Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Chapter 6

Burning the Capital, Dong Zhuo Commits an Atrocity
Hiding the Seal, Sun Jian Breaks Faith 焚金闕董卓行兇 匿玉璽孫堅背約

Zhang Fei was riding hard up to Hulao Pass, hoping to slay Dong Zhuo. Yet the defenders sent down stones and arrows like rain, preventing him from getting any closer, and he had to turn back.

The eight lords all offered their congratulations to Xuande, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, and they sent back a messenger to report their victory to Yuan Shao. Yuan Shao thus sent notice to Sun Jian to resume his attack on Sishui Pass.

Sun Jian first went to Yuan Shu’s camp to confront him, taking with him Cheng Pu and Huang Gai. Tracing figures on the ground with his staff, Sun Jian said, “General, Dong Zhuo and I had no personal quarrel, yet for the sake of removing a traitor to the state above and serving the interests of your own family below, I was prepared to stride onto the battlefield without a second thought, braving the slings and arrows to bring on a decisive battle. How then could you have listened to the words of some slanderer and refused to send me supplies, causing me to be defeated?”

Yuan Shu, confused and frightened, had no word to reply. He ordered the death of the slanderer to placate Sun Jian.

Then suddenly a person came over to tell Sun Jian, “Some officer has come riding down from the Pass to see you, General; he is in the camp.”

Sun Jian therefore bade Yuan Shu farewell and returned to his own camp, then summoned his visitor. It soon proved to be Dong Zhuo’s beloved officer Li Jue.

“Why have you come here?” Sun Jian asked him.

Li Jue said, “General, you are the one person whom the Lieutenant Chancellor respects, and he has sent me on a special mission: he has a daughter, and he wishes to arrange an engagement with your son.”

Yet this proposal only enraged Sun Jian, who spat out, “Dong Zhuo, that rebel and renegade, that subverter of the throne? I’d rather destroy his nine generations to appease the realm! Why would I want to make a marriage with such a rebel and traitor? I will not behead you as I ought, but begone! Yield the pass at once and I may spare your lives, but if you delay I will grind your bones to powder and make mincemeat of your flesh!”

Li Jue threw his arms over his head and ran out. He returned to his master and told him what a rude reception he had met with. Incensed by this rejection, Dong Zhuo asked Li Ru what to do now.

“The Marquis of Wen has just been defeated and our soldiers no longer have any heart for battle,” Li Ru told him. “We had better bring our troops back to Luoyang. But we can also take this chance to relocate the Emperor to Chang’an in order to fulfill the words of a children’s ditty. For there is a certain verse the children have been singing in the streets lately:

“Han and Han east and west: why’s the deer have to roam?
He’ll never be safe ’til he’s back in his home.” •••

Li Ru continued, “If you think out this couplet, it applies to the present juncture. The Han in the ‘west’ refers to when Emperor Gao and his eleven successors flourished at the western capital, Chang’an, while the Han in the ‘east’ applies to when Emperor Guangwu and his eleven successors likewise flourished at the eastern capital, Luoyang. It seems that fate would have us return to the old ways again; only once you return the court to Chang’an, Lieutenant Chancellor, will we no longer have cause for concern.”

Dong Zhuo was exceedingly pleased and said, “Had you not spoken thus, I never would have realized it.”

Then taking Lü Bu with him he at once returned to Luoyang and called a council to discuss moving the capital. He summoned all the civil and military officials to a great assembly in the palace and addressed them thus:

“Han has had its capital in the east at Luoyang for more than two centuries by now and the sustaining aura of this place has been exhausted, while I perceive that a flourishing aura of rule is at Chang’an, where I now desire to move the court. All you had better pack up for the journey.”

The Excellency over the Masses, Yang Biao, objected, “But the Guanzhong region is naught but wreckage and ruin. There is no reason to renounce the ancestral temples and abandon the imperial tombs here. Besides, I fear the people will be alarmed and restless; it is most easy to stir up the realm and most difficult to calm it down again. Lieutenant Chancellor, I hope you will give this further consideration.”

“Do you mean to oppose the great plans of state?” Dong Zhuo demanded.

