Why is Xiao He not as famous as Zhang Liang or 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.

The Subtle and Influential Xiao He

Xiao He, despite being highly esteemed by the Western Han dynasty officials, lacked flamboyance. He was so low-key and unassuming in his ways.

How much power did Liu Bang give to Xiao He?

Laws, building ancestral temples, palaces, counties… if there was time to report, then report; if not, he was to act on his 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 was responsible for laws, establishing ancestral temples, Earth and Millet shrines, palaces, and counties. Usually, he would report for approval; if unable, he’d act as he saw fit and report afterward. He organized household registration, transportation of grain to supply the army. Many times when King Han lost battles and fled, He would rally Guanzhong troops to fill the gaps. Thus, all matters of Guanzhong were entrusted to him.

In the sixth year of Han, Liu Bang, against many opinions, prioritized ennobling Xiao He as a marquis with a fief of eight thousand households, stirring discontent among many generals. However, Liu Bang retorted that they were merely hunting dogs, whereas Xiao He was the hunter who commanded them. Finally, to Xiao He, he said: “When I was serving labor in Xianyang, you gave me two hundred more coins than the others. Now I will add two thousand more households to your fief.”

However, as Xiao He’s power grew, inevitable rifts developed between him and Liu Bang. Eventually, Xiao He chose to withdraw from the world, moving to a desolate and remote area. He advised his children to be frugal and virtuous, leading the Xiao family to gradually fade from the Western Han officialdom.

In contrast was Zhang Liang, who had ties with the Lü clan, making his family prominent and active in the court during the reigns of Emperor Xiaohui and Emperor Gao. Eventually, they were stripped of their marquisate by Emperor Wen for being “disrespectful,” ending the line of Marquis of Liu.

So what about Xiao He?

His son, Xiao Lu, died without issue. Empress Lü posthumously ennobled Xiao He’s wife as Marquis of Zan and his younger son, Xiao Yan, as Marquis of Chuyang.

When Emperor Wen ascended, he changed Xiao Yan’s title to Marquis of Zan. After Xiao Yan’s death, his son, Xiao Yi, succeeded him. When Xiao Yi died without issue, Emperor Wen appointed Xiao Yi’s brother, Xiao Ze, as the new Marquis of Zan, who later lost the marquisate due to a crime.

Emperor Jing, upon his accession, lamented the discontinuation of the Marquis of Zan and ennobled Xiao He’s grandson, Xiao Jia, as Marquis of Wuyang. After Xiao Jia’s death, his son, Xiao Sheng, succeeded him but later lost the marquisate due to a crime.

Emperor Wu decreed to reinstate Xiao He’s great-grandson, Xiao Qing, as Marquis of Zan, to make known his repayment for Xiao He’s great service. Emperor Xuan later sought out Xiao He’s descendants, eventually ennobling his great-great-grandson, Xiao Jian Shi, as Marquis of Zan. The title passed down to his grandson, Xiao Huo, who also lost it due to a crime. Emperor Cheng re-ennobled Xiao Xi, a descendant of Xiao He, as Marquis of Zan. The title continued until Wang Mang’s usurpation, when it was finally abolished.

Why did the Western Han emperors favor the Xiao family so persistently, while the legacy of Zhang Liang’s Marquis of Liu could be easily ended? It was due to Xiao He’s immense contributions. He was instrumental in establishing the laws and the political center, the Weiyang Palace, of the Western Han. During the most challenging times of Liu Bang, it was Xiao He who bore the burden of building the rear base amidst famine in Guanzhong. Yet, he remained low-key, unlike Han Xin or Zhang Liang who were more outspoken and politically active. This earned him a lasting good reputation, not just remembered by the Han emperors but also revered for millennia as an integral figure alongside Liu Bang, akin to the Duke of Zhou or Yi Yin for previous rulers. Look at who he was worshipped alongside: emperors Yao, Shun, Yu, Tang, King Wen, and King Wu — a testament to his enduring legacy and the deep respect held for him throughout history.

“Xiao He is praised for assisting Liu Bang, managing logistics, and defending Guanzhong. Little do people know, using Shu as a base was his first major contribution to Liu Bang’s rise.”

Bow not to the unnamed, nor hasten into the court; ascend to the hall with sword and boots, as in the story of Xiao He.

Who, in the ancient history of China, could receive such honors and status?

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

Fan Kuai has always been guarding Xingyang’s Guangwu Mountain.

Fan Kuai was also granted 5,000 households.

Unrecognized praises, no hastening to court, and sword on the palace steps.” Are these three items from Xiao He’s famous set?

Have you really never heard of it?

Success is like Xiao He, failure is also like Xiao He.

Chasing Han Xin under the moonlight.

Following the rules like Xiao Gui and Caosui.

