Biography (SGYY): Li Ru

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Li Ru
李儒
Lifespan: Unlisted

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Morgan Evans and Mike Holmes

Li Ru

Li Ru was Dong Zhuo’s son-in-law and an adviser to Zhuo himself. He accompanied Dong Zhuo on the expedition west against Han Sui.

In AD 189, Dong Zhuo was invited to the capital to deal with the eunuchs. Li Ru went with him.

When Dong Zhuo got to the capital, he was greatly impressed by Liu Xie, the prince of Chenliu, and wanted to place him on the throne. He asked Ru for his opinion.

“The court has no ruler,” Li Ru replied, “and the people are confused. Act now before the circumstances change. Tomorrow, you should call all the officials to the Garden of Benign Wisdom and announce your plans. Use your authority and they should go along with it.” Zhuo agreed.

Dong Zhuo announced his plans the next day during a banquet, to the shock of all. They did not dare speak out against Dong Zhuo, with the exception of Governor Ding Yuan (1). He called Dong Zhuo a traitor and said that he would never succeed.

1: Ding Yuan was the imperial governor of Bingzhou.

Dong Zhuo started for Ding Yuan but Li Ru noticed the giant Lü Bu standing guard behind Ding Yuan. Ru hastily said, “Today is a banquet day. We should not discuss politics.” On hearing this, Dong Zhuo stopped and Ding Yuan left.

Dong Zhuo’s forces were routed the next day by the amazing strength of Lü Bu. Dong expressed a desire to get Lü Bu for himself. Li Su, one of Zhuo’s commanders said he could get Lü Bu to kill Ding Yuan and join Dong Zhuo if Dong gave him the Red Hare Horse (2). Dong was unwilling at first and asked Li Ru for his opinion.

2: Red Hare was a horse with amazing stamina and strength. It was used primarily for hunting.

“My lord,” replied Ru, “you want to take the world for yourself using Lü Bu. Why begrudge this single horse?” After hearing this, Dong Zhuo assented and gave the horse to Li Su.

Using the horse and precious gems, Li Su managed to convince Lü Bu to defect and kill Ding Yuan. The next day, Lü Bu came to the camp and gave the head of Ding Yuan to Dong Zhuo.

When Dong Zhuo deposed Emperor Shao in 190, he set up Liu Xie as Emperor Xian. He held Shao, his mother, and his consort in a tower and later learned that he was complaining about his treatment. Zhuo ordered Li Ru to take some armed men and kill Emperor Shao.

When Li Ru entered the palace, the Emperor quivered. Li Ru offered a cup of poisoned wine to the Emperor.

“The prime minister wishes you your health by offering this cup of wine,” Ru explained.

“If it is our health,” replied Dowager Empress He (3), “then you may drink first.”

3: She was the wife of Emperor Ling and was the sister of He Jin.

“You won’t drink it?” growled Ru. Suddenly, the consort threw herself forward.

“Let me drink!” she cried, “only spare His Majesty and the Dowager!”

“That I cannot allow,” replied Li Ru.

The consort and Emperor Shao bid each other farewell through songs, until Li Ru grew impatient.

“Who do you think is coming to save you?” he asked. To this, the Dowager Empress replied, “You will be doomed for aiding the traitor Dong!”

Li Ru grew angry and thrust her out of a window. Then he barked the order for the wine to be forced down Shao’s throat and the consort strangled. After doing this, he reported to Dong Zhuo, who had the three buried outside the city wall.

Later, the commandant of the Valiant Cavaliers (4) tried to kill Dong Zhuo, but failed and escaped. Dong Zhuo and Lü Bu weren’t sure if Cao Cao had tried to kill Dong or not. They asked Li Ru who said, “Cao lives alone in the capital. If he comes, then he wasn’t trying to kill you, but if he does not, then he is a traitor and must be arrested!” Dong Zhuo agreed and ordered that posters with Cao’s face be circulated. Cao Cao, however, escaped with the help of magistrate Chen Gong.

4: This was Cao Cao; he had pledged to kill Dong Zhuo with Wang Yun.

Later that year (AD 190), Cao Cao sent out a false edict to the lords of the realm, who responded to fight Dong Zhuo. They elected Yuan Shao as their leader, and bore down on the capital.

Li Ru sent news to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo sent Hua Xiong to wipe out the lords, but Hua Xiong was killed by Guan Yu, Liu Bei’s general. In response, Li Ru advised Dong Zhuo to kill Yuan Wei and his family (5). Dong then ordered Li Ru, Lü Bu, Fan Chou and Zhang Ji to accompany him to Hulao Gate.

5: Yuan Wei was Yuan Shao’s uncle.

Once at Hulao, Dong Zhuo sent Lü Bu out to battle. Several warriors challenged Lü Bu, but were either killed or driven away. However, Lü Bu was defeated by Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, who joined to battle Lü Bu together.

Li Ru then advised Dong Zhuo to move the capital by telling him the children’s song that was going around:

There once was a Han in the west.
And now there is one in the east.
If only the deer would flee to Chang’an
The world will again be at peace (6).
6: The Han in the west meant Liu Bang, who had his capital at Chang’an. The Han in the east meant Liu Xiu, who had his capital at Luoyang. The deer meant the Emperor Xian.

Dong Zhuo was delighted and immediately evacuated the capital. On Li Ru’s advice, he executed rich officials to gain their wealth and burnt the capital to the ground. Dong Zhuo ordered Lü Bu to take the treasures from the tombs of former emperors and desecrate the corpses.

Dong Zhuo was fearful of pursuit. Li Ru advised him to leave Lü Bu as an ambush. Zhuo agreed and was delighted to hear that Cao Cao’s troops had fallen into the trap. However, Cao Cao’s brother Cao Hong saved Cao Cao and he managed to escape.

Dong Zhuo and Li Ru entered Chang’an, and began setting up the new capital.

Word reached the capital that Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan were locked in battle at the River Pan. Li Ru went to see Dong Zhuo and said, “The two active leaders of today are Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan, who are at grips at River Pan. Pretend you have an imperial command to make peace between them, and both will support you out of gratitude for your intervention (7).” Dong Zhuo agreed and sent Ma Midi and Zhao Qi on the mission. When the two men returned, they reported that the mission was a success and that both Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan had withdrawn.

7: Yuan Shao had commanded the alliance against Dong Zhuo, while Gongsun Zan had been a member of the alliance. During the battle at the River Pan, both sides had suffered loses and a stalemate had ensued where neither side would go out to give battle. Neither man would withdraw his army as that would result in a loss of face. By ordering them to withdraw, both men are allowed to save face and are grateful to the Prime Minister for his intervention.

Following the death of Sun Jian at Xiangyang, Dong Zhuo’s control over the capital grew stronger and he started to act as if he were emperor. A new city was built named Meiwo, where Zhuo placed enough supplies for twenty years; any who opposed him were executed. At this time, Dong Zhuo was given the handmaiden Diao Chan and he increasingly neglected affairs of state to be with her.

One day, Li Ru met with Lü Bu who was very angry. Lü Bu explained that Dong Zhuo had accused him of wanting Diao Chan (8) and had barred him from the palace. Li Ru went to see his master and said, “Sir, you aspire to be ruler of the empire. Why then for a small fault do you blame the General? If he turns against you, it is all over.” Dong Zhuo asked, “Then what can I do?” Li Ru replied, “Recall him tomorrow, treat him well, overwhelm him with gifts and fair words, and all will be well.” The next day, Dong Zhuo summoned Lü Bu and apologised to him, giving him three hundred ounces of gold.

8: Lü Bu did in fact love Diao Chan, but in this instance, Dong Zhuo had no proof, only suspicions.

A few days later, Li Ru heard that Dong Zhuo had left court and returned home to find Lü Bu. As Li Ru was walking past Dong Zhuo’s private residence, Lü Bu came running out of the gates shouting that the Prime Minister was trying to kill him. Li Ru hurried into the palace to try and calm the situation but collided with Dong Zhuo, knocking the Prime Minister down. Li Ru quickly scrambled to help his master to his feet and then the two men went to the library to sit down. Dong Zhuo explained that he had caught Lü Bu with Diao Chan and wanted him killed. “Your Graciousness is making a mistake. It is the ‘plucked tassel’ story over again. But if you remember the banquet of old time where all guests were to tear the tassels of their hats. In that banquet, King Zhuang of Chu made no fuss about the liberties taken with his queen, although the hat-tassel in her hand betrayed the culprit Jiang Xiong. His restraint stood him good stead, for the same Jiang Xiong saved his life when he was hemmed in by the soldiers of Qin. After all Diao Chan is only a handmaid, but Lü Bu is your trustiest friend and most dreaded commander. If you took this chance of making the girl over to him, your kindness would win his undying gratitude. I beg you, Sir, to think over it well.” said Li Ru. Dong Zhuo sat thinking for some time and then said, “What you say is right. I must think over it.” Li Ru was satisfied and went away.

The next day Li Ru went to see his master about giving Diao Chan to Lü Bu. Dong Zhuo refused to give her up but offered to pardon Lü Bu’s fault. “You are not being beguiled by the woman, are you?” asked Li Ru. Dong Zhuo became angry and said, “Would you like to give your wife to some body else? Do not talk about this any further. It would be better not to.” Li Ru left the chamber and when he got outside, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “We are dead men, slain by the hand of this girl!” Later that day, Dong Zhuo took Diao Chan to Meiwo so that they could be together in peace.

Li Ru was at home one day when he was seized by one of the house servants, made prisoner, and brought to the palace. Outside the palace, Dong Zhuo had been killed by Lü Bu and Wang Yun (9). Li Ru was brought before the two generals, who ordered his execution. Li Ru was taken away to the marketplace and beheaded.

9: Wang Yun had promised Diao Chan to both Lü Bu and Dong Zhuo in order to create tensions between them. When Diao Chan was taken to Meiwo, Wang Yun convinced Lü Bu to kill Dong Zhuo. A messenger was sent to Meiwo informing Dong Zhuo that Emperor Xian was abdicating and that the Prime Minister was to return to the capital in order to be named Xian’s successor. When he arrived at the palace, Dong Zhuo was ambushed and killed.

Copyright © 2004 Morgan Evans and Mike Holmes
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong