The year 210 BC, the emperor that established the Qin dynasty in China dies. His son, a complete idiot, could not avoid a general uprising in the empire, that would lead to his fall.
In the south, in the rural region of Chu, a coalition of rebel armies advanced towars the Qin capital, Guanzhong. It was agreed that the first general that conquered the city would be the heir to the throne. Of the candidates, Xian Yu was the most admired, but also the most feared.
A doubted reputation
Xian Yu was nephew of Xian Liang, the soldier that had started the revolt. After his death in battle, Xian Yu took it over from him, and he unstoppably fighted and defeated the imperial armies. His cruelty, however, was not less known. He razed entire cities, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and murdered members of his own coalition. In the battle of Julu, having been put under command of the general Song Yi, he did not hesitate to killing him when he had shown indecision, and commanding his army, risked it and produced an enormous defeat to the iperial troops, despite of huge losses of his part too. He was awarded a doubted reputation of brave and militarily skilful man, but also arrogant and tyrannic.
Xian Yu forgot the agreement that had been made. While he was fiercely fighting in Jusu, a small army led by the unknown Liu Bang entered the weakened empire and conquered the capital, being thus appointed future heir of it. When Xian Yu arrived there and noticed it had already been conquered, he got furious and razed it.
A violent five-year civil war happened between the two factions. Xian Yu had more support, more territory and a better equipped army. However, after some defeats, Liu Bang began winning. Despite of his less military experience, because of his humble origins, he carried out a successful diplomacy. He got surrounded by good military advisers, attracted of the more noble and calm personality of Liu Bang than the one from his adversary. Meanwhile, Xian Yu never accepted a single advise from his lieutenants and only trusted the bravery of his soldiers.
In the end, the better strategy, and especially the management of supplies, gave victory to Liu Bang, who became the first emperor of the Han dynasty. Xian Yu cut his throat on the side of the river Yangtse, abandoned by all his lieutenants.
Xian Yu is still a very popular character in the Chinese culture. The sentence "being surrounded by Chu music" means being without allies or support. It comes from the moment when Liu Bang's army surrounded Xian Yu, after conquering the region of Chu, from where he was. Liu Bang odered his soldiers to sing typical songs from the region, so that they showed him that they were on his side there too.