It must be recalled that Dong Zhuo had failed in his attempt to destroy the Yellow Scarves rebellion. He would have been punished if he had not bribed the Ten Eunuchs heavily for their protection. Later, through connections in the capital, he obtained rapid promotions from General to General of the Front Army, to Lord of Aoxiang, to Imperial Protector in the western region of Xizhou and Commander of an army of two hundred thousand troops. But Dong Zhuo was treacherous and disloyal at heart. So when he received the summons to the capital, he rejoiced greatly and lost no time in obeying it. He left his son-in-law, Imperial Commander Niu Fu, to look after the affairs of Xizhou and set out for Luoyang. Dong Zhuo took with him a huge army and four generals—Li Jue, Guo Si, Zhang Ji, and Fan Chou.
Dong Zhuo’s adviser and son-in-law, Li Ru, said, “Though a formal summons has come, there are many obscurities in it. It would be well to send up a memorial stating plainly our aims and intentions. Then we can proceed.”
So Dong Zhuo composed something like this:
“Thy servant knows that the continual rebellions owe their origin to Zhang Rang and the Regular Attendants of the Inner Bureau, who act counter to all recognized precepts. Now to stop the ebullition of a pot the best way is to withdraw the fire; to cut out an abscess, though painful, is better than to nourish the evil. I have dared undertake a military advance on the capital, with thy permission, and now pray that Zhang Rang and the other eunuchs be removed for the happiness of the dynasty and of the empire.”
He Jin read this memorial and showed it to his partisans.
Then said Minister Zheng Tai, “A fierce wild beast: If he comes, his prey will be humans!”
He Jin replied, “You are too timed: You are unequal to great schemes.”
But Lu Zhi also said, “Long have I known this man. In appearance innocent, he is a very wolf at heart. Let him in, and calamity enters with him. Stop him, do not let him come, and thus will you avoid upheaval.”
He Jin was obstinate (stubborn), and both Zheng Tai and Lu Zhi gave up their posts and retired, as did more than half the ministers of state, while He Jin sent a warm welcome to Dong Zhuo, who soon camped at Shengchi Lake and stationed there without further action.
Zhang Rang and the eunuchs knew this move was directed against them and said, “This is He Jin’s plot. If we do not strike first, our whole clans shall be exterminated.”
So they hid a band of fifty armed ruffians at the Gate of Grand Virtue in the Palace of Happiness, where the Empress lived, then they went in to see her.
They said, “The General, feigning to act under command, has called up armies to the capital to destroy us. We pray you, Your Majesty, pity and save us!”
“Go to the General and confess your faults,” said the Empress.
“If we did, then should we be cut to mincemeat! Rather summon the General into your presence and command him to cease. If he will not, then we pray but die in your presence.”
Empress He issued the requisite command.
He Jin was just going to her when Secretary Chen Lin advised him not to enter, saying, “The eunuchs are certainly behind the order and mean your harm.”
But He Jin could only see the command of the Empress and was oblivious to all else. Said he, “Clearly, this is an edict from the Empress. What harm?”
“Our plot is no longer a secret,” said Yuan Shao. “Still you may go if you are ready to fight your way in.”
“Get the eunuchs out first!” said Cao Cao.
“Silly children!” said He Jin. “What can they do against the man who holds the forces of the empire in his palm?”
Yuan Shao said, “If you will go, then we will come as a guard, just as a precaution.”
Whereupon both Yuan Shao and Cao Cao chose five hundred best men under their command, at whose head they placed Yuan Shu, a brother of Yuan Shao. Yuan Shu, clad in mail, drew up his troops outside the Forbidden City’s entrance, while Yuan Shao and Cao Cao, holding swords, went as escort.
When He Jin neared the Palace of Happiness, the officers from the Inner Bureau said, “The orders are to admit the Regent Marshal and none other.”
So the escort was detained outside. He Jin went in proudly. At the Gate of Grand Virtue, he was met by Zhang Rang and Duan Gui, and their followers quickly closed in around him. He Jin began to feel alarmed.
