Battle of Hulao Pass

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Battle of Hulao Pass
Traditional Chinese虎牢關之戰
Simplified Chinese虎牢关之战
A Qing dynasty illustration of the duel between Lü Bu and the three sworn brothers (Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei).

The Battle of Hulao Pass is a fictional battle described in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. The battle was fought between Dong Zhuo and a coalition of regional warlords and officials (known as the Guandong Coalition) as part of the Campaign against Dong Zhuo in 190 during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period. Nothing about the battle is documented in the Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi), the authoritative source for the history of the late Eastern Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period.


In 190, Dong Zhuo entered Luoyang, the capital of the Eastern Han dynasty, and took control of the imperial court. Dong Zhuo monopolised state power and governed with cruelty and brutality. Later that year, several warlords and regional officials formed a new coalition against Dong Zhuo, with Yuan Shao as their leader. The coalition first attacked Sishui Pass, one of the mountain passes on the way to Luoyang. Dong Zhuo's general Hua Xiong, who was guarding Sishui Pass, was slain by Guan Yu from the coalition, and the pass was captured by the coalition. The coalition forces then marched on to Hulao Pass, situated some 50 li away from Luoyang.


Dong Zhuo personally led an army of 150,000 men with Lü Bu, Li Ru, Fan Chou, and Zhang Ji east to Hulao Pass, while sending 50,000 men under Li Jue and Guo Si to reinforce Sishui Pass. Once at Hulao Pass, Dong Zhuo ordered Lü Bu to lead the vanguard with 30,000 men and set camp in front of the fortified pass.

The coalition decided to send half of their forces to engage Dong Zhuo's forces. Eight coalition warlords—Wang Kuang, Qiao Mao, Bao Xin, Yuan Yi, Kong Rong, Zhang Yang, Tao Qian, and Gongsun Zan—each led their forces towards Hulao Pass under Yuan Shao's command. The first to arrive in Hulao Pass was Wang Kuang, where one of his generals, Fang Yue, volunteered to duel Lü Bu. In less than five rounds, Fang Yue was killed, and Lü Bu charged through Wang Kuang's force, killing several of the routing soldiers. The forces of Qiao Mao and Yuan Yi came to Wang Kuang's rescue. They decided to withdraw 30 li from the pass and set camp there.

Soon, the remaining five coalition warlords arrived at the camp, where they discussed and concluded that Lü Bu cannot be defeated by anyone. Just then, Lü Bu's men arrayed outside the coalition camp, and the eight coalition warlords went to meet the enemy. Mu Shun, a general under Zhang Yang, charged towards Lü Bu, but was immediately killed. Wu Anguo, a general under Kong Rong, then proceeded to challenge Lü Bu. They fought for ten rounds, but then Lü Bu slit off Wu Anguo's wrist with his ji. The coalition forces charged out and rescued Wu Anguo, and each side retreated to their own camps. Cao Cao commented that all the eighteen warlords must gather together to discuss a plan to defeat Lü Bu, and that if Lü Bu is defeated, Dong Zhuo would be easy to kill.

Just then, Lü Bu came out again to taunt the coalition. This time, Gongsun Zan went to challenge Lü Bu, but had to withdraw after a few rounds. Lü Bu gave chase, but he was distracted by Zhang Fei, who called him "a slave with three surnames" (三姓家奴; the "three surnames" refer to Lü Bu's original surname and those of his two foster fathers). Lü Bu then battled Zhang Fei for 50 rounds, with neither gaining an advantage over the other. Following that, Guan Yu, brandishing his Green Dragon Crescent Blade, dashed out to assist Zhang Fei. The three fighters were engaged in another 30 bouts or so when Liu Bei, holding up a pair of swords, also joined in the fray.

The three sworn brothers encircled Lü Bu and took turns to attack him from different directions. Lü Bu was unable to defeat all three opponents so he pretended to attack Liu Bei and escaped through the gap when Liu dodged his attack. Lü Bu then fled back to Hulao Pass, with the three brothers hot on pursuit, but they could not catch up with him because of the speed of his horse, the Red Hare. They abandoned the chase after they spotted Dong Zhuo. Zhang Fei attempted to charge onto the fortification to kill Dong Zhuo, but was driven back by a rain of arrows from the pass.

The coalition warlords declared the battle won, and received Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei for a celebration of their victory.


In the light of his recent defeat, Dong Zhuo consulted Li Ru, who suggested that they retreat to Chang'an in the west. Dong Zhuo was delighted at the idea, and, despite strong objections from some people, carried out the plan. He forced the imperial court and Luoyang's citizens to migrate to Chang'an together with him, with his army keeping close watch on them. Before leaving, Dong Zhuo sent his soldiers to seize valuables and riches from the wealthy households in Luoyang, and then had the city razed to the ground. Zhao Cen, Dong Zhuo's general defending Sishui Pass at the time, abandoned the pass once he knew of his lord's retreat.


There is no historical record of any engagement taking place at Hulao Pass during that period of time.

In the novel, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei participated in the campaign under Gongsun Zan's banner, but the Sanguozhi did not mention Gongsun Zan's involvement in the campaign.

Historically, however, there were confrontations between the coalition and Dong Zhuo in which both Dong Zhuo and Lü Bu had participated in personally, with only Sun Jian's forces present on the coalition side. Dong Zhuo's biography in the Book of the Later Han (Houhanshu) stated that Lü Bu was defeated in battle twice by Sun Jian:

  • The first time was at Yangren (陽人; believed to be near present-day Wenquan, Ruzhou, Henan), when Dong Zhuo sent Lü Bu and Hu Zhen to attack Sun Jian. Lü Bu and Hu Zhen could not get along with each other, leading to disorder in their army, so Sun Jian used the opportunity to attack them and forced them to retreat.[1][2]
  • The second time was in Luoyang, where Dong Zhuo personally led an army to engage Sun Jian's forces in the area where the tombs of the Han emperors were located. Dong Zhuo was defeated and he retreated. Sun Jian then entered Luoyang's Xuanyang Gate (宣陽城門), where he attacked Lü Bu and drove him back.[3][4]

Cultural references[edit]

Although it is a work of fiction, Luo Guanzhong's compelling account of the duel between Lü Bu, the mightiest warrior in the novel, and the three sworn brothers makes it one of the most celebrated events in Chinese popular culture. Several sects of Chinese opera, such as Cantonese opera, have skits relating to this battle, which is commonly known as "Three Heroes Battle Lü Bu" (simplified Chinese: 三英战吕布; traditional Chinese: 三英戰呂布; pinyin: sān yīng zhàn Lǚ Bù).

This event is also depicted in video games such as Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Sangokushi Sousouden, among others.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (明年,孫堅收合散卒,進屯梁縣之陽人。卓遣將胡軫、呂布攻之,布與軫不相能,軍中自驚恐,士卒散亂。堅追擊之,軫、布敗走。) Houhanshu vol. 72.
  2. ^ (孫堅移屯梁東,為卓將徐榮所敗,復收散卒進屯陽人。卓遣東郡太守胡軫督步騎五千擊之,以呂布為騎督。軫與布不相得,堅出擊,大破之,梟其都督華雄。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 60.
  3. ^ (卓自出與堅戰於諸陵墓閒,卓敗走,灠屯黽池,聚兵於陝。堅進洛陽宣陽城門,更擊呂布,布復破走。) Houhanshu vol. 72.
  4. ^ (卓自出,與堅戰於諸陵間。卓敗走,卻屯澠池,聚兵於陝。堅進至雒陽,擊呂布,復破走。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 60.