Lu Xun's original given name was "Yi" (議), hence he was sometimes referred to as "Lu Yi" in older historical records. He was born in a family of high social status in Wu County, Wu Commandery (吳郡), which is in present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu. His grandfather Lu Yu (陸紆) and father Lu Jun (陸駿) served as officials in the government of the Eastern Han dynasty.
As he was orphaned at a young age, Lu Xun was raised by his granduncle, Lu Kang, who served as the Administrator (太守) of Lujiang Commandery (廬江郡) under the Han government. Lu Kang was originally on friendly terms with the warlord Yuan Shu, but relations between them soured after Lu Kang broke ties with Yuan Shu when the latter declared himself emperor – an act deemed treasonous against the Han emperor. When Lu Kang heard that Yuan Shu was planning to attack Lujiang Commandery, he immediately sent Lu Xun and his relatives back to Wu Commandery for their safety. After Lu Kang died from illness during the siege of Lujiang, Lu Xun became the new head of the Lu family because he was older than Lu Ji (Lu Kang's son), even though Lu Ji was one generation older than him.
In the early 200s, when Lu Xun was 20 years old, he came to serve the warlord Sun Quan, who was nominally a subject of the Han emperor, but had full autonomy in governing the territories in Jiangdong he inherited from his elder brother, Sun Ce. Lu Xun started his career as a minor officer in Sun Quan's office. He later became a Foreman Clerk in the East and West Bureaus (東西曹令史) and the Tuntian Commandant of Haichang (海昌屯田都尉; jurisdiction in present-day Haining, Zhejiang), before he was appointed as a county-level official. When the county was plagued by consecutive years of drought, Lu Xun opened up the granaries and distributed food supplies to the people, and promoted agriculture. The people benefited from his policies. At the time, there were many households in Wu, Kuaiji, and Danyang (丹楊) commanderies who were hiding from the government because they wanted to evade taxes and conscription. Lu Xun had them tracked down, registered and resettled. Some able-bodied young men were drafted for military service while others were recruited for agricultural labour.
Early in his career, Lu Xun joined Sun Quan's forces in eliminating bandits in the Jiangdong territories who had been terrorising the region for years and posed serious threats to Sun Quan's administration. He organised a militia to attack the bandits led by Pan Lin in Kuaiji Commandery, passing through treacherous territory and pacifying those who stood in his way. The number of troops under his command increased to over 2,000. When another bandit chief, You Tu (尤突), caused trouble in Poyang County, Lu Xun led an army to attack the bandits and achieved success. He was commissioned as Colonel Who Establishes Might (定威校尉) and ordered to garrison at Lipu County.
Lu Xun once advised Sun Quan to eliminate local bandit forces in Jiangdong first because they would hinder him in his aims to achieve supremacy over China. Sun Quan heeded Lu Xun's words and appointed him as a Commandant of the Right Section (右部督) under him. Fei Zhan (費棧), a bandit chief in Danyang Commandery, had received an official appointment from Cao Cao, a leading warlord who was also the de facto head of the Han government. Cao Cao had secretly instructed Fei Zhan to instigate the Shanyue tribes in Jiangdong to cause trouble for Sun Quan. In response, Sun Quan sent Lu Xun to attack Fei Zhan. Lu Xun had a much smaller army as compared to Fei Zhan, but he deceived the enemy into thinking that he had more troops. He prepared more flags and banners, spread out his war drums, ordered his men to sneak into the valleys at night and beat the drums loudly, so as to create an illusion of an overwhelming army. He emerged victorious over Fei Zhan.
Lu Xun sent his troops into the three commanderies in eastern Jiangdong, where he drafted many able-bodied young men for military service while the less physically fit ones were recruited for agricultural labour. He drafted tens of thousands of soldiers in total. He also cleared the region of opposing forces before returning to a garrison at Wuhu.
Chunyu Shi (淳于式), the Administrator of Kuaiji Commandery, once accused Lu Xun of oppressing and disturbing the common people. When Lu Xun travelled to Wu Commandery to meet Sun Quan and explain himself, he praised Chunyu Shi for being an excellent civil official. Sun Quan was puzzled so he asked Lu Xun, "Chunyu Shi made accusations against you, yet you praise him. Why?" Lu Xun replied, "Chunyu Shi was concerned about the people's welfare when he made accusations against me. If I rebuked him, I'll be violating my principles. This is something I won't do." Sun Quan said, "This is something a person with good morals will do and something which ordinary people aren't capable of doing."
Around 215, about six years after the Battle of Red Cliffs, Sun Quan had territorial disputes with his ally, Liu Bei, over southern Jing Province. Tensions between them nearly escalated to the point of armed conflict. However, after tense negotiations between Lu Su (Sun Quan's representative) and Guan Yu (Liu Bei's representative), both sides eventually agreed to divide southern Jing Province between their respective domains along the Xiang River. Guan Yu guarded Liu Bei's territories in southern Jing Province while Lü Meng was in charge of Sun Quan's.
In 219, Lü Meng came up with a plan to help Sun Quan seize control of Liu Bei's territories in Jing Province. He pretended to be sick and asked for permission to return to Jianye to seek medical treatment. Sun Quan played along by pretending to approve his request. Lu Xun went to visit Lü Meng and said, "Guan Yu is near the border. How can we remain far behind the border and not worry about having to guard against him?" Lü Meng replied, "What you've said is true, but I'm seriously ill now." Lu Xun then said, "Guan Yu is proud of his own valour and he scorns others. He may have made great achievements, but he's overly conceited. Besides, he's heading north and he has never seen us a threat. When he knows you're sick, he'll definitely lower his defences. If we attack him when he lowers his guard, we can capture him. I came here to discuss with you a plan to attack him." Lü Meng replied, "Guan Yu is known for his bravery and ferocity in battle, and he's a formidable foe. Besides, he's in control of Jing Province. He governs with virtue and has made great accomplishments, while the morale of his army is at its peak. It won't be easy to defeat him."
