Why was Guan Yu feared (history only no novel or folk tales)

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Why was Guan Yu feared (history only no novel or folk tales)

Unread postby LiuBeiwasGreat » Wed Sep 15, 2004 5:28 am

In history Guan Yu had a less then steller military career. One of the few recorded victories he had was against Yan Liang and even though Ju Shou stated that Yan Liang wasn't a talented general he did had victories against Gonsun Zan so he couldn't have been totally inane. However this is one victory and after this Guan Yu faces nothing but defeat after defeat at the hands of Cao Ren. At this time Sun Quan and Lu Meng wish to take Jing but don't wish to move while Guan Yu is in charge (thus in their first invasion they don't go after Jiang Ling which is what they claim to have wanted but instead go after the less defended areas to the south)

Lu Meng obviously feared Guan Yu as show in this quote from his SGZ bio (plus showing off his ego)
"The only reason why Guan Yu had not tried marching east is because of my Liege’s brilliance and because of me and other generals’ being still alive. Once we are gone, he will easily take over our land by a simple show of might.”"

Apparently it was Sun Quan's brilliance in war as well as Lu Meng's vast power that kept Guan Yu from attacking Wu but it seems that if Sun Quan Lu Meng and "other generals" all die (who are all most likely much younger then Guan Yu so it would be kinda silly to think that Guan Yu would out live them all) then Guan Yu will easily take over all of Wu.

Then from Lu Xun's bio also mentioning Lu Meng;s belief that Guan Yu was a general to be feared.
"“Guan Yu’s known for his military prowess,” replied Lü Meng, “and has been a difficult enemy. Since he has been in charge of Jing Province (荊州), he has been benevolent towards the people. Furthermore, morale is high on his side due to his recent victories. It may not be so easy to defeat him.”"
You will notice that he refers to Guan Yu's victory over Yu Jin not as the reason for him to be feared but as an addition to why he should be feared. He says that "Guan Yu’s known for his military prowess" and "has been a difficult enemy." However if we look at Chen Shou's recordings of Guan Yu's military history it would be kind of silly for Lu Meng to talk about how talented Guan Yu is when he has just about lost every battle he has been in. Also it mentions that he has been a difficult enemy but he never actually fought Guan Yu according to Chen Shou since a peace agreement was made with Liu Bei before any read fighting started in 215.

Also from Sun Quan's SGZ bio we see that he also feared Guan Yu.
"On the inside, [Sun] Quan feared [Guan] Yu, but on the outside he considered him a great hero."

Now while in posession of half of the southern half of Jing Guan Yu had access to tens of thousands of troops. I don't recal any SGZ i have read mentioning how many troops he led to attack Fan and Xiang Yang but for arugment sake lets say that Guan Yu after 215 had about 100,000 troops. (most likely smaller perhaps 60-80,000 but for now lets sayy 100,000) Some people might suggest that it was these troops that Quan and company feared (even though the bios say diffrently) He would have to leave a good portion of those troops to defend against either Sun Quan or Cao Cao if he was invading either one of them So lets say out of the 100,000 troops he can bring 60,000 troops on a campaign. Now Sun Quan had repelled armies from Cao Cao that have reached 250,000 and usually averaging about 150-200,000 soldiers per attack. Also these attacks were being led by Cao Cao who is arugeably one of the greatest generals of the time. If Sun Quan and company could repell such huge armies from amazing commanders from the north why would be so afraid of a general who has proven himself talentless who has less soldiers?

It seems stupid that Guan Yu would give Sun Quan, Lu Meng and later on Cao Cao pause. Cao Cao wanted to shift the capital something he didn't even consider when facing Yuan Shao who was his biggest threat in the past. WIth the massive defenses at Xu Chang it seems unlikey that someone with Guan Yu's miltary record could cause Cao Cao so much worry. Cao Cao respected Guan Yu so much that when Guan Yu stayed with him he heeped treasures on him and when Guan Yu left he refused to pursue him beause of the respect he held for Guan Yu who's only accomplishment was to assist Zhang Liao in defeating Yan Liang in which some people would consider not worth mentioning since Yan Liang apparenly was useless. The only thing he had done before that was lose to Cao Cao at Xia Pi.

