rallied his remaining men and moved to Guangling where he was defeated by Yuan Shu. Liu then retreated to Haixi (海西), Donghai Commandery (東海). Faced with enemies on both sides and a lack of supplies (Mi Zhu used his personal wealth to support the army), Liu requested for a truce with Lü Bu, who accepted and returned Liu's family as an act of good faith, because he was becoming apprehensive of Yuan Shu. Lü Bu, fearing isolation, obstructed further attempt by Yuan Shu to eliminate Liu Bei. Liu moved his camp to Xiaopei where he rebuilt his army, gathering over ten thousand men. Lü Bu became concerned and attacked Xiaopei. Liu Bei fled to Xuchang, where Cao Cao received him well, gave him some troops, provisions, and official appointment of Governor of Yu Province (豫州牧), stationing 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 personally led an army to eliminate Lü Bu and scored a tactical victory at the battle of Xiapi.

Role in the Cao-Yuan conflict

By 199, Cao Cao had Emperor Xian in his control and was issuing orders under the pretense of imperial decrees. 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'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 asked to lead an army to intercept Yuan Shu. Before his advisers were able to change his mind, Cao Cao consented, 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 Bei stayed behind with the army. Liu seized the opportunity to kill Che Zhou, the Governor of Xu Province who was appointed by Cao Cao after Lü Bu's defeat. Liu took over Xu Province and left Guan Yu behind to guard Xiapi while he stationed himself in Xiaopei.

Yuan Shao, having defeated Gongsun Zan, started moving against Cao Cao and set up camps on the north bank of the Yellow River. Liu Bei sent Sun Qian to Yuan Shao to request to form an alliance against Cao.

In 200, Dong Cheng's plot was discovered. All conspirators and their families were summarily executed.

Having to confront Yuan Shao at Guandu, Cao Cao sent his subordinates Liu Dai and Wang Zhong against Liu Bei. Liu Bei defeated them. Predicting that Yuan Shao would be hesitant to attack Xuchang, Cao Cao turned south, overran Liu Bei's position. Guan Yu surrendered to Cao Cao as he was unsure whether Liu Bei was dead or alive.

Liu Bei fled north to join Yuan Shao, where he was received with respect by Yuan Shao and his son Yuan Tan. Liu participated in the 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.

Liu Pi in Runan rebelled against Cao Cao and Yuan Shao sent Liu Bei to lead 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 (荆州, present day Hubei and Hunan). Yuan Shao sent him to Runan again to aid the bandit Gong Du. Liu Bei defeated and killed 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 having defeated 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 honored guest. He also gave Liu Bei some troops and asked him to station in Xinye.

Liu Bei stayed in Jing Province for several years. During a meeting with Liu Biao, Liu Bei started weeping and the surprised Liu Biao inquired the reason. 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."[citation needed]

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 would not do so for fear of Liu Bei being more powerful than him. 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 the capable rule of Liu Biao, 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 showed Liu the Longzhong plan, a long-term strategy that outlined how Liu could compete with Cao Cao.

Liu Biao died in 208 and his younger son Liu Cong succeeded him and surrendered to Cao Cao without resisting and without informing Liu Bei. By the time Liu Bei heard news of Liu Cong's surrender, Cao Cao's army had already reached Wancheng (modern Nanyang City). 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 one hundred thousand and they moved only 10 li a day. Liu sent Guan Yu ahead to wait for him in Jiangling, where the arsenal was, 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 caught up with Liu Bei and captured all his people, army, 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 (江夏) and the Yangtze to Xiakou (夏口) with Liu Qi, Liu Biao's eldest son, and his men.

The 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 Quan against Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang went to meet Sun Quan as Liu Bei's envoy together with Lu Su at Chaisang (柴桑) to discuss the formation 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 (historians believe the realistic number was around 220,000), while the alliance at best had 50,000 troops.

