(36.1) Guān Yǔ 關羽 [Yúncháng 雲長]

(last updated 2021-10-14)

Guān Yǔ appellation Yúncháng, original appellation Chángshēng, was a Hédōng Xiè man. He went into exile to Zhuō prefecture.


Xiān-zhǔ [Liú Bèi] in his hometown gathered followers into an army, and Yǔ with Zhāng Fēi became his bodyguards. When Xiān-zhǔ became Chancellor of Píngyuán, Yǔ and Fēi were appointed Separate Command Majors with shared command over the personal retainers. Xiān-zhǔ and the two men when resting shared couch, and were as close as brothers. Whenever there were crowds of people gathered and seated, they stood in attendance [to Liú Bèi] all day long. They followed Xiān-zhǔ in all his travels, never shirking from difficulty or danger. (1)


  • (1) Shǔjì states: Excellency Cáo with Liú Bèi besieged Lǚ Bù at Xiàpī. Guān Yǔ informed the Excellency that [Lǚ] Bù had sent Qín Yílù to go ask for help, and asked to wed his [Qín Yílù’s] wife, and the Excellency permitted this. When [the city] was about to fall, he repeatedly informed the Excellency. The Excellency suspected she had unusual appearance, and first sent to summon her to see, and so kept her for himself, and Yǔ’s heart was not at ease.
  • This and what Wèishì Chūnqiū says are without differences.

〔一〕 蜀記曰:曹公與劉備圍呂布於下邳,關羽啟公,布使秦宜祿行求救,乞娶其妻,公許之。臨破,又屢啟於公。公疑其有異色,先遣迎看,因自留之,羽心不自安。此與魏氏春秋所說無異也。

Xiān-zhǔ attacked and killed Xú Province Inspector Chē Zhòu [199], sending Yǔ to defend Xiàpī with acting authority over the Administrator’s affairs, (2) while he personally returned to Xiǎopèi.


  • (2) Wèishū says: with Yǔ designated Xú Province.

〔二〕 魏書云:以羽領徐州。

Jiàn’ān fifth year [200], Excellency Cáo to the east campaigned, Xiān-zhǔ fled to Yuán Shào. Excellency Cáo captured Yǔ and received his surrender, appointed him Assistant-General, and treated him with generous courtesy.


[Yuán] Shào sent his chief General Yán Liáng to attack Administrator of Dōng prefecture Liú Yán at Báimǎ, and Excellency Cáo sent Zhāng Liáo and Yǔ as the vanguard to attack him. Yǔ saw [Yán] Liáng’s banner and chariot canopy, urged his horse onward and stabbed Liáng in the midst of the army, chopped off the head and returned, and among all of Shào’s officers none could stop him, and so the siege of Báimǎ was relieved. Excellency Cáo at once memorialized to give Yǔ fief as Marquis of Hànshòu precinct.


Before this, Excellency Cáo valued Yǔ’s conduct as a man, but observed that he had no intention of staying long, so he said to Zhāng Liáo: “Use your good relations and ask him.” Later Liáo asked Yǔ, and Yǔ sighed and said: “I am deeply aware that Excellency Cáo has treated me generously, but I have received General Liú’s generous favor, and have sworn to die with him, and cannot turn my back on him. In the end I cannot stay, so I will establish a great service to repay Excellency Cáo and then go.” Liáo reported Yǔ’s words to Excellency Cáo, and Excellency Cáo accepted this. (1)


  • Fùzǐ states: Liáo wished to inform Tàizǔ [Cáo Cāo] but feared Tàizǔ would kill Yǔ, but to not inform was not the way to treat one’s master, so he sighed and said: “Excellency [Cáo] is like a lord and father. Yǔ is like a brother and that is all.” Therefore he informed him [Cáo Cāo]. Tàizǔ said: “To serve one’s master without forgetting one’s origins is to be a righteous hero Under Heaven. When do you judge he will go?” Liáo said: “Yǔ has received your favor, and will certainly establish a service to repay you and afterward go.”

