Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

The Struggle against The Regular Attendants (dòuzhēng fǎnduì chángshì 鬥爭反對常侍) in 189 AD was a political struggle between the faction of He Jin 何進 and the loose Eunuch factions of men such as Zhang Rang 張讓 and Jian Shi 蹇碩 who were usurping power within the Imperial Court.

He Jin had capable men such as Yuan Shao 袁紹, Yuan Shu 袁術 and Ding Yuan 丁原 on his side, while the eunuchs had the complete trust of the Imperial family.

It was actually the second time a struggle between eunuchs a General-in-Chief occurred, and also the second time the General-in-Chief was killed. The first time was in 168 AD, when General-in-Chief Dou Wu 竇武 opposed the eunuchs for reasons similar to He Jin's, but committed suicide after losing a battle against general Zhang Huan 張奐, who was tricked by the eunuchs into believing Dou Wu was a traitor.

The Battle[]

Preceeding Events and Eunuch wrong-doings[]

In the early 180's the favoured Palace Attendants Feng Xu 封胥 and Xu Feng 徐奉 became members of the Way of Great Peace, the religious sect founded by Zhang Jue and his brothers. The two eunuchs joined Zhang Jue's agent Ma Yuanyi and funneled confidential reports to him.[1][2]

In the spring of 184 a follower of Zhang Jue, a man named Tang Zhou, betrayed his master and informed the Han about Jue's plans. According to Hou Han shu chapter 69/59, it was He Jin who obtained Tang Zhou's letter.[3][4]

During the Yellow Turban Rebellion[]

In April 184, during the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the Regular Attendants Zhang Rang, Zhao Zhong 趙忠, Xia Yun 夏暉, Guo Sheng 郭勝, Duan Gui 段圭 and Song Dian 宋殿 were all enfeoffed as marquises and treated with great favour.[5] The Emperor Ling of Han would often say:

The eunuch Zhang [Rang] is my father, the eunuch Zhao [Zhong] is my mother.[5][6]

This greatly raised the eunuch's confidence in their position and they built great houses for themselves that rivalled even Emperor Ling's own palace.

Also in 184, Emperor Ling found out that Feng Xu and Xu Feng had contact with the rebels. He was furious at them and said:[1], saying:

You people always said it was the men of faction who plotted rebellion, and you had me proscribe them from office and some of them were executed. But now it appears that the men of faction are servants of the state and it's you people that follow Zhang Jue. Why shouldn't I have you beheaded?[5]

It is not exactly known how and when Emperor Ling found out. Was this because of Tang Zhou's letter? Or because of the letter Wang Yun found during one of his battles and which proved that Zhang Rang and other eunuchs had been in contact with the rebels?

In any case, the eunuchs kowtowed and said:

This was all the fault of Wang Fu and Hou Lan.

Later the eunuchs Zhao Zhong, Xia Yun and others found a way to make the "good" eunuch Lü Qiang 呂強 look suspicious. He was subsequently put in jail where he later killed himself. This was followed by further slander from Zhao Zhong and Xia Yun:[5]

When Lü Qiang was called to court, he had no idea what questions would be put to him, but he went straight outside and killed himself. It's only too clear that he was guilty.

All Lü Qiang's family were put in prison and their property was confiscated.[5]

Later in 184 the Regular Palace Attendant Xiang Xu sent in a memorial with which he made clear two points:[7]

  1. He criticized the Regular Attendants.[7]
  2. He claimed the Yellow Turban Rebellion could be dealt with by sending someone to the banks of the Yellow River, let him face north and read the Book of Filial Piety at the enemy.[7]

When presented with the memorial Zhang Rang made false accusations against Xiang Xu, saying that he seeking to delay the military response of the imperial authorities and of supporting the rebels. He was arrested and sent to the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates, controlled by eunuchs, and was killed there.[7]

Zhang Jun, Gentleman of the Palace, sent in a memorial:

It is my humble opinion that the reasons Zhang Jue was able to raise soldiers and make his rebellion, and that the people love him and trust him, are because your ten Regular Attendants have sent out the members of their family, their relatives and their dependents to take over control of the provinces.[n 1]
They steal the wealth of the people by cruel taxation and they plunder and rob the poor. The people have no way to tell of their grievances, and so they make plans for rebellion and they gather together as bandits. You should cut the heads off your ten Regular Attendants, hang them along the southern walls of the city as a sign of apology to the empire, and send messengers to proclaim the news throughout the country. There would be no further need for an army.[5]

Emperor Ling showed the document to the eunuchs, who apologised profusely and offered quantities of money for the cause. The emperor in any case refused to accept Zhang Jun's arguments, saying:

The man's a fool. How could he claim that all my Regular Attendants are bad?[5]

The Imperial Censorate saw the way he felt, then falsely accused Zhang Jun of having studied the teachings of the Way of Great Peace. Zhang Jun was arrested and flogged to death in prison.[9]

In the fourth lunar month of 184, Fu Xie was sent to battle the Yellow Turbans along with Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun, but before he left he sent a memorial to the court in which he seriously criticized the eunuchs:

