Liu Bei

Liu Bei (161 – 10 June 223), also known as Liu Xuande, was a warlord, military general and later the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han during the three kingdoms era of Chinese history. Despite having a later start than his rivals and lacking both the material resources and social status they commanded, Liu Bei 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 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 fictional character was a salutary example of a ruler who adhered to the Confucian set of moral values, such as loyalty and compassion. Historically, Liu Bei was a brilliant politician and leader whose skill was a remarkable demonstration of a Legalist. His political philosophy can best be described by the Chinese idiom "Confucian in appearance but Legalist in substance (Chinese: 儒表法裡; pinyin: rú biǎo fǎ lǐ," a style of governing which had become the norm after the founding of the han dynasty.

Early life and career


According to 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 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 since 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, at the time, former Administrator of Jiujiang). There he met and befriended Gongsun Zan, a prominent northern warlord to be. The adolescent Liu Bei was said to be unenthusiastic in studying and displayed interest in hunting, music and dressing. Concise in speech, 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.

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 government forces suppress the rebellion. Liu Bei received financial contributions from two wealthy horse merchants and rallied a group of loyal followers, among whom include Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.

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 traveled 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. Overran 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 oldest son, Yuan Tan, and later lost Gongsun Zan's interest in the area to Yuan Tan. 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 on 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. Meantime, 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 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 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, 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 towards taking the post when Chen Qun told him that Yuan Shu would contest the control of the province with him. 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 recognized his "succession".

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 reached there. 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). 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 recognized Liu's pledge of allegiance, and returned his family as an act of good faith, and ordered Liu to help him resist Yuan Shu. 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 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). 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

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, 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 recognized 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 a plenty of spies and cohort 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 his own strategists advised him to do Liu a favor. 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 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 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 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 generalized 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 one hundred thousand 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 with Liu Qi, Liu Biao's older son, and his men.

Alliance with Sun Quan

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 be 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

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 legitimatize his succession. After the marriage, not only was Liu Bei's succession recognized 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. 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.

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. 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.

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 . 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 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, and before Liu Zhang's men could reach Yang Huai and Gao Pei, generals guarding Boshui Pass, Liu Bei summoned and killed them on charges of disrespect towards him. He then took over Yang Huai's and Gao Pei's troops 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. 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 . 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 was terrified, but they still insisted on fighting a desperate war. However, Liu Zhang surrendered after stating that he did not wish to see further bloodshed. 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 attempted to solidify his control on the newly conquered domain. Zhuge Liang was promoted to Grand Advisor in charge of the Office of the General of the Left, an office that granted him control over all affairs of state, though his role in Liu Bei's military campaigns is greatly exaggerated in the novel Romance of the three kingdoms. 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.

First Sun-Liu conflict

After Liu Bei's conquest of Yi Province, Sun Quan sent Lu Su as an emissary to demand for 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

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 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 mobilizing 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 219, 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 signaled 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. Meantime, Liu Bei secured all strategic points at the exit of the passes linking Chang'an and Hangzhong 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. Zhang He also retreated to Chencang to set up defenses 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

After Liu Bei secured Hanzhong, he declared himself "King of Hanzhong" (漢中王) and set up his headquarters in . 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 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 late 219, Sun Quan's forces led by Lü Meng captured Guan Yu, who was promptly executed, and 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. A year later, Cao Cao died and his successor, Cao Pi, succeeded Emperor Xian to the throne, 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 penalized 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 plan. Seeing that Liu Bei did not make strong defenses against Wei, Meng Da suggested 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 without the support from Chengdu, he was betrayed by his subordinates and defeated. Upon his return to Chengdu, Liu Bei was furious on 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

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 . 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, 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 defense. 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.

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 (southern suburb of present day Chengdu) four months later. Liu Bei was given the posthumous name of Zhaolie (昭烈; literally: "clear uprightness"). His son, Liu Shan, succeeded him as Emperor of Shu, and Zhuge Liang revived the alliance with Sun Quan.

Appointments and titles held

Commandant of Anxi (安喜尉)

Senior Major (別部司馬) under Gongsun Zan

Commandant of Gaotang (高唐尉)

Prefect of Gaotang (高唐令)

Chancellor of Pingyuan (平原相)

Inspector of Yu Province (豫州刺史)

Governor of Xu Province (徐州牧)

General Who Guards the East (鎮東將軍)

Marquis of Yicheng (宜城亭侯)

General of the Left (左將軍)

Governor of Jing Province (荊州牧)

Grand Marshal (大司馬)

Director of Retainers (司隸校尉)

King of Hanzhong (漢中王)

Emperor Zhaolie of Shu Han (蜀漢昭烈皇帝) - Liu Bei's posthumous title

In fiction

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, endowed with charismatic potency (called de in Chinese) 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 emphasizes that Liu Bei was related, however distantly, to the royal family of the han dynasty, thus favoring another argument for the legitimacy of Liu Bei's reign. Famous and notable stories involving Liu Bei from the novel include:

Oath of the Peach Garden

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 Zhuo County 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 the three kingdoms says the three often shared a bed, and treated one another like brothers.

Battle of Hulao Pass

The highlight of the fictional Battle of Hulao Pass (also part of the Campaign against Dong Zhuo) is the duel involving the three sworn brothers (Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei) fighting against Dong Zhuo's foster son, the mighty warrior Lü Bu. Lü Bu had previously defeated three generals (Fang Yue, Mu Shun and Wu Anguo) of the coalition army, as well as the warlord Gongsun Zan, before being challenged by Zhang Fei. As Zhang Fei and Lü Bu were unable to overcome each other, Guan Yu and Liu Bei consecutively joined in the fray as well, turning it into a three-on-one duel. Neither side was able to achieve an edge against the other, and Lü Bu eventually retreated as he grew weary. In the novel the three sworn brothers were serving under Gongsun Zan then and participated in the Campaign against Dong Zhuo under Gongsun's banner. However according to Records of the three kingdoms Gongsun Zan was not involved in the campaign. Besides, the historical text also stated that Lü Bu was defeated in battle by Sun Jian and forced to retreat.

