Ts’ao Ts’ao’s army was massive, and certainly, Liu Pei of Xuzhou was no much for him. But Ts’ao Ts’ao was still a careful man. On the way to invade Xuzhou, one of his flags broke. Ts’ao Ts’ao saw this as a bad sign and prepared an ambush instead. Liu Pei was roundly defeated and sought refuge with Yuan Shao, the powerful warlord of Hebei. Chang Fei fled to the mountains, while Kuan Yu was trapped in the city of Haifa.
Ts’ao Ts’ao had great respect for Kuan Yu and wanted to recruit him into Wei’s service, and his general Chang Liao volunteered to recruit him. Chang Liao was one of Lu Bu’s right hand men. He was not only capable in war but also quite smart. After Lu Bu’s death, he joined Ts’ao Ts’ao’s rank.
Initially, Chang Liao pretended to flee from Kuan Yu’s pursuing army. Then, he sent another army to capture Haifa behind Kuan Yu’s back. Now, Kuan Yu was in trouble, because both of Liu Pei’s wife were trapped in Haifa, so Chang Liao asked Kuan Yu to surrender to Wei for their sake.
Kuan Yu agrees to the temporary surrender under three conditions:
1) That he surrender to Han, and not Ts’ao Ts’ao.
2) That good care be taken of his sisters-in-laws, Liu Pei’s two wives.
3) That he be allowed to return to Liu Pei the moment he heard news of him.
So Chang Liao bought these terms of Ts’ao Ts’ao, eager to have the Minister accept it.
Ts’ao Ts’ao: I am Minister of Han. If Kuan Yu surrenders to Han or me, what is the difference? Haha, I will accept the first condition. I am an honorable man. Even if Kuan Yu did not ask, I will treat Liu Pei’s wives with utmost respect. This second condition, I shall accept, but for the third condition, it is not acceptable! If he runs back to Liu Pei, then what do I gain from his surrender, man?!?
Chang Liao: My Lordship, you must not think like this. Kuan Yu is a man of honor. Liu Pei is poor and only gives him trinkets, but he gave Liu Pei so much loyalty. Imagine how loyal he will be to you if you shower him with all the treasures that is due to a Lord of your status?
Ts’ao Ts’ao agreed with Chang Liao’s point and decided to take his chances, so he accepted Kuan Yu’s surrender. When Kuan Yu arrived, he gave Kuan Yu numerous gifts, not merely beautiful women but also fine silk clothing and other treasures. Every few days, Ts’ao Ts’ao would throw a small party for Kuan Yu. Every few weeks, he would throw a big party for him. All the nobles were jealous, but Ts’ao Ts’ao didn’t care. He wanted to win Kuan Yu over to his side real badly.
Eager to see Kuan Yu defect to Ts’ao Ts’ao wholeheartedly, one of Ts’ao Ts’ao’s advisors Jia Xue told him, “We must break the relationship between Kuan Yu and Liu Pei. Let him sleep with Liu Pei’s wife, so that the brotherhood of the Peach Orchard will cease.”
So Ts’ao Ts’ao arranged for Kuan Yu and Liu Pei’s wife to stay in a single room, but Kuan Yu read books all evening and went without sleep guarding Liu Pei’s wives from outside the room every night. This won him further admiration from Ts’ao Ts’ao, who remarked, “Kuan Yu is very impressive, his appearance is one of a god to me!!”
One day, he found Kuan Yu wearing his old tunic over his new silk shirt. Ts’ao Ts’ao was so amused that he said, “My, my, you are so parsimonious, Kuan Yu. Don’t worry. We will have many more silk shirt for you.”
…but Kuan Yu said, “Your Excellency has misunderstood. This old shirt comes from my brother Liu Pei. When I wear it, I feel like he is near.”
In another instance, Ts’ao Ts’ao gave Kuan Yu the horse Red Hare, and Kuan Yu was overjoyed. Once again, Ts’ao Ts’ao found this quite amusing.
Ts’ao Ts’ao: You never cease to puzzle me. I have given you many beautiful ladies, but did not see you as happy as getting this horse. Is the horse worth more than humans?
Kuan Yu: Your Excellency does not understand. With the Great Hare, I can ride many lis non-stop to meet my brother Liu Pei.
Ts’ao Ts’ao was very depressed when he heard this, and then Chang Liao found out, he spoke to Kuan Yu.
Chang Liao: Kuan Yu, do you not have a heart? The Minister Ts’ao Ts’ao treats you better than any noble I have seen. Do you not feel any gratitude towards him?
…Whereupon Kuan Yu replied: My friend Chang Liao, Ts’ao Ts’ao’s benevolence is well known to me, but I can not break an oath to my brother Liu Pei. This, surely, you must understand. However, I will not leave until I have repaid the Minister’s kindness to me.
So Chang Liao whispered these words to Ts’ao Ts’ao and told him, “My Lordship, if you don’t give Kuan Yu a chance to do battle and repay your benevolence, he will not be able to leave you.” Ts’ao Ts’ao nodded in agreement. After that, he never assigned any task to Kuan Yu.
However, at that time, Ts’ao Ts’ao and Yuan Shao were at war with each other. Yuan Shao’s general Yan Liang seem invincible. Many Wei generals hath already fallen before his lance. Ts’ao Ts’ao considered using Kuan Yu in the next battle, but Chang Liao warned him, “Your Lordship, you must not give Kuan Yu the chance to repay you. Otherwise, he may one day leave us to join Liu Pei.”
Whereupon, Ts’ao Ts’ao replied “If we don’t use him in battle, what is the purpose of having Kuan Yu with us? If he dies, then we don’t need to worry about him leaving to Liu Pei. Besides, it would show he’s not really worth that much anyway.” So Ts’ao Ts’ao made up his mind to let Kuan Yu face Yan Liang in battle.
So Ts’ao Ts’ao took Kuan Yu to the battlefield. Before the combat, he said to Kuan Yu, “Look at Yan Liang. A mighty warrior he is, so full of glory, is he not?” Perhaps, Ts’ao Ts’ao was having second thoughts about losing this fine general to Yan Liang in the combat.
However, Kuan Yu looked at Yan Liang and replied with contempt, “I think he is but a Pathonghoe salesman!”, whereupon Kuan Yu rode out in the battlefield and killed Yan Liang in one stroke!!
Ts’ao Ts’ao was overjoyed. That day, the army of Wei crushed the Hebei warriors and celebrated. Kuan Yu was a hero!! Now, Ts’ao Ts’ao was even more worried about losing him.
The war between Ts’ao Ts’ao and Yuan Shao raged on, and Yuan Shao sent his greatest general Wen Chou against Wei’s army. Wen Chou seemed invincible, and the Hebei army still outnumbered Wei. Many of Wei’s generals perished at Wen Chou’s hand, but Ts’ao Ts’ao did not want to use Kuan Yu for fear that he might leave.
This time, Chang Liao urged him to use Kuan Yu.
Ts’ao Ts’ao: It is not that I lack confidence in Kuan Yu, but if he wins, he will leave us for Liu Pei.
Chang Liao: You shall not worry, my Lordship. I heard that Liu Pei resides with Yuan Shao in Hebei. If Wen Chou dies, then surely Yuan Shao will suspect Liu Pei, and he will die. If Liu Pei dies by Yuan Shao’s sword, who else will Kuan Yu serve but you?
Ts’ao Ts’ao saw Chang Liao’s wisdom and allowed Kuan Yu to engage Wen Chou in combat. Kuan Yu allowed a small train of supply to be captured by Wen Chou, whereupon the Hebei army lost its discipline and fell in for the loot. Upon seeing this, Kuan Yu attacked. Wen Chou was a good warrior, but against Kuan Yu, his skills were childplay. Kuan Yu killed him in less than three strokes.
And so the news spread to Yuan Shao in Hebei, who suspected that Liu Pei hath collaborated with Kuan Yu, who was now working for Ts’ao Ts’ao, so he sent for his men to behead Liu Pei.
Liu Pei: My Lordship, what wrong have I done to be punished in this manner?
