Hello fellow historians, you have seen our first blog post in regards to life of an Ancient Egyptian farmer, today we will be sharing to you more about life of a Chinese war general! Professor Bennett has shared with us a great deal of Ancient China as a civilisation and its political wars that occurred over the generations. In this extensive Chinese war culture, have you ever wondered what being a soldier/general in a period such as this would be like? Having placed greater emphasis on kings, we occasionally forget that even generals have left behind legacies that we can learn from. Today, we zoom in on Guan Yu, a ferocious general-turned-deity, whose life stories transformed into the remarkable legends that have imparted lessons of values onto us till this day.
A chinese military general, who was so well versed in martial prowess that he was worshipped as a deity after his death. Do not be fooled by his fearsome appearance (red face), because he is an icon for bravery, courage and loyalty. The Han Dynasty is a long and stable empire, as well as a model, which sets the rule to which subsequent dynasties take reference from. It ruled China for nearly 400 years; Guan Yu happened to live during the period of the fall of the Han Dynasty. He served under the King of Shu, Liu Bei, as one of his top generals and were closest comrades.
If loyalty had to find itself a model to follow after, it would be Guan Yu. Guan Yu swore on his life that he will remain loyal to Liu Bei. One such episode was when he got captured by the warlord Cao Cao. Although Cao Cao make Guan Yu Lieutenant General of his army and reward him handsomely, Guan Yu still regarded Liu Bei as his brother and did not betray him. He stayed true to his ‘covenant’ (see what we did there) with Liu Bei and eventually escaped from Cao Cao’s army after he slayed Yan Liang - an opposing general that Cao Cao wanted rid of. This was the one favour Guan Yu did for Cao Cao, before reuniting with his former lord.
To withstand the short-term lucrative incentives of the enemy, and having a long sighted plan to reunite with Liu Bei shows the strong sense of loyalty and camaraderie he had with his lord, Guan Yu certainly is the epitome of loyalty and righteousness.
Guan Yu has always been regarded as a fearsome warrior and capable general. We hear of stories of his victories and how Cao Cao, an enemy of Liu Bei, the general he serves, would so eagerly want Guan Yu by his side. However, we came to realise that Guan Yu’s career as a general comes with a fair share of losses and downfalls as well.
One of his loss was in 208, when Cao Cao begin his domination southwards and invaded the Jing Province. Guan Yu fearlessly retaliated by leading a navy to fight Cao Cao. The Battle of Jiangling saw the former being ordered to cut the supply lines as the latter had roughly 100000 soldiers ready to render assistance when needed. Guan Yu then headed both navy and infantry to go up the Han River and attacked the city of Xiangyang. To our dismay, Guan Yu was smacked by a loss.
Guan Yu was also immortalised in fiction stories created in his name, exaggerating his might and power. Particularly, in the historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, a chinese physician called Hua Tuo, healed general Guan Yu’s wound, punctured by a poisoned arrow during his battle in Fancheng. Hua Tuo had to use a knife to cut the flesh and scrape the poison from the bone, an excruciating treatment that make others cringe just by mentioning it. In reality, Guan Yu confessed that he appeared fine to not affect the morale of the army. This story not only shows his bravery but more importantly reflect his ability as a leader. Today, he remains a popular figure in historical fiction that left an impact even in today’s culture, chinese morals and ethics lessons, which are strongly in line with the way of confucianism as taught in class!
The story of Lord Guan become popular and, soon after, he became known as the god Guan Di - pacifier of demons. As a deity, he was given several nicknames, such as "Saintly Emperor Guan", "Guan Gong," (Lord Guan) and “Guan Di” (God of War). Even though he had accumulated more losses than victories during his lifetime as we had mentioned earlier, he was looked up as a role model for his character rather than his martial prowess. It is his principles, beliefs, characters and qualities for which he is worshipped. Till date, there are many temples and shrines devoted to him throughout South East Asia.
In conclusion, Guan Yu sets the benchmark as a figurehead for his character such as loyalty, bravery and camaraderie. His lifetime events taught us that it is not your victories that define you, but your perseverance in adversity. Through these historical events, Guan Yu demonstrates the ethics, values and morality that we should incorporate into our lives, and hopefully, create a better and more beautiful world, CONFUCIANISM RULES!
Produced By: James Chia Kenneth Chan Ainsley Chew