Why is Xiao He not as famous as Zhang Liang and Han Xin?

Zhang Liang, the strategist extraordinaire, and Han Xin, the military genius, but as for Xiao He, I haven’t heard of any other titles for him.

The Quiet Pillar of Han Dynasty: Xiao He

Because Xiao He lacked flamboyance, despite being highly esteemed by the Western Han officialdom, he was too low-key and not one to seek attention.

How much power did Liu Bang give to Xiao He?

Laws and regulations, establishment of ancestral temples, palaces, counties and townships… If there was time to report, then report; if not, act on your discretion.

In the second year of Han, when King Han and the feudal lords attacked Chu, He guarded Guanzhong, served the crown prince, and governed Liyang. He set regulations, established ancestral temples, the altars of the soil and grain, palaces, counties, and townships, reporting when possible, and if not, acting expediently and then reporting afterward. He was responsible for counting households and arranging transportation of supplies to the army. Several times when King Han’s army was defeated and scattered, He would quickly replenish the troops from Guanzhong. This earned him more responsibilities over affairs in Guanzhong.

In the sixth year of Han, Liu Bang prioritized making Xiao He a marquis over many others, granting him a fief of eight thousand households. This caused dissatisfaction among many commanders, but Liu Bang retorted that they were mere hunting dogs while Xiao He was the hunter giving commands. Finally, he said to Xiao He, “When I went to Xianyang to serve forced labor, you gave me an extra two hundred coins. Now, I increase your fief by two thousand households.”

However, with such great power inevitably came rifts with Liu Bang, and eventually, Xiao He chose to retreat from the world, moving to a desolate and remote place. He advised his children to be frugal and cultivate virtue, and thus the Xiao family faded from the Western Han political scene.

He bought lands and homes in desolate areas and didn’t bother with repairing walls or houses, saying, “If future generations are wise, they will follow my frugality; if not, they won’t be usurped by powerful families.”

In contrast, Zhang Liang got involved with the Lü family, and his descendants were prominent figures in the Han dynasty until Liu Heng accused them of disrespect and eliminated their marquisate.

So, what about Xiao He?

His son Xiao Lu died without heirs, so Empress Dowager Lü made Xiao He’s wife the Marquis of Zan, and his younger son Xiao Yan was made the Marquis of Zhuyang.

When Liu Heng ascended, he changed Xiao Yan’s title. After Xiao Yan died, his son Xiao Yi succeeded him. Xiao Yi died without heirs, so Liu Heng appointed Xiao Yi’s brother Xiao Ze as the Marquis of Zan, who was later stripped of his title due to crimes.

When Liu Qi became emperor, he felt remorse that such a significant figure as Xiao He’s marquisate had been discontinued. He posthumously honored Xiao He’s grandson, Xiao Jia, as Marquis of Wuyang. After Xiao Jia’s death, his son Xiao Sheng succeeded him but was later stripped of his title due to crimes.

Emperor Wu of Han, Liu Che, reestablished Xiao He’s great-grandson Xiao Qing as the Marquis of Zan, making a declaration to all under heaven of his intention to repay Xiao He’s service. Despite eliminating many other marquisates, he reinstated the Marquis of Zan.

During Emperor Xuan’s reign, he sought out descendants of Xiao He and found Xiao Jian, among others, whom he made the Marquis of Zan. The title passed down until it reached Xiao Huo, who was stripped of his title due to crimes. Later, during Emperor Cheng’s reign, Xiao Xi was made the Marquis of Zan, continuing until Wang Mang’s usurpation, which finally ended the Marquis of Zan.

Why did the Western Han emperors so favor the Xiao family? While the Marquisate of Zhang Liang was discontinued, the Marquisate of Xiao He had to be continued. Liu Che actively sought excuses to eliminate marquisates of other Han founders while emphasizing his debt to Xiao He and restoring the Marquisate of Zan.

His contributions were immense: he established Han’s laws and the political center, the Weiyang Palace. During Liu Bang’s most challenging times, he bore the brunt of famine in Guanzhong and built up the rear. Yet, he was incredibly low-key, not like Han Xin or Zhang Liang who were more vocal and dramatic. Xiao He’s quiet efficiency won him enduring fame; not only was he remembered by Han emperors, but for thousands of years, he’s been regarded as an indispensable figure alongside Liu Bang, akin to figures like Duke of Zhou and Yi Yin.

Look at who Xiao He is enshrined with during sacrifices: legendary figures like Emperors Yao, Shun, Yu, Tang of Shang, King Wen of Zhou, and King Wu of Zhou, all with their respective partners. Xiao He is paired with Liu Bang, illustrating his pivotal role.