When Lü Meng arrived in Jianye, Sun Quan asked him, "Who can replace you?" Lü Meng responded, "Lu Xun is careful and thoughtful. He has the ability to shoulder this important responsibility. Based on my observations of him, I believe he's capable of taking up greater responsibilities in the future. Besides, he's relatively unknown, so Guan Yu won't be wary of him. This can't be better. If he's appointed, our enemies will be unaware of our intentions, while we can assess our strengths better and seek an opportunity to launch the attack." Sun Quan followed Lü Meng's suggestion and commissioned Lu Xun as a Lieutenant-General (偏將軍) and Inspector of the Right Section (右部督) to replace Lü Meng in Jing Province.
When Lu Xun arrived at Lukou (陸口; at Lushui Lake near present-day Chibi, Hubei) to assume his new office, he wrote to Guan Yu to flatter him:
"Previously, I had the privilege of seeing you in action. You uphold good discipline in your army and achieved success with minimal effort. That is praiseworthy! Our enemy has been defeated. It is to our mutual benefit that we strengthen our alliance. Having received this piece of good news, I intend to pack up all my belongings and join you in striving to accomplish our lords' common goals. I am unintelligent, but I have received orders to travel to the west and take up this responsibility. I hope to catch a glimpse of your glory and receive some good advice from you."
Later, after Guan Yu defeated Yu Jin at the Battle of Fancheng, Lu Xun wrote a letter to Guan again to flatter him and put him off guard:
"Now that Yu Jin and others have been captured, everyone far and near rejoices, and your feat will be praised for generations. Neither Duke Wen of Jin's victory at Chengpu nor the Marquis of Huaiyin's strategy in conquering Zhao can be compared to your achievement. I heard that Xu Huang and his forces are approaching and preparing for an offensive. Cao Cao is very cunning and his intentions are difficult to predict. I am afraid he might secretly increase the number of troops (in Xu Huang's army) to achieve his aim. Even though the enemy is weary, they still have some fighting spirit left in them. Every time after scoring a victory, there is a tendency for us to underestimate the enemy. The best military leaders in ancient times maintained their defences even after they won battles. I hope that you can make grander plans to secure a total victory. I am but a scholar, negligent and slow, and unworthy in many aspects. I am pleased to have a majestic and virtuous neighbour like you; I cannot contain my excitement. Even though we have not worked together yet, I always hope for such an opportunity. If you require my attention, I will pay my fullest attention."
Upon receiving the letters, Guan Yu saw that Lu Xun showed humility and expressed his desire to rely on him, so he felt at ease and lowered his guard. When Lu Xun heard about it, he wrote a report to Sun Quan and provided crucial details on how to defeat Guan Yu. Sun Quan secretly sent an army to invade Jing Province, with Lü Meng and Lu Xun leading the vanguard force. Lü Meng employed infiltration tactics to disable the watchtowers set up by Guan Yu along the Yangtze River, rendering them unable to warn Guan Yu about Sun Quan's advances, and then swiftly conquered Guan Yu's key bases in Jing Province – Gong'an County and Nan Commandery (南郡; around present-day Jiangling County, Hubei). For his contributions to the successful conquest of Jing Province, Lu Xun was appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Yidu Commandery (宜都郡; around present-day Yidu, Hubei), promoted to General Who Pacifies the Border (撫邊將軍), and enfeoffed as the Marquis of Hua Village (華亭侯). Fan You (樊友), the previous Administrator of Yidu Commandery under Guan Yu, abandoned his post and fled, while the officials and tribal chiefs in the commandery surrendered to Lu Xun. Lu Xun ordered official seals to be carved from gold, silver or bronze, and presented to these officials and tribal chiefs. This took place in around January 220.
Even after Sun Quan's forces successfully conquered southern Jing Province, there were still some areas which were still controlled by Liu Bei's forces or other hostile forces, so Lu Xun had to pacify those regions. He sent his subordinates Li Yi (李異), Xie Jing and others to lead 3,000 troops to attack Liu Bei's officers Zhan Yan (詹晏) and Chen Feng (陳鳳). Li Yi led the naval forces while Xie Jing commanded the land army. They sealed the critical routes and defeated Zhan Yan and captured Chen Feng. They then attacked Deng Fu (鄧輔) and Guo Mu (郭睦), the Administrators of Fangling Commandery (房陵郡) and Nanxiang County (南鄉縣) respectively, and defeated the enemy. Wen Bu (文布) and Deng Kai (鄧凱), two influential men in Zigui County, rallied thousands of local tribesmen to form an army to attack Lu Xun in the west. In response, Lu Xun sent Xie Jing to attack them. Wen Bu and Deng Kai were defeated and they fled west to the state of Shu Han (founded by Liu Bei in 221). Lu Xun successfully induced Wen Bu into defecting to Sun Quan's side.
Throughout these campaigns in Jing Province, Lu Xun had killed, captured or recruited tens of thousands of enemies. In recognition of Lu Xun's efforts, Sun Quan promoted him to Right Protector of the Army (右護軍), General Who Guards the West (鎮西將軍), and promoted him from a village marquis to a county marquis under the title "Marquis of Lou" (婁侯). Sun Quan was very pleased with Lu Xun and wanted to specially honour him. However, even though Lu Xun already held the rank of a general and a marquis title, he still had to go through the standard protocol of receiving a recommendation from the chief administrating officer in his home province. Hence, Sun Quan ordered Lü Fan, the Governor of Yang Province, to "backdate" Lu Xun's service record by stating that he had previously employed Lu Xun as an Attendant-Assistant Officer (別駕從事) and recommended him as a maocai (茂才).