Cao Cao's troops who were mostly northerners, 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's army. The fire attack masterminded by Zhou Yu and Huang Gai succeeded against Cao's chain-linked vessels and most of Cao's navy was destroyed in the battle. Majority of Cao's troops were burnt to death or drowned in the river while the survivors who 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

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 - Changsha, Lingling (零陵, present day Yongzhou, Hunan), Guiyang and Wuling (武陵). Liu set up his base at Gong'an and continued to strengthen his army. When Liu Qi died, Liu Bei succeeded him as Governor of Jing Province. Sun Quan's younger sister Lady Sun was married to Liu Bei to cement their alliance.

Subsequently, several of Liu Biao's former associates went to serve Liu Bei. Following 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 he moved the headquarters further east from Jiangling to Lukou (陸口), yielding western Jing Province and access to the north 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. However, Liu Bei did not recognise that "debt". In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Sun Quan sent envoys several times to ask Liu Bei to return Jing Province but Liu always dismissed those requests with excuses suggested by Zhuge Liang.

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

Conquering Yi Province

In 211, Liu Zhang, governor of Yi Province (益州, 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. 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 (葭萌, southwest of present day Guangyuan, Sichuan) at the border between Liu Zhang and Zhang Lu's territories.

In 212, 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 lied 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 for another 10,000 soldiers and additional provisions to aid in the defense of Jing Province. Liu Zhang gave him only 4000 troops and half of the others he asked for.

Zhang Su (張肅), Zhang Song's elder brother, discovered his brother's secret communications with Liu Bei and reported the issue to Liu Zhang. Liu Zhang was furious when he heard that Zhang Song had been plotting to help Liu Bei conquer him and he had Zhang executed. Liu Zhang also issued orders for all the generals guarding the passes to Chengdu not to let any word of this matter reach Liu Bei. In retaliation, Liu Bei summoned Yang Huai and Gao Pei, Liu Zhang's generals guarding Boshui Pass, and killed them on charges of disrespect towards him. Liu Bei captured the pass and advanced to attack Fucheng (涪城).

In the spring of 213, Liu Zhang sent Liu Gui, Leng Bao, Zhang Ren, Deng Xian, Wu Yi and other generals to attack Liu Bei. They were defeated and retreated to Mianzhu (綿竹). Wu Yi surrendered so Liu Zhang sent Li Yan and Fei Guan to take over command of Mianzhu. They surrendered as well and the remnant force under command of Liu Zhang's son Liu Xun retreated to defend Luo (雒, northwest of Chengdu). Liu Bei's advisor Pang Tong was killed by a stray arrow in the battle. In 214, Luo fell and Liu Bei proceeded to besiege Chengdu, where he was joined by Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun who had come from Jing Province to support him.

Liu Zhang continued to hold on. Ma Chao, a warlord from Liang Province (涼州, modern Gansu) who had submitted to Liu Bei, appeared and set his camp north of Chengdu. The people in the city were surprised and shaken. Liu Bei sent Jian Yong to ask for Liu Zhang's surrender, which Liu agreed. Liu Bei allowed Liu Zhang to keep his treasure, conferred on him the seal and tassel of General Who Inspires Awe (奮威將軍) and moved him to Gong'an.

Liu Bei now assumed the role of Governor of Yi Province (益州牧) and set up his new government. Zhuge Liang was promoted to Grand Advisor (軍師) in charge of the Office of the General of the Left, placing Zhuge in control of managing all affairs. Dong He was appointed Household General of the Army (掌軍中郎將) 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.

First Wu-Shu conflict

In 215, Sun Quan sent Zhuge Jin as an emissary to demand for the return of Jing Province, but Liu Bei refused after taking Liang Province. Sun Quan sent Lü Meng and 20,000 men to attack southern Jing Province and capture Changsha and Guiyang. Lu Su 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 went to Gong'an and sent Guan Yu to retake southern Jing Province.

Liu Bei requested for a border treaty with Sun Quan as he became worried when he heard that Cao Cao was planning to attack Hanzhong. Liu asked Sun to create a diversion for Cao Cao by attacking Hefei. In return, Liu gave the three commanderies Jiangxia, Changsha and Guiyang to Sun, setting the new border along the Xiang River.

Hanzhong Campaign

In 215, Cao Cao defeated Zhang Lu and seized Hanzhong. Sima Yi 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 hesitated and left after leaving behind Xiahou Yuan, Zhang He and Xu Huang to defend Hanzhong.

