Three Kingdoms
Liu Bei ,刘备 (A.D.161 - 223) Shu蜀 Emperor 中文详细
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Portrait of Liu Bei by an unknown artist
Portrait of Liu Bei by an unknown artist
Emperor of Three Kingdoms
Kingdom of Shu
Liu Bei
Simplified Chinese: 刘备
Traditional Chinese: 劉備
Pinyin: Liú Bèi
Wade-Giles: Liu Pei
Zi: Xuande (玄德)
Posthumous name: Zhaolie (昭烈)
Other names: Huangshu (皇叔)
emperor's uncle
Shijun (使君)
Yuzhou (豫州)
Period of reign: 221 - 223
Era names: Zhangwu (章武) 221 – 223
Read more about the Chinese name.

Liu Bei (161 - 223) was a powerful warlord and the founding emperor of the Kingdom of Shu during the Three Kingdoms era in ancient China. Having risen up from the commoner class, he was initially a small player in the massive civil war leading up to the collapse of the Eastern Han Dynasty. In 214, using strategy of his chief advisor Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei conquered Yizhou (益州, present day Sichuan and Guizhou) and at last established the foundation for his kingdom. In 221, Liu Bei declared himself emperor in an effort to carry on the lineage of the Han Dynasty. He was succeeded by Liu Shan, who eventually surrendered to the Kingdom of Wei in 263.

In the 14th century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Liu Bei was portrayed as a virtuous and charismatic man who rose from a humble straw weaver to the emperor. His many experiences were dramatized or exaggerated by the author to advocate the Confucian set of moral values, such as loyalty and compassion. However, it is this novelized character of Liu Bei that had become much more commonly known in folklore, opera and other art forms.



Early life

Born in the prefecture of Zhuo (涿, present day Zhuozhou, Hebei), Liu Bei was a descendant of Liu Sheng, one of the sons of Emperor Jing. However, after generations Liu Bei was no longer closely related to the ruling family of the Han Dynasty. He lost his father when he was still a child and, together with his mother, sold shoes and straw-woven mats for a living. At fourteen, Liu Bei was sent to study under Lu Zhi, a scholar and governor of Jiujiang. There he met and befriended Gongsun Zan, who was also a pupil of Lu Zhi and later became a warlord in northern China.

The teenage Liu Bei was unenthusiastic in studying but interested in hunting, music and elaborate clothings. His arms were said to be so long that they reach beneath his knees and his ears so huge that he could see them himself. Few of words and calm in demeanor, Liu Bei was well-liked among his contemporaries. Two horse merchants were so impressed with him that they gave him a large amount of money, with which Liu Bei gathered a band of followers, including Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, who later became two of the most prominent generals of the Kingdom of Shu.

Beginning of civil war

IIn 184, the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out. Liu Bei and his followers joined the regional government's force and scored several victories against the rebels. In 192, after suffering a defeat, Liu Bei traveled north to seek a position under Gongsun Zan, who placed him on the border with rival warlord Yuan Shao. For his subsequent military successes Liu Bei was made governor of Pingyuan (平原).

In 194, when Cao Cao launched a campaign against Tao Qian (陶謙), governor of Xuzhou (徐州, present day northern Jiangsu), Liu Bei went to the rescue of the latter. Before any major confrontation was made, however, Cao Cao was forced to retreat to his own base in Yanzhou (兗州, present day western Shandong) as Lü Bu had occupied much of the region with the help of several defectors. However, Liu Bei did not return to Gongsun Zan but stayed on in Xuzhou, where Tao Qian placed him in command of 4,000 troops. When Tao Qian died of sickness shortly afterwards, he passed on the governorship of Xuzhou to Liu Bei.

On the other hand, Lü Bu was eventually defeated and, thinking that by forcing Cao Cao's retreat he had done Xuzhou a favor, he headed for Xiapi to seek refuge under Liu Bei. However, while Liu Bei was away defending his territory against Yuan Shu, Lü Bu took over Xiapi, captured Liu Bei's family and declared himself the governor of Xuzhou. When Liu Bei returned, he garrisoned his troops in Xiaopei (小沛, present day Pei County, Jiangsu) and made peace with Lü Bu, whereupon his family was returned. However, Lü Bu grew wary of Liu Bei as the force of the latter expanded. Finally, in 198, he attacked Liu Bei in Xiaopei. The defeated Liu Bei sought help from Cao Cao, who personally led an army into Xuzhou and defeated Lü Bu for good. Liu Bei then followed Cao Cao back to the new capital Xuchang.