At the time, there were many educated men in Jing Province who had either obtained positions in the civil service or were unemployed, so Lu Xun wrote a proposal to Sun Quan:
"In the past, Emperor Gao recruited people with extraordinary abilities; talents flocked to join Emperor Guangwu when he revived the Han dynasty. We should attract all Confucian-educated men into the civil service, regardless of how far away they are. Now, Jing Province has just been pacified and there are still many people and things yet to be in place. I humbly urge you to employ these potential talents and groom them, so that all within the Empire will be attracted by our great culture."
Sun Quan accepted Lu Xun's proposal.
In late 220, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne in his favour and ended the Han dynasty. He declared himself emperor and established the state of Cao Wei to replace the Han dynasty, marking the start of the Three Kingdoms period. Two years later, Liu Bei proclaimed himself emperor and established the state of Shu Han as a successor to the Han dynasty and to challenge Cao Pi's legitimacy. Sun Quan agreed to submit to Cao Pi's rule and received the title of a vassal king, King of Wu" (吳王). However, in late 222, he declared independence from the Cao Wei regime but retained his title "King of Wu".
In early 222, Liu Bei personally led the Shu army to attack Sun Quan and retake his lost territories in southern Jing Province. Sun Quan appointed Lu Xun as Grand Chief Controller (大都督) and put him in command of 50,000 troops to resist the enemy, with Zhu Ran, Pan Zhang, Song Qian, Han Dang, Xu Sheng, Xianyu Dan (鮮于丹), Sun Huan and others serving as his subordinates. The Shu army passed through Wu Gorge (巫峽), Jianping (建平) and Lianping (連平) until they arrived on the outskirts of Yiling (夷陵; present-day Yichang, Hubei), where they laid siege and built several camps. Liu Bei bribed the local tribes in Yiling with gold and silk to support him. He appointed Feng Xi as his Chief Controller, Zhang Nan (張南) as the vanguard, and Fu Kuang (輔匡), Zhao Rong (趙融), Liao Chun (廖淳) and Fu Rong as the controllers of the various divisions. He also sent Wu Ban to lead a few thousand men to construct camps on flat ground and provoke the Wu forces into attacking them.
When the Wu generals wanted to respond to the enemy's taunts, Lu Xun said, "This must be a trick. We should observe first." Earlier on, when the Shu army first arrived at Yiling, the Wu generals wanted to attack the enemy, but Lu Xun objected and said, "Liu Bei is leading an army east to attack us and his army's morale is very high. Besides, his forces are based in high and mountainous terrain, so it's difficult for us to attack them. Even if we manage to win, we can't completely defeat them. If we suffer any setback, our morale will be greatly affected and this isn't a small issue. Now, we should raise our troops' morale and make plans while waiting for changes in the situation. If we're on plains and flat ground, we should be worrying about sustaining heavy losses in skirmishes and charges. However, since the enemy is on mountainous terrain, they can't carry out an all-out assault because they're sandwiched between wood and rocks. We should take advantage of this weakness of theirs." The Wu generals did not understand Lu Xun's reasoning and thought that he feared the enemy so they were very disgruntled with him.
When Liu Bei realised that his plan to lure Wu forces into attacking him had failed, he led the 8,000 troops out of the valley, where they had been waiting in ambush earlier. When Lu Xun heard about it, he told his subordinates, "The reason why I didn't follow your suggestions to attack the enemy is because I suspected there was something fishy about it." He then wrote a report to Sun Quan:
"Yiling is a strategic location on the border of our domain. It can be easily conquered but it is also easily lost (to the enemy). If we lose Yiling, we lose not only one commandery, but also put the entire Jing Province in peril. Today, we are fighting over it and we must win. Liu Bei defies Heaven's will, leaves his bases unguarded, and dares to thrust himself into our hands. I may not be very talented, but I have received grand support to attack the enemy, and their destruction is near. Liu Bei has more defeats than victories throughout his military career, so, based on this assessment, I believe he is not much of a threat. Initially, I thought he would advance from both land and water, but to my surprise, he abandoned his boats and chose the land route. He has been constructing camps everywhere and I do not think he will make any further changes to the current layout of his camps. I hope that you, my Lord, can be at ease and have no worries."
The Wu generals said, "We should have attacked Liu Bei in the initial stages. Now, he has advanced further in by 500-600 li and we have been locked in a stalemate for seven to eight months. He has reinforced all his crucial positions, so even if we attack them it will yield nothing." Lu Xun replied, "Liu Bei is cunning and experienced. In the initial stage, his army was very focused and its morale was very high, so we couldn't defeat them then. Now, however, since it has been quite some time, they are already weary, low on morale, and out of ideas. Now is the time for us to launch a multi-pronged assault on them."
Lu Xun then targeted one enemy camp and attacked it but failed to capture it. The Wu officers complained, "We're sacrificing our soldiers' lives for nothing." Lu Xun replied, "I have devised a strategy for defeating the enemy." He then ordered his men to carry a pile of straw each and launch a fire attack on the enemy. Upon the commencement of the fire attack, Lu Xun led all the Wu units on an all-out assault on the Shu forces. The Shu generals Zhang Nan and Feng Xi, and the tribal king Shamoke (Liu Bei's ally) were killed in battle, while the Wu forces destroyed over 40 Shu camps.
