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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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