Among the many characters in The Ravages of Time, there stands Lü Bu.
Three-surnamed dog. God of war. Shameless. True hero. Disloyal. Inhuman. Immoral. Immortal. Power-hungry. An intellectual who fights and a warrior who writes. Xiang Yu. Han Xin. Fengxian.
Of course, the scheming and the struggles continue on long after his death. And it’s not that he doesn’t have any flaws (for one thing, Jia Xu and Sima Yi have fooled him on several occasions, while his venality is so well-known that Cao Cao doesn’t spare his life despite his incredible talents). But he remains nonetheless, as a battle standard for other elite warriors to approach, emulate, or even surpass.
This post is about some of those heroes in Ravages who have claimed for themselves or have been deemed by their colleagues to be worthy peers or successors of Lü Bu, in some way or another. I also extend this celebration to the ones who have somehow matched the might and skills of the men alongside Lü Bu, thereby making them indirect heirs to the special legacy.
Note that this is not an attempt to construct tiers of power, given my reservations on that topic. Rather, what I shall do would be more along the lines of lineage charts and association maps, with Lü Bu as the principal figure. And so without further ado…
- First in line among the peers of Lü Bu would be the three oath brothers of the Peach Garden. Guan Yu has shown to be capable of keeping up with Lü Bu in one-on-one bouts, whether it be a horseback battle or a plain fistfight. Another notable thing about Guan Yu is how his moral views and rhetorical stances stand firmly at odds with Lü Bu’s own ethics (or lack thereof), thus earning him the moniker of the ‘warrior saint’. Zhang Fei in turn can match Lü Bu not only in dueling and crowd-clearing, but also in playing dumb as part of the ‘reckless brute’ facade and in laying out underhanded schemes (albeit with crucial differences in intent and motivation). For his part, although Liu Bei can hardly stand up to Lü Bu’s martial prowess (save for one early staged moment, with the help of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei), his own brand of inspirational charisma is in a way comparable (and even arguably superior) to Lü Bu’s battle aura.
- Next in line would be the three ex-assassin officers who have had the opportunity to confront (and even collaborate with) Lü Bu. Of these three, Zhang Liao comes closest to being regarded as a successor of sorts to Lü Bu, not only on account of his feats and exploits, but more importantly because he served under Lü Bu (first as one of the impersonators, then as a close protege) from the time when Dong Zhuo was still alive, up until Lü Bu’s execution. However, one crucial factor explaining why Zhang Liao stayed with Lü Bu for so long is that his own outlook in life comes closer to that of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei (thus giving him an affinity with his master’s closest one-man-army rivals). For his part, Liaoyuan Huo (a.k.a. Zhao Yun) parallels Zhang Liao in many ways, and was even able to last long – even gaining the upper hand with the help of tricks and allies – in his encounters with Lü Bu. In addition, the inexperienced Yuan Tan was so shaken by his encounter with both Zhang Liao and Liaoyuan Huo that he thought that there was more than one Lü Bu serving Cao Cao. Lastly, Dian Wei is recognized as having a role and fighting style that mirrors that of Liaoyuan Huo (they even share the same mentor/boss, Liu Da), and moreover was able to best Lü Bu at one point because of his sheer tenacity and utter loyalty to Cao Cao.
- Yet another category of colleagues would be those ‘wild sons’ who have earned reputations similar to that of Lü Bu. On the one hand, Ma Chao has also been hailed as a ‘god of war’, and has even rescued Lü Bu at one point while proclaiming that the era of Lü Bu has passed. On the other hand, the ‘little conqueror’ Sun Ce – and to an extent, his special body double Ling Cao – leads battles akin to Lü Bu’s risky style, albeit with added emphasis on the naval skills befitting ‘southerners’ (unlike the northern cavalry-focused approaches of Lü Bu and Ma Chao). In addition, Sun Ce’s territorial base overlaps with that of Xiang Yu’s domain in the past.
- Lü Bu is compared to two rival historical figures from an earlier period, namely Xiang Yu (on account of his might) and Han Xin (on account of his capacity to endure humiliation for the sake of survival and the opportunity for payback).
- Special mention goes to some renowned warriors serving the Yuan clan. Although they are ultimately dwarfed by Lü Bu, they have managed to emulate his style and reputation to a certain extent. Yan Liang and Wen Chou, for instance, are also excellent generals and masterful ‘reckless brutes’ in their own right, and were only killed due to the efforts of those other peers of Lü Bu (Guan Yu slays Yan Liang, while Zhang Liao kills Wen Chou). Another interesting case would be that of Ji Ling, who has the distinct (mis)fortune of having fought Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Lü Bu in separate engagements.
- Among commanders and warriors of lesser renown, some of Dong Zhuo’s retainers (namely Hua Xiong and Wang Fang) are seen as rivals of Lü Bu to a small extent. There are also the cases of Xu Lin’s elite bodyguards (who thought even Lü Bu would have a hard time dealing with them) and the other impersonators of Lü Bu (who consider themselves capable warriors in their own right). Moreover, San Chuan, said to be the strongest assassin among Liaoyuan Huo’s batch of Handicapped Warriors, was able to land a wound on Lü Bu in a brief confrontation.
- There are also those conquerors and schemers who can compete with and tower above Lü Bu not in terms of strength and skill on the battlefield, but more along the lines of ruthlessness and treachery. Included here are Cao Cao (and by extension, the ‘darkness strategists’ serving under him: Jia Xu and Guo Jia), Sima Yi, and Yuan Fang.
Moving on, I now proceed to mention the second-degree peers, albeit much more briefly.
- Guan Yu’s other rivals/fellows – Xiahou Yuan, Huang Zhong, Pang De
- Zhang Fei’s other rivals/fellows – Wei Yan
- Sun Ce’s other rivals/fellows – Taishi Ci
- Zhang Liao’s other rivals/fellows – Zhang He, Gan Ning, Ling Tong, Gao Shun (and by extension, Xiahou Dun), Deng Ai
- Liaoyuan Huo’s other rivals/fellows – Zhao Tong, Liaoyuan Guang, Chen Dao (and by extension, Cao Chun), Liu Da, Xu Ding
- Dian Wei’s other rivals/fellows – Xu Chu (and by extension, Zhou Tai)
A final note. Guan Yu gets to inherit Lü Bu’s famous steed, Zhang Liao retrieves Lü Bu’s headband, Ma Chao takes on the title of ‘god of war’, Sun Ce wields ji as weapons, and Liaoyuan Huo succeeds in breaking out of an encirclement, carrying a child to safety.