Then Zhang Rang in a harsh voice began to revile him: “What crime had Empress Dong committed that she should have been put to death? And when the Mother of the Country was buried, who feigned sickness and did not attend? We raised you and your paltry, huckstering family to all the dignity and wealth you have, and this is your gratitude! You would slay us. You call us sordid and dirty: Who is the cleaner?”
He Jin was panic stricken and looked about for a way to escape, but all gates had been shut. The eunuchs closed him in, and then the assassins appeared and cut He Jin into halves.
Closing the days of the Hans, and the years of their rule were near spent,
Stupid and tactless was He Jin, yet stood he highest in office,
Many were they who advised him, but he was deaf as he heard not,
Wherefore fell he a victim under the swords of the eunuchs.
So He Jin died. Yuan Shao and Cao Cao waited long. By and by, impatient at the delay, they called through the gate, “Thy carriage awaits, O General!”
For reply the head of He Jin was flung over the wall. A decree was proclaimed:
“He Jin has contemplated treachery and therefore has been slain! It pardons his supporters.”
Yuan Shao shouted, “The eunuchs have slain the High Minister. Let those who will slay this wicked party come and help me!”
Then one of He Jin’s generals, Wu Kuang, set fire to the gate. Yuan Shu at the head of his guards burst in and fell to slaying the eunuchs without regard to age or rank. Yuan Shao and Cao Cao broke into the inner part of the Palace. Four of the eunuchs—Zhao Zhong, Cheng Kuang, Xia Yun, and Guo Sheng—fled to the Blue Flower Lodge where they were hacked to pieces. Fire raged, destroying the buildings.
Four of the Ten Regular Attendants—Zhang Rang, Duan Gui, Cao Jie, and Hou Lan—led by Zhang Rang carried off the Empress, Emperor Bian, and Prince Xian of Chenliu toward the North Palace.
Lu Zhi, since he had resigned office, was at home, but hearing of the revolution in the Palace he donned his armor, took his spear, and prepared to fight.
He saw Eunuch Duan Gui hurrying the Empress along and called out, “You rebel, how dare you abduct the Empress?”
The eunuch fled. The Empress leaped out of a window and was taken to a place of safety.
General Wu Kuang burst into one of the inner halls where he found He Miao, sword in hand.
“You also were in the plot to slay your own brother,” cried Wu Kuang. “You shall die with the others!”
“Let us kill the plotter against his elder brother!” cried many.
Yuan Shu bade his soldiers scatter and seek out all the families of the eunuchs, sparing none. In that slaughter many beardless men were killed in error. ( Beardless men refers to the eunuchs)
Cao Cao set himself to extinguish the fires. He then begged Empress He to undertake the direction of affairs, and soldiers were sent to pursue Zhang Rang and rescue the young Emperor and the young Prince of Chenliu.
Meanwhile, Zhang Rang and Duan Gui had hustled away the Emperor and the Prince. They burst through the smoke and fire and traveled without stopping till they reached the Beimang Hills. It was then the third watch. They heard a great shouting behind them and saw soldiers in pursuit. Their leader, Min Gong, a commander in Henan, was shouting, “Traitors, stop, stop!
Zhang Rang, seeing that he was lost, jumped into the river, where he was drowned.
The two boys ignorant of the meaning of all this confusion and terrified out of their senses, dared not utter a cry. They crept in among the rank grass on the river bank and hid. The soldiers scattered in all directions but failed to find them. So they remained till the fourth watch, shivering with cold from the drenching dew and very hungry. They lay down in the thick grass and wept in each other’s arms, silently, lest anyone should discover them.
“This is no a place to stay in,” said Prince Xian. “We must find some way out.”
So the two children knotted their clothes together and managed to crawl up the bank. They were in a thicket of thorn bushes, and it was quite dark. They could not see any path. They were in despair when, all at once, millions of fireflies sprang up all about them and circled in the air in front of the Emperor.
“God is helping us,” said Prince Xian.
They followed whither the fireflies led and gradually got into a road. They walked till their feet were too sore to go further, when, seeing a heap of straw near the road, they crept to it and lay down.
