Cao Cao and Liu Bei

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Cao Cao and Liu Bei

Unread postby James » Sun Jun 16, 2002 8:04 pm

Liu Bei spent quite a bit of time in service with Cao Cao after he was defeated by Lu Bu. Outwardly it appeared as if Cao Cao liked Liu Bei and hoped for him to stay for a long time.

There is another side to this. Many feel that he only kept Liu Bei around because he knew he could control him that way. It is possible he was just waiting for a chance to kill him with someone else’s hand or under military law for failure.

Here is an excerpt from Mao's notes as translated by Moss Roberts:
Had [Lu] Bu killed Xuande [Liu Bei’s style] after discovering his reply to Cao Cao [while in service to Cao Cao he was ordered to attack Lu Bu with him], Cao Cao would have said, ‘Bu did it, not I.’ Had Xuande let Lu Bu through the southern route he was guarding and been executed, Cao Cao would have said, ‘I didn’t kill him, military law did.’ Cao Cao wanted someone else to kill Xuande but lacked a rift he could exploit. Cao Cao had no justification for killing Xuande himself: only violation of military law could have justified it. At every step of the way Cao Cao was trying to eliminate Xuande, even as he seemed to be taking every possible measure to protect him, Xuande, for his part, remained on the alert every step of the way, even as he seemed to be taking every possible step to appease Cao.

What do you think? I think Mao's view of the matter is accurate. Cao Cao just wanted to "keep the dragon in the pond" and finish him off as soon as he got the chance. Who can blame him; Liu Bei was a real threat in his eyes.
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Unread postby Zhang Liao17 » Mon Jun 17, 2002 1:05 am

What can I say, Liu Bei was a threat. Cao Cao needed to wipe Liu Bei off the map but he couldn't justify a reason why. Just as was stated, Cao Cao really wanted Liu Bei dead, but Liu Bei got away without making that crucial mistake.
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Unread postby Mega Zarak » Mon Jun 17, 2002 5:54 am

Liu Bei and Cao Cao took different roads to fulfil their ambitions. As such, it would be unlikely that they could work together in the long run. Cao Cao wanted to establish a northern empire under his banner while Liu Bei was fond of leveraging on his "Imperial lineage". Like the Chinese saying goes, there couldn't be 2 tigers on 1 mountain. Note that Sun Quan was slightly different and he could jolly well be a vassal state of Cao Cao had Liu Bei not existed.
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Unread postby General Tso » Mon Sep 16, 2002 2:13 am

Lubu Being in fear of death had his day of doom set already. The honest point is Liu Bei was coward to put him to death (by saying that Lu Bu would betray him) because Lu Bu did save Liu Bei from war. But Cao Cao was in fear of him and decided to get rid of him.
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Unread postby Wei Yan » Mon Sep 16, 2002 2:58 am

Cao Cao knew Liu Bei was a threat. But he couldnt be the one to kill him or else his reputation wouldve been damaged since the Hans influenece was still strong during the time. He needed someone else to kill him, thats why he kept Liu Bei around and treated him with love so that he'll stay while Cao Cao thinks of a plan. Liu Bei finally learnt of this and of coursse escaped. Cao Cao was fearful of uprising and attacks against him since Liu Bei was related to royal blood.
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Unread postby Liu Jin » Mon Sep 16, 2002 3:45 am

Actually..I think Cao Cao and Liu Bei were actually the best buddies out there in the Three Kingdoms Era.

Cause without each other...they would've never gained fame. Without thier fightings, there would never be Three Kingdoms Era...

Heh...sorry if I'm not making any sense...but just thinking about it is kind of funny somehow.
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Unread postby lordostrategy » Mon Sep 16, 2002 3:48 am

No, it should have been like ZL to Liu Bei, Zhou Yu/Lu Xun to Sun Quan, and Sima Yi to Cao Cao... without these skilled advisors, they never would have lasted... Cao Cao would have defeated them all, he was the brightest in that bunch of Kings/Emperors....
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historian even when reading fiction....

Unread postby Wang Gui » Mon Sep 16, 2002 7:30 pm

Let me try to further on the subject Zhuge Kongming so galantly brought to attention. I must first admit that I'm only in the stage of reading a rough translation of the RTK novel so my arguments won't be about historical content or accuracy. However, being(sadly enough) the historical major that I am, I can't bring myself not to point out some points that can make us understand some finer elements of Cao Cao's dilemma concerning Liu Bei.

First of all, lets try to understand Cao Cao's political position. Who is he at the time? Well Cao Cao is mainly a regional warlord vying for control of the central plains, but he is much more, since he has invited the emperor to Xu Chang he is Prime Minister of the Han, or at least tries to pose as such in the face of the world.

Now, it is my understanding that at the time Cao invited the emperor to Xu Chang the court was virtually destroyed with no stable base and presumably little or no funds at all. This court could be considered, as we say, as the remnants of the emperor's entourage. Cao Cao's objective in inviting the Emperor is in gaining political supremacy and legitimacy. The trick in making this work is to walk a fine line to extricate himself from the image of a second Dong Zhuo without loosening his grip on his hard-won states. To that end, Cao Cao had to maintain a strong facade of lawfulness and the illusion that the imperial institution still existed through him and his subordinates. He has but one crucial advantage in this: Xu Chang is his trough and trough and he as no need for extreme purges as Dong Zhuo did.

Now, let's examine Liu Bei's predicament. Having been chased out of XuZhou, Liu Bei finds himself bereft of his lands and probably lacking the ressources to retake them. Without a stable base, he needs to turn to a protector. Cao Cao is the most powerful warlord of the area. A verbal agreement gives Liu Bei a right to rule Xu as succesor to the last imperial protector. Furthermore, he has family ties to the emperor. He asks helps of Cao Cao as minister of the Han to help a loyal protector.

Now, what you point out is Cao's reluctance to kill Liu Bei despite the latters's rivalry with Cao. I will now try to explain the reasons I see why I feel he didn't kill Bei off and try to justify Cao's decision. First of all, Liu Bei is of the same family as the emperor and outwardly loyal to the emperor. Now, Cao Cao is probalby very aware of the exitence of a party of loyalists, mainly men of middle and few of upper rank and fortunes with family ties to the emperor which are loyal to their clan first and to him after. To kill Liu Bei, who outwardly has the same political opinions would be a declaration of war and could lead to palace conspiracies, violence and further the image of a second Dong Zhuo. Furthermore, Cao Cao cannot be blind to Liu Bei's status as protector which can prove useful. The presence of Liu Bei at court rends an attempt to retake Xu in Liu Bei's name legitimate and lawful, therefore giving Cao a chance to seize it without hurting his relations with outher rulers. By doing this, he furthermore, shows to the face of the empire that he is the defender of all imperial officers in need and extends his hands to all protectors in need, furthering the illusion of the survival of the institution of the Han through him thus gaining on all fronts(territorial and political).

Do not forget that Xu Chang his under Cao Cao's rule which means he as full power over the army there and probably wields much influence through a "patron/client" relationship with the elite class of the city and has full control over the army. Liu Bei is new there and cannot count on many allies excepts perhaps Dong Cheng and is party. In effect Liu Bei is almost a "prisoner" in Xu Chang, wielding little to no real power.

It is also probably true that Cao Cao wanted to win over Liu bei to his vision. By gaining Liu Bei's trust and support, Cao Cao could gain an ally linked to those which opposed his power and possibly gain them to his cause. Furthermore his gaining Liu Bei's support would prove without a doubt that he is a just follwer of the emperor and not a tyrant who has confiscated the state for his own purposes as the partisans of Dong Cheng believed. Even if this proved to be impossible, it is interesting to note that in the end, sheltering Liu Bei ensured Cao Cao a political claim to Xu, by making the issue of the control of this state a conflict over Liu Bei's betrayal of him in concert with Dong Cheng.

In my opininion, not killing Liu Bei was a shrewd and even brilliant politcal move at the time, espcially if you do not consider Liu Bei as the future emperor of Shu, but simply as the man of great reputation and ex-protector he was at the time. Politics and perception are but one and the same and even if they say it is the will of heaven, never forget that they didn't know the end of the story.
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Re: historian even when reading fiction....

Unread postby Zhou Gongjin » Mon Sep 16, 2002 7:59 pm

Wang Gui wrote:First of all, lets try to understand Cao Cao's political position. Who is he at the time? Well Cao Cao is mainly a regional warlord vying for control of the central plains, but he is much more, since he has invited the emperor to Xu Chang he is Prime Minister of the Han, or at least tries to pose as such in the face of the world.


You are actually wrong here. Cao Cao did not become Prime Minister untill after Liu Bei had left his service. He was outranked by Yuan Shao, whose family was much higher than Cao Cao's corrupt family. After Pacifying He Bei, Cao Cao had no higher authority between him and the Emperor and only then could he become Prime Minister.

Wang Gui wrote:Now, it is my understanding that at the time Cao invited the emperor to Xu Chang the court was virtually destroyed with no stable base and presumably little or no funds at all. This court could be considered, as we say, as the remnants of the emperor's entourage. Cao Cao's objective in inviting the Emperor is in gaining political supremacy and legitimacy. The trick in making this work is to walk a fine line to extricate himself from the image of a second Dong Zhuo without loosening his grip on his hard-won states. To that end, Cao Cao had to maintain a strong facade of lawfulness and the illusion that the imperial institution still existed through him and his subordinates. He has but one crucial advantage in this: Xu Chang is his trough and trough and he as no need for extreme purges as Dong Zhuo did.


Cao Cao manipulated the court by placing only his own officials in the Imperial Secretary. Furthermore, Cao Cao did not rebuild the Han court, most of his money was from other people who supported Cao Cao. I do agree that Cao Cao needed to keep the Han puppet show up, and he was able to do that better than Dong Zhuo because he had a lot more understanding of the law because he was a former magistrate and Governor, while Dong Zhuo was just a crude man.

Wang Gui wrote:Now, let's examine Liu Bei's predicament. Having been chased out of XuZhou, Liu Bei finds himself bereft of his lands and probably lacking the ressources to retake them. Without a stable base, he needs to turn to a protector. Cao Cao is the most powerful warlord of the area. A verbal agreement gives Liu Bei a right to rule Xu as succesor to the last imperial protector. Furthermore, he has family ties to the emperor. He asks helps of Cao Cao as minister of the Han to help a loyal protector.


Sorry I don't agree. Liu Bei let Lü Bu take over Xu Zhou because he feared him, and he lost the right to rule Xu. Tao Qian's word doesn't mean anything and only through Cao Cao did Liu Bei get any land. The fact that he went back to Cao Cao's protection is because he needed to leech someone whom he knew could not hurt him. Liu Bei believed in his legitimacy of Han succession, even if it was fake, and he knew that Cao Cao would never kill him directly. In other words, he didn't ask for Cao Cao's help because the latter was so loyal, it was because Liu Bei couldn't stand on his own feet and needed to use yet another ruler.
Of course those are just my views.

Wang Gui wrote:Now, what you point out is Cao's reluctance to kill Liu Bei despite the latters's rivalry with Cao. I will now try to explain the reasons I see why I feel he didn't kill Bei off and try to justify Cao's decision. First of all, Liu Bei is of the same family as the emperor and outwardly loyal to the emperor. Now, Cao Cao is probalby very aware of the exitence of a party of loyalists, mainly men of middle and few of upper rank and fortunes with family ties to the emperor which are loyal to their clan first and to him after. To kill Liu Bei, who outwardly has the same political opinions would be a declaration of war and could lead to palace conspiracies, violence and further the image of a second Dong Zhuo. Furthermore, Cao Cao cannot be blind to Liu Bei's status as protector which can prove useful. The presence of Liu Bei at court rends an attempt to retake Xu in Liu Bei's name legitimate and lawful, therefore giving Cao a chance to seize it without hurting his relations with outher rulers. By doing this, he furthermore, shows to the face of the empire that he is the defender of all imperial officers in need and extends his hands to all protectors in need, furthering the illusion of the survival of the institution of the Han through him thus gaining on all fronts(territorial and political).


Yes and no. Liu Bei was not a real descendant of the Han (historically) and neither did Cao Cao have to fear the court. Loyalists like Yi Ping and Dong Cheng were easily disposed of by Cao Cao when they started to rattle his chain. The Han court was filled with people loyal to Cao Cao with the exception of those who followed the Emperor to Xu Chang. Cao Cao had nothing to fear, since in reality, the number of Han loyalists was drastically dropping. Another point is that Cao Cao could have simply used the discord between legalists and Confucianists of the later Han to wipe out people. Also, since Cao Cao had so many people willing to die for him, he could have made a secret decree for one of them to get close to Liu Bei, then pretend to argue with him and kill him.


Wang Gui wrote:Do not forget that Xu Chang his under Cao Cao's rule which means he as full power over the army there and probably wields much influence through a "patron/client" relationship with the elite class of the city and has full control over the army. Liu Bei is new there and cannot count on many allies excepts perhaps Dong Cheng and is party. In effect Liu Bei is almost a "prisoner" in Xu Chang, wielding little to no real power.


Actually I don't think Liu Bei was that upset about being in Xu Chang, he seemed to enjoy himself there, tending his little garden. It was also Liu Bei's choice to be there, Cao Cao did not capture him.


Wang Gui wrote:It is also probably true that Cao Cao wanted to win over Liu bei to his vision. By gaining Liu Bei's trust and support, Cao Cao could gain an ally linked to those which opposed his power and possibly gain them to his cause. Furthermore his gaining Liu Bei's support would prove without a doubt that he is a just follwer of the emperor and not a tyrant who has confiscated the state for his own purposes as the partisans of Dong Cheng believed. Even if this proved to be impossible, it is interesting to note that in the end, sheltering Liu Bei ensured Cao Cao a political claim to Xu, by making the issue of the control of this state a conflict over Liu Bei's betrayal of him in concert with Dong Cheng.


That is probably true though I doubt that Cao Cao would care about legitimacy for Xu Zhou since it was his for the taking. If Liu Bei would work for Cao Cao then yes he would have another (in this case historically unfounded) link to the Han Emperor. I doubt he would give him a lot of authority, which would mean Liu Bei would eventually betray Cao Cao in the end so they whole thing of winning Liu Bei over is indeed, pointless.

Wang Gui wrote:In my opininion, not killing Liu Bei was a shrewd and even brilliant politcal move at the time, espcially if you do not consider Liu Bei as the future emperor of Shu, but simply as the man of great reputation and ex-protector he was at the time. Politics and perception are but one and the same and even if they say it is the will of heaven, never forget that they didn't know the end of the story.


I consider it a dumb mistake by a pompous person who underestimated the potential of someone like Liu Bei. It is rather stupid to let your rival walk away from you unharmed when you have him, as it was clear to me from the beginning that Liu Bei was in no way loyal to Cao Cao and supposedly wanted to restore the Han. Which I don't think is true either, but can be subject of another debate.
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let's try this........

Unread postby Wang Gui » Mon Sep 16, 2002 8:47 pm

Okay, okay, I'm not at that highest level of knowledge of the story yet, but let my try to get on par with what you are thinking so we may all better ourselves in the process. I feel a little bruised here so I need to try to reassert myself somehow... :!:

[/quote]

Sorry I don't agree. Liu Bei let Lü Bu take over Xu Zhou because he feared him, and he lost the right to rule Xu. Tao Qian's word doesn't mean anything and only through Cao Cao did Liu Bei get any land. The fact that he went back to Cao Cao's protection is because he needed to leech someone whom he knew could not hurt him. Liu Bei believed in his legitimacy of Han succession, even if it was fake, and he knew that Cao Cao would never kill him directly. In other words, he didn't ask for Cao Cao's help because the latter was so loyal, it was because Liu Bei couldn't stand on his own feet and needed to use yet another ruler.

[quote]

Firstly, I never said Cao Cao was loyal. In my opinion Cao Cao was simply a good enough politician to understand that more he looked loyal, more he could lean on a favorable perception as a "rightful" Han servant. Secondly, I will admit that my interpretation is based on historically unproven information saying that Liu Bei was part of the force to retake Xu, which, in my view, would contradict your saying that Liu bei lost all right to its land. It was also my understanding that eventually Lu bei retook full control of Xu to oppose Cao Cao which also seems to contradict this assessment.


Secondly, as you pointed out, Cao Cao knew the law and knew Liu Bei had been formally introduced to the emperor who had recognised him as imperial uncle, giving him in effect his blessing and at least a symbolic protection. To Cao Cao, that is key. Killing Liu Bei is a risk, not an overly huge risk, but still, a risk. By killing Liu Bei, the imperial uncle, without any criminal ground would prove that a rift exist between the emperor and Cao Cao, weakening his "symbolic" position towards the throne. If you consider your own arguments, you will realise that loosing even a little moral ground is not enough to justify killing a battered and dependant Liu Bei. Liu Bei is a relatively competent leader and has a lot of experience dating back to the yellow turban rebellion. In my view, it was never been self-evident to Cao Cao that Liu Bei would never serve him. A lot of people surrendered or switch sides to join him. Xu Huang had apparently a reputation for being firmly devoted and yet Cao Cao found a way to sway him. In that respect Cao could have been wrong,, but without anything to back that, I cannot say with any certainty.

Well that’s all…at least my ego is better….

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