I have heard that the misfortunes of the empire come not from the outside but from within. This is why Yu-Shun first banished the four criminals before he appointed the sixteen chancellors. He understood well that if the evil-doers had not been driven away the good men would never come forward.
Now Zhang Jue has led a rebellion in Zhao [commandery] and Wei [commandery], and the Yellow Turbans are causing disorder in six provinces. This is an illustration of the way that troubles can begin at home and spread through all the world. We have received your commission to attack and destroy the criminals and we obey your commands. Since we first entered Yingchuan [commandery] we have been succesful in every battle. Though the Yellow Turbans are numerous they are nothing to give anxiety to your court.
My real concern, however, is that we may be controlling the waters, but we are doing nothing about the source, and the spread of the flood may yet do more damage. Your majesty is loving and virtuous, generous and forgiving, you cannot bear to be too strict, and so your eunuch servants have usurped power and your loyal ministers are unable to come forward.
Even when Zhang Jue has been beheaded and his followers have changed their clothing and submitted to law and order, your servants will still be anxious that things may get worse. How should that be? In just the same way as one vessel should not contain charcoal and ice, so wicked men and virtuous men should not both take part in government. Wicked men realise that when a good man's work is noticed, there appear the signs of their own destrution. They will work deceits and falsehood and they will combine to create distrust and hypocrisy. A mother may doubt her own true son, and the three men can set a tiger in the market-place. Unless you are careful to test whether you are being told truth or lies, your loyal subjects will find themselves in the predicament of Bo Qi at Duyou.
Your majesty should remember how Yu-Shun dealt with the four criminals, and you should quickly arrange the execution of your false advisors. Then good men will be glad to come forward and evil will naturally disappear.[5]

Fu Xie went on to achieve great success on the field, defeating three Yellow Turban leaders.[n 2] He was, however, never rewarded. Zhao Zhong had made false accusations against him. The Emperor remembered Fu Xie's memorial, and he did not punish him; but he did not enfeoff him either.[11]

In the sixth lunar month of 184 the eunuch Zuo Feng 左豐, a Junior Attendant at the Yellow Gates, was sent to inspect Lu Zhi on his battle against Zhang Jue in Julu commandery. Lu Zhi was adviced to prepare a bribe, but Lu Zhi was unwilling, probably thinking his successes against Zhang Jue would speak for themselves.[n 3][5] When Zuo Feng returned to the capital, however, he told the Emperor:

It would be easy to destroy the rebels in Guangzong [city in Julu commandery], but general Lu [Zhi] allows his army to rest behind strong defences. He does no more than hope that some punishment from Heaven will befall the rebels.[5]

Angered, the Emperor sent a cage cart to bring Lu Zhi back to the capital. He was sentenced to death commuted by one degree.[5][12]

While fighting under Zhu Jun and Huangfu Song, the Inspector of Yu Province Wang Yun 王允 defeated a gang of Yellow Turbans and obtained letters written to them by clients and supporters of Zhang Rang. Wang Yun presented them to the throne, but Zhang Rang kowtowed, begged for pardon and managed to avoid punishment. Instead, the Emperor turned furious at Wang Yun.

Zhang Rang later found cause for an accusation, and Wang Yun was sent to prison. Soon afterwards, an amnesty was issued and he was re-appointed Inspector, but little more than a week later he was summonsed again on another charge.

A memorial sent by the General-in-Chief He Jin, Yang Ci and Yuan Wei finally resulted in a remission of his charge.

  • Popular eunuchs Feng Xu and Xu Feng joined Zhang Jue's agent Ma Yuanyi.
  • Lü Qiang kills himself in prison after false accusations from Zhao Zhong and Xia Yun.
  • After Lü Qiang died he was further slandered by Zhao Zhong and Xia Yun, saying that his death proved his guilt. Because of this Lü Qiang's family was arrested and their property confiscated.
  • Xiang Xu, after criticizing the eunuchs, was inprisoned and killed at the Yellow Gates, which was run by eunuchs.
  • Zhang Jun, after criticizing the "ten Regular Attendants", was sent to prison where he was flogged and died.
  • Fu Xie achieved great success against the Yellow Turbans, but Zhao Zhong made false accusations against him and Fu Xie was never rewarded.
  • Lu Zhi achieved success after success against Zhang Jue, but after refusing to pay a bribe to eunuch Zuo Feng he was slandered at court and sentenced to death commuted by one degree.
  • Wang Yun obtained proof of contact between Yellow Turbans and eunuch associates, but Zhang Rang managed to talk his way out of the evidence and got Wang Yun sentenced instead.

During the Liang Province Rebellion and after[]

On 28 March 185 there was a fire in the Cloud Terrace of the Southern Palace. On 29 March there was a fire at the gate of the Hall of the Achievement of Joy. Despite the damage the country suffered from the recent Yellow Turban Rebellion and the rising threat of the rebels from Liang Province, the Regular Palace Attendants Zhang Rang and Zhao Zhong encouraged the Emperor to make a levy of ten cash on every mou of cultivated land in the empire, and to use the money for the repair of the palace buildings and for the casting of bronze statues. When materials were sent in, however, they falsely claimed they were unsatisfactory and forced down their price.[13][14] The whole project was corrupt, as Zhao Zhong and his fellows built themselves great mansions at the capital that rivalled even Emperor Ling's palace.[14]

Though the Emperor did not notice a thing, Lu Kang, the Grand Administrator of Le'an commandery, sent in a memorial protesting the extravagance and corruption involved in the project of Emperor Ling and his eunuchs for rebuilding the palaces at Luoyang:[15]

In ancient times, when Duke Xuan of Lu set a tax on the arable land, a plague of locusts made their appearance. When Duke Ai increased the taxes, Confucius himself disapproved of it. Surely it will be even worse if you should seize the people's goods to make these useless statues. You would be ignoring the warnings of the sages and you would follow the mistaken patterns of weak rulers.[13]

In response the Emperor's close attendants yet again slandered, this time saying that Lu Kang was comparing the sacred government of the emperor with the ruined states of the past; great iniquity. A cage-cart was sent to bring him to the Commandant of Justice. The Attendant Imperial Clerk Liu Dai sent in a memorial to explain his case, and Lu Kang was allowed to retire to his own village.[13]

Another edict demanded that the provinces and commanderies each send a quota of timber and patterned stone to the capital. The eunuchs repeatedly claimed that quantities of the material were not up to standard. They forced the price down to only one-tenth of its original cost, and then they resold it. Again, the eunuchs would delay their acceptance of the goods, so the timber was left in heaps to rot, and for year after year the palaces remained unfinished. The Inspectors and Grand Administrators also took their personal commission, and the people groaned under the burden.[13]

It was further ordered that cavalrymen of the Western Garden should travel among the provinces and commanderies to speed up the transport. They disturbed the local administrations, and they too collected bribes. Every official, from Inspector and Grand Administrator down to Abundant Talent and Filially Pious and Incorrupt candidates, whenever they were appointed or promoted, they had to contribute cash for the army funds or for the repair of the palace buildings. A man appointed to a large commandery had to pay twenty or thirty million cash, and the smaller commanderies were in proportion. Those who were due to receive office had first to go to the Western Garden to negotiate the price before they could take up their posts. The more honest of them begged for permission not to go, but all were compelled to do so.[13]

Around this time Sima Zhi of Henei commandery was appointed as the new Grand Administrator of Julu commandery in Ji Province. Sima Zhi was a handsome man, with a fine reputation, but was also known to be poor and honest. So his levy was assessed at only three million cash, as opposed to the twenty or thirty million which might be asked, depending on the size of the commandery. When Sima Zhi received his orders, he sighed and said:[16]

I should be the father and mother of my people, and yet instead I am supposed to rob my flock because of present custom. I cannot do that.[13]

He tried to refuse on grounds of ill health, but this resignation was refused by the court. Sima Zhi then travelled as far as the Meng Crossing, and from there he sent in a memorial in which he bitterly objected to the extortionate scheme. Following this, he killed himself. When the memorial came before the throne, the Emperor called a temporary halt to the collection of money for the palace building fund.[16]

In the sixth month of the year 185 twelve Regular Palace Attendants were enfeoffed as full marquises for their good work during the campaign against Zhang Jue. The twelve Attendants were Zhang Rang, Zhao Zhong, Xia Yun, Guo Sheng, Sun Zhang, Bi Lan, Li Song, Duan Gui, Gao Wang, Zhang Gong, Han Kui and Song Dian.[17]

The general Huangfu Song, while campaigning against the Liang Province Rebels, passed through Ye city in Wei commandery and saw that the mansion of the Regular Palace Attendant Zhao Zhong was far luxurious than allowed and had it confiscated. On another occasions Zhang Rang privately solicited a bribe of fifty million cash, but Huangfu Song refused to give it. In turn, the two eunuchs now slandered Huangfu Song, saying he achieved no success in his campaign against the Liang rebels and that he was wasting resources. In autumn Huangfu Song was recalled and his seal and tassel as General of Chariots and Cavalry on the Left were taken from him. His fief was reduced by six thousand households.[18][14][19]

In the ninth month of 185 the Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant Liu Tao sent in a memorial:

A little while ago the empire suffered the disorders of Zhang Jue, and more recently we have the rebellion of Bian Zhang on our hands. The rebel Qiang on our west have already invaded Hedong, and I am afraid they may grow so strong they can even attack the capital itself. Our own people are always prepared to flee before them, and they have no plan to stand and fight. The rebels in the west are advancing steadily, and the Chariots and Cavalry General [Zhang Wen] is isolated and in considerable danger. If he should be defeated, there would be no way to rescue him.
I realise that I may be speaking too much on this, and so cause you displeasure, but I feel I must give you my opinion. When the state is at peace, a minister may enjoy the good fortune, but when the state is coming into danger he should also be prepared to sacrifice himself. I respectfully resubmit these eight immediate and urgent points.[13]

The rest of the memorial set out the general argument that pretty much all troubles in the empire stem from the eunuchs. The eunuchs spoke against Liu Tao:

When the Zhang Jue business arose, imperial edicts displayed your majesty and grace, and since that time all the

rebels have repented. Now the world is at peace, and yet Liu Tao casts a slur upon your sage-like government and he takes it upon himself to speak heresy and evil. There have been no reports from the provinces or commanderies, so where does Liu Tao get his information from? He is probably in league with the rebels.[13]

Following the words of the eunuchs Liu Tao was arrested and sent to the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates, which was controlled by the eunuchs, where they questioned him daily with steadily increasing tortures. He said to the messengers:

I regret that I cannot match the performances of Yi Yin of Shang nor Lü Shang of Zhou; it seems my lot resembles the three virtuous men of Yin.
Now above the emperor kills those ministers who give honest advice, and below he causes suffering and distress to the people. If this goes on much longer, it will be too late to repent.[13]

Liu Tao was tortured to death. He was mourned throughout the empire.[20]

The former Minister over the Masses Chen Dan was a loyal and upright man, but the eunuchs hated him and slandered him. He was sent to the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates where he was tortured to death.[21]

  • Zhang Rang and Zhao Zhong encouraged Emperor Ling to make a levy of ten cash on every mou of cultivated land in the empire, and to use the money for the repair of the palace buildings and for the casting of bronze statues. When materials were sent in, however, they falsely claimed they were unsatisfactory and forced down their price.
  • When Lu Kang wrote a memorial concerning the corruption involved in the project of the eunuchs, the Emperor's eunuchs slandered him so that Lu Kang was forced to retire.
  • Twelve Regular Palace Attendants were enfeoffed as full marquises for their good work against the Yellow Turbans, even though proof had fallen in the court's hands that the eunuchs actually had contact with the Yellow Turbans.
  • Zhang Rang and Zhao Zhong slandered Huangfu Song which made him lose his merits earned against the Yellow Turbans.
  • Liu Tao criticized the eunuchs. The eunuchs in turn slandered him and had him sent to the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates where he was tortured to death.
  • Chen Dan was hated by the eunuchs. They slandered him and had him sent to the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates. He died of torture.

Jian Shi and He Jin distrust[]

In the eighth month of the year 188 A.D. the eight Colonels of the Western Garden were established for the first time:

Jian Shi, the Junior Attendant of the Yellow Gates, was made Colonel of the First Army.
Yuan Shao, the General of the Gentleman as Rapid as Tigers, was made Colonel of the Centre Army.
Bao Hong, the Colonel of the Garrison Cavalry, was made Colonel of the Third Army.
Cao Cao, the Gentlemen-Consultant, was made Colonel Who Arranges the Army.
Zhao Zhong became Colonel on the Left Assisting the Army.
Feng Fang became Colonel on the Right Assisting the Army.
Xia Mou, the Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant, became Colonel on the Left.
Chunyu Qiong became Colonel on the Right.

All men were under the command of Jian Shi. The Emperor had paid attention to military affairs since the Yellow Turban Rebellion. He himself had appointed Jian Shi after he had noticed Jian Shi was strong, active and had military-planning expertise. Even the General-in-Chief was under his command.

In the tenth month, after warnings had come from those who studied the ethers, the Emperor Ling had started practicing for war by making a great levy of soldiers and held manoeuvres. After he went about the army for three times, he handed the soldiers to the General-in-Chief He Jin and asked He Xun, The Colonel Who Exterminates the Caitiffs: "If I practice for war like this, what do you think of it?" He Xun replied: "Your subject has heard that the former kings were brilliant in their virtue and took no thought of weapons, but now there are bandits far away and an army is raised close at hand. That is no way to show bravery, it is nothing but a waste of effort." The Emperor said: "Excellent. I am sorry you did not come earlier, for not one of my ministers has said this before."

He Xun said to Yuan Shao: "His majesty has a clear understanding, but he is deceived by those about him." Together, the two men made plans to eliminate Ling's favourites. Jian Shi had his suspicions and became concerned about the matter, using his new rank, he sent He Xun away to become Intendant of Jingzhao.

Jian Shi hated the General-in-Chief He Jin and wanted him away from Luoyang. In the summer of 189 A.D. he, together with the other Regular Attendants, urged Emperor Ling to send He Jin west to attack the bandit Han Sui. The Emperor agreed, however, He Jin had learned privately of Jian Shi's plot, thus he sent in a memorial in which he wrote that Yuan Shao should be sent to collect the soldiers of the two provinces of Xu and Yan. In this way he delayed action, because Yuan Shao had to come back before he himself went to the west.

Before these events the Emperor had lost several of his children. They all died in their childhood. When Empress He gave birth to a son named Liu Bian in 176 A.D., it was decided for him to be brought up at the house of Shi Zimiao, a Taoist. The son was called Lord Shi.

The Beauty Wang had given birth to a son named Liu Xie in 181 A.D. Liu Xie was brought up by the Empress-Dowager Dong herself and he was named Lord Dong.

All the senior ministers had asked that an Heir-Apparent should be named. The Emperor favoured Liu Xie as his succesor, saying that Liu Bian was frivolous and had no dignity, but he hadn't officially made his decision yet. Around this time he became seriously ill and he entrusted Liu Xie to Jian Shi. On the 13th of May 189 A.D. the Emperor Ling passed away in the Hall of Excellent Virtue.

After The Emperor's Passing[]

Jian Shi had plans to kill He Jin and set Liu Xie upon the throne. He sent out an invite to the General-in-Chief for a consult with him. Without hesitation He Jin mounted his chariot and went to the palace. Pan Yin, a major in Jian Shi's command, was an old friend of He Jin. He went out to meet him and gave a warning look. He Jin galloped straight back to his quarters. He led out his troops to camp at the Commandery Residences and from there he announced that he was ill and could not come to the palace.

May 15, 189 A.D. - the Prince Bian was established as Emperor, named Emperor Shao. He was only 14 years of age. The Empress was honoured as Empress-Dowager and held court. An amnesty was proclaimed for the empire and the reigntitle was changed to Guangxi. Liu Xie, who was only 9 years of age, was titled King of Bohai. Yuan Wei, the General of the Rear, was made Grand Tutor and now shared control of the Imperial Secretariat with He Jin.

He Jin's Campaign[]

He Jin now held the government of the court. He was furious at Jian Shi for plotting to kill him and, in secret, made plans to kill the eunuch. Yuan Shao, through He Jin's trusted client Zhang Yin, urged him to kill all the eunuch officials. The Yuan Clan was a clan that had been honoured for generations and Yuan Shao and his younger cousin Yuan Shu, who was General of the Gentlemen of the Household Rapid as Tigers at that time, were respected men by the great families. Because of their status, He Jin gave them appointment.

He Jin also started a search for men who were wise and able in planning. He recruited over 20; such as He Yong, Xun You, Zheng Tai of Henan and others. He Yong was appointed Captain of the Centre of the Northern Army, Xun You was Gentleman in Attendance of the Yellow Gates and Zheng Tai became a Master of Writing. He Jin trusted these men completely.

Jian Shi had his suspicions and felt uneasy. He wrote to the Regular Attendants Zhao Zhong, Song Dian and others about the matter:

"The General-in-Chief and his relatives control the state and usurp authority at court. Now, with the men of Faction in the empire, they plan to kill the attendants of the late Emperor and destroy our people. The only reason he delays is because I control the guard. You must get together, bar the doors of the palace apartments, take him quickly, and kill him."

A discussion between the Attendants followed and Guo Sheng joined in. Guo Sheng came from the same commandery as He Jin (Yingchuan Commandery) and he had also been involved in the fortune and favour of the Empress-Dowager and He Jin. He was a close friend of the clan. The discussion ended and the Attendants decided not to co-operate with Jian Shi. Guo Sheng obtained the letter and showed it to He Jin.

May the 27th, 189 A.D. - Now with proof in hands, He Jin sent the Prefect of the Yellow Gates to arrest Jian Shi. After this, Jian Shi was executed and he He Jin took over his troops in camp.

The General of Agile Cavalry Dong Zhong disputed He Jin's authority, and the eunuchs enlisted his aid in support of their party. Whenever the Empress-Dowager Dong sought to interfere in matters of government the Empress-Dowager He always stopped her. The Lady Dong was furious and shouted, "You are powerful now because you rely on your brother! But I can order the General of Agile Cavalry to cut off He Jin's head, and that would be easy as turning my hand!" The Empress-Dowager He told He Jin about this.

In the fifth month He Jin presented a memorial jointly with the three Excellencies:

"The Xiao-Ren Empress [the Empress-Dowager Dong] instructed the former Regular Palace Attendant Xia Yun and others to communicate with provincial and commandery governments that they should send the proceeds of all taxes to the Western Apartments. By precedent, a supernumerary empress should not remain in the capital district. We ask she be required to transfer residence to her own state."

The memorial was approved.

On the 7th of June 189 A.D., He Jin brought troops to surround the offices of the General of Agile Cavarly. After He Jin arrested Dong Zhong and stripped him of his appointment, Dong Zhong committed suicide.

Exactly one month later, July the 7th, the Empress Dowager Dong had suddenly died of grief and fear. The people no longer approved the He clan because of this.

Ten days later, on July the 17th, the Emperor Ling was buried at Wenling. He Jin had taken warning from Jian Shi's plot: claiming to be ill, he neither attended the mourning nor accompanied the funeral.

In the autumn, in the seventh month Liu Xie the King of Bohai was transferred to be King of Chenliu.

Once again, Yuan Shao urged He Jin to take action against the eunuchs. He referred Du Wou:

"In the past, when Dou Wu planned to kill the palace favourites, the only reason he came to grief was because he allowed the news to leak out. The men of the five regiments [of the Northern Army] feared the eunuchs and were prepared to obey them, but Dou Wu had counted on those troops, so he brought misfortune upon himself. At the moment, you and your brother (He Miao) both control strong forces. Your subordinate and divisional commanders are all brave men of fine reputation, fully prepared to carry out your orders. Everything is in your hands, and this is an occasion sent by heaven. You, my general, must act at once to remove evil from the empire, and leave a name for later generations. You cannot let this opportunity slip."

Following this, He Jin went to see the Empress Dowager and he asked her to dismiss all Regular Palace Attendants and ones of lower rank and to replace them with Gentlemen of the Household. The Empress Dowager replied:

"Since ancient times it has been a custom of the house of Han that eunuchs control the forbidden apartments. You cannot do away with that. Moreover, when the late Emperor has only just left the world, how can I act so brazenly as to deal with men face to face?"

He Jin found it hard to disregard with the Empress' feelings, but his will to punish the evil-doers remained strong. Yuan Shao argued further by saying that the current system, where the eunuchs were close to the Emperor, sending out and taking in orders, should be halted completely and immediatly. According to Yuan Shao it would certainly cause trouble later.

Although He Jin was against the eunuchs, his brother He Miao and the Lady of Wuyang who was mother to the Empress-Dowager, were not as negative towards them. They had often received bribes and gifts from the eunuchs and, moreover, He Miao felt he owed the eunuchs his current status. They realised that He Jin wanted to kill the attendants, and they spoke several times to the Empress-Dowager so she would give them protection. They also said: "If the General-in-Chief kills eunuchs on his own authority, he will be abusing his power and will weaken the national altars [and the imperial state]." The Empress-Dowager thought this might be true. He Jin had only lately come to high position, and he had always been in awe of the eunuchs. Though outwardly he seemed to be in pursuit of a great name, inwardly he lacked decision, and so the matter long remained unsettled.

Meanwhile, Yuan Shao and the others made another proposal. They wanted all leaders and warriors to lead their troops towards the capital and, by doing so, put the Empress-Dowager under pressure. He Jin approved the proposal.

He Jin's Master of Records Chen Lin of Guangling, remonstrated with him, saying:

"There is a proverb about closing the eyes to catch a bird. Such deceit is sure to fail in small matters, and the rule must apply yet more strongly in great affairs of state. How can policy be maintained by trickery? You hold the imperial authority, and all essential military strength. With the leap of a dragon and the pace of a tiger, you may act as you will. The present plan, however, is like pumping up fire in a stove when all that is required is the singeing of a hair. You need only act quickly, and display the thunder of your power. Use your own judgment to make a decision, and both heaven and man will approve. If, on the other hand, you fail to use the strength you have, but call in help from outside, then great armies will gather and the strongest will win. That is like turning a spear against yourself and passing the handle to someone else. The project will surely fail, and you will have embarked upon a road to ruin."

He Jin would not listen.

When Cao Cao, the Colonel Who Arranges the Army, heard of the debate he laughed and said the plan would sooner or later leek out and it would end up a failure.

Later, He Jin called Dong Zhuo to bring his troops to the capital district. The Attendant Imperial Clerk Zheng Tai protested and said:

"Dong Zhuo is extremely brutal and has small sense of honour, while his ambitions have no limit. If you involve him in the imperial government and entrust him with great affairs you will lose control over his evil intentions and you will certainly endanger the court.
Through your own personal qualities, and by your close relationship to the throne, you hold the authority of Aheng with power to make your own decisions and to take your own action against criminals. It is quite inappropriate for you to favour Dong Zhuo by asking for his assistance. Furthermore, if you delay matters, there will be changes. The example of Yin is not far off. You must make your mind up soon."

Lu Zhi, the Master of Writing, also advised He Jin not to call Dong Zhuo, but He Jin listened to neither of them. Zheng Tai resigned his position and went away, observing to Xun You, "It is not easy to assist Lord He!"

In the meantime, He Jin prepared and instructed his allies.

Wang Kuang, the Senior Clerk in He Jin's offices, came from Taishan. He was sent back to raise troops there.
Bao Xin, the Chief Commandant of Cavalry, also came from Taishan. He too was sent back to raise troops.
Qiao Mao, the Grand Administrator of Dong commandery, was ordered to camp at Chenggao.
Ding Yuan, the Chief Commandant who is Martial and Brave, was ordered to lead several thousand men to ravage Henei and burn Mengjin.

The fire could be seen from the capital. All this was done under pretext that they sought to punish the eunuchs.

Meanwhile, Dong Zhuo had set out, directly after he had received He Jin's summons. He had send a memorial in reply:

"The Regular Palace Attendant Zhang Rang and his fellows have usurped favour and played for advantage. They have corrupted and disrupted all within the seas. I have heard of people who would fan a fire to stop the soup from boiling, but it is far better to take away the firewood. To burst an abscess is painful, but better than a malignant growth. "In ancient times Zhao Yang raised the armed men of Jinyang to drive away the wicked from the side of his lord. Now and at once I sound the bells and drums and march to Luoyang. I beg permission to arrest Zhang Rang and his fellows, to clear out the evil and wickedness."

The Empress-Dowager still refused her approval. He Miao spoke to He Jin and said:

"When we first came from Nanyang we were all of us poor, and it was through the eunuchs of the inner palace that we came to wealth and

honour. In affairs of state, how can you act so hastily? Once water is tipped out, it cannot be gathered up again. Think hard about it, then make peace with the eunuchs."

Dong Zhuo went to Mianchi, but now He Jin had started worrying about this. He sent the Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant Chong Shao with an imperial order for him to halt. Dong Zhuo, however, refused to accept the order and continued on to Henan county. Chong Shao met Dong Zhuo there again and tried a more polite approach, welcoming him and rewarding his men with food and drink. Once more he tried to explain that he should withdraw his army, but Dong Zhuo became suspicious at the change of policy and he sent armed men to threaten Chong Shao. With the authority of his imperial commission, however, Chong Shao rebuked them angrily and drove them away in confusion. Then he faced Dong Zhuo and accused him directly of disloyalty. Dong Zhuo apologised, and led his army off to Xiyang village.

Yuan Shao was becoming concerned that He Jin might change his plans, thus he once more pressed the General-in-Chief to take action, saying:

"The battle-lines are drawn and our plans are in the open. How can you continue to wait and not make any decision? If the affair is delayed too long, things will change and you will be a second Dou Wu."

He Jin made Yuan Shao Colonel Director of Retainers, with the Staff of Authority so he could decide and execute cases on his own. Wang Yun, Gentleman of the Household in Attendance, became Intendant of Henan.

