Now, Liu Pei was with Ts’ao Ts’ao at Xuchang, and the powerful Minister could see that Liu Pei was a charismatic person who could command attention. Ts’ao Ts’ao once thought of eliminating Liu Pei, but his advisor Sun Hou adviced against this, “Liu Pei is a virtuous man who has sought refuge with your Highness. If we slay him now, people will say bad things about us. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. This way, without a power base of his own, he can be of no danger to you.”
Ts’ao Ts’ao had great respect for Sun Hou, so he even went a step further by making friends with Liu Pei and introducing him to the Emperor. After checking his lineage, the Emperor declared the Liu Pei was actually his uncle and henceforth, Liu Pei was known as the Imperial Uncle.
Now, Ts’ao Ts’ao’s powers had increased significantly, and he was even toying with the idea of usurping the throne. Of course, he wanted to test the loyalty of people around him before he did that. One day, he went hunting with the Emperor and all of the entourage and shot a deer before the Emperor could do so.
When one of the Emperor’s men shouted out that the Emperor hath hit a deer, Ts’ao Ts’ao shouted back, “No, it is I, Minister Ts’ao Ts’ao, who shot that deer!”
Most of the nobles were enraged, but no one dared to voice an opinion against Ts’ao Ts’ao. Kuan Yu wanted to, but he was restrained by his brother Liu Pei. Upon seeing this, Ts’ao Ts’ao knew that he did not have complete support of the nobles yet and decided to delay his plans for usurping the throne…for now.
Ts’ao Ts’ao now realized the danger that Liu Pei would pose to him, and Liu Pei could see through his suspicion. To throw Ts’ao Ts’ao off his guard, Liu Pei pretended to be interested in gardening. This gave everyone the impression was totally unambitious, but Ts’ao Ts’ao could still not shake off all his suspicions of Liu Pei, so one day, he invited him for a drink in the royal pavilion.
During the drink, he posed the question: “Who is the hero of our age?” Liu Pei gave many names, but Ts’ao Ts’ao would dismiss them one by one.
“Sun Quan is but a child, Yuan Shao has money but no brains, same thing with Yuan Shu. In reality, there are only two heroes in China today, namely yourself and me.”
Luckily, a thunder roared at that time, and Liu Pei pretended to close his ears and hide in fear. At that time, his two brothers, Chang Fei and Kuan Yu, appeared. He chided them, and so the event ended. Thus, this was how Ts’ao Ts’ao tested Liu Pei to see the extent of his ambition. Liu Pei was eager to give Ts’ao Ts’ao the impression that he was loyal and not one to be feared…until, of course, the time was right.
We will see how Liu Pei detached himself from Ts’ao Ts’ao in the next book…The Fall of Lu Bu!!