Cao Cao entrusted Zhang He to take charge of operations in the region of Ba (巴). Zhang He led his army to Dangqu (宕渠) while Liu Bei appointed Zhang Fei as Administrator of Baxi (巴西) and ordered him to attack Zhang He. Zhang Fei and Zhang He faced each other for two months, which concluded with a victory for the former following a surprise attack on the latter's camp. Zhang He retreated to Nanzheng (南鄭) and the Ba region henceforth became part of Liu Bei's territory.

In 217, Fa Zheng advised Liu Bei to attack Hanzhong, claiming that Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He were inferior to their generals. Liu Bei sent Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, Wu Lan and a few others to Xiabian (下辨), Wudu (武都) (to block reinforcement from Chang'an, while he led the main army to camp at Yangping Pass. Cao Cao sent Cao Hong to attack them.

In the spring of 218, Cao Hong, assisted by Cao Xiu, defeated and killed Wu Lan. Zhang Fei and Ma Chao retreated.

Liu Bei, who was facing Xiahou Yuan, Zhang He and Xu Huang at Yangping Pass, sent Chen Shi and others to barricade Mamingge (馬鳴閣), but Chen Shi was attacked and defeated by Xu Huang. Liu Bei pressed on Zhang He at Guangshi (廣石) but failed to achieve any success. He ordered for a mobilisation of all of the armies in Yi Province to support the attack. Following that, Cao Cao decided to come to Hanzhong and take command of his armies personally. He stopped at Chang'an to gather reinforcements.

In the spring of 219, Liu Bei and Xiahou Yuan had faced each other for over a year. Liu moved to the south of the Mian River (沔水) and laid camp at Mount Dingjun while Xiahou Yuan encamped in the valley below. Liu sent 10,000 troops to attack Zhang He in Guangshi at night and set fire to Xiahou Yuan's defense perimeter. Xiahou had to split his men to put out the fire and reinforce Zhang He. Fa Zheng saw an opportunity for attack and signaled to Liu to launch an assault. Liu sent Huang Zhong to eliminate Xiahou's weakened force from above and completely routed the enemy. 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 elected to replace Xiahou Yuan by Du Xi, and Guo Huai, retreated to Hanzhong and continued to defend the northern bank of the Han River. Cao Cao arrived from Chang'an via Yegu Pass with reinforcements. Liu Bei then led his army to seize all strategic points along the riverbank. Cao Cao and Liu Bei faced each other across the Han River for several months. Cao Cao retreated to Chang'an eventually as his army's morale gradually fell and Hanzhong became part of Liu Bei's territory. Liu then sent Meng Da and Liu Feng to capture Fangling (房陵) and Shangyong (上庸) and ordered them to station there.

Founding of Shu Han

In response to Cao Cao's promotion to the title of King of Wei (魏王), in 219, Liu Bei 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 (太傅) while Fa Zheng was made Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令). Guan Yu was appointed as General of the Vanguard (前將軍), Zhang Fei as General of the Right (右將軍), Ma Chao as General of the Left (左將軍) and Huang Zhong as General of the Rear (後將軍). In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, those four generals, along with Zhao Yun, were collectively known as the Five Tiger Generals. The rest of Liu's subjects were promoted as well.

In the same year, Sun Quan's forces led by Lü Meng captured Guan Yu, who was promptly executed, and conquered Jing Province. A year later, Cao Cao died and his successor Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate. Cao Pi then declared himself Emperor of Cao Wei. In response to the usurping of the Han throne by Cao Pi, Liu Bei also declared himself Emperor of Shu Han so as to carry on the lineage of the Han Dynasty. In 221, Liu Bei appointed his son Liu Shan as the Crown Prince.

Defeat and death

In the autumn of 222, Liu Bei personally led an army to attack Sun Quan to avenge Guan Yu and retake Jing province. After initial victories, Lu Xun, commander-in-chief of the Eastern Wu forces, ordered a retreat to Yiling (present day Yichang, Hubei). Lu held his position there and refused to engage the invaders.

By summer, the Shu Han troops were weary and low in morale. Liu Bei was forced to camp in a forest for shade. Lu Xun ordered a counterattack and set fire to the Shu Han camps. A large part of Liu Bei's army perished in the battle and the remaining troops were forced to retreat west to Ma'an Hills (马鞍山, northwest of Yiling, not to be confused with Ma'anshan, Anhui). Lu Xun's men besieged the hills and attacked before Liu could reorganise his troops and make a last stand. With most of his troops routed, Liu Bei escaped overnight to Baidicheng.

Liu Bei died in Baidicheng in the spring of 223. His body was brought back to Chengdu and entombed at Huiling (惠陵, southern suburb of present day Chengdu) four months later. He was given the posthumous name of Zhaolie (昭烈), literally meaning apparent uprightness. His son Liu Shan succeeded him as Emperor of Shu Han.

Liu Bei in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Block print portrait of Liu Bei from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (wearing anachronistic scholar's robe and hat of medieval Chinese dynasties)

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a fourteenth 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, an embodiment of natural charisma (called de in Chinese)[4] who built his kingdom 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 emphasized that Liu Bei was related, however distantly, to the ruling family of the Han Dynasty, thus favoring another argument for the legitimacy of Liu's reign. Famous and notable stories involving Liu Bei from the novel include:

Sworn brotherhood in the garden of peach blossoms

One of the most well-known stories from the novel, found in the first chapter, speaks of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei who, having met by chance in the county of Zhuo in 184, found that all three shared the same desire to serve the country in the tumultuous times. They swore to be brothers the next day in Zhang Fei's backyard, which was a garden full of peach blossoms. Liu Bei was ranked the eldest, Guan Yu the second, and Zhang Fei the youngest. Having done this, they recruited more than 300 local men, acquired horses, forged weapons and joined the resistance against the Yellow Turban rebels.

There is no record of the three ever swearing brotherhood. The concept was passed down in popular folklore. The Records of Three Kingdoms says the three often shared a bed, and treated one another as brothers. According to a later biography of Guan Yu, he was a year older than Liu Bei.

General worship of Liu Bei

Liu Bei is also worshipped as the patron of shoemakers in Chengdu, which is also known as the "City of Shoes" as more than eighty million pairs of shoes totaling five billion yuan in sales are manufactured there annually. It is said that in 1845, during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor, the shoemakers guild in Chengdu, who called themselves disciples of Liu Bei, sponsored the construction of the Sanyi Temple (三義廟) in Liu Bei's honor. After being relocated many times, the temple can be found in Wuhou District today. Since Mainland China loosened its control on religious practices in recent years, the worship of Liú Bèi 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.[5]

A commentary carried by the Yangtse Evening News (揚子晚報) criticized such practice as mere commercial gimmickry to exploit the fame of Liu Bei.[6] 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 (于則) 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 is still under construction in Wuhou District as of August 2005.

Modern references

Card games

  • In the collectible card game Magic the Gathering there is a card named Liu Bei, Lord of Shu, in the Portal: Three Kingdoms set.
  • In the selection of personality cards in the popular Chinese Game 三国杀 (San1 Guo2 Sha1), there is also a Liu Bei personality that players can select at the beginning of the game.

