In historical records
The Red Hare was mentioned in Lü Bu's biographies in the historical texts Records of the Three Kingdoms and Book of the Later Han. It was described as very powerful, and capable of "galloping across cities and leaping over moats". Lü Bu rode this horse in 193 during a battle in Changshan (常山; around present-day Shijiazhuang, Hebei), in which he helped another warlord Yuan Shao defeat his rival Zhang Yan.
The Cao Man Zhuan (曹瞞傳) recorded that there was a saying at the time to describe Lü Bu and his Red Hare: "Lü Bu [who stands out] among men, the Red Hare [who stands out] among horses".
The Red Hare was given a more prominent role in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which romanticises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. It was originally a prized steed of the warlord Dong Zhuo, but he presented it as a gift to Lü Bu later after heeding Li Su's advice. Lü Bu was very pleased to receive the Red Hare and, after being persuaded by Li Su, he betrayed and murdered his foster father Ding Yuan and defected to Dong Zhuo, whom he acknowledged as his new foster father.
The Red Hare was described in the novel as follows:
[...] named 'Red Hare', capable of travelling 1,000 li in a day (this equates to 200 km/160 miles). [...] crosses rivers and climbs mountains as though it is moving on flat land, [...] It is of uniform ashen red, with not a hair of another colour; it measures one zhang from head to tail and eight chi from hoof to head; it neighs as if it has the ambition of soaring into the sky or diving into the sea.
After Lü Bu's death, the Red Hare came into Cao Cao's possession and he gave it to Guan Yu later. The horse was taken by Ma Zhong after Guan Yu's death. Ma Zhong presented it to his lord Sun Quan, but Sun returned it to him. The Red Hare starved itself and died several days later.
- (北詣袁紹，紹與布擊張燕於常山。燕精兵萬餘，騎數千。布有良馬曰赤兎。) Sanguozhi vol. 7.
- (布常御良馬，號曰赤菟，能馳城飛塹， ...) Houhanshu vol. 75.
- (曹瞞傳曰：「時人語曰：『人中有呂布，馬中有赤菟。』」) Cao Man Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 7.
- (肅曰：「某聞主公有名馬一匹，號曰『赤兔』，日行千里。 ... 肅曰：「 ... 有良馬一匹，日行千里，渡水登山，如履平地，名曰『赤兔』：特獻與賢弟，以助虎威。」布便令牽過來看。果然那馬渾身上下，火炭般赤，無半根雜毛；從頭至尾，長一丈；從蹄至項，高八尺；嘶喊咆哮，有騰空入海之狀。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 3.
- (操令左右備一馬來。須臾牽至。那馬身如火炭，狀甚雄偉。操指曰：「公識此馬否？」公曰：「莫非呂布所騎赤馬乎？」操曰：「然也。」遂並鞍轡送與關公。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 25.
- (關公既歿，坐下赤兔馬被馬忠所獲，獻與孫權。權即賜馬忠騎坐。其馬數日不食草料而死。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 77.