Biography of Guan Yu

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Biography of Guan Yu
by Chen Shou
Main text by Chen Shou, annotations by Pei Songzhi. Translated by Yeu Ninje (2006) from Chen Shou, Sanguo zhi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959) at 939-942.

Guan Yu (關羽), styled Yunchang (雲長), originally had the style Changsheng (長生) and was from Jie (解) in Hedong (河東). He fled for his life to Zhuo commandery (涿郡). The Former Lord (先主) [Liu Bei] was recruiting followers in his hometown, and Guan Yu and Zhang Fei (張飛) elected to fight for him on the battlefield. When the Former Lord became Chancellor of Pingyuan (平原相), Yu and Fei were made Majors with a Separate Command (別部司馬), each with command of their own private troops. The Former Lord shared the same bed with the two and treated them with the kindness of a brother. At grand gatherings, however, they always stood in [Liu Bei's] service. They followed the Former Lord everywhere, no matter how difficult or dangerous.1 After the Former Lord made a surprise attack on Che Zhou (車冑), Inspector of Xuzhou (徐州刺史), Yu was ordered to garrison the city of Xiapi (下邳), undertaking the duties of the Grand Administrator (太守),² whilst [Liu Bei] himself returned to Xiaopei (小沛).

1 Shu ji (蜀記): Duke Cao (曹公) and Liu Bei besieged Lü Bu (呂布) at Xiapi. Guan Yu proposed to the Duke that since Bu had dispatched Qin Yilu (秦宜祿) to seek reinforcements, he requested to take Qin's wife in marriage. The Duke consented. Before the city fell, he repeated his proposal many more times to the Duke. The Duke suspected that she possessed a particular beauty. Later he sent to see her first and kept her for himself. Yu was not at ease. This account is no different to that given in Weishi chunqiu (魏氏春秋).
² Wei shu (魏書): Yu was given control of Xuzhou.

In the fifth year of Jian’an (建安) [CE 200], Duke Cao campaigned in the east and the Former Lord fled to Yuan Shao (袁紹). The Duke captured Yu and brought him back. He made him Lieutenant-General (偏將軍), treating him with high honours. Shao sent his great general Yan Liang (顏良) to attack Liu Yan (劉延), Grand Administrator of Dongjun commandery (東郡太守), at Baima (白馬). Duke Cao sent Zhang Liao (張遼) and Yu as vanguard. Yu saw the standard on the chariot of Liang. He urged his mount on, speared Yan Liang in the ranks of the ten-thousand, and brought his head back. None of Shao’s generals were a match for him and thus the siege of Baima was unravelled. Duke Cao subsequently recommended Yu for enfeoffment as Marquis of Hanshouting (漢壽亭侯). From the offset, Duke Cao had valued the way Yu conducted himself but he detected that he had no thought of remaining for long, and said to Zhang Liao: “Use your friendship to test him out.” Soon Liao questioned Yu, Yu sighed: “I know very well that the Duke Cao has treated me well, but I have received General Liu’s earnest benevolence, and sworn to die by him. I cannot betray him. In the end I will not be able to stay, but I will repay Duke Cao with meritorious service before I leave.” Zhang Liao reported Yu’s words to Duke, and the Duke saw the justice of it.1 After Yu had killed Yan Liang, Duke Cao knew that he would leave, and rewarded him generously. Yu sealed all which was bestowed, left a farewell letter, and set off for the Former Lord in the Yuan army. Although his attendants urged pursuit, Duke Cao said: “Each vassal is for his lord, do not give chase.”²

1 Fuzi (傅子): Zhang Liao wanted to report it to the Grand Progenitor, but feared that he would kill Yu. But not reporting it was not the way a man served his lord. So he sighed and said: “Duke, you are my lord and father whilst Yu is my brother.” Then he submitted his report. The Grand Progenitor said: “A man who serves his lord does not forget his origins, he is a just gentleman of the empire. When do you think he will leave?” Zhang Liao said: “Yu has received your benevolence. He will leave after he has repaid you.”

² Your subject [Pei] Songzhi ([裴]松之) considers that Duke Cao knew that Yu was not going to stay, and admired his determination. By not sending someone in pursuit when Yu left, he confirmed his sense of righteousness. If he did not have the magnanimity of a hegemon, how could he accomplish this? Truly, this was the virtue of Duke Cao.

[Guan Yu] followed the Former Lord in joining Liu Biao (劉表). Biao died and Duke Cao secured Jingzhou province. The Former Lord planned to travel from Fan (樊) and cross the Jiang (江) to the south. He ordered Yu with several hundred ships to rendevous at Jiangling (江陵). Duke Cao pursued to Changban (長阪) in Dangyang (當陽). The Former Lord followed a minor road to cross the Hanjin Ford (漢津) and met up with Yu’s fleet. Together they progressed to Xiakou (夏口).1 Sun Quan (孫權) sent troops to support the Former Lord in opposing Duke Cao. Duke Cao led his army in retreat. The Former Lord seized the various commanderies of Jiangnan (江南) and rewarded those who had given the greatest service. Yu was made Grand Administrator of Xiangyang (襄陽太守) and General Who Purges Criminals (蕩寇將軍), and ordered to garrison Jiangbei (江北). The Former Lord advanced west, secured Yizhou province (益州), and appointed Yu to be in charge of the administration of Jingzhou province (荊州). Yu heard that Ma Chao (馬超) had come to surrender despite the fact that he had never been an ally. Yu then wrote a letter to Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) asking: “To whom can Ma Chao’s ability be compared?” Liang knew that Yu was eager to stand out and shield his shortcomings, so he replied: “Mengqi (孟起) [Ma Chao] is versed in military and civil affairs, brave and strong beyond ordinary men. He is prominent man of our times, the like of Ying (英) [Zhang Ying] and Peng (彭) [Peng Yue]. He can contest victory with Yide (益德) [Zhang Fei] in combat but cannot better ‘the bearded’, who is unsurpassed among his fellows.” Yu had a magnificent beard, hence Liang referred to him as ‘the bearded’. After reading the letter, Yu was greatly pleased and displayed it to his retainers.

1 Shu ji: Earlier, when Liu Bei was at Xu, he went hunting with Duke Cao. During the chase, the hunting party dispersed and Guan Yu urged Bei to kill the Duke, but Bei refused. Then at Xiakou, adrift on an islet in the Jiang, in anger Yu said: “Once, during the hunt, had you followed my words, we wouldn’t be in the predicament we’re in today.” Bei said: “That occasion was to the deep regret of the state. But if the way of Heaven is to support the righteous, how can you know that that was not to our good fortune?”

Guan Yu was once struck by a stray arrow which pierced his left arm and although the wound healed, on every occasion of rain, his bones would be in extreme pain. The physician said: “The arrowhead was poisoned and the poison has entered the bone. The wound needs to be opened and the poison scraped from the bone. Only then can the pain be eliminated.” Guan Yu promptly ordered the physician to operate on his arm. At the time Guan Yu had invited his generals for a feast and his blood flowed to fill a waiting pan. Yet Guan Yu carved his roast, drank wine and relaxed with conversation and laughter.

In the twenty-fourth year [219], the Former Lord became King of Hanzhong (漢中王) and assigned Guan Yu General of the Van (前將軍), and bestowed insignia (節) and ceremonial axe (鉞). That year, Guan Yu led his followers to besiege Cao Ren (曹仁) at Fan. Duke Cao sent Yu Jin (于禁) to aid Cao Ren. In autumn, great torrential rains fell, the Han River became swollen and broke its banks. Yu Jin’s seven armies were drowned. Yu Jin surrendered and Guan Yu beheaded the general Pang De (龐德). The disorganised bandits of Liang (梁), Jia (郟) and Lu (陸) accepted the command of Guan Yu as his adherents. Guan Yu’s prestige was felt throughout China. Duke Cao debated relocating his capital Xu (許) to evade the cutting edge. The Renowned King Sima (司馬宣王) [Sima Yi] and Jiang Ji (蔣濟) were of the conviction that with Guan Yu’s ambition, Sun Quan would not be content to sit by. They suggested that an emissary could be sent to Sun Quan to partition Jiangnan for his domains and to advise him to assault Guan Yu’s rear. In this way, the siege of Fan would unravel of its own accord. Duke Cao followed their suggestion. Earlier Sun Quan had sent an emissary to request marriage between his son and Guan Yu’s daughter. Guan Yu refused and cursed the emissary; Sun Quan was greatly angered.1 Also Mi Fang (麋芳), Grand Administrator of Nanjun (南郡太守), and General Fushi Ren (傅士仁), stationed at Gongan (公安), both felt that Guan Yu was indifferent to them. When Guan Yu left for the campaign, Mi Fang and Fushi Ren were responsible for supplying the army and did not provide relief. For this Guan Yu vowed, “You will be disciplined when the army returns.” Mi Fang and Fushi Ren were anxious and restless. Then Sun Quan covertly incited them and Fang and Ren sent emissaries to acquiesce. Duke Cao sent Xu Huang (徐晃) to reinforce Cao Ren.² Guan Yu could not overcome them and led his troops in retreat. Sun Quan had occupied Jiangling, taken all of Guan Yu’s retainers and family captive. Hence Guan Yu’s army disbanded. Sun Quan sent his generals to beset Guan Yu and beheaded Guan Yu and his son Ping (平) at Linju (臨沮).

