Liu Bei (Mandarin pronunciation: [ljou pei]; 161 – 10 June 223), 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 among disheartened Han loyalists who opposed Cao Cao, the warlord who controlled the Han central government and the figurehead Emperor Xian, and led a popular movement to restore the Han dynasty through 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, and parts of Hubei and Gansu.
Culturally, due to the popularity of the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 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 also dramatized compared to his rival states' founders, Cao Pi and Sun Quan, who both ruled as pure Legalists. His political philosophy can best be described by the Chinese idiom "Confucian in appearance but Legalist in substance" (儒表法里; 儒表法裡; rú biǎo fǎ lǐ; ju2 piao3 fa3 li3), a style of governing which had become the norm after the founding of the Han dynasty.[a]
Portrait of Liu Bei in the Thirteen Emperors Scroll (dating from the Tang dynasty)
|Emperor of Shu Han|
|Reign||15 May 221 – 10 June 223|
|King of Hanzhong (漢中王)|
|Reign||219 – 15 May 221|
Zhuozhou, Baoding, Hebei
|Died||10 June 223 (aged 62)
Baidicheng, Fengjie County, Chongqing
|Burial||Hui Mausoleum, Chengdu, Sichuan|
|House||House of Liu|
"Liu Bei" in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Literal meaning||(courtesy name)|
The 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms gives a similar description about Liu Bei's physical appearance, but with additional features. It mentions that Liu Bei is seven chi and five cun tall, with ears so large that they touch his shoulders and that he can even see them, long arms that extend beyond his knees, a fair and handsome face, and lips so red that it seems as though he is wearing lipstick.
According to the 3rd-century historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, Liu Bei was born in Zhuo County, Zhuo Commandery, which is in 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 5th-century commentary, based on the Dianlue (典略), said that Liu Bei was a descendant of the Marquis of Linyi (臨邑侯). As the title "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), who were also descendants of Emperor Jing, it was possible that Liu Bei descended from this line rather than Liu Zhen's line. Liu Bei's grandfather Liu Xiong (劉雄) and father Liu Hong (劉弘) both served as clerks in the local commandery office.
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 imperial chariot, that he desired to become an emperor. In 175, his mother sent him to study with Lu Zhi, a distinguished man from Zhuo Commandery. One of his fellow-students was Gongsun Zan, whom Liu Bei admired and treated as an elder brother, and another was his kinsman Liu Deran (劉德然). 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.
In 184, at the outbreak of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Liu Bei became much more politically aware and called for the assembly of a militia to help government forces suppress the rebellion. Liu Bei received financial contributions from two wealthy horse merchants, Zhang Shiping (張世平) and Su Shuang (蘇雙), and rallied a group of loyal followers, including Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Jian Yong.
Liu Bei led his militia to join the local government forces led by Colonel Zou Jing and participated in battles against the rebels. In recognition of his contributions, the Han central government appointed Liu Bei as the Prefect (令) of Anxi County (安喜縣; northwest of present-day Anguo, Hebei), one of the counties in Zhongshan Commandery (中山郡). He resigned after refusing to submit to a corrupt inspector who attempted to solicit a bribe from him. He then travelled south with his followers to join another militia in fighting the Yellow Turbans remnants in Xu Province (present-day northern Jiangsu). As a reward for his contributions, the Han central government appointed him as the Prefect (令) and Commandant (都尉) of Gaotang County (高唐縣; east of present-day Gaotang County, Shandong).
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 the warlord Gongsun Zan, who was at war with another warlord Yuan Shao for control of Ji Province (covering parts of present-day Hebei) and Qing Province (covering parts of present-day Shandong and Hebei). Gongsun Zan nominated Liu Bei to be the Chancellor (相) of Pingyuan State (平原國; around present-day Pingyuan County, Shandong) and sent him to join his subordinate Tian Kai in fighting Yuan Shao's eldest son Yuan Tan in Qing Province.[b] In 194, Yuan Shao's ally, Cao Cao, attacked Tao Qian, the Governor of 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, 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 Cao's base in Yan Province (covering parts of present-day Shandong and Henan), forcing Cao Cao to retreat from Xu Province. Tao Qian asked Liu Bei to station his army in nearby Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu) and gave him 4,000 more troops, in addition to the 1,000 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 under the tutelage of Tao Qian, who governed like a Confucian populist, which influenced Liu Bei'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 family led by Mi Zhu and Mi Fang, and the Chen family led by Chen Gui and Chen Deng. Liu Bei also married Mi Zhu's younger sister, Lady Mi, to draw support from the Mi family.
Upon Tao Qian's death in 194, the Mi family backed Liu Bei, instead of one of Tao Qian's sons, to be the new Governor of Xu Province. Liu Bei was hesitant and apprehensive about taking the post when Chen Qun told him that Yuan Shu would fight for control over Xu Province with him. Liu Bei then consulted Kong Rong and Chen Deng, who advised him to form an alliance with Yuan Shao. Liu Bei finally took over Xu Province after Yuan Shao recognised the legitimacy of his governorship.
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 an army to invade Xu Province. In response, Liu Bei led his troops to counter Ji Ling's advances near present-day Xuyi County, where they had a standoff for about a month without any decisive result. In the meantime, Zhang Fei, whom Liu Bei left in charge of Xiapi Commandery (下邳郡; around present-day Pizhou, Jiangsu), the capital of Xu Province, murdered Cao Bao, the Chancellor of Xiapi, after an intense quarrel. Cao Bao's death stirred up unrest in Xiapi Commandery which provided the warlord Lü Bu an opportunity to link up with defectors from Liu Bei's side to seize control of Xiapi Commandery and capture Liu Bei's family.
Upon receiving news of Lü Bu's intrusion, Liu Bei immediately headed back to Xiapi Commandery but most of his troops deserted along the way. With his remaining men, Liu Bei retreated to Guangling Commandery (廣陵郡; around present-day Huai'an, Jiangsu), where Yuan Shu's forces defeated him. Liu Bei then retreated to Haixi County (海西縣; southeast of present-day Guannan County, Jiangsu). Surrounded by hostile forces and facing a lack of food supplies, Liu Bei and his men resorted to cannibalism before eventually surrendering to Lü Bu, who accepted Liu Bei's surrender and returned his family to him as an act of good faith. Lü Bu then ordered Liu Bei to help him resist Yuan Shu. Lü Bu, fearing that if Yuan Shu would turn on him after eliminating Liu Bei, obstructed Yuan Shu's attempts to destroy Liu Bei. Liu Bei then moved to Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu), where he managed to rally about 10,000 troops. Upon seeing Liu Bei's growing power, Lü Bu became worried that Liu Bei would turn against him, so he launched a preemptive attack on Xiaopei. Liu Bei fled to the imperial capital, Xuchang (許昌; in present-day Henan)[c] , where he took shelter under Cao Cao, the warlord who had been controlling the Han central government since he brought the figurehead Emperor Xian to Xuchang in 196. Cao Cao welcomed Liu Bei, used Emperor Xian's name to appoint him as the Governor of Yu Province, and put him in command of some troops. Liu Bei then returned to Xiaopei to keep an eye on Lü Bu.
In 198, Lü Bu renewed his alliance with Yuan Shu to counter Cao Cao's growing influence and sent Gao Shun and Zhang Liao to attack Liu Bei at Xiaopei. Cao Cao sent Xiahou Dun to support Liu Bei but they were defeated by Gao Shun. Liu Bei fled to Xuchang again to take shelter under Cao Cao, who brought Liu Bei along as he personally led an army to attack Lü Bu in Xu Province. Later that year, the combined forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei defeated Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi; Lü Bu was captured and executed after his defeat.
By 199, Cao Cao enjoyed a strong political advantage over his rivals because he had Emperor Xian and the Han central government firmly under his control. During this time, Liu Bei participated in a conspiracy with Dong Cheng and others to assassinate Cao Cao, after Dong Cheng alleged that he had received a secret edict from Emperor Xian to kill Cao Cao. However, at the same time, Liu Bei was anxious to leave Xuchang and be free of Cao Cao's control. Thus, upon hearing news that Yuan Shu was on his way to join Yuan Shao after his defeat, Liu Bei requested permission from Cao Cao to lead an army to stop Yuan Shu. Cao Cao agreed and sent Liu Bei and Zhu Ling to lead an army to block Yuan Shu, who retreated back to his base in Shouchun (present-day Shou County, Anhui) and died there later that year. While Zhu Ling returned to Xu, Liu Bei remained in command of the army and led them to attack and seize control of Xu Province after murdering Che Zhou (車冑), the provincial governor appointed by Cao Cao. Liu Bei then moved to Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu) while leaving Guan Yu in charge of Xu Province's capital, Xiapi Commandery (下邳郡; around present-day Pizhou, Jiangsu).
In the meantime, Yuan Shao had defeated Gongsun Zan and was preparing to attack Cao Cao in the Henan region. Liu Bei then sent his adviser Sun Qian to meet Yuan Shao and request that he launch an immediate attack on Cao Cao, but Yuan Shao refused. In 200, Cao Cao discovered Dong Cheng's conspiracy and had all the participants rounded up and executed along with their families. Liu Bei survived the purge because he was not in Xuchang.
