Romansen om de tre kungadömena / av Luo Guanzhong

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms / by Luo Guanzhong Ben (Huhai Sanren)

Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Ten Attendants

In the final years of the Eastern Han dynasty, treacherous eunuchs and villainous officials deceived the emperor and persecuted good officials. The government gradually became extremely corrupt on all levels, leading to widespread deterioration of the Han Empire. During the reign of Emperor Ling, the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out under the leadership of Zhang Jiao. The rebellion was barely suppressed by imperial forces led by the general He Jin. Upon Emperor Ling's death, He Jin installed the young Emperor Shao on the throne and took control of the central government. The Ten Attendants, a group of influential court eunuchs, feared that He Jin was growing too powerful, so they lured him into the palace and assassinated him. In revenge, He Jin's supporters broke into the palace and indiscriminately slaughtered any person who looked like a eunuch. In the ensuing chaos, Emperor Shao and his younger half-brother, the Prince of Chenliu, disappeared from the palace.

Dong Zhuo's tyranny

The missing emperor and the prince were found by soldiers of the warlord Dong Zhuo, who seized control of the imperial capital, Luoyang, under the pretext of protecting the emperor. Dong Zhuo later deposed Emperor Shao and replaced him with the Prince of Chenliu (Emperor Xian), who was merely a figurehead under his control. Dong Zhuo monopolised state power, persecuted his political opponents and oppressed the common people for his personal gain. There were two attempts on his life: the first was by a military officer, Wu Fu (伍孚), who failed and died a gruesome death; the second was by Cao Cao, whose attempt went awry and forced him to flee. Cao Cao escaped from Luoyang, returned to his hometown and sent out a fake imperial edict to various regional officials and warlords, calling them to rise up against Dong Zhuo. Under Yuan Shao's leadership, 18 warlords formed a coalition army and launched a punitive campaign against Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo felt threatened after losing the battles of Sishui Pass and Hulao Pass, so he evacuated Luoyang and moved the imperial capital to Chang'an. He forced Luoyang's residents to move together with him and had the city set aflame. The coalition eventually broke up due to poor leadership and conflicting interests among its members. Meanwhile, in Chang'an, Dong Zhuo was betrayed and murdered by his foster son Lü Bu in a dispute over the maiden Diaochan as part of a plot orchestrated by the minister Wang Yun.

The Conflict among the various warlords & nobles

In the meantime, the Han Empire were already disintegrating into civil war as warlords fought for territories and power. Sun Jian found the Imperial Seal in the ruins of Luoyang and secretly kept it for himself. Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan were at war in the north while Sun Jian and Liu Biao were battling in the south. Others such as Cao Cao and Liu Bei, who initially had no titles or land, were also gradually forming their own armies and taking control of territories. During those times of upheaval, Cao Cao saved Emperor Xian from the remnants of Dong Zhuo's forces, established the new imperial capital in Xu and became the new head of the central government. He defeated rival warlords such as Lü Bu, Yuan Shu and Zhang Xiu in a series of wars in central China before scoring a decisive victory over Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu. Through his conquests, Cao Cao united central and northern China under his control. The territories he conquered served as the foundation of the state of Cao Wei in the future.

Sun Ce builds a dynasty in Jiangdong

Meanwhile, an ambush violently concluded Sun Jian's life at the Battle of Xiangyang against Liu Biao. His eldest son, Sun Ce, delivered the Imperial Seal as a tribute to the rising pretender, Yuan Shu, in exchange for reinforcements. Sun Ce secured himself a state in the rich riverlands of Jiangdong (Wu), on which the state of Eastern Wu was founded later. Tragically, Sun Ce also died at the pinnacle of his career from illness under stress of his terrifying encounter with the ghost of Yu Ji, a venerable magician whom he had falsely accused of heresy and executed in jealousy. However, Sun Quan, his younger brother and successor, proved to be a capable and charismatic ruler. With assistance from Zhou Yu, Zhang Zhao and others, Sun Quan inspired hidden talents such as Lu Su to serve him, built up his military forces and maintained stability in Jiangdong.

