Liu Bang’s Three Articles of Agreement-刘邦约法三章


The Battle of Julu was a resounding victory for the Chu army. After his defeat, General Zhang Han, realizing that the Qin dynasty would not spare him, chose to surrender to Xiang Yu along with his 200,000 Qin troops. Xiang Yu granted Zhang Han the title of Duke of Yong but remained wary of him. The 200,000 Qin troops were placed under the command of Sima Xin, a close friend of Xiang Yu’s deceased brother, Xiang Liang.

News of Zhang Han’s surrender spread to the Qin palace, where the Prime Minister Zhao Gao, sensing the end of the Qin dynasty, still harbored dreams of becoming emperor. Seeing the coalition forces about to breach the walls of Xianyang, Emperor Qin Er Shi (Hu Hai) began to doubt Zhao Gao’s loyalty. Zhao Gao decided to initiate a coup, rallying his younger brother and son-in-law to lead the palace guards in a violent assault. Under the pretext of capturing thieves, they indiscriminately slaughtered innocent palace inhabitants, ultimately driving Emperor Qin Er Shi to commit suicide by hanging.

In October of 206 BC, Liu Bang’s army was the first to occupy Xianyang. Prince Ziyang of Qin awaited Liu Bang by the roadside with a white horse and a simple carriage, presenting the seal of the state as a gesture of surrender. Liu Bang, showing mercy, instructed his soldiers to treat Prince Ziyang well, refraining from harming him. Upon entering the Qin palace, Liu Bang was captivated by its opulence and the beauty of its women but was dissuaded from indulging by his advisors.

After relocating his army to Ba, Liu Bang convened a meeting with local gentry and commoners. He reassured the frightened populace that the cruel rule of the Qin dynasty had ended, promising that no one would suffer under its harsh laws anymore. Liu Bang urged the people to trust that the officials would perform their duties without fear of reprisal and outlined three principles: murder must be punishable by death, injury must be subject to punishment, and theft and similar crimes must be penalized accordingly. The common people, having endured the hellish rule of the Qin dynasty, developed a profound affection for Liu Bang, with many vying to crown him emperor.

Upon hearing of Liu Bang’s occupation of Xianyang, Xiang Yu was infuriated but also concerned that the 200,000 Qin troops who surrendered might rebel in his absence. He secretly inserted low-ranking Chu officers and soldiers among the Qin troops to gather information. Although Zhang Han had been rewarded for his surrender, the Qin soldiers received no compensation and were subjected to insults and neglect from the Chu army. Sima Xin, though aware of the mistreatment, was unable to defend his troops and could only console them silently. The discontent among the Qin soldiers was palpable, and rumors spread quickly. Xiang Yu, fearing a rebellion, decided to eliminate all 200,000 Qin troops. Taking Sima Xin away on pretext, Xiang Yu’s general Ying Bu launched a surprise attack at night, causing chaos among the Qin soldiers. Those who survived the onslaught were buried alive in a mass grave. This event had a severe impact on Xiang Yu and the Chu army. Combined with Xiang Yu’s subsequent pillaging of Xianyang, it earned him the hatred of the people and sealed his eventual downfall. While Liu Bang’s policy of pacifying the populace garnered support, Xiang Yu’s impulsiveness and recklessness made him unfit for national leadership. The destiny of the realm had already been decided.


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