Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

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Attributed to
Luo Guanzhong
(Circa 1300–1400)
Translated by
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Edited by
Snow N. Snow

Chapter 6

Burning the Capital, Dong Zhuo Commits an Atrocity
Hiding the Imperial Hereditary Seal, Sun Jian Breaks Faith

Zhang Fei rode hard up to the Pass, but the defenders sent down stones and arrows like rain so that he could not enter, and he returned. The eight lords all joined in felicitations to the three brothers for their services, and the story of victory was sent to Yuan Shao, who ordered Sun Jian to make an immediate advance.

Thereupon Sun Jian with two trusty generals, Cheng Pu and Huang Gai, went over to the camp of Yuan Shu.

Tracing figures on the ground with his staff, Sun Jian said, “Dong Zhuo and I had no personal quarrel. Yet now I have thrown myself into the battle regardless of consequences, exposed my person to the risk of wounds and fought bloody battles to their bitter end. And why? That I might be the means of ridding my country of a rebel and—for the private advantage of your family. Yet you, heeding the slanderous tongue of certain counselor, formerly withheld the supplies absolutely necessary to me, and so I suffered defeat. How can you explain, General?”

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

Then suddenly they told Sun Jian, “Some officer has come riding down from the Pass to see you, General. He is in the camp.”

Sun Jian therefore took his leave and returned to his own camp, where he found the visitor was Li Jue, one of the much trusted commanders of Dong Zhuo.

“Wherefore come you?” said Sun Jian.

Li Jue replied, “You are the one person for whom my master has respect and admiration, and he sends me to arrange a matrimonial alliance between the two families. He wishes that his daughter may become the wife of your son.”

“What! Dong Zhuo, that rebel and renegade, that subverter of the Throne! I wish I could destroy his nine generations as a thank-offering to the empire! Think you I would be willing to have an alliance with such a family? I will not slay you as I ought, but go, and go quickly! Yield the Pass and I may spare your lives. 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. Dong Zhuo asked his adviser Li Ru how to reply to this.

Li Ru said, “Lü Bu’s late defeat had somewhat blunted the edge of our army’s desire for battle. It would be well to return to the capital and remove the Emperor to Chang’an, as the street children had been lately singing:

“A Han on the west, a Han on the east.
The deer in Chang’an shall worry least.”

Li Ru continued, “If you think out this couplet, it applies to the present juncture. Half the first line refers to the founder of the dynasty, Liu Bang [Gaozu] the Liu Bang [Gaozu], who became ruler in the western city of Chang’an, which was the capital during twelve reigns. The other half corresponds to Emperor Guangwu [Liu Xiu] the Latter Han Founder who ruled from Luoyang, the eastern capital during twelve latter reigns. The revolution of the heavens brings us back to this starting moment. Thus if you remove to Chang’an, there will be no need for anxiety.”

Dong Zhuo was exceedingly pleased and said, “Had you not spoken thus, I should not have understood!”

Then taking Lü Bu with him, Dong Zhuo started at once for Capital Luoyang.

Here he called all the officials to a great council in the Palace and addressed them, “After two centuries of rule here, the royal fortune has been exhausted, and I perceive that the aura of rule has migrated to Chang’an, whither I now desire to move the court. All you had better pack up for the journey.”

Yang Biao, Minister of the Interior, said, “I pray you reflect. The Land Within the Passes is all destruction. There is no reason to renounce the ancestral temples and abandon the imperial tombs here. I fear the people will be alarmed. It is easy to alarm them but difficult to pacify them.”

“Do you oppose the state plans?” said Dong Zhuo angrily.

Another official, Grand Commander Huang Wan, supported his colleague, “In the era of Recommencement (AD 23–25), Fan Chong of the Red Eyebrows rebels burned Chang’an to the ground and reduced the place to broken tiles. The inhabitants scattered all but a few. It is wrong to abandon these palaces here for a wasteland.”

Dong Zhuo replied, “The East of the Passes is full of sedition, and all the empire is in rebellion. The city of Chang’an is protected by the Yaohan Mountains and the Hangu Pass. Moreover, it is near Longyou, whence can be easily brought timber, stone, brick, and building materials. In a month or so palaces can be erected. So an end to your wild words!”