This heap of straw was close to a farm house. In the night, as the farmer was sleeping, he saw in a vision two bright red suns drop behind his dwelling. Alarmed by the portent, he hastily dressed and went forth to look about him. Then he saw a bright light shooting up from a heap of straw. He hastened thither and then saw two youths lying behind it.
“To what household do you belong, young gentlemen?” asked the farmer.
The Emperor was too frightened to reply, but his companion said, “He is the Emperor. There was a revolution in the Forbidden City, and we ran away. I am his brother, Prince of Chenliu.”
The farmer bowed again and again and said, “My name is Cui Yi. My brother Cui Lie is the former Minister of the Interior. My brother was disgusted with the behaviour of the eunuchs and so resigned and hid away here.”
The two lads were taken into the farm, and their host on his knees served them with refreshment.
It has been said that Min Gong had gone in pursuit of Eunuch Duan Gui. By and by Min Gong overtook Duan Gui and cried, “Where is the Emperor?”
“He disappeared! I do not know where he is!”
Min Gong slew Duan Gui and hung the bleeding head on his horse’s neck. Then he sent his troops searching in all directions, and he rode off by himself on the same quest. Presently he came to the farm. Cui Yi, seeing what hung on his horse’s neck, questioned him and, satisfied with his story, led him to the Emperor. The meeting was affecting. All were moved to tears.
“The state cannot be without its ruler,” said Min Gong. “I pray Your Majesty return to the city.”
At the farm they had but one sorry nag and this they saddled for the Emperor. The young Prince was taken on Min Gong’s charger. And thus they left the farm. Not beyond one mile from the farm, they fell in with other officials and several hundred guards and soldiers made up an imposing cavalcade. In the cavalcade were Wang Yun, Minister of the Interior; Yang Biao, Grand Commander; Chunyu Qiong, Commander of the Left Army; Zhao Meng, Commander of the Right Army; Bao Xin, Commander of the Rear Army; and Yuan Shao, Commander of the Center Army. Tears were shed freely as the ministers met their Emperor.
A man was sent on in front to the capital there to expose the head of Eunuch Duan Gui.
As soon as they could, they placed the Emperor on a better steed and the young Prince had a horse to himself. Thus the Emperor returned to Luoyang, and so it happened after all as the street children’s ditty ran:
Though the emperor doesn’t rule, though the prince no office fills,
Yet a brilliant cavalcade comes along from Beimang Hills.
The cavalcade had not proceeded far when they saw coming towards them a large body of soldiers with fluttering banners hiding the sun and raising a huge cloud of dust. The officials turned pale, and the Emperor was greatly alarmed. Yuan Shao rode out in advance.
“Who are you?” said Yuan Shao.
From under the shade of an embroidered banner rode out a leader, saying, “Do you have the Emperor?”
The Emperor was too panic stricken to respond, but the Prince of Chenliu rode to the front and cried, “Who are you?”
“Dong Zhuo, Imperial Protector of Xizhou Region.”
“Have you come to protect the Chariot or to steal it?” said Prince Xian.
“I have come to protect,” said Dong Zhuo.
“If that is so, the Emperor is here: Why do you not dismount?”
Dong Zhuo hastily dismounted and made obeisance on the left of the road. Then Prince Xian spoke graciously to him. From first to last the Prince had carried himself most perfectly so that Dong Zhuo in his heart admired his behaviour, and then arose the first desire to set aside the Emperor in favour of the Prince of Chenliu.
They reached the Palace the same day, and there was an affecting interview with Empress He.
But when they had restored order in the Palace, the Imperial Hereditary Seal, the special seal of the Emperor, was missing.
Dong Zhuo camped without the walls, but every day he was to be seen in the streets with an escort of mailed soldiers so that the common people were in a state of constant trepidation. He also went in and out of the Palace careless of all the rules of propriety.
Commander of the Rear Army Bao Xin spoke of Dong Zhuo’s behaviour to Yuan Shao, saying, “This man harbours some evil design and should be removed.”
Nothing can be done till the government is more settled,” said Yuan Shao.
