Said to be the finest warrior of the Three Kingdoms era. Executed by Cao Cao.
Chief Commander of the Cavalry; Master of Records; Flying General (nickname); General of the Interior, Marquis of Duting; Fen Wu Jiang Jun, Marquis of Wen
Lü Bu was born in Wuyuan and gained a reputation, during the Late-Han period, as a powerful warrior. Starting off his career as the Master of Records under Ding Yuan, Lü Bu would help participate in He Jin’s fight against the Imperial Eunuchs. Soon after, however, Lü Bu murdered Ding Yuan and went over to the forces of Dong Zhuo. Throughout his life thereafter, Lü Bu showed a penchant for betrayal. At various points in time during his career, Lü Bu turned against Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shu, Liu Bei and a plethora of other warlords on multiple occasions.
Lü Bu rose to prominence under Dong Zhuo, receiving multiple rewards for slaying Ding Yuan. After Dong Zhuo took over the Han dynasty capital, Luoyang, a coalition against Dong Zhuo was formed. Lü Bu was dispatched to fight against Dong Zhuo’s enemies to the South, but a general named Sun Jian successfully defeated Lü Bu and Hu Zhen at Yangren. Eventually, Dong Zhuo felt it necessary to flee Luoyang and set up a new Han court at Chang’an. Lü Bu was sent to loot the tombs of previous Han Emperors buried in Luoyang, but Lü Bu, as well as the rest of Dong Zhuo’s army, was once more defeated in battle with Sun Jian. Nevertheless, Lü Bu and the majority of Dong Zhuo’s forces managed to escape to Chang’an.
In Chang’an, Dong Zhuo made Lü Bu his personal bodyguard. Slowly, though, Lü Bu fell out of favor with Dong Zhuo. Once when Lü Bu made Dong Zhuo angry, Dong Zhuo threw a halberd at Lü Bu. After Lü Bu had an affair with one of Dong Zhuo’s concubines, Lü Bu’s anxiety increased substantially. Shortly after this incident, Lü Bu and Wang Yun, an official, began plotting to assassinate Dong Zhuo. By AD 192, this deed was accomplished, but Wang Yun and Lü Bu could not consolidate power over the Han court. Meeting opposition from Dong Zhuo’s loyalists, most notably Li Jue and Guo Si, Lü Bu’s troops and the troops of Dong Zhuo’s loyalists fought a short civil war in the Han capital. At one point, according to Yingxiong Ji (quoted in note 2 of Lü Bu’s Sanguozhi biography), Lü Bu and Guo Si’s soldiers withdrew so that Lü Bu and Guo Si could have a private duel. Though Lü Bu struck Guo Si with his spear, he was unable to finish Guo Si off. The battles in the capital ended in defeat for Lü Bu and his allies. Lü Bu escaped the capital with a hundred men and henceforth lived as a fugitive.
Lü Bu, seeking a new liege to serve, traveled to the lands of Yuan Shu. Yuan Shu, however, was disgusted by Lü Bu’s previous betrayals and immediately refused Lü Bu’s offer of service. Lü Bu next rode to Zhang Yang of Henei. At this time, Li Jue and Guo Si offered a reward for anybody who could take Lü Bu’s head. This made Lü Bu paranoid. Lü Bu opted to flee to the lands of Yuan Shao. Together with Yuan Shao, Lü Bu went to fight against the Black Mountain Bandits at Changshan. Against these enemies, Lü Bu greatly distinguished himself. Yuan Shao, however, was flustered by the way Lü Bu disciplined his troops and treated his enemies. When Yuan Shao plotted to kill Lü Bu, Lü Bu left his lands and tried to return to the service of Zhang Yang.
The governor of Chenliu, Zhang Miao, approached Lü Bu. Lü Bu and Zhang Miao conspired against Cao Cao, the warlord who held control over Yan province. Because Cao Cao was away warring with Tao Qian at the time, the two men realized that it would be opportune to strike at Yan quickly. Xiahou Dun, a general of Cao Cao’s, was assigned to guard Puyang in Cao Cao’s absence. Foolishly, though, Xiahou Dun left Puyang to try to assault Zhang Miao. While Xiahou Dun was away from Puyang, Lü Bu occupied the city. Next, Lü Bu’s forces overran nearly all of Yan province. Only the cities of Juancheng, Dong’a and Fan stood out against Lü Bu’s might.
In time, Cao Cao would see the error of his ways and return to Yan province, where his army would fight ferociously with Lü Bu. During one evening, Cao Cao’s soldiers destroyed a series of outposts that Lü Bu had set up nearby Puyang. Though Cao Cao succeeded in burning the eastern gate of Puyang itself, his forces were heavily defeated by Lü Bu while trying to capture the city. Cao Cao himself was almost caught and slain by Lü Bu’s men, but luckily, Cao Cao was able to rebuild his forces and defeat Lü Bu at Dingtao. Lü Bu, driven from Yan after much fighting, was now forced to seek residence with Liu Bei, the lord of Xu province. Lü Bu was not content to be Liu Bei’s subordinate though. When Yuan Shu invaded Liu Bei’s lands, Lü Bu struck at Liu Bei’s city of Xia Pi. A discontented officer named Xu Dan admitted Lü Bu into the city, and when Liu Bei’s army was crushed decisively by Yuan Shu, Liu Bei at length decided to grant Lü Bu all of Xu province. Liu Bei now nominally served as Lü Bu’s vassal.
One night, an officer of Lü Bu’s named Hao Meng started an insurrection in Xia Pi. Lü Bu was forced to flee the city in his night robes and come to the camp of Gao Shun. Fortunately for Lü Bu, Hao Meng’s rebellion was quickly suppressed.
Lü Bu’s daughter was offered by Lü Bu to Yuan Shu’s son, and an alliance was agreed upon. When Yuan Shu tried to attack Liu Bei again, Lü Bu mediated between the two forces. At one time, Lü Bu betrayed Yuan Shu by executing an envoy of his named Han Yin. Yuan Shu, infuriated, tried to conquer Xu province once more. Lü Bu incited Han Xian and Yang Feng to defect from Yuan Shu. As a result, Yuan Shu’s invasion failed miserably.
Liu Bei allied with Cao Cao against Lü Bu, but their forces were defeated by Lü Bu’s general Gao Shun. Cao Cao now personally commanded his troops against Lü Bu. Winning multiple battles, Cao Cao eventually took over everything in Xu except for Xiapi city. Diverting the Si and Yi rivers to crash against Xiapi, Cao Cao’s men forced Lü Bu into desperate straits. In order to keep his men sober, Lü Bu prohibited alcohol consumption in Xiapi. Three of Lü Bu’s commanders, Hou Cheng, Song Xian and Wei Xu, however, resented this edict. The rebel triumvirate captured Chen Gong and Gao Shun (Lü Bu’s best officers), and surrendered to Cao Cao. Finally, Lü Bu capitulated as well. Although Lü Bu beseeched Cao Cao to spare his life, Cao Cao and Liu Bei by now had enough of Lü Bu’s treachery.
In AD 198, Lü Bu was executed. Sometimes described as similar to a ‘wild wolf cub,’ Lü Bu had acted erratically in making alliances and had made too many adversaries during his lifetime. His kingdom in Xu fell as quickly as it had risen because of this.