- End of the Han Dynasty
The End of the Han Dynasty (漢朝末年 or 東漢末年, the End of the Eastern Han Dynasty) refers to a period roughly coinciding with the reign of
Han Dynasty's final emperor Emperor Xian (r. 189- 220) when the empire, with its institutions destroyed by the warlord Dong Zhuo, fractured into regional regimes ruled by various warlords. Eventually, one of those warlords, Cao Cao, was able to gradually reunite the empire, ostensibly under Emperor Xian's rule but in fact under his own -- but Cao's efforts to completely reunify the empire were rebuffed at the Battle of Red Cliffs, where his armies were defeated by those of Sun Quan, paving the way for the Three Kingdoms period. The Han Dynasty finally formally ended in 220when Cao's heir Cao Pipressured Emperor Xian into abdicating the throne in his favor, establishing Cao Wei(also known somewhat inaccurately as the Kingdom of Wei); eventually, in response, Liu Beiestablished Shu Han, while Sun Quan established Eastern Wu, and the three regimes coexisted for decades until each was destroyed by the Jin Dynasty under the Sima clan.
The rise of regional authorities in the final years of Emperor Ling
At the very end of
Emperor Ling's largely self-destructive reign, many of the imperial officials could tell that as soon as Emperor Ling died, the political scene would fall into confusion. One of them, Liu Yan, wanting to be a provincial governor with expanded powers, suggested to Emperor Ling in 188that the root of the agrarian revolts during his reign, including the most serious, the Yellow Turban Rebellion, was that provincial governors (刺史, "chishi"), lacked substantial powers. Emperor Ling, convinced by Liu Yan, changed the provincial governors' titles to "mu" (牧) and greatly expanded their powers, including the powers to levy taxes and command armed forces within the borders. Liu Yan was commissioned as the governor of Yi Province (益州, roughly modern Sichuanand Chongqing), while several other important imperial officials also became provincial governors, including Liu Yu, who was named the governor of You Province (幽州, roughly modern northern Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, and Liaoning). The expanded powers of the provincial governors would prove to be eventually the basis under which warlords would control large regions of the empire.
Dong Zhuo's dismantling of the Eastern Han political system
The short domination of the political scene by Empress Dowager He and He Jin
After Emperor Ling's death in
189, his 13-year-old son Liu Bian, by his wife Empress He, became emperor. Empress He, now empress dowager, became the regent, and her brother He Jinbecame the most powerful official at court. He Jin and Yuan Shaoquickly started a plan to exterminate all of the powerful eunuchs-- a plan that was not approved by Empress Dowager He. In a fateful move, He Jin summoned the disobedient general Dong Zhuo, in command of the battle-tested Liang Province (涼州, roughly modern Gansu) troops, to march on the capital Luoyangto threaten Empress Dowager He into exterminating the eunuchs. After the eunuchs found out the plan, they set a trap for He Jin and had him killed. In response, Yuan Shao gathered the imperial guards and exterminated most of the eunuchs. The remaining eunuchs kidnapped the young emperor and his younger brother, the 8-year-old Prince Liu Xie (劉協) of Chenliu and fled north toward the Yellow River, but were finally forced to commit suicide by jumping into the river.
Dong Zhuo then arrived on scene, and, impressed with his own power and unimpressed with the nervous young emperor, he forced the young emperor to yield the throne to his younger brother Prince Xie (who was raised by their grandmother
Empress Dowager Dongwho, while no relation to Dong Zhuo, was therefore respected by Dong Zhuo), who then ascended the throne as Emperor Xian. Dong Zhuo then murdered Empress Dowager He and the young former emperor, and became firmly in control of the political scene. He even had himself named "Xiangguo" -- a title not held by anyone since the great Western Han statesman Xiao He-- and granted himself the privilege of entering the palace without being disarmed of his sword and not having to take his shoes off. All signs pointed to his desire to usurp the throne.