Liu Bei's Ambition

Liu Bei and his oath brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei swore allegiance to the Han Empire in the Oath of the Peach Garden and pledged to do their best for the people. However, their ambitions were not realised as they did not receive due recognition for helping to suppress the Yellow Turban Rebellion and participating in the campaign against Dong Zhuo. After Liu Bei succeeded Tao Qian as the governor of Xu Province, he offered shelter to Lü Bu, who had just been defeated by Cao Cao. However, Lü Bu betrayed his host, seized control of the province and attacked Liu Bei. Liu Bei combined forces with Cao Cao and defeated Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi. Liu Bei then followed Cao Cao back to the imperial capital, Xu, where Emperor Xian honoured him as his "Imperial Uncle". When Cao Cao showed signs that he wanted to usurp the throne, Emperor Xian wrote a secret decree in blood to his father-in-law, Dong Cheng, and ordered him to get rid of Cao. Dong Cheng secretly contacted Liu Bei and others and they planned to assassinate Cao Cao. However, the plot was leaked out and Cao Cao had Dong Cheng and the others arrested and executed along with their families. Liu Bei had already left the imperial capital when the plot was exposed. He seized control of Xu Province from Che Zhou, the new governor appointed by Cao Cao. In retaliation, Cao Cao attacked Xu Province and defeated Liu Bei, forcing him to take shelter under Yuan Shao for a brief period of time. Liu Bei eventually left Yuan Shao and established a new base in Runan, where he lost to Cao Cao again. He retreated south to Jing Province, where he found shelter under the governor, Liu Biao. Liu Biao put Liu Bei in charge of Xinye, where Liu Bei visited Zhuge Liang thrice and recruited him as an adviser. He also built up his forces in preparation for war against Cao Cao.

The Battle of the Red Cliffs

Following his unification of central and northern China under his control, Cao Cao, having been appointed Imperial Chancellor by Emperor Xian, led his forces on a southern campaign to eliminate Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Although Liu Bei managed to repel two attacks by Cao Cao at Xinye, he was eventually forced to flee due to the overwhelming strength of the enemy forces. He led his followers and the civilians on an exodus further south until they reached Jiangxia Commandery. Liu Bei sent Zhuge Liang to meet Sun Quan and discuss the formation of a Sun–Liu alliance to counter Cao Cao. Sun Quan agreed and placed Zhou Yu in command of his army in preparation for war with Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang remained temporarily in Wu territory to assist Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu felt that Zhuge Liang would become a threat to Sun Quan in the future and attempted to kill him on a few occasions but ultimately failed and ended up having no choice but to cooperate with Zhuge Liang. The Sun–Liu forces scored a decisive victory over Cao Cao at the Battle of the Red Cliffs. Sun Quan and Liu Bei started vying for control of southern Jing Province after their victory, but Liu won and took over the territories from Cao Cao's general, Cao Ren. Sun Quan, unhappy over having gained nothing, sent messengers to ask Liu Bei to "return" the territories to him, but Liu dismissed the messenger each time with a different excuse. Sun Quan was unwilling to give up, so he followed Zhou Yu's plan to trick Liu Bei to come to his territory and marry his sister, Lady Sun. He would then hold Liu Bei hostage in exchange for Jing Province. However, the plan failed and the newlywed couple returned to Jing Province safely. Zhou Yu later died in frustration after Zhuge Liang repeatedly foiled his plans to take Jing Province.

Liu Bei's takeover of the Yi Province

Relations between Liu Bei and Sun Quan deteriorated after Zhou Yu's death, but not to the point of war. Following Zhuge Liang's Longzhong Plan, Liu Bei led his forces westward into Yi Province and seized control of the territories from the governor, Liu Zhang. By then, Liu Bei ruled over a vast stretch of land from Yi Province to southern Jing Province; these territories served as the foundation of the state of Shu Han later. Liu Bei declared himself King of Hanzhong after defeating Cao Cao in the Hanzhong Campaign and capturing Hanzhong Commandery. At the same time, Emperor Xian awarded Cao Cao the title of a vassal king – King of Wei – while Sun Quan was known as the Duke of Wu. In eastern China, Sun Quan and Cao Cao's forces fought in various battles along the Yangtze River, including the battles of Hefei and Ruxu, but neither side managed to gain a significant advantage over the other.