Following this, Yuan Shao ordered the military officers at Luoyang, who were experts in strategy, to investigate the eunuchs. He also encouraged Dong Zhuo and the other commanders to send in memorials post-haste, asking permission to bring their troops forward to the Lodge of Tranquil Joy.

Now the Empress-Dowager had become frightened and she dismissed all the Regular Palace Attendants and the Junior Attendants of the Yellow Gates and ordered them to return home. Only some family retainers, who were sent by He Jin to guard the inner apartments, remained.

All the eunuchs, the regular and junior attendants, went to He Jin and apologised and assured him they were at his service. He Jin said to them: "The empire is in disorder, and it is all your doing. Now Dong Zhuo is coming. Why do you not go quickly back to your homelands?"

Yuan Shao urged He Jin to take this opportunity to settle with them. He even repeated it thrice, yet He Jin did not agree. Yuan Shao took matters in his own hands once again by sending more letters to all provincial and commandery governments, pretending that He Jin had issued orders to place all the eunuchs' families under arrest.

He Jin was considering his plans for several days, but then some information leaked. This frightened the eunuchs and they thought of rebellion. The wife of Zhang Rang's son was a younger sister of the Empress-Dowager. Zhang Rang kowtowed before his daughter-in-law and said:

"I am old and have acted wrongly. You and I, daughter-in-law, should retire together to private life. Our family, however, has received imperial favour for generations, and although I must leave the inner apartments my heart yet holds great attachment to them. I wish to return once more to the forbidden palace, to gaze from afar for one last time upon the countenance of her majesty the Empress-Dowager. Then I can go back to the mud of the ditches and die without regret."

His son's wife spoke to the Lady of Wuyang and she told the Empress-Dowager. So it was ordered that all the eunuchs could continue in their service.

The Battle Begins[]

It was the eight month. On September the 22nd He Jin went to the Palace of Prolonged Joy for an audience with the Empress-Dowager. He requested all the Regular Attendants to be executed. Before the audience the eunuchs Zhang Rang and Duan Gui had discussed He Jin's absense from Emperor Ling's funeral and said to one another:

"The General-in-Chief said he was ill. He did not attend the mourning, and he did not accompany the funeral. Now he comes suddenly to the palace, and what does this mean? Is the Dou Wu business coming again?."

They send someone to hide and overhear He Jin's audience with the Empress-Dowager. Everything was heard. Then they led several dozen men of their party to take up weapons, go in quietly by a side entrance and conceal themselves behind the doors of the palace.

He Jin came out and they pretended to have orders from the Empress-Dowager to call him back, so he went in and waited by the doors. Zhang Rang and the others said to him:

"If the empire is troubled, it is not our fault alone. When the late Emperor was angry with the Empress-Dowager and she was on the brink of destruction, it was we who wept and managed to save her, and each of us gave thousands and tens of thousands from our private fortunes to make the Emperor contented again. All we sought was the patronage of your house. Now you want to destroy us and our families, this is surely too much!"

Then Qu Mu, the Supervisor of the Palace Workshop, drew his sword and cut off He Jin's head at the front of the Hall of Excellent Virtue.

Zhang Rang, Duan Gui and the other eunuchs now composed an edict. In this edict they appointed the former Grand Commandant Fan Ling as Colonel Director of Retainers and the Privy Treasurer Xu Xiang as Intendant of Henan. When the Masters of Writing got the edict block they questioned it: "We ask that the General-in-Chief come out and discuss this with us." The Palace Attendants of the Yellow Gates took He Jin's head and tossed it to the Masters of Writing, saying, "He Jin planned to rebel, he has been executed."

Wu Kuang and Zhang Zhang, officers of He Jin, were outside the palace when they heard that he had come to harm. They wanted to lead their men inside, but the gates of the palace were closed. The General of the Gentlemen of the Household Rapid as Tigers Yuan Shu joined Wu Kuang and they attacked and chopped the gates, while the eunuchs took up weapons to defend them. About this time the sun went down, and Yuan Shu set fire to the Gate Engraved in Blue of the Southern Palace to drive out Zhang Rang and the others.

Zhang Rang and his fellows went in and told the Empress-Dowager that the troops of the General-in-Chief had mutinied, burning the palace and attacking the entrance to the Office of the Masters of Writing. Then they forced junior officers of the palace to help them lead the Empress-Dowager, the Little Emperor and the King of Chenliu, and they fled along the Covered Way to the Northern Palace.

Standing with a halberd below a window of the Covered Way, the Master of Writing Lu Zhi stared up at Duan Gui and listed out his wrongdoing. Duan Gui was frightened. He let go of the Empress-Dowager, and she escaped through a side-door. Yuan Shao and his uncle Yuan Wei forged imperial orders to summon Fan Ling and Xu Xiang, and had them beheaded. Yuan Shao and He Miao then brought their troops to station by the Tower of the Vermilion Bird. They caught Zhao Zhong and some others and cut off their heads.

Wu Kuang had been angry at He Miao for his failure to support He Jin [in his intention to attack the eunuchs], and he suspected him of sympathy for the eunuchs. He announced to his troops, therefore, that "The man who killed the General-in-Chief was the General of Chariots and Cavalry. Officers and men, will you not take revenge upon him?" All wept and said, "We would give our lives for it." With Dong Zhuo's younger brother Dong Min, therefore, Chief Commandant of the Imperial Equipage, Wu Kuang led his men against He Miao. They killed him and left his body in the park.

