Three Kingdoms
Guan Yu, 关羽(A.D.160—219) Shu蜀 Force Military Officer 中文详细
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A statue of Guan Yu on an altar
A statue of Guan Yu on an altar
Simplified Chinese: 关羽
Traditional Chinese: 關羽
Pinyin: Guān Yǔ
Wade-Giles: Kuan Yu
Zi: Yunchang (雲長)
Changsheng (長生)
Name in Buddhism: Sangharama Bodhisattva (伽藍菩薩)
Deity name: Saintly Emperor Guan (關聖帝君)
Other names: Lord Guan (關公)

Lord Guan the Second (關二爷)
Lord of Magnificent Beard (美髯公)

Guan Yu (160 – 219) was a military general under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period in ancient China. He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the Kingdom of Shu, of which Liu Bei was the first emperor.

One of the best known Chinese historical figures throughout East Asia, Guan Yu's true life stories have largely given way to semi-fictional ones, mostly found in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms or passed down the generations as folklore, in which his deeds and moral qualities have been much exaggerated.

Guan Yu had been deified as early as the Sui Dynasty and is still being worshipped by Chinese people today, especially in Hong Kong. While being seen as the epitome of loyalty and righteousness, Guan Yu had been criticized by historians for being arrogant and vain, qualities that eventually led to his downfall in the hands of Sun Quan, lord of the Kingdom of Wu.

Guan Yu is traditionally portrayed as a red-faced warrior with a long lush beard. While his beard was indeed mentioned in the Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, the idea of his red face was probably borrowed from opera representation, where red faces depict loyalty and righteousness. Also according to folklore, Guan Yu's weapon was a guandao, which resembles a halberd and was said to weigh 82 jin (41 kilograms using today's standards).



The historical Guan Yu

Early life

Guan Yu was born in the county of Xie (解, a subdistrict of present day Yuncheng, Shanxi). The year of his birth is not found in historical records, but according to a 1680 stele in a temple worshipping Guan Yu in his hometown, as well as a biography of Guan Yu written in 1756, Guan Yu's birth year is estimated to be 160.

Guan Yu fled his hometown at the age of twenty-three after slaying a local bully named Lü Xiong (吕熊). Five years later, he arrived in Zhuo Commandery (涿郡, present day Zhuozhou, Hebei), where Liu Bei was recruiting a force to heed the government's call to resist the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Together with Zhang Fei, Guan Yu joined Liu Bei and fought against the rebel forces in northern China. For his efforts Liu Bei was appointed governor of Pingyuan County (平原). Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were also made commanders and given their own divisions of troops. According to the Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, the three men slept on the same bed and treated one another like brothers. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei also followed Liu Bei wherever he went, and protected him from danger however perilous the situation

In 199 Liu Bei assassinated the governor of Xuzhou (徐州) appointed by the rising warlord Cao Cao and placed Guan Yu in control of the regional capital Xiapi, while he returned to Xiaopei (小沛). Cao Cao soon retaliated, personally leading a campaign east to reclaim Xuzhou. Liu Bei fled to seek refuge under Yuan Shao, a powerful warlord further north, but Xiapi was captured and Guan Yu surrendered to Cao Cao. Cao Cao treated Guan Yu with respect and even made him a deputy general.

Short service under Cao Cao

In 200, Yuan Shao mustered an army boasting 100,000 in strength and marched on Xuchang, the new capital and base city of Cao Cao. To ensure a safe crossing of the Yellow River, Yuan Shao sent his trusted general Yan Liang to attack Baima (白馬, northeast of present day Huaxian, Henan) as a diversionary tactic. In a counter-tactic, Cao Cao moved his main force westwards along the Yellow River, diverting Yuan Shao's army in the same direction, but sent Guan Yu and Zhang Liao east to relieve the attack on Baima. Upon reaching Baima, Guan Yu saw from afar the standard on Yan Liang's chariot and urged his mount towards the latter. He speared Yan Liang amid the enemy troops, and brought back his severed head. Thus Yuan Shao lost an important lieutenant and the siege of Baima was unravelled. Guan Yu was then enfeoffed as Marquis1 of Hanshou (漢夀亭侯).

After doing Cao Cao this favor, Guan Yu declined further gifts from the former. Leaving behind a letter, he left for his former lord, who was still in the camp of Yuan Shao. When some of his subordinates wanted to pursue Guan Yu, Cao Cao stopped them, saying, "To each his own."

