Red Hare - A Famous Horse in Chinese History
The Red Hare was a horse owned by the warlord Lü Bu in the late Eastern Han Dynasty.
The Red Hare was mentioned in Lü Bu's biographies in the historical texts Records of the Three Kingdoms and Book of the Later Han. It was described as very powerful, and capable of "galloping across cities and leaping over moats". Lü Bu rode this horse during a battle in Changshan (常山; around present-day Shijiazhuang, Hebei) in 193, in which he helped another warlord Yuan Shao defeat his rival Zhang Yan.
Guan Yu riding the red hare
The Cao Man Zhuan (曹瞒传) recorded that there was a saying at the time to describe Lü Bu and his Red Hare: "Lü Bu among men, the Red Hare among horses".
Guan Yu riding the Red Hare, as depicted in a mural in the Summer Palace, Beijing.
The Red Hare was given a more prominent role in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which dramatises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. It was originally a prized steed of the warlord Dong Zhuo, but on Li Su's suggestion, Dong presented it as a gift to Lü Bu. Lü Bu was very pleased to receive the Red Hare and, after being persuaded by Li Su, he betrayed and murdered his foster father Ding Yuan and defected to Dong Zhuo (whom he acknowledged as his new foster father).
The Red Hare was described in the novel as follows:
[...] named 'Red Hare', capable of travelling 1,000 li in a day. [...] crosses rivers and climbs mountains as though it is moving on flat land, [...] It is of uniform ashen red, with not a hair of another colour; it measures one zhang from head to tail and eight chi from hoof to head; it neighs as if it has the ambition of soaring into the sky or diving into the sea.
After Lü Bu's death, the Red Hare came into Cao Cao's possession and he gave it to Guan Yu later. The horse was taken by Ma Zhong after Guan Yu's death. Ma Zhong presented it to his lord Sun Quan, but Sun returned it to him. The Red Hare starved itself and died several days later.