At this time, Emperor Xian, who had been held under the power of Cao Cao, secretly wrote a decree on a belt ordering the elimination of Cao Cao. The emperor then passed the belt to his uncle, General of Chariots and Cavalry Dong Cheng. Dong Cheng then started plotting the assassination with Liu Bei and a few other colleagues. Before the act could be carried out, however, Liu Bei was sent out with Zhu Ling (朱靈) to intercept Yuan Shu, who was traveling north to reconcile with his cousin (or half-brother, depending on sources) Yuan Shao. Liu Bei took the opportunity to kill Che Wei (車冑), governor of Xuzhou, and retake the region. In 200, Dong Cheng's plot leaked and the conspirators were promptly executed.

In the same year, after an initial attack led by Liu Dai (劉岱) and Wang Zhong (王忠) failed, Cao Cao personally led an attack against Liu Bei and defeated the latter. He also captured Liu Bei's family and right arm, Guan Yu. Liu Bei fled north to Yuan Shao, who was at that time amassing troops on the northern shore of the Yellow River and ready for a major confrontation with Cao Cao. Seeing initial setbacks Yuan Shao suffered, Liu Bei was unwilling to stay. He persuaded Yuan Shao to allow him to lead a force to travel south to make an alliance with Liu Biao, governor of Jingzhou (荆州, present day Hubei and Hunan). However, Yuan Shao was soon routed at the Battle of Guandu. Liu Bei then switched allegiance and sought a position under Liu Biao.

Settling down in Jingzhou

Jingzhou was a rich region full of talented men. Many of them, including the great strategist Zhuge Liang, came to Liu Bei during this time. Liu Biao soon grew wary of Liu Bei and sent him to Bowang (博望) to defend against forces of Cao Cao. In 205, Cao Cao led his force deep into the north against the Wuhuan minority tribe. Liu Bei urged Liu Biao to grasp the opportunity to attack Xuchang but the indecisive Liu Biao delayed and lost the initiative. In the next year, Cao Cao had returned victorious and began a massive campaign south to take Jingzhou. At this time, Liu Biao died of sickness, leaving his legacy to his youngest son Liu Cong (劉琮), who promptly surrendered. Leading a huge throng of commoners, Liu Bei then trudged south to unite with Liu Biao's eldest son Liu Qi (劉琦) in Jiangling.

Wary of the ample supply of military equipment in Jiangling, Cao Cao left behind bulky supplies and forced march his army in an effort to catch up with Liu Bei. At Xiangyang, Cao Cao learnt that Liu Bei had already passed through. With 5,000 elite horsemen, Cao Cao sped up his pursuit and finally caught up with Liu Bei at Changban (長阪, northeast of present day Dangyang County, Hubei). Though many of his troops and baggages were captured, Liu Bei managed to escape to Jiangxia (江夏, present day Wuchang, Wuhan, Hubei), where he met Liu Qi.

Liu Bei then sent Zhuge Liang as an envoy to Sun Quan, a powerful warlord occupying southeastern China, to seek alliance. Sun Quan deployed Zhou Yu, Cheng Pu and a large fleet to assist Liu Bei. He even married his younger sister to Liu Bei to fortify the alliance. In the winter of 208, forces of Cao Cao and the alliance clashed on the Yangtze River west of Wuchang. The conflict, known as the Battle of Red Cliffs, ended with the complete victory by the alliance. As his army was further plagued by epidemic, Cao Cao had no choice but to withdraw. Liu Qi soon died of sickness and Liu Bei took over control of southern Jingzhou.

Entry into Yizhou

In 211, Liu Zhang, governor of Yizhou (益州, present day Sichuan and Chongqing), heard that Cao Cao planned to attack Zhang Lu in Hanzhong. As Hanzhong provided an excellent platform for further incursion into Yizhou, Liu Zhang wished to make alliance with Liu Bei and have the latter conquer Hanzhong before Cao Cao did. Liu Bei accepted the offer and, leaving Guan Yu and Zhuge Liang behind to defend Jingzhou, he led a force westwards to Jiameng (葭萌, southwest of present day Guangyuan, Sichuan). As his ulterior motive was to take over Yizhou, Liu Bei did not attack Hanzhong right away but instead began to build personal network in the region. This finally exposed the hypocritical nature of Liu Bei.