Capture of Jingzhou

After Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shao at the decisive Battle of Guandu, Liu Bei went south to seek shelter under Jingzhou (荆州) governor Liu Biao, who soon died of sickness. Cao Cao took the opportunity to expand his control south and seized a great part of Jingzhou north of the Yangtze River, but Liu Bei escaped south and formed a coalition with Sun Quan, a powerful warlord controlling most of southeastern China. The coalition defeated Cao Cao at the Battle of Red Cliffs and Jingzhou was reclaimed. Guan Yu was promoted to General Who Purges Rebels (荡寇将軍) and made governor of Xiangyang (but he was stationed in Jiangling), in charge of the defense of northern Jingzhou.

In 213, Liu Bei left for Yizhou (present day Sichuan) and took over the region two years later, staying there ever since. In 219, Liu Bei proclaimed himself King of Hanzhong (漢中王) and promoted Guan Yu to General of the Front (前将軍), ranked first among the top five generals under his service (popularly known as the Five Tiger Generals, among whom were Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Ma Chao and Huang Zhong).


In the same year Guan Yu attacked Fancheng (樊城, present day Xiangfan, Hubei), a city near Xiangyang which was defended by Cao Ren, a trusted general and cousin of Cao Cao. A long spell of rainfall as autumn came around flooded the Han River next to the city, which greatly aided Guan Yu. The flood drowned the majority of the relief troops Cao Cao sent, while their commanders, Yu Jin and Pang De, were both captured by Guan Yu. However, a further relief force under Xu Huang successfully repelled the invaders. When Guan Yu returned to Jiangling, he found that traitors Mi Fang (麋芳) and Shi Ren (士仁) had surrendered the city to Sun Quan, with whom Liu Bei's relations had soured.

With many of his troops deserted, Guan Yu attempted to retreat west to reunite with Liu Bei. However, he was encircled by Sun Quan's forces west of Maicheng (麦城, southeast of present day Dangyang, Hubei) and captured along with his son Guan Ping. Both were executed. Sun Quan sent Guan Yu's head to Cao Cao (in an attempt to lay blame on Cao Cao), who buried the body with the honors befitting a marquis. Guan Yu was given the posthumous title of Marquis Zhuangmou (壮缪侯).

In 223, Liu Bei attempted a campaign to recapture Jingzhou and avenge Guan Yu, which culminated in his decisive defeat at the Battle of Yiling. Guan Yu's son Guan Xing and grandson Guan Tong both served as military commanders in the Kingdom of Shu. According to the Record of Shu (蜀記) by Wang Yin (王隐), after the Kingdom of Wei conquered Shu in 263, Guan Yu's entire household was massacred by Pang Hui, son of Pang De who was executed by Guan Yu at the Battle of Fancheng.


1 The title of marquis was divided into three grades during the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period. These are, in ascending order of prestige, tinghou (亭侯), xianghou (乡侯) and xianhou (县侯). Guan Yu's was the first.

Guan Yu in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Portrait of Guan Yu (behind) from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Portrait of Guan Yu (behind) from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a historical novel based on the events that occurred before and during the Three Kingdoms period. Written by Luo Guanzhong more than a millenium after the Three Kingdoms period, the novel incorporates many popular folklore and opera scripts into the character of Guan Yu, making him one of the most altered and aggrandized in the book. Significant incidents that deviate from true history include:

Brotherhood sworn in the garden of peach blossoms

One of the most well-known story from the novel, found in the first chapter, it speaks of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei who, having met by chance in the county of Zhuo in 188, found that all three shared the same desire to serve the country in the tumultuous times. They swore to be brothers the next day in Zhang Fei's backyard, which was a garden full of peach blossoms. Liu Bei was ranked the eldest, Guan Yu the second, and Zhang Fei the youngest. Having done this, they recruited more than 300 local men and joined the resistance against Yellow Turban rebels.

In true history, the three did not swear brotherhood. The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms says the three often shared a bed, and treated one another as brothers. Guan Yu was also a year older than Liu Bei, not younger.

The peach blossom oath inspired the present day secret societies in Chinese communities, such as the Triad, to use a similar ritual when swearing in new members. "Though not born on the same day of the same month in the same year, we hope to die so" 鈥 the phrase the three borthers made during the oath 鈥 had also become popular among the present day secret society members.

