Li Ru, courtesy name Wenyou (文優), was a scholar and advisor to the warlord Dong Zhuo in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He was a native of Heyang (郃陽), Pingyi (馮翊), located in the capital province Sili (司隷).
Li Ru was appointed as Prefect of the Household (郎中令) when Dong Zhuo controlled the imperial court. He served under Li Jue after Dong Zhuo's death. In 190, Li Ru was sent by Dong Zhuo to poison the Prince of Hongnong (the deposed Emperor Shao). In the winter of 192, Li Jue recommended Li Ru to be a Palace Attendant (侍中), but Emperor Xian's decree stated: "(Li) Ru was formerly a Prefect of the Household under the Prince of Hongnong. He killed my older brother and ought to be punished." In defence of Li Ru, Li Jue said, "It was not Li Ru's intention to follow Dong Zhuo's orders. We should not punish the innocent."
In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Li Ru was a son-in-law of Dong Zhuo. He served as an advisor to Dong Zhuo on various campaigns against Ma Teng, the Ten Attendants, and later his attempts to keep Emperor Xian under his control. When Dong Zhuo was sent to the capital to deal with the Ten Attendants, Li Ru advised him to replace Emperor Shao with his younger brother, Liu Xie, who would become Emperor Xian later.
When Dong Zhuo announced his plans to the court, Ding Yuan and his adopted son Lü Bu objected to Dong Zhuo's plans. Dong Zhuo attempted to attack Ding Yuan, but after seeing his adopted son Lü Bu, Li Ru would put off Dong Zhuo, probably saving his life. The next day Ding Yuan challenged Dong Zhuo to a battle outside the capital with a small force. However Dong Zhuo's force was no match for Lü Bu. Li Su, a friend of Lü Bu, offered to bring Lü Bu to Dong Zhuo's side by offering him the horse, Red Hare. Dong Zhuo was reluctant but on the advice of Li Ru, he gave up the horse to Lü Bu, who killed Ding Yuan, and joined Dong Zhuo along with Zhang Liao and Gao Shun.
In 190, Dong Zhuo deposed Emperor Shao, and sent Li Ru to assassinate him and his mother Empress He with poisoned wine. Li Ru offered Emperor Shao the wine by saying, "The Chancellor wishes you your health by offering this cup of wine", and the empress challenged Li Ru to drink it. Li Ru refused and the emperor's consort wept and requested that Li Ru let her drink the wine and not harm the emperor and empress dowager. Li Ru refused, and the empress told him "You will be condemned for aiding the traitor Dong!". Li Ru became angry at this and threw the empress out of the nearest window before forcing wine down the deposed emperor's throat and ordering his consort to be strangled.
After the eighteen regional warlords led by Yuan Shao attacked Dong Zhuo at Hulao Pass, Li Ru advised that they move the capital from Luoyang to Chang'an and leave Lü Bu to ambush any of the warlords who attempted to pursue. Thanks to Li Ru's plan, Cao Cao was ambushed and almost killed before being saved by Cao Hong, leaving Dong Zhuo to make a clean getaway.
Li Ru helped Dong Zhuo to set up his capital at Chang'an and their power grew immensely after the eighteen regional warlords went their separate ways after many disagreements. After hearing that Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan were fighting in northern China, Li Ru suggested that Dong Zhuo send an imperial decree in Emperor Xian's name for the two to make peace to gain the support of both of them. The plan worked and both the warlords withdrew after some reasoning from Ma Midi and Zhao Qi.
Li Ru, after finding out a rift had developed between Dong Zhuo and his adopted son Lü Bu over the maiden Diaochan, attempted to repair the rift between them, by telling Dong Zhuo to reward Lü Bu. Dong Zhuo apologized to Lü Bu, and offered him 300 ounces of gold. However, a few days later Dong Zhuo had argued with Lü Bu again over Diaochan. Li Ru proposed that Dong Zhuo offer Diaochan to Lü Bu, however Dong Zhuo refused but promised to pardon Lü Bu. After learning this Li Ru sighed to the heavens "We're doomed to fall because of this woman!".
A few days after this incident Li Ru was arrested in his own home by one of his servants. He was taken to the palace where Dong Zhuo had been assassinated by Lü Bu and Wang Yun. Lü Bu and Wang Yun ordered Li Ru to be executed for being an accomplice to Dong Zhuo.
Appointments and titles held
- Prefect of the Household (郎中令)
- Palace Attendant (侍中)
- Fan Ye. Book of the Later Han.
- Sima Guang. Zizhi Tongjian.
- Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms.