Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

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Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby saneman » Thu Nov 12, 2009 10:14 am

There are many reasons that Liu Bei was loved by the Chinese, many of the innate values they show in him are lost to the modern man. For one reason or another, Liu Bei, even before the publication of Yanyi, was identified with founder of Han Dynasty, Liu Bang. It is a parallel I found well deserved in someways and incomprehensible in other ways.

One cannot deny Liu Bang's achievements, he rose from peasant origins and founded a state that was vast improvement to the legalistic hellhole of Qin Dynasty. His Han Dynastry was ultimately more attractive choice than the Chu Dynasty of Xiang Yu ... I shudder to think where China would be today, Had Chu rose and Han fell.

But Liu Bang was a monster as well. He had little concept of gratitude or loyalty. His greatest victims were his own marshals. He had no plan for succession that did not involve some self-destructive purge of the court. But we do not denounce him for it.

Why should we denounce Liu Bei? His crimes were far, far less than that of Liu Bang, and his motives, one way or another, far noble.
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:04 pm

Liu Bang didn't have a novel written about him that whitewashed his crimes and turned him from a cynical manipulator, an ambitious warlord, a liar who put his own interests first into a saint who spent all his spare time giving hugs to orphans. LGZ would have written Hua Xin into some sort of Wei Yan, either written out the urinating on scholar's hat thing or changed it to show it as justified had he written his novel about Bang and not Bei.

These "innate values" probably only existed in people's heads, like a King Arther, what the author or the reader wants the values to be put unto a subject that changes beyond all historical recognition to the ideal man. How is a real person, a flawed being with greed, ambition and things we don't like about ourselves, meant to live up to a person's fictional creation? We can't, doesn't mean we don't have our own sense of fair play, which is going to be different due to the time difference between LGZ's work and now, or that people don't strive to be good but that we are fallible beings.

I just wonder if there will be a downfall to this in China eventually. In the west, novel Liu Bei's goody two shoes and lack of ability seems to be losing him fans to the more cynical and able warlords like Cao Cao or the Sun's. It is the hypocrisy and idiocy rather then Liu Bei being a saint that seems to turn people away, perhaps we are more cynical and look at flaws in our leaders nowadays, perhaps people believe that in such a time of war the novel Liu Bei's failure to be more ruthless caused the people more harm. People are also becoming more aware of the historical Liu Bei, who while still kindly was still a warlord, with all the ruthlessness and bad side that being a warlord entails. People see that and those that were fans turn against him for awhile before reaching the middle ground. That Liu Bei was a human of great ability, a man with virtues like his kindness but also his dark side. I wonder if China view of Liu Bei will swing from "man of virtue and an example to us all" into a "greatest evil ever" for a generation or two before eventually finding that middle ground.

Liu Bei was compared to Liu Bang because Liu Bei claimed his empire was the Han, because he claimed that same title as Bang, the King of Hanzhong, because he was striking from the West as the Founder of the Han had done. Because both were ambitious warlords, until the novel rewrite of history, who tried to claim empire.

But Liu Bang was a monster as well. He had little concept of gratitude or loyalty. His greatest victims were his own marshals. He had no plan for succession that did not involve some self-destructive purge of the court. But we do not denounce him for it.


Liu Bei, with good reason, forced his adopted son to die to secure the throne. What Bang did was similar as Bei did there, as Cao Cao did in the last years of his life, as Quan did as he grew older, try to secure his empire by ensuring there aren't threats to the throne. Even if that means a purge to all rival candidates and their supporters

Why should we denounce Liu Bei? His crimes were far, far less than that of Liu Bang, and his motives, one way or another, far noble.


In the novel, of course that is all true. Historically, questionable
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Sun Nov 15, 2009 6:13 am

I think the funniest point is that for all the love the common people bestow upon Liu Bei and all the hatred they heap upon Cao Cao, Cao Cao in the long run did more for the welfare of the average Chinese in that age than Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang ever did.