Slaying Hua Xiong

In Chapter 5, warlords around the country formed a coalition against Dong Zhuo, the tyrannical warlord and minister who held the puppet Emperor Xian hostage in the capital Luoyang. Guan Yu and his sworn brothers were then serving in the camp of Gongsun Zan, a warlord from northern China who was also in the coalition.

Dong Zhuo placed Hua Xiong at the Sishui Pass to ward off the attack. Having singlehandedly slain four generals of the coalition – Bao Zhong (鲍忠), Zu Mao (祖茂), Yu She (俞涉) and Pan Feng (潘凤) – Hua Xiong seemed indomitable. Despite mistrust from many leaders of the coalition, Guan Yu, who was a mere horsed archer then, volunteered to duel Hua Xiong. Cao Cao, one of the eighteen coalition leaders, poured Guan Yu a cup of hot wine but the latter declined, claiming he would soon return. Within moments Guan Yu truly reappeared with Hua Xiong's head in hand, while the wine was still warm!

In true history Hua Xiong was executed after his force was defeated by Sun Jian at Yangren (阳人).

Surrender to Cao Cao

In Chapter 25, Cao Cao attacked Liu Bei's position in Xuzhou (徐州). The defeated Liu Bei escaped to seek refuge in the camp of Yuan Shao, a powerful warlord in the north. Guan Yu, along with two wives of Liu Bei, was besieged in the city of Xiapi. Taunting outside the city walls, Cao Cao's general Xiahou Dun managed to draw Guan Yu out. As he pursued his enemy far from the city gate, Guan Yu found his retreat cut off by the invading troops. He then made a stand on top of a nearby knoll, but the city was already taken.

Guan Yu submitting to Cao Cao in the 84-episode TV serial Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Guan Yu submitting to Cao Cao in the 84-episode TV serial Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Zhang Liao, another general under Cao Cao who was an old friend of Guan Yu, then came unarmed up the knoll. He tried to persuade Guan Yu to surrender using reason. Guan Yu agreed, but with three conditions: that the surrender was to the Han emperor and not Cao Cao; that the two wives of Liu Bei were to be suitably provided for and protected; and that all three would leave to seek Liu Bei once they found out his whereabouts. These conditions were agreed to and Guan Yu finally surrendered without breaking the code of loyalty. Cao Cao was very pleased and showered Guan Yu with many gifts, including Red Hare, a top-grade steed previously owned by the warrior Lü Bu.

According to the Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, both Guan Yu and family members of Liu Bei were captured after Xiapi was fallen, though it was not stated in any known historical records that Guan Yu made the three conditions of surrender. The gift of Red Hare was probably also fabricated later.

Slaying Yan Liang

Also in Chapter 25, Cao Cao confronted Yuan Shao on the shores of the Yellow River. To ensure a safe crossing south, Yuan Shao sent a diversionary force east under his trusted general Yan Liang to attack Baima (白馬, northeast of present day Huaxian, Henan). Cao Cao drew a 50,000-strong army and came personally to defend Baima. As the two armies made their stands across the plain, Cao Cao sent out Song Xian and Wei Xu to duel with Yan Liang, but both were slew within bouts. As suggested by advisor Cheng Yu (程昱), Cao Cao then sent for Guan Yu.

The next day, as Yan Liang's army lined up on the battlefield, Guan Yu sat with Cao Cao on a hillock and looked down. From afar he saw Yan Liang sitting on a chariot under the army standard. Leaping onto the Red Hare, Guan Yu galloped straight into the enemy ranks, which broke before him like waves before a swift vessel. Before Yan Liang could react, he was struck down by his nemesis. Guan Yu severed Yan Liang's head, tied it to the neck of his steed and rode back unhindered.

In true history Cao Cao did not participate personally in the Battle of Baima but rather led his main force westwards along the Yellow River to draw Yuan Shao in the same direction. Guan Yu and Zhang Liao were then sent to defend Baima against Yan Liang's division.