The resistance against Dong Zhuo and the move of the imperial government to Chang'an
In the spring of
190, a large number of provincial officials formed a coalition to start a revolt against Dong Zhuo, claiming that Dong was set on usurping the throne and had effectively kidnapped Emperor Xian. They supported Yuan Shao, who had by then become the governor of Bohai Commandery (渤海, roughly modern Cangzhou, Hebei) to be their leader. The main rebel force, commanded by Yuan himself, was stationed at Henei (河內, in modern Jiaozuo, Henan) and appeared to be ready to move on the capital. However, the rebels were disorganized, and despite Yuan's title as their leader, he did not have effective command of the entire rebel force. The rebels were also hesitant to directly confront the strong Liang Province forces. Still, Dong was also anxious and chose to move the capital to the Western Han capital of Chang'an-- firmly within his own sphere of control -- to avoid a direct confrontation with the rebels. Late in the spring, he did so over all dissent, and further burned the palaces and all major buildings of Luoyang, rendering it a ruined city. Dong Zhuo himself remained near Luoyang, ready to resist any rebel attacks on him, and the rebels, afraid of his battle prowess and low on food supply, scattered and returned to their respective bases. Soon, a number of generals began to have thoughts of controlling their territory and ruling effectively as princes over their territories. The chief among them included:
Yuan Shao, who eventually took over Ji Province (冀州, roughly modern central and southern Hebeiand northern Henan) in 191
* Liu Yan, who controlled Yi Province
Liu Biao, who controlled Jing Province (荊州, roughly modern Hubeiand Hunan)
Yuan Shu(variously said to be Yuan Shao's brother or cousin), who controlled the modern northern and central Anhui
However, in additional to these greater warlords, in time virtually the entire empire fractured into small blocs, controlled by local warlords. In
191, the coalition of rebels tried to further de-legitimize Dong Zhuo by offering the throne to Liu Yu, who was eligible for the throne as a member of the imperial clan and who was greatly loved by the people, but Liu Yu, faithful to Emperor Xian, declined. While the rebels continued to bicker over the battle plans, a minor general under Yuan Shu's command, Sun Jian, took a calculated risk and attacked Dong Zhuo directly near Luoyang. After scoring a number of victories over Dong Zhuo, he forced Dong Zhuo to withdraw to Chang'an, yielding Luoyang to the rebels.
Dong Zhuo's death and continued warfare
Dong Zhuo's death
After Dong Zhuo withdrew to Chang'an, he maintained an even tighter grip on the imperial government. He also cruelly dealt with all dissent. He had made an official friendly to him,
Wang Yun, prime minister, and Wang soon decided that Dong had to be eliminated. He entered into a conspiracy with several other officials -- Huang Wan (黃琬), Shisun Rui (士孫瑞), and Yang Zan (楊瓚) -- to plot against Dong. They eventually persuaded Dong's fierce warrior and adopted son Lü Buto join the plot, after Dong nearly had Lü killed during one fit of anger and after Lü had worried that his affair with one of Dong's servant girls would be discovered by Dong. (In the novel "the Romance of the Three Kingdoms", this servant girl was given the name Diao Chan.) In the summer, the conspirators assassinated Dong and slaughtered his clan.
The failure to return to normality
After Dong's death, it appeared briefly that perhaps the chaos created by Dong would subside, and the imperial administration would return to normal. However, although Wang, now in control of the government, was regarded as a capable administrator, he became arrogant and quickly made several key mistakes that would doom his administration. Viewing Lü as nothing more than a soldier, he failed to keep up good relations with Lü. More fatefully, he (under the reasoning that Dong's subordinates had not actually committed any crimes) refused to issue a pardon to the Liang Province troops and in fact ordered them disbanded -- which caused the Liang Province troops to fear that they were about to be slaughtered, particularly since Wang was very friendly with Yuan Shao, who despised the Liang Province troops. A key subordinate of Dong's,
Niu Fu, took over the Liang troops and resisted Wang, but soon thereafter he died in a friendly fireincident. His subordinates Li Jue, Guo Si, and Fan Chouwanted to submit, but because they had resisted Wang's forces, they requested a pardon -- which Wang refused. They were therefore forced to march on the capital, and they defeated Wang's forces and captured him. They soon executed him and controlled the capital, dooming any hopes that peace would soon be restored.
