Biography (SGZ): Lü Bu (Fengxian)

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Lü Bu (Fengxian)
吕布 (奉先)
Lifespan: Unlisted

San Guo Zhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
Translated by , Battleroyale and Sonken
Edited by James Peirce

Lü Bu, styled Fengxian, was a man from Jiuyuan in Wuyuan Commandery. Known for his prowess, he was recommended for service in Bing Province. When the provincial Inspector, Ding Yuan, was promoted to be Chief Commander of the Cavalry and was stationed at Henei, he employed Lü Bu as his Master of Records, and entrusted much to him.

When Emperor Ling died, Ding Yuan led his troops to pay his respects at Luoyang (1). He plotted with He Jin to exterminate the eunuchs, and was made Commander of the Imperial Guard. However, He Jin failed, and Dong Zhuo entered the capital city. Dong Zhuo planned to create chaos, and his first intention was to kill Ding Yuan and annex his military command. Knowing that Lü Bu was greatly trusted by Ding Yuan, he lured Lü Bu into killing him. Lü Bu followed through and brought Ding Yuan’s head back to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo bestowed the title of Chief Commander of the Cavalry upon Lü Bu; and, being so fond of him, he and Dong Zhuo swore to be as father and son.

1: Yingxiong Ji: Ding Yuan was styled Jianyang. Born of a humble family, he was a rough man, fierce in battle and skilled in horsemanship and archery. When he was an official at Nan County, he considered no assignment too difficult, and was always at the forefront when pursuing bandits. Cai Zhishu, shao you li yong (translation assistance requested, please contact).

Lü Bu was an adept archer and rider and his arm strength was unmatched. He was nicknamed the “Flying General”. A little later, he was promoted to “General of the Interior”, and given the title of Marquis of Duting. Since Dong Zhuo knew that he treated others without much courtesy he was always in fear of being murdered, and for this reason had Lü Bu guard him wherever he went. However, Dong Zhuo was stubborn, easily enraged, and often expressed his anger without considering the consequences. Once, being vexed [by Lü Bu], he pulled out a short lance and threw it at him. Lü Bu, being strong and agile, dodged the lance and turned to apologize to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo’s anger was relieved, but Lü Bu began to secretly harbor hatred toward Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo had often commanded Lü Bu to guard the inner houses, but Lü Bu had an affair with one of Dong Zhuo’s maids. Fearing that he would be found out, he lived in great anxiety.

Right from the beginning, Lü Bu was received warmly by Si Tu (I) Wang Yun, as he knew Lü Bu to be among the strongest in the province. Soon after, during one of his visit to Wang Yun, Lü Bu confided to him that he had seen Dong Zhuo looking murderous on several occasions. At the time Wang Yun was actually plotting with Pu She (II) Shi Sun Rui to kill Dong Zhuo. As such, Wang Yun wanted Lü Bu to act as an insider to facilitate their plan. Lü Bu was vexed because he felt that he and Dong Zhuo had a father-son relationship. To this, Wang Yun pointed out that despite the oath, the father-son relationship would not hold since both of them had different surnames and Lü Bu was not Dong Zhuo’s own flesh and blood. Lü Bu was convinced and subsequently killed Dong Zhuo with his own hands [details can be found in Dong Zhuo’s biography]. For this deed Wang Yun recommended that Lü Bu be made Fen Wu Jiang Jun and given a Fu Jie (III) (the action being known as Jia Jie). In addition, Lü Bu was given the title Marquis of Wen and he was honored with a ceremony similar to those performed for San Si (IV). Together with Wang Yun, Lü Bu oversaw court affairs. However, ever since Lü Bu killed Dong Zhuo, the people of Liang Zhou feared and hated him. Subsequently, Li Jue, together with his other compatriots from Liang Zhou, launched an attack at the capital city of Chang An. (2) Unable to resist their attack, Lü Bu was defeated merely 60 days after he killed Dong Zhuo and he was forced to flee with a few hundred cavalry troops via Wu Guan. (3) As such, Chang An fell into the hands of Li Jue, and Lü Bu sent a letter to Yuan Shu with intentions of joining him.

I: Si Tu, one of the highest official ranks in the Eastern Han court, in charge of education and reforms.
II: Pu She, a military officer who is skilled in archery. This appointment originates in the Qin dynasty where great emphasis was given to military appointments.
III: Fu Jie is an Imperial Court order usually held by court officials to facilitate military or diplomatic operations in olden days. Usually, a Fu Jie was made of either bamboo, wood, bronze or jade. The order would be engraved onto its face and then the entire piece was split into half. The official who was to be given a Fu Jie (the action being Jia Jie) would be given one half. The other half could be used as a form of verification.
IV: San Si is the term referring to 3 of the highest ranking court officials during the later Han period (namely, Si Tu, Si Kong and Tai Wei).
2: Yingxiong Ji: Guo Si was encamped north of the city. Lü Bu had the city gates opened and led his troops out to confront Guo Si. Lü Bu said, “Let us order our men to withdraw, and decide victory between ourselves.” And so Guo Si and Lü Bu dueled. Lü Bu struck Guo Si with his spear, and one of the riders behind Guo Si rode up and rescued him. The two sides then withdrew.
3: I, Pei Songzhi, your servant, upon observing Yingxiong Ji, comment as thus: “According to the book, Lü Bu killed Dong Zhuo on the 23rd day of the fourth month, and was forced to retreat on the first day of the sixth month. Since there was no extra moon in that year, it was less than 60 days.”

Lü Bu thought that by killing Dong Zhuo he had done Yuan Shu a big favor (V). However, Yuan Shu was disgusted with Lü Bu’s double-crossing behavior and did not accept Lü Bu into his ranks. After being rejected by Yuan Shu, Lü Bu turned north and was accepted by Yuan Shao. While serving Yuan Shao, Lü Bu was tasked to lead an expedition against Zhang Yan at Chang Shan. Zhang Yan had several tens of thousands of soldiers and several thousand cavalry. Lü Bu possessed a good steed named Chi Tu (Red Hare). Together with his confidants Cheng Lian and Wei Yue, Lü Bu led frequent attacks on Zhang Yan’s troops and eventually defeated him. Despite this, Yuan Shao despised Lü Bu due to his ways and the plunders committed by his troops. Lü Bu was aware of Yuan Shao’s negative feelings toward him and he requested Yuan Shao’s permission to leave. However, Yuan Shao was afraid that Lü Bu might harm him one day and he dispatched some fighters to murder him during the night. The attempt failed and the plot was exposed. Subsequently, Lü Bu fled to He Nei where he joined with Zhang Yang. Yuan Shao ordered his generals to pursue Lü Bu, but they were fearful and would not approach him.

V: Yuan Shu’s relative, Yuan Wei, was murdered by Dong Zhuo.

Now there was a man called Zhang Miao, styled Mengzhuo, from Shouzhang in Dongping. Since his youth he was known for his chivalric acts, supporting the poor and helping the needy. Since he was so detatched to his property and would deplete his savings doing good deeds, many of the talented people in the area became fond of him. The Grand Progenitor [Cao Cao] and Yuan Shao were among his friends.

Zhang Miao was raised from the status of commoner directly into an official position; he first received the rank of Chief Commander of the Cavalry, and then was promoted to Grand Administrator of Chenliu. During the chaotic times caused by Dong Zhuo, Zhang Miao and Cao Cao raised an army together to fight against him. Zhang Miao also sent troops, led by Wei Zi, to assist Cao Cao during the battle of Bian River.

Once Yuan Shao became the chief lord of the allied forces he started to show arrogance toward others. Zhang Miao admonished him publicly and consequently Yuan Shao bade Cao Cao to have him killed. Cao Cao would not heed this order, and instead said to Yuan Shao, “Mengzhuo is a close friend of ours. For better or for worse you should tolerate him. The affairs under the heavens have not been settled yet, and it is inadvisable to fight amongst ourselves.” When Zhang Miao found out about this incident, he had an even higher regard for Cao Cao. Right before Cao Cao marched to fight Tao Qian, he told his family to seek refuge with Zhang Miao if he should not return. And upon his return, the two men met each other in tears; this was how close they were.

So now, when Lü Bu left Yuan Shao to join Zhang Yang, he passed by Zhang Miao’s territory. Upon his departure, he and Zhang Miao held each other’s hands and swore an oath [of friendship]. When Yuan Shao found out about this, he was seething with anger. On the other hand Zhang Miao was living in fear of Cao Cao eventually attacking him for the sake of Yuan Shao.

In the first year of the Xingping reign [AD 194], Cao Cao went to attack Tao Qian again. Zhang Miao’s younger brother, Zhang Chao, along with general Chen Gong and Cao Cao’s advisors Xu Si and Wang Jie plotted to revolt against Cao Cao. Chen Gong advised Zhang Miao saying, “The current state of turmoil and unrest gives rise to heroes. You have the ability to pacify the masses and have the making of a leader and hero, but right now you are in servitude of others, isn’t this a shame? Currently, the province’s army is moving eastwards in their campaign, leaving the rear empty and vulnerable. Lü Bu is a warrior who is accomplished in war, if you can share power with him and govern Bingzhou together, then you can observe the changing state of affairs going on around you and wait for the opportunity to come, whereby you can start your strike outward.” Convinced, Zhang Miao accepted his proposal. Cao Cao initially ordered Chen Gong’s troops to be stationed at Dongjun, but Chen Gong took the opportunity to lead his own forces east and invited Lü Bu to be governor of Yanzhou while he occupied Puyang. Most of the counties responded positively to this, except for Juancheng, Dong-a, and Fan counties, which still supported Cao Cao. Cao Cao led his troops back and engaged Lü Bu at Puyang. The engagement went on for over a hundred days with Cao Cao’s army at the unfavorable end. In the same year, there were drought and locust attacks and the civilians had no choice but to resort to cannibalism or starve. Lü Bu restationed his forces to the east at Shanyang. Within two years’ time, Cao Cao was able to recapture all the cities and defeated Lü Bu at Juye. Lü Bu then fled eastwards to Liu Bei (4). Zhang Miao followed Lü Bu and left Zhang Chao to settle the family at Yongqiu. Cao Cao took several months to siege the place and upon success killed Zhang Chao and his entire family. Zhang Miao then pleaded for assistance from Yuan Shu but was rejected and killed by his soldiers (5).

4: Yingxiong Ji: Lü Bu was respectful of Liu Bei upon meeting with him. He told Liu Bei, “You and I come from the same place. Upon seeing the eastern borders rising in action, I too desired to kill Dong Zhuo. Once Dong Zhuo was destroyed, the generals who refused to support me all wanted to kill me.” He invited Liu Bei to his tent, made him sit on his wife’s bed, and ordered his wife to pay Liu Bei respects. Furthermore, he feasted Liu Bei and even addressed Liu Bei as younger brother. Liu Bei, upon seeing Lü Bu not speaking normally, appeared to agree but did not speak his mind.
5: Xian Di Chun Qiu: [Translator’s note: these are not the exact words, I’m merely para-phrasing the text, translation assistance would be appreciated] “Yuan Shu wanted to declare himself emperor, but Zhang Miao told him that it’s not feasible and that doing so would only lead to his downfall.” However according to Ben Zhuan, what Zhang Miao said to Yuan Shu did not result in his death, moreover, whether this was actually said is not explicitly recorded (in Ben Zhuan).

Not long after, while Liu Bei was attacking Yuan Shu in the east, Lü Bu launched a sneak attack on XIa Pi. Liu Bei was forced to return and serve under Lü Bu, and Lü Bu self-declared himself Inspector of Xu Zhou. Subsequently, Yuan Shu dispatched Ji Ling with 30,000 infantry and cavalry troops to attack Liu Bei, giving him no choice but to seek help from Lü Bu in order to resist them. Lü Bu’s generals advised him saying, “General, you have always wanted to kill Liu Bei. Now is the best opportunity to let Yuan Shu do it for you.” Lü Bu replied, “No. If Yuan Shu defeats Liu Bei, he can contact the generals in the north around the Tai Shan region and I will be surrounded. Hence, to avoid that, I have to save Liu Bei.” With that, he mustered some 1,000 infantry and 200 cavalry troops to meet with Liu Bei. On hearing that Lü Bu arrived personally, Ji Ling’s army did not dare to launch any offensive. After stationing his troops at the southwestern region of Xiao Pei, Lü Bu sent a messenger to Ji Ling to invite him to his camp [with Liu Bei] for a feast. During the meal, Lü Bu told Ji Ling, “Liu Bei is my brother. As you and your generals are now surrounding him, I have no choice but to save him. However, my personality is such that I do not like to involve myself in a fight. On the contrary, I always enjoy taking the role of a mediator to stop one.” Having said this, Lü Bu ordered an attendant by the door to erect a halberd at his camp’s entrance. Lü Bu then said, “Generals, you will now witness me attempting to shoot an arrow at the branch of the halberd head. If I hit the target, you shall withdraw your troops. If I miss, you can remain here and fight.” Lü Bu then promptly lifted his bow and shot the arrow at the halberd, hitting the target squarely. All the generals that were present were shocked and exclaimed, “General Lü Bu indeed possesses heavenly prowess!” The feast lasted until the next, after which both sides withdrew their troops.

Yuan Shu, desiring to enlist Lü Bu’s assistance, requested Lü Bu’s daughter’s hand in marriage to his son. Lü Bu consented, and so Yuan Shu sent a messenger, Han Yin, to inform Lü Bu of his plan to take the imperial title, and to request that the girl be sent over.

At that time, the chancellor of Pei, Chen Gui, became afraid that once Lü Bu and Yuan Shu became in-laws, and the commandaries of Xu and Yang allied, they would bring disaster to the country. And so he went to Lü Bu and said to him, “Lord Cao supports the Emperor and is entrusted with many affairs of the empire. He has the air of one who will command the world, and it seems that he will soon be conquering all within the Four Seas. You, o’ General, should seek to have an alliance with him in order to gain peace and be secure as Mount Tai. Now, if you enter into a marriage alliance with Yuan Shu instead, you will be denounced by all under heaven, and danger will come swiftly and suddenly.”

In fact, Lü Bu was also begrudging Yuan Shu for not accepting his services earlier, and so he recalled his daughter, who was already on her way, and announced cancellation of the marriage. He also had Han Yin escorted back by his troops, and beheaded him in the Xu marketplace.

At that, Chen Gui planned to have his son, Chen Deng, report to Cao Cao that Lü Bu refused to send his daughter to Yuan Shu. Right at that time, a messanger arrived to bestow the rank of General of the Left upon Lü Bu. Lü Bu, overjoyed, immediately sent Chen Deng to the capital city to deliver his thanks-giving memorial.

So Chen Deng managed to see Cao Cao, and told him that Lü Bu was a man of great intrepidity though of little wits, easily persuaded, and that he should be removed as soon as possible. Cao Cao replied, “Lü Bu is like a wolf pup, harmless-looking but harboring wild ambitions; and it is true that it will not do to keep him around for long. You shall be the one who finds out more about him for me.” Right away Cao Cao increased Chen Gui’s salary by 2,000 shi (VI), and made Chen Deng Grand Administrator of Guangling. Right before their parting, Cao Cao held Chen Deng’s hands saying, “I thus entrust the affairs of the East to you.” He also ordered Chen Deng to secretly recruit men to serve as agents within.

VI: A shi is a weight-measurement. Salaries were given in the form of grains, measured in shis.

Earlier on, Lü Bu wanted to be the Governor of Xu Zhou and Chen Deng was supposed to convey his request to Cao Cao. However, when Chen Deng returned (with nothing for Lü Bu), Lü Bu was so furious that he grabbed a halberd and began striking [something] angrily. Lü Bu said to Chen Deng, “Your father advised me to ally with Cao Cao and to break off the engagement of my daughter with Gonglu (Yuan Shu); now, after coming back [from the trip to Cao Cao], you have nothing for me, while your father and you seemed to have gained a great deal. I’m sure you have betrayed me! What have you spoken for me in front of Cao Cao?”

Chen Deng was not affected by Lü Bu’s outburst and he calmly recalled what had been said to Cao Cao, “When I met Cao Cao I told him, ‘Having Lü Bu by one’s side is equivalent to rearing a tiger. It will only be full if it’s fed with meat. If it’s hungry, it will devour a man.’ To that, he replied, ‘On the contrary, I think the analogy is more appropriate to that of rearing an eagle. It’ll only be useful to its Master when it’s hungry. When it’s full, it’ll fly away.’ That’s all we said.” Lü Bu’s anger seeped away upon hearing Chen Deng’s account.

