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Liu Bang and Xiang Yu
Liu Bang and Xiang Yu
Ying Zheng founded the Qin Dynasty (221BC to 207BC). He adopted the
title of the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang Di). He died in 210BC
and the centralized power he created collapsed. His second son Hu Hai
succeeded him as the Second Emperor (Qin Er Huang Di).
The Second Emperor was an idiot, unable to control the situation. Riots
broke out every where throughout the empire because the vast majority of
the people had suffered too much under the severe rigidity of the Qin
government. People were deserting the Qin Government en masse. Everywhere,
soldiers were mutining against their superiors and the authorities.
The remnant aristocrats living in those States, which were formerly
conquered by Qin, began to revive their former States and established
their own Governments.
Xiang Yu was an unknown person who lived during the time of unrest. He
was the grandson of a famous aristocratic general in the former State of
Chu which was conquered by Qin in 223BC. Taking advantage of the turmoil
in the land, Xiang Yu killed the local official in his home town. With
the help from his uncle Xiang Liang he organized an army with the
intention of destroying the Qin Government. In 208BC he installed the
grandson of the late ruler of the former State of Chu as the King of Chu,
using him as a puppet to attract the patriotic remnants of the former
State of Chu; thousands of men heard his call and joined his army.
Altogether this newly formed army was about eight thousand strong.
>From the region of Dong Jiang in Jiangsu province they marched Northwest
and occupied a large terroritory in the Qin Empire.
Liu Bang was a peasant. He joined the Qin army as an ordinary soldier.
He rose to the rank of an officer in charge of a town called Si Shang in
Jiangsu province. One day he was ordered to escort a group of conscripted
workers to march North to help build the tomb for the First Emperor. En
route to the tomb site, many conscripted workers ran away, leaving very
few workers to escort. He thought that by the time he reached the North
all of them would have run away, and the Qin Authority would punish him.
If he could not reach the destination on time he would also be punished
for insubordination. Since he would most probably be punished one way or
another, he decided to rebel against the Qin Authority.
He established a base in the bush and became a bandit. Many country
folk joined him. Most of his followers were rough plebeians*. With his
followers he joined Xiang Yu's army. Hoping to destroy the Qin Authority
as quickly as possible, the King of Chu encouraged every one to march West
to Xian Yang, the capital of the Qin. He also proclaimed that whoever
captured the Qin capital first would become the ruler of that region.
It was a free for all. Liu Bang went to the Qin capital and swiftly
captured it before any of the other groups, whilst at the same time
inflicting no damage to the capital.
Xiang Yu, while marching westward towards Xian Yang, received news
that his uncle Xiang Liang was wounded in the battle with the Qin army at
Ji Yang, dying soon after. Xiang Yu turned North to meet the Qin army
which was commanded by Zhang Han who was the general in charge of building
the Great Wall.
With victory in sight the Qin general Zhang Han pushed Northward in
order to destroyed the Kingdom of Zhao, another rebellious State formed
recently by the royal remnants of the former State of Zhao. The Qin army
surrounded Ju Lu the main city near the Zhao capital of Han Dan. Xiang Yu
ordered general Bu Ying to relieve the siege, an effort which was
Xiang Yu decided that he should personally lead the rescue expedition.
After crossing the Zhang He River he gave the following orders:
1) All the boats were to be scutted and sunk in the river,
2) All the cooking vessels to be destroyed,
3) All the houses along the river bend to be burned.
He told his troops that they were going to a battle of no return. They
were either going to win or die. Each soldier was only allowed to have
three days worth of provisions.
They fought battle after battle with the Qin army. After the 9th
battle Xiang Yu finally defeated them. Thus Xiang Yu's march to Xian Yang
On hearing that Xiang Yu was approaching the capital, Liu Bang, taking
all the treasures that he could find from the Qin's treasury, led his
troops North from the capital in order to avoid a collision with oncoming
Xiang Yu eventually arrived at the capital. He was very angry as he
missed the fame for being the first to capture the Qin capital. He was
further infuriated by the news that all the treasure was taken away by Liu
Bang. He ordered his troops to kill all the royal members of the Qin
Court. Even the infant ruler of the Qin could not escape the butchering by
the victors. Xiang Yu also ordered all the buildings in the capital,
including the palaces, to be set ablaze. The capital was razed to the
ground and thus marked the fall of the Qin dynasty.
After this, Xiang Yu ordered his troops to prepare to attack Liu Bang.
Knowing that Xiang Yu was furious and planned to attack him, Liu Bang
brought the treasure back to the capital and asked him for forgiveness.
Xiang Yu forgave him. After the transfer was completed, Xiang Yu intended
to take all the treasures back to the East, his home base.
A few months later, after the situation had quietened down, a
brilliant officer of Xiang Yu advised him to settle down there and use
Xian Yang as the capital. He told Xiang Yu that the area had many unique
advantages. The only way that it could be accessed was through the narrow
strip of land between the hills and the Yellow River. Under these
conditions it was very esay to defend that region and he could sally forth
at will from there to wage war on any eastern rivals.
Xiang Yu ignored his advice. He wanted to go back to the East where his
home base was. He further emphasised that he wanted to go home in triumph
to show his hometown folks of his success. Not doing so to him was like
"to dress up with silk gowns to walk in the dark and where no one can see
me well dressed". This officer was annoyed and started telling other
officers that Xiang Yu was like a
"just freshly bathed monkey wearing a crown,
which does not look like human being at all but an animal.
No wonder people are saying that Chu people are like monkeys
wearing hats. Once they take off their hats they reveal
their true identity, the monkeys".
Somehow Xiang Yu heard about the comment by this officer. He went
berzerk, ordering the arrest and execution of the officer for rumour
In 206BC he returned to the East. He established his capital in Peng
Cheng (present day Tomg Shan city in Jiangsu province). He installed the
King of Chu as Emperor Yi and entitled himself the West King of Chu. He
also rewarded titles of Kings and Dukes to eighteen of other generals who
had helped him to destroy the Qin Empire. He posted them as rulers to
different parts of the country.
Liu Bang was "honoured" as King Han, delegated to rule the wild-west
Sichuan province. Getting sick of the puppet Emperor Yi, in 205BC Xiang Yu
murdered him. Liu Bang was furious. He called upon all the other Kings
and Dukes to revolt against Xiang Yu and avenge the death of Emperor Yi. A
civil war had begun, that lasted five years. The war mainly consisted of
battles between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu.
At the beginning of the civil war Xiang Yu was winning - he was a
brilliant military strategist. Liu Bang lost many battles to Xiang Yu and
it seemed that Xiang Yu was going to crush his rival who was no match with
him (as far as military tactics were concerned). However, Liu Bang had
under his command many good military commanders.
With his rude manners, arrogance and lack of political vision, the tide
turned against Xiang Yu. In the end he lost the war to Liu Bang.
In 202BC Xiang Yu was surrounded by Liu Bang's army at Gai Xia
(present day Lin Pi district in Anhui province). His army was routed.
However, Xiang Yu managed to escape.
With only about one hundred riders left he arrived at Wu Jiang (present
day Wu Jiang River in He district in Anhui province). Liu Bang's cavalry
were on his heel. Xiang Yu continued to fight. Finally he had only two
riders left with him; Xiang Yu dimissed them and told them to go their own
way. There was a boat waiting to take him across the river. The boat man
was a headman of a village. He requested Xiang Yu to get into the boat.
But Xiang Yu refused and said him,
"I started the revolution with eight thousand men from Dong Jiang+.
There is not a single man with me now. They all died in the battle
fields fighting for me. I am ashamed to face the Dong Jiang folks".
The boat man replied:
"Dong Jiang is not a little place.
There are several hundred thousand people living here.
You still can be our King.
You still can stage a comeback".
Xiang Yu responded:
"No thank you. I am too ashamed to go back to face
the parents of his dead comrades".
After saying this he took out his sword cut his own throat. The year was
202BC. Shortly after his death Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty.
*: Many years later with the help from his henchmen and these plebeians
he founded the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD). He was the first commoner to
become an Emperor in Chinese history.
+: Present day Hong Ze Lake region in Jiangsu province.
Han Shi (Han history) "Juan Tu Zhong Lai".