" The state counselor is praised for assisting Lord Pei, managing logistics and defending Guanzhong. Little do people know that using Shu as the base was his foremost achievement in founding the kingdom. "

Bowing to none, entering the court without haste, wearing sword and stepping onto the hall, just like the story of Xiao He.

Who were those in ancient Chinese history that could attain such honor and status?

Guan Ying fought his way from Guanzhong to Jiangdong, achieving countless victories.

Fan Kuai has been defending the Guangwu Mountain in Xingyang.

Fan Kuai was also enfeoffed with 5,000 households.

No praise, no name; no hurry to enter the court, wearing a sword on the palace steps.” Are these three items famous for Xiao He?

Have you really never heard of it?

Success or failure, it’s all in the hands of fate.

Chasing Han Xin under the moonlight.

Adhering to the rules, just like Cao Cao.

Xiao He has long been deeply ingrained in our culture.

The three-piece power minister’s ascension set, when granted, is claimed to follow the example of a previous upright and renowned minister. Can you guess who this template refers to?

Character Roles in Ancient Chinese History: Heroes and Supporting Cast

Imagine, Xiao He was like a workaholic behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. He was Liu Bang’s assistant, the “unsung hero” of politics, but perhaps because of his steady character, he didn’t stand out as much. He was framed in political struggles, feeling like a character who was beaten up by the scriptwriters, and it seemed like destiny didn’t favor him in the storyline.

Zhang Liang and Han Xin, on the other hand, were like the “stars” of politics, one a clever strategist and the other a tough warrior on the battlefield. These two young men could easily captivate the audience whenever they appeared on the historical stage, just like superstars who could make the audience scream.

So, it might be because of the script settings and the distribution of character roles. Some people are naturally suited to be shining protagonists, while others may only silently support the plot. Xiao He might be the quiet supporting role, not as eye-catching, but leaving an indelible mark in the river of history.

Many internet celebrities nowadays have impressive backgrounds behind them. Only a few people know their specific details. Just like a production line, these briefly famous young idols and big internet sensations bombard your phone.

Reasons Behind the Perception of Historical Figures

I personally believe there are roughly two main reasons for this perception.

On one hand, as many have already pointed out, Xiao He was primarily responsible for behind-the-scenes work and rarely “directly showcased his talents” like Han Xin and Zhang Liang. Consequently, he didn’t catch the attention of the majority as frequently as Han Xin and Zhang Liang did. However, in reality, it was often due to Liu Ji’s overall command and Xiao He’s support from behind the scenes that people like Han Xin and Zhang Liang found a better “opportunity to shine.”

On the other hand, there’s a less-discussed aspect (which is essentially an extension of the first). It also has a touch of dark humor.

Many people have been under the misconception that a person’s persona, attributes, preferences, and habits are all 100% fixed. It seems that those in the imperial court must oscillate between “rigid dogma” and “sycophantic flattery,” while those in the martial world must inevitably be filled with “noble ideals” and a penchant for “righting wrongs.”

Historical stereotypes about the “Three Heroes of the Early Han Dynasty” from the past have influenced their status in the eyes of many today.

It’s as if Xiao He, being the most trusted “top contributor” to Liu Ji, is assumed to be entrenched in political intrigue and flattery.

In contrast, the other two, one who died with the label of the “first military hero,” bearing the tragic color of suspected wrongful execution and the grim narrative of “death of a hero,” and another who plotted against Qin Emperor in his early years, later displaying brilliant strategies to rescue Liu Ji from peril, and finally retiring with glory, walking the line between the court and the martial world… This aligns well with the public’s perception of an ideal personality and makes it easier for them to become typical examples for lofty discussions or even the protagonists of some fictional stories.

People have always been like this—sometimes they feel that stability lies within the system and recommend their children to work “within the system.” Other times, they hold biases against those within the system, as if they were born without, or don’t deserve, an independent personality (unless they are exceptionally famous exemplary officials).

Why is Qiao Feng in “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils” named Xiao Feng?

Because the founding emperor of the Liao dynasty hoped that his ministers would assist him like Xiao He did for the Qin dynasty. So, he adopted the Han surname Liu and later unified the clan surname as Xiao. For example, Xiao Taihou and Xiao Feng. In other words, the Xiao surname in the Liao dynasty can be traced back to Xiao He.

And you still claim that Xiao He had little influence?

Not to mention that Xiao He’s descendants even became emperors.