Slaying Wen Chou

In Chapter 26, following the death of Yan Liang in Guan Yu's hands, Wen Chou, another trusted general of Yuan Shao, volunteered to avenge his close friend. Leading 100,000 troops, Wen Chou crossed the Yellow River and came for Cao Cao's camp. In an unusual move, Cao Cao turned his entire formation around, placing the supplies in front. While Wen Chou's soldiers made an easy task robbing the supplies, Cao Cao directed his men south onto a knoll, from where they allowed their horses to graze. Wen Chou's soldiers pounced upon the horses as they approached the knoll and became disorganized. Cao Cao then gave the order for a counterattack, forcing the enemies to retreat.

Zhang Liao and Xu Huang immediately gave chase. Wen Chou fired two arrows from atop his horse, one of which cut off the feather on Zhang Liao's helmet and the other hit Zhang Liao's horse in the face. With his poleaxe, Xu Huang came for Wen Chou but had to retreat when a band of enemy soldiers came to their commander's rescue. Leading a dozen riders, Guan Yu cut off Wen Chou's escape and engaged in a duel with the enemy. Within three bouts, Wen Chou withdrew and attempted to evade. However, Guan Yu's Red Hare was of a superior breed and soon caught up. Guan Yu then slew Wen Chou from behind.

It was not stated in historical records whether Wen Chou was killed by Guan Yu in battle, only that Wen Chou's force was defeated and himself was killed.

Crossing five passes and slaying six warriors

Another of the most popular stories surrounding Guan Yu, this tale speaks of the loyal man's hazardous journey to reunite with his lord and sworn brother Liu Bei, who was residing in Yuan Shao's camp. The five passes mentioned in fact only consist of two bona fide passes 鈥 Dongling and Sishui 鈥 while the rest were two cities and a guarded ferry point.

The story began late in Chapter 26 where, having found out the whereabouts of Liu Bei some time after the slaying of Wen Chou, Guan Yu prepared to leave Xuchang along with Liu Bei's two wives. Unable to keep the determined general, Cao Cao forbade his subjects from pursuing Guan Yu.

Riding beside the horse carriage carrying his sisters-in-law, Guan Yu set off for Luoyang. However, he was stopped at Dongling Pass (東岭關, south of present day Dengfeng, Henan) by the pass defender Kong Xiu (孔秀), who refused passage for the former without a document from Cao Cao. Guan Yu had no choice but to slay Kong Xiu in a duel and force through the pass.

Having crossed the first pass, Guan Yu arrived outside Luoyang. The city governor Han Fu (韩福) drew a thousand troops and blocked the city gate. Han Fu's aide Meng Tan (孟坦) came forward to duel Guan Yu. Within bouts, Meng Tan retreated in an attempt to draw Guan Yu into a trap, but Guan Yu's horse was fast and Meng Tan was slashed into halves before he could escape. However, Han Fu had already taken aim and fired an arrow at Guan Yu, who was struck in the left arm. Plucking the arrow out from the bleeding wound, Guan Yu then came for Han Fu and cleaved him clean below the shoulders.

Having dressed his wound, Guan Yu was anxious to move on. The company moved through the night to arrive at Sishui Pass (汜水關, north of present day Xingyang, Henan). The pass defender, Bian Xi, laid 200 men in ambush in a temple outside the pass, while he went out to meet Guan Yu. Having won the trust of the latter, Bian Xi then invited Guan Yu to a feast in the temple hall. One of the monks, who was also from the county of Xie, hinted the danger to his fellow townsfolk. The ambush then failed and Guan Yu slew the scheming Bian Xi and left for Xingyang (滎陽).

Wang Zhi (王植), the governor of Xingyang, attempted a similar scheme. Feigning kindness towards Guan Yu, Wang Zhi led the company to a relay station to settle for the night. He then ordered his deputy Hu Ban (胡班) to draw a thousand troops to surround the station and burn it. Curious about how the famed Guan Yu looked like, Hu Ban decided to go into the station to take a peek. Guan Yu heard him and asked who he was, whereupon he learnt that Hu Ban was the son of Hu Hua (胡华), an old villager who had given Guan Yu's company lodging early in the journey. Guan Yu then passed Hu Ban a letter from his father, which told of the loyal and upright man Guan Yu was, whereupon Hu Ban divulged Wang Zhi's plot, and opened the city gate for Guan Yu to escape. However, Wang Zhi soon caught up and came for Guan Yu with his spear poised. Guan Yu spun around and cleaved him in half.