Yuan Shao now closed the gates of the Northern Palace and ordered his soldiers to seize and slaughter all the eunuchs, without respect for young or old. Altogether some two thousand people died, including several whole men, who had no beards and were killed by mistake. Then Yuan Shao sent troops forward to clear the palace, and a number of them climbed the Principal Gate to attack the inner apartments.

On September the 24th, 189 A.D., Zhang Rang, Duan Gui and others were in difficulty and distress. Leading the Emperor and the King of Chenliu, with several dozen men on foot, they went out the Gu Gate and came by night to the Xiaoping Crossing. They left in such haste, they could not take the six seals and none of the Excellencies or ministers were able to accompany them. Only the Master of Writing Lu Zhi and the Head of the Central Precinct of Henan Min Gong came by night to the Yellow River. Min Gong faced Zhang Rang and his fellows with an angry shout, "Unless you die quickly, I shall kill you." He drew his sword and beheaded several men. Zhang Rang and the others, in fear and dread, clasped fingers, bowed twice and kowtowed towards the Emperor, "Now we must die. May Your Majesty maintain yourself." They threw themselves into the river and drowned.

With the death of Zhang Rang and his eunuchs, the battle against the Ten Regular Attendants came to an end. However, with Dong Zhuo now in the Imperial Court, another battle was not far off.

After The Death Of The Eunuchs[]

Seeking to return to the palace, Min Gong helped the Emperor and the King of Chenliu to go southwards on foot by night, guided by the light of glowworms. After several li they obtained a commoner's open cart and rode in it together as far as Luoshe. On September the 25th the Emperor rode by himself on one horse, the King of Chenliu and Min Gong rode together on another, and they travelled south from Luoshe until some of the Excellencies and ministers came to meet them.

As Dong Zhuo came to the Park of Illustrious Light, he saw fires rising in the distance. Realising there was a revolt, he led his troops quickly forward and came to the west of the city before it was light. There he learnt that the Emperor was in the north, and with the Excellencies and ministers he went to receive him below the Beimang Slope. When the Emperor saw Dong Zhuo suddenly appear, leading armed men, he was frightened and wept.

The Excellencies said to Dong Zhuo: "There is an imperial order to withdraw troops." Dong Zhuo replied: "You may be high ministers of state, but you could not keep the royal house in order and you have made the Emperor a homeless wanderer. What is this about withdrawing troops?"

Dong Zhuo spoke with the Emperor, but gained no clear account of what had happened. Then he talked to the King of Chenliu and asked about the causes of the misfortune and disorders. The King described events from first to last, with nothing left out, and Dong Zhuo was very pleased. He was impressed with the King and since he had been brought up by the Empress-Dowager Dong, and since Dong Zhuo himself claimed to be of the same clan as the Empress-Dowager, he took it in mind to depose the Emperor and set up the King.

On this day the Emperor returned to the palace. There was an amnesty for the empire and the reign-title Guangxi was renamed Zhaoning.

During Zhang Rang's escape with the Emperor and the King, the Seal of State was lost.


  1. The "ten Regular Attendants" Zhang Jun mentions here is an approximate figure. There were in fact twelve Regular Palace Attendants.[8]
  2. Fu Xie had defeated the Yellow Turban leaders Bu Si, Liang Zhongning and Zhang Bo.[10]
  3. Lu Zhi had beaten Zhang Jue is several skirmishes, killing thousands of his men in the process and forced Zhang Jue, Bao and Liang to take refuge in Guangzong city.[10]

Fact vs Fiction[]


  • ...the eunuch Cheng Kuang 程曠 did not exist. Cheng Kuang is a fictional invention of Luo Guanzhong, author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
  • ...Jian Shi was not killed by Guo Sheng. Jian Shi was executed by He Jin.
  • ...none of the twelve Regular Attendants killed He Jin, instead, He Jin was killed by Qu Mu, a non-enfeoffed eunuch who sided with the Attendants.
  • ...Cao Cao chose to not participate in the campaign against the eunuchs. He thus did not kill Zhao Zhong, Cheng Kuang, Xia Yun, and Guo Sheng with Yuan Shao in the Palace's Blue Flower Lodge.


  1. 1.0 1.1 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Feng Xu page 376
  2. Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 219
  3. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 82
  4. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of He Jin pages 311-2
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Zhongping 1
  6. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII, page 70
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Xiang Xu page 888 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "HdOXiangXu" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "HdOXiangXu" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "HdOXiangXu" defined multiple times with different content
  8. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, footnotes to Zhongping 1
  9. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhang Jun page 1060
  10. 10.0 10.1 Yellow Turban Rebellion
  11. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Fu Xie page 234
  12. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Lu Zhi pages 623-624
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Zhongping 2
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhang Rang page 1073
  15. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Lu Kang page 618
  16. 16.0 16.1 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Sima Zhi pages 749-750
  17. Fan Ye, Hou Han shu, 卷78/68 (chapter on the Eunuchs)
  18. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Huangfu Song pages 355-356
  19. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhao Zhong pages 1115-1116
  20. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liu Tao page ??
  21. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Chen Dan page ??