〔一〕 傅子曰:遼欲白太祖,恐太祖殺羽,不白,非事君之道,乃歎曰:「公,君父也;羽,兄弟耳。」遂白之。太祖曰:「事君不忘其本,天下義士也。度何時能去?」遼曰:「羽受公恩,必立效報公而後去也。」

When Yǔ killed Yán Liáng, Excellency Cáo knew he would certainly go, and increased his gifts and rewards. Yǔ sealed all he was given, sent a letter to take his leave, and fled to Xiān-zhǔ in Yuán [Shào’s] army. Those around wished to pursue him, but Excellency Cáo said: “Each has their own master. Do not pursue.” (2)


  • (2) Your Servant Sōngzhī believes that Excellency Cáo knew that Yǔ would not stay but in his heart commended that will. At the departure he did not send pursuers and so accomplished that righteousness. If he did not have the tolerance to be King and Overlord, could he have acted thus? This was truly Excellency Cáo’s greatness.

〔二〕 臣松之以為曹公知羽不留而心嘉其志,去不遣追以成其義,自非有王霸之度,孰能至於此乎?斯實曹公之休美。

He followed Xiān-zhǔ to join Liú Biǎo. Biǎo died, and Excellency Cáo settled Jīngzhōu [208]. Xiān-zhǔ planned to go from Fán south to cross the Jiāng, and separately sent Yǔ to take several hundred ships and rejoin him at Jiānglíng. Excellency Cáo pursued to Chángbǎn in Dāngyáng, Xiān-zhǔ by a separate route fled over the Hàn crossing, and happened to meet up with Yǔ’s ships, and together they arrived at Xiàkǒu. (1)


  • (1) Shǔjì states: Previously, when Liú Bèi was at Xǔ, he with Excellency Cáo together went hunting. During the hunt, the crowd was scattered, and Yǔ advised Bèi to kill the Excellency, but Bèi did not listen. When they were at Xiàkǒu, they were drifting by the bank of the Jiāng, and Yǔ angrily said: “That past day during the hunt, if you had followed Yǔ’s [my] advice, we would not be in this difficulty today.” Bèi said: “At that time the state could not begrudge [to lose] him [Cáo Cāo] and that is all. If Heaven’s Way assists the correct, how can we know it will not be a good fortune?”
  • Your Servant Sōngzhī believes that Bèi later plotted together with Dǒng Chéng and the others, but because the affair was leaked did he not succeed and that is all. If it was because the state could not begrudge [to lose] Excellency Cáo, then how could he speak thus? If Yǔ indeed at advised him thus and it was Bèi who would not agree, then as he had just become Excellency Cáo‘s trusted personal retainer there were definitely many times when he was nearby, but matters could not be easily resolved and he did not rashly act. Even if Excellency Cáo could be killed, he [Liú Bèi] would certainly not escape, and that is why he plotted but stopped. What begrudging was there? It was a past affair, and so he turned it into pleasant-sounding words and that is all.

〔一〕 蜀記曰:初,劉備在許,與曹公共獵。獵中,眾散,羽勸備殺公,備不從。及在夏口,飄颻江渚,羽怒曰:「往日獵中,若從羽言,可無今日之困。」備曰:「是時亦為國家惜之耳;若天道輔正,安知此不為福邪!」臣松之以為備後與董承等結謀,但事泄不克諧耳,若為國家惜曹公,其如此言何!羽若果有此勸而備不肯從者,將以曹公腹心親戚,實繁有徒,事不宿構,非造次所行;曹雖可殺,身必不免,故以計而止,何惜之有乎!既往之事,故託為雅言耳。

Sūn Quán sent troops to assist Xiān-zhǔ in resisting Excellency Cáo, and Excellency Cáo led his army back and retreated. Xiān-zhǔ captured the prefectures south of the Jiāng, and then gave rewards to all his earliest followers, so Yǔ became Administrator of Xiāngyáng and General Sweeping Away Bandits, camping north of the Jiāng. Xiān-zhǔ went west to settle Yìzhōu, and appointed Yǔ to supervise and command Jīng provincial affairs.


Yǔ heard Mǎ Chāo had come to surrender. He had previously not known him, so Yǔ wrote a letter to Zhūgě Liàng, to ask who could Chāo compare with in ability. Liàng knew that Yǔ was proud, so he answered: “[Mǎ Chāo] Mèngqǐ has both civil and military ability and valor surpassing others, a hero of the age, comparable to Qíng [Bù] and Péng [Yuè], and so can compete with [Zhāng Fēi] Yìdé, yet he cannot yet compare to how the bearded one excels above others.” Yǔ had great whiskers and beard, and therefore Liàng called him bearded one. When Yǔ received the letter he was greatly pleased, and showed it to his guest-retainers.