The Grand Commandant, Huang Wan, spoke up as well. “Minister Yang’s argument is correct: in the last days of the usurper Wang Mang, when the Gengshi Emperor and the Red Eyebrow rebels swept through the Guanzhong region, they torched and burned Chang’an and left the whole region a place of broken tiles, and so many refugees fled the area that hardly a hundredth of the old inhabitants remained. To abandon the palaces here in favor of a wasteland would not be feasible.”

Dong Zhuo replied, “Yet rebels have risen up in the lands east of the mountains and the heartland of the realm is in turmoil, whereas Chang’an enjoys the protection of the Yaohan Mountains and the Hangu Pass. Furthermore, the lands beyond the Long Mountains are close at hand and have ample building materials: we need only select a suitable day to begin, and new palaces can be built there in a month or so. Enough of these random objections.”

Yet the Excellency over the Masses, Xun Shuang, also spoke up. “If you move the capital, Lieutenant Chancellor, the people will be greatly disturbed.” 1 •••

But Dong Zhuo fumed, “I have to consider the sake of the whole realm! How can I take pity on such insignificant people?”

And that same day, the three objectors were degraded to commoner status.

As Dong Zhuo went out to get into his carriage, he noticed two other ministers bowing down to him in the distance: he recognized them as one of the Secretariat, Zhou Bi, and the Colonel of the City Gates, Wu Qiong. Dong Zhuo asked them what they were doing, and Zhou Bi said, “We heard that you were intending to move the capital to Chang’an, Lieutenant Chancellor; we have simply come to dissuade you.”

Dong Zhuo lashed out at them: “You two convinced me to grant Yuan Shao an office before, and yet he still turned against me. You’re in league with him!”

He had the pair dragged outside the city gates and beheaded.

Dong Zhuo issued the decree to prepare to move the capital, with orders to set out the following day. But Li Ru now advised him, “We are lacking in food and supplies, while there are many excessively rich households in Luoyang whose wealth we could audit and confiscate for the government’s use. Why, even just killing the relatives and associates of Yuan Shao and the other rebel leaders and confiscating their wealth would fetch us a handsome sum.”

Dong Zhuo thus assigned five thousand iron cavalry to ride throughout the city to plunder and attack the wealthy households of Luoyang; they rounded up people from thousands of families, sticking banners on their heads with “Servant of Rebels and Friend to Traitors” in large writing, and beheaded them all outside the city while claiming their money and goods.

Li Jue and Guo Si were tasked with driving before them all the millions of inhabitants of Luoyang, forcing them to march towards Chang’an: the people were sent off in bands of a hundred, each band between two parties of soldiers urging them forward, while enormous numbers fell by the road side and died in the ditches. Li Jue and Guo Si even let their troops defile the wives and maidens and help themselves to people’s food and grain; the sound of the people’s cries shook the heavens and the earth. And in case anyone tried to hang about, there were three thousand more soldiers following behind the rear of the great column, holding bared swords in their hands to slay anyone who fell behind.

As Dong Zhuo was leaving Luoyang, he ordered the city gates to be set on fire and for the homes of the people to be torched, and flames were lit to burn down the palaces, government offices, and imperial ancestral temples. The Northern and Southern Palaces both went up in flames, and the palaces and courtyards of Luoyang were soon nothing but patches of burnt earth.

Dong Zhuo also sent Lü Bu to desecrate the tombs of the emperors and of their empresses and consorts for the jewels therein, and the soldiers took the opportunity to likewise dig up practically all of the graves of ministers and common people. The spoil of the city, whether gold and silver, pearls and silks, or beautiful ornaments, filled many thousands of carts, and with these and the persons of the Emperor and his household, Dong Zhuo moved off to the new capital.

When Dong Zhuo’s general Zhao Cen learned that Dong Zhuo had already abandoned Luoyang and departed the region, he quickly offered up Sishui Pass in surrender, and Sun Jian led his troops through the Pass and was the first army to approach Luoyang. Xuande, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei also forced their way through Hulao Pass, and the armies of the various lords each marched towards Luoyang. 1 •••

Sun Jian hurried towards Luoyang; the glow from the fires lit up the sky while black smoke curled across the ground, and even two or three hundred li out from the city there were not even any dogs or chickens to be found or any chimney-smoke from the houses of residents. He focused on sending out troops to help put out the fires, while designating places in the ravaged area for each of the other lords to camp their own troops.

Cao Cao went to see Yuan Shao and said, “The rebel Dong Zhuo has gone off to the west; we ought to be pressing our advantage to pursue and attack him. Benchu, why are you keeping the soldiers here without moving?”

“The armies of the lords are worn out and exhausted,” said Yuan Shao, “and I fear we would gain nothing by advancing further.”

Cao Cao appealed to the various lords, “By burning down the palaces and kidnapping the Son of Heaven, the traitor Dong Zhuo has thrown all the realm within the Four Seas into such confusion that the people are no longer so certain that he represents the government; this is our heaven-sent opportunity to destroy him, for by winning this one battle we can settle the realm. How can you all be so hesitant as to not advance?”

Yet the lords would only reply that they should not be too hasty. In a rage Cao Cao declared, “I’ll never get anything done with such scoundrels!” And he resolved to march after Dong Zhuo by himself with about ten thousand soldiers under the command of Xiahou Dun, Xiahou Yuan, Cao Ren, Cao Hong, Li Dian, and Yue Jin. Cao Cao’s army hurried day and night to chase after Dong Zhuo.

By this time Dong Zhuo’s forces had reached Rongyang, and the Grand Administrator of that commandery, Xu Rong, had come out to welcome them. Li Ru advised Dong Zhuo, “Lieutenant Chancellor, since we have only just abandoned Luoyang, we must guard against any pursuit troops. You should instruct Xu Rong to lead his troops to lie in ambush in the hills and vales around Rongyang: Xu Rong can wait until any pursuit troops have passed by the area and then come out of hiding to cut off their retreat and strike them from behind once we have repulsed them. That will ensure that no one else will dare to pursue us.”

Dong Zhuo followed his advice, further ordering Lü Bu to lead skilled troops to hold the rear. Lü Bu’s men had hardly marched away from the main body when they saw Cao Cao’s soldiers approaching in the distance. Lü Bu greatly laughed and said, “Just as Li Ru predicted!” And he arranged his troops for battle.

Cao Cao rode out from his lines, calling out, “You rebels and traitors! Where do you think you’re going, kidnapping the Son of Heaven and forcing away the common people?”

But Lü Bu only replied, “Treacherous simpleton, what nonsense are you speaking?”

Xiahou Dun set his spear and urged on his horse, riding straight towards Lü Bu. A few bouts after they had begun fighting, a body of troops under Li Jue suddenly appeared on Cao Cao’s left and began charging, and Cao Cao swiftly sent Xiahou Yuan to face them. Then he heard voices from the right as another detachment under Guo Si emerged to rush towards them, and Cao Cao quickly ordered Cao Ren to deal with them. But having to fight from three sides soon proved to be too much, and Xiahou Dun was eventually obliged to abandon his duel and come riding back to Cao Cao’s lines, while Lü Bu led his iron cavalry troops to gallop forward as well. Cao Cao’s army was greatly defeated, with his soldiers forced to flee back towards Rongyang.

They got as far as the foot of a bare hill; it was about the second watch by then, but the moonlight made it as bright as day. Here they halted to reform. Yet just as they were burying the boilers to prepare a meal, suddenly they heard shouting on every side as Xu Rong’s ambush troops all emerged.

In a panic, Cao Cao whipped his horse in a mad search for any way out. He actually happened to encounter Xu Rong himself, but quickly turned to flee again; Xu Rong fitted an arrow to his bow and managed to shoot Cao Cao in the shoulder, but Cao Cao fled for his life without even pausing to remove the arrow. Then as he was riding over a hill, two enemy soldiers who had been hiding in the grass there saw him approaching and thrust out their spears, striking Cao Cao’s horse and sending him tumbling across the ground, where the two soldiers began to take him captive.

Just then a horseman came up riding at full speed and whirling his sword, and he cut down both the captors before dismounting to help Cao Cao back up. Cao Cao saw that it was his cousin Cao Hong.

“This is where I die, good cousin,” Cao Cao told him. “Just get going!”

But Cao Hong replied, “Quickly, my lord, you get on my horse! I can go on foot.”

Cao Cao asked him, “But the traitors are closing in. How will you survive?”

“The world can do without me, my lord,” Cao Hong replied, “but not without you.”

“If I live again, it will be thanks to you,” said Cao Cao.

Once Cao Cao was mounted, Cao Hong took off his armor and outer clothes and hurried alongside the horse while dragging his blade. They continued to flee until sometime past the fourth watch, when suddenly they came across a broad stream in front barring any further passage while the sounds of voices grew closer from behind.

“I’m finished!” said Cao Cao. “I’ll never live again!”

Yet Cao Hong quickly pulled Cao Cao back down from the horse, got him out of his robe and armor, and carried him on his back while wading across the stream. By the time they reached the far shore, enemy troops had already reached the stream and were shooting arrows from the bank. Cao Cao fled along the line of the stream.

By the time they had gone another thirty li or so, dawn was approaching, and they sat down to rest under a precipice. Just then they heard more shouting as a group of riders appeared: it was Xu Rong again, who had forded the stream higher up and had continued to pursue them. 1 •••

Yet as Cao Cao was deliriously casting about for some fresh avenue of escape, he saw Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan flying up with a dozen riders, calling out, “Do not harm our lord, Xu Rong!” At once Xu Rong turned to ride towards Xiahou Dun; they fought a few bouts before Xiahou Dun pierced Xu Rong and sent him to the ground, while the riders killed or drove away his remaining troops. And soon Cao Ren, Li Dian, and Yue Jin each brought up their own troops as well. There was much joy and yet much grief in the reunion. They gathered up what soldiers still remained, perhaps five hundred, before turning back for Henei commandery. Dong Zhuo’s soldiers also departed for Chang’an.

All this time, the other lords had been remaining in their various camps near Luoyang. Having extinguished the remaining fires within the city, Sun Jian camped his troops within the walls, his own tent being set up upon what remained of the foundation of the Jianzhang Hall of the palace. He ordered his men to clear away all the rubble and debris on the palace grounds, and all of the tombs which Dong Zhuo’s army had broken open were again sealed shut. On the site of the Ancestral Temple he put up a mat shed containing three apartments, and here he begged the lords to meet and replace the sacred tablets, with solemn sacrifices and prayers.

This ceremony over, the others dispersed while Sun Jian returned to his camp. That night the stars and moon vied with each other in brightness. As Sun Jian sat in the open air, his hand on his sword as he looked up at the heavens, he noticed a white mist spreading over the stars of the Purple Palace Enclosure.

Sun Jian sighed, “The Emperor’s stars dulled, a rebellious minister disturbing the state, the people in dust and ashes, and the capital a waste!” And as he spoke, he began weeping before he knew it.

Then a soldier pointed, saying, “There is a glow of five-colored light rising from that well south of the hall.”

Sun Jian bade his men light torches and descend into the well to haul up whatever was inside. Soon they brought up the corpse of a woman, not in the least decayed although it had been there many days. She was dressed in palace clothing and from her neck hung an embroidered bag. Opening this a small red box was found with a golden lock, and when the box was opened they saw a jade seal, square in shape and four inches each way. On it were delicately engraved five dragons intertwined. One corner had been broken off and repaired with gold. And upon the seal were eight characters in the seal-style of engraving which interpreted read, “I have received the command from Heaven: may my time be long and prosperous.”

Sun Jian took the seal and asked Cheng Pu about it. Cheng Pu told him, “This is the Hereditary Seal of the Realm. Centuries ago, a man named Bian He saw a phoenix sitting on a certain stone at the foot of Jing Hill, and when he offered the stone to King Zheng of Chu, the king split open the stone and found this piece of jade.

“The jade later came into the possession of the Qin dynasty, and in the twenty-sixth year of that dynasty (221 BC), a jade-cutter made it into this seal and Qin’s chancellor Li Si engraved these eight characters on it. Two years later (219 BC), while the First Emperor of Qin was traveling through the realm and was sailing on Dongting Lake, a storm whipped up the lake and nearly turned the boat over, but stopped when the First Emperor suddenly threw the Seal into the lake. Ten years later again (210 BC), when the First Emperor was out traveling again and had reached Huayin county, a man by the roadside handed the same seal to one of the attendants, saying, ‘I brought it back to the ancestral dragon,’ and then disappeared. Thus the jewel returned to Qin.

