Biography (SGZ): Liu Biao (Jingsheng)

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Liu Biao (Jingsheng)
劉表 (景升)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography (1)
translated by Battleroyale

Liu Biao, styled Jingsheng, hailed from Shan Yang, Gao Ping. He had a great reputation since young and was one of the “Eight Talents”, a name given to a group of eight prominent scholars during the later Han era. Standing slightly more than eight feet in height, Liu Biao had a big frame and a handsome look. After Liu Biao joined the government service, he was first appointed as one of the followers of the General-in-Chief (Da Jiang Jun) and given the rank of Bei Jun Zhong Hou (Captain of the Centre of the Northern Army, overall supervisors of the 5 colonels who commanded the 5 regiments of the Northern Army in the Capital).

When Emperor Ling passed away, Liu Biao was appointed as the Inspector of Jing province, taking over the post from Wang Rui. During then, armies from various prefectures in the Guan Dong region were raised and punitive expeditions were sent against Dong Zhuo. Liu Biao too, led his Jing Zhou troops and stationed them at Xiang Yang. At that time, the Grand Administrator of Nan Yang prefecture, Yuan Shu, plotted together with the Grand Administrator of Chang Sha prefecture, Sun Jian, to capture Jing province. Sun Jian was tasked to lead the offensive against Liu Biao. However, during the offensive, Sun Jian was killed by some strayed arrows and his troops scattered. As a result, Yuan Shu was unable to secure a victory over Liu Biao.

After Li Jue, Guo Si and some of the former officers of Dong Zhuo captured Chang An, they tried to ally with Liu Biao so that he could act as their reinforcement. In order to do that, they proclaimed Liu Biao as Zhen Nan Jiang Jun (General who Suppressed the South), Governor of Jing province (Jing Zhou Mu), and the Marquis of Cheng Wu. In addition, they issued Liu Biao an Imperial Court Order (Fu Jie). Not long after, Cao Cao received Emperor Xian at Xu Chang. Liu Biao sent messengers to Xu Chang to pay tributes (to the Han court) but at the same time, he secretly engaged and set up ties with Yuan Shao in the north. Deng Yi, the Zhi Zhong (one of the deputy provincial administrator whose rank is of similar level as Bie Jia) of Jing province, advised Liu Biao against that but Liu Biao did not heed his advice. As such, Deng Yi resigned from his post, left Liu Biao and did not return even until Liu Biao had passed away.

Zhang Ji, a former officer under Dong Zhuo, led his troops into the territory of Jing province and launched an attack at the city of Rang. However, Zhang Ji did not manage to capture the city and instead he was killed by some arrows. On hearing that news, the officials in Jing province were overjoyed and they congratulated one another. However, Liu Biao said, “The reason why Zhang Ji came to Jing province was because he had no other alternatives elsewhere. As the hosts of Jing province, we did not treat him with due courtesy by following the customary rites and the clash of arms resulted. This is certainly not the outcome, which I, the Governor of Jing province, would like to see in the first place. Hence, I would only accept your words of condolences for Zhang Ji and I would not accept any congratulation for the victory.” With that, Liu Biao sent his men to assemble the soldiers of Zhang Ji’s army and assimilate them into his own army. The troops of Zhang Ji were happy to join Liu Biao given that they had heard of his earlier remark.

The Grand Administrator of Chang Sha, Zhang Xian, rebelled against Liu Biao and Liu Biao personally led his troops to suppress the rebels. However, after surrounding the city (where Zhang Xian was based) for several years, Liu Biao was unable to capture it. Later, Zhang Xian passed away and his supporters decided to let his son, Zhang Yi, take over as the Grand Administrator of Chang Sha. Seeing that as an opportunity, Liu Biao launched an attack and managed to defeat Zhang Yi. Liu Biao thus captured Chang Sha. On the crest of the victory, Liu Biao drove his army south and captured Ling Ling and Gui Yang. In the north, Liu Biao seized the land around the Han river. Now, Liu Biao’s territory extended to several thousands li and he had an army of some 100,000 troops, including some cavalries.