Cao Cao for the most part (aside from the unfortunate inhabitants of Xu Zhou of course) provided his people with peace, security. During his later years he was almost peaceful to a fault, launching limited half year wars against Liang and Han Zhong. His people would have suffered the least from the war. And even in his earlier era you can tell he was better for the people. With the Tuntian system of course giving people a chance to work free from raiders and bandits. And his rules disallowing his troops from looting farmlands (leading to the infamous hair cutting incident). Whenever you read stories about his personal life, and that of his close followers like Xiahou Dun, they just strike you as really genial people. (Xiahou Dun after the wars apparently was famous for vastly improving his lands, to the point of working with peasants and workers to build dams, just as you'd expect a straight thinking no nonsense warrior made into an aristocrat to) Meanwhile Cao Cao has his comical pre-death rambling to his wives, telling them to be frugal and such. Cao Pi seemed a fairly generous man, I remembered him eliminating taxes for three years or something for his hometown after being crowned Emperor?). Neither father nor son seemed extravagant, which can be seen because only during Cao Rui's reign did they start fixing the broken palaces (Cao Rui was terrible though as a person it seemed).

Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang meanwhile, sure they also had the frugal living angle down (ESPECIALLY Zhuge Liang) but it doesn't detract from the fact that Zhuge Liang launched five offensive wars during his reign, to the degree that for every nine shu civilians they had to support one soldier. Shu was the smallest yet most warlike and militarized state in the three kingdoms. Such that eventually the very wealthy Yi province actually ended up being quite poor because of all the wars the populace had to support.



I mean one MUST admire Zhuge Liang for his conviction in restoring the Han Dynasty, but really, in retrospect when no longer burdened with such archaic sensibilities about divine rights, what's the point of it all when it's at such a detriment to your people?
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Nov 15, 2009 8:00 am

Do you define good person solely by not being extravagant?

and Shu was prosperous for Liang's reign and 30 years after, did they suffer that much? It was Jiang Wei that overloaded the people of Shu with his constant campaigns
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Sun Nov 15, 2009 8:24 am

Dong Zhou wrote:Do you define good person solely by not being extravagant?

and Shu was prosperous for Liang's reign and 30 years after, did they suffer that much? It was Jiang Wei that overloaded the people of Shu with his constant campaigns



Well to clarify a bit, for a leader, especially in those feudal periods, I'd define a good leader being one who can provide the most benefits to the people. Namely peace, a rule of law, education, disaster relief etc. It also helps if the leaders aren't living in extravagance whilst their people are poor, since if you look at China's dynastic troubles that's where a lot of problem starts. This is why, I disagree with Shu placing a huge burden on their people by constantly warring, but I consider it a bit more acceptable that at least the leadership was sharing the burden by not living extravagantly.

As for Shu's prosperity, I'll have to I guess read more if I want to make a conclusive statement but it was always my impression that under Zhuge Liang and later they fought a disproportionate amount of wars and maintained a disproportionally large military for their population size.


Now obviously there's goodness on a personal level as well. Adhering to those characteristics we consider ethical. And on that level Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan all had serious failings (mainly by killing a whole lot of people in their later reign who in my opinion don't deserve it, especially Sun Quan).
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby saneman » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:00 pm

Thank you kindly for your comments. I will admit that I was remiss in that I did not specify that I was talking about Yanyi Version of Liu Bei. I should have, but I did not. What I found interesting is that reappraisal is a good thing, but it seems imbalanced. Are we attacking merely the individuals, or are we truly unhappy about the values behind the motivation of said individuals? I cannot but think that there is something more ideological behind it...

In my view Liu Bei (in novel), was not fighting for the corrupt, dying Han of Ling and Xian. He was fighting for the ideal Han that may or may not have existed in Gaozu and Guangwu.

