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heads at pass

Battle of Sishui Pass

The Battle of Sishui Pass (汜水關之戰) was a fictional battle of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is said to have taken place in 190, near the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty of China. It was fought between the forces of Dong Zhuo, led by Hua Xiong, and a coalition led by Yuan Shao.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Background

In 190, the warlord Dong Zhuo entered the Han capital Luoyang, taking control of the imperial court. The warlord Cao Cao saw this as a significant threat, and, together with other warlords, formed a new coalition with Yuan Shao as their head. Yuan Shao ordered his brother Yuan Shu to manage the supplies for the coalition, and appointed Sun Jian as the vanguard to take Sishui Pass, one of several mountain passes leading to Luoyang.

Dong Zhuo was deeply worried by this news, but Lü Bu, his foster son, assured him and said he shall personally go meet the enemy and hang their severed heads at the gate. Hearing that, another general Hua Xiong stepped out and said, "Why use a butcher knife to kill a chicken? There is no need for Lü Bu to go personally, I can go cut each of their heads, it'll be as easy as taking from a sack!" Happily, Dong Zhuo appointed him as Colonel of Resolute Cavalry (驍騎校尉) and sent him to guard Sishui Pass with 50,000 men along with Li Su, Hu Zhen, and Zhao Cen.

First blood

Bao Xin, one of the coalition leaders, wanting to get merit before Sun Jian did, secretly sent his brother Bao Zhong with three thousand men through a shortcut towards Sishui Pass. Hua Xiong dashed out of the pass and charged towards the frightened Bao Zhong, who attempted to turn around but was slashed by Hua Xiong. Hua Xiong sent Bao Zhong's head back to Dong Zhuo as a token of his victory, and he was promoted.

Sun Jian then arrived at the pass with officers Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, Han Dang, and Zu Mao. Sub-commander Hu Zhen led five thousand men to engage Sun Jian, but Cheng Pu stabbed him in the throat with his spear soon after they clashed. Sun Jian then continued to the pass, where he was repelled by the archers. He retreated to Liangdong (梁東) and reported his victory to Yuan Shao, while pressing Yuan Shu for provisions.

Sun Jian defeated

Yuan Shu, however, refused to send the supplies; because someone in his camp had said if Sun Jian does kill Dong Zhuo, that will be "ridding a wolf to get a tiger". Sun Jian's armies, without food, then fretted and caused chaos amongst themselves. Spies from Sun Jian's camp reported the situation to Hua Xiong, and Li Su suggested that he should send a force around Sun Jian's camp and surround him. He took the suggestion, and ordered his men to eat well and prepare for battle.

At midnight, Hua Xiong attacked the front of Sun Jian's camp. Sun Jian hurriedly mounted his horse and dueled with Hua Xiong, but Li Su's force came from behind and set fire to Sun Jian's camp. Sun Jian and Zu Mao then led several dozen men to break through the encirclement. Hua Xiong came chasing from behind, and Sun Jian pulled out his bow and arrows to shoot at him. Hua Xiong dodged the first two arrows, and on the third attempt Sun Jian applied too much force and broke his bow. Seeing that Sun Jian's red scarf could easily identify him, Zu Mao suggested to Sun Jian that he should give it to him. Sun Jian then handed his scarf over and split ways with Zu Mao, who later hung the scarf onto a half-burnt pillar, and hid himself in the tall grasses nearby. The enemies surrounded the pillar and shot arrows at it till they realized they had been fooled, whereupon Zu Mao came out of his ambush to attack Hua Xiong, but with a yell, Hua Xiong killed Zu Mao.

Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, Han Dang eventually regrouped with Sun Jian, who mourned the death of Zu Mao and reported his defeat to Yuan Shao.

Slaying Hua Xiong

Hua Xiong then rode towards the coalition camp with Sun Jian's scarf and taunted the coalition. Yu She, a general under Yuan Shu, rode out to battle, but was killed in a few rounds. Then Pan Feng, serving Han Fu, was commanded to duel Hua Xiong but was killed as well. Then Guan Yu, a mere horse archer then, volunteered to duel Hua Xiong. Yuan Shu found it insulting that they are so deprived of able generals that they have to send a nameless horse archer to duel Hua Xiong, and was noticeably upset. However, Cao Cao, another one of the eighteen coalition leaders, suggests that they should let Guan Yu try anyway, since he was brave enough to volunteer. To convince them to give him the opportunity, Guan Yu told them that if he failed against Hua Xiong, the coalition could take his head as punishment. Cao Cao then poured Guan Yu a cup of hot wine but the latter declined, claiming he would soon return. Within moments Guan Yu truly returned with Hua Xiong's head in hand, while the wine was still warm.

Hearing the death of Hua Xiong, Dong Zhuo led his men to Hulao Pass. The coalition decided to attack Dong Zhuo directly, and lifted the siege on Sishui Pass to attack Hulao Pass.

Historicity

Historically, there was no battle in Sishui Pass recorded for the Three Kingdoms period. In fact, Sishui Pass and Hulao Pass are the same mountain pass near Xingyang, only different in name, despite them being separate in the novel. Another point is that Guan Yu was fighting the Yellow Turbans with Liu Bei in Xiapi during the campaign against Dong Zhuo, and could not have been in Sishui Pass to kill Hua Xiong.

However, the confrontation between Hua Xiong and Sun Jian did take place in history, but not in Sishui Pass. The story concerning Sun Jian and his scarf can be found in Sanguo Zhi, the authoritative source for the period, but the pursuer was Xu Rong instead of Hua Xiong. Contrary to the novel, Hu Zhen and Zu Mao were not killed in this encounter. After the defeat, Sun Jian reassembled his troops to score a victory against the combined forces of Hu Zhen, Hua Xiong, and Lü Bu in Yangren (陽人), where he had Hua Xiong executed.

Cultural references

In Chinese literature, this battle is known as the first battle that led Guan Yu to fame, which, over time, accumulated and promoted him to deity status.

This scene became famous in Beijing opera as "Killing Hua Xiong" (斬華雄, Zhan Hua Xiong). The same scene is played in other types of Chinese opera as well.

More recently, this event has been reenacted in video games such as Sangokushi Eiketsuden, Sangokushi Sousouden and Dynasty Warriors, among others.

References

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