Siege of Xingyang, 204 BC

The siege of Xingyang (204 BC) was a victory won by Xiang Yu during his struggle against Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty. Liu Bang was trapped in the besieged city, but managed to escape thus avoiding capture when the city fell.

Liu Bang soon recovered after his defeat at Pengcheng. His able subordinates were able to raise fresh armies, and Liu Bang moved to Xingyang (close to the Yellow River in Hunan). He built a fortified road connecting Xingyang to the Ao Granary on the Yellow River, and then used the city as his main base.

Although Liu Bang’s armies won victories elsewhere (notably at Jungzing), around Xingyang he soon ran into problems. Xiang Yu repeated cut the road between the city and the granary, and Liu Bang’s army was soon short of food.

Map showing the Eighteen Kingdoms, 206-202 BC
Map showing the
Eighteen Kingdoms,
206-202 BC

In the summer of 204 Xiang Yu arrived in person and besieged Liu Bang in Xingyang. The defenders were clearly in a vulnerable position, for Liu Bang was forced to ask for peace, offering to split China, with Xiang Yu getting everywhere to the east of Xingyang and Liu Bang getting everywhere to the west.

Xiang Yu turned down this offer, and tightened the siege. After about a month one of Liu Bang’s generals, Ji Xin, suggested a plan that might allow him to escape. This involved two bluffs. First 2,000 women (probably dressed in armour) were sent out of the east gate. The Chu troops concentrated on this apparent threat. Ji Xin then rode out of the city in Liu Bang’s distinctive chariot, pretended to be the Han king and offered to surrender because food was running out. While Chu attention was focused to the east, Liu Bang and a handful of soldiers escaped out of the west gate. The defence of the city was entrusted to two of Liu Bang’s officers and the King of Wei.

Ji Xin paid for his role in the plot. He was taken before Xiang Yu, who asked where Liu Bang was. Ji Xin answered that he had already escaped, and as punishment was burnt to death.

The siege continued after Liu Bang’s escape. The other commanders killed the King of Wei, who had already changed sides once before, closing the Yellow River fords to Liu Bang. Liu Bang successfully pulled Xiang Yu away from the city in the mid-summer, taking up a position at Yuan, well to the south. A stand-off developed, but this ended when Xiang Yu learnt that another of his armies had been defeated well to the east at Hsia-p’ei. He moved east to deal with this threat, leaving Liu Bang free to defeat the Chu army camped at Chenggao, but despite these setbacks Xiang Yu’s men were still able to continue with the siege.

The siege was ended dramatically when Xiang Yu returned from the east. He was no longer willing to endure a long siege, and stormed the city. Zhou He, one of Liu Bang’s generals, was taken alive and offered great rewards if he changed sides. Zhou He refused to turn traitor, and was boiled alive.

Xiang Yu then besieged Liu Bang at Chenggao, forcing the Han leader to flee at the head of a small band of followers for the second time in the same year. Despite these successes Xiang Yu was unable to catch Liu Bang, and in the following year the two leaders agreed a truce (Treaty of the Hong Canal).

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 January 2012), Siege of Xingyang, 204 BC ,

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