The Death of Guan Yu

Meanwhile, Sun Quan plotted to take Jing Province after growing tired of Liu Bei's repeated refusals to hand over the province. He secretly made peace and allied with Cao Cao against Liu Bei. While Guan Yu, who guarded Liu Bei's territories in Jing Province, was away attacking Cao Ren at the Battle of Fancheng, Sun Quan sent his general Lü Meng to launch a stealth invasion on Jing Province. Guan Yu was unable to capture Fancheng so he retreated, but was caught off guard by Lü Meng and had already lost Jing Province before he knew it. With his army's morale falling and the troops gradually deserting, Guan Yu and his remaining men withdrew to Maicheng, where they were surrounded by Sun Quan's forces. In desperation, Guan Yu attempted to break out of the siege but failed and was captured in an ambush. Sun Quan had him executed after he refused to surrender. Shortly after Guan Yu's death, Cao Cao died of a brain tumour in Luoyang. His son and successor, Cao Pi, forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him and established the state of Cao Wei to replace the Han dynasty. About a year later, Liu Bei declared himself emperor and founded the state of Shu Han as a continuation of the Han dynasty. While Liu Bei was planning to avenge Guan Yu, Zhang Fei was assassinated in his sleep by his subordinates.

The Battle of Yiling

As Liu Bei led a large army to avenge Guan Yu and retake Jing Province, Sun Quan attempted to appease him by offering to return him the territories in southern Jing Province. Liu Bei's subjects urged him to accept Sun Quan's offer but Liu insisted on avenging his sworn brother. After initial victories against Sun Quan's forces, a series of strategic mistakes resulted in Liu Bei's calamitous defeat at the Battle of Xiaoting/Yiling by Sun Quan's general, Lu Xun. Lu Xun initially pursued Liu Bei while the latter retreated after his defeat, but gave up after getting trapped inside and barely escaping from Zhuge Liang's Stone Sentinel Maze. Liu Bei died in Baidicheng from illness a few months later. On his deathbed, Liu Bei granted Zhuge Liang permission to take the throne if his son and successor, Liu Shan, proved to be an inept ruler. Zhuge Liang firmly refused and swore to remain faithful to the trust Liu Bei had placed in him.

Zhuge Liang's Campaigns

After Liu Bei's death, Cao Pi induced several forces, including Sun Quan, a turncoat Shu general Meng Da, the Nanman and Qiang tribes, to attack Shu, in coordination with a Wei army. However, Zhuge Liang managed to make the five armies retreat without any bloodshed. He also sent Deng Zhi to make peace with Sun Quan and restore the alliance between Shu and Wu. Zhuge Liang then personally led a southern campaign against the Nanman, defeated them seven times, and won the allegiance of the Nanman king, Meng Huo. After pacifying the south, Zhuge Liang led the Shu army on five military expeditions to attack Wei as part of his mission to restore the Han dynasty. However, his days were numbered because he had been suffering from chronic illness and his condition worsened under stress. He would die of illness at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains while leading a stalemate battle against the Wei general Sima Yi.

The End

The long years of battle between Shu and Wei saw many changes in the ruling Cao family in Wei. The influence of the Caos weakened after Cao Rui's death and state power eventually fell into the hands of the regent Sima Yi and subsequently to his sons, Sima Shi and Sima Zhao. In Shu, Jiang Wei inherited Zhuge Liang's legacy and continued to lead another nine campaigns against Wei for three decades, but ultimately failed to achieve any significant success. The Shu emperor Liu Shan also turned out to be an incompetent ruler who trusted corrupt officials. Shu gradually declined under Liu Shan's rule and was eventually conquered by Wei forces. Jiang Wei attempted to restore Shu with the help of Zhong Hui, a Wei general dissatisfied with Sima Zhao, but their plan failed and both of them were killed by Wei soldiers. Shortly after the fall of Shu, Sima Zhao died and his son, Sima Yan, forced the last Wei emperor, Cao Huan, to abdicate the throne to him. Sima Yan then established the Jin dynasty to replace the state of Cao Wei. In Wu, there had been internal conflict among the nobles since Sun Quan's death. The regents Zhuge Ke and Sun Chen consecutively attempted to usurp the throne but were eventually ousted from power and eliminated in coups. Although stability were temporarily restored in Wu, the last Wu emperor, Sun Hao, turned out to be a tyrant. Wu, the last of the Three Kingdoms, was eventually conquered by the Jin dynasty. The fall of Wu marked the end of the near century-long era of civil strife historically known as the Three Kingdoms period.

vau© Staffan Jansson 2017