Video games

Liu Bei as he appears in Koei's Dynasty Warriors 6.
  • Liu Bei appears as a humble and virtuous playable character in Koei's popular Dynasty Warriors video game series, in which his weapon of choice are two swords called "Strength and Virtue". Before DW6, he wielded one sword, and had facial hair.
  • In DW5, he loses both of his brothers and his love, Shang Xiang, but he unites the land. In DW4 Xtreme Legends, he protects common people from being killed. In DW5 XL, he teams up with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei to protect Lou Sang Village. In DW6, he unites the land, but he loses Guan Yu in the war.
  • He also appears in another Koei title, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The standard storyline of the game follows the plot of the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms more closely than Dynasty Warriors, wherein Liu Bei rises from a rogue leader to a sovereign. Player's actions, however, determine the development of events, which could deviate vastly from the original plot.
  • Liu Bei's armour (based on the designs appearing in the Dynasty Warriors series) is available in the MMORPG MapleStory. Also featured are Cao Cao, Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang, Sun Quan, and Diao Chan's designs.
  • Liu Bei also appears in Warriors Orochi, where he is kidnapped by Orochi and eventually rescued by the coalition army led by Zhao Yun.
  • In Warriors Orochi 2 he works with Zuo Ci and Shang Xiang in chasing Da Ji from Shi Ting. He sends Tokugawa to try and recruit Date Masamune and Saika Village. He teams up with Honda Tadakatsu and Zhang Fei at Nagashino to battle Lu Bu. He sends Xing Cai and Inahime to find out more about Taira Kiyomori. He greets Akechi Mitsuhide and Hosokawa Gracia, who join Shu. He sends Guan Yu to battle Taira Kiyomori. He proves to Taigong Wang the true human spirit and the virtuous spirit. In Dream Mode, he works with Cao Cao and Sun Quan on proving their worth to Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi at Osaka Castle.
  • Liu Bei is featured as one of the main protagonists in the real-time wargame Kessen II, also produced by Koei. He rescues his true love, Diao Chan, and becomes a very powerful lord, uniting the land. He almost lost everyone due to his obsession with Diao Chan, but most of the forces return to help him.


See also


  1. ^ Yu Province is the province Tao Qian formally offered Liu Bei in 194. This became Liu Bei's formal title before he declared himself King of Hanzhong, even though Liu Bei himself was never able to exercise actual gubernatorial authority over it. See Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 61.
  2. ^ Luo, Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms Chapter 1
  3. ^ Pingyuan laid on the border between Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan's territories.
  4. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 942
  5. ^ "武侯祠祭“鞋神”劉備". 四川在線. 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. Retrieved 26 August 2005.  (Both sources in Simplified Chinese)
  6. ^ "劉備啥時候成了“鞋神”". 揚子晚報. Retrieved August 26 2005. 


External links

Emperor Zhaolie of Shu Han
Born: 161 Died: 223
Regnal titles
New title King of Hanzhong
219 – 221
Succeeded by
as Emperor of Shu Han
Preceded by
as King of Hanzhong
Emperor of Shu Han
221 – 223
Succeeded by
Liu Shan
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Emperor Xian of Han
Emperor of China
Royal descent claimant
221 – 223
Reason for succession failure:
Three Kingdoms
Succeeded by
Liu Shan

Simple English

Liu Bei (161-223) was the founder of the Chinese Shu Han dynasty and its first emperor.

He went into battle against the Yellow Scarves rebellion in 184, along with his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Later (in 190) he joined Gongsun Zan against the evil Dong Zhuo who had seized the Han emperor Xian. After Dong lost, the emperor was in the clutches of his followers -- until Cao Cao saved him and seized control over him. Cao Cao tried to conquer all of China for the emperor but in fact wanted to conquer it for himself. He defeated Liu Bei once at the Battle of Changban in 207 but was not able to win the Battle of Red Cliffs against the united forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, a warlord in the South.

Sun Quan granted Liu Bei some land in the West of his domain, and the two agreed to fight Cao Cao again if necessary.

From 211 to 214, Liu Bei conquered the country Ba Shu in the West. Because he had now an empire of his own, Sun Quan demanded his western regions back but Liu Bei declined. This made Sun Quan quite angry.

After several useless battles against Liu Bei's general Guan Yu, Cao Cao chose to ally with Sun Quan. They attacked Guan Yu with their allied forces and overthrew him in 219. Liu Bei was mad and swore revenge for the death of his brother and the loss of an important part of his empire.

When Cao Cao died in 220, his son Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian of Han to abdicate. Cao Pi declared himself Emperor of the Wei Dynasty. Liu Bei found that offensive, for he was a member of the royal family of Han and considered himself the righteous Emperor of China. That's why he declared himself emperor of the Shu Han in 221. The next year, Sun Quan claimed the title Emperor of Wu for himself.

Liu Bei was really mad at Sun Quan's arrogance. In 222 he opposed him in the Battle of Yiling but failed due to Lu Xun's (a Wu general) great tactics. After his defeat Liu Bei got ill and died a year later. His son Liu Shan followed him as emperor.


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