Lü Bu (died February 199) courtesy name Fengxian, was a military general and warlord who lived in the late Eastern Han dynasty. Originally a subordinate of a minor warlord Ding Yuan, he betrayed and murdered Ding and defected to Dong Zhuo, the warlord who controlled the Han central government in the early 190s. In 192, he turned against and killed Dong Zhuo after being instigated by Wang Yun and Shisun Rui, but was later defeated and driven away by Dong Zhuo’s followers. From 192 to mid 195, Lü Bu wandered around central and northern China, consecutively seeking shelter under warlords such as Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao and Zhang Yang. In 194, he managed to take control of Yan Province from the warlord Cao Cao with help from defectors from Cao’s side, but Cao took back his territories within two years. In 196, Lü Bu turned against Liu Bei, who had offered him refuge in Xu Province, and seized control of the province from his host. Although he had agreed to an alliance with Yuan Shu earlier, he severed ties with him after Yuan declared himself ‘Emperor’ – an act perceived as treason against the Han emperor – and joined Cao Cao and others in attacking the pretender. However, in 198, he sided with Yuan Shu again and came under attack by the combined forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei, resulting in his defeat at the Battle of Xiapi in 199. He was captured and executed on Cao Cao’s order.
Although Lü Bu is described in historical and fictional sources as an exceptionally mighty warrior, he was also notorious for his temperamental behaviour. He switched allegiances erratically and freely betrayed his allies, and was noted for his poor planning and management skills. He was always suspicious of others and could not control his subordinates. All these factors ultimately led to his downfall. In Luo Guanzhong’s historical novelRomance of the Three Kingdoms, the details of his life are dramatised and some fictitious elements – including his romance with the fictional maiden Diaochan – are added to portray him as a nearly unchallenged warrior who was also a ruthless and impulsive brute bereft of morals.
Not much about Lü Bu’s family was documented in historical texts, but it is known that he had a wife and a daughter, whose names were not recorded in history. Lü Bu abandoned his wife when he was fleeing from Chang’an, but his subordinate Pang Shu secretly protected her and kept her with him, and returned her to her husband later. She was most prominently mentioned during the Battle of Xiapi when she cautioned Lü Bu against overly trusting Chen Gong. Lü Bu’s daughter was initially arranged to be married to Yuan Shu’s son as part of an alliance between Lü and Yuan, but Lü reneged on his word and took her back when she was on her way for the marriage. When Xiapi was under siege by Cao Cao’s forces, Lü Bu attempted to bring his daughter out of the city so that she could be delivered to Yuan Shu, as he hoped that Yuan would send reinforcements to him after receiving his daughter. However, Lü Bu failed to break out of the siege so he returned to Xiapi with her. The eventual fates of Lü Bu’s wife and daughter are not known.
In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Lü Bu had two wives, a concubine, and a daughter. His concubine was Diaochan, a fictional character and Wang Yun’s foster daughter. She accompanied him after he killed Dong Zhuo and was mentioned to be with him during the Battle of Xiapi. Lü Bu’s first wife was Lady Yan, who was based on Lü Bu’s real-life wife (the one mentioned in historical sources). Lü Bu’s second wife, who was only mentioned by name in the novel, was a fictional daughter of Cao Bao. The role played by Lü Bu’s daughter in the novel was similar to that of her counterpart in actual history. She was also unnamed in the novel, but she is called “Lü Lingqi” in video games and popular culture.