The Shu officers Du Lu (杜路), Liu Ning (劉寧) and others surrendered when they saw they had no chance of escaping. Liu Bei and his remaining troops retreated to the Ma'an Hills (馬鞍山), where they continued to be fiercely assaulted by Wu forces from all directions. At the same time, landslides occurred at the Ma'an Hills and caused the Shu forces to suffer thousands of casualties. Liu Bei fled at night and ordered his men to pile up their armour and set them on fire to create barriers for the pursuing enemy. By the time Liu Bei reached the safety of Baidicheng, all his boats, military equipment and supplies had been captured by Wu forces. The dead bodies of Shu soldiers floated in the river and obstructed its flow. Liu Bei was extremely upset and furious with his defeat. He exclaimed, "Is it not the will of Heaven that I must be humiliated by Lu Xun?"
During the preliminary stages of the Battle of Xiaoting, Sun Huan had led a separate force to attack the Shu vanguard force at Yidao (夷道) but ended up being besieged by the enemy. He requested for reinforcements from Lu Xun but was denied. The other Wu officers said, "General Sun is a relative of our lord. He's under siege, so shouldn't we help him?" Lu Xun replied, "He has the support of his men, his base is well defended, and he has sufficient supplies. There's nothing to worry about. When my plans are set in motion, even if we don't go to his aid, the siege on him will automatically be lifted." After the Wu victory, Sun Huan came to see Lu Xun and said, "Earlier on, I was indeed very resentful when you refused to help me. But now, after the victory, I see you have your own way of doing things."
Many of the Wu officers who participated in the battle had either served in Wu since Sun Ce's time or were relatives of the Sun family, so they viewed themselves highly and were unwilling to follow Lu Xun's orders. Lu Xun placed his sword on the desk and said,
"Liu Bei is well known throughout the Empire, and even Cao Cao feared him. Now, he's at our borders and we have a tough fight ahead. All of you gentlemen have received grace from the state, so you should cooperate harmoniously and work together to defeat the enemy to repay the state's kindness. You shouldn't be behaving as you are now. I may be a mere scholar, but I have received orders from our Lord. The reason why the state asks you to lower yourselves and submit to my command is because I have a modicum of value and I can endure humiliation for the sake of fulfilling a greater task. Each of you has your own duties so you can't excuse yourselves from them! Military rules are long established. You shouldn't break them."
The Wu officers began to show greater respect towards Lu Xun after the Wu victory, which was largely due to his strategies. When Sun Quan heard about this incident, he asked Lu Xun, "Why didn't you report to me about the generals refusing to follow your orders?" Lu Xun replied,
"I've received much grace from the state and have been appointed to a position beyond my capability. All the generals are either trustworthy men, capable military leaders, or men who have rendered meritorious service, so they are important people whom the state can rely on in order to achieve its goals. I may be weak and cowardly, but I'd still like to learn from the virtues Xiangru and Kou Xun when they put up with disagreements they had with their colleagues and worked together for the common good of their states."
Sun Quan laughed and praised Lu Xun. Lu Xun was promoted to General Who Assists the State (輔國將軍), appointed as Governor (牧) of Jing Province, and had his marquis title changed to "Marquis of Jiangling" (江陵侯).
After Liu Bei had retreated to Baidicheng, Xu Sheng, Pan Zhang, Song Qian and other Wu generals suggested to attack Baidicheng and capture Liu Bei. When Sun Quan asked Lu Xun for his opinion, Lu, along with Zhu Ran and Luo Tong, said that when Cao Pi amassed his forces and seemed like he was going to help Wu attack Shu, he was actually harbouring sinister intentions, so they should be cautious, abandon their pursuit of Liu Bei, and return to Wu. Not long later, Cao Pi led the Wei armies to invade Wu from three directions.
When Liu Bei heard of the Wei invasion of Wu, he wrote to Lu Xun: "The enemy (Wei) is at Jiangling now. If I launch another attack again, in your opinion, do you think I will succeed?" Lu Xun replied:
"I am afraid your army has recently suffered defeats and has yet to recover. Now is the time for you to make reconciliations, rest and recuperate. This is not the time for you to launch another attack on us again. However, if you do not consider carefully and plan to despatch all your remaining forces on another attack, I assure you none of those you send here will return alive."
Liu Bei died in 223 and was succeeded by his son, Liu Shan, as the emperor of Shu. Zhuge Liang became Shu's head of government and he made peace with Wu and reestablished the Wu–Shu alliance against Wei. Sun Quan granted permission to Lu Xun to reply to Zhuge Liang on his behalf, and had a duplicate of his own official seal made and sent to Lu's office. Whenever Sun Quan wrote to Liu Shan and Zhuge Liang, he would allow Lu Xun to read the letters, make the appropriate modifications, stamp his official seal on them and have them delivered to Shu.
In 228, Sun Quan instructed Zhou Fang, the Administrator (太守) of Poyang Commandery (鄱陽郡), to pretend to defect to Cao Xiu, the Grand Marshal (大司馬) of Wei, and lure Wei forces to attack Wu. Cao Xiu fell for the ruse and led his armies to attack the Wu garrison at Wan County (皖縣; present-day Qianshan County, Anhui). Sun Quan granted Lu Xun a yellow ceremonial axe, appointed him as Grand Chief Controller (大都督) again, and put him in command of six Wu armies and the imperial guards to resist the Wei invaders. Lu Xun thus had the authority to act on Sun Quan's behalf. Sun Quan even waved a ceremonial whip and ordered all his subjects to pay their respects to Lu Xun.
When Cao Xiu realised he had been deceived by Zhou Fang, he felt humiliated but decided to continue the campaign anyway because he had superiority in numbers and his troops were well-trained. During the Battle of Shiting, Lu Xun remained in the central command, with Zhu Huan and Quan Cong leading the armies on his left and right flanks respectively. Their three armies advanced together and defeated Cao Xiu's forces lying in ambush and drove them further northward until Jiashi (夾石). They killed and captured thousands of enemies and obtained much of the enemy's livestock, equipment and supplies. Cao Xiu died of illness after returning to Wei. Lu Xun and the victorious Wu forces returned to Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei), where Sun Quan held a grand reception for them. Sun Quan instructed his servants to shield Lu Xun with his imperial parasol when he entered or left the palace, and rewarded Lu Xun with many gifts. The honours Lu Xun received were unprecedented in his time. He moved to Xiling County (西陵縣; present-day Xiling District, Yichang, Hubei) after that.
In 229, after Sun Quan declared himself emperor and established the state of Eastern Wu in Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei), he appointed Lu Xun as General-in-Chief (大將軍) and Right Defender of the Capital (右都護). That year, Sun Quan embarked on an inspection tour of Jianye in the east, leaving behind his crown prince Sun Deng, his other sons, and some high-ranking officials in charge of Wuchang. Lu Xun was instructed to assist Sun Deng and oversee all civil and military affairs in Jing Province and three other commanderies.
At the time, Sun Lü (孫慮; one of Sun Quan's sons), the Marquis of Jianchang (建昌侯), had a small shed built in front of his hall for the purpose of staging duck fights. When Lu Xun heard about it, he reprimanded Sun Lü sternly, "Marquis, you should be spending time reading the classics and enriching yourself with knowledge. Why are you doing this?" Sun Lü immediately had the shed torn down. Sun Song (孫松; Sun Yi's son), the Colonel of Trainee Archers (射聲校尉), who was one of Sun Quan's favourite relatives, allowed his men to fool around in camp and did not maintain good military discipline. Lu Xun punished Sun Song's subordinates by having their heads shaved.
Xie Jing (謝景) admired Liu Yi's discourse on punishment before civility. Lu Xun chided Xie Jing, "The idea of civility before punishment has been long promulgated and espoused. Liu Yi is wrong when he distorted the teachings of ancient sages through his sly manipulation of words. You're serving in the Crown Prince's residence, so you should advocate the principles of benevolence and righteousness in order to promote moral virtues. Ideas (like Liu Yi's) should never be discussed again."
Even though Lu Xun was stationed far away from the Wu capital, he was still very concerned about his state. He once wrote a memorial on current affairs to Sun Quan:
"I believe that if the laws are too strict and harsh, there will be more offenders. In recent years, many military and civil officers have committed transgressions and they ought to be punished for their negligence. However, the Empire has yet to be unified, so we should focus more on achieving progress and pardon those who commit minor offences, so that Your Majesty can empathise with and build emotional ties with your subjects. Besides, there are more affairs to attend to as days pass by, so our top priority should be to tap into the abilities of talented people. If they did not commit any malicious crimes or unforgivable offences, they should be pardoned and provided with opportunities to display their skills again. This is what a wise ruler should do – forget his subjects' misdoings but remember their contributions, so they will do their best to help him achieve his aims. In the past, Emperor Gao ignored Chen Ping's flaws and employed his strategies, resulting in the accomplishment of a great task (the founding of the Han dynasty) which left a mark in history. Strict and harsh laws do not make an Empire more prosperous; justice not tempered with mercy does not serve as a cornerstone of the grand empire we envision."
When Sun Quan was planning to send armies to conquer Yizhou (夷州; present-day Taiwan) and Zhuya (朱崖; present-day Hainan), he asked Lu Xun for his opinion. Lu Xun wrote a memorial to Sun Quan, advising him against the campaigns:
"In my humble opinion, I believe that the Empire has yet to be pacified, so we should conserve manpower for future plans. We have been fighting battles for consecutive years and our forces are already weary. Your Majesty is already occupied with state affairs and has been sacrificing sleep and meal times, and now you are planning to conquer Yizhou? After serious consideration, I believe that there are no visible gains from this campaign. Besides, our troops will be travelling over long distances for the campaigns and the conditions ahead are unclear. They may not be well adjusted to changes in the climate and will fall sick. If Your Majesty proceeds with the campaign, our troops will be venturing into uncharted lands and we are likely to make more losses than gains. Zhuya is a dangerous place, its people are barbaric, so even if we force them to submit, they will be of no use to us and we cannot replenish our losses by recruiting soldiers from among them. As of now, Jiangdong has sufficient manpower and resources to sustain itself, so we should conserve our strengths and wait for opportunities to strike later. When Prince Huan (Sun Ce's posthumous title) built the foundation of our state, he did not have enough soldiers to form even one brigade, but yet he managed to accomplish this great task. Your Majesty established our state with blessings from Heaven. I heard that in order to pacify chaos and defeat enemies, military force is essential. The basic needs of the people are agriculture, food and clothing, but armed conflicts have yet to subside and the people are suffering from hunger and cold. In my humble opinion, I believe that we should nurture and educate the people, reduce taxes, maintain peace, and promote moral values and courage. In this way, the areas around the rivers can be pacified and we can unite the Nine Provinces."
Sun Quan ignored Lu Xun's advice and launched the campaigns. Lu Xun's predictions were right as the losses incurred by Wu in the conquests outweighed the gains.
In 237, the Liaodong warlord Gongsun Yuan rebelled against Wu's rival state Wei and allied with Wu, but broke the alliance later. Sun Quan was angered and he wanted to personally lead an army to attack Liaodong. Lu Xun wrote another memorial to dissuade Sun Quan from the campaign:
"Gongsun Yuan thinks that he is safe behind Liaodong's natural barriers, so he dares to detain our ambassador and refuse to send us fine steeds. His actions are indeed antagonistic. These barbarians are cunning and uncivilised, they are like animals in the wild, and they still dare to defy our imperial might. Your Majesty is furious and intends to sail a long distance across the sea to attack them without considering the perils which lie ahead. Currently, the Empire is in a state of chaos, contending warlords fight each other, heroes glare and yell at each other. Your Majesty possesses divine martial might and has received Heaven's grace when you defeated Cao Cao at Wulin (烏林), thwarted Liu Bei's forces at Xiling (西陵), and captured Guan Yu in Jing Province. All three of them were heroes of their time but they still lost to you. Your Majesty's might has pacified many people, lands within thousands of li submit to you, but we still need a great plan to conquer the whole of China. Your Majesty does not tolerate this minor infringement on your authority, displays overwhelming rage, defies wise sayings by people in the past, and intends to thrust yourself into danger? This is something I cannot understand. I heard that those who want to travel thousands of li will not stop midway; one who intends to conquer the Empire will not be affected by a small setback. Powerful enemies are at our borders while barbarians have yet to submit to our rule. If Your Majesty departs on a long expedition, our enemies will take advantage of your absence to attack us, and it will be too late to regret by then. If we succeed in unifying the Empire, Gongsun Yuan will surrender to us without having to be coerced. Your Majesty may desire the military forces and fine steeds of Liaodong, but are you willing to forsake this stable foundation in Jiangdong in order to acquire those? I humbly urge you to allow our armies to relax and strike fear in our great enemies, so that we can conquer the Central Plains soon and achieve eternal glory."
Sun Quan heeded his advice.
In 236, Sun Quan launched a campaign against Wei and he ordered Lu Xun and Zhuge Jin to lead an army to attack the Wei-controlled Xiangyang Commandery. Lu Xun sent a close aide, Han Bian (韓扁), to deliver a report to Sun Quan. On the journey back, Han Bian encountered the enemy at Mianzhong (沔中) and was captured. When Zhuge Jin received news of Han Bian's capture, he became fearful and wrote to Lu Xun: "His Majesty has withdrawn his forces. The enemy has captured Han Bian and they know our situation. The rivers have dried up so we should make a hasty retreat." Lu Xun did not respond, and he instructed his men to plant turnips and peas, while he played weiqi and other games with his officers as though nothing had happened. Zhuge Jin said, "Boyan possesses intelligence and strategy, he knows what he's doing." He came to see Lu Xun, who told him, "The enemy knows that His Majesty has withdrawn his forces, so they have no worries and will concentrate their attacks on us. Besides, they have already stationed troops at critical positions and are poised to strike. Hence, we should remain composed and calm our men, after which we will have a change of plans and prepare to withdraw. If we display signs of retreat now, the enemy will think that we are afraid and will definitely attack us, resulting in defeat for us."
Lu Xun then secretly conveyed his plan to Zhuge Jin and ordered him to supervise the fleet of vessels on which they would sail back to Wu, while he gathered his troops and headed towards Xiangyang. The Wei forces had been wary of Lu Xun all this while so they immediately retreated back into the city when they saw Lu Xun's army approaching. Lu Xun organised his men in an orderly manner and instructed them to pretend to prepare for an attack on Xiangyang. By then, Zhuge Jin and the fleet had shown up, so Lu Xun and his forces progressively retreated to the vessels and left. The Wei forces in Xiangyang did not dare to make any move.
On their journey back to Wu, the fleet passed by Baiwei (白圍), where Lu Xun announced that they would be getting off their vessels to go ashore for a hunting expedition. However, he actually gave secret orders to his subordinates Zhou Jun (周峻) and Zhang Liang (張梁) to lead their men to attack Xinshi (新市), Anlu (安陸) and Shiyang (石陽) counties in Jiangxia Commandery (江夏郡). Outside Shiyang County, the common people were going about their daily activities in the marketplace when Zhou Jun and his men showed up. The people immediately packed up everything and attempted to rush to safety behind the city walls. The Wei soldiers in Shiyang wanted to close the city gates but the civilians were blocking the way, so they killed some people and forced the gates to be shut. Zhou Jun and his men killed and captured over 1,000 civilians in Shiyang. The captives were resettled in Wu. Lu Xun gave orders to his men, forbidding them from harassing the people. Those captives who had their families with them were given due attention and care while those who lost their loved ones during the raid were provided with food and clothing and treated well before they were sent home. Many people were so touched by Lu Xun's acts of kindness that they decided to move to Wu territory. When news of Lu Xun's kindness spread to the neighbouring regions, two Wei officers, Zhao Zhuo (趙濯) and Fei Sheng (斐生), and a tribal king, Meiyi (梅頤), led their followers to join Lu Xun. Lu Xun generously distributed rewards to them.
The historian Pei Songzhi, who annotated Lu Xun's biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, condemned the raid on Shiyang County and said it was totally uncalled for. He commented:
"When Lu Xun heard that Sun Quan had retreated and knew that the Wei forces were going to concentrate their attacks on him, he pretended to adopt an offensive approach, which successfully deterred the enemy from advancing. After that, he retreated safely and could sail back to Wu without having any worries. Why must he order his subordinates to raid a small county, cause the people in a busy marketplace to scurry in fear and panic, and inflict so much harm on a civilian population? The loss of 1,000 civilians may have had a negligible effect on Wei, but the slaughter of innocent people only demonstrated sheer brutality and cruelty. This was a stark contrast to what Zhuge Liang and the Shu forces did during the battles around the Wei River. The rules of war had been violated, and such crimes will not go unpunished. Eastern Wu did not last beyond three generations and ended up being conquered in Sun Hao's time. Is this not retribution?"
In response to Lu Xun's "acts of kindness" after the raid, Pei Songzhi remarked:
"This is akin to saving one fledgling after destroying all the bird nests in a forest. How can such simple acts of kindness ever compensate for the losses in a brutal massacre?"
Lu Shi (逯式), the Administrator (太守) of the Wei-controlled Jiangxia Commandery (江夏郡), often led his men to cause trouble at the border between Wu and Wei. When Lu Xun heard that Lu Shi could not get along with Wen Xiu (文休), a son of the veteran Wei general Wen Ping, he came up with a plan to stop Lu Shi. He pretended to have received a letter from Lu Shi and wrote a "reply" as such: "I can sense your sincerity and sorrow when you told me you have disagreements with Wen Xiu. You said both of you cannot exist together and you intend to defect to my side. I have delivered your letter to my lord and will gather my men to welcome you. You should make preparations soon and inform us of the date of your defection." He then left the "reply" letter at the border, where it was picked up by Lu Shi's men. When Lu Shi heard about it, he became afraid and immediately sent his family to the Wei capital Luoyang. His subordinates became distrustful of him and eventually he was dismissed from office.
Commenting on this incident, the historian Pei Songzhi wrote:
"It is normal for military commanders stationed at borders to create problems in the area for their enemies on the other side. Even though Lu Xun had successfully framed and eliminated Lu Shi, the person who replaces Lu Shi will still continue to cause trouble at the border. Lu Shi's actions were not done with malicious intent, nor would they pose a serious threat to Wu. Lu Xun should not even bother about this, much less resort to using such a cunning trick. I disagree (with Chen Shou) when he wrote about this incident as if it was praiseworthy."
In 237, Zhou Zhi (周祗), a General of the Household (中郎將), wanted to recruit soldiers from Poyang Commandery (鄱陽郡) so he sought Lu Xun's opinion. Lu Xun believed that the people in Poyang were very restless and should not be recruited for military service because they might rebel. Zhou Zhi ignored Lu Xun's advice and persisted. As Lu Xun predicted, the people in Poyang started a rebellion under the leadership of Wu Ju (吳遽) and they killed Zhou Zhi and seized control of many counties. The people in the nearby Yuzhang (豫章) and Luling (廬陵) commanderies had a history of being rebellious, so they responded to Wu Ju's call and joined the revolt. Lu Xun led his forces to suppress the rebellion and succeeded in forcing Wu Ju and the rebels to surrender. He recruited over 8,000 men into his army and pacified the three commanderies.
At that time, Lü Yi (呂壹), the Chief Keeper of the Central Secretariat (中書典校), was abusing his authority and behaving wantonly. Lu Xun and the Minister of Ceremonies (太常), Pan Jun, expressed their worries about Lü Yi's behaviour to Sun Quan, to the point of shedding tears. After Lü Yi's crimes were exposed later, Sun Quan had him executed and deeply regretted not listening to Lu Xun and Pan Jun.
Xie Yuan (謝淵) and Xie Gong (謝厷), proposed implementing changes to policies to increase government revenue, so Sun Quan sought Lu Xun's opinion on this issue. Lu Xun argued,
"The people form the foundation of a state. A state's prosperity is due to its people's efforts and its revenue comes from the people as well. There has never been a case where the people are wealthy but the state is weak, nor a situation where the people are weak but the state is powerful. Those who run a state need the support of their people in order to have a good administration, and if they lose the people's support there will be chaos. It is difficult to make people strive their best if they cannot even see the potential benefits of their labour. This is exactly as described in this line from the Classic of Poetry: 'One who helps the commoners and the people shall receive grace from Heaven.' I urge Your Majesty to show benevolence towards the people and help them. We should implement these changes only after the imperial treasury's revenue inflow has increased. This will happen some years later."
In 244, Lu Xun succeeded Gu Yong as the Imperial Chancellor (丞相) of Wu. Sun Quan's imperial edict read:
"I may be lacking in virtue, but by Heaven's grace I managed to ascend the throne. The Empire has yet to be unified, evil villains line the paths. I am filled with anxiety and I cannot rest well at night. You are endowed with great intelligence and wisdom, and your brilliance and moral virtues are clearly apparent. You have taken up military appointments and have defended the state well in times of peril. Those who have achieved unprecedented glory shall receive befitting honours and favours; those who possess talents in civil and military arts will certainly have to shoulder the responsibilities of administering a state. In the past, Yi Yin and Lü Shang assisted King Tang of Shang and King Wu of Zhou respectively. You are in charge of both internal and external affairs. Today, I appoint you as Imperial Chancellor and authorise Fu Chang (傅常), acting Minister of Ceremonies and Bearer of the Imperial Scepter (使持節守太常), to bestow upon you the official seal of the Imperial Chancellor. You are expected to promote moral virtues, make achievements worthy of esteem, respect and follow imperial orders, and pacify the Empire. You are now overall in charge of the Three Excellencies's affairs, so you should maintain discipline among the officials and command respect from them! You will still continue to hold the following offices concurrently: Governor of Jing Province; Right Defender of the Capital; chief overseer of affairs in Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei)."
There were vacancies in the appointments available in the estates (or offices) of two of Sun Quan's sons: Sun He, the Crown Prince; and Sun Ba (孫霸), the Prince of Lu. Many officials nominated their relatives to fill up these positions in the hope of building connections with the princes. When Quan Cong told Lu Xun about this, Lu Xun said that many of the nominated candidates were actually not up to standard. He argued that those officials were actually promoting nepotism and pursuing their own interests. He also worried that if those officials' relatives turned out to be incompetent, it could lead to serious problems in the administration. Lu Xun also foresaw that conflict was bound to break out between the two princes because they were equally influential and had their own factions supporting them. He believed that a power struggle between the princes would be detrimental to Eastern Wu's prosperity and stability. Quan Cong's son, Quan Ji (全寄), became a close aide to Sun Ba and helped him in his fight against Sun He. Lu Xun wrote to Quan Cong to warn him: "If you don't learn from Ma Midi and choose to let (Quan) Ji have his way, you'll bring disaster upon yourself and your family." Quan Cong ignored Lu Xun's advice and their relationship became strained.
When there were rumours that Sun He could no longer secure his position as Crown Prince, Lu Xun wrote a memorial to Sun Quan: "The Crown Prince is the legitimate heir apparent so he should have a foundation as solid as hard rock. The Prince of Lu is a vassal and a subject of the state, so he should receive less favours than the Crown Prince. If both of them know their places, Your Majesty and all your subjects will have peace. I humbly kowtow and beg Your Majesty, to the point of bleeding (from my forehead), to (re)consider this issue carefully." He wrote several memorials to Sun Quan and even requested to leave Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei) and go to the capital to speak up on this problem. Sun Quan denied him permission. Lu Xun's maternal nephews Gu Tan, Gu Cheng (顧承) and Yao Xin (姚信), who supported Sun He during the succession struggle, were sent into exile. Wu Can, the Crown Prince's Tutor (太子太傅), who had been exchanging letters with Lu Xun, was imprisoned and later executed.
Sun Quan repeatedly sent emissaries to Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei) to reprimand Lu Xun for interfering with the succession. Lu Xun died in anger and frustration at the age of 63 (by East Asian age reckoning). Lu Xun was a thrifty man. When he died, he left behind little or no wealth for his family. Sometime between 258 and 264, Sun Xiu, the third Wu emperor, awarded Lu Xun the posthumous title "Marquis Zhao" (昭侯; literally "illustrious marquis").
The succession struggle concluded in 250 – five years after Lu Xun's death – with Sun Quan deposing Sun He and replacing him with Sun Liang, and forcing Sun Ba to commit suicide. Many officials who were involved in the conflict (i.e., supported either Sun He or Sun Ba) met with unhappy ends.
In the winter of 251, about half a year before his death, Sun Quan regretted what he did to Lu Xun. When he was sending off Lu Xun's son Lu Kang back to Chaisang (柴桑), with tears in his eyes he told Lu Kang, "Previously, I believed slanderous rumours and failed to understand your father's well-meaning advice. I've let you down. I've burnt all the documents containing the allegations against your father so that nobody can ever see them."
When Ji Yan (曁豔) proposed introducing drastic reforms in the Wu administration (which included the dismissal of many officials he deemed incompetent), Lu Xun cautioned Sun Quan against that and accurately predicted that it would lead to problems. Lu Xun once told Zhuge Ke, "I respect those who are superior to me in status; I assist those who are subordinate to me. I see you behave arrogantly in front of those superior to you, and you belittle those subordinate to you. This isn't the way to build a stable career." In another incident, Yang Zhu (楊笁) became famous in his youth, but Lu Xun predicted that he was doomed to failure, so he advised Yang Zhu's elder brother, Yang Mu (楊穆), to break ties with Yang Zhu. Lu Xun's prediction came true as Yang Zhu later got into trouble during the Sun He-Sun Ba succession struggle.
The historian Chen Shou, who wrote Lu Xun's biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, commented on Lu Xun as such: "Liu Bei was a hero of his time and many people feared him. Lu Xun, then in his prime years and relatively unknown, managed to defeat Liu Bei. Lu Xun's brilliant strategies, when combined with Sun Quan's recognition of his talent, resulted in the accomplishment of a great task. Lu Xun was loyal, honest and sincere. He died worrying about his state's future, and was perhaps an important pillar of his state."
Sometime after 216, when Lu Xun was commissioned as Colonel Who Establishes Might (定威校尉). Under Sun Quan's arrangement, Lu Xun married the eldest daughter of Sun Quan's elder brother and predecessor Sun Ce.
Lu Xun's eldest son, Lu Yan (陸延), died at a young age. Lu Xun's marquis title was inherited by his second son, Lu Kang (陸抗), who became a prominent general in Eastern Wu during the reign of the last Wu emperor Sun Hao. Lu Kang had six sons: Lu Yan (陸晏), Lu Jing (陸景), Lu Xuan (陸玄), Lu Ji (陸機), Lu Yun (陸雲) and Lu Dan (陸耽).
Lu Xun's younger brother, Lu Mao, also served as an official in Eastern Wu.
Lu Ji, a son of Lu Xun's granduncle Lu Kang (陸康), was one of the 24 Filial Exemplars and served as an official under Sun Quan.
Lu Kai, a distant nephew of Lu Xun, also served as an official in Eastern Wu.
Lu Xun appeared as a character in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which romanticises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. His most significant moment in the novel, apart from his role in the Battle of Xiaoting, is a fictional encounter he had after the battle.
Lu Xun is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors video game series, as well as Warriors Orochi, a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. He also appears in Koei's strategy game series Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
In the trading card game Magic: The Gathering, there is a card called "Lu Xun, Scholar General" in the Portal Three Kingdoms set.