Trudging along, the company finally arrived at the ferry point on the southern shore of the Yellow River. Qin Qi (秦琪), the defender of the crossing, met a similar fate as his colleagues who dared challenge Guan Yu. Within a bout, Guan Yu severed Qin Qi's head with a sweep of his sabre. Thus the company finally crossed the Yellow River and came to Yuan Shao's territory, though, unknown to them, Liu Bei had by then already moved to Runan (汝南).

Throughout Guan Yu's escape, he also encountered Zhang Liao and Xiahou Dun, who eventually did not resist him much as Cao Cao kept wavering between his orders to stop Guan Yu or to let him go. At the end of his departure, Guan was to meet Zhang Fei, who, against the advice of others, was infuriated with Guan for having defected and picked up his spear to fight him. Guan was unprepared for this but after several bouts, Guan managed to convince Zhang that he was still true to their brotherhood.

Releasing Cao Cao at Huarong Trail

In Chapter 50, after the fire started burning his ships at the Battle of Red Cliffs, Cao Cao gathered all the men he could and escaped towards the city of Jiangling. Under instruction from advisor Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu led 500 foot soldiers and lay in wait along the Huarong Trail, a narrow shortcut in the woods leading to Jiangling. Prior to leaving, Guan Yu had duly sworn an oath not to allow Cao Cao passage over past favours from the warlord.

On the other hand, Cao Cao had come to a fork in the road during his perilous escape. Columns of smoke were seen rising from the narrower path. Cao Cao judged that the smoke was a trick of the enemy to divert him to the main road, where an ambush must have been laid. He then led his men towards the narrow path - the Huarong Trail.

The smoke was indeed a trick by Zhuge Liang. Grasping Cao Cao's psychology exactly, however, Zhuge Liang had meant to direct him to the Huarong Trail, where Guan Yu with his men were waiting. Upon being cut off, Cao Cao rode forward and appealed to Guan Yu to remember his kindness in former days. Seeing the plight of the defeated men and recalling the former favors he received from Cao Cao, Guan Yu eventually allowed the enemy to pass through without challenge, despite his previous oath. Upon returning, Guan Yu pleaded guilty and would have been executed at the order of Zhuge Liang if not for Liu Bei's intercession.

Treatment of a poisoned arm

A 19th century Japanese woodcut of Guan Yu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. In this scene he is being attended to by the physician Hua Tuo.
A 19th century Japanese woodcut of Guan Yu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. In this scene he is being attended to by the physician Hua Tuo.

One day, the famed physician Hua Tuo came by a boat from the east and went to see Guan Yu, who was playing a game of go with advisor Ma Liang. After examining the wound, Hua Tuo told Guan Yu he had to cut open the flesh and scrape off the residual poison on the surface of the bones. He also suggested that the patient place the injured arm through a ring fixed to a pillar to prevent movement in the absence of anaesthesia, and that blindfold be applied. However, Guan Yu requested that the primitive surgery be performed on the spot, while he continued the game. Those around him cringed at the sound of the knife scraping the bone, but Guan Yu ate and drank, talked and laughed as if he did not feel any pain, presumably not to affect the morale of his army.

Within moments, the treatment was completed. Hua Tuo applied some medications to the wound and sewed it up. Guan Yu laughed and praised the skills of the physician, for the arm felt no more pain. Hua Tuo then left without accepting any reward.

The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms did record a similar incident, though the physician was not named. Also, the injury was sustained on the left arm instead of the right at an unspecified time.

Enlightenment on Yuqian Hill

In Chapter 77, after Guan Yu was beheaded by Sun Quan, lord of the Kingdom of Wu, his spirit roamed the land, crying, "Give me back my head!" Thus he came to Yuquan Hill (玉泉山) outside Dangyang County (present day city of Dangyang, Hubei), where he met the same monk who saved his life at the temple outside Sishui Pass many years ago during his journey to reunite with Liu Bei. The monk said to Guan Yu's spirit, "Now you ask for your head, but from whom should Yan Liang, Wen Chou, the guardians of the five passes and many others ask for theirs?" The spirit was enlightened and dissipated, though it henceforth often manifested itself around the hill and protected the locals. A temple was then built by the people on the hill to worship him.