Three visits to the thatched cottage

Before leaving for Xuchang, Xu Shu recommended Zhuge Liang to Liu Bei to be his strategist, telling Liu that he needed to recruit Zhuge Liang personally. Accompanied by Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, Liu Bei travelled to Longzhong (in present-day Xiangyang, Hubei ) to find Zhuge Liang. They reached Zhuge Liang's thatched cottage but Zhuge's servant said that his master was not at home. Liu Bei then asked the servant to pass a message to Zhuge Liang, telling him that Liu Bei came to visit him. Several days later during winter, Liu Bei brought his brothers along with him again to visit Zhuge Liang. This time, the servant led Liu Bei to his master, whom he claimed was at home reading in the hall. Liu Bei saw that the man was actually Zhuge Liang's younger brother Zhuge Jun. Just as he was about to leave, Liu Bei saw someone approaching and thought it was Zhuge Liang, but the person was Zhuge's father-in-law Huang Chengyan. When winter was over and spring came, Liu Bei decided to visit Zhuge Liang again, much to the displeasure of his sworn brothers. This time, Zhuge Liang was at home but was asleep. Liu Bei waited patiently until Zhuge Liang woke up and they had a discussion. Zhuge Liang drafted a Longzhong Plan for Liu Bei and agreed to leave home and become Liu's strategist. In Records of the three kingdoms, not much details were provided on how Liu Bei recruited Zhuge Liang. It was briefly stated that Liu Bei visited Zhuge Liang's house thrice and recruited Zhuge to serve him. It cannot be determined whether Liu Bei did meet Zhuge Liang during every visit or that he only met Zhuge on the third visit, as in the novel. Zhuge Liang later recalled in his Chu Shi Biao that "(Liu Bei) visited me thrice in the thatched cottage, (and) consulted me on the affairs of our time."

Liu Bei and Lady Sun's marriage

Sun Quan adopted Zhou Yu's "beauty scheme" (美人計) to seize control of Jing Province (荊州; covering present-day Hubei and Hunan ) from Liu Bei. In the plan, Liu Bei was lured to Jiangdong under the pretext of marrying Sun Quan's younger sister Lady Sun to affirm the Sun-Liu alliance. Sun Quan would then hold Liu Bei hostage in exchange for Jing Province. Zhuge Liang foiled Zhou Yu's scheme and the marriage became reality. Liu Bei also left Jiangdong and returned to Jing Province safely with his bride. The marriage is mentioned in Records of the three kingdoms but without the romance and drama. The marriage was simply meant to enhance political ties between Liu Bei and Sun Quan.

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 80 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 in Liu'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 Liu Bei among shoemakers has again gained popularity in . 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.

Liu Bei is also 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 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 in Liu'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 Liu Bei among shoemakers has again gained popularity in . 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.

Personal information


Liu Xiong (劉雄)


Liu Hong (劉弘)


Liu Yuanqi (劉元起), Liu Hong's younger brother

Liu Zijing (劉子敬)


Lady Gan, mother of Liu Shan, died before 210, posthumously honored as Empress Zhaolie

Lady Mi, younger sister of Mi Zhu

Lady Sun, daughter of Sun Jian, married in 209, separated in 211

Empress Wu, younger sister of Wu Yi, instated in 221, died in 245


Liu Shan, born to Lady Gan, crown prince, later became second emperor of Shu

Liu Yong (劉永), initially the Prince of Lu (instated in 221), later Prince of Ganling (instated in 230), moved to Luoyang with Liu Shan

Liu Li (劉理), initially the Prince of Liang (instated in 221), later Prince Dao of Anping (instated in 230), died in 244

Two daughters, captured by Cao Chun in the Battle of Changban, married Cao Chun's sons

Adopted children

Liu Feng, originally surnamed "Kou" (寇), forced to commit suicide in 220


Liu Xuan, oldest son of Liu Shan, died during Zhong Hui's rebellion after the fall of Shu

Liu Yao (劉瑤), second son of Liu Shan, died during the Yongjia Rebellion

Liu Cong (劉琮), third son of Liu Shan, died during the Yongjia Rebellion

Liu Zan (劉瓚), fourth son of Liu Shan, died during the Yongjia Rebellion

Liu Chen, fifth son of Liu Shan, Prince of Beidi, committed suicide when his father surrendered

Liu Xun (劉恂), sixth son of Liu Shan, died during the Yongjia Rebellion

Liu Qu (劉璩), seventh son of Liu Shan, died during the Yongjia Rebellion

Liu Yin (劉胤), oldest son of Liu Li, Prince Ai, died at the age of 19

Liu Ji (劉輯), second son of Liu Li, moved to Luoyang with Liu Shan

Great grandchildren

Liu Cheng (劉承), son of Liu Yin, Prince Shang, died at the age of 20

Liu Xuan (劉玄), grandson of Liu Yong, survived the Yongjia Rebellion, moved to Chengdu

Last update 03-06-2012

Site Search


Random Articals

Join Our Newsletter




Send This Page to Friend

To Email this page to a friend

1. Use Your Default Email Client
2. Use Our Recommend Page

Online Contact



If you like this article please feel free to share it to your favorite site listed below:

Choose A Style:

Font Family

Font Colors
black Blue Green Purple Red Default
Font Size

Site Options Help

control panel