1 Dian lue (典略): Yu besieged Fan. Sun Quan sent an emissary to request relief [or request to help]. The emissary he sent did not advance swiftly, so he sent his Master of Records (主溥) with his command to Yu. Yu was angry that he was late, and had also just acquired Yu Jin and others. So he cursed: “How dare you! If I took take Fancheng, then see if I don’t exterminate you!’ When Quan heard of this, he knew that Yu underestimated himself. He wrote a false letter to placate Yu and agreed to go himself. Your subject Songzhi considers that though Jing and Wu were allied on the outside, inside they both had suspicions and prepared against each other. Hence Quan assaulted Yu, covertly marshalled his army and secretly sent them out. As Lü Meng’s biography says: “He disguised his elite troops as merchants, wearing plain clothing, and hidden in barges.” In this manner of speaking, had Yu not requested aid from Quan, then Quan would surely not have said to Yu that he would lead troops to join him. Had he allowed aid to be given, then why hide the evidence of his true feelings?

² Shu ji: “Huang dismounted and proclaimed: ‘Whoever takes the head of Guan Yunchang will be rewarded with a thousand jin (斤) of gold.’ Yu was shocked and afraid. He said to Huang: ‘Big brother, what words you speak!’ Huang said: ‘These are the affairs of state.’”

³ Shu ji: “Quan sent his generals to attack Yu, they captured Yu as well as his son Ping. Quan wanted to let Yu live to oppose Liu and Cao. His attendants said: ‘Don't rear a wolf cub, it will surely be of harm in the future. When Duke Cao did not eliminate him, he acquired for himself a great threat. Now he has even discussed moving the capital. How can we let [Guan Yu] live!’ Then [Guan Yu] was beheaded.” Your subject Songzhi has browsed Wu shu (吳書): Sun Quan sent his general Pan Zhang (潘璋) to first sever Yu’s route of retreat. When Yu reached there, he was beheaded. However, Linju was two or three hundred li from Jiangling. How could he tolerate not killing Yu in timely fashion, and discuss his life and death. It also says: “Quan wanted to let Yu live to oppose Liu and Cao.” This is not so, it can be determined that this is not what a wise man would say. Wu li (吳歷): “Quan sent Yu’s head to Duke Cao, who buried it with the honours of a noble lord.”

Guan Yu received the posthumous appellation of ‘Marquis Zhuangmou’ (壯繆侯).1 His son Xing (興) succeeded the noble title. Xing, styled Anguo (安國), was of good repute from youth. The Lieutenant-chancellor (承相) Zhuge Liang regarded him highly. When Guan Xing came of age, he became Palace Attendant (侍中), Supervisor of the Army (中監軍), and died a few years later. His son Tong (統) succeeded, married a princess, and reached the rank of General of the Gentlemen of the Household as Rapid as Tigers (虎賁中郎將). He died without a son, so Xing’s son by concubine, Yi (彝), succeeded his noble title.²

1 Shu ji: “When Yu first went on campaign to besiege Fan, he dreamt that his foot was gored by a pig. He said to his son Guan Ping: ‘Alas, I will perish this year, and won’t be able to return here.’” Jiangbiao zhuan (江表傳): “Yu was fond of the Zuoshi zhuan (左氏傳), and could recite it all from memory.”

² Shu ji: “[Pang] Hui (會), son of Pang De, accompanied Zhong (鍾) [Zhong Hui] and Deng(鄧) [Deng Ai] on expedition against Shu. When Shu was defeated, he exterminated the entire household of the Guan clan.”
This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.
Original:
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
 
Translation:
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