The Buddhist monk mentioned in the novel, named Pujing (普净) in his faith, was said to have built a grass hut for himself at the southeastern foot of Yuquan Hill during the last years of the Eastern Han Dynasty. At the location of the hut was later built the Yuquan Temple (玉泉寺), the oldest temple in the Dangyang region from where Guan Yu worship originated, completed within the last decade of the 6th century, during the Sui Dynasty. Accordingly, it was to the first reverend of the Yuquan Temple Guan Yu's spirit manifested itself and requested entrance into Buddhism. One of the temple halls, named Sangharama Hall, is dedicated to Guan Yu (see Worship of Guan Yu below for more details).

Revenge on Lü Meng

Also in Chapter 77, after executing Guan Yu and reclaiming Jingzhou (荆州), Sun Quan threw a feast to celebrate and recommend Lü Meng, chief planner and commander of the maneuver to capture Jingzhou and Guan Yu. On the feast, however, Lü Meng was possessed by Guan Yu's spirit and seized Sun Quan. As others rushed forward to save their lord, the possessed Lü Meng swore revenge. In moments, Lü Meng collapsed onto the floor and died. The frightened Sun Quan then sent Guan Yu's severed head in a wooden box to Cao Cao, meaning to sow a discord between the Kingdom of Shu and Kingdom of Wei.

When Cao Cao opened the box, he saw that Guan Yu looked as he did alive. Cao Cao smiled and said to Guan Yu's head, "I hope you are well since we last parted." To his horror, Guan Yu opened his mouth, and the long beard and hairs stood on their ends. Cao Cao fell to the floor and did not regain consciousness for a long time. When he did, he exclaimed, "General Guan is truly a god from heaven!" He then ordered the head be buried with honors accorded a noble.

Miscellaneous Information

Guan Yu had 3 sons: Guan Ping, Guan Suo and Guan Xing. Guan Yu was also often flanked by two generals, Zhou Cang and Liao Hua.

Worship of Guan Yu

Guan Yu has been deified as early as the Sui Dynasty and is still popularly worshipped today among the Chinese people variedly as an indigenous Chinese deity, a bodhisattva in Buddhism and a guardian deity in Taoism. He is also held in high esteem in Confucianism. These are not necessarily contradictory or even distinguished among the common folks as is characteristic of the Chinese, who have quite seamlessly merged these ancient philosophies and religions into their own culture.

In the West, Guan Yu is sometimes called the Taoist God of War, probably because he is one of the most well-known military generals in Chinese history. This is misconceived as, unlike Mars or Tyr, Guan Yu as a god does not necessarily bless those who go to battle but rather anyone who observes the code of brotherhood and righteousness.

General worship

In general worship, Guan Yu's is widely referred to as Emperor Guan (關帝), short for his Taoist title Saintly Emperor Guan (關聖帝君). Temples and shrines dedicated exclusively to Guan Yu could be found in parts of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and other places where Chinese congregate. Some of these temples, such as the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou (解州), Shanxi, were built exactly in the layout of a palace, befitting his status as an "emperor".

The apotheosis of Guan Yu occurred in stages, as he was given ever larger posthumous titles. Liu Shan, the second emperor of the Kingdom of Shu, gave Guan Yu the posthumous title of Marquis Zhuangmou (壮缪侯) four decades after his death. During the Song Dynasty, Emperor Huizong bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of Duke Zhonghui (忠惠公), and later even the title of a prince. In 1187, during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong Guan Yu was established as Prince Zhuangmou Yiyong Wu'an Yingji (壮缪義勇武安英济王). After Song was annihilated by Mongols, who established the Yuan Dynasty in China, Guan Yu was renamed Prince of Xianling Yiyong Wu'an Yingji (显灵義勇武安英济王) by Emperor Wenzong.

The escalation of Guan Yu's status to that of an emperor took place during the Ming Dynasty. In 1614, the Wanli Emperor bestowed on Guan Yu the title of Saintly Emperor Guan the Great God Who Subdues Demons of the Three Worlds and Whose Awe Spreads Far and Moves Heaven (三界伏魔大神威远震天尊關聖帝君). During the Qing Dynasty, the Shunzhi Emperor gave Guan Yu the title of Zhongyi Shenwu Great Saintly Emperor Guan (忠義神武關聖大帝) in 1644. This title was expanded to Renyong Weixian Huguo Baomin Jingcheng Ruijing Yuzan Xuande Zhongyi Shenwu Great Saintly Emperor Guan (仁勇威显护國保民精誠绥靖羽赞宣德忠義神武關聖大帝), a total of 24 characters, by mid-19th century.