In essence, Xiao He doesn’t have much negative historical evaluation. He is considered one of the top three prime ministers in almost any ranking.

If we were to compare them to players on a football field, then undoubtedly, Xiao He is number 2! Zhang Liang should be number 10, and Han Xin is number 9!

In a team, do you think the forwards have more fame, or the defenders?

It’s like Long Sun Wuji ranks first in the Lingyan Pavilion.

But the most famous are Li Jing (8), Yu Chi Gong (7), Cheng Zhijie (19), Li Xie (23), and Qin Qiong (24).

It’s very dangerous to be too conspicuous.

Xiao He was well aware of this when he led the uprising in Peixian County.

Because Xiao He plays a backstage role.

The importance of the HR and finance departments in modern companies is self-evident, and Xiao He is responsible for these departments.

Both HR and finance play backstage roles, and compared to the business stars who take the spotlight, backstage roles often remain unnoticed.

But when it comes to annual evaluations and recognizing excellence, these two departments contribute significantly. Is it that the leadership doesn’t understand the company, or are they just being foolish? The leaders are certainly smarter than me.

Liu Bang, as the top leader, naturally understands Xiao He’s value the most, while outsiders often fail to see it.

The Recognition of Xiao He, Zhang Liang, and Han Xin in Ancient China

Xiao He is renowned for his significant role in the establishment of the Han Dynasty in ancient China, personally acknowledged by Liu Bang as the most meritorious.

Xiao He is also associated with several famous idioms, such as “Xiao He’s pursuit of Han Xin under the moonlight,” “Success belongs to Xiao He, and so does failure,” and “Following Xiao’s rules, imitating Cao’s ways.” The last idiom signifies Xiao He’s outstanding contribution to perfecting the Han Dynasty’s administrative systems during his tenure as prime minister. His successor maintained these policies without alteration, a testament to Xiao He’s political acumen.

Zhang Liang, known for his strategic acumen, played pivotal roles in events like the assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang and advising Prince Fusu with the aid of the “Four Zuo” plan.

Han Xin’s story is multifaceted due to his heroic military exploits. His life and achievements are more extensively documented in both official and unofficial historical accounts, making it easier to understand and reconstruct. His military strategies serve as valuable templates for military tactics.

Xiao He, in contrast, primarily oversaw logistical operations in the rear areas of the empire, which involved supply transportation, conscription of reserve forces, and the daily functioning of the government. These responsibilities are difficult to detail in historical records as they involved policy and procedural matters.

Zhang Liang, on the other hand, was an advisor whose contributions were often less visible, as his role was to provide counsel to leaders. Many of his discussions and strategies remained confidential between him and Liu Bang, and he was not directly responsible for executing military campaigns, which were the achievements of others.

While Liu Bang and the logistics personnel recognized Xiao He’s and Zhang Liang’s abilities, the military commanders who earned battlefield victories remained less aware of their contributions. These commanders were the ones who risked their lives and achieved military success.

In the grand scheme, Han Xin emerged as the most famous due to his remarkable military strategies, often emulated and celebrated as a military textbook example. Following him, Xiao He’s role as prime minister, managing state affairs, made him an influential figure for those interested in governance. Zhang Liang’s role as an advisor, while important, was less likely to be openly imitated, as his contributions were more behind the scenes.

The Esteemed Figures: Han Xin, Zhang Liang, and Xiao He in Liu Bang’s Eyes

When it comes to individuals of the caliber of Han Xin, Zhang Liang, and Xiao He, their interactions with Liu Bang surpass all others. The opinions of outsiders matter little; what truly counts is how Emperor Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, viewed them. According to historical records, Liu Bang once remarked, “For strategic planning and winning from afar, I am inferior to Zhang Liang. For comforting the people and collecting provisions, I am inferior to Xiao He. For leading a million-strong army to guaranteed victory in battles, I am inferior to Han Xin.” These three remarkable individuals were Liu Bang’s key to success. Their talents were complementary, each indispensable. It is often said, “Three mediocre cobblers surpass a mastermind like Zhuge Liang.” In Liu Bang’s court, these three individuals were far more formidable than mere cobblers. Recognizing and acknowledging the strengths of others is the path to self-improvement.

Liu Bang not only recognized the unique abilities of these three exceptional talents but also organized and led them to serve his needs. During the tumultuous Chu-Han Contention, in just four to five years, Liu Bang achieved monumental success and laid the foundation for the Han Dynasty, which endured for over four centuries. Whenever this glorious history is discussed, the radiant images of these three individuals come to the forefront. Bestowing the titles of “Strategic Sage” and “Military Immortal” upon them may not fully capture their magnificence, and perhaps there are even more splendid praises yet to be discovered.

Opinions may vary regarding Xiao He’s fame compared to Zhang Liang and Han Xin. It is akin to the Lantern Festival night, where people are captivated by the dazzling fireworks in the night sky, but few notice the diligent labor of the workers behind the scenes. Xiao He was the one who toiled tirelessly behind the scenes. Good deeds are rewarded, and destiny does not forsake the devoted. In reality, among the three outstanding figures of the early Han Dynasty, Xiao He enjoyed the most favorable outcome. He remained in the position of prime minister until his passing in 193 BC at the age of 64, bringing honor to the Xiao family name. It is often said that “Success belongs to Xiao He, and so does failure.” As for Zhang Liang, he vanished into obscurity, embarking on a mysterious journey, leaving no trace behind in the mortal world. Numerous idioms and sayings have been derived from the name “Xiao,” each with its own profound meaning. A closer examination reveals that Xiao He was far from being an unknown figure.

The Essence of Achievement: Nameless Greatness

True nobility resides in selflessness, divine greatness bears no visible accolades, and sagehood is characterized by anonymity.

Names merely serve as guests to the reality they represent.

Therefore, true masters of their craft engage in battles without seeking extraordinary victories, without the fame of brilliance, and without the glory of valorous deeds.

Allow me to illustrate:

Individual A leads a well-prepared army with ample supplies, well-trained soldiers, and strategic readiness. As the armies face each other on the battlefield, A’s forces swiftly decapitate the enemy’s commander, leading to a quick surrender. Many may not even realize the war has ended.

Individual B leads an inadequately supplied and ill-prepared army, consisting of hastily conscripted soldiers. In the final showdown, both sides engage in a bloody melee, and B’s side eventually prevails due to the enemy’s mistakes, resulting in the slaughter of twenty thousand surrendered soldiers. The world is left in shock.

Between individuals A and B, who do you think gains greater renown?

Undoubtedly, the latter achieves greater fame.

It’s not difficult to notice that in both cases of the Zhao campaign, the former was led by Wei Liao and Wang Jian, while the latter was commanded by Bai Qi.

The departure has already reached the limit of the ancient officials' submission.

The Underestimated Historical Figure: Xiao He

Xiao He is known as a legendary strategist, but his achievements have often been overlooked. Unlike famous figures like Han Xin, who left behind numerous idioms and anecdotes, Xiao He’s contributions remain relatively unknown.

Han Xin, also known as the “Little Conqueror,” is celebrated for creating over 30 idioms and legends during his lifetime, making him a prominent figure in Chinese history. Even if you don’t know much about him personally, you are likely familiar with idioms and stories related to him, such as “Han Xin divides his troops for the best effect” or “Backs against the wall, facing humiliation.”

In the case of Zhang Liang, he is associated with several famous stories, with one of the most well-known being the phrase “planning within the tent, deciding from a thousand miles away.” Moreover, he is among the Ten Wise Men of the Wu Temple. During the Three Kingdoms era, Cao Cao’s statement “I am not as talented as Zi Fang” further elevated Zhang Liang’s reputation.

However, Xiao He’s legacy is less celebrated. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, he lived in a different era, and there are not many records that highlight his achievements. Secondly, his expertise was primarily in logistics, a field that is not as readily visible as military strategy. In history, logistics experts like Xun Yu and Zhang Zhao rarely gained fame on the battlefield, and even Zhuge Liang, renowned for his strategic brilliance, had a strong background in logistics. In reality, the true strategist behind Shu Han was Fa Zheng.

Nevertheless, Xiao He deserves recognition. Within the political structure of the Han army, he handled internal affairs and logistics, while other notable figures were engaged in combat on the front lines. Whether it was managing the territory conquered by these individuals, ensuring the supply lines, or replenishing troops, Xiao He played a pivotal role. During the early stages of Liu Bang’s campaign, when he had control of only Hanzhong, Xiao He ensured a constant supply of troops and funds, effectively supporting Liu Bang’s army throughout the Chu-Han Contention. During the critical moment of the Battle of Pengcheng, when Liu Bang faced a major defeat, Xiao He managed to raise a new army from Guanzhong and provide essential logistical support. Despite the long duration of the Chu-Han Contention and the separation of Liu Bang’s and Han Xin’s armies, it was primarily Xiao He who supplied their troops without interruption.

In conclusion, Xiao He’s role as a logistics genius and his crucial contributions to the success of the Han dynasty make him one of the most underestimated figures in history.