Lu Bu 呂布, one of the characters in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is a gifted warrior, famous in archery, horse-riding, and possessed great physical strength. Trying to gain prominence as a warlord during the era, unfortunately his ambitions were short lived with multiple decisions that he has made.
He began his political career by establishing himself with Ding Yuan丁原, the Inspector (刺史) of Bing Province 并州, who was appointed as Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉) by the Han central government. Lu Bu was recruited as a Registrar 主簿 at that time.
After the death of Emperor Ling 漢靈帝 in 189, Ding Yuan led his troops to the capital Luoyang 洛阳市 to assist the general He Jin 何進 in eliminating the eunuch faction. He Jin ended up being assassinated by the eunuchs instead, after which the warlord Dong Zhuo 董卓 led his forces into Luoyang and occupied the capital. Dong Zhuo then induced Lü Bu into betraying Ding Yuan and defecting to his side. Lü Bu killed Ding Yuan, cut off his head, and presented it to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo appointed Lü Bu as a Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉) and placed much faith and trust in him. He also accepted Lü Bu as a foster son. Lü Bu was later promoted from the position of a Cavalry Commandant to a General of the Household (中郎將). He was also made a Marquis of a Chief Village (都亭侯)
Later on with Dong Zhuo acting like a tyrant, he was hated by many; and Wang Yun 王允 was the one that had plotted to kill the tyrant. He took the opportunity to instigate and incite Lu Bu to turn against Dong Zhuo. Lu Bu successfully killed his foster father, Dong Zhuo, but he was attacked by Dong Zhuo’s followers which forced him to run away from the city.
Lu Bu then tried seeking shelter from Yuan Shu 袁術, but Yuan Shu did not believe in him and was disgusted with his previous betrayals. Lu Bu had no choice but to turn to Yuan Shao 袁紹.
After some time, Lu Bu joined forces with Zhang Miao 張邈, Chen Gong 陳宮, Xu Si 許汜, Wang Kai 王楷, and Zhang Cao 張超 to attack Yan Province which is under the warlord Cao Cao 曹操. They seized control of Puyang 濮阳市 and Lu Bu declared himself as Governor 牧 of Yan Province 兗州.
Cao Cao, who was away for a battle in Xu Province 徐州, led his forces back to reclaim Yan Province. Within two years, Cao Cao won the battle, and manage to retake all his territories in Yan Province.
Lu Bu fled to Xu Province to seek shelter under Liu Bei 劉備. Knowing Lu Bu is in Liu Bei’s province, Yuan Shu instigated Lu Bu to fight against Liu Bei with plenty of resources. Lu Bu was delighted and agreed to help Yuan Shu attack Xiapi 下邳 which is the capital of Xu.
Liu Bei was away with his army resisting Yuan Shu’s invading forces when Lü Bu attacked and seized Xiapi from him. He also lost to Yuan Shu and was forced to retreat to Haixi 海西, where, in hunger and desperation, he surrendered. Lu Bu declared himself the Governor of Xu Province and remained in Xiapi.
Liu Bei then worked together with Cao Cao to defeat Lu Bu at the end, and Lu Bu was forced to surrender. While surrendering, Lu Bu has pleaded to Cao Cao to spare his life, but they have had enough of his treachery and betrayals.
Looking back at the story, what if Lu Bu was to remain loyal to one of the warlords only then? Will he have a better reputation like how Zhao Yun 趙雲 worked with Liu Bei?
Or what if, when he was a warlord of his own while controlling the Yan and Xu Province, he did not flip flop with allying with one and then depose them? WIll he have lesser enemies and be well-respected?
What if he had only stuck to one ally? Will they create a better force compared to Liu Bei, Cao Cao or Sun Quan 孫權?
The biggest mistake that Lu Bu has done is that he acted erratically in making alliances and betraying them back and forth. A warrior gifted in battle skills, and surrounded by generals and strategists, but making bad decisions have cost his own life as well as his people. In the end, nobody believes in his treachery and flip flopping, and he made too many adversaries out of this.
Does it reflect the current political scenario that irritates you?
This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 18th May 2020.