Then Bao Xin saw Minister of the Interior Wang Yun and asked what he thought.
“Let us talk it over,” was the reply.
Bao Xin said no more but he left the capital and retired to the Taishan Mountains.
Dong Zhuo induced the soldiers of the two brothers He Jin and He Miao to join his command, and privately spoke to his adviser Li Ru about deposing the Emperor in favor of the Prince of Chenliu.
“The government is really without a head. There can be no better time than this to carry out your plan. Delay will spoil all. Tomorrow assemble the officials in the Wenming Garden and address them on the subject. Put all opponents to death, and your prestige is settled.”
So spoke Li Ru, and the words pleased Dong Zhuo mightily.
So the next day Dong Zhuo spread a feast and invited many guests. As all the officers went in terror of him, no one dared be absent. Dong Zhuo himself rode up to the garden last of all and took his place with his sword girded on. When the wine had gone round several times, Dong Zhuo stopped the service and the music and began to speak.
“I have something to say. Listen quietly all of you!”
All turned towards him.
“The emperor is lord of all. If he lacks dignity and behaves in an unseemly manner, he is no fitting inheritor of the ancestral prerogatives. He who is now on the throne is a weakling, inferior to the Prince of Chenliu in intelligence and love of learning. The Prince is in every way fitted for the throne. I desire to depose the Emperor and set up the Prince in his place. What think you?”
The assembly listened in perfect silence, none daring at first to utter a word of dissent. But one dared; for suddenly a guest stood up in his place, smote the table and cried.
“No! No! Who are you that you dare utter such bold words? The Emperor is son of the late Emperor and has done no wrong. Why then should he be deposed? Are you a rebel?”
The speaker was Ding Yuan, Imperial Protector of Bingzhou.
Dong Zhuo glared at Ding Yuan, roaring, “There is life for those who are with me, death for those against!”
Dong Zhuo drew his sword and made for the objector. But the watchful Li Ru had noticed standing behind Ding Yuan a particularly dangerous looking henchman of his, who was now handling his halberd threateningly, and whose eyes were blazing with anger.
So Li Ru hastily interposed, saying, “But this is the banquet chamber, and state affairs should be left outside. The matters can be fully discussed tomorrow.”
His fellow guests persuaded Ding Yuan to leave, and after his departure Dong Zhuo said, “Is what I said just and reasonable?”
“You are mistaken, Illustrious Sir,” said Lu Zhi. “Of old Emperor Tai Jia of the Shang Dynasty was unenlightened. Wherefore the sage Minister Yi Yin immured him in the Tong Palace till he reformed. Later the Prince of Changyi ascended the throne, and in twenty-seven days he committed more than three thousand categorical faults. Wherefore Regent Marshal Huo Guang declared in the ancestral temple that the Prince of Changyi was deposed. Our present Emperor is young, but he is intelligent, benevolent, and wise. He has not committed a single fault. You, Sir, are an imperial protector of a frontier region and not a metropolitan official and have had no experience in state administration. Neither have you the pure intentions of Yi Yin and Huo Guang which qualified their actions. The Teacher said: ‘Only with Yi Yin’s purpose can one act like Yi Yin. Otherwise, such a deed is treason.'”
Dong Zhuo angrily drew his sword to slay the bold Lu Zhi, but two other officials protested .
“Minister Lu Zhi is the centre of admiration of the whole country, and his violent death would stir the hearts of all people!” said Court Counselors Cai Yong and Peng Bo.
Dong Zhuo then stayed his hand.
Then said Wang Yun, “A great question like the deposition and substitution of emperors is not one to be decided after a wine party. Let it be put off till another time.”
So the guests dispersed. Dong Zhuo stood at the gate with drawn sword watching them depart. Standing thus, Dong Zhuo noticed a spearman galloping to and fro on a fiery steed and asked Li Ru who that was.
“That is Lu Bu, the adopted son of Ding Yuan. You must keep out of his way, my lord.”
Dong Zhuo went inside the gate so that he could not be seen. But next day they reported to him that Ding Yuan had come out of the city with a small army and was challenging to a battle. Dong Zhuo, with his army, went forth to accept the challenge. And the two armies were drawn up in proper array.
Lu Bu was a conspicuous figure in the forefront. His hair was arranged under a handsome headdress of gold, and he had donned a embroidered thousand-flower fighting robe, a pheasant-tailed helmet, and breast plate, and round his waist was a gleaming jade belt with a lion’s head clasp. With spear set he rode close behind his master Ding Yuan.
Ding Yuan, riding forth, pointing his finger at Dong Zhuo, began to criticise him.
“Unhappy indeed was this state when the eunuchs became so powerful that the people were as if trodden into the mire under their feet. Now you, devoid of the least merit, dare to talk of deposing the rightful emperor and setting up another. This is to desire rebellion and no less!”
Dong Zhuo could not reply for Lu Bu, eager for the fight, rode straight at him. Dong Zhuo fled and Ding Yuan’s army came on. The battle went in Ding Yuan’s favor, and the beaten troops retired ten miles and made another camp. Here Dong Zhuo called his officers to a council.
“This Lu Bu is a marvel,” said Dong Zhuo. “If he were only on my side, I would defy the whole world!”
At this a man advanced saying, “Be content, O my lord! I am a fellow villager of his and know him well: He is valorous, but not crafty; he will let go principles, when he sees advantages. With this little, flattering tongue of mine, I can persuade him to put up his hands and come over to your side.”
Dong Zhuo was delighted and gazed admiringly at the speaker. It was Li Su, a general in the Imperial Tiger Army.
“What arguments will you use with him?” asked Dong Zhuo.
“You have a fine horse, Red Hare, one of the best ever bred. I must have this steed, and gold and pearls to win his heart. Then will I go and persuade him. He will certainly abandon Ding Yuan’s service for yours.”
“What think you?” said Dong Zhuo to his adviser Li Ru.
“One cannot grudge a horse to win an empire,” was the reply.
So they gave Li Su what he demanded—a thousand ounces of gold, ten strings of beautiful pearls, a jeweled belt, and Red Hare—and these accompanied Li Su on his visit to his fellow villager.
Li Su reached the camp and said to the guard, “Please tell General Lu Bu that a very old friend has come to visit him.”
He was admitted forthwith.
“Worthy brother, have you been well since we last met?” greeted Li Su while bowing.
“How long it is since we last saw each other!” replied Lu Bu, bowing in return. “And where are you now?”
“I am a general in the Imperial Tiger Army. When I learned you were a strong supporter of the Throne, I could not say how I rejoiced. I have come now to present to you a really fine horse, a three-hundred-mile-a-day horse, one that crosses rivers and goes up mountains as if they were the level plain. Its name is Red Hare. It will be a fitting aid to your valor.”
Lu Bu bade his guards to lead out the horse. It was of a uniform color like glowing-sun red—not a hair of another color. It measured ten spans from head to tail and from hoof to neck eight spans. When it neighed, the sound filled the empyrean and shook the ocean.
Mark ye the steed swift and tireless, see the dust, spurned by his hoofs, rising in clouds,
Now it swims the river, anon climbs the hill, rending the purple mist asunder,
Scornful it breaks the rein, shakes from its head the jeweled bridle,
It is as a fiery dragon descending from the highest heaven.
Lu Bu was delighted with the horse and said, “What in return can I hope to make for such a creature?”
“What return can I hope for? I came to you out of a sense of what is right,” replied Li Su.
Wine was brought in and they drank.
“We have seen very little of each other, but I am constantly meeting your honorable father,” said Li Su.
“You are drunk,” said Lu Bu. “My father has been dead for years.”
“Not so; I spoke of Ding Yuan, the man of the day.”
Lu Bu started. “Yes, I am with him, but only because I can do no better.”
“Sir, your talent is higher than the heavens, deeper than the seas. Who in all the world does not bow before your name? Fame and riches and honors are yours for the taking. And you say you can do no better than remain a subordinate!”
“If I could only find a master to serve,” said Lu Bu.
