Zhang Fei beats Inspector

A scene found in chapter 2 of the fictitious novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Liu Bei had assumed office as a minor county level magistrate for his efforts in helping to suppress the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Du Biao, an imperial inspector, was sent to survey Liu Bei. The inspector hinted to Liu Bei that he wanted bribes, but Liu did not understand what the inspector meant. Later, even after his assistant explained to him, Liu Bei still refused to give bribes. The inspector was unable to find any fault with Liu Bei's administration so he attempted to force the locals to file a complaint against Liu Bei.[1] Zhang Fei was furious when he heard about it and the rest of the scene went as follows:[1]

Now Zhang Fei had been all day drowning his sorrow in wine and had drunk far too much. Calling for his horse he rode out past the lodging of the inspector, and at the gate saw a small crowd of white-haired people weeping bitterly. He asked why.
They said, "The inspector has compelled the underlings to bear false witness against our magistrate, with the desire to injure the virtuous Liu Bei. We came to beg mercy for him but are not permitted to enter. Moreover, we have been beaten by the doorkeepers."
This provoked the irascible and half intoxicated Zhang Fei to fury. His eyes opened wide until they became circles; he ground his teeth; in a moment he was off his steed, had forced his way past the scared doorkeepers into the building, and was in the rear apartments. There he saw Imperial Inspector Du Biao sitting on high with the official underlings in bonds at his feet.
"Oppressor of the people, robber!" cried Zhang Fei. "Do you know me?"
But before the inspector could reply, Zhang Fei had had him by the hair and had dragged him down. Another moment he was outside and firmly lashed to the hitching post in front of the building. Then breaking off a switch from a willow tree, Zhang Fei gave his victim a severe thrashing, only staying his hand when the tenth switch was too short to strike with.
Liu Bei was sitting alone, communing with his sorrow, when he heard a shouting before his door. He asked what the matter was.
They told him, "General Zhang Fei had bound somebody to a post and was thrashing him!"
Hastily going outside, Liu Bei saw who the unhappy victim was and asked Zhang Fei the reason.
"If we do not beat this sort of wretch to death, what may we expect?" said Zhang Fei.
"Noble Sir, save me!" cried the inspector.
Now Liu Bei had always been kindly and gracious, wherefore he bade his brother release the officer and go his way.
Then Guan Yu came up, saying, "Brother, after your magnificent services you only got this petty post, and even here you have been insulted by this fellow. A thorn bush is no place for a phoenix. Let us slay this fellow, leave here, and go home till we can evolve a bigger scheme."
Liu Bei contented himself with hanging the official seal about the inspector's neck, saying, "If I hear that you injure the people, I will assuredly kill you. I now spare your life, and I return to you the seal. We are going."

Sanguo zhi pinghua comparisonEdit

The Sanguo zhi pinghua (1321-1323) is a predecessor of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (mid 14th century). Many fictitious events in Romance originate from the Sanguo zhi pinghua. Zhang Fei trashing the imperial inspector is one of those events, but in the SGZ Pinghua he was helped by Guan Yu.

The scene goes as follows:
After defeating the Yellow Turbans, Liu Bei was given a minor post and was tasked by the Ten Regular Attendants with delivering some troops and commoners to a governor. Liu Bei arrived late due to bandits on the way, and the governor gave him a really hard time. Angered, Zhang Fei went and murdered the governor. The court sent an Inspector along to see what happened. The Inspector figured out it was Liu Bei and ordered him to be taken, but Guan Yu and Zhang Fei seized the Inspector, stripped him and tied him to a hitching post, gave him a solid beating and then cut him into six parts, which they hung in different places of the city. After that, the brothers went to set up an outlaw camp in the mountains. Dong Cheng suggested to the emperor to execute the Ten Regular Attendants in order to appease Liu Bei.

Historical comparisonEdit

Liu Bei's official biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms tells us that it was not Zhang Fei, but in fact Liu Bei who was responsible for beating up the official.

The inspector Du You went to Anxi for official duties. Liu Bei went to see him, but was not allowed in. The inpector claimed to be ill. Liu Bei became angry, charged in, tied up the inspector and beat him two hundred times using a plank. He then hung his own official seal around the inspector's neck before resigning his position.[2]

The Dian lüe further adds: There was an imperial decree which ordered those minor officials in the regions who obtained their position from military achievement were to be dismissed. Liu Bei suspected that he was going to be targetted. Du You went to Anxi and was supposed to summon Liu Bei. Liu Bei knew the protocol so hearing that Du You was in one of the residences, he requested to see him but Du You, giving the excuse that he was sick, refused the request. Liu Bei was angry because he would have to return authority. He sent his officials to Du You’s residence, went in and said: ‘I have received secret orders from his Honour to arrest Du You’. He dragged Du You out and tied him to a tree, hanging his official seal around his neck. He then beat him a hundred times and threatened to kill him. Du You begged for mercy and so he was subsequently released.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, chapter 2. Trans. Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor.
  2. Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Book of Shu 2.
  3. Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Book of Shu 2 annotated by Pei Songzhi.


  • Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Trans. Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor. sd.