“The First Emperor died the following year, and not long afterwards his successor, Ziying, presented the seal to the founder of the Han dynasty. When Wang Mang was usurping the throne, Empress Dowager Xiaoyuan struck Wang Xun and Su Xian with the Seal and broke off this corner, which was repaired with gold. Then Emperor Guangwu got possession of it at Yiyang, and it has been handed down from ruler to ruler ever since. Lately I’d heard that during the confusion in the palace when the Ten Regular Attendants ran off to the Beimang Hills with the Emperor Shao [Liu Bian]Young Emperor, the Seal went missing during His Majesty’s return to the palace. My lord, Heaven has granted this symbol to you as proof that you yourself will ascend to the imperial dignity. You had better not remain here much longer. You should hurry back to the Southland, where you can lay plans for the accomplishment of this grand design.”

“Your words exactly accord with my thoughts,” said Sun Jian. “Tomorrow I will make an excuse that I am sick and bid farewell.”

Once the discussion had ended, Sun Jian secretly ordered the soldiers present not to mention anything of what had happened. But who could have guessed that one among them was from the same home region as Yuan Shao? Hoping he could use this opportunity to advance himself, this man hurried through the night to Yuan Shao’s camp to report the discovery, and Yuan Shao indeed rewarded him and kept him hidden among his own people.

The next day, Sun Jian came to take his leave of Yuan Shao, saying, “I’ve developed a bit of an illness and wish to return to Changsha, so I came to say my farewells.”

Yuan Shao laughed saying “I know what you are suffering from; it is called the Hereditary Seal!”

Turning pale, Sun Jian said, “What are you talking about?”

Yuan Shao said, “We mustered the people and campaigned against the traitors in order to remove a threat to the state. The Seal is a treasure of the court, and since you have got hold of it, you should publicly hand it over to me as leader of the coalition, for once we have executed Dong Zhuo it will go back to the government. What are you intending to do by concealing it and going away?”

“How could the Jade Seal have gotten into my hands?” asked Sun Jian.

“Where is that thing from the well at the Jianzhang Hall?” retorted Yuan Shao.

“I am telling you, I don’t have it,” said Sun Jian. “What’s with all this harassment?”

“Quickly produce it,” said Yuan Shao, “and you won’t cause yourself any grief.”

Sun Jian pointed toward the heavens and swore, “If I really have this treasure and am hiding it for myself, may I have an unhappy death at the end of some blade or arrow!”

At this the other lords remarked, “After swearing an oath like this, we think Wentai must not have it.”

Then Yuan Shao called out his informant. “When you pulled that thing out of the well, was this man there?” he asked.

In a fit of rage, Sun Jian drew the sword he was wearing and was about to behead the soldier. But Yuan Shao drew his sword as well, saying, “You behead that soldier and it is an insult to me.”

Behind Yuan Shao, his generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou also drew their swords from their scabbards, while behind Sun Jian, Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, and Han Dang bared their blades as well. But the other lords prevailed upon them to break up the meeting before anything further could happen. Sun Jian promptly mounted his horse, pulled up his camp, and departed Luoyang.

Greatly incensed by the confrontation, Yuan Shao wrote out a letter and gave it to a trusted agent to bring at once to Jingzhou to give to the Inspector there, Liu Biao, instructing him to bar the road to take the Hereditary Seal away from Sun Jian.

The following day, news arrived that Cao Cao’s pursuit of Dong Zhuo had been turned back at Rongyang and that he had returned having suffered a great defeat. Yuan Shao ordered that Cao Cao should be brought to his own camp, where he assembled the lords and laid out wine in order to alleviate Cao Cao’s grief.