As for history, suffice to say that no historical record is unbiased. And to mistake Yanyi as correct history in this day and age would be same as thinking that Tolstoy's War and Peace was an unbiased and academic analysts of Napoleon's Russia. It is not. We should appreciate the novel for its underlying massage and not to be so bogged down by mere factual details or personal preference.

Note: English is neither my first nor second language. If there is mistake or unclear meaning, I am sorry in advance.
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:04 am

Your English is fine, sadly better then mine.

In my view Liu Bei (in novel), was not fighting for the corrupt, dying Han of Ling and Xian. He was fighting for the ideal Han that may or may not have existed in Gaozu and Guangwu.


I would assume that was the case. The Han still has a hold on people, I have seen the sheer hatred for Liu Shan simply due to his surrender as it ends the noble goals of the Han. Dong and Sun Hao, evil tyrants, get less hate that Liu Shan does in that passage. The novel fills people with nostalgia for the Han but again, people are getting more cynical and that nostalgia also clashes with people going "it is a a doomed dynasty", it is time for something new and people believing efficient government is better then being an idealist who prolongs the civil war. It is conflicting but that is what I have seen

And to mistake Yanyi as correct history in this day and age would be same as thinking that Tolstoy's War and Peace was an unbiased and academic analysts of Napoleon's Russia. It is not. We should appreciate the novel for its underlying massage and not to be so bogged down by mere factual details or personal preference.


That's all very well but most people's introduction, at least in the west, is through either the games or the novel. Bearing in mind a lot of what is "known" about Dowager Cixi comes from a fraudster and pornographer called Backhouse, that his work is still believed in the West and was in China, at least when Seagrave was doing his research, is it so surprising that a novel can be considered historical. I have been on several forums, here, simrtk's three kingdom thread, koei, koei warriors, china history forums, the sadly defunct 3kingdoms.net. There are a lot of people, from west and east, who come in with the novel as their source and unaware that it is so untrue. They may be aware that it isn't all true, commonly citing the 70% 30% thing (not realising the context of that quote) but not how untrue or political it is.

If China is more aware of the history then my own (limited) experience, which I am willing to accept, there is also the issue of culture. Zhuge Liang is considered a literary genius though his works do not survive, gets credited with inventions he probably didn't make and so on. Guan Yu is a red faced, big bearded saint-like thingy who knows Confucius inside out, not a attempted woman stealer. Diao Chan is one of the four beauties, Qiao Zhou is a corrupt surrender monkey mystic, Liu Shan's supposed style name is the definition of a moron. The novel has entered into the culture of China and made a real influence for it, such things are hard to overcome. A similar situation would be Shakespeare's plays, we know they are inaccurate yet most think of Richard III as a hunchback and Henry V for the moments in the plays, it is ingrained in our heads.

As for the novel Liu Bei's values, I would go with what I said in the first post
novel Liu Bei's goody two shoes and lack of ability seems to be losing him fans to the more cynical and able warlords like Cao Cao or the Sun's. It is the hypocrisy and idiocy rather then Liu Bei being a saint that seems to turn people away, perhaps we are more cynical and look at flaws in our leaders nowadays, perhaps people believe that in such a time of war the novel Liu Bei's failure to be more ruthless caused the people more harm
His ideals of restoring a dynasty and keeping to a strict moral line do not sit so well with modern audiences to accept all goverments die and are replaced and believe that in a time of civil war, moral flexibility is required.
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Zhilong » Tue Nov 17, 2009 11:08 pm

saneman wrote:But Liu Bang was a monster as well. He had little concept of gratitude or loyalty. His greatest victims were his own marshals. He had no plan for succession that did not involve some self-destructive purge of the court. But we do not denounce him for it.

Why should we denounce Liu Bei? His crimes were far, far less than that of Liu Bang, and his motives, one way or another, far noble.


There was some bad things about Liu Bang but it remains fact he laid the foundation for the first great and long lasting dynasty in chinese history. His character flaws are quite well known and no one really thinks of him as some sort of saint though his achievements are held in high regard.