Not long after, Yuan Shu was mad with Lü Bu for his actions and he dispatched Zhang Xun to go along with Han Xian and Yang Feng in an attack against him. When he learned of the march, Lü Bu questioned Chen Gui, “Yuan Shu’s army is coming and it’s all because of you. What should be done now?”

Chen Gui replied, “Han Xian, Yang Feng and Yuan Shu are marching together but they will not be able to cooperate for long. According to the analysis of my son Deng [Chen Deng], Han Xian, Yang Feng and Yuan Shu are analogous to several chickens that are being tied together. It is not possible for the chickens to squat at the same time on a wooden platform, just like it is not possible for them to act together. Hence, all we need to do is to sow discord among them and they will separate.”

Lü Bu agreed to Chen Gui’s plan and dispatched messengers to persuade Han Xian and Yang Feng to attack Yuan Shu’s army together. In doing so, they would be entitled to all Yuan Shu’s army supplies. Han Xian and Yang Feng agreed to Lü Bu’s conditions and as a result, Zhang Xun was badly defeated.

In Jian An 3rd year, Lü Bu betrayed Cao Cao/Liu Bei and joined Yuan Shu again. He sent Gao Shun to attack Liu Bei at Pei and managed to defeat the him. Cao Cao sent Xiahou Dun to rescue Liu Bei but was also defeated by Gao Shun. Thereafter, Cao Cao decided to lead an expedition against Lü Bu personally. When Cao Cao reached Lü Bu’s city he sent letter to him describing the various outcomes of the possible actions Lü Bu might take. Lü Bu planned to surrender to Cao Cao, but Chen Gong was conscious of his own guilt and stopped him. Subsequently, Lü Bu sent a messanger to Yuan Shu asking for help. At the same time, he led over 1,000 cavalry out of the castle to battle, but he was defeated and had to retreat back to the city of Bao. From then on, he did not dare to venture out again.

Yuan Shu did not send any troops to aid Lü Bu. Although Lü Bu was a good fighter, he could not think of any plans and became very suspicious of the factions in his army, though he still trusted his generals. His generals, however, had conflicting opinions and many doubts. As a result, they lost most of the battles that they fought. During the 3rd month of the siege, all the defenders lost their heart to fight. Hou Cheng, Song Xian, and Wei Xu tied up Chen Gong and forced his troops to surrender to Cao Cao. Meanwhile, Lü Bu and some of his followers ascended Bai Meng Lou. When the siege intensified, Lü Bu surrendered to Cao Cao. While being tied up Lü Bu complained, “The ropes are being tied too tightly. Loosen them a bit.”

To that, Cao Cao replied, “The rope has to be tied securely when tying a tiger.”

Then, Lü Bu politely said to Cao Cao, “I have always been your Eminence’s main worry. Now that I’m willing to serve under you, there is nothing to worry about anymore. Your Eminence can lead the infantry personally while ordering me to lead the cavalry. This arrangement will be more than sufficient to pacify the world.”

On hearing that, Cao Cao’s face showed some signs of doubts [on whether to execute Lü Bu or not]. However, Liu Bei interjected, saying, “Surely your Eminence has not forgotten about what happened to Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo?”

Cao Cao assented. Seeing that, Lü Bu turned to Liu Bei and said, “You are the most untrustworthy person.”

Soon after, Lü Bu was executed by strangulation. The heads of Lü Bu, Chen Gong, Gao Shun, and some of the other generals were sent to Xu Chang where they were buried.

When Cao Cao captured Chen Gong, he asked him on whether his mother and daughter should be spared. To that, Chen Gong replied, “I’ve known that a ruler who administers his country based on the principle of filial piety would not kill the parents of his prisoner. I’ve also known that a benevolent ruler would not exterminate all the kin and decedents of his prisoner. The fate of my old mother lies not in my hands but yours.”

Thereafter, Cao Cao gave orders that Chen Gong’s mother was to be properly taken care off until the day she passed away. Cao Cao also arranged a marriage for Chen Gong’s daughter.

Copyright © 2003 , Battleroyale and Sonken
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi with Pei Songzhi’s annotations