On this day in 221, Liu Bei, a Chinese warlord and member of the Han royal house, declared himself emperor of Shu-Han and claimed his legitimate succession to the Han Dynasty.
Liu Bei was born in present-day Zhuozhou, Baoding, Hebei. Having lost his father when he was still a child, Liu Bei grew up poor, but ambitious. According to one legend, while sitting under a tree that resembled the royal chariot, Liu Bei told his friends he wanted to become an emperor. At 14, he was sponsored by a relative to study with Lu Zhi, a prominent scholar who introduced him to Gongsun Zan, a prominent warlord-in-training who inspired Liu Bei’s upward trajectory.
Liu Bei quickly became a prominent warlord, helping the government suppress the Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184, then becoming involved in a series of intra-empire conflicts as China slipped into civil war in the 190s. During these years he took over the governorship of Xu Province, suffered defeat at the hands of Lu Bu, won the Battle of Red Cliffs, took over Yi Province, and conquered and declared himself King of Hanzhong. A shrewd politician with an unusually likable character, Liu Bei quickly distinguished himself during these conflicts and leveraged the empire’s instability to position himself for power.
After a series of battles with rival Sun Quan, Liu Bei declared himself Emperor of Shu-Han on 15 March 221. He claimed he wanted to carry on the lineage of the Han Dynasty and appointed his son Liu Shan crown prince. At its peak, Liu Bei’s realm of power spanned modern-day Sichuan, Guizhou, Hunan, and parts of Hubei and Gansu. But shortly after he declared himself emperor, in the autumn of 222, Liu Bei led an attack on Sun Quan that would ultimately cost him his life. He died in the summer of 223 in Baidicheng.
Liu Bei is widely considered a benevolent, humane ruler who cared for his people and adhered to a set of Confucian moral values. In fact, his legacy is so large Liu Bei was immortalised in popular video games in the series Dynasty Warriors, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Warriors Orochi, among others.