Template:Refimprove Template:Infobox military conflict Template:Campaignbox Chu-Han Contention The Chu–Han Contention (Template:Zh, 206–202 BC) was a post-Qin Dynasty interregnum period in Chinese history. Following the collapse of the Qin Dynasty, Xiang Yu split the former Qin empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. Two prominent contending forces, Western Chu and Han, emerged from these principalities and engaged in a power struggle for supremacy over China. Western Chu was led by Xiang Yu, while the Han leader was Liu Bang. During this period of time, several minor kings from the eighteen kingdoms also fought battles against each other, which were independent of the main conflict between Chu and Han. The war ended with total victory for Han and Liu Bang proclaimed himself emperor and established the Han Dynasty.
|Timeline of events|
|Start of the Chu–Han contention|
|End of the Chu–Han contention|
Template:See In 221 BC, the Qin state unified China by conquering the six other major states and established the Qin Dynasty. However, the dynasty lasted 16 years only as its rule was extremely unpopular with the Chinese people for its oppressive policies. In 209 BC, Chen Sheng led the Daze Village Uprising to overthrow the Qin Dynasty. Although the uprising was crushed, several other rebellions erupted consecutively all around China over the next three years. Many rebel forces claimed to be restoring the former six states and numerous pretenders to the thrones of the states emerged, resulting in the formation of many insurgent states. In 206 BC, the last Qin ruler, Ziying, surrendered to Liu Bang, bringing an end to the dynasty.
Among all the rebel forces, the most powerful one was the Chu Kingdom. Xiang Yu, the commander-in-chief of the Chu army, won the support of many other rebel leaders after his outstanding victory at the Battle of Julu, and served as a de facto leader of all the rebel forces. Upon the collapse of Qin, Xiang divided the former Qin empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms, each governed by a regional king, and gave King Huai II of Chu a more honorific title, "Emperor Yi of Chu". However, the emperor was merely a puppet ruler, as the power of Chu was in the hands of Xiang. About a year later, Xiang relocated Emperor Yi to the remote area of Chen County (present-day Chenzhou, Hunan), effectively sending the puppet ruler into exile. He issued a secret order for the regional kings there to murder the emperor during the journey.
During the division of the eighteen kingdoms, Xiang appointed some rebel generals as regional kings, even though these generals were subordinates of other lords, who should rightfully be the kings instead. Besides, the Guanzhong region was granted to three surrendered Qin generals, even though the land was rightfully Liu Bang's, according to an earlier agreement which stated that whoever conquered Xianyang first would receive the title of "King of Guanzhong". Liu was sent to the remote Bashu region (in present-day Sichuan) instead and granted the title of "King of Han". Xiang proclaimed himself "Hegemon-King of Western Chu" and ruled nine commanderies in the former Liang and Chu territories, with his capital city at Pengcheng (present-day Xuzhou).
Rebellions in Qi and ZhaoEdit
In 206 BC, Liu Bang was granted the title of "King of Han" by Xiang Yu and given the land of Bashu (in present-day Sichuan) as his domain. Liu had about 30,000 troops under his command then and several thousands of civilians following him. After reaching his destination, Liu ordered the gallery roads leading into Bashu to be destroyed as a precautionary move against any possible attack from the rear and to trick Xiang Yu that he had no intention of leaving Bashu.
Meanwhile, in the former Qi state, Tian Rong (chancellor of Qi) was unhappy with Xiang Yu's allocation of Qi's territories, and rose in rebellion against the regional kings of Jiaodong, Qi and Jibei (collectively known as the Three Qis). Tian Rong conquered the Three Qis and reinstated Tian Fu as the King of Qi, but took over the throne himself later. Tian put Peng Yue in charge of his army and ordered Peng to attack Western Chu. Tian also sent troops to support another rebellion in the former Zhao state, led by Chen Yu, a former co-chancellor of Zhao. In 205 BC, Chen overthrew Zhang Er, the King of Changshan, and seized Zhang's domain and reinstalled Zhao Xie (King of Dai) on the throne of Zhao. Xiang Yu felt threatened by the rebellions in Qi and Zhao and led an army to attack Tian Rong.
Han conquest of Three QinsEdit
While Xiang Yu was away to suppress the rebellions, Liu Bang used the opportunity to attack the Three Qins in Guanzhong. Liu's general Han Xin ordered his men to pretend to repair the gallery roads in order to put Zhang Han (King of Yong) off guard, while secretly making advances through Chencang. Zhang was taken by surprise and defeated by the Han forces in two consecutive battles. Taking advantage of the victory, Liu Bang proceeded to conquer Longxi, Beidi and Shangjun. Liu also sent his men to fetch his family in Pei (in present-day Xuzhou). Upon hearing news of Liu's attacks, Xiang Yu sent an army to Yangxia to intercept the Han army, and appointed Zheng Chang as King of Hán to help him guard his flank. In Yan, Zang Tu killed Han Guang (King of Liaodong) and seized Han's lands and proclaimed himself ruler of the unified Yan state.
Battle of PengchengEdit
Template:Main In 205 BC, after consolidating his base in Guanzhong, Liu Bang advanced his forces east of Hangu Pass to conquer the Henan region. Sima Xin (King of Sai), Dong Yi (King of Di) and Shen Yang (King of Henan) surrendered to Liu. Zheng Chang (King of Hán) refused to submit to Liu and was defeated by Liu's general Han Xin in battle, and replaced by Hán Xin. Zhang Er (former King of Changshan) came to join Liu after losing his domain to Zhao Xie and Chen Yu. In the third month, Liu attacked Henei with help from Wei Bao (King of Western Wei). When Liu received news that Emperor Yi of Chu had been murdered on Xiang Yu's orders, he held a memorial service for the emperor, accusing Xiang of committing regicide, and using that incident as political propaganda to justify his war against Western Chu.
In the fourth month of 205 BC, Xiang defeated Tian Rong at Chengyang and the latter was killed during his retreat to Pingyuan. Although the Qi kingdom surrendered to Western Chu, Xiang did not appease the people and instead allowed his troops to loot and plunder Qi territories. Tian Rong's younger brother, Tian Heng, installed Tian Guang (son of Tian Rong) on the throne of Qi, and continued to lead resistance against Chu. Meanwhile, Liu Bang had mustered an army of about 560,000 men with support from the surrendered regional kings. In the eight month, Chu's capital city of Pengcheng (present-day Xuzhou) fell to the coalition force led by Liu. When Xiang received news that Liu had occupied Pengcheng, he led 30,000 troops back to retake Pengcheng. Liu was caught by surprise and his army suffered heavy casualties and his family was captured by Chu forces. After the battle, Han lost its territorial gains in Chu and most of the kings who surrendered to Han earlier defected to Chu.
Battle of JingsuoEdit
After their defeat at Pengcheng, the strength of the Han forces decreased drastically. Liu Bang's family was captured by Western Chu forces and kept as hostages, and many of the regional kings who surrendered to Liu earlier defected over to Xiang Yu's side. Besides, the Qi and Zhao kingdoms also requested for peace negotiations with Chu.
Upon reaching Xiayi (present-day Xiayi County, Henan), which was defended by his brother-in-law, Liu Bang reorganized his troops for a retreat. When he arrived at Yu (present-day Yucheng County, Henan), Liu sent an envoy to meet Ying Bu, the King of Jiujiang. Ying agreed to join Liu's side and rebelled against Western Chu. Xiang Yu sent Long Ju to lead an army to attack Ying Bu.
In the sixth month of 205 BC, Liu Bang appointed his son, Liu Ying (future Emperor Hui of Han), as his crown prince, and ordered him to defend Liyang (present-day Yanliang District, Shaanxi). Shortly after, the Han forces conquered Feiqiu (present-day Xingping, Shaanxi), which was guarded by Zhang Han, and Zhang committed suicide.
On another front, Ying Bu was unable to defeat Long Ju and decided to give up, and he went to meet Liu Bang with Sui He. Liu reorganized his army, which now included the reinforcements from Guanzhong (sent by Xiao He) and Han Xin's troops. The Han forces attacked Western Chu at Jing County (near present-day Luoyang) and Suoting (near present-day Xingyang) and scored a victory, driving Xiang Yu's forces east of Xingyang.
Battle of AnyiEdit
In 205 BC, Wei Bao (King of Wei) left Liu Bang on the pretext of visiting an ill relative, and returned to his domain. Subsequently, Wei pledged allegiance to Xiang Yu and rebelled against Liu Bang. Liu sent Li Yiji to persuade Wei to surrender but Wei refused, so Liu ordered Han Xin to lead an army to attack Wei.
Wei stationed its army at Puban and blocked the route to Linjin. Han Xin tricked Wei into believing that he was planning to attack Linjin, while secretly sending a force from Xiayang to cross the river and attack Anyi (present-day Xia County, Shanxi). In the ninth month, Wei Bao personally led an attack on Han Xin but lost the battle and was captured. Wei surrendered and was accepted by Liu Bang as a general. In the ninth month, Han Xin led his army to attack the Kingdom of Dai with support from Zhang Er (former King of Changshan), and scored another decisive victory against Dai, capturing Dai's chancellor Xia Shuo in battle.
Battle of JingxingEdit
Template:Main After the victory over the Dai kingdom, Han Xin and Zhang Er led an army to attack the Zhao kingdom at Jingxing Pass. Zhao Xie (King of Zhao) and his chancellor Chen Yu led a 200,000 strong army to resist the Han forces. The Zhao general Li Zuojun proposed a plan to trap Han Xin within 10 days: Li would lead 30,000 men to disrupt Han's supply route and block his return route, while Chen would defend the frontline firmly and prevent Han from advancing. However, Chen refused to accept Li's plan.
The evening before the battle, Han Xin sent a 2,000 strong light cavalry unit, each man carrying a flag of the Han army, to station near the Zhao camp. The next morning, Han feigned defeat in the early skirmish with the Zhao troops, luring them to follow him, while his 2,000 men proceeded to capture the Zhao camp. Meanwhile, the Zhao soldiers retreated after failing to conquer Han Xin's fort, and were surprised to see that their camp had been overrun by Han forces. The Zhao army fell into chaos and Han Xin seized the opportunity to launch a counter-attack and scored a major victory. Chen Yu was killed in action while Zhao Xie and Li Zuojun were captured.
Battle of Wei RiverEdit
Template:Main In 204 BC, the Yan kingdom surrendered to Han Xin, and Zhang Er was appointed as King of Zhao. Xiang Yu constantly sent its armies to attack Zhao but Han and Zhang managed to hold their positions. Xiang then turned its attention towards Xingyang, where Liu Bang was stationed, and forced Liu to retreat to Chenggao. Liu was besieged in Chenggao and had no choice but to head north of the Yellow River to join Han Xin. Liu took over Han and Zhang's command of the military in Zhao, and ordered Han to lead an army to attack the Qi kingdom.
Just as Han Xin was preparing to attack Qi, Liu Bang sent Li Yiji to persuade Tian Guang (King of Qi) to surrender, without informing Han. Tian decided to surrender and ordered his troops to withdraw from Lixia. However, Han was not aware that Tian had the intention of surrendering, and followed the advice of Kuai Tong to launch an attack. Han's army conquered Lixia and arrived at Qi's capital city of Linzi. Tian Guang thought that Li Yiji had lied to him and he had Li killed, after which he retreated to Gaomi and requested help from Western Chu. Meanwhile, Han Xin conquered Linzi and continued to pursue the retreating Qi forces to Gaomi.
Xiang Yu sent Long Ju to lead a 200,000 strong army to help Tian Guang. The allied forces of Qi and Chu lost to Han in the first battle. Someone advised Long to avoid engaging Han Xin directly and focus on strengthening their defenses, while asking Tian Guang to rally support from the Qi cities that had fallen to Han. In that case, the Han army would eventually be deprived of supplies and be forced to surrender. However, Long rejected the proposal and insisted on taking on Han Xin. In 203 BC, on the night before the battle, Han Xin sent his men to dam the Wei River with sandbags. The next morning, after a skirmish with Long Ju's forces, Han feigned retreat, luring Long to follow him. When about a quarter of the Chu army had crossed the river, Han signaled for his men to open the dam, drowning many Chu soldiers and isolating Long with only a fraction of his force. Taking advantage of the situation, Han launched a counter attack. Long was killed in action and the rest of the Chu army disintegrated as Han continued pressing the attack. Tian Guang fled and Han continued pursuing the retreating enemy to Chengyang.
After his victory, Han Xin swiftly took control of the Qi territories and he sent an envoy to Liu Bang, requesting that Liu let him be the acting King of Qi. At that time, Liu was besieged in Xingyang by Xiang Yu, and eagerly waiting for reinforcements from Han Xin, but Han made a request to be an acting king instead, which greatly angered Liu. However, Liu reluctantly approved Han's request after listening to advice from Zhang Liang and Chen Ping. At the same time, Xiang Yu became worried after losing Long Ju and he sent Wu She to persuade Han Xin to rebel against Liu Bang and declare himself king. However, despite additional urging from Kuai Tong, Han firmly refused to betray Liu Bang. Han later organized an army to move southward and attack Western Chu.
Battle of ChenggaoEdit
On the southern front, the Liu Bang's forces started building supply routes from Xingyang to Aocang. In 204 BC, Xiang Yu led an attack on the routes and the Han army started to run short of supplies. Liu negotiated for peace with Xiang and agreed to cede the lands east of Xingyang to Western Chu. Xiang had the intention of accepting Liu's offer, but Fan Zeng advised him to reject and urged him to use the opportunity to destroy Liu. Xiang changed his decision and pressed the attack on Xingyang, besieging Liu's forces inside the city. To lift the siege, Liu followed Chen Ping's suggestion to bribe Xiang's men with 40,000 jin of gold, for them to spread rumours that Fan Zeng had the intention of betraying Xiang. Xiang fell for the trick and dismissed Fan.
In late 204 BC, while Xiang Yu was away suppressing the rebellion in the Qi kingdom, Li Yiji advised Liu Bang to use the opportunity to attack Western Chu. The Han forces conquered Chenggao and defeated the Chu army, led by Cao Jiu, at a battle near the Si River. Liu's forces advanced further until they reached Guangwu. The Chu forces led by Zhongli Mo were trapped by the Han army at the east of Xingyang. Following Han Xin's victory in the Battle of Wei River, the Chu army's morale fell and it ran low on supplies months later. Xiang Yu had no choice but to request for an armistice and agreed to release Liu's family members, who were held hostage by him. Both sides came to the Treaty of Hong Canal, which divided China into east and west under the Chu and Han domains respectively.
End of the conflictEdit
In 203 BC, while Xiang Yu was retreating eastward, as advised by Zhang Liang and Chen Ping, Liu Bang renounced the Treaty of Hong Canal and ordered an attack on Western Chu. He also requested assistance from Han Xin and Peng Yue in forming a three-pronged attack on Xiang Yu. However, Han and Peng did not mobilize their troops and Liu was defeated by Xiang at Guling (south of present-day Taikang County, Henan). Liu retreated and reinforced his defenses, while sending messengers to Han and Peng, promising to grant them fiefs and titles of regional kings if they joined him in attacking Chu.
Battle of GaixiaEdit
Template:Main Three months later, in 202 BC, Han forces led by Liu Bang, Han Xin and Peng Yue, attacked Western Chu from three directions. The Chu army was running low in supplies and Xiang Yu was trapped in Gaixia (southeast of present-day Lingbi County, Henan). Han Xin ordered his troops to sing Chu folk songs, to create a false impression that Xiang's native land of Chu had fallen to Han forces. The Chu army's morale plummeted and many soldiers deserted.
Xiang Yu attempted to break out the siege and was only left with 26 men when he reached the northern bank of Wu River (near present-day He County, Chaohu City, Anhui). Xiang made a last stand and managed to slay several Han soldiers before eventually committing suicide.
After the death of Xiang Yu, the rest of Western Chu surrendered to Han and China was united under Liu Bang's rule. Liu granted Peng Yue, Ying Bu and Han Xin the titles of King of Liang, King of Huainan and King of Chu respectively. Months later, at the urging of his followers and vassals, Liu declared himself "Emperor of China" and named his dynasty "Han". He built his capital city in Luoyang and named Lü Zhi his empress, and Liu Ying as his crown prince.
Although Liu initially handsomely rewarded his subjects who helped him become the Chinese sovereign, he gradually became suspicious of them and started to doubt their loyalties towards him. Han Xin was demoted from "King of Chu" to "Marquis of Huaiyin" in late 202 BC. He was subsequently arrested and killed on Empress Lü's orders in 196 BC after Liu Bang suspected him of being involved in Chen Xi's rebellion. Similarly in the same year, Liu believed rumours that Peng Yue was also involved in the rebellion and he demoted Peng to the status of a commoner. Peng was later executed on Empress Lü's orders and his clan was exterminated.
In popular cultureEdit
- Chinese chess is often seen as an allegory to the Chu–Han contention. The middle section of the chess board that divides the players' sides is called the "Chu–Han border" (楚河漢界; literally "Chu river and Han border"). The red and black sides represent Han and Western Chu respectively.
- The Beijing opera Farewell My Concubine (霸王别姬) depicts the events of Xiang Yu's defeat at the Battle of Gaixia and his romance with Consort Yu. The title of the play was borrowed as the Chinese title for Chen Kaige's award-winning film.
- Some Chinese idioms and proverbs originated from the events in the Chu–Han contention. Some examples are listed as follows:
- This child can be taught (孺子可教)
- Breaking cauldrons and sinking boats (破釜沉舟)
- Feast at Hong Gate (鴻門宴)
- Pretending to repair the gallery roads while secretly passing through Chencang (明修棧道, 暗度陳倉)
- Traveling at night in glamourous garments (錦衣夜行)
- Fighting a battle with one's back facing a river (背水一戰)
- Ambush on ten sides (十面埋伏)
- Surrounded by Chu songs (四面楚歌)
- Success and defeat are due to Xiao He (成敗蕭何)
Film and televisionEdit
- The Battlefield (1985) - a Hong Kong TVB production. Lawrence Ng and Shek Sau starred as Liu Bang and Xiang Yu respectively.
- The Great Conqueror's Concubine (1994) - a Hong Kong film directed by Wei Handao and Stephen Shin. Zhang Fengyi and Ray Lui starred as Liu Bang and Xiang Yu respectively.
- The Conqueror's Story (2004) - a Hong Kong TVB production. Adam Cheng and Kwong Wah starred as Liu Bang and Xiang Yu respectively.
- The Story of Han Dynasty (2005) - a Chinese television series. Hu Jun and Xiao Rongsheng starred as Xiang Yu and Liu Bang respectively.
- The Myth (2010) - a Chinese television series adapted from the 2005 film of the same title. A present-day photographer travels back in time and meets Liu Bang and Xiang Yu and becomes sworn brothers with them.
- White Vengeance (2011) - an upcoming Chinese film directed by Daniel Lee that centers on the Feast at Hong Gate. Leon Lai stars as Liu Bang.
- Rise of the Phoenix - a strategy video game produced by Japan's Koei. It was first released on SNES in 1994.
- Prince of Qin - an action RPG. The protagonist is the former Qin crown prince Fusu. He witnesses how the Qin Dynasty becomes corrupted by Qin Er Shi and Zhao Gao and decides to help Liu Bang and Xiang Yu overthrow the dynasty.
Notes and referencesEdit
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