Yǔ was once by a stray arrow hit, pierced in his left arm. Later though the wound healed, whenever it was cloudy and raining, the bone would be in pain. The physician said: “The arrow head had poison, and the poison has entered the bone. The arm wound must be reopened to scrape the bone and remove the poison, and only after will the pain be removed and that is all.” Yǔ immediately extended his arm and ordered the physician to cut it. At the time Yǔ had also invited his officers to meet to drink and feast. The arm blood flowed, filling a pan, but Yǔ cut his meat and drank his liquor, talking and laughing as usual.


Twenty-fourth year [219], Xiān-zhǔ became King of Hànzhōng, and promoted Yǔ to General of the Front with Acting Staff and Battle-Ax. That year, Yǔ led his armies to attack Cáo Rén at Fán. Excellency Cáo sent Yú Jīn to assist Rén.


Autumn, heavy unceasing rain. The Hàn river flooded, and the seven armies Jīn commanded were all destroyed [by the flood]. Jīn surrendered to Yǔ, and Yǔ also beheaded General Páng Dé. Among the bandit armies of Liáng, Jiá, and Lùhún, some from afar received seals and titles from Yǔ and became his allies, so that Yǔ’s power shook the central plains. Excellency Cáo discussed moving the capital from Xǔ to avoid this threat, but Sīmǎ [Yì] Xuān-wáng and Jiǎng Jì believed: “Guān Yǔ achieving his ambition is something Sūn Quán certainly will not accept. We can send someone to urge Quán to attack from the rear, dividing the south of the Jiāng to reward Quán, and in this way the siege of Fán will be resolved.” Excellency Cáo followed this.


Before this, Quán had sent an envoy to ask for Yǔ’s daughter to wed his son, but Yǔ had shouted at and insulted the envoy and would not agree to the marriage, and Quán was greatly angered. (1)


  • (1) Diǎnlüè states: When Yǔ besieged Fán, Quán sent an envoy to offer to assist him, but of the ordered envoys none advanced quickly, and he also sent his Registrar to first go to Yǔ. Yǔ was angered that they were delayed, and also he had just captured Yú Jīn and others, and therefore he cursed: “You dog would dare act thus! Once Fánchéng is taken, do you think I cannot destroy you too?” Quán heard of this, and knew he [Guān Yǔ] underestimated him [Sūn Quán], so he hand wrote a false letter apologizing to Yǔ, stating he would himself go [to assist him].
  • Your Servant Sōngzhī believes that though Jīng and Wú were outwardly harmonious, inside they suspected one another and were on guard, and therefore when Quán attacked Yǔ he set out secretly. As the Biography of Lǚ Méng [SGZ 54] says: “He hid elite troops in barges, with white [civilian] clothes on the crew, to disguise as merchants.” By these words, Yǔ did not ask assistance from Quán, and Quán certainly did not say to Yǔ that he would go. If they were permitted to assist each other, why would they hide themselves in such a manner?

〔一〕 典略曰:羽圍樊,權遣使求助之,敕使莫速進,又遣主簿先致命於羽。羽忿其淹遲,又自已得于禁等,乃罵曰:「貉子敢爾,如使樊城拔,吾不能滅汝邪!」權聞之,知其輕己,偽手書以謝羽,許以自往。臣松之以為荊、吳雖外睦,而內相猜防,故權之襲羽,潛師密發。按呂蒙傳云:「伏精兵於〈舟冓〉〈舟鹿〉之中,使白衣搖櫓,作商賈服。」以此言之,羽不求助於權,權必不語羽當往也。若許相援助,何故匿其形跡乎?

Furthermore, the Administrator of Nán prefecture Mí Fāng was at Jiānglíng, and General Shì Rén was camped at Gōng’ān, and both resented that Yǔ had been contemptuous of them. When Yǔ set out with the army, Fāng and Rén were in charge of the military supplies, but did not provide assistance. Yǔ said: “When I return I will deal with them.” Fāng and Rén were afraid and could not be at ease. Therefore Quán secretly enticed Fāng and Rén, and Fāng and Rén sent people to invite Quán.


Meanwhile Excellency Cáo sent Xú Huǎng to rescue Cáo Rén (2), and Yǔ could not overcome them, and so he called back the army and retreated.


