An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Guan Yu 關羽

Jun 25, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Guan Yu 關羽 (d. 219 CE), courtesy name Yunzhang 雲長, was a follower of Liu Bei 劉備 (161-222), founder of the empire of Shu-Han 蜀漢 (221-263), one of the Three Kingdoms 三國 (220-280).

Guan Yu hailed from Xie 解 (sic!, modern Linyi 臨猗, Shanxi). Together with Zhang Fei 張飛 (d. 221) he participated as a commander in the early campaigns of Liu Bei. When their troops were defeated by the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220) in 200, Guan Yu was captured but treated respectfully. He was even awarded the title of Determined General (Pian jiangjun 偏將軍) and served Cao Cao during the battle of Guandu 官渡 against the warlord Yuan Shao 袁紹 (d. 202). In midst of the siege of the city of Baima 白馬, Guan Yu withstood the enemy and was even able to kill Yuan Shao's commander Yan Liang 顔良. When the campaign was over, the returned into the service of Liu Bei.

In 208, Cao Cao undertook a campaign to conquer the middle Yangtze valley. Liu Bei had to retreat from Fancheng 樊城 (modern Xiangfan 襄樊, Hubei) and ordered Guan Yu to command the river fleet shipping down the Han River 漢水 to Jiangling 江陵 and Xiakou 夏口, where he was to meet with Liu Bei's forces and that of his ally Sun Quan 孫權 (182-252). In the battle of the Red Cliff (Chibi 赤壁, modern Puqi 蒲圻, Hubei) Cao Cao was defeated and withdrew to the north. Guan Yu was appointed governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Xiangyang 襄陽 and awarded the title of General disturbing the bandits (dangkou jiangjun 蕩寇將軍).

During Liu Bei's conquest of the Sichuan Basin, Guan Yu was appointed regional governor of the province of Jingzhou 荊州 in the middle Yangtze region.

In 219, Guan Yu, as General of the front (qian jiangjun 前將軍) besieged Cao Ren 曹仁 in the city of Fancheng. The defeat of Cao Ren was so devastating that Cao Cao considered shifting his residence from Xuxian 許縣 (modern Xuchang 許昌, Shanxi) to a safer place. Yet his advisors Sima Yi 司馬懿 (179-251) and Jiang Ji 蔣濟 (d. 249 CE) suggested using some differences between Liu Bei and Sun Quan to destruct the southern alliance. Sun Quan was asked to attack Guan Yu's rear position, and indeed, Sun Quan dispatched Lü Meng 呂蒙 (178-219) with an army to invade the province of Jingzhou. The troops garrisoned in Jingzhou turned their back towards Guan Yu because of his harshness towards his subordinates, and surrendered to Lü Meng. Lü Meng also captured some relatives of Guan Yu and thereby forced him to blow off his campaign in the north. Arrived at Zhangxiang 章鄉 (modern Dangyang 當陽, Hubei), Guan Yu was arrested together with his son Guan Ping 關平 and was executed.

Zhu Zongbin 祝總斌 (1992). "Guan Yu 關羽", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 265.