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Liu Bei (16 July 161-10 June 223) was the King of Shu Han and claimant to the title of Emperor of the Han dynasty. Liu Bei was known as a man who was respected by the people but was also a determined man, savage at times, and he was ruthless in his pursuit of the killers of his sworn brothers, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu. Liu Bei died after a crushing defeat at the Battle of Yiling.


Early life

A painting of Liu Bei.

Liu Bei was born in Zhou County, You Province, in northeastern China, near the border with Korea. Liu Bei was of noble lineage, related to Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, but was raised a humble man; his father died while he was young, and his mother and him sold straw mats for money. He befriended Gongsun Zan while under the tutelage of scholar Lu Zhi and became a general under his banner, a loyal ally. Liu Bei was loved by his companions for his concise speech, kindness to his friends, and calm in demeanor.


Liu Bei fighting against the Yellow Turbans.

In 184 AD, he was proclaimed the leader of the Volunteer Forces of the Han Empire when the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out, with He Jin giving him an army of green-shirted militiamen who were mainly conscripts.

He befriended Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, his aides-de-camp, and one day, he made an oath at a peach garden that bonded them, the three of them vowing that although they were born in different years, that they would die at the same place, the same year, and the same day, swearing an oath of brotherhood.

The Three Sworn Brothers made a reputation for themselves in quashing the Yellow Turbans at the Battle of Guangzhong, in which Zhang Jiao was killed, and the rebellion crushed. Liu Bei was a hero of the people and was made Prefect of Anxi. However, he resigned due to a corrupt inspector asking him for bribes. 

Afterwards, he headed to Xu Province, where he crushed a Yellow Turban army that was still active following the official end of the rebellion, and became a vassal of Tao Qian. He was promised succession to Tao Qian to become Governor of Xuzhou Castle.

Liu Bei in 190 AD.

In 190 AD, Liu Bei followed Gongsun Zan when the alliance against Dong Zhuo, the new regent, was formed, and the Three Sworn Brothers fought at Hu Lao Gate, where they defeated the fiercest of all warriors, Lu Bu, and captured the burnt-down city of Luoyang, the former imperial capital.

Liu Bei returned to Xu Province afterwards, and was able, in 194 AD, to defeat the army of Cao Cao, an invading warlord from the north who wanted to kill Tao Qian because one of his officers was let off scot-free even though he had murdered Cao's father. Liu became governor of Xu Province after Tao Qian died of illness and took part in an uprising against Cao Cao while he campaigned against Yuan Shu, assisted by Cao Cao's rival, Yuan Shao, but his army was destroyed by Guo Jia, who subjugated the province in 197.

A year later, Liu Bei's general, Lu Bu captured Xu Province and Liu Bei was forced to ally with Cao Cao to oust him. After the recapture of Xiapi and Xuzhou Castle, Liu Bei had to cede the castle to Cao Cao, and Guan Yu was captured. Without Guan Yu, Liu Bei participated in the anti-Yuan Shu coalition, borrowing 300 of Cao Cao's heavy cavalry in addition to some troops under Cao's  finest officers.

It was during this battle that Liu Bei encountered Sun Ce, a rising warlord who was also a people's man, and they became allies, capturing all of Yang Province from Yuan Shu and his men. However, this became territory of the Sun clan, and Liu Bei was forced to return to Xu Province, without a home; Gongsun Zan was killed by Yuan Shao at the Battle of Yi Jing.

Liu Bei at the Battle of Changban.

In 200 AD, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei joined the army of Yuan Shao as he fought against Cao Cao at Guan Du, hoping to achieve the capture of Xu Province. At Guan Du, Guan Yu appeared on the battlefield and killed Wen Chou and Yan Liang, Yuan Shao's finest generals, and Yuan, suspecting that Liu Bei had a part in it (as he was Guan Yu's sworn brother), ordered him to be executed.

Guarded by Zhao Yun, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei fled the battlefield, facing two armies at once, and they made it to Jing Province, where Guan Yu had escaped to meet with them. The Three Sworn Brothers defeated a Cao Cao army at Runan and Bowanpo in 200 and 203, respectively, while under the service of Jing governor Liu Biao, and maintained their liberty, until Liu Biao's death and the subsequent Cao Cao annexation of Jing in 208.

That year, Liu Bei's armies escaped at the Battle of Changban Po, with aid from Zhao Yun and Zhang Fei, and they made it to Yang Province, allying with Sun Ce's successor, Sun Quan against Cao Cao, whose 800,000-strong army was preparing to invade the Southlands. The two armies gathered 50,000 troops, a motley crew, but strategist Zhuge Liang used a fire attack, correctly predicting a southeast wind that could spread the flames, to devastate Cao Cao's fleet on the Yangtze in the Battle of Chibi.

The defeat of Cao Cao let Liu Bei take over parts of Jing, while Sun Quan took the rest. 

Creation of Shu

In 211 AD, Liu Bei led an army into Yi Province to assist his cousin, Liu Zhang against Zhang Lu and Cao Cao, but his generals Pang Tong, Wei Yan, and Huang Zhong seized Luo Castle from Liu Zhang, as Liu Zhang was weaker tha Zhang Lu and was also a tyrant. Pang Tong was killed, so Liu Bei gave up his only chance of anger and turned to Liu Zhang for vengeance. He took Chengdu and Liu Zhang was captured, and Liu Bei found a new home. He was lord of the province until he declared himself Emperor of Shu Han in 221, when he became independent from the Han, with Yi Province turning from a Han province to a Shu-administrated region. Liu Bei spent the years 215-219 defending his territory from Cao Cao to the north in Yi's Han Zhong region and from Wu, who attempted to take over Jing Province from Liu Bei.

In 215, he gave them half of the province in exchange for an attack on Han Zhong, but in 218, failed to give them the other half in exchange for aid in the Battle of Mt. Dingjun, as Guan Yu refused to leave. This resulted in the Battle of Fan Castle, where Guan Yu was killed and Jing overrun by Wei and Wu forces. 

In revenge, Liu Bei invaded Wu in 222 AD, with 40,000 Shu infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and over 40,000 more Wuling barbarian mercenaries. Liu Bei's army met the Wu at Yiling, with Zhang Fei acting as his vanguard. Zhang Fei led an attack on the shore as Liu Bei awaited the results at his camp. However, a Wu fire attack drove the Shu out of their camp and into the Stone Sentinels Maze, retreating from the battle to Baidi Castle. Zhang Fei was assassinated by his own men after the battle, leaving Liu Bei with inadequate forces to go on.

His strategist, Zhuge Liang made peace with Wu, a decision that Liu Bei snubbed earlier in exchange for vengeance, but Liu Bei died shortly after at the castle, telling Zhuge that if his son, Liu Shan was weak, that he should become the next ruler of Shu.