汉朝的开端 – Beginning of the Han Dynasty

Xiang Yu and Liu Pang are the main protoganist in the founding of Han Dynasty. This article is written by Mr Chung Yoon Ngan in the Asiawind forum using source from Shiji (Record of Grand Historian) by Sima Qian who lived during Emperor WuTi’s reign. Sima Qian first came to my notice in the CCTV TV series Han Wu Ta Ti, where he was castrated for having offended Emperor with his writings.
漢朝的開端 (Han Zhao2 de kai duan) Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD)

Ying Zheng (嬴政) founded the Qin Dynasty (秦朝 221BC to 207BC) and he adopted
the title of the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang Di 秦始皇帝). He died
in 210BC and the centralized Government he created collapsed. His second
son Ying Huhai (嬴胡亥) succeeded him as the Second Emperor (Qin Er Huang
Di 秦二皇帝). However, the Second Emperor was an idiot and he was unable
to rule the vast Qin Empire. Riots broke out everywhere 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 mutinying against their superiors and
the authorities.

The remnant aristocrats living in the six States of Chu (楚國), Han (韓國
), Zhao (趙國), Wei (魏國), Yan (燕國) and Qi (齊國), which were formerly
conquered by Qin, began to revive their former States and establish their
own Governments.

Xiang Yu (項羽) was an unknown person who lived during the time of unrest.
He was the grandson of a famous aristocratic general, Xiang Yan (項燕) of
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 (項梁) he organized an army
with the intention of destroying the Qin Government. In 208BC he installed
Mie Xin (羋心) the grandson of the late ruler of the former State of Chu
as the King of Chu. Mie Xin was only an illiterate shepherd boy. Xiang Yu
used the puppet King of Chu to attract the patriotic remnants of the former
State of Chu. Thousands of men heard his call and joined his army.

Altogether the newly formed army was about eight thousand strong. From
the region of Dongjiang (東江 the present day Wu county 吳縣 in Jiangsu
province 江蘇省) they marched Northwest and occupied a large territory.

Liu Bang (劉邦), an ordinary peasant, joined the Qin army as an ordinary
soldier. He rose to the rank of an officer in charge of a town called Sishang
(泗上) in Jiangsu province. One day, Liu Bang was ordered to escort a group
of conscripted workers to march North to help building 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 Authorities 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 Authorities. So,
Liu Bang 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
Liu Bang joined Xiang Yu’s army.

Hoping to destroy the Qin Authorities as quickly as possible, the King of
Chu encouraged every one to march West to Xianyang (咸陽, in present day
Shaanxi province 陜西省), the capital of the Qin. The King of Chu also proclaimed
that whoever captured the Qin capital first would become the ruler of that

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 Xianyang, received news that his
uncle Xiang Liang was wounded in the battle with the Qin army at Jiyang
(濟陽 in Shandong province 山東省), dying soon after. Xiang Yu turned north
to meet the Qin army which was commanded by Zhang Han (章邯) 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 destroy the Kingdom of Zhao (趙國), another rebellious State formed recently
by the royal remnants of the former State of Zhao. The Qin army surrounded
Julu (鉅鹿) the main city near the Zhao capital of Handan (邯鄲). Xiang
Yu ordered general Bu Ying (布英) to relieve the siege, an effort which
was unsuccessful.

Xiang Yu decided that he should personally lead the rescue expedition. After
crossing the River Zhang (漳河) he gave the following orders:

(1) All the boats were to be scuttled and sunk in the river,
(2) All the cooking vessels to be destroyed,
(3) All the houses along the river banks to be burned.

He told his troops that they were going to a battle of no return (破斧沈
舟). 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 ninth battle
Xiang Yu finally defeated them. Thus Xiang Yu’s march to Xian Yang was delayed.

On hearing that Xiang Yu was approaching the capital, Liu Bang, taking all
the treasures that he could find from the Qin’s treasury and led his troops
to Bashang (霸上) near the river of Bashang (灞上) in the north of Xianyang,
in order to avoid a collision with oncoming Xiang Yu.

Xiang Yu eventually arrived at the capital. He was very angry because 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 Qin, Ying Ziying (嬴子嬰), the baby grandson of the
First Emperor (始皇帝), could not escape the butchering by the victors. Xiang
Yu also ordered all the buildings in the capital, including the palaces,
especially the biggest palace A Fang Gong (阿房宮) to be set ablaze. The
capital was razed to the ground and thus marked the end of Qin Dynasty,
after in existence of only fifteen years.

After the destruction of the Qin capital, 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
Xiang Yu 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

A few months later, after the situation was quiet, 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 easy 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 emphasized 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 (富貴不歸故鄉, 如衣繡夜行, 誰知之者)".

This officer was annoyed and started telling other officers that Xiang Yu
was like a:

"just freshly bathed monkey wearing a crown (沐猴而冠), 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 berserk,
ordering the arrest and execution of the officer for rumour mongering.

In 206BC, Xiang Yu returned to the east. He established his capital in Pengcheng
(彭城 the present day city of Tongshan 銅山市 in Jiangsu province). Xiang
Yu installed the King of Chu as Emperor Yi (義帝) and titled himself the
Wst King of Chu (西楚王). 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 (漢王), and was delegated to rule the wild-west Hanzhong
(漢中 present day Nanzheng county 南鄭縣 in Shaanxi province).

Getting sick of the puppet Emperor Yi, in 205BC, Xiang Yu murdered him.
Liu Bang was furious and 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.

In the beginning of the civil war Xiang Yu was winning. Xiang Yu was a brilliant
military strategist. Liu Bang lost many battles to Xiang Yu. 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 Gaixia (垓下 the
present day county of Lingbi 靈壁縣 in Anhui province 安徽省). Xiang Yu
was very sad and near that that was end of him soon. At night he heard Liu
Bang’s troops singing and he thought that they might have occupied all the
land of Chu "Si Mian Chu Ge 四面楚歌".

The next morning, while he was having breakfast with his wife Yu Mei Ren
(虞美人) Xiang Yu sang the song he composed:

力拔山兮氣蓋世 (力氣能拔起高山),
時不利兮騅不逝 (可是, 天時不利於我,
騅不逝兮可奈何 (烏騅難再奔馳, 怎麼辦呢)?
虞兮虞兮奈若何 (虞啊! 虞啊! 我要怎麼安排你)?

With my strength I can move the mountain,
But Heaven is against me,
Even my horse is finding difficult to gallop,
What am I going to do if my horse is not galloping?
Oh my love! What am I going to do with you? .

This was really the attitude of a hero Ying Xiong Qi Duan (英雄氣短 A hero
is losing his heart) and the sadness of a hero Ying Xiong Mo Lu (英雄末路
A hero is nearing his end). By using Xiang Yu’s sword, Yu Meiren, his wife
cut her own throat. That was the end of a beautiful woman.

That evening, Xiang Yu congregated eight hundred of the best horsemen and
broke through the siege. Liu Bang ordered five thousand cavalry to chase
Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu had only about one hundred riders left when he arrived
at Wu Jiang (烏江 present day Wu Jiang River in He county 和縣 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 dismissed 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 Dongjiang (東江).
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 Dongjiang folks".

The boat man replied:

"Dongjiang 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 Juan
Tu Zhong Lai (捲土重來) ".

Xiang Yu responded:

"No thank you. I am too ashamed to go back to face the parents of his dead

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 (漢朝
) and was crowned as Emperor Gao Zu (高祖).

In October 196BC, Liu Bang led a punitive force to crush his rebellious
General Ying Bu (英布), who was the military governor of Huai Nan (淮南
present day in the bordering region of the provinces of Hubei 湖北省, Jiangsu
江蘇省, and Anhui (安徽省). During the battle, Liu Bang was wounded by an
arrow in the right shoulder. Eventually, the rebellion led Ying Bu was crushed.
Ying Bu, with about fifty of his followers left, fled across the River Huai
(淮河) to Wu (吳 in present day Jiangsu province). Wu Rui (吳芮), the governor
of Wu was away hunting in a mountain. Wu Cheng (吳成), the nephew of Wu
Rui, received Ying Bu and his entuorage and put them up in an official residence.
That night, Ying Bu was murdered by Wu Cheng who presented Ying Bu’s head
to Liu Bang.

On returning to the capital Changan (長安 present day Xian city 西安市 in
Shaanxi province 陜西省), Liu Bang detoured to his hometown Pei Xian (沛
縣 in present day Jiangsu province). All the residents turned out to welcome
the favourite son, the Emperor. That evening they had a big celebration.
In the middle of the feast Liu Bang stood up and sang:


Liu Bang danced while he sang because he was so happy.
劉邦隨即翩翩起舞, 情緒格外激動﹐以至熱淚不能自禁.
他對故鄉的眷戀之情, 與鞏固帝業的迫切心情,

Liu Bang stayed for more than ten days in his hometown. In November, he
returned to Changan through Lu (魯 the present day county of Qufu 曲阜縣
in Shandong province 山東省). While in Lu Liu Bang went to pray to Kong
Zi (孔子 Confucious) in his grave. Soon after he had returned to the capital,
Liu Bang died. The month was April and the year 195BC.

From the book "史記"
By Sima Qian (司馬遷145BC to 86BC)


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

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