In the capital, Li, Guo, and Fan, who were utterly incompetent and knew little of anything but military affairs, controlled the imperial government and did what pleased them without regard for the welfare of the state. At the same time, the provincial warlords battled each other. Some formed friendly relations with the Liang generals in the capital, while others continued to be confrontational with them, even though the warlords now nominally acknowledged Emperor Xian as the proper emperor.
193, Liu Yu became the first major provincial warlord to fall victim to these wars. He had major disagreements with his nominal ally Gongsun Zanover how Liu, caring for the people, opposed warfare, while Gongsun constantly battled Yuan Shao. Their alliance fell apart, and each made accusations against each other in their reports to Emperor Xian. Liu Yu finally became unable to endure Gongsun's cruelty against the people, and he attacked Gongsun, but he was defeated by the more militarily capable Gongsun and killed.
195, the Liang generals had a major internal fallout. Li and Guo killed Fan, and then became enemies themselves. Li took Emperor Xian captive, while Guo took the imperial officials captive, and they engaged in battles in the capital. Later in the year, after peace talks between Li and Guo, they agreed to allow Emperor Xian to return to Luoyang -- but as soon as Emperor Xian departed Chang'an, they regretted this and chased him with their troops. While they were never able to capture him, Emperor Xian's court was rendered poor and unable to fend for itself, and once it returned to Luoyang, it lacked even the basic essentials of life. Many imperial officials starved to death. At this time, Yuan Shao's strategist Ju Shousuggested that he welcome Emperor Xian to his province so that he could be effectively in control of the imperial government, but the other strategists Guo Tuand Chunyu Qiongopposed this -- under the faulty logic that if he did, he would have to yield to Emperor Xian on key decisions. Yuan listened to Guo and Chunyu and never again considered welcoming Emperor Xian.
Gradual reunification under Cao Cao
Cao Cao's use of Emperor Xian as titular authority
What Yuan Shao would not do,
Cao Caodid. Cao was at this time a relatively minor warlord, as the governor of the small Yan Province (兗州, modern western Shandongand eastern Henan), with his headquarters at Xu (in modern Xuchang, Henan). He saw the strategic advantage of having the emperor under his control and protection, and in 196he marched west to Luoyang and, after securing an agreement with Emperor Xian's generals Dong Chengand Yang Fengconvincing them of his loyalty, he entered Luoyang and in theory shared power with Dong and Yang -- but was in fact in command. Unlike with Dong Zhuo, though, Cao knew how to assuage the other generals and nobles, and while he gave them little power, he made sure that they remained honored, so minimal opposition against him developed at the imperial court. He then moved the capital to Xu to affirm his control over the imperial government, after defeating Yang who opposed this.
Cao then began to issue imperial edicts in Emperor Xian's name -- including a harshly-worded edict that condemned Yuan Shao for taking over nearby provinces -- even though it still bestowed Yuan with the highly honorific post as commander of the armed forces as well as a march. Now Yuan and the other warlords finally saw the advantage in having the emperor under their control, but it was by then too late for them.
March toward a Cao-Yuan confrontation
Despite the move, the imperial government still lacked funds and food supplies. Cao, under the suggestion of Zao Zhi (棗祇), started the
tuntianpolicy of using his soldiers as farmers in addition to warriors. The result was that the area around Xu became highly productive farmland, and from this point on, Cao never again lacked food supplies in his campaigns.
At this time, the main power blocs were:
* Yuan Shao, who controlled either directly or through his sons and nephew Gao Gan (高幹), most of modern
Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong; he was considered the most powerful of the warlords
* Yuan Shu, who continued to control most of modern
Anhuiand parts of Jiangsu
* Gongsun Zan, who controlled modern
Beijing, Tianjin, and western Liaoning
* Liu Zhang, who controlled modern
Liu Biao, who controlled modern Hubeiand Hunan
* Lü Bu, who had by this point established himself with control of northern Jiangsu, after betraying and attacking
Liu Bei, who had earlier controlled the area
There were still many other warlords, but there had been many conquests that reduced the degree of fracture. In particular, Cao aggressively sought to get the minor warlords to submit to him. In
197, he was nearly killed in one of these operations. After he forced Zhang Xiu's surrender, he carried out an affair with Zhang's aunt, angering Zhang -- who then rebelled and made a surprise attack on him in Wancheng, killing Cao's oldest son Cao Angand his bodyguard Dian Wei. Cao Cao barely escaped with his life. The same year, however, he was able to persuade Ma Tengand Han Sui, who together controlled most of modern Shaanxiand Gansu, to submit to him.
That year, Yuan Shu declared himself emperor, under the empire name Zhongjia (仲家). His subordinate
Sun Ce(the son of Sun Jian), who controlled the modern southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang, unable to convince him that this was ill-advised, broke away from his command and formed an independent command. Lü, who had entered into alliance with Yuan, also broke off the alliance, and dealt Yuan a major defeat near his capital, Shouchun (壽春, in modern Lu'an, Anhui). Cao then also attacked Yuan, forcing Yuan to flee his capital. Yuan Shu was not a major player in the wars after that point.
198, Yuan Shao tried to persuade Cao to move the emperor and the capital to Juancheng (鄄城, in modern Heze, Shandong), much closer to his own power base, to try to wrestle the emperor away from Cao. Cao refused.
Later that year, Cao attacked and defeated Lü at the
Battle of Xiapi. Even though Lü surrendered, Cao knew of Lü's history of treachery, and executed him along with his strategist Chen Gong. He took Lü's domain under his own control.
199, Yuan Shao defeated and killed Gongsun in the Battle of Yijing, extending his territory to the northern boundaries of the empire. He did not fear an attack from the north at that time, and turned his attention to the south. He entered into an alliance with Liu Biao and was intent on attacking Cao; he also had designs on the imperial title. A confrontation appeared inevitable.
The Battle of Guandu
Against the advice of Ju Shou and
Tian Feng(who reasoned that Yuan's forces were tired after prevailing over Gongsun and needed rest), Yuan prepared for war against Cao, confident that his much larger force could easily crush Cao's. Cao prepared for war, but at the same time there was a conspiracy in the capital Xu forming against him, led by Dong Cheng and Liu Bei. In early 200, Liu took an opportunity to rebel against Cao and take over Xu Province (徐州), while Dong prepared to assassinate Cao in the capital. However, Dong was discovered and killed. Cao then attacked Liu -- leaving his flank open for Yuan to attack, believing that the indecisive Yuan would not do so -- and defeated Liu, who fled to Yuan's camp. Liu's fierce subordinate and friend Guan Yuwas captured by Cao. (Tian indeed advised Yuan to attack Cao immediately, but Yuan failed to do so.)
Only after Liu Bei was defeated did Yuan start implementing his plan to attack Cao, against Tian's advice that the opportunity had passed. Tian repeated his advice, and Yuan, in anger, had him imprisoned and then started the march south. However, in two relatively minor skirmishes, Cao's forces defeated and killed Yuan's generals
Yan Liangand Wen Chou, greatly hurting the morale of Yuan's forces. (In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Guan was said to have personally killed both Yan and Wen, but it appears far more likely that Guan only killed Yan. In any case, Guan then left Cao's camp and rejoined Liu Bei, and Cao allowed him to do so, knowing that he could never have Guan's full loyalty.)
The Yuan and Cao armies finally met at Guandu (官渡, in modern
Zhengzhou, Henan), south of the Yellow River. Yuan had an overwhelming force that was well-supplied, but he did not guard his supplies well. Cao personally led a small detachment and made a surprise attack on Yuan's supply troops at Wuchao, commanded by Chunyu Qiong. Instead of immediately coming to Chunyu's aid, Yuan tried to attack Cao's well-guarded headquarters but could not capture it immediately. Cao then defeated and killed Chunyu, demoralizing Yuan's forces, which collapsed. Yuan had to flee north of the Yellow River; much of his army surrendered to Cao. From that point on, while Yuan remained a major power player, he could no longer challenge Cao's supremacy. (After Yuan returned home, instead of releasing Tian, he was embarrassed and had Tian executed.)
The destruction of the Yuan power bloc
Yuan Shao remained depressed after his losses at Guandu, and in
202he died. A major succession struggle developed among his oldest son Yuan Tanand his younger son Yuan Shang. Several years prior to his death, based on traditional orders of succession, Yuan Tan, as the oldest, should have been designated Yuan Shao's heir apparent, but because Yuan Shao's wife Lady Liu favored Yuan Shang, Yuan Shao did too, and therefore had Yuan Tan posthumously adopted by Yuan Shao's older brother Yuan Cheng (袁成). He then divided up his domain between his sons and his nephew Gao Gan, ostensibly so that he could determine their abilities. His home province of Ji was given to Yuan Shang, while Yuan Tan was given Qing Province (青州, modern central and eastern Shandong). His middle son Yuan Xiwas given the former Gongsun domain of You Province, while his nephew Gao was given Bing Province (并州, roughly modern Shanxi). Yuan, however, left no explicit instructions as to who should succeed him.
Of Yuan Shao's strategists,
Feng Jiand Shen Peisupported Yuan Shang, while Xin Pingand Guo Tusupported Yuan Tan. After Yuan Shao's death, most of his subordinates initially favored asking Yuan Tan to succeed him, because he was the oldest son. Shen and Feng, however, forged a will for Yuan Shao in which Yuan Shang was made the heir. Yuan Tan was angry and mobilized his forces under the pretense of attacking Cao -- which raised Cao's attention, and Cao preemptively attacked him. Yuan Shang came to his aid, and the sides fought inconclusively initially. In 203, however, Cao won a major battle over the Yuans, who retreated to the Ji Province capital Yecheng. Cao was then ready to besiege Yecheng, but by the advice of his strategist Guo Jiawithdrew, reasoning that if he pressed them, the Yuans would unite and fight him, whereas if he withdrew, the Yuans would resume infighting.
That they did. Yuan Tan, still angry that Yuan Shang received the larger inheritance, attacked Yuan Shang, but most of his domain, Qing Province, rebelled and followed Yuan Shang's command. Yuan Tan fled to Pingyuan (平原, in modern
Dezhou, Shandong), which Yuan Shang proceeded to besiege. Yuan Tan made the fateful decision of seeking help from Cao -- despite Liu Biao's counsel that such a move would be disastrous. Cao marched north against Yuan Shang's home territory, and Yuan Shang was forced to lift the siege to defend his home. In early 204, however, incorrectly believing that the Cao advance had been stopped, Yuan Shang again put Pingyuan under siege. In response, Cao advanced to Yecheng and besieged it. Yuan Shang was forced to return to try to relieve Yecheng, but Cao crushed his forces. Yuan Shang fled north to Zhongshan (中山, in modern Shijiazhuang, Hebei), and Yecheng fell to Cao. This shocked Gao Gan, who, instead of welcoming Yuan Shang to Bing Province to jointly defend against Cao, submitted to Cao.
In the midst of Cao's siege of Yecheng, Yuan Tan rebelled and attacked his flank, and also attacked his brother Yuan Shang. Yuan Shang was forced to further flee north to Yuan Xi's You Province. Cao, who expected Yuan Tan's betrayal, then turned east and attacked Yuan Tan. In