Looking at the history i cannot see why Cao Cao, Sun Quan and Lu Meng feared about Guan Yu. He had a horrible military career and couldn't match either side with regards to troops unless Liu Bei started to ship alot of troops over. Guan Yu's only solo victory can be seen in Pang De's SGZ
"[Guan] Yu boarded onto ships and attacked. From a big ship [Guan] Yu shot [arrows] into the embankment from all four sides. [Pang] De grasp his bow and shot arrows that were not in vain."
"The generals Dong Heng, Dong Chao and others desired to surrender [to Guan Yu]. [Pang] De executed all of them. The battle started at dawn and lasted past mid-day. [Guan] Yu pressed the attack despite the arrows being now depleted and lacking in troops. [Pang] De told the du jiang Cheng He: "I have heard that the virtuous general does not fear death. The ardent soldier doesn't ruin his name in order to live. This day... is the day of my death."

The battle had worsened and the waters were overfilling. Most of the officers and soldiers had surrendered. [Pang] De and only the standard bearer (hui xia jiang) were left. They boarded a small ship in attempt to return to [Cao] Ren's barracks. The water filled the ship and the Shu armies surrounded the boat."

According to this Guan Yu's forces had less troops then Pang De and yet still won. However this was not the reason why Guan Yu was so feared.

So the question still remains. Please, anyone with information (like the title says historical only) which to clarify the situation please please respond to this. Also i would like historically backed evidence if at all possible. Thank you all in advance.
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Unread postby Uiler » Wed Sep 15, 2004 3:26 pm

Well, by all accounts Guan Yu was a huge man and a very fearsome fighter on the battlefield. The reason why this could make him so feared could be due to the battlefield tactics at the time. From an article by Dr Rafe de Crespigny on the 3 Kingdoms era:

"In reality, these armies were simple armed mobs, with landless troops driven variously by loyalty or fear, by personal desperation, and by the hope of plunder...So the structure and fighting techniques of these armies were based upon small groups of men following individual leaders. The heart of each unit was the commander himself, supported by his "companions", skilled soldiers who owed him personal allegiance and served as a body-guard, and the most important tactic was expressed in the phrase "to break the enemy line". In aggressive action, the commander and his companions acted as spearhead for a drive at the enemy array; and if they were successful, they could hope to be followed by the mass of their followers, spreading out to attack the broken enemy from the flank and the rear.


Such tactics have been used at other times and places, and the reliance upon mass, concentrated at one point, is a natural technique for an ill-disciplined force, but it is a frightening operation for the leaders of a primitive army, with no certainty of support. Such attack requires great courage from the leader and his immediate followers, and a high level of personal authority to attract his men to follow in the charge. So if we read in the stories how one man held a bridge, or another advanced alone against an army, some part of the tale may be true."

That is the nature of the armies of the time, meant that a leader who was a fearsome fighter like Guan Yu would have been very valued because they were good at "breaking the enemy lines" and would have made people reluctant to face him on the battlefield. And while not a tatical genius like Zhuge Liang, he was reasonably intelligent and knew how to handle himself on the battlefield.
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Unread postby Exar Kun » Wed Sep 15, 2004 9:20 pm

Cheng Yu and Cao Cao's other advisors described Guan Yu and Zhang Fei as being worth ten thousand men.This is the highest praise I have ever seen for generals in SGZ,and given by an enemy no less.
Zhou Yu too saw the inherent danger of them both and held the belief that Liu Bei's power hinged of their personal abilities.

Guan Yu's record might seem less than stellar when looking at kingdom records but when you look at the low resources he had it is quite amazing that he was able to make such a huge impact on everyone.Cao Cao fears him and even Sun Quan and the Wu advisors had fears of Guan Yu attacking them.

I can see this only to be because of his amazing feat at Baima,unparalled in the era, and his victory in Jing.Though he lost it's a case of a puny guy beating down several big guys before the number of them becomes too much.The respect accorded him by Cao Cao who I believe the greatest judge of talent in the era speaks for itself.
Guan Yu and his paltry forces attack Jing and he sends Xu Huang,ten divisions,Zhang Liao,is readying to march himself and starts thinking about moving the capital.I can't think of a single other attack that caused that kind of response.Not Wu in He Fei,not Liu Bei in Hanzhong,not Zhuge Liang in Liangzhou.
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Unread postby LiuBeiwasGreat » Thu Sep 16, 2004 2:37 am

Exar Kun wrote:Cheng Yu and Cao Cao's other advisors described Guan Yu and Zhang Fei as being worth ten thousand men.This is the highest praise I have ever seen for generals in SGZ,and given by an enemy no less.
Zhou Yu too saw the inherent danger of them both and held the belief that Liu Bei's power hinged of their personal abilities.