Yuan Shao: You conspire against me with your brother Kuan Yu, who killed two of my best generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou, and you pretend nothing is happening?!?
Liu Pei: My Lord, this can not be true. It is possible that my brother does not know I reside with you. Let me write him a letter, so that he may join us here.
Seeing nothing to lose, Yuan Shao allowed Liu Pei to write the letter to Kuan Yu. Upon receiving the letter, Kuan Yu wanted to say farewell to Ts’ao Ts’ao, but Ts’ao Ts’ao made up some silly excuses like being busy or not well. Finally, Kuan Yu sent his farewell letter on the floor and left Xuchang.
When Ts’ao Ts’ao realized Kuan Yu was leaving, he felt very sad and wanted to see him off personally. Such was his admiration and good feelings for Kuan Yu. Ts’ao Ts’ao and his entourage met Kuan Yu at the river bank.
Ts’ao Ts’ao: Kuan Yu, you know my feelings for you has always been friendly. Why have you left without saying farewell?
Kuan Yu: Your Excellency, I’ve tried to meet you in person to say farewell many times, but you were always unavailable. I really want to go back and meet my brother. Please accept my apologies, but I must go. In the past, I have killed two of Yuan Shao’s generals to repay your kindness.
Ts’ao Ts’ao: Yes, this is my fault. I have been too fond of you to let you go, Kuan Yu. Anyway, please accept this package of food and clothing. Take good care.
Kuan Yu used his lance to pick up the package. The Wei nobles thought Kuan Yu was being rude, but Ts’ao Ts’ao said, “C’mon, there are so many of us here, and he is alone. He has reasons to be suspicious. I have great admiration for him. All of you should follow his example.”
On his way to Hebei, Kuan Yu had to face many hardships. The Wei gatekeepers at five passes tried to block his way. Some shot him with an arrow and attacked him in a banquet. Others challenged him to a duel, but Kuan Yu defeated all of them.
Hsiahou Tun followed him to the border, but alas, Chang Liao followed him with the pass, so Hsiahou Tun grudgingly let him go. The two brave warriors would one day meet again.
Kuan Yu reached a mountain pass, where he was attacked by his own brother Chang Fei. Chang Fei had defeated and subjugated some mountain bandits and was now their leader. He was furious, because he thought Kuan Yu had defected to Ts’ao Ts’ao and was now out to get them. Kuan Yu did not want to fight with Chang Fei, and so he only parried the blows.
Finally, the duel stopped when Liu Pei’s wives came out and stopped Chang Fei, telling him how loyal Kuan Yu hath been. Liu Pei told Yuan Shao he would go gather support from Liu Biao, the warlord of Chingchou, and so the three sworn brothers were again reunited.
The good news was actually more than that. Another great general Chao Yun would join their ranks. Who is this Chao Yun anyway?
Chao Yun was originally a cook in Yuan Shao’s army, but he was actually one of the greatest warriors of his times. He quit, disillusioned by the unfairness. One day, Yuan Shao tricked Gongsun Zan, the White Horse Marshal, into an alliance against a minor city but then told the governor of that city he would rescue him against Gongsun Zan. Once inside the city, Yuan Shao seized control and denied Gongsun Zan his fair share, so the two went to war.
Yan Liang and Wen Chou, then not dead yet, used tripping ropes to defeat Gongsun Zan and almost killed him, but Chao Yun came to his rescue. Chao Yun served Gongsun Zan for a while until he met the more charismatic Liu Pei. Liu Pei didn’t want to poach Chao Yun from his benefactor Gongsun Zan. However, Gongsun Zan was later defeated and killed by Yuan Shu. After that, Chao Yun became a wanderer. He was again found killing some of Chang Fei’s bandit at the mountain pass. When he met the three sworn brothers, he joined their service.
Now, the three sworn brothers would have to avoid the conflict between Ts’ao Ts’ao and Yuan Shao for a while, but that great war raged on for control over northern China until it climaxed in our next episode, so don’t miss The Battle of Guandu!!
…Because of his immense loyalty to Liu Pei illustrated in this book, Kuan Yu is worshipped as the Chinese God of Loyalty even to this day.