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Useful Notes / Guan Yu

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Maybe you've seen this guy in your local Chinese store

Guan Yu is one of the most famous names amongst the Three Kingdoms era in China. He's known for his extremely long and beautiful beard, having red skin, being the one who popularized the weapon 'guandao/yanyuedao' (lit. weir moon blade, though in Europe it would just be called a glaive) via his personal weapon, the Green Dragon Crescent Blade, in addition of being one of the few figures in China that went from a mortal into being deified as a god in the Chinese Mythology. Chances are, you often see statues or paintings about him in China, or a few of them in your local Chinatown stores.

Guan Yu, style name Yunchang (or Changsheng depending on if records were spotty or if he changed his style name later in life), was one of the main generals of the Shu Kingdom, founded by his sworn brother Liu Bei. He was very loyal to his brother and if able, would always stick with him no matter what, participating in campaigns against the Yellow Turbans, Dong Zhuo's tyranny, and pretty much anything else. When Liu Bei's rival Cao Cao managed to capture him and persuaded him to serve him, Guan Yu agreed only on one condition: One moment Liu Bei's whereabout was revealed, he would ditch Cao Cao and come back to his brother. And he did, even if Cao Cao showered him a lot of prizes (including Red Hare, which once belonged to Lü Bu).

However, like many men, Guan Yu has one glaring flaw even if he upheld his loyalty to Liu Bei: He was rather prideful and arrogant, which eventually came to bite him back in the ass when he incited the wrath of another rival warlord, Sun Quan of Wu, by provoking them to attack him when they already had problems with his position at Jingzhou. A combination of Underestimating Badassery of the Wu commander Lu Meng and some miscommunication within his own men caused Guan Yu's men to desert him in a most crucial time and he was captured and executed by Wu, costing Shu a good portion of Jingzhou, their strategic domain at the center of China, and it was just downhill for Shu afterwards.

As time passed, values started to shift. In the wake of the turbulence in China after the Three Kingdoms era, people started to latch on the people of Shu, and to appease the government, people started writing pro-Shu stories that gave much praise to them, Guan Yu included, for this one value that was highly revered: Loyalty. For all his flaws above, Guan Yu still valued his loyalty to his brother and the Han Dynasty, making those stories easier to digest. In addition, despite his flaws and downfall, Records of the Three Kingdoms/San Guo Zhi has stated that Guan Yu was a man that exudes honor and merit, spoken highly by friends and foes alike, including Cao Cao and even Lu Meng.

It eventually culminated with the release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a very exaggerated epic story about the Three Kingdoms era, where Guan Yu got a lot of new stories that hyped him up as an all around great hero and has a better leadership quality, while still adhering to his honor code and loyalty to his brother. Lots of favorable stories on him get introduced in this epic, like him passing through five gates single-handedly and easily killing off those that barred his way, killing several fearsome generals, or even letting go of Cao Cao when he had a chance to kill him in order to repay his kindness when he was under his custody. Of course, while it's a little toned down, the epic still did not shy away from showing Guan Yu's growing arrogance that led to his downfall.

Regardless, the novel went on to become one of China's most epic stories that even eclipsed historical reports and people started revering Guan Yu even with his flaws around, based on his performance at the novel. The amount of worshippers continue to increase that eventually Guan Yu was deified as one of the Gods in Chinese Mythology. While it may be surprising how a flawed man like him can become a God, the worshippers made it clear that what they worship on him wasn't his war prowess, but rather his 'brotherhood' and loyalty values. Still, it didn't stop some people from thinking that he's the Chinese War God. In fact, the growing worship of Guan Yu strengthened because some people claimed that he blessed them while they went on a war for what they thought to be a righteous cause.

A flawed man going to become a revered hero and eventually a worshipped deity. There are really few to none people in this world that can achieve such thing in their existence aside of Guan Yu.

Not to be confused with Lee Kuan Yewnote 

Tropes as portrayed in other fictions

  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: One of the reasons of the disastrous battle that led to his downfall was because Sun Quan offered his son to marry his daughter. Guan Yu will have none of that, roughly.
  • Celibate Hero: Guan Yu's love life was not highlighted very often, but it was known that he has a biological wife (which is why historically, Guan Ping was his biological son, and novel-wise, that was how he had his other sons Guan Xing and Guan Suo). Stories, however, more often than not play up how much he's a man of celibacy that does not hit on other women when opportunity presented itself:
    • During his captivity with Cao Cao along with Liu Bei's wives, Guan Yu never even tried to hit on any of them, he tried to maintain that they're siblings-in-law and he's their guardian, no more, no less. When Cao Cao tried to dissuade him by offering him many possible wives, Guan Yu promptly handed them over to his sisters in law as maids.
    • One slightly popular tale or variant of the novel was that after the defeat of Lu Bu, Cao Cao hatched a plot to break up the three brothers... by sending them Diao Chan, Lu Bu's lover and one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China, which means in terms of beauty, she is a big deal. And the plan almost worked because Liu Bei and Zhang Fei started bickering over her... but not Guan Yu. He concluded that Cao Cao was trying to trap them and make them break their bro code, so one night he took Diao Chan for a walk alone then killed her, preserving the oath.note 
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride. Being a fierce fighter made Guan Yu rather arrogant and it led to his downfall.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: Not on his martial prowess, but more about his leadershipnote . Historically, Guan Yu's leadership wasn't that excellent, but in other portrayals, he tends to be an excellent leader.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Most of portrayals of him, including Romance of the Three Kingdoms itself, tend to gloss away his more questionable decisions before his downfall, or tones down his arrogance, making him look like an embodiment of righteousness and loyalty first and foremost.
  • Manly Facial Hair: Guan Yu is known for his long, flowing beautiful beard which becomes his defining feature and he's a premiere manly man of Chinese history in a calm manner, countering Zhang Fei who's got shorter, rowdier facial hair and is a manly man too, but in a manner of a Boisterous Bruiser with shorter temper.
  • Red Is Heroic: Thanks to Peking Opera, one thing Guan Yu is known for is that he's got unusual red-colored skin to go along with his mostly green colored garb, and as we know it, he's often portrayed as the heroic figure.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: He's usually depicted as the calmer brother, the blue oni, of Liu Bei compared to the hotheaded and violent Zhang Fei being the red oni. Ironic, because Guan Yu is often depicted as red-skinned.
  • Off with His Head!: The one thing that made him stand out as a combatant, since, contrary to the version of reality that Hollywood depicts, doing that in the middle of battlefield was exceedingly rare. Guan Yu was recorded to leap straight to the frontline in Guandu and lopped off Yan Liang's head in a combination of surprise and might. Ironically, this is also how he met his end, but that was off the battlefield.
  • Underestimating Badassery: When he heard that Lu Meng and Lu Xun were plotting against him for Jing, Guan Yu dismissed them, thinking that they're nothing compared to his records. It's also made worse with how Guan Yu could be amiable and honorable even to his enemies, but those were limited to the people of Wei. He somehow had no respect to the people of Wu, thus he tended to underestimate their prowess. It bit him in the ass so hard it causes his demise.
  • Undying Loyalty: He's never going to betray his brothers, especially Liu Bei. This is actually his strongest forte: By all means, Guan Yu had it all within Cao Cao's ranks, he's showered with prizes, luxuries and could have a good career going. But no, while he still respected Cao Cao, he preferred to stick with the man that he considered friend/brother in the first place, Liu Bei, who at that time was still walking through hard times and an unknown path. Guan Yu threw away all those prospects of assured good life just to uphold his loyalty.
  • War God: He's eventually deified as the Chinese version of the trope, even if it was kind of Sadly Mythtaken, because he's actually more worshipped for loyalty and brotherhood. Most worships in China back then also takes account on more than military prowess, so while Guan Yu might not be the most charismatic leader or powerful man, his other qualities resounded with the people of the time, and thus words spread into worship. He was also given posthumous titles by emperors of other dynasties who lived centuries after him.

Appearances in other fictions

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Koei): Guan Yu is a mainstay officer in this game, possessing high War and Leadership qualities, making him a good choice for a war general. In addition, his Politics and Intelligence stats are usually on decent scores as well.
  • Dynasty Warriors: Having been one of the original playable characters since the first fighting game, Guan Yu is always present in these games, wielding his Green Dragon Crescent Blade (mis-localized as 'Blue Dragon') as a powerful weapon that enables him to clear crowds with ease and still remain a potent dueling weapon. Over time, his children start getting included into the Shu kingdom as playable characters; they all look up to him, and he's proud of them.
  • The Lost Bladesman: A Live-Action Film starring Donnie Yen as Guan Yu, recounting his last days in serving Cao Cao, mostly his crossing of five gates.
  • Classic Singapore Horror Stories has a short story titled "Once Upon A Swine" where the protagonist, a Dirty Cop, somehow managed to convince Guan Yu to become his drinking buddy (by pouring whisky on the altar of Guan Yu in his house, which can somehow summon said God) before manipulating Guan Yu to his own advantage.
  • Dynasty Wars and its sequel, Warriors of Fate, two Capcom arcade games set during the Three Kingdoms period where Guan Yu is a playable character in both.
  • Ikkitousen: As the series is about Three Kingdoms generals gender-flipped into voluptuous school girls, Guan Yu's counterpart is Kan'u Unchou (his whole name simply read in Japanese on'yomi), a towering powerful girl that carries around his Green Dragon Crescent Blade (albeit with a white hue) and considered one of the most powerful girls in the cast (and often considered the sexiest). She pretty much set the standards that in any case Guan Yu is to be gender-flipped, the beard is exchanged with long, flowing hair.
  • Koihime†Musou: Another gender-flipped Three Kingdoms series. Guan Yu is once again represented as a voluptuous young girl named Kan U styled 'Unchou' (via the same Chinese naming scheme only rendered in Japanese on'yomi), though alternatively called Aisha. She also comes with her own Green Dragon Crescent Blade, and due to Early-Installment Weirdness, she used to be the series' main character, until the second game introduced Liu Bei's counterpart (Ryuubi).
  • Smite: Guan Yu, being the only deified figure amongst the Three Kingdoms personages, is one of the playable Gods amongst the Chinese Pantheon and is of the Warrior class, titled 'Saint of War'. His movesets include healing nearby allies, a dash with his polearm, spinning his polearm to damage his enemies over time, and suddenly riding Red Hare to charge through the enemy ranks and slashing around.
  • Titan Quest: A set of tenets/relics is based on Guan Yu, called 'Guan Yu's Grace'.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Guan Yu, occasionally called 'Kanseiteikun', is one of the recurring demons in the franchise.
  • For Honor: Starting with the Marching Fire set, Chinese classes were added, one of them is 'Jiang Jun', and the class takes heavy notes from Guan Yu, with guandao as their weapon and having long beards. The NPC made for this class is also literally named 'Guan Yu', though he also had an original story and background, not the Guan Yu of Three Kingdoms getting transported to For Honor-verse.
  • Arena of Valor: Technically, Guan Yu isn't in that game, but he is in the original version of the game, Honor of Kings, which used characters based on Chinese history, folklore and mythology (a very patriotic game) and obviously, Guan Yu is there. He's a warrior that constantly rode his Red Hare and has two stances depending on how many distances he has walked (if he walked long enough, he'll have Red Hare run), most of them is about charging forward and swinging his spear. His moveset is then transferred to Arena of Valor's rendition of Superman, trading the Red Hare riding with Superman's flight.
  • Total War: Three Kingdoms: Guan Yu is a unique general serving under Liu Bei and is of the Champion type. He's very good at fighting, but excels at dueling as a nod of several times he went on 1-on-1 duels and prevailing. He fared less better in normal battle (his Vanguard brother Zhang Fei is better in this), but that doesn't mean he's not good in army battles. One of the optional Historical Battle also depicts his escape from the disastrous Fancheng campaign, where the player has to control his squad against Lu Meng's ambush party and surviving.
  • The SD Gundam sub-franchise has two characters based off of him.
  • Kunio-kun game Kunio-kun no Sangokushida yo Zen'in Shūgō! stars him as portrayed by Kunio himself, of all people, and thus, somehow lacks the beard. However, it's a clever nod to Guan Yu's past before meeting Liu Bei, where he was known to have 'fled from his hometown for unknown reasons', and the novel portrayed it as he was marked as a fugitive for cutting down an official that abused his power. Such action would be quite similar to a Delinquent badass like Kunio.
  • Fate Series: Despite Guan Yu himself never appearing as a Servant (despite popular demand, although Kinoko Nasu has stated on refraining himself from putting up obviously popular figures, and thus figures from the Three Kingdoms, with Guan Yu being one of the top figures, are already scarce as is), he is referenced multiple times:
    • In Fate/EXTRA, one of the subtitles of Lü Bu's Noble Phantasm God Force is 'The Five Warriors of Guan Yu'. This may be a mistranslation, because Guan Yu never had five subordinates/warriors (at most, he only had two: His eldest son Guan Ping (semi-fictional) and ex-Yellow Turban bandit Zhou Cang (fictional)), although he is part of the Five Tiger Generals of Shu, and he crossed five gates in his attempt to return to Liu Bei. However, Guan Yu DOES have one link with Lu Bu...
    • The Rider Servant Red Hare, which formerly belonged to Lu Bu until it recognized Guan Yu as its second and last master. He still remembers the times Guan Yu rode him and considered it one of the funnest times (but later surpassed with the time the Master of Chaldea rode him)
    • In the 3rd Lostbelt in China, Guan Yu and his brothers are referenced by the Lostbelt King Qin Shi Huangdi as possible summonable Servants, but they instead made a point not to summon them because they are aware of the brothers' historical treacherous actions that were mostly 'lionized' in the novel, and they couldn't afford any betrayals. Despite Guan Yu generally having a case of Undying Loyalty, Qin Shi Huang most likely realized that they couldn't win over his loyalty like Liu Bei, so he'd most likely betray them as well.
  • Richman Fight: The God of War is based on Guan Yu, having a red face, long beard and a long glaive.
  • War God, a Taiwanese kaiju film where Guan Yu the deity is summoned to deal with an Alien Invasion involving skyscraper-sized Martians. It's in equal parts ridiculous and awesome, and yes it's a film that exists for real.
  • Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty: Guan Yu, with many other Three Kingdoms figures, is present in this game as an NPC, with Guan Yu being a summonable ally to assist in combat, specializing in glaive type-weapon, and if his bond is maxed out, he gives you the Azure Dragon Glaive, the strongest glaive type in the game. His most notable presence is the last legs of the game, where he's a mandatory NPC to assist in Baima and Yanjin, to eventually face off Yan Liang and Wen Chou together with the protagonist.