Yet Minister of Works Xun Shuang raised another protest against disturbing the people, but Dong Zhuo overbore him also.

“How can I stop to consider a few common people when my scheme affects the empire?” said Dong Zhuo.

That day the three objectors—Yang Biao, Huang Wan, and Xun Shuang—were removed from their offices and reduced to the rank of commoners.

As Dong Zhuo went out to get into his coach, he met two other officers who made obeisance. They were the Chair of the Secretariat, Zhou Bi, and the Commander of the City Gates, Wu Qiong. Dong Zhuo stopped and asked them what they wanted.

Said Zhou Bi, “We venture to try to dissuade you from moving the capital to Chang’an.”

Dong Zhuo replied, “You two persuaded me to give Yuan Shao office. Now he has already turned traitor, and you are of the same party!”

And without more ado he bade his guards take both outside the city and put them to death. The command to remove to the new capital immediately was issued.

Speaking to Dong Zhuo, Li Ru pointed out, “We are short of money and food, and the rich people of Luoyang could be easily plundered. This is a good occasion to link them to the rebels and to confiscate their properties.”

Dong Zhuo sent five thousand troops out to plunder and slay. They captured many thousand wealthy householders and, having stuck flags on their heads saying they were Traitors and Rebels, drove them out of the city and put them to death. Their properties were all seized.

The task of driving forth the inhabitants, some millions, was given to two of Dong Zhuo’s commanders, Li Jue and Guo Si. The people were sent off in bands, each band between two parties of soldiers, who drove them torward Chang’an. Enormous numbers fell by the road side and died in the ditches, and the escort plundered the fugitives and defiled the women. A wail of sorrow arose to the very sky.

Dong Zhuo’s final orders as he left Capital Luoyang were to burn the whole city: Houses, palaces, temples, and everything were devoured by the flames. The capital became but a patch of scorched earth.

Dong Zhuo sent Lü Bu to desecrate the tombs of the emperors and their consorts for the jewels therein, and the common soldiers took the occasion to dig up the graves of officials and plunder the cemeteries of the wealthy. The spoil of the city, gold and silver, pearls and silks, and beautiful ornaments, filled several thousand carts. With these and the persons of the Emperor and his household, Dong Zhuo moved off to the new capital in the first year of Inauguration of Tranquillity (AD 190).

Luoyang being thus abandoned, the general of Dong Zhuo at River Si Pass, Zhao Cen, evacuated that post of vantage, which Sun Jian at once occupied. Liu Bei and his brothers took Tiger Trap Pass and the confederate lords advanced.

Sun Jian hastened to the late capital which was still in flames. When he arrived, dense smoke hung all over it and spread for miles around. No living thing, not a fowl, or a dog, or a human being, remained. Sun Jian told off his soldiers to extinguish the fires and set out camping places for the confederate lords.

Cao Cao went to see Yuan Shao and said, “Dong Zhuo has gone west. We ought to follow and attack his rear without loss of time. Why do you remain inactive?”

“All our colleagues are worn out, and there is nothing to be gained by attack,” said Yuan Shao.

Cao Cao said, “This moment was most propitious in the utter confusion that reigned—palaces burned, the Emperor abducted, the whole world upset, and no one knowing whither to turn. The villain will soon be ended, and a single blow could exterminate Dong Zhuo. Why not pursue?”

But all the confederate lords seemed of one mind, and that mind was to postpone action. So they did nothing.

“Those unworthy people cannot discuss worthy thing!” cried Cao Cao.

Then, he and his six generals—Xiahou Dun, Xiahou Yuan, Cao Ren, Cao Hong, Li Dian, and Yue Jin—and ten thousand troops started in pursuit.

The road to the new capital led through Yingyang. When Dong Zhuo reached it, Governor Xu Rong went to welcome the cavalcade.