Xiao He has long been ingrained in our culture.

The Three-Piece Power Set Ascension, when conferred, claims to follow the example of a previously upright and renowned statesman. Can you guess who this template refers to?

The Political Dramas of Historical Figures

Imagine, Xiao He is like a workaholic in the entertainment industry, quietly dedicating himself. He served as an assistant to Liu Bang, the “behind-the-scenes hero” in the world of politics, but perhaps his role was too steady, not very eye-catching. He was framed in political struggles, feeling like a character battered by the scriptwriter, and the storyline arranged by fate didn’t favor him much.

Zhang Liang and Han Xin, on the other hand, are like the “popular stars” of the political world. One is a clever strategist, and the other is a tough warrior on the battlefield. These two young men can instantly captivate the audience. They stand out on the historical stage, just like those superstars who can make the audience scream with their every appearance.

So, perhaps it’s because of the script setting and the division of character roles. Some people are naturally suited to be brilliant protagonists, while others may only quietly support the plot. Xiao He may be that supporting character who quietly contributes, even though he may not be as conspicuous, he left an indelible mark in the river of history.

Many internet celebrities nowadays have impressive backgrounds, but only a few people know their specific details. Just like an assembly line, these briefly popular young idols and big internet sensations bombard your phone with content.

Reasons Behind the Perception of Historical Figures

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

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

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

Many people have a common misconception that a person’s persona, attributes, preferences, and habits are all fixed at 100%. It seems that those in positions of power must inevitably oscillate between “rigid dogma” and “smooth flattery,” while those in the martial world must certainly possess a “noble cause” and a penchant for “righteousness and revenge.”

Past perceptions of the “Three Heroes of the Early Han Dynasty” have influenced their standing in the eyes of many today.

Xiao He, as the “First Meritorious Officer” most trusted by Liu Ji, is often assumed to be calculating, sycophantic, and deeply entangled in the vortex of power.

Meanwhile, the other two, one who died with an alleged wrongful conviction as the “First Military Meritorious Officer,” with a persona resembling a tragic figure who chose death over compromise, and another who plotted against Qin Emperor in his early years, later used brilliant strategies to save Liu Ji from peril, and eventually retired to balance between the court and the martial world. This fits more with the public’s perception of an ideal personality and is easier to become a typical case for some lofty discussions or even the protagonist of certain speculative stories.

People have always been like this - sometimes considering stability within the system and recommending their children to work “within the system,” and at other times having biases against those within the system, as if they were born without, or not deserving of, an independent personality (unless they are exceptionally well-known exemplary officials).

Why is Qiao Feng from “The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils” originally named Xiao Feng?

Because the founding emperor of the Liao Dynasty wanted his ministers to assist him like Xiao He did in the past. Therefore, he adopted the Han surname Liu, and later, the clan was unified under the surname Xiao. For example, Xiao Taihou, Xiao Feng, and so on. It can be said that the Xiao surname in the Liao Dynasty is derived from Xiao He.

And you still claim that Xiao He had little influence?

Not to mention that Xiao He’s descendants also produced emperors.

In essence, Xiao He in history doesn’t have much negative evaluation. He is considered one of the top three prime ministers in most rankings.

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

In a team, would you say the forwards have more fame or the defenders?

The top rank in the Lingyan Pavilion is held by Changsun Wuji, just like Long Sun Wuji is ranked first.

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

It is very dangerous to stand out too much.

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

Because Xiao He is a backstage role.

In modern companies, the importance of the Human Resources and Finance departments is self-evident, and Xiao He is in charge of these areas.

Both HR and Finance play backstage roles, and compared to the business stars who hog the limelight and stand in the forefront, backstage roles often remain obscure.

But every year, when it comes to awards and recognizing achievements, these two departments carry the weight, so is it that the leaders don’t understand the company, or are the leaders foolish? The leaders are certainly smarter than me.

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

The Fame and Roles of Xiao He, Zhang Liang, and Han Xin in Chinese History

Why do I think Xiao He is more famous? In the establishment of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang personally recognized Xiao He as the most meritorious.

Moreover, Xiao He has several famous idioms associated with him:

  • “Xiao He pursued Han Xin under the moonlight.”
  • “Success or failure, it’s all up to Xiao He.”
  • “Xiao’s rules, Cao follows.” This idiom signifies Xiao He’s significant role in perfecting the systems of the Han Dynasty during his tenure as Chancellor. After Xiao He’s term as Chancellor ended, his successor made no changes to the previous policies and systems, keeping everything intact. This is also a recognition of Xiao He’s political capabilities.

Zhang Liang has his own anecdotes, such as the assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang in broad daylight with a strongman, Zhang Liang picking up shoes, and providing advice to secure the position of the Crown Prince with the assistance of Four-Ze.

Han Xin’s story is more complex because he was a heroic military general who leveraged his strengths and achieved success. Therefore, whether in official history or unofficial accounts, his descriptions are more comprehensive, making it easier to reconstruct his life. His story also holds many lessons for emulation.

Unlike Zhang Liang, Xiao He always remained in the rear in Guanzhong, overseeing logistics, food supply, reserve troops, and the daily operations of the government. This aspect is challenging to describe in detail in historical records because he managed policies and processes.

Zhang Liang, on the other hand, was an advisor who gave advice to leaders and was privy to many confidential matters. He was responsible for strategy and planning, with execution handled by others, and the military achievements credited to others.

Therefore, Liu Bang recognized the abilities of Xiao He and appreciated his logistics work, but the generals with military achievements didn’t always see it, as they were the ones risking their lives on the battlefield.

In terms of fame, Han Xin should be the most renowned, especially in military matters. His military tactics and strategies are still celebrated and studied by many. He is practically a template for military textbooks.

Next is Xiao He, who served as Chancellor and managed national affairs. Many statesmen are willing to learn from Xiao He. Zhang Liang, as an advisor, is less likely to be emulated, and even if someone does, they may keep it to themselves rather than openly acknowledge it.

The Prominence and Roles of Han Xin, Zhang Liang, and Xiao He in Liu Bang’s Eyes

As figures of the caliber of Han Xin, Zhang Liang, and Xiao He, their interactions with Liu Bang were more extensive than anyone else’s. Others' opinions don’t matter much; what truly counts is how Emperor Liu Bang of the Han Dynasty viewed them. According to historical records, after becoming the founding emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang once said, “For devising strategies and determining victory from a thousand miles away, I am not as good as Zhang Liang. For pacifying the people and gathering provisions, I am not as good as Xiao He. For leading a million-strong army, ensuring victory in battle and securing conquests, I am not as good as Han Xin.” These three individuals were all remarkable talents! I can utilize them; this is why I have conquered the world! In just a few words, it is evident that these three held distinct roles in his heart, complementing each other, and none could be missing. People say, “Three mediocre cobblers surpass one Zhuge Liang.” The three individuals under Liu Bang’s command were much stronger than those cobblers. Elevating others allows for self-improvement. Recognizing others accurately is key to rapid self-improvement. Liu Bang not only recognized these three exceptional talents, each with their unique strengths, but he also organized and led them for his own purposes. During the tumultuous struggle between Chu and Han, within a mere four to five years, he accomplished great feats, laying the foundation for the Han Dynasty, which lasted for over four hundred years. Whenever people discuss this glorious history, the illustrious images of these three individuals come to the forefront. The titles of “Strategic Saint” and “Military Immortal” truly dazzle the eye. Perhaps there are even more beautiful accolades waiting to be discovered. To claim that Xiao He lacked the fame of Zhang Liang and Han Xin may be a matter of differing perspectives. It’s like watching lanterns on the night of the Lantern Festival, where people are captivated by the colorful fireworks in the night sky, but who pays attention to the diligent laborers behind the scenes? Xiao He was that hardworking person. Good deeds are rewarded, and heaven does not disappoint those with determination. In fact, among the three heroes of the early Han Dynasty, Xiao He had the best ending, retiring in the position of Chancellor and passing away in 193 BCE at the age of 64. The Xiao surname shone brightly because of him. Han Xin’s fame was both made and undone by Xiao He, while Zhang Liang’s life remained a mysterious enigma, vanishing without a trace. There are many idioms and expressions associated with the Xiao character, all worth exploring. Upon closer examination, one will not consider Xiao He as obscure.

The Obscurity of Virtuous Individuals and the Importance of Reputation

The highest individuals have no selfishness, The divine individuals have no accomplishments, The sage individuals have no fame.

Reputation is merely the guest of reality.

Therefore, those skilled in warfare do not seek extraordinary victories, Do not seek clever names, Do not seek valorous achievements.

For example:

Person A, with abundant supplies, thorough preparations, well-trained soldiers, and a decisive beheading of the enemy’s commander, leads to immediate surrender, with many not even noticing the war has ended.

Person B, lacking sufficient provisions, inadequate preparations, and hastily conscripted soldiers, results in a battle of attrition. In the end, due to the opponent’s mistake, a victory is achieved, but it comes at the cost of killing twenty thousand enemy soldiers, leaving the world shocked.

Who do you think between A and B enjoys greater fame?

Certainly, it is the latter with greater renown.

You’ll find that in the same context of the war against Zhao, the former refers to Wei Liao and Wang Jian, while the latter refers to Bai Qi.

The departure is already the limit for ancient officials.