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Who’s the guy with the big sword thingy?

Guan Yu with his kwan do
Guan Yu with his kwan do

The guy with the big sword thingy goes by a few names, Guan Yu, Guan Gong, Guan Di, General Gwan, amongst many others. In the ancient times of the East, there was a great war between Three Kingdoms. Guan Yu, and his friends, Liu Bei and  Zheng Fei, swore an oath of brotherhood in the mystical Peach Garden, vowing to create a new, righteous world. Together they fought countless battles against the warlords Cao Cao and Sun Quan. Guan Yu grew famous for his combat prowess and unwavering honor.

Cao Cao captured Guan Yu and at the time, Liu Bei’s fate was uncertain. He agreed to fight for Cao Cao under specific terms, chiefly that he would abandon Cao Cao if ever he learned the whereabouts of his sworn brother. Despite Cao Cao’s gifts and promises of wealth, when Liu Bei resurfaced, Guan Yu immediately went to his side. Years later, Guan Yu again faced Cao Cao on the battlefield as the warlord fled from his defeat at Red Cliffs. Guan Yu cut off Cao Cao’s retreat and obliterated his forces. He spared Cao Cao, however, and released him, as an act of honor.

Guan Yu is one of the best known historical figures in ancient history. Part of the reason for this is that he appears in popular comics and movies, even modern video games. He is also a major character in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a semi-historical novel said to be written by Luo Guan Zhong at the end of the Yuan Dynasty period (1279-1368). This novel is one of China’s four greatest classic novels. Partly because of fictional portrayals in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, his reputation has only increased over the years. A famous tale about Guan Yu is that he was once injured in the left arm by a stray arrow, which pierced through his arm. Although the wound had healed, he would experience pain in the bone whenever there was a heavy downpour. A physician told him, “The arrowhead had poison on it and the poison had seeped into the bone. The only way to get rid of this problem is to cut open your arm and scrape away the poison in your bone.” Guan Yu then stretched out his arm and asked the physician to heal him. He then invited his subordinates to dine with him while the surgery was being performed. Blood flowed from his arm into a container below. Throughout the operation, Guan Yu feasted and drank wine and chatted with his men as though nothing had happened. In some accounts of the tale he sits calmly and plays a game of weiqi (Chinese chess)


Guan Yu being opperated on.
Guan Yu being opperated on whilst playing a game
A comic book of Guan Yu
Guan Yu Comic Book
first volume of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms book









Guan Yu is worshiped by many Chinese people today, especially in southern China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Small shrines to Guan Yu are almost ubiquitous in traditional Chinese shops, restaurants, homes, police stations and martial arts schools. He embodies the virtues he lived by. His statues ward against evil. Red faced to represent loyalty, his likeness is carried by merchants as proof that they can be trusted.

In the Western world, Guan Yu is sometimes called the God of War, probably because he is one of the most well-known military generals worshiped by the Chinese people. This is a misconception of his role, as, unlike the Greco-Roman deity Mars or the Norse god Týr, Guan Yu, as a god, does not necessarily bless those who go to battle, but rather people who observe the code of brotherhood and righteousness.


Giant Guan Yu being constructed
Giant 190ft statue of Guan Yu under construction
A giant statue of Guan Yu
Giant Guan Yu Statue, 190ft tall










The big sword thingy that he can be seen with is the Spring/Autumn Great Knife. It is often named after him, some legends say that he invented it. The Guan dao, or kwan dao, is a large halberd which was used by the general during combat on horse-back. It is a heavy weapon with a sharp edge on one side for cutting and slicing. On the other side is a jagged edge with a hooked point which is used to maim and stab as well as for catching the opponent’s weapon to disarm them. The weapon is balanced with a pointed counterweight at the other end of the central shaft. Guan Yu’s “guan dao” was called “Green Dragon Crescent Blade” which weighed 82 Chinese jin (estimated 18.263kg or around 40lbs, there are tales of it being over 300lbs) and that he was extremely proficient with it on the battlefield.


Guan Do
Green dragon Guan Dao