  • (2) Shǔjì states: Yǔ and Huǎng were formerly fond of each other. From afar they conversed, though they only spoke of common life and not military affairs. Suddenly, Huǎng dismounted his horse and announced an order: “For obtaining Guān [Yǔ] Yúncháng’s head, the reward is gold of thousand jīn.” Yǔ was surprised, and said to Huǎng: “Elder brother, why say this?”  Huǎng said: “This is the state’s affair and that is all.”

〔二〕 蜀記曰:羽與晃宿相愛,遙共語,但說平生,不及軍事。須臾,晃下馬宣令:「得關雲長頭,賞金千斤。」羽驚怖,謂晃曰:「大兄,是何言邪!」晃曰:「此國之事耳。」

Quán had already occupied Jiānglíng and captured all the wives and children of Yǔ’s soldiers, and Yǔ’s army therefore all deserted. Quán sent officers to intercept and attack Yǔ, beheading Yǔ and his son Píng at Línjǔ. (3)


  • (3) Shǔjì states: Quán sent his Generals to attack Yǔ, and captured Yǔ and his son Píng. Quán wished to keep Yǔ alive to use against Liú [Bèi] and Cáo [Cāo], but his attendants said: “A wolf cub cannot be raised, or else later it will certainly do harm. Excellency Cáo did not destroy him, bringing on himself great misfortune so that he even discussed moving the capital. Now how can he be left alive?” Therefore they beheaded him.
  • Your Servant Sōngzhī comments that according to Wúshū, Sūn Quán sent his officer Pān Zhāng to cut off Yǔ’s escape route, and when Yǔ arrived he was beheaded. Moreover, Línjǔ is two to three hundred lǐ from Jiānglíng. How could there be enough time to kill Yǔ after discussing on whether to keep him alive or kill him? Also the saying: “Quán wished to keep Yǔ alive to use against Liú [Bèi] and Cáo [Cāo],” this cannot be, and can by no means come from the mouth of the knowledgeable.
  • Wúlì states: Quán sent Yǔ’s head to Lord Cáo, and with the Rites of a lord buried the body.

〔三〕 蜀記曰:權遣將軍擊羽,獲羽及子平。權欲活羽以敵劉、曹,左右曰:「狼子不可養,後必為害。曹公不即除之,自取大患,乃議徙都。今豈可生!」乃斬之。臣松之按吳書:孫權遣將潘璋逆斷羽走路,羽至即斬,且臨沮去江陵二三百里,豈容不時殺羽,方議其生死乎?又云「權欲活羽以敵劉、曹」,此之不然,可以絕智者之口。吳歷曰:權送羽首於曹公,以諸侯禮葬其屍骸。

Posthumous title was bestowed on Yǔ as Zhuàngmù-Hóu “Strong and Errant Marquis.” (1) His son Xīng succeeded.


  • (1) Shǔjì states: When Yǔ set out with the army to besiege Fán, he dreamed of a pig gnawing on his foot, and said to his son Píng: “This year I have become weaker, and so may not return!”
  • Jiāngbiǎozhuàn states: Yǔ liked the Zuǒshì zhuàn, and could recite it all fluently.

〔一〕 蜀記曰:羽初出軍圍樊,夢豬嚙其足,語子平曰:「吾今年衰矣,然不得還!」江表傳曰:羽好左氏傳,諷誦略皆上口。

Xīng appellation Ānguó. From youth he had reputation, and Chancellor Zhūgě Liàng was deeply impressed with him. When Capped he became Palace Attendant, Central Supervisor of the Army, but after several years he died. His son Tǒng succeeded, bestowed a princess, and his office reached Internal Cadet-General of the Tiger Guard. He died, had no sons, so Xīng’s lesser [concubine born] son Yí continued the fief. (2)


  • (2) Shǔjì states: Páng Dé’s son Huì followed Zhōng [Huì] and Dèng [Ài] in attacking Shǔ. When Shǔ was destroyed, he exterminated the Guān family.

〔二〕 蜀記曰:龐德子會,隨鍾、鄧伐蜀,蜀破,盡滅關氏家。

1 thought on “(36.1) Guān Yǔ 關羽 [Yúncháng 雲長]

  1. Pingback: The misapprehension of mythology | Simon McNeil

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