Soon after, Cao Cao and Yuan Shao had a major confrontation at Guan Du. Yuan Shao dispatched messengers to Liu Biao asking for help in the form of reinforcements. Liu Biao agreed to aid Yuan Shao verbally but he did not send any reinforcement. In addition, Liu Biao did not assist Cao Cao either because he had intentions to sit back and defend Jing province while observing the change in circumstances. However, the Gentlemen of the General Staff (Cong Shi Zhong Lang), Han Song, and Bie Jia (deputy administrator of a province who rode on separate carriage while out on inspection tour with the provincial Governor), Liu Xian, tried to persuade Liu Biao and they said that, “Right now, heroes all over had risen to compete for territories. Cao Cao and Yuan Shao were confronting each other. As such, the main focus in the land now falls on you General. If you, General, wishes to accomplish great things, this is the right time to do so with Yuan Shao and Cao Cao weakened considerably from their conflicts. If not, you can choose the more virtuous and capable one out of the two rivals and swear your allegiance to him. With 100,000 troops under your control, how can you, General, just sit back and watch the outcome of the conflict without doing anything? Furthermore, since you are not prepared to aid the virtuous when he is weak, and neither are you prepared to keep your promise, it is likely that sometime later, either Yuan Shao or Cao Cao would vent their frustrations and hatred on you. It is not really possible for you to adopt a neutral stand. Cao Cao, being an undoubtedly capable person, attracted a lot of talents from all over to serve under him. He will definitely defeat Yuan Shao and after which, he is likely to sent his army south to the land around the Han River (meaning Jing province region). When that happens, it’s likely that you, General, will not be powerful enough to face him anymore. Hence, after taking into consideration of your current position, we suggest that you, General, concede the entire Jing province to Cao Cao and he will certainly be grateful for your sincerity. With that, you can secure much wealth and lead a peaceful life for many years to come. Later, your decedents can also take over your nobility titles. We feel that this is the most appropriate plan that you can adopt General!” Besides Han Song and Liu Xian, one of Liu Biao’s most capable general, Kuai Yue also gave him similar advices. However, Liu Biao could not make up his mind and he sent Han Song on a diplomatic mission to Cao Cao in order to observe the situation better. On returning to Jing province, Han Song heaped praises on Cao Cao and persuaded Liu Biao to send his son, Liu Zong, to Xu Chang as hostage in order to show his sincerity. On hearing that, Liu Biao thought that Han Song was in collusion with Cao Cao and he was very furious. He wanted to execute Han Song and those who followed Han Song on the diplomatic mission were subjected to severe interrogations till they died. It was only then, that Liu Biao was convinced of Han Song’s innocence and let the matter rest. On his exterior, Liu Biao appeared to be a scholarly, elegant, humble and easy-going person. However, deep within, Liu Biao was actually narrow-minded as well as suspicious and he had dealt with many previous issues in similar manner.

When Liu Bei came to seek shelter under Liu Biao, Liu Biao received him with great formalities. However, Liu Biao did not trust Liu Bei and thus, he did not entrust Liu Bei with important matters. In the 13th year of Jian An, Cao Cao led a southern expedition against Liu Biao. Before the Cao Cao’s forces arrived at Jing province, Liu Biao had already passed away.

In the early days, Liu Biao as well as his wife loved their younger son, Liu Zong, dearly and they intended to appoint him as the family’s successor. Liu Biao’s generals, Cai Mao and Zhang Yun, supported that decision and as a result, Liu Biao’s eldest son, Liu Qi, was sent away to Jiang Xia to take over as its Grand Administrator. At that time, Liu Zong, under the support of Cai Mao and some others, became the official family’s successor and as a result, both Liu Qi and Liu Zong developed a strong sense of hatred for each other. Sometimes later, Kuai Yue, Han Song, Fu Xun and some other officers advised Liu Zong to surrender to Cao Cao, to which Liu Zong replied, “As things stand now, together with all of you generals, I own the entire piece of land that was once the territory of the former State of Chu (one of the states in the Warring States era). What is wrong with defending this land, enterprise of my late father, while observing how the situations around us unfold?” Fu Xun replied, “There are some rules to govern when it is right to resist and when it is right to follow. There are also distant characteristics that determine what can be considered as strong and what can be considered as weak. As subordinates, if we resist our Lord, we will be labeled as outright rebels; with our newly established enterprise on the former land of Chu, it would be impossible to go against the entire country (referring to Cao Cao and Han). Furthermore, we are not strong enough to resist Cao Cao’s southern expeditionary forces even with Liu Bei. These three reasons are our main weaknesses and it is obvious that we will meet our doom should we try to resist the troops send by the court. Now, General, do you think you are more capable than Liu Bei?” To that, Liu Zong replied, “I’m not as capable as he is.” Fu Xun continued, “Let us assume that even Liu Bei cannot defeat Cao Cao. Hence, it will not be possible for you to assume the Governorship of Jing province even if you possess the territory of the former State of Chu. On the other hand, if Liu Bei manages to defeat Cao Cao, do you think he will be satisfied to serve under you? I hope that you, General, will come to a decision soon and not be indecisive.” As such, when Cao Cao’s army arrived at Xiang Yang, Liu Zong surrendered the whole of Jing province to Cao Cao and Liu Bei fled to Xia Kou.

Cao Cao appointed Liu Zong as the Inspector of Qing province and he was also made a Marquis (Lie Hou, a Han nobility title given to someone who had a different surname compared to that of the ruling family). Some 15 officials including Kuai Yue were also conferred the title of Marquis. In addition, Kuai Yue was appointed as Guang Lu Da Fu, Han Song was appointed as Da Hong Lu, Deng Yi was appointed as Shi Zhong and Liu Xian was appointed as Shang Shu Ling. All the other officers obtained high-ranking official appointments.

(1) Certain English translated names for the military ranks and appointments are based on Rafe De Crespigny’s article on Later Han’s military organization. In addition, Pei Song Zhi’s annotations are not included in this translation. <return>

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Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi