A portrait of Liu Ji by Gu Jianlong
|Statesman of the Ming dynasty|
|Born||1 July 1311|
|Died||16 May 1375(aged 63)|
|Courtesy name||Bowen (simplified Chinese: 伯温; traditional Chinese: 伯溫; pinyin: Bówēn; Wade–Giles: Po-wen)|
|Posthumous name||Wencheng (Chinese: 文成; pinyin: Wénchéng; Wade–Giles: Wen-ch'eng)|
Liu Ji (July 1, 1311 — 16 May 1375), courtesy name Bowen, better known as Liu Bowen, was a Chinese military strategist, statesman and poet who lived in the late Yuan and early Ming dynasties. He was born in Qingtian County (present-day Wencheng County, Wenzhou, Zhejiang). He served as a key advisor to Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor), the founder of the Ming dynasty, in the latter's struggle to overthrow the Yuan dynasty and unify China under his rule. Liu is also known for his prophecies and has been described as the "Divine Chinese Nostradamus". He and Jiao Yu co-edited the military treatise known as the Huolongjing (Fire Dragon Manual).
Liu served Zhu Yuanzhang in his rebellion against the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty in China, which had ruled since the conquest of the Southern Song dynasty in 1279. He dabbled in many fields of statecraft, philosophy, scholarly works, and technology. His philosophical outlook was that of a skeptical naturalist, and he became interested in astronomy, calendrical science, magnetism, and fengshui. He was known to be a friendly associate of the mathematician and alchemist Zhao Yuqin, and collaborated with the contemporary general and scholar Jiao Yu to edit and compile the military-technology treatise of the Huolongjing, which outlined the use of various gunpowder weapons. He was very interested in the latter, and once said that "thunder is like fire shot from a cannon".
Early service under the Yuan dynasty
Liu sat for the imperial examination and obtained the position of a jinshi (successful candidate) in the final years of the Yuan dynasty. He spent much of his early career attempting to save the Yuan dynasty from collapse. He served the Yuan dynasty as an official for 25 years, gaining a reputation for integrity and honesty, and became known as a distinguished scholar and strategist. In 1348, he was appointed to a military position and assigned to put down a southern rebellion against the dynasty. The leader of the rebellion attempted to save himself by offering Liu a bribe. When Liu refused, the rebel went to Beijing and succeeded in bribing his way into favour there.
Once the secessionist had bribed his way into the regime's favour, he was given a public office and a salary. Liu's relationship with the Yuan government deteriorated after this event. He attempted to resign twice, in 1349 and 1352. He was demoted in 1358, and finally left service to retire in his ancestral homeland. In 1360, Liu was introduced to Zhu Yuanzhang, a former leader of a radical White Lotus rebellion who was then the leader of a broad anti-Yuan rebellion.
Service to Zhu Yuanzhang
Liu served not only in the administration of Zhu Yuanzhang, but also in many battles as a commanding officer on land and water, leading the early Ming naval forces. Zhu Yuanzhang placed Liu in charge of the campaign to conquer all of Zhejiang from Yuan forces. Liu was also responsible for military ventures against opposing Chinese rebel groups, as well as the wokou. His forces owed much of their success to the use of the medieval Chinese firearm known as the fire lance. It was during this period that he wrote the books Extraordinary Strategies of a Hundred Battles (百戰奇略) and Eighteen Strategies and Affairs (時務十八策). Later in the rebellion, Zhu Yuanzhang only rarely relied on Liu to personally command his armies in the field, as he acquired other capable generals, including Xu Da, Deng Yu and Chang Yuchun. Liu was most often consulted for his strategic advice during this period.
In 1368, after eight years of Liu's service, Zhu Yuanzhang unified China. When Zhu founded the Ming dynasty and became historically known as the Hongwu Emperor, Liu was one of his most trusted advisors, but the relationship between Liu and the emperor eventually deteriorated in a manner similar to the way that Liu had become estranged from the Yuan government. In 1375, Liu rejected a man, Hu Weiyong, for appointment to high office. Hu Weiyong later obtained an audience with the Hongwu Emperor and slandered Liu by telling the emperor that Liu was plotting to establish his own power. After convincing the emperor of Liu's treachery, Liu was ejected from office, and Hu Weiyong was promoted.
The shock and shame of being groundlessly dismissed from office destroyed Liu's health, and he quickly died. Within five years of Liu's death, the man who had slandered Liu to achieve office was himself suspected of plotting against the Hongwu Emperor. In the subsequent orgy of the emperor's paranoid efforts to root out conspiracy, 30–40,000 people were executed.
The precise cause of Liu's death is considered uncertain by modern scholars. Some scholars believe that Liu was poisoned by the Hongwu Emperor himself, not because Liu failed his duty, but because the emperor was envious and even fearful of his knowledge and influence. Other sources have pointed out that the Hongwu Emperor did kill many people shortly after Liu lost his official position, but they are uncertain about whether Liu was part of this group.
Liu's most famous prophecy to Zhu Yuanzhang, written down in a lyrical style, is called the Shaobing Song (燒餅歌). The poem is written in cryptic verse and is difficult to understand. Some people believe that the Shaobing Song has predicted future events in China, including the 1449 Mongol invasion, and the 1911 founding of the Republic of China.
In popular culture
Shenji Miaosuan Liu Bowen (simplified Chinese: 神机妙算刘伯温; traditional Chinese: 神機妙算劉伯溫; pinyin: Shénjī Miàosuàn Líu Bówēn; literally: "The Divine Witted and Marvelous Predictor Liu Bowen"), a 404 episodes long television drama about Liu, was aired in Taiwan on TTV from 23 August 2006 to 12 March 2008, starring Taiwanese actor Huang Shaoqi (黃少祺) as Liu.
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