Yet during the feast, Cao Cao said sadly, “When I first launched this great uprising, it was for the sake of removing a traitor on behalf of the state. And when you gentlemen answered the call and came to support the cause, my strategy was going to be for Benchu to lead the troops from the region north of the Yellow River to hold Suanzao and the Meng Crossing to the north of Luoyang, Gonglu to lead the army from Nanyang to occupy Danshi and Xilin and march through Wu Pass to shake up the Three Adjuncts region to the west, and you other gentlemen to stoutly hold Chenggao, occupy the Ao Granary, and block off Huanyuan and Dagu to control the strategic points around the area. Had we then made deep moats and high ramparts, refusing to fight head-on even as we further closed the vice, we would have demonstrated to the realm how much we controlled the situation and could have taken advantage of the loyalists to help us destroy the traitors, thereby settling the realm. Yet you all lingered and doubted rather than advance, greatly squandering the hopes of the realm. I am ashamed for you all!” Yuan Shao and the others could say nothing in response.

As the guests dispersed, Cao Cao could see that Yuan Shao and the rest each had their own interests in mind. Reckoning that he would never be able to accomplish his original plan, he led his army away back to his home province of Yangzhou.

Then Gongsun Zan said to Xuande, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, “This Yuan Shao is an incapable, and something is bound to happen soon. We had better go back too.”

So they broke camp and went north. Gongsun Zan appointed Xuande as Chancellor of Pingyuan as they were passing by the place, while he went off to his own territory to restore his forces.

Liu Dai wished to borrow grain from Qiao Mao, and when Qiao Mao put him off, Liu Dai led his troops to burst into Qiao Mao’s camp, kill him, and take over all of his men. Seeing that the confederacy was now breaking up in earnest, Yuan Shao also broke camp and left Luoyang, returning to the east.

Now the Inspector of Jing province, Liu Biao styled Jingsheng, was a native of Gaoping marquisate in Shanyang commandery and a scion of the imperial house. As a young man he had enjoyed making friends, and he and seven famous gentleman had come to be known as the Eight Dilettantes of Jiangxia, the other seven being:

Chen Xiang styled Zhonglin, from Runan
Fan Pang styled Mengbo, also from Runan
Kong Yu styled Shiyuan, from Lu
Fan Kang styled Zhongzhen, from Bohai
Tan Fu styled Wenyou, from Shanyang
Zhang Jian styled Yuanjie, also from Shanyang
Cen Zhi styled Gongxiao, from Nanyang

Liu Biao was friends with all of these. And he also had three famous men who helped him in the government of his district. They were Kuai Liang and Kuai Yue of Yanping and Cai Mao of Xiangyang.

When Liu Biao read Yuan Shao’s letter detailing the fault of Sun Jian, he promptly ordered Kuai Yue and Cai Mao to lead out ten thousand soldiers to bar the way. As Sun Jian’s army drew near, Kuai Yue drew up the Jingzhou soldiers in battle formation before riding out in front.

“For what reason does Kuai Yingdu bring troops to block my way home?” asked Sun Jian.

“As you are a subject of Han,” Kuai Yue replied, “for what reason do you conceal the treasure of the Hereditary Seal? Leave it with me at once, and I will let you go home!”

Enraged, Sun Jian ordered Huang Gai to ride out to fight, while Cai Mao twirled his blade and came to face him. They exchanged a few bouts before Huang Gai lifted his iron whip and dealt Cai Mao a blow just over the heart. Cai Mao turned his steed and fled, and Sun Jian pressed his advantage to charge through the enemy troops.

However, there arose the sound of gongs and drums from behind some hills as Liu Biao himself marched up with a large army. From atop his horse, Sun Jian bowed courteously and said “Jingsheng, why do you, on the faith of a letter from Yuan Shao, try to coerce the chief of a neighboring commandery?”

“You are smuggling the Hereditary Seal; are you thinking of rebelling?” was Liu Biao’s reply.

Once again Sun Jian declared, “If I have this thing, may I die at the end of some blade or arrow!”

“If you want me to believe you,” said Liu Biao, “bring up your supply train and let me search your baggage.”

Sun Jian fumed, “What force have you that you dare make a mockery of me?”

The two sides were just about to clash when Liu Biao pulled back his forces.

Sun Jian urged his horse to hurry along. Yet ambush troops suddenly appeared from behind two hills, while Kuai Yue and Cai Mao came up from behind. Sun Jian seemed entirely hemmed in.
And so it was:

What doth it advantage a man to hold the jade seal
If its possession lead to strife?

How did Sun Jian manage to escape this predicament? The next chapter will reveal.