Having achieved stability in Xuchang, Cao Cao turned his attention towards preparing for a battle with Yuan Shao. He fortified many key crossing points along the south banks of the Yellow River and set up a main camp at Guandu. At the same time, he sent his subordinates Liu Dai (劉岱) [d] and Wang Zhong to attack Liu Bei in Xu Province but they were defeated. Cao Cao then made a highly risky move: He predicted that Yuan Shao would not make any advances so he secretly left his defensive position along the Yellow River and personally led an army to Xu Province to attack Liu Bei. Under the weight of Cao Cao's attacks, Liu Bei's forces quickly disintegrated and Xu Province fell to Cao Cao. Zhang Fei protected Liu Bei as he fled from Xiaopei after his defeat; Guan Yu, isolated in Xiapi Commandery, was captured by Cao Cao's forces and decided to surrender and temporarily serve under Cao Cao. Liu Bei headed north to join Yuan Shao, who welcomed him. He participated in the Battle of Yan Ford alongside Yuan Shao's general Wen Chou against Cao Cao's forces, but they suffered a defeat and Wen Chou was killed in battle.
As Liu Pi, a former Yellow Turban rebel, started a revolt in Runan Commandery (汝南郡; around present-day Xi County, Henan), Liu Bei convinced Yuan Shao to "lend" him troops to assist Liu Pi. Liu Bei and Liu Pi then led their forces from Runan Commandery to attack Xuchang while Cao Cao was away at Guandu, but they were defeated and driven back by Cao Ren. Liu Bei then returned to Yuan Shao and urged him to ally with Liu Biao, the Governor of Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan). Yuan Shao then sent him with some troops to Runan Commandery to assist another rebel leader, Gong Du (共都/龔都). Liu Bei and Gong Du defeated and killed Cai Yang (蔡陽), one of Cao Cao's officers who led troops to attack them.
In 201, Cao Cao led his army to attack Liu Bei in Runan Commandery after his victory over Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu. After his defeat, Liu Bei fled to Jing Province to take shelter under Liu Biao. Although Liu Biao treated Liu Bei like an honoured guest, he never trusted Liu Bei as he only allowed Liu Bei to station at Xinye County in northern Jing Province to guard against Cao Cao's advances.
Liu Bei stayed in Jing Province for about seven years. When he started weeping during a meeting with Liu Biao, the latter asked why, to which 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 Xu 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 Wan (宛; in 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 followers) on an exodus to the south. By the time they reached Dangyang (當陽; south of present-day Duodao District, Jingmen, Hubei), 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 County (江陵縣; in present-day Jingzhou, Hubei), where abundant supplies and arsenal were stored, with Jing Province's fleet.
Afraid that Liu Bei might reach Jiangling County 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 Commandery and the Yangtze River to Xiakou, where they took shelter under Liu Qi, Liu Biao's elder son. Liu Qi objected to his brother's surrender to Cao Cao and was able to maintain Jiangxia Commandery and Xiakou allowing more of his father's former subordinates to escape from Cao Cao.
When Liu Bei was still at Dangyang, Lu Su hinted to him that he should ally with the warlord Sun Quan against Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang, as Liu Bei's representative, followed Lu Su to meet Sun Quan at Chaisang County (柴桑縣; southwest of present-day Jiujiang, Jiangxi), where they discussed the formation of a Sun–Liu alliance against Cao Cao.
Liu Bei and Sun Quan formed their first alliance against the southward expansion of Cao Cao. Both sides clashed at the Battle of Red Cliffs, which concluded with a decisive victory for the Sun–Liu side. Cao Cao retreated north after his defeat and left behind Cao Ren and Xu Huang to guard Jiangling County and Yue Jin to defend Xiangyang.
Sun Quan's forces, led by Zhou Yu, attacked Cao Ren after their resounding victory to wrestle for control of Jiangling County. Liu Bei recommended Liu Qi to be the new Inspector of Jing Province and led his men to capture the four commanderies in southern Jing Province – Changsha (長沙), Lingling (零陵), Guiyang (桂陽) and Wuling (武陵). Liu Bei set up his base at Gong'an County and continued to strengthen his forces. When Liu Qi died in 209 shortly after Liu Bei secured his position in southern Jing Province, Liu Bei succeeded Liu Qi as the new Inspector of Jing Province. To further strengthen the Sun–Liu alliance, Liu Bei travelled to Sun Quan's territory to marry Sun Quan's younger sister, Lady Sun. After the political marriage, Sun Quan not only recognised the legitimacy of Liu Bei's control over southern Jing Province, but also agreed to "lend" Nan Commandery (南郡; around present-day Jingzhou, Hubei) 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 frontline commander 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 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 Bei found another base.
|Summary of major events|
|161||Born in Zhuo County, Zhuo Commandery.|
|184||Volunteered in the fight against the Yellow Turban rebels.|
|194||Assumed governorship of Xu Province.|
|198||Defeated by Lü Bu.
