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Lü Fan

Lü Fan
Grand Marshal (大司馬)
In office
228 (228) – 228 (228)
MonarchSun Quan
ChancellorGu Yong
Governor of Yang Province (揚州牧)
In office
223 (223) – 228 (228)
MonarchSun Quan
ChancellorSun Shao (222–225)
Gu Yong (from 225)
General of the Vanguard (前將軍)
In office
222 or earlier (222 or earlier) – 228 (228)
MonarchSun Quan
ChancellorSun Shao (222–225)
Gu Yong (from 225)
Administrator of Danyang (丹楊太守)
In office
220 (220) – 222 or earlier (222 or earlier)
General Who Establishes Might (建威將軍)
In office
220 (220) – 222 or earlier (222 or earlier)
General Who Pacifies the South (平南將軍)
In office
? (?) – 220 (220)
Administrator of Pengze (彭澤太守)
In office
209 (209) – ? (?)
Personal details
Taihe County, Anhui
Spouse(s)Lady Liu
Courtesy nameZiheng (子衡)
PeerageMarquis of Nanchang

Lü Fan (died 228), courtesy name Ziheng, was a military general serving under the warlord Sun Quan during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He continued serving in the state of Eastern Wu during the early Three Kingdoms period.

Life in the Eastern Han dynasty

Early career under Yuan Shu

Lü Fan was from Xiyang County (細陽縣), Runan Commandery (汝南郡), which is around present-day Taihe County, Anhui. He married a woman from a certain Liu family. He started his career as a minor official under the warlord Yuan Shu. During this time, he met Sun Ce, a general under Yuan Shu, and became close friends with him. Since then, he had accompanied Sun Ce on the battles he fought under Yuan Shu's banner, and later in the battles that Sun Ce fought as a warlord in his own right.

It is said that Lü Fan recommended himself to Sun Ce through a game of weiqi – after Sun Ce made a bad opening move, Lü Fan capitalised on it and pointed out the mistake. Sun Ce was suitably impressed and offered Lü Fan a post. Rather than accept a high and lofty position, however, Lü Fan insisted upon remaining in a low one where he could more effectively manage troops. Sun Ce was further impressed and since then the two became inseparable. The game of weiqi in question, called the "Sun-Lü Game", is purported to be the first weiqi game to be recorded move for move, but many scholars doubt its authenticity. After this, Lü Fan was appointed as a Chief Controller.

Career under Sun Ce

At one point during the beginning of Sun Ce's career as a warlord, he sent Lü Fan to fetch his family from Guangling Commandery in Xu Province to his new base in Qu'e County. Tao Qian, the Governor of Xu Province, despised Sun Ce and wanted to have Lü Fan arrested as a spy and tortured, but some of his retainers freed Lü Fan and helped him escape from Guangling Commandery with Sun Ce's family. Sun Ce trusted Lü Fan so highly that he treated him like a member of the Sun family and even allowed Lü Fan to dine in the presence of his mother, Lady Wu.

Lü Fan was third only to Cheng Pu and Xu Kun in terms of merit, having followed Sun Ce in his conquests in the Jiangdong region from 194 to 199. His unit defeated and killed Yan Baihu's subordinate, Chen Mu. However, Lü Fan was concerned about the quality of Sun Ce's army. He feared that though their forces had grown, it comprised mostly untrained rabble with just a few veterans supporting them. Lü Fan believed that such an army could achieve limited success at best. As such, he requested that Sun Ce transfer him to his personal staff and make him the commander of his forces. Though this title eventually came to hold a great deal of authority, at the time a marshal was simply a minor staff officer responsible for training and drilling the troops. As he saw that this was a demotion for Lü Fan, Sun Ce tried to talk Lü Fan out of it, but the latter insisted and managed to convince Sun Ce to agree to his request. Lü Fan thus took charge of training Sun Ce's troops.

As Sun Ce was the supreme commander of the military forces in the Jiangdong region, Lü Fan's authority extended to the units under the command of Sun Ce's subordinates, effectively giving him control over the entire military administration in Jiangdong. Under Lü Fan's training, Sun Ce's forces became a well-trained, highly disciplined fighting force which was vastly superior to the conscripted armies of other warlords. In his oversight, Lü Fan was strict but fair. He ensured that his troops obeyed all military regulations, and as he was not cruel or excessive, the troops did not resent him.

In 197, when Yuan Shu declared himself emperor – an act deemed treasonous against the figurehead Emperor Xian of the Han dynasty – Sun Ce broke ties with Yuan Shu and joined other warlords in a two-year-long campaign against the pretender. Chen Yu, who was sent by the warlord Cao Cao to assist Sun Ce in the campaign against Yuan Shu, secretly plotted to destroy Sun Ce from within. However, Sun Ce sensed Chen Yu's intentions and sent Lü Fan to deal with him. Lü Fan defeated Chen Yu in battle and forced him to retreat north.

Around 199, after defeating Yuan Shu's remnants, the minor warlord Liu Xun, as well as Huang Zu and Liu Biao at the Battle of Sha County, Sun Ce wrote a memorial to the Han central government to recommend Lü Fan to be the Administrator of Guiyang Commandery, among other things.

Career under Sun Quan

Following Sun Ce's death in the year 200, his younger brother Sun Quan succeeded him and took control over his territories and forces in the Jiangdong region. Like his brother before him, Sun Quan highly trusted Lü Fan even though they previously had some disagreements – Sun Quan, being young and foolhardy, often embezzled official funds for his personal interests and expected Lü Fan to cover up for him. Lü Fan, however, remained honest and reported Sun Quan's behaviour to Sun Ce, causing Sun Quan to dislike him. Nevertheless, as Sun Quan grew older and became more mature, he started to see Lü Fan in a different light and admired his honesty.

In 208, the warlord Cao Cao, who controlled the Han central government, led a massive army to attack his rivals, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, in southern China. Sun Quan heeded the advice of Zhou Yu and Lu Su, and decided to ally with Liu Bei against Cao Cao. Lü Fan participated in the Battle of Red Cliffs in the winter of 208–209 under Zhou Yu's command; the allied forces of Sun Quan and Liu Bei defeated Cao Cao's larger army in this decisive battle. After the victory at Red Cliffs, Lu Su suggested to Sun Quan to "lend" his territories in southern Jing Province to Liu Bei as a temporary base. Zhou Yu and Lü Fan strongly objected to Lu Su's suggestion and argued that Liu Bei would not return the territories. After Zhou Yu's death in 210, Sun Quan agreed to Lu Su's idea and even made additional territorial concessions to Liu Bei.

Life in the Three Kingdoms period

Lü Fan continued serving under Sun Quan after the end of the Eastern Han dynasty in 220. Although Sun Quan initially agreed to be a vassal king under the Cao Wei state (established by Cao Cao's successor Cao Pi), he broke ties with Cao Pi and declared independence in 222 as the ruler of his own Eastern Wu regime.

In 223, Lü Fan led the Wu forces during the Battle of Dongkou against Wei forces led by Cao Xiu and Zang Ba. The situation was highly unfavourable for Wu at the beginning: the Wu fleet came under heavy attack and much of the fleet was destroyed in a storm. To add on to their troubles, Sun Lang, a younger half-brother of Sun Quan, accidentally burnt down the Wu forces' supply of food and weaponry. However, due to the efforts of Lü Fan's subordinates Sun Shao and Xu Sheng, the Wu forces were able to stage a counterattack and barely win the battle.

After the Battle of Dongkou, Sun Quan appointed Lü Fan as the Governor of Yang Province. In 228, he further promoted Lü Fan to the position of Grand Marshal, but Lü Fan, who was already critically ill then, died of illness before assuming his new appointment. Sun Quan wept bitterly upon learning of Lü Fan's death and called his name repeatedly.


Lü Fan had at least two sons. The elder one, whose name is not recorded in history, died early. The younger one, Lü Ju, inherited his father's marquis title and rose through the ranks to become General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎將軍) during the reign of the second Wu emperor, Sun Liang.

See also


  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (1990). Generals of the South. Canberra: National Library of Australia. ISBN 0-7315-0901-3.
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).