Xiang Yu’s troops came to Hangu Pass in former Qin territory. The pass was guarded by (Liu Bang’s) soldiers so [Xiang Yu] could not get through. Apart from this, it was said that Pei Gong (namely Liu Bang) had already occupied Xian Yang city. Xiang Yu hence got fiercely angry, so he ordered Lord Dang Yang to attack the pass. Then he got through the pass and marched to Xixi. Pei Gong’s troops were stationed in Bashang; he did not have the chance to meet Xiang Yu. A military officer of Pei Gong, Cao Wushang, secretly sent a messenger to Xiang Yu, saying: “Pei Gong intends to be king of Guanzhong, with Zi Ying as prime minister, and possess all the treasures of Qin.” Xiang Yu broke out in a rage, and said: “Prepare my soldiers tomorrow morning. I will destroy Pei Gong’s army!” At that time, Xiang Yu had 400,000 men stationed in Hongmen, Pei Gong had 100,000 men in Bashang. Fan Zeng said to Xiang Yu: “When Pei Gong was in Shandong, he was very greedy for treasures and beauties. But today in Guanzhong, treasures are untouched, women are intact. This reveals his tremendous ambition. I had his Qi observed, and it is like dragon and tiger, in five colors – this is the Qi of the Son of Heaven. Strike him at once and do not miss!”
Chu’s Chief Minister of the Left Xiang Bo, Xiang Yu’s uncle, was a friend of Zhang Liang, Marquis of Liu. Zhang Liang worked for Pei Gong at the time. Xiang Bo hence rode to Pei Gong’s camp under the cover of the night, met Zhang Liang privately, told him about the assault and asked him to escape, saying: “You will die if you stay.” Liang said: “I was appointed as Pei Gong’s servant by the king of Han. Now that Pei Gong is in danger, it is not justifiable for me to escape. I have to warn him.”
So Liang came to Pei Gong and told him everything. Pei Gong was surprised and scared, he said: “What should I do?” Liang asked: “Who gave you the idea?” Pei Gong said: “Someone told me to guard the pass and keep off other lords in order to be king of the Qin territory. I took that advice.” Liang asked: “Can your troops rival King Xiang?” Pei Gong remained silent for a while, and then said: “Of course we cannot, what should I do?” Liang said: “Please go and tell Xiang Bo that you dare not betray King Xiang.” Pei Gong asked: “How do you know Xiang Bo?” Liang answered: “We were old friends in the Qin times, he was guilty to murder and I saved his life. So today he came to save mine in emergency.” Pei Gong asked: “Who of you is elder?” Liang said: “He is elder than me.” Pei Gong said: “Call him in for me. I will treat him as elder brother.”
Zhang Liang went out and invited Xiang Bo. So Xiang Bo came in to see Pei Gong. Pei Gong honored him with a toast and promised him a marriage, saying: “After I came to Guanzhong, I dare not touch anything. I recorded officers and citizens [of the city], sealed the treasury, waiting for the general (Xiang Yu). I guarded the pass only to restrain bandits and for security. I have been expecting the general day and night, how could I betray him? Please tell the general that I dare not do such unvirtuous things!” Xiang Bo promised, he said to Pei Gong: “Tomorrow you have to apologize to King Xiang early.” Pei Gong said: “Yes.” So Xiang Bo rode back to the camp (of King Xiang) in the night, and told King Xiang what Pei Gong had said. Xiang Bo said: “If it were not for Pei Gong, how could you so easily come to Guanzhong? It is not a noble thing to kill a man of merit. We had better treat him well.” King Xiang agreed.
The second day, accompanied by one hundred cavalrymen, Pei Gong came to meet King Xiang in Hongmen. Pei Gong apologized: “The general and I fought side by side against Qin. The general fought on the northern side of the (Yellow) river, and I fought on the south. I did not expect that I could be the first to break into Guanzhong and defeat Qin, and finally meet the general here. There must be a petty man trying to casts a bone between the general and me.” King Xiang said: “This is all because of your officer Cao Wushang, otherwise I would not have done this.”
King Xiang invited Pei Gong to a feast on that day. King Xiang and Xiang Bo sat facing the east. Yafu sat facing the south. Yafu was namely Fan Zeng. Pei Gong sat facing the north. Zhang Liang sat beside (Pei Gong) facing the west. Fan Zeng glanced several times at King Xiang, holding the jade on his girdle to hint (that it was time to take action). King Xiang remained silence and did not react. Fan Zeng stood up, came out and found Xiang Zhuang, said to him: “The Lord has not the heart (to kill). You should go in and toast, then ask to dance with a sword, and kill Pei Gong on his seat. Otherwise we all will be his prisoner one day.”
So Zhuang went in and toasted, then he said: “The Lord drinks with Pei Gong, but there is no entertainment in the army, please allow me to dance with my sword.” King Xiang said: “Approved.” Xiang Zhuang drew his sword and danced. Xiang Bo also drew his sword and danced along, protecting Pei Gong obscurely with his body. Zhuang had no chance.
At this moment, Zhang Liang went out to the gate and found Fan Kuai. Fan Kuai asked: “How is the situation?” Liang said: “Very dangerous! Xiang Zhuang is dancing with sword, intending to kill Pei Gong!” Kuai said: “This is urgent! Let me in, I will save him with my life.” Kuai broke through the gate with shield and sword. The guards tried to stop him. He crashed the guards to the ground with his shield. Then he rushed in (to the hall), stood facing the west with the mantle on his shoulders, his eyes opening so wide that the brow ridge was about to break up. King Xiang touched his sword and asked: “Who is this?” Zhang Liang said: “This is Pei Gong’s stableman, Fan Kuai.” King Xiang said: “A hero! Bestow wine on him!” Kuai was hence given wine. He (gave thanks) on his knees, then stood up and drank it all. King Xiang said: “Bestow pork on him!” He was then given raw pork. Kuai laid his shield on the ground, put the pork on it, cut the pork with his sword and ate. King Xiang asked: “Hero! Can you drink again?” Fan Kuai answered: “Even death will not scare me, how would wine! The emperor of Qin was as cruel as tiger and wolf, killing and torturing the people without an end. So the people revolted against him. King Huai (of Chu) made the agreement with all lords that the first who broke into Guanzhong should be king. Since Pei Gong defeated Qin and took over the city of Xian Yang, he kept nothing for himself. He sealed the palace, and waited for the King’s arrival. He ordered his men to guard the pass only to prevent bandits and emergencies. You did not award such a man of merit, but instead trusted lies and tricks, intending to kill him. This is the same behavior as the dead Qin. I suggest your highness not do this.” The King did not answer him, instead he only said: “Sit.” Fan Kuai then took the seat beside Liang. After a while, Pei Gong got up and went out to the washroom, and asked Kuai to come with him.
As Pei Gong has come out, King Xiang ordered Lieutenant Chen Ping to call him back in. Pei Gong said (to Fan Kuai): “I came out without saying goodbye, what should I do now?” Fan Kuai said: “The most powerful never mind small matters; the most polite never care about small etiquette. Now they are knife and chopping block, we are fish in between, why need we say goodbye?” So [Pei Gong decided to] leave. He ordered Zhang Liang to stay and apologize for him. Liang asked: “Have you brought anything here?” [Pei Gong] said: “I have a pair of white jade for the Lord, and a pair of jade pecks for Yafu. They were angry so I dare not give them. Please deliver the gifts for me.” Liang said: “Yes.”
At that time, the camp of King Xiang was in Hongmen, and the camp of Pei Gong was in Bashang, 40 li from each other. Pei Gong discarded his chariot and rode alone, followed by Fan Kuai, Xiahou Ying, Qi Jiang and Ji Xin with swords and shields in their hands. They took a shortcut at the foot of the Mountain Li through Zhiyang. Pei Gong told Liang [before they left]: “It is only 20 li to our camp through this path. You go back in when you estimate that we have arrived.” Pei Gong reached his camp after a while. Zhang Liang went back in (to the hall) and apologized: “Pei Gong has drunk too much, he cannot say his farewells. He ordered me to give this pair of white jade to the Lord, and this pair of jade pecks to the high general.” King Xiang asked: “Where is Pei Gong?” Liang said: “He heard that the Lord intended to blame him for his fault, so he left and should have arrived in his camp.” King Xiang accepted the jade and put it on the table. Yafu took the jade pecks, put them on the ground and broke them with his sword, saying (to Xiang Yu): “Ah! You idiot, I cannot help you! It shall be Pei Gong who will defeat you. We all will be imprisoned by him!” Upon arriving in his camp, Pei Gong executed Cao Wushang.
By Sima Qian from Records of the Grand Historian