The God of War, Guan Di, was really named Guan Yu. At the time when the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans was raging throughout the empire, he, together with two others whom he met by the wayside, and who were inspired with the same love of country which possessed him, made a pact of friendship. One of the two was Liu Be, afterward emperor, the other was named Dschang Fe. The three met in a peach-orchard and swore to be brothers one to the other, although they were of different families. They sacrificed a white steed and vowed to be true to each other to the death.
Guan Yu was faithful, honest, upright and brave beyond all measure. He loved to read Confucius’s “Annals of Lu,” which tell of the rise and fall of empires. He aided his friend Liu Be to subdue the Yellow Turbans and to conquer the land of the four rivers. The horse he rode was known as the Red Hare, and could run a thousand miles in a day. Guan Yu had a knife shaped like a half-moon which was called the Green Dragon. His eyebrows were beautiful like those of the silk-butterflies, and his eyes were long-slitted like the eyes of the Phenix. His face was scarlet-red in color, and his beard so long that it hung down over his stomach. Once, when he appeared before the emperor, the latter called him Duke Fairbeard, and presented him with a silken pocket in which to place his beard. He wore a garment of green brocade. Whenever he went into battle he showed invincible bravery. Whether he were opposed by a thousand armies or by ten thousand horsemen—he attacked them as though they were merely air.
Once the evil Tsau Tsau had incited the enemies of his master, the Emperor, to take the city by treachery. When Guan Yu heard of it he hastened up with an army to relieve the town. But he fell into an ambush, and, together with his son, was brought a captive to the capital of the enemy’s land. The prince of that country would have been glad to have had him go over to his side; but Guan Yu swore that he would not yield to death himself. Thereupon father and son were slain. When he was dead, his horse Red Hare ceased to eat and died. A faithful captain of his, by name of Dschou Dsang, who was black-visaged and wore a great knife, had just invested a fortress when the news of the sad end of the duke reached him. And he, as well as other faithful followers would not survive their master, and perished.
At the time a monk, who was an old compatriot and acquaintance of Duke Guan was living in the Hills of the Jade Fountains. He used to walk at night in the moonlight.
Suddenly he heard a loud voice cry down out of the air: “I want my head back again!”
The monk looked up and saw Duke Guan, sword in hand, seated on his horse, just as he appeared while living. And at his right and left hand, shadowy figures in the clouds, stood his son Guan Ping and his captain, Dschou Dsang.
The monk folded his hands and said: “While you lived you were upright and faithful, and in death you have become a wise god; and yet you do not understand fate! If you insist on having your head back again, to whom shall the many thousands of your enemies who lost their lives through you appeal, in order to have life restored to them?”
When he heard this the Duke Guan bowed and disappeared. Since that time he has been without interruption spiritually active. Whenever a new dynasty is founded, his holy form may be seen. For this reason temples and sacrifices have been instituted for him, and he has been made one of the gods of the empire. Like Confucius, he received the great sacrifice of oxen, sheep and pigs. His rank increases with the passing of centuries. First he was worshiped as Prince Guan, later as King Guan, and then as the great god who conquers the demons. The last dynasty, finally, worships him as the great, divine Helper of the Heavens. He is also called the God of War, and is a strong deliverer in all need, when men are plagued by devils and foxes. Together with Confucius, the Master of Peace, he is often worshiped as the Master of War.
Note: The Chinese God of War is a historical personality from the epoch of the three empires, which later joined the Han dynasty, about 250 A.D. Liu Be founded the “Little Han dynasty” in Setchuan, with the aid of Guan Yu and Dschang Fe. Guan Yu or Guan Di, i.e., “God Yuan,” has become one of the most popular figures in Chinese legend in the course of time, God of War and deliverer in one and the same person. The talk of the monk with the God Guan Di in the clouds is based on the Buddhist law of Karma. Because Guan Di—even though his motives might be good—had slain other men, he must endure like treatment at their hands, even while he is a god.