Xiang Yu breaks the cauldrons and sinks the boats-项羽破釜沉舟

Amidst a nationwide anti-Qin movement, the former powers of Yan, Zhao, Qi, and Wei gradually restored their former states. The Qin Dynasty had already fragmented, on the verge of collapse. Xiang Liang led his army to several victories, earning praise from others and growing proud himself.

In 208 BC, Xiang Liang led his army decisively towards Xianyang. Qin General Zhang Han vigorously resisted, but Xiang Liang, valiant and skilled in battle, coupled with the high morale of the rebel army, drove the Qin forces back. Dong’e (now northeast Yanggu, Shandong), Puyang (now northeast Huaxian, Henan), and Dingtao (now south of Heze City, Shandong Province) were successively occupied by the rebel army. At this time, Liu Bang also brought a large number of troops to join King Huai of Chu, stationed in Dingtao. Xiang Liang immediately dispatched Xiang Yu and Liu Bang to support, continuing the attack on Xianyang. Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, living up to expectations, killed Qin General Li You in battle. Seeing that the Qin army was dwindling, Zhang Han hurriedly ran to Xianyang to reassemble his troops, preparing to catch Xiang Liang off guard. Due to excessive arrogance and underestimation of the enemy, Xiang Liang unfortunately perished in battle. With the loss of their leader, the Chu army became disheartened. Zhang Han took advantage of this and pursued Xiang Yu, Liu Bang, and others to Pengcheng (now Xuzhou, Jiangsu), where they had no choice but to hold their ground.

Seeing Xiang Liang killed and the Chu army demoralized, Zhang Han believed the situation was in his control. He then withdrew a large number of troops to the north of the Yellow River, where the newly established state of Zhao was located. Zhang Han defeated the newly appointed King of Zhao, Zhao Xie, who finally retreated to Julu (now Xingtai, Hebei). Zhang Han besieged Julu, but unable to capture it, he resorted to a tight blockade. He then divided his army into two, leading one to store food near Julu while the other, led by Wang Li, continued to besiege Julu.

Inside the city, Zhao Xie was in a panic. However, the armies of the neighboring states of Qi and Yan, fearing the strength of the Qin army, dared not intervene. Zhao Xie had no choice but to send for help from the State of Chu. Upon receiving the news, King Huai of Chu immediately dispatched Song Yi, Xiang Yu, and the strategist Fan Zeng to lead troops north.

In 207 BC, Song Yi led the Chu army to reinforce Zhao, although he was a great general, he was cowardly and only gained King Huai’s approval through his eloquence. Song Yi had never intended to fight the Qin army, so when the army reached Anyang (now east of Caocun, Shandong), he ordered a halt, which lasted for over forty days. Despite the soldiers’ suggestions, he remained idle, spending his days drinking in camp.

Eventually, Xiang Yu angrily confronted Song Yi, demanding him to lead the troops. Song Yi, in a fit of rage, rebuked Xiang Yu for insubordination, declaring that all military matters must adhere to his orders, and disobedience would be punished by death. Xiang Yu, defiant, accused Song Yi of unworthiness and lack of strategic understanding. Filled with rage, Xiang Yu stormed out of the camp.

To everyone’s surprise, the next morning, Xiang Yu appeared before Song Yi fully armed. After one last attempt to persuade Song Yi to mobilize the troops, and receiving refusal, Xiang Yu swiftly beheaded Song Yi. He then announced to the entire army that he would assume the position of Grand General and ordered the soldiers to prepare for battle.

Xiang Yu first sent Generals Ying Bu and Pu to attack Wang Li, cutting off the supply routes. With Zhao liberated, Fan Zeng led a portion of the army to besiege Zhang Han without engaging directly, while Xiang Yu moved to support Fan Zeng.

After several engagements, Xiang Yu decisively defeated Wang Li, capturing him, before rushing to reinforce Fan Zeng. Hearing the thunderous shouts of soldiers, Zhang Han realized the Chu army’s ruse. Simultaneously, a scout reported that the army besieging Zhao had been annihilated, and its leaders captured. Hastily, Zhang Han led his troops towards Julu, only to find Xiang Yu waiting nearby. Remembering his uncle Xiang Liang’s death, Xiang Yu engaged Zhang Han in a fierce battle. Unable to match Xiang Yu’s prowess, Zhang Han’s forces faltered. Xiang Yu fought ferociously, his soldiers displaying equal valor. The Qin army was routed, and Zhang Han fled in defeat.

Following his victory, Xiang Yu declined the invitation from Zhao, instead sitting in camp to receive the respect and admiration of the various states’ generals and soldiers. Witnessing the bravery of the Chu army, especially Xiang Yu’s, the commanders of the various states were left speechless, and from then on, all respected Xiang Yu.


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