Throughout history Guan Yu had also been credited with many military successes. During the Ming dynasty he was said to have aided the founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's fleet at the Battle of Boyang. In 1402, Zhu Di launched a coup d'état and successfully deposed his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor. Zhu Di claimed that he had been blessed by the spirit of Guan Yu. During the last decade of the 16th century, Guan Yu was also credited with the repulse of Japanese invasion of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The ruling Manchu house of the Qing dynasty also associated with Guan Yu's martial qualities. During the 20th century, Guan Yu was worshipped by the warlord Yuan Shikai, president and later a short-lived emperor of China.

Today Guan Yu is still widely worshipped by common folks. In Hong Kong, a shrine for Guan Yu is located in each police station. Though by no means mandatory, most Chinese policemen worship and pay respect to him. Seemingly ironical, members of the Triad gangs and the Hung clan worship Guan Yu as well. This exemplifies the Chinese belief that a code of honor, epitomized by Guan Yu, exists even in the underworld. In Hong Kong, Guan Yu is often referred to as "Yi Gor" (二哥, Cantonese for second big brother) for he was second to Liu Bei in their legendary sworn brotherhood. Guan Yu is also worshipped by Chinese businessmen in Shanxi Province, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia as an alternative God of Wealth, since he is perceived to bless the upright and protect them from the crooked.

Worship in Taoism

Guan Yu is revered as Saintly Emperor Guan (Simplified Chinese: 关圣帝君; Traditional Chinese: 關聖帝君; pinyin: Gūanshèngdìjūn) and a leading subduer of demons in Taoism. Taoist worship of Guan Yu began during the Song Dynasty. Legend has it that during the second decade of the 12th century, the saltwater lake in Xiezhou (解州) gradually ceased to yield salt. Emperor Huizong then summoned Celestial Master Zhang Jixian (張繼先), thirtieth descendent of Celestial Master Zhang Daoling, to investigate the cause. The emperor was told that the disruption was the work of Chi You, a deity of war. The Master then recruited the help of Guan Yu, who did battle with Chi You over the lake and triumphed, whereupon the lake resumed salt production. Emperor Huizong then bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of Immortal of Chongning (崇寕真君), formally introducing the latter as a deity into Taoism.

In early Ming Dynasty, the forty-second Celestial Master Zhang Zhengchang (張正常) recorded the incident in his book Lineage of the Han Celestial Masters (漢天师世家), the first Taoist classic to affirm the legend. Today Taoism practices are predominant in Guan Yu worship. Many temples dedicated to Guan Yu, including the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou, show heavy Taoist influence. Every year, on the thirteenth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar (legendary birthday of Guan Yu), a street parade in the honor of Emperor Guan would also be held.

Worship in Buddhism

In Chinese Buddhism, Guan Yu is honored as a bodhisattva and protector of the Dharma. He is called Sangharama Bodhisattva (Simplified Chinese: 伽蓝菩萨; Traditional Chinese: 伽藍菩薩; pinyin: Qíelán Púsà). Sangharama in Sanskrit means "temple", therefore Guan Yu is also the guardian of the temple. His statue is usually located on the far left of the main shrine, opposite his counterpart, Skanda Bodhisattva.

According to the Buddhist account, in 592, Guan Yu manifested himself one night before the Tripitaka Master Zhiyi, founder of the Tientai school of Buddhism, with a retinue of spiritual beings. Zhiyi was then in deep meditation on Yuquan Hill (玉泉山) when he was distracted by Guan Yu's presence. After receiving Buddhist teachings from the master, Guan Yu acquired the Five Precepts. Henceforth he became the guardian of temples and the Dharma. Legends also claim that Guan Yu assisted Zhiyi in the construction of the Yuquan Temple (玉泉寺), which still stands today.

In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong wrote that Guan Yu manifested himself to a monk named Pujing (普净) on Yuquan Hill on the night of his death. From Pujing Guan Yu sought the Buddhist teachings and entered the faith. While this being a modification of the "true" account, Pujing did exist in history. The location at which Pujing built a grass hut for himself was where the Yuquan Temple was later built on.