Allied with Cao Cao.
|200||Defeated by Cao Cao.
Escaped to join 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.|
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.|
In 211, Liu Zhang, the Governor of Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), heard that Cao Cao planned to attack the warlord Zhang Lu in Hanzhong Commandery. As Hanzhong Commandery was a strategic location and the northern "gateway" into Yi Province, Liu Zhang sent Fa Zheng to form an alliance with Liu Bei after listening to advice from Zhang Song. Zhang Song and Fa Zheng privately disapproved of Liu Zhang's 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 Commandery before Cao Cao did.
Liu Bei led an expedition force into Yi Province after leaving behind Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun to guard Jing Province. Liu Zhang welcomed Liu Bei and provided him with more troops under his command. 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 Lu, Liu Bei halted his advance and focused on building connections and gaining influence around the area.
In 212, Fa Zheng, Zhang Song and Meng Da set into motion their plan to overthrow Liu Zhang and let Liu Bei replace him. On Liu Bei's side, Pang Tong outlined three plans for him to choose from. The first was to advance swiftly to seize Chengdu, Yi Province's capital, 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 Bei 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 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 executed Zhang Song and ordered his officers guarding the passes to Chengdu to keep secret his knowledge that Liu Bei wanted to attack him. Nevertheless, Liu Bei still found out from the spies he planted around Liu Zhang. Fa Zheng and Meng Da defected to Liu Bei's side before Yang Huai (楊懷) and Gao Pei (高沛), Liu Zhang's subordinates guarding Boshui Pass, knew about Liu Bei's true motive. Liu Bei lured Yang Huai and Gao Pei into a trap and executed them for behaving disrespectfully towards him. He then took command of Yang Huai's and Gao Pei's troops, numbering under 5,000, and turned to attack Fu County (涪縣; present-day Mianyang, Sichuan).
In the spring of 213, Liu Zhang sent Liu Gui, Ling Bao, Zhang Ren, Deng Xian, Wu Yi and other officers to defend Mianzhu Pass. All were soundly killed or captured by Liu Bei's forces. 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 County (northwest of Chengdu, Sichuan). 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, after Luo County fell to Liu Bei, Liu Zhang continued to hold up inside Chengdu. Ma Chao, a former warlord and vassal under Zhang Lu, defected to Liu Bei's side and joined him in attacking Chengdu. Although Chengdu's citizens were terrified by Ma Chao's army, they insisted on putting up a desperate fight against the enemy. However, Liu Zhang surrendered to Liu Bei after stating that he did not wish to see further bloodshed. Liu Bei then succeeded Liu Zhang as the Governor of Yi Province and relocated him to Gong'an County in Jing Province.
Liu Bei married Wu Yi's sister and went on numerous public tours to consolidate his control on the newly conquered Yi Province. He promoted Zhuge Liang to an office that granted him control over all affairs of state and appointed Dong He as Zhuge Liang's deputy. The rest of Liu Bei's followers, new and old, were entrusted with new responsibilities and promoted to new ranks.
After Liu Bei's conquest of Yi Province, Sun Quan sent Lu Su as an emissary to demand the return of the commanderies in southern Jing Province, but Liu Bei 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 County 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 County while Guan Yu led 30,000 men to Yiyang County. When war was about to break out, Liu Bei received news that Cao Cao was planning to attack Hanzhong Commandery, and he requested for a border treaty with Sun Quan as he became worried about Cao Cao seizing Hanzhong Commandery. 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.
In 215, Cao Cao defeated Zhang Lu at the Battle of Yangping and seized Hanzhong Commandery. 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 Commandery.
In anticipation of a prolonged war, Zhang He led his army to Dangqu County (宕渠郡; around present-day Qu County, Sichuan) in order to relocate the population of Ba Commandery (巴郡; present-day Chongqing) to Hanzhong Commandery. Meanwhile, Liu Bei appointed Zhang Fei as the Administrator of Baxi Commandery (巴西郡) 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 County 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 Commandery and advised Liu Bei to drive Cao Cao's force out of the area. Liu Bei sent Zhang Fei, Ma Chao and others to capture Wudu Commandery (武都郡), while he assembled an army and advanced to Yangping Pass. Zhang Fei was forced to retreat after his aides Wu Lan (吳蘭) and Lei Tong (雷銅) 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 Yuan'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 Bei 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, 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 Commandery while Cao Cao was approaching via Xie Valley. 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 County (陳倉縣; east of present-day Baoji, Shaanxi) to set up defences for a potential invasion by Liu Bei. Liu Bei led his main army to Nanzheng County and sent Meng Da and Liu Feng to capture Fangling (房陵) and Shangyong (上庸) commanderies.
