Stories and Folktales in Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Learn Martial Art at Zhong Shan
Peach Garden Oath
Zhang Fei Stops Cao Cao at Changban Bridge
Liu Bei, the first ruler of Shu-Han during the Three Kingdom Period, had two blood brothers who would have given their lives for him. One was the fully bearded, tall, robust Zhang Fei, who had a voice like a sonorous bell. The other was Guan Yu, who was in later times respectfully referred as "The Martial Saint, Lord Guan" or the "Demon-Subduing Lord." These two famous tiger-generals helped Liu Bei win great distinction on the battlefield; Liu Bei depended upon them as his right and left hands, and although they referred to each other as "subject" and "lord," they were closer than real brothers. The story of their friendship is extremely legendary - it is said to have developed from a brawl.
Liu Bei was originally a descendant of the Han imperial house, but because his family had fallen into decline, he had reached the point of having to sell straw sandals and mats to make out a living. One day, he picked up a large bundle of his wares and decided to go to the market to sell them. Along the way he met Zhang Fei who was herding a group of pigs. The pigs suddenly scattered, running wildly in all directions, and a few even seemed to turn completely mad, rushing right at Liu Bei. It had just stopped raining and the ground was wet and slippery. Liu Bei, because he was unprepared, was hit directly by a pig, so that his straw sandals and mats were scattered about on the muddy ground. He immediately decided to get up and give Zhang Fei a piece of his mind. Much to his surprise, Zhang Fei paid him no heed at all, but went off chasing his pig. Liu Bei became very angry and ran after Zhang Fei, yelling at him and demanding that Zhang Fei pay him for his sandals. When Liu caught up with him, Zhang was furiously arguing with the wood chopper, Guan Yu. It seemed a pig had by chance run up to Guan Yu and he had killed it. Zhang Fei wanted him to pay for the pig, but Guan Yu refused, so the two began to fight. Liu Bei also got into the fracas. But when the three men faced each other squarely, they were drawn by each other's valiant stance. Settling their grudges, they established the closest of friendships.
In the peach garden of Zhang Fei's home the three men took an oath to become "brothers". To decide who should be considered the eldest, Zhang Fei suggested they compete in tree climbing. Whoever could climb the highest would be considered the eldest. As a result, Zhang Fei, who was the most nimble, climbed to the top of a tree, Guan Yu's height was next, and Liu Bei simple refused to climb. "Trees grow from their roots," he said. "Without a root, how could the branches and leaves flourish? During troubled times heroes are valued, but if heroes don't have a sage ruler to lead them, how can they accomplish great things?" Because this made sense, and because he was a descendent of the Han royal family, they decided to allow Liu Bei to be considered the senior brother, Guan Yu the next, and Zhang Fei the junior. This is then the story of "the triple oath" of the peach garden which has been handed down since ancient times.
Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, though of different families, swear brotherhood,
and promise mutual help to one end. We will rescue each other in difficulty,
we will aid each other in danger. We swear to serve the state and save the
people. We ask not the same day of birth but we seek to die together. May
Heaven, the all-ruling, and Earth, the all-producing, read our hearts, and
if we turn aside from righteousness or forget kindliness may Heaven and man
-- Peach Garden Oath --