Li Ru said, “As there is some danger of pursuit, it would be well to order the Governor of this place to lay an ambush outside the city. He is to let the pursuers pass and be ready to cut off their retreat, when our army beats them off. That will teach any others not to follow.”

Then Dong Zhuo ordered Lü Bu to command the rear guard. Very soon they saw Cao Cao coming up, and Lü Bu laughed at his colleague’s foresight. He set out his troops in fighting order.

Cao Cao rode forward, crying, “Rebels, abductors, drovers of the people, where are you going?”

Lü Bu replied, “Treacherous simpleton, what mad words are these?”

Then from Cao Cao army rode forth Xiahou Dun with his spear set, and Lü Bu and Xiahou Dun engaged. The combat had hardly begun when Li Ru with a cohort came in from the left. Cao Cao bade Xiahou Yuan meet this onslaught. However, on the other side appeared Guo Si and his company. Cao Cao sent Cao Ren against Guo Si. The onrush on three sides was too much to withstand, and Lü Bu’s army was overwhelming, so Xiahou Dun had to retire to the main line. Thereupon Lü Bu’s armored troops attacked and completed the defeat. The beaten army of Cao Cao turned toward Yingyang.

They got as far as the foot of a hill in the evening about the second watch, and the moon made it as light as day. Here they halted to reform. Just as they were burying the boilers to prepare a meal, there arose a great noise of shouting on all sides and out came the troops of Governor Xu Rong from the ambush fresh to attack.

Cao Cao, thrown into a flurry, mounted and fled. He ran right in the way of the waiting Xu Rong. Then he dashed off in another direction, but Xu Rong shot an arrow after him which struck him in the shoulder. The arrow still in the wound, Cao Cao fled for his life. As he went over the hill, two soldiers lying in wait among the grass suddenly dashed out and wounded his horse, which fell and rolled over. And as he slipped from the saddle, he was seized and made prisoner.

Just then a horseman came, riding at full speed and whirling his sword up, cut down both the captors, and rescued Cao Cao. It was Cao Hong.

Cao Cao said, “I am doomed, good brother. Go and save yourself!”

“My lord, mount my horse quickly! I will go afoot,” said Cao Hong.

“If those wretches come up, what then?” said Cao Cao.

“The world can do without Cao Hong, but not without you, my lord!”

“If I live, I shall owe you my life,” said Cao Cao.

So he mounted. Cao Hong tore off his own breastplate, gripped his sword, and went on foot after the horse. Thus they proceeded till the fourth watch when they saw before them a broad stream, and behind they still heard the shouts of pursuers drawing nearer and nearer.

“This is my fate,” said Cao Cao. “I am really doomed!”

Cao Hong helped Cao Cao down from his horse. Then taking off his fighting robe and helmet, Cao Hong took the wounded man on his back and waded into the stream. When they reached the further side, the pursuers had already gained the bank whence they shot arrows.

Cao Cao all wet pushed on. Dawn was near. They went on another ten miles and then sat down to rest under a precipice. Suddenly loud shouting was heard and a party of horse appeared. It was Governor Xu Rong who had forded the river higher up. Just at this moment Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan, with several dozens men, came along.

“Hurt not my lord!” cried Xiahou Dun to Xu Rong, who at once rushed at him.

But the combat was short. Xu Rong speedily fell under a spear thrust of Xiahou Dun, and his troops were driven off. Before long Cao Cao’s other generals arrived. Sadness and joy mingled in the greetings. They gathered together the few hundreds of soldiers left and then returned to Luoyang.

When the confederate lords entered Luoyang, Sun Jian, after extinguishing the fires, camped within the walls, his own tent being set up near the Dynastic Temple. His people cleared away the debris and closed the rifted tombs. The gates were barred. On the site of the Dynastic 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 left and 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 looking up at the heavens, he noticed a mist spreading over the stars of the Constellation Draco.

“The Emperor’s star is dulled,” said Sun Jian with a sigh. “No wonder a rebellious minister disturbs the state, the people sit in dust and ashes, and the capital is a waste.”

And his tears began to fall.

Then a soldier pointing to the south said, “There is a beam of colored light rising from a well!”