“The clever bird chooses the branch whereon to perch; the wise servant selects the master to serve. Seize the chance when it comes, for repentance ever comes too late.”
“Now you are in the government. Who think you is really the bravest of all?”, asked Lu Bu.
“I despise the whole lot except Dong Zhuo. He is one who respects wisdom and reveres scholarship; he is discriminating in his rewards and punishments. Surely he is destined to be a really great man.”
Lu Bu said, “I wish that I could serve him, but there is no way, I fear.”
Then Li Su produced his pearls and gold and the jeweled belt and laid them out before his host.
“What is this? What does it mean?” said Lu Bu.
“Send away the attendants,” requested Li Su. And he went on, “Dong Zhuo has long respected your bravery and sent these by my hand. Red Hare was also from him.”
“But, if he loves me like this, what can I do in return?”
Li Su said, “If a stupid fellow like me can be a general in the Imperial Tiger Army, it is impossible to say what honors await you.”
“I am sorry I can offer him no service worth mentioning.”
Li Su said, “There is one service you can do, and an extremely easy one to perform; but you would not render that.”
Lu Bu pondered long in silence, then he said, “I might slay Ding Yuan and bring over his soldiers to Dong Zhuo’s side. What think you of that?”
“If you would do that, there could be no greater service. But such a thing must be done quickly.”
And Lu Bu promised his friend that he would do the deed and come over on the morrow.
So Li Su took his leave. That very night, at the second watch, Lu Bu entered, sword in hand, into his master’s tent. He found Ding Yuan reading by the light of a solitary candle.
Seeing who came in, Ding Yuan said, “My son, what is afoot?”
“I am a bold hero,” said Lu Bu. “Do not think I am willing to be a son of yours!”
“Why this change, Lu Bu?”
As a reply Lu Bu made one cut, and Ding Yuan’s head fell to the earth
Then Lu Bu called the attendants and said, “He was an unjust man, and I have slain him. Let those who back me stay. The others may depart.”
Most ran away. Next day, with the head of the murdered man as his gift, Lu Bu betook himself to Li Su, who led him to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo received him with a warm welcome and had wine set before him.
“Your coming is welcome as the gentle dew to the parched grass,” said Dong Zhuo.
Lu Bu made Dong Zhuo seat himself and then made an obeisance, saying, “Pray let me bow to you as my adopted father!”
Dong Zhuo gave his newly won ally gold armor and silken robes and spread the feast of welcome. They then separated.
Thence Dong Zhuo’s power and influence increased rapidly. He gave the lordship of Hu (an ancient state) and the rank Commander of the Left Army to his brother Dong Min. He appointed Lu Bu Lord of Luoyang, Commander of Capital District, and Cavalry Commander. Dong Zhuo made himself Minister of Works, Grand Commander, and Commander of the Front Army.
The adviser Li Ru never ceased from urging him to carry out the design of deposing the young Emperor.
The now all-powerful Dong Zhuo prepared a banquet in the capital at which all the officers of state were guests. He also bade Lu Bu post a company of armed men right and left ready for action. The feast began and several courses were served with nothing to distinguish that banquet from any other.
Then suddenly the host arose and drew his sword, saying, “He who is above us being weak and irresolute is unfit for the duties of his high place. Wherefore I, as of old did Yi Yin and Huo Guang, will set aside this Emperor giving him the title of Prince of Hongnong, and I will place on the throne the present Prince of Chenliu. And those who do not support me will suffer death.”
Fear seized them in its grip and they were silent, all but Yuan Shao who said, “The Emperor was innocent of any fault, and to set him aside in favor of a commoner was rebellion and nothing else!”
“The empire is in my hands!” cried Dong Zhuo. “When I choose to do this thing, who will dare to say nay? Think you my sword lacks an edge?”
“If your sword is sharp, mine is never blunt!” said Yuan Shao as his sword flashed out of the sheath.
The two men stood face to face amid the feasters.
When Ding Yuan by treacherous murder died,
The loss was great to Yuan Shao’s side.
The fate of Yuan Shao will be disclosed in later chapters.