In the next year, Liu Bei received a distress call from Sun Quan, who was under attack by Cao Cao. He then requested 10,000 troops and funds from Liu Zhang to heed the call but the latter only granted him 4,000 troops and half of the funds he asked for. While Liu Bei was back in Jingzhou, Liu Zhang discovered that his advisor Zhang Song (張松) had been keeping secret correspondence with Liu Bei. Finally wary of Liu Bei's motives, Liu Zhang ordered that Liu Bei be refused entry via all passes leading to the heart of Yizhou.

The infuriated Liu Bei then launched a two-year campaign against Liu Zhang and by 214 had defeated the latter. Hearing that Liu Bei had taken Yizhou, Sun Quan then requested that Jingzhou be returned to him as per a previous agreement but Liu Bei procrastinated, saying he would do so when he conquered Liangzhou (涼州, present day western Gansu). Sun Quan then sent Lü Meng to conquer the commanderies of Changsha, Lingling (零陵, present day Yongzhou, Hunan) and Guiyang (桂陽) in 215. Meanwhile, Cao Cao had conquered Hanzhong. Liu Bei had no choice but to make a pact with Sun Quan to divide southern Jingzhou into western and eastern halves to be shared between the two.

Summary of major events
161 Born in present day Zhuozhou, Hebei.
184 Fought Yellow Turban Rebellion in central China.
194 Took over governorship of Xuzhou
198 Defeated by Lü Bu.
Allied with Cao Cao.
200 Defeated by Cao Cao.
Escaped to Yuan Shao.
Joined Liu Biao.
208 Allied with Sun Quan and won the Battle of Red Cliffs.
Took over Jingzhou.
215 Defeated Liu Zhang and took over Yizhou.
219 Conquered Hanzhong.
Declared self King of Hanzhong.
221 Declared self emperor.
221 Lost the Battle of Yiling against Sun Quan's forces.
222 Died in Baidi.

Kingdom of Shu

Henceforth, Liu Bei began a long and tedious campaign to take Hanzhong. It was not until 219 when he succeeded. Liu Bei then declared himself King of Hanzhong, though he was still based in Chengdu, leaving Wei Yan to guard the strategic city against Cao Cao's forces. In the same year, forces of Sun Quan led by Lü Meng captured Guan Yu, who was promptly executed, and conquered Jingzhou. A year later, Cao Cao passed away and his successor Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate. Cao Pi then declared himself emperor of the Kingdom of Wei. Upon hearing the rumor that Emperor Xian had been murdered, Liu Bei also declared himself emperor of the Kingdom of Shu so as to carry on the lineage of Han Dynasty.

In 221, Liu Bei made Liu Shan the heir apparent. In autumn, he personally led a force against Sun Quan. After initial victories, Liu Bei was eventually defeated by Lu Xun at Xiaoting (猇亭, north of present day Yidu, Hubei) in the Battle of Yiling in 222. In winter, the two parties made peace again. Liu Bei returned to Baidi and died from complications of dysentery there in the spring of 223. His body was brought back to Chengdu and entombed at Huiling (惠陵, southern suburb of present day Chengdu) four months later. He was given the posthumous name of Zhaolie (昭烈), literally meaning apparent uprightness. Liu Shan, who succeeded him, eventually surrendered to the Kingdom of Wei in 263

Major battles

The words "Red Cliffs" carved on the cliff of Chibi Hill, northeast of Puqi County, Hubei, believed to be the site of the Battle of Red Cliffs
The words "Red Cliffs" carved on the cliff of Chibi Hill, northeast of Puqi County, Hubei, believed to be the site of the Battle of Red Cliffs

Battle of Red Cliffs

Main article: Battle of Red Cliffs

The Battle of Red Cliffs was a classic battle where the vastly outnumbered emerged victorious. In the winter of 208, Liu Bei and Sun Quan formed their first coalition against the southward expansion of Cao Cao. The two sides clashed at the Red Cliffs (northwest of present day Puqi County, Hubei). Cao Cao boasted 830,000 men (historians believe the realistic number was around 220,000), while the alliance at best had 50,000 troops.

However, Cao Cao's men, mostly from the north, were ill-suited to the southern climate and naval warfare, and thus entered the battle with a clear disadvantage. Furthermore, a plague that broke out undermined the strength of Cao Cao's army. The fire tactic used by Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu, chief military advisors to Liu Bei and Sun Quan, also worked effectively against Cao Cao's vessels, which were chained together and thus allowed the fire to quickly spread. A majority of Cao Cao's troops were either burnt to death or drowned. Those who tried to retreat to the near bank were ambushed and annihilated by enemy skirmishers. Cao Cao himself barely escaped the encounter.

Battle of Yiling

Main article: Battle of Yiling

The Battle of Yiling was fought in the summer of 222 between forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan. In autumn of the previous year, Liu Bei personally led a sizeable force east under the banner of avenging Guan Yu, who was captured and executed by Sun Quan in 219. A request for peace from Sun Quan was turned down. After initial victories by Liu Bei, Lu Xun, commander-in-chief of the Wu forces, ordered a retreat to Yiling (present day Yichang, Hubei). There he held his position and refused to engage with the invaders.

As summer came by Liu Bei's troops were scorched and low in morale. Liu Bei was forced to camp within the woods for shade. Lu Xun then ordered a counterattack. Using fire, he easily set Liu Bei's entire campground ablaze and forced the enemy to retreat west to Ma'an Hill (馬鞍山, northwest of Yiling, not to be confused with Ma'anshan, Anhui). Lu Xun's force then besieged the hill. With most of his troops routed, Liu Bei managed to escape under cover of the night to Baidi and died there a year later.

Liu Bei in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Portrait of Liu Bei from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Portrait of Liu Bei from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 14th century 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 period said, the novel incorporated many popular folklore and opera scripts into the character of Liu Bei, portraying him as a compassionate and righteous leader who built his kingdom on the basis of Confucian values. This is in line with the historical background of the times during which the novel was written. Furthermore, the author acknowledged the legitimacy of Liu Bei's claim to the throne, since Liu Bei was related, however distantly, to the ruling family of the Han Dynasty. Famous and notable stories involving Liu Bei from the novel include:

Sworn brotherhood 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, acquired horses, casted weapons and joined the resistance against the Yellow Turban rebels.

In truth, the three did not swear brotherhood, a concept popular in folklore. The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms says the three often shared a bed, and treated one another as brothers (thus raising questions regarding their sexuality). On the other hand, according to a later biography of Guan Yu, he was a year older than Liu Bei, not younger.

General worship of Liu Bei

Liu Bei is also worshipped as the patron of shoemakers in Chengdu, which is also known as the "City of Shoes" as more than 80 million pairs of shoes totaling 5 billion RMB in sales are manufactured there annually. It was said that in 1845, during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor, the shoemakers guild in Chengdu who called themselves disciples of Liu Bei sponsored the construction of the Sanyi Temple (三義廟) in Liu Bei's honor. After many times of relocation, the temple can be found in Wuhou District today. Since Mainland China loosened its control on religious practices in recent years, the worship of Liu Bei among shoemakers had again gained popularity in Chengdu. On July 1, 2005, a large procession was carried out in front of the Sanyi Temple to commemorate Liu Bei – the first such event since the founding of the People's Republic of China. [1]

A commentary carried by the Yangtse Evening News (扬子晚报) criticized such practice as mere commercial gimmick to exploit the fame of Liu Bei. [2] It argued that although Liu Bei sold straw-woven shoes and mats for a living when he was young, he was hardly the inventor of shoes. According to legends, it was Yu Ze (于则) who made the first pairs of shoes with softwood during the time of the Yellow Emperor. However, the criticisms did not dampen the enthusiastic shoe industry owners in their decision to erect a statue of Liu Bei in the West China Shoes Centre Industrial Zone, which is still under construction in Wuhou District as of August 2005.

Dynasty Warriors

Liu Bei also appears as a playable character in the popular Dynasty Warriors video game series by Koei, in which his weapon of choice is a sword. His moveset consists of rapid slashes as well as dash and aerial attacks. During most of the battles in Musou Mode (Story Mode), he fights alongside his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. In Dynasty Warriors 5, a cutscene preceding the Battle of Yiling shows Liu Bei stricken with grief over the death of Guan Yu. Liu Bei's heir Liu Shan also appears as a non-playable character in the game.


  1. ^ "武侯祠祭“鞋神”刘备". 四川在线. URL accessed on August 26, 2005.; "宣传成都民俗文化 武侯祠祭祀"鞋神"刘备". 文化产业网. URL accessed on August 26, 2005. (Both sources in Simplified Chinese) ^
  2. "刘备啥时候成了“鞋神”". 扬子晚报. URL accessed on August 26, 2005.


  • Chen Shou (2002). San Guo Zhi, Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80665-198-5
  • Luo Guanzhong (1986). San Guo Yan Yi, Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80520-013-0
  • Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3467-9

Preceded by:
Emperor of China (Kingdom of Shu) 221–223 Succeeded by:
Liu Shan