Sun Jian bade his people light torches and descend into the well. 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 red box was found, with a golden lock, and when the box was opened, they saw a jade seal, square in shape, four inches each way. On it were delicately engraved five dragons intertwined. One corner had been broken off and repaired with gold. There were eight characters in the seal style of engraving which interpreted read:

I have received the command from Heaven: May my time be always long and prosperous.

Sun Jian showed this to his adviser, General Cheng Pu, who at once recognized it as the Imperial Hereditary Seal of the Emperor.

Cheng Pu said, “This seal has a history. In olden days Bian He saw a phoenix sitting on a certain stone at the foot of the Jing Mountains. He offered the stone at court. The King of Chu split open the stone and found a piece of jade. In the twenty-sixth year of Qin Dynasty (221 BC), a jade cutter made a seal from it, and Li Si, the First Emperor’s Prime Minister, engraved the characters. Two years later, while the First Emperor was sailing in Dongting Lake, a terrific storm arrived. The Emperor threw the seal to the water as a propitiatory offering, and the storm immediately ceased. Ten years later again, when the First Emperor was making a progress and had reached Huaying, an old man by the road side handed a seal to one of the attendants saying, ‘This is now restored to the ancestral dragon!’ and had then disappeared. Thus the jewel returned to Qin.

“The next year the First Emperor died. Later Zi Ying, the last Emperor of Qin and grandson of the First Emperor, presented the seal to Liu Bang [Gaozu] the Liu Bang [Gaozu], the founder of Han Dynasty. Two hundred years later, in Wang Mang’s rebellion, the Emperor’s mother, Lady Yuan, struck two of the rebels, Wang Xun and Su Xian, with the seal and broke off a corner, which was repaired with gold. Emperor Guangwu [Liu Xiu] the Latter Han Founder got possession of it at Yiyang, and it has been regularly bequeathed hereafter.

“I heard this treasured seal had been lost during the trouble in the Palace when the Ten Regular Attendants hurried off the Emperor. It was missed on His Majesty’s return. Now my lord has it and certainly will come to the imperial dignity. But you must not remain here in the north. Quickly go home to the south of the Great River, where you can lay plans for the accomplishment of the great design.”

“Your words exactly accord with my thoughts,” said Sun Jian. “Tomorrow I will make an excuse that I am unwell and get away.”

The soldiers were told to keep the discovery a secret. But one among them was a compatriot of the elected chief of the confederacy—Yuan Shao. He thought this might be of great advantage to him, so he stole away out of the camp and betrayed his master. He went to Yuan Shao’s camp, informed the secret, and received a liberal reward. Yuan Shao kept the informant in his own camp.

Next morning Sun Jian came to take leave, saying, “I am rather unwell and wish to return to Changsha.”

Yuan Shao laughed, saying, “I know what you are suffering from: It is called the Imperial Hereditary Seal!”

This was a shock to Sun Jian, and he paled but said, “Whence these words?”

Yuan Shao said, “The armies were raised for the good of the state and to relieve it from oppression. The seal is state property; and since you have got hold of it, you should publicly hand it over to me as chief. When Dong Zhuo has been slain, it must go back to the government. What do you mean by concealing it and going away?”

“How could the seal get into my hands?” said Sun Jian.

“Where is the article out of the well near the Hall of Paragons?”

“I have it not: Why harass me thus?”

“Quickly produce it, or it will be the worst for you!”

Sun Jian pointing toward the heavens as an oath said, “If I have this jewel and am hiding it myself, may my end be unhappy and my death violent!”

The lords all said, “After an oath like this, we think he cannot have it.”

Then Yuan Shao called out his informant.

“When you pulled that thing out of the well, was this man there?” asked he of Sun Jian.

Sun Jian’s anger burst forth, and he sprang forward to kill the man.

Yuan Shao also drew his sword, saying, “You touch that soldier and it is an insult to me!”

Behind Sun Jian, Generals Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, and Han Dang stepped forth; behind Yuan Shao, Generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou were ready to act. In a moment on all sides swords flew from their scabbards. But the confusion was stayed by the efforts of the others, and Sun Jian left the assembly. Soon he broke up his camp and marched to his own place.

