Three Kingdoms The Myth Of Guan Yu
Guan Yu, Guan YunChang, Guang Gong. He is a man of many names. But whatever title this legend goes by, Guan Yu is one of the greatest legends Asia has ever known. He is the warlord who became a myth. The general who became a deity. The man who became a legend. known for his unbending devotion to justice and undying loyalty to his allies. Guan Yu has been worshiped across the globe for generations.
Guan Yu rose to prominence during the three kingdoms era of ancient china, a period which ran from 220 to 280 AD. He was one of the Han Dynasty's five Legendary Tiger Generals, A title afforded to the greatest warlords of the time.
Tales of his exploits are romanticized in the novel, "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by 14th-century Chinese author Luo Guan Zhong. Part myth, part history, this epic is one of Chinese literature's Four Great Classic Novels. But in modern times the legend spread even further.
Guan Yu can be seen in opera, film, movies, and perhaps most famously, video games. Many came to know him through the popular Dynasty Warriors series, Games based on the Three Kingdoms Book. And with the release of Total War: Three Kingdoms just around the corner, even more, are set to learn of the legend.
In this MythStorys Special edition, we'll take you through this warlord's greatest adventures, his blood, sweat, and tears. You'll learn not only of his epic life journey but also of the brothers he made along the way.
All of this and more coming up in...
Life of Guan Yu
Guan Yu became a general under Liu Bei near the end of the Han dynasty and contributed enormously towards the Liu Bei-ruled Kingdom of Shu Han, one of the era's three warring states. But before all that, he was someone else entirely.
Young Guan Yu
Details of his early days are scant. What we do know is that Guang Yu was first called Changsheng. He was said to be born around 160 A.D in what is now Shanxi, China. Young Guang Yu was obsessed with a book even older than he, the Zuo Zhuan.
This historical tome detailed China's ancient history and Guan Yu had memorized it word for word. Legend has it he could recite any and all of it on demand. After he left home. Guan Yu went on the road. Destiny was calling.
And during the yellow Turban Rebellion Guang Yu answered. It was here he saddled up with his once and future brothers, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei. The fictional "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" story, tells that although the trio was unrelated by blood, they soon became family.
The oath of the Peach Garden
The three Kingdoms story tells us that Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei held a brotherly ritual during the 180s. They swore to protect the Han dynasty from the Yellow Turban rebellion. The story goes that they made the oath in a peach garden and became bound by loyalty and brotherhood to one another.
This bond tied each to the other in the novel. Despite being fictional, the Oath of the Peach Garden has become an iconic fable of fraternal loyalty. And one way or another, Guan Yu's loyalty was tested when he had to serve Liu Bei's rival, the warlord Cao Cao.
Guan Yu and Cao Cao
Cao Cao army Liu Bei's forces when they took back Xu Province from him in 200 AD. Guan Yu Was captured and was made to serve under him. Nevertheless, Cao Cao admired his rival and gave him the rank of general. Guan Yu accepted his new post among the warlord's ranks but remained loyal to Liu Bei throughout his service.
Guan Yu was treated very well, and the legendary warrior knew this. so, prior to leaving. Guan Yu returned the kindness by slaying an enemy general during the Battle of Boma in Cao Cao's name.
Next Guang Yu sealed all the presents he had received from Cao Cao and wrote his captor a letter bidding him farewell. Cao Cao admired Guang Yu's fealty to his lord and ordered his men not to give chase.
Over the next 20 years, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei under the command of Liu Bei took control of Southwest China, under the banner of Shu Han. And, Liu Bei was made ruler due to his claim that he was heir to the Han Dynasty.
And what about that beard, right? Guan Yu's legendary facial hair is symbolic of the character. Traditionally he is shown as a red-faced warrior. The color is thought to come from renditions of Guang Yu Chinese opera where it represents courage and loyalty.
He's also shown to be drabbed from head to toe in green robes, along with his trademark weapon. And how he got that is a tale in of itself.
The green dragon crescent blade
The Green Dragon Crescent Blade is a traditional Chinese guangdao. This resembles a lengthy spear with one exception, the massive sword-like blade at its top. It is also called the Frost Fair Blade, a title said to come from winter battles when it was consistently coated in blood.
The idea was that the cold froze the blood and made another layer of ice around the blade. It's unknown if Guan Yu actually wielded such a weapon, but according to the Three Kingdoms story, the weapon was crafted by a blacksmith and paid for by a merchant who believed in his and his brother's cause.
Another legend claims that Guan Yu himself fashioned it himself after his brotherly oath. Other tales say that when the blacksmith was creating the sword, a green dragon passed flew by. The beast got sliced up and its body parts were later used to craft the weapon.
But, in reality, guandao blades weren't were used in China until centuries after Guan Yu's death. In addition, the weapon is very heavy - often weighing 18kg - and is difficult to handle. But according to the Three Kingdoms Guang Yu held it in one hand.
Mythical Guan Yu is indeed mighty. Legend has it, that the warlord was hit by an arrow laden with poison once. The tip struck at the bone and the poison went deep. Guan Yu called in his healer, and the news wasn't good. The healer cut deep and scraped the poison from his bones. But that didn't stop Guan Yu from having some fun.
His men joined him for a feast and he drank and laughed as if nothing had happened. Mighty indeed, but invincible he was not.
Guan Yu's death.
Death caught up to Guan Yu around 220 AD when he was captured by a Wu Dynasty forces general named Lu Meng. He worked for the warlord Sun Quan and took control over a city Guang Yu ruled. Lu Meng told his troops to treat the populace well after Guan Yu's men had given up the fight and fled the field.
Not long after, Guan Yu was executed and his head was said to have been sent to Cao Cao. It is said that the warlord gave his old friend a funeral with full rites. Guang Yu may have been gone, but it was in death, his legacy found new life.
Guan Yu As A Deity
After his death, Guan Yu became legendary and mythical, so much so, that some consider him a Saint of War. In the time that followed the Three Kingdoms period, Guang Yu became a figure of worship and to this day remains so.
In Chinese Buddhism, Guang Gong was said to act as the protector of the Dharma Bodhisattva. He also holds special places in traditional Chinese religion, as well as inter Taoism and Confucianism.
Temples and statues dedicated to Guan Yu can be found across Asia and elsewhere. He is considered a defender of the weak, but also as a God of Wealth and is worshiped by businessmen.
He is also believed to be protected companies from fraud and ward off other evils. But not only businessmen, politicians, military officials, police officers, and even gangsters such as the triads all look to him for protection.
This all perhaps is best seen in another title bestowed upon him long after he was gone. This was "仁勇威顯護國保民精誠綏靖翊贊宣德忠義神武關聖大帝". This 24 character title translates to. "Guan the holy great deity; god of war manifesting benevolence, Bravery and Prestige; protector of the country and defender of the people; proud and honest supporter of peace and reconciliation; promoter of morality, Loyalty and righteousness". Guan Yu is revered.