Chapter 03.2 - Lü Bu betrays and murders Ding Yuan

Lü Bu murders Ding Yuan after receiving a bribe from Li Su.

A scene from chapter 3 of the fictitious novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Following the Struggle against The Regular Attendants the warlord Dong Zhuo took control of the imperial court. He proposed the idea of removing Emperor Shao and place his younger brother Liu Xie upon the throne. Ding Yuan spoke against this and was persuaded to leave.[1]

The next day Ding Yuan had come out of the city with a small army and was challenging to a battle. With him was his adopted son Lü Bu, who caught the attention of Dong Zhuo.

"This Lü Bu is a marvel," said Dong Zhuo. "If he were only on my side, I would defy the whole world!"

One Li Su came forward. He told Dong Zhuo he was from the same village as Lü Bu and knew how to bribe him. Li Su proposed to offer Red Hare. Dong Zhuo agreed and Li Su was sent to Ding Yuan's camp.

The rest of the scene went as follows:

Li Su reached the camp and said to the guard, "Please tell General Lü Bu that a very old friend has come to visit him."
He was admitted forthwith.
"Worthy brother, have you been well since we last met?" greeted Li Su while bowing. "How long it is since we last saw each other!" replied Lü Bu, bowing in return. "And where are you now?"
"I am a general in the Imperial Tiger Army. When I learned you were a strong supporter of the Throne, I could not say how I rejoiced. I have come now to present to you a really fine horse, a five-hundred-mile-a-day horse, one that crosses rivers and goes up mountains as if they were the level plain. Its name is Red Hare. It will be a fitting aid to your valor."
Lü Bu bade his guards lead out the horse. It was of a uniform color like glowing-sun red---not a hair of another color. It measured ten spans from head to tail and from hoof to neck eight spans. When it neighed, the sound filled the empyrean and shook the ocean.
Lü Bu was delighted with the horse and said, "What return can I hope to make for such a creature?"
"What return can I hope for? I came to you out of a sense of what is right," replied Li Su.
Wine was brought in and they drank.
"We have seen very little of each other, but I am constantly meeting your honorable father," said Li Su.
"You are drunk," said Lü Bu. "My father has been dead for years."
"Not so; I spoke of Ding Yuan, the man of the day."
Lü Bu started. "Yes, I am with him, but only because I can do no better."
"Sir, your talent is higher than the heavens, deeper than the seas. Who in all the world does not bow before your name? Fame and riches and honors are yours for the taking. And you say you can do no better than remain a subordinate!"
"If I could only find a master to serve," said Lü Bu.
"The clever bird chooses the branch whereon to perch; the wise servant selects the master to serve. Seize the chance when it comes, for repentance ever comes too late."
"Now you are in the government. Who think you is really the bravest of all?", asked Lü Bu.
"I despise the whole lot except Dong Zhuo. He is one who respects wisdom and reveres scholarship; he is discriminating in his rewards and punishments. Surely he is destined to be a really great man."
Lü Bu said, "I wish that I could serve him, but there is no way, I fear."
Then Li Su produced his pearls and gold and the jeweled belt and laid them out before his host.
"What is this? What does it mean?" said Lü Bu.
"Send away the attendants," requested Li Su. And he went on, "Dong Zhuo has long respected your bravery and sent these by my hand. Red Hare was also from him."
"But, if he loves me like this, what can I do in return?"
Li Su said, "If a stupid fellow like me can be a general in the Imperial Tiger Army, it is impossible to say what honors await you."
"I am sorry I can offer him no service worth mentioning."
Li Su said, "There is one service you can do, and an extremely easy one to perform; but you would not render that."
Lü Bu pondered long in silence, then he said, "I might slay Ding Yuan and bring over his soldiers to Dong Zhuo's side. What think you of that?" "If you would do that, there could be no greater service. But such a thing must be done quickly."
And Lü Bu promised his friend that he would do the deed and come over on the morrow.
So Li Su took his leave. That very night, at the second watch, Lü Bu entered, sword in hand, into his master's tent. He found Ding Yuan reading by the light of a solitary candle.
Seeing who came in, Ding Yuan said, "My son, what is afoot?"
"I am a bold hero," said Lü Bu. "Do not think I am willing to be a son of yours!"
"Why this change, Lü Bu?"
As a reply Lü Bu made one cut, and Ding Yuan's head fell to the earth.
Then Lü Bu called the attendants and said, "He was an unjust man, and I have slain him. Let those who back me stay. The others may depart."
Most ran away. Next day, with the head of the murdered man as his gift, Lü Bu betook himself to Li Su, who led him to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo received him with a warm welcome and had wine set before him.

Sanguo zhi pinghua comparisonEdit

The Sanguo zhi pinghua (1321-1323) is a predecessor of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (mid 14th century). Many fictitious events in Romance originate from the Sanguo zhi pinghua. Li Su bribes Lü Bu with Red Hare is one of those events.

In the Sanguo zhi pinghua the horse Red Hare was in possession of Ding Yuan. Lü Bu killed Ding Yuan and stole Red Hare, of his own accord. He then went over to Dong Zhuo's side.

Historical comparisonEdit

  • Historically, Ding Yuan was against Dong Zhuo, but, so far, hadn't done anything against Dong Zhuo yet.
  • Historically, Lü Bu was not Ding Yuan's adopted son.
  • Historically, Li Su was not sent to bribe Lü Bu. It is unknown who was sent, or if someone was sent.
  • Historically, it is unknown how Lü Bu was bribed. Though, it's safe to say he wasn't offered Red Hare.


  1. Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, chapter 3. Trans. Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor.


  • Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Trans. Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor. sd.

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