Did Cao Cao let Guan Yu leave because of his kindness?

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Did Cao Cao let Guan Yu leave because of his kindness?

Unread postby Lu Kang » Mon Nov 05, 2007 11:41 pm

One of the more memorable parts of the novel is the part where Guan Yu has to go through 5 gates before he can leave Cao Cao. Historically, Cao Cao knew of his intentions to leave and eventually commented with a final, "Each vassal is for his lord, do not give chase."

Pei Song Zhi comments on this passage with, "[I] consider that Duke Cao knew that Yu was not going to stay, and admired his determination. By not sending someone in pursuit when Yu left, he confirmed his sense of righteousness. If he did not have the magnanimity of a hegemon, how could he accomplish this? Truly, this was the virtue of Duke Cao."

Did Cao Cao allow Guan Yu to leave out of the kindness of his heart? Or did he merely comment on the situation after Guan Yu left as to not been seen weak?

Also in light of this, would Cao Cao accept Guan Yu back into his service if Liu Bei were defeated?
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Unread postby Kong Wen » Mon Nov 05, 2007 11:45 pm

I think part of the reason Cao Cao let Guan Yu escape has to be that he wanted Guan Yu to "owe" him. If you can't have Guan Yu on your side, then it's better to have a Guan Yu who owes you a favour as an enemy.

I definitely think Cao Cao would have gladly accepted Guan Yu back if Liu Bei were defeated.
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Unread postby Long » Tue Nov 06, 2007 12:08 am

Cao Cao was banking on his display of virtue to Guan Yu, to match that of Liu Bei, in Guan Yu's eyes. He was trying to play on Guan Yu's immense honor, to liken himself to the lord he had chosen. Consider it propaganda of a sort in an attempt to sway Guan Yu's mind. I don't think it had anything to do with him wanting Guan Yu to feel like he owed him something.

If Liu Bei was killed, than Cao Cao would have jumped at the chance of gaining Guan Yu's service, but Yu being the honorable and loyal sort he was, was refuse and either commit suicide, go into service under Shan, or take control of his own forces, to become a warlord in his own right.

Probably option 3 in my opinion, as he had a high opinion of himself.
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Unread postby Lonely_dragon » Tue Nov 06, 2007 12:52 am

Why did Cao Cao let Guan Yu go? It is very much to appeal kindness to Guan Yu...

Cao Cao knew that he can't detain Guan Yu at his place... And one day they'll meet at the battlefield... He was hoping that Guan Yu may remembered his kindness...

Other is that should Liu Bei was died perhaps Guan Yu would consider go back to him... Liu Bei was very weak at that time and had no land of his own...
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Unread postby Lord Chuff » Tue Nov 06, 2007 4:07 am

I think Cao Cao let Guan Yu go primarily to preserve his reputation and appear to be an honorable man. Guan Yu said he would only serve Cao Cao on the condition that he was allowed to return to Liu Bei when he discovered his location. Cao Cao would not want to go back on his word and kill or imprison Guan Yu, with it being known he had given his word otherwise. He didn't give Guan Yu the documents he needed and hoped one of the pass guards would do it for him, then he could call it a "mistake" and he might even have executed the pass guard responsible despite it not being their fault. Similar to when he executed the officer in charge of distributing grain on one of his campaigns (can't remember which).

I think it is very similar to the situation earlier on in the novel when Liu Bei comes to Cao Cao for protection and his advisers tell him he should kill him. He doesn't want to be seen to be that sort of person, even though that is what he would ideally like to do.
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Unread postby Shi Tong » Tue Nov 06, 2007 10:34 am

How would Cao Cao have looked if he'd have "kept" Guan Yu against his will? I think that's a good question, because the answer to this has to be:

a) Guan Yu would have resented Cao Cao and wouldn't have owed him a thing (like Kong Wen suggested).

b) Cao Cao would have looked pretty stupid and mean to his own officers and to the people around him- he wanted to look like he respected people, so releasing Guan Yu was a smooth political move- if someone else had wanted to leave, and they had a good reason, then Cao would have "let" them leave- meaning that more people would want to serve such a man of honour.

c) Guan Yu could have raised a plot against Cao Cao if he'd have kept him against his will- meaning that Cao would endanger himself.

d) If Cao decided to keep Guan Yu, Guan would not have served him (useless), and Guan may become such a threat that Cao would have to jail him or execute him- this would have made his followers think badly of him, and Liu Bei more angry with him (just look what Bei did when Sun Quan killed Guan Yu).

So there's a lot of reasons to let Guan go- and not just out of the kindness of his heart.
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Unread postby Lord Chuff » Wed Nov 07, 2007 4:02 am

Shi Tong wrote:Guan Yu could have raised a plot against Cao Cao if he'd have kept him against his will- meaning that Cao would endanger himself.


Yes, if Cao Cao didn't let Guan Yu go I believe he would have to have killed him to prevent him from plotting.

Liu Bei more angry with him (just look what Bei did when Sun Quan killed Guan Yu).


I don't think this would have been a major reason for his not killing Guan Yu. At the time Liu Bei was probably in the weakest position he ever was in (staying with Yuan Shao) and would only have been able to avenge Guan's death if Yuan Shao agreed. (And I don't think Yuan would have been that upset over the death of the man who killed his two best generals :lol: )
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Unread postby Zhilong » Wed Nov 07, 2007 7:59 pm

I think Cao Cao truly respected Guan Yu, hence the honour he showed him. Unable to keep him, if he killed him he would not only have lost Guan Yu but also lost the respect the world. At least by letting him go he gained brownie points as a magnanimous warlord - as a warlord these qualities are important.

I doubt it was so Cao Cao could gain a get out jail free card; at that time it was not possible to predict that Liu Bei would rise up and form a great threat to Cao Cao.
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Unread postby Kong Wen » Wed Nov 07, 2007 8:01 pm

Zhilong wrote:I doubt it was so Cao Cao could gain a get out jail free card; at that time it was not possible to predict that Liu Bei would rise up and form a great threat to Cao Cao.

But Liu Bei (and now Guan Yu) served under the Yuans in the north, Cao's next target. If there's got to be a mighty general like Guan Yu out in the wild amongst your enemies, better if he thinks you're a generous guy and feels indebted to you for your kindness, eh?
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Unread postby Zhilong » Thu Nov 08, 2007 1:48 pm

Kong Wen wrote:
Zhilong wrote:I doubt it was so Cao Cao could gain a get out jail free card; at that time it was not possible to predict that Liu Bei would rise up and form a great threat to Cao Cao.

But Liu Bei (and now Guan Yu) served under the Yuans in the north, Cao's next target. If there's got to be a mighty general like Guan Yu out in the wild amongst your enemies, better if he thinks you're a generous guy and feels indebted to you for your kindness, eh?


If he had to rely on that to any degree then he might as well submit to Yuan Shao there and then. :lol:
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