In 219, after Liu Bei conquered Hanzhong Commandery, his subjects urged him to declare himself a vassal king too to challenge Cao Cao, who was enfeoffed as a vassal king ("King of Wei") by Emperor Xian in 216. Liu Bei thus declared himself "King of Hanzhong" (漢中王) and set up his headquarters in Chengdu, the capital of Yi Province. He designated his son Liu Shan as his heir-apparent. Wei Yan was put in charge of Hanzhong Commandery. Xu Jing and Fa Zheng were respectively appointed as Grand Tutor and Prefect of the Masters of Writing in Liu Bei's vassal kingdom, while Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Ma Chao and Huang Zhong were respectively appointed Generals of the Vanguard, Right, Left and Rear.
In early winter 219, Sun Quan's forces led by Lü Meng invaded Liu Bei's territories in Jing Province and captured and executed Guan Yu. After learning of Guan Yu's death and the loss of Jing Province, Liu Bei turned furious and ordered his troops to begin preparing for war with Sun Quan. In early 220, Cao Cao died and was succeeded by his son, Cao Pi. Later that year, Cao Pi usurped the throne from Emperor Xian, ended the Eastern Han dynasty and established the state of Cao Wei with himself as the emperor. When Meng Da learnt 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, so he defected to Wei. At the same time, Zhao Yun, Qin Mi and others reminded Liu Bei that he should focus his attack on Cao Pi instead of Sun Quan, but Liu Bei rejected their advice. Seeing that Liu Bei did not prepare strong defences against Wei, Meng Da suggested a plan to Cao Pi to attack Fangling, 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 too and established the state of Shu Han; he claimed that his intention was to keep the Han dynasty's lineage alive. He designated his son Liu Shan as crown prince.
In the autumn of 222, Liu Bei personally led an army to attack Sun Quan to avenge Guan Yu and retake his lost territories in Jing Province, while leaving Zhuge Liang in charge of state affairs 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 frontline commander of Sun Quan's 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. 40 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), where they set up a defence. Lu Xun caught up with and besieged Liu Bei there 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.
Liu Bei died in Baidicheng in the summer of 223. On his deathbed, he named Zhuge Liang and Li Yan as regents to support Liu Shan. 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 Zhaolie. Liu Shan succeeded him as the emperor of Shu Han, while Zhuge Liang later made peace with Sun Quan and rebuilt the old Sun–Liu alliance against Cao Pi.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 14th-century historical novel which romanticises the historical figures and events before and during the Three Kingdoms period of China. Written by Luo Guanzhong more than 1,000 years after the Three Kingdoms period, the novel incorporates 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) who builds 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 wields 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:
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 Bei's honour. After being relocated many times, the temple can be found in Wuhou District today.
Since the 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.
A commentary carried by the Yangtse Evening Post criticised such practice as mere commercial gimmickry to exploit the fame of Liu Bei. 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.
Notable actors who have portrayed Liu Bei in films and television series include: Sun Yanjun in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1994); Chang Fu-chien in Guan Gong (1996); Elliot Ngok in Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008); You Yong in Red Cliff (2008–09); Yu Hewei in Three Kingdoms (2010); Alex Fong in The Lost Bladesman (2011); Yan Yikuan in God of War, Zhao Yun (2016); Tony Yang in Dynasty Warriors (2019).
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 hero cards in the Chinese card game San Guo Sha, there is also a "Liu Bei" card that players can select at the beginning of the game.
Liu Bei is featured as a playable character in all instalments of Koei's video game series Dynasty Warriors, as well as Warriors Orochi, a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. He also appears in other Koei video game series such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series and Kessen II.
Liu Bei is the protagonist in Destiny of an Emperor, a RPG on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Released in the United States by Capcom in 1989, the game also loosely follows the plot of the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
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 Diaochan's designs.
Emperor Zhaolie of Shu HanBorn: 161 Died: 10 June 223
|New title||King of Hanzhong
|Merged in the Crown|
Emperor Xian of Han
as Emperor of Eastern Han
|Emperor of Shu Han
|Titles in pretence|
Emperor Xian of Han
|— TITULAR —
Emperor of China
Royal descent claimant
Reason for succession failure: