Xiang Yu (
He is depicted as a ruthless leader, in sharp contrast to his rival, Liu Bang. He was a mass murderer, ordering the massacres of entire cities even after they surrendered peacefully. This often led to cities putting up strong resistance, as they knew they would be killed even if they surrendered.
A noble of Xiaxiang (下相; present-day Suqian, Jiangsu), Xiang Yu rebelled against the Qin dynasty and became a prominent warlord. He was granted the title of "Duke of Lu" (魯公) by King Huai II of the restoring Chu state in 208 BC.
The following year, he led the Chu forces to victory at the Battle of Julu against the Qin armies led by Zhang Han. During the Battle of Julu, Xiang Yu led an army of 20,000 strong and defeated the Qin armies 300,000 trooops after nine-engagements. Xiang Yu perceived the surrendered Qin troops as disloyal and a liability and ordered the 200,000 surrendered Qin troops to be buried alive after the Battle of Julu. This act was one of the most notorious examples of his cruelty. After the fall of Qin, Xiang Yu was enthroned as the "Hegemon-King of Western Chu" (西楚霸王).
Xiang Yu engaged Liu Bang, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty, in a long struggle for power, known as the Chu–Han Contention. During the Battle of Pengcheng, one of the many battles of the Chu-Han Contention, Liu Bang's army of 560,000 men was defeated by Xiang Yu's 30,000, a feat that is still heralded today.
In 202 BC, Han armies led by Liu Bang, Han Xin and Peng Yue attacked Western Chu from three sides and trapped Xiang Yu's army, which was low on supplies, at Gaixia (垓下; in present-day Lingbi County, Anhui). Liu Bang ordered his troops to sing folk songs from the Chu region to create a false impression that Xiang Yu's native land had been conquered by Han forces. The morale of the Chu army plummeted and many of Xiang Yu's troops deserted in despair. Xiang Yu sank into a state of depression and he composed the Song of Gaixia. Lady Yu performed the sword dance as she sang her verses and then, blaming herself for the Chu defeat, and wishing to save Xiang Yu from further disaster through his love for her, she killed herself with his sword. The next morning, Xiang Yu led about 800 of his remaining elite cavalry on a desperate attempt to break out of the encirclement, with 5,000 enemy troops pursuing them.
After crossing the Huai River, Xiang Yu was only left with a few hundred soldiers. They were lost in Yinling (陰陵) and Xiang Yu asked for directions from a farmer, who directed him wrongly to a swamp. When Xiang Yu reached Dongcheng (東城), only 28 men were left, with the Han troops still following him. Xiang Yu made a speech to his men, saying that his downfall was due to Heaven's will and not his personal failure. After that, he led a charge out of the encirclement, killing one Han general in the battle. Xiang Yu then split his men into three groups to confuse the enemy and induce them to split up as well to attack the three groups. Xiang Yu took the Han troops by surprise again and slew another enemy commander, inflicting about 100 casualties on the enemy, while he only lost two men.
Xiang Yu retreated to the bank of the Wu River (near present-day He County, Chaohu City, Anhui) and the ferryman at the ford prepared a boat for him to cross the river, strongly encouraging him to do so because Xiang Yu still had the support of the people from his homeland in the south. Xiang Yu said that he was too ashamed to return home and face his people because none of the first 8,000 men from Jiangdong who followed him on his conquests survived. He refused to cross and ordered his remaining men to dismount, asking the ferryman to take his warhorse, Zhui (騅), back home.
Xiang Yu and his men made a last stand against wave after wave of Han forces until only Xiang himself was left alive. Xiang Yu continued to fight on and slew over 100 enemy soldiers, but he had also sustained several wounds all over his body. Just then, Xiang Yu saw an old friend Lü Matong among the Han soldiers, and he said to Lü, "I heard that the King of Han (Liu Bang) has placed a price of 1,000 gold and the title of "Wanhu Marquis" (萬戶侯; lit. "marquis of 10,000 households") on my head. Take it then, on account of our friendship." Xiang Yu then committed suicide by slitting his throat with his sword. With the death of Xiang Yu at the Battle of Gaixia, the Chu-Han Contention came to an end and the Han Dynasty was born.
Xiang Yu's story became an example for Confucianists to advocate the idea that leaders should rule with benevolence and not govern by instilling fear in the people. However, his ambitions ended with the collapse of Western Chu, his defeat by Liu Bang, and his death at the early age of around 30.
Black Piebald Horse
There is a Chinese saying which goes, “宝马配英雄" (a swift horse deserves a real hero for an owner).
Xian Yu's Famous Horse was known as the 'Black Piebald Horse' (
Zhui was included in a verse in Xiang Yu's 'Song of Gaixia', with a line saying “I could lift a mountain by might; but now my time is gone and Zhui won’t run (力拔山兮气盖世，时不利兮骓不逝)”. The poem was so popular that the name Zhui is still famous among Chinese.
It was said before his death that Xiang asked a soldier to take Zhui onto a boat and leave. But just after Xiang killed himself, Zhui neighed loudly and jumped into the river from the boards on the riverbank.
Song of Gaixia
The Song of Gaixia was a song composed by Xiang Yu while he was trapped by Liu Bang's forces at Gaixia (垓下; in present-day Lingbi County, Anhui).
Song of Gaixia
|The Hegemon's Lament|
|힘은 산을 뽑고
|My strength uprooted mountains,
my spirit overstepped the world;
|My strength plucked
up the hills,
shadowed the world;
|But the times are
And my horse
can gallop no more;
|But the times
were against me,
runs no more;
|추마저 나아가지 않으니
난 어찌해야 하는가.
gallop no more,
What can I do?
runs no more,
What then can I do?
| 우희(虞姬) 여,
|And what is to
become of Lady Yu
|Ah, Yu,[b] my Yu,
What will your fate be?
a.^"Dapple" is Watson's translation of the name of Xiang Yu's warhorse Zhui (騅)
b.^ This "Yu" refers to Xiang Yu's concubine Consort Yu (虞姬)
Song of Consort Yu
This verse was sung by Consort Yu after Xiang Yu sang the Song of Gaixia. She committed suicide with Xiang Yu's sword after singing.
|漢兵已略地，||The Han army has conquered our land;|
|四面楚歌聲。||Surrounded with the singing of Chu;|
|大王義氣盡，||My lord's spirits are low;|
|賤妾何聊生。||Why then should I live?|
Notes & Trivia
- There was a saying in China when Qin united China for the first time: “亡秦必楚”/ “Only Chu can eliminate Qin”. Xiang Yu fulfilled this prophecy.
- Some chengyu (Chinese idioms) and proverbs originated from the events in the Battle of Julu, including:
- "Breaking cauldrons and sinking boats" (破釜沉舟); in modern usage, used similarly to the English "to cross the Rubicon" or "to reach the point of no return"
- "Pitting the strength of one against ten" (以一當十)
- "Sitting on the wall and watching" (坐壁上觀)
- Xiang Yu's story can be found in the legendary Chinese historical text, Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Wikipedia.org: Xiang Yu
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 theworldofchinese.com: Heroic Horses of Ages Past
- ↑ ancient.eu: Battle of Gaixia
- ↑ kongming.net: Xiang Yu
- ↑ Minford, John, ed. (2000). An Anthology of Translations Classical Chinese Literature Volume I: From Antiquity To The Tang Dynasty. Columbia University Press. pp. 414–415. ISBN 0-231-09676-3.
- ↑ Wikipedia.org: Consort Yu