One weaknesses of the dynastic system is of the peaceful replacement of leadership. Many rulers did nothing to ensure a smooth succession and can lead to the whole empire being embroiled in civil war. When it was confined to war at the court, as cold as it sounds, this was better.

Kang Xi was a great emperor of the Qing Dynasty and ranked among the top emperors in chinese history but his shoddy treatment of succession led to huge fighting between his sons and eventually Yongzhen seized the throne. Yongzhen, having experienced this, killed his other son before his own death so his heir's rule would be secure and Qian Long's subsequent rule was another great period for China.

Ming Taizu purged his court to an extreme extent and that had ramifications for his heir as so many talented officials were killed. One ruler in the Spring and Autumn period, his state was under threat from nomads but his son was far to influenced by pacifist tendancies so the King drove his son to become more aggressive with extreme measures so he would be able to competently meet the coming challenges. Eventually his son put his father under house arrest but was able to meet the nomadic threat by continuing the taboo policy of imitating the nomad's warrior culture enacted by his father.

Within the 3K period:
1 Jia Xu mentions Yuan Shao and Liu Biao's disastrous successions to Cao Cao when Cao Cao asks Jia Xu's opinion on his own sucession.
2 Realising that the Sun enterprise would likely immediately halt if he installed his own young heir, Sun Ce passed his power onto his brother and Sun Quan which in hindsight was a great move.
3 Liu Bei only killed Liu Feng as a precaution and despite the disaster at Yiling, his appointment of ZL at his deathbed ensured that the Shu survived the immediate aftermath of his death and the mess he made.

So i would say good preparation and / or some ruthlessness is a requirement for smooth succession and an emperor. Often, inability to be ruthless leads to far more suffering.

Crazedmongoose wrote:I think the funniest point is that for all the love the common people bestow upon Liu Bei and all the hatred they heap upon Cao Cao, Cao Cao in the long run did more for the welfare of the average Chinese in that age than Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang ever did.


Cao Cao for the most part (aside from the unfortunate inhabitants of Xu Zhou of course) provided his people with peace, security. During his later years he was almost peaceful to a fault, launching limited half year wars against Liang and Han Zhong. His people would have suffered the least from the war. And even in his earlier era you can tell he was better for the people. With the Tuntian system of course giving people a chance to work free from raiders and bandits. And his rules disallowing his troops from looting farmlands (leading to the infamous hair cutting incident). Whenever you read stories about his personal life, and that of his close followers like Xiahou Dun, they just strike you as really genial people. (Xiahou Dun after the wars apparently was famous for vastly improving his lands, to the point of working with peasants and workers to build dams, just as you'd expect a straight thinking no nonsense warrior made into an aristocrat to) Meanwhile Cao Cao has his comical pre-death rambling to his wives, telling them to be frugal and such. Cao Pi seemed a fairly generous man, I remembered him eliminating taxes for three years or something for his hometown after being crowned Emperor?). Neither father nor son seemed extravagant, which can be seen because only during Cao Rui's reign did they start fixing the broken palaces (Cao Rui was terrible though as a person it seemed).

Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang meanwhile, sure they also had the frugal living angle down (ESPECIALLY Zhuge Liang) but it doesn't detract from the fact that Zhuge Liang launched five offensive wars during his reign, to the degree that for every nine shu civilians they had to support one soldier. Shu was the smallest yet most warlike and militarized state in the three kingdoms. Such that eventually the very wealthy Yi province actually ended up being quite poor because of all the wars the populace had to support.



I mean one MUST admire Zhuge Liang for his conviction in restoring the Han Dynasty, but really, in retrospect when no longer burdened with such archaic sensibilities about divine rights, what's the point of it all when it's at such a detriment to your people?


All 3 rulers caused alot of suffering to establish their states but at the same time provided stability and security to their own citizens for a period. The aim of Cao Cao by the time he controlled 8/10 of China was to bring the rest under his control. By contrast, Yi was a means to an ends for Liu Bei in which to contend for the rest of China like his ancestor.

Given that, it is hard to fault Zhuge Liang for launching offensives when China is officially under civil war status and his goal is to end it, like the other 2 states. If you examine his campaigns, only the first and last were major offensives. His second, was an opportunistic seige of Chencang when Wei shifted troops away from the border to guard against Wu and only lasted 3 weeks. His third was the seizure of Wudu and Yinping from Wei and was short and limited.

ZL was conscious to rest the populace and after his first campaign, nvr utilised a full mobilisation again till just before his death. But as ZL said, the standing army remains the same size regardless of whether we are at war or at home. And given the high % of ppl in the military in Shu, the quicker the war ends, the better.

ZL's loyalty was to Liu Bei more than the Han imo, otherwise he could have served Liu Biao. I view his restoration of Han as a dream of restoring the empire to peace. Given that the Han was the first great enduring dynasty, it was pretty much synonymous with good governance and everything good.
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Tue Nov 17, 2009 11:44 pm

I think ZL was smart enough to see Liu Biao wasn't ever going to get anywhere despite being in such an advantageous position. And Liu Bei was always under the "restoration of Han" banner.


As for Liu Bang, nobody in China really thinks he is great. The Chinese culture has always been far more sympathetic towards Xiang Yu his rival. And Xiang Yu's death was one of the greatest, most enduring and popular tragedies in Chinese history.

Liu Bang occupies a similar spot as Song Jiang from Water Margin in the cultural psyche of China. "We like your faction and the multitude of talented people serving under you but you can go to hell for all we care". Because neither Bang nor Jiang exemplifies the ideal of "yi", that is, loyalty to friends, fraternity.

Liu Bei on the other hand, is greatly loved because in the cultural works at least he exemplifies "yi" with his relationship to Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. In fact, out of the characteristics most valued by the Chinese, "yi", "xian", "de", "shan", "zhong" etc, he pretty much exemplifies ALL of them. (The only one he doesn't exemplify that I can think of is "xiao" or filial piety)
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Re: Monster and His heir: Liu Bang and Liu Bei

Unread postby Zhilong » Wed Nov 18, 2009 11:52 am

Crazedmongoose wrote:I think ZL was smart enough to see Liu Biao wasn't ever going to get anywhere despite being in such an advantageous position. And Liu Bei was always under the "restoration of Han" banner.


As for Liu Bang, nobody in China really thinks he is great. The Chinese culture has always been far more sympathetic towards Xiang Yu his rival. And Xiang Yu's death was one of the greatest, most enduring and popular tragedies in Chinese history.

Liu Bang occupies a similar spot as Song Jiang from Water Margin in the cultural psyche of China. "We like your faction and the multitude of talented people serving under you but you can go to hell for all we care". Because neither Bang nor Jiang exemplifies the ideal of "yi", that is, loyalty to friends, fraternity.

Liu Bei on the other hand, is greatly loved because in the cultural works at least he exemplifies "yi" with his relationship to Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. In fact, out of the characteristics most valued by the Chinese, "yi", "xian", "de", "shan", "zhong" etc, he pretty much exemplifies ALL of them. (The only one he doesn't exemplify that I can think of is "xiao" or filial piety)


Yeah i agree with that. Even in modern tv dramas, they are unable to really portray Liu Bang as being nice, one attempt made him into a fool who did bad things inadvertently due to stupidity.

In terms of popularity by association, Liu Bei is similar. ZL's temple is way more popular than Liu Bei's and the fact that ZL served Liu Bei increased the latters popularity. In the novel this relationship is like a mechanism to make the reader like Liu Bei, because he is likened to wise rulers with a virtuous sage advisor, like Emperor Zhou and Jiang Zi Ya.
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