Guan Yu's record might seem less than stellar when looking at kingdom records but when you look at the low resources he had it is quite amazing that he was able to make such a huge impact on everyone.Cao Cao fears him and even Sun Quan and the Wu advisors had fears of Guan Yu attacking them.

I can see this only to be because of his amazing feat at Baima,unparalled in the era, and his victory in Jing.Though he lost it's a case of a puny guy beating down several big guys before the number of them becomes too much.The respect accorded him by Cao Cao who I believe the greatest judge of talent in the era speaks for itself.
Guan Yu and his paltry forces attack Jing and he sends Xu Huang,ten divisions,Zhang Liao,is readying to march himself and starts thinking about moving the capital.I can't think of a single other attack that caused that kind of response.Not Wu in He Fei,not Liu Bei in Hanzhong,not Zhuge Liang in Liangzhou.


WHile i agree with the majority of what you say Guan Yu was feared before the incident in Jing. While taking out Yan Liang at Baima was indeed impressive it shouldn't be enough to cause the fame and noteriaty that Guan Yu had. Sun Quan and Lu Meng shouldn't be so worried by an incedent that happend two decades beforehand. Plus they mentioned that he was a strong opponent but i don't understand that comment because they had never faced him in battle. There is too little evidence of Guan Yu's ability to warrent this amount of fear. I could understand some respect toward him but fear? There were other generals who had better military careers who weren't feared like Guan Yu.
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Unread postby Exar Kun » Thu Sep 16, 2004 3:14 am

LiuBeiwasGreat wrote:WHile i agree with the majority of what you say Guan Yu was feared before the incident in Jing. While taking out Yan Liang at Baima was indeed impressive it shouldn't be enough to cause the fame and noteriaty that Guan Yu had. Sun Quan and Lu Meng shouldn't be so worried by an incedent that happend two decades beforehand. Plus they mentioned that he was a strong opponent but i don't understand that comment because they had never faced him in battle. There is too little evidence of Guan Yu's ability to warrent this amount of fear. I could understand some respect toward him but fear? There were other generals who had better military careers who weren't feared like Guan Yu.


The fear actually starts earlier than the build up for 219 invasion.When Wu invaded in 215 they had their armies in Jing while they were opposed by only two forces,one under Guan Yu and another under Liu Bei.Additionally they knew Liu Bei could not tarry because Cao Cao was in Hanzhong.Yet Quan still chose peace over a fight,a fight he would have certainly won if Cao Cao pressed his advantage.

But I think also you underestimate the effect of Guan Yu taking out Yan Liang.Honestly,I still don't understand how he could do it.Seems like something out of a legend for a man to plow into a ten thousand man army and come back with the commander's head.I can't think of a single time when something like that was done before.
Certainly they had to be thinking Guan Yu was a fierce opponent.
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Unread postby LiuBeiwasGreat » Thu Sep 16, 2004 4:23 am

Exar Kun wrote:
LiuBeiwasGreat wrote:WHile i agree with the majority of what you say Guan Yu was feared before the incident in Jing. While taking out Yan Liang at Baima was indeed impressive it shouldn't be enough to cause the fame and noteriaty that Guan Yu had. Sun Quan and Lu Meng shouldn't be so worried by an incedent that happend two decades beforehand. Plus they mentioned that he was a strong opponent but i don't understand that comment because they had never faced him in battle. There is too little evidence of Guan Yu's ability to warrent this amount of fear. I could understand some respect toward him but fear? There were other generals who had better military careers who weren't feared like Guan Yu.


The fear actually starts earlier than the build up for 219 invasion.When Wu invaded in 215 they had their armies in Jing while they were opposed by only two forces,one under Guan Yu and another under Liu Bei.Additionally they knew Liu Bei could not tarry because Cao Cao was in Hanzhong.Yet Quan still chose peace over a fight,a fight he would have certainly won if Cao Cao pressed his advantage.

But I think also you underestimate the effect of Guan Yu taking out Yan Liang.Honestly,I still don't understand how he could do it.Seems like something out of a legend for a man to plow into a ten thousand man army and come back with the commander's head.I can't think of a single time when something like that was done before.
Certainly they had to be thinking Guan Yu was a fierce opponent.


Perhaps you are right, regardless of Yan Liang's personal skill Guan Yu would have had to charge through tens of thousands of men to get to him. Even with Zhang Liao's forces distracting the enemy Guan Yu would still have to penitrate several lines of troops to get to the command tent.