Yuan Shao was not satisfied. He wrote to Jingzhou Region and sent the letter by a trusty hand to tell Imperial Protector Liu Biao to stop Sun Jian and take away the seal.

Just after this came the news of the defeat and misfortune of Cao Cao, and when he was coming home, Yuan Shao sent out to welcome him and conduct him into camp. They also prepared a feast to console him.

During the feast Cao Cao said sadly, “My object was for the public good, and all you gentlemen nobly supported me. My plan was to get Yuan Shao with his Henei troops to approach Mengching; and my force at Qiao to keep Chenggao; while the others of you to hold Suanzao, to close the passes of Huanyuan and Daigu, and to take possession of the granaries, to control the points of vantage, and thus to secure the Capital District. I planned for Yuan Shu with his Nanyang army to occupy the counties of Danshi and Xilin and go into Wu Pass to help the three support areas. All were to fortify their positions and not to fight. Advantage lay in a diverse military coalition that could show the empire a possibility of dealing with the rebellion. We could have convinced the people to side with us against Dong Zhuo. Victory would have been ours at once. But then came delays and doubts and inaction, and the confidence of the people was lost, and I am ashamed.”

No reply was possible and the guests dispersed. Cao Cao saw that the others mistrusted him, and in his heart knew that nothing could be accomplished. So he led off his force to Yanzhou Region.

Then Gongsun Zan said to Liu Bei, “This Yuan Shao is an incapable, and things will turns chaotic. We had better go too.”

So he broke camp and went north. At Pingyuan he left Liu Bei in command and went to strengthen his own position and refresh his troops.

The Imperial Protector of Yanzhou, Liu Dai, wished to borrow grain of the Governor of Dongjun, Qiao Mao. Being denied, Liu Dai attacked the camp, killed Qiao Mao and took over all his army. Yuan Shao seeing the confederacy breaking up also marched away and went east.

On the way home, Sun Jian was passing through Jingzhou Region. The Imperial Protector of Jingzhou, Liu Biao, was a scion of the imperial house and a native of Shanyang. As a young man he had made friends with many famous people, and he and his companions were called the Eight Wise Ones. The other seven were:

Liu Biao was friends with all these. He had three famous persons who helped him in the government of his region. They were Kuai Liang and Kuai Yue from Yanping, and Cai Mao from Xiangyang.

When Yuan Shao’s letter detailing the fault of Sun Jian arrived, Liu Biao ordered Kuai Yue and Cai Mao with ten thousand soldiers to bar the way. When Sun Jian drew near, the force was arranged in fighting order and the leaders were in the front.

“Why are you thus barring the road with armed troops?” asked Sun Jian.

“Why do you, a servant of Han, secrete the Emperor’s special seal? Leave it with me at once and you go free,” said Kuai Yue.

Sun Jian angrily ordered out General Huang Gai. On the other side Cai Mao rode forth with his sword set to strike. But after a few bouts Huang Gai dealt Cai Mao a blow with the iron whip on the armor just over the heart. Cai Mao turned his steed and fled, and Sun Jian got through with a sudden rush.

However, there arose the sound of gongs and drums on the hills behind, and there was Liu Biao in person with a large army.

Sun Jian rode straight up to him and bowing low spoke, “Why did you, on the faith of a letter from Yuan Shao, try to coerce the chief of a neighboring region?”

“You have concealed the state jewel, and I want you to restore it,” was Liu Biao’s reply.

“If I have this thing, may I die a violent death!”

“If you want me to believe you, let me search your baggage.”

“What force have you that you dare come to flout me thus?”

And only Liu Biao’s prompt retirement prevented a battle. Sun Jian proceeded on his way. But from the rear of the second hill an ambush suddenly discovered itself, and Kuai Yue and Cai Mao were still pursuing. Sun Jian seemed entirely hemmed in.

What does a man to hold the state jewel for,
If its possession lead to strife?

How Sun Jian got clear of the difficulty will presently be told.