Though it still is only one event, and charging into enemy formations was also done by people like Cao Ren, Gan Ning, Zhang Liao, Zhou Tai. Sure they didn't take out a famous commander like Guan Yu did but none of them gained the noteriaty that Guan Yu did, not even close sure they were famous in their areas but Guan Yu was feared pretty much all around.
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Unread postby PrimeMinister Bu Zhi » Thu Sep 16, 2004 12:38 pm

Guan Yu sucked. He lost all the time.

According to Cao Cao's bio, Guan Yu may not have killed Yan Liang. Cao's bio says he ordered Guan Yu and Zhang Liao to attack Yan Liang and Liang was killed in the skirmish. Thus Guan Yu may not have killed him.

Yu Jin was only due to wheater. Guan Yu knew the wheater of the region, Yu Jin on the other hand didn't go there for years. Guan Yu just predicted the rain. If it wasn't for that, Yu Jin would have crushed Guan Yu in battle.

Guan Yu has nothing but reputation. He did nothing with his "little reasources". He only won two battles, on one of them he was serving Wei, on the other one, he just got good timing in attacking. Every other battle, his unit fights pitifully and fails miserably.

He was just strong physicaly and that's why he's feared. Other then that he sucks.
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Thu Sep 16, 2004 5:05 pm

Guan Yu was over 50 during the whole Jing/Xiangyang thing, and close to 60 when he died. Regardless of what you thought of his accomplishments before that, someone who manages to stay alive on the battlefield (as a frontline commander) for so many years is pretty good.

So Guan Yu had a long-time reputation (*even* if they weren't as significant as those of, say, Zhang Liao or Xu Huang), tons of field experience, and managed to pull some nice victories against Wei--the first such decisive victories for a while then. People had just cause to be worried.
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Unread postby LiuBeiwasGreat » Thu Sep 16, 2004 5:56 pm

PrimeMinister Bu Zhi wrote:Guan Yu sucked. He lost all the time.

According to Cao Cao's bio, Guan Yu may not have killed Yan Liang. Cao's bio says he ordered Guan Yu and Zhang Liao to attack Yan Liang and Liang was killed in the skirmish. Thus Guan Yu may not have killed him.

Yu Jin was only due to wheater. Guan Yu knew the wheater of the region, Yu Jin on the other hand didn't go there for years. Guan Yu just predicted the rain. If it wasn't for that, Yu Jin would have crushed Guan Yu in battle.

Guan Yu has nothing but reputation. He did nothing with his "little reasources". He only won two battles, on one of them he was serving Wei, on the other one, he just got good timing in attacking. Every other battle, his unit fights pitifully and fails miserably.

He was just strong physicaly and that's why he's feared. Other then that he sucks.


While i understand that you dislike the person please don't derail the thread. I am asking for people's theories about why he was so feared even though his military career is not that impressive.

I don't want this thread to become a Guan Yu sucks/is great thread. This is an intelligent discussion and why he may have won or lost battles is not as important.

If he was so horrible why was he feared then? You didn't answer this question. His physical strenght has little to do with the situation because he was feared into his 60s and i doubt he was of amazing strenght at that age there were younger people who had more physical strenght then Guan Yu.

Cao Cao, Sun Quan and Lu Meng all feared Guan Yu. I am asking for explanations for this fear. Surely those three men were all intelligent people and knew better then to fear someone for their phyiscal strenght alone. Please if you want to participate in this conversation please stick to the topic.

I am sorry for singling you out but i want to nip these types of responses in the bud. I have made quite a few threads where i allowed things to get totally messed up and i really don't want that to happen in this thread. I really want to learn from this and find out serious theories on why Guan Yu might have been feared dispite his military record. So once again PMBZ i don't mean any offense to you but i want things to stay on topic.
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Unread postby PrimeMinister Bu Zhi » Thu Sep 16, 2004 6:20 pm

Ok. I also wonder why he was feared. Perhaps this is why:

1) When he attacked Fan castle, and defeated Yu Jin, Cao Cao feared he would take it because of this. Thus he feared Guan Yu. He had just lost Hanzhong and momentum was taking it's effect.

2) Guan Yu probably wasn't feared so much before this. You can tell that when in 215, Lu Su met with him and Gan Ning went out to face him. They obviously were not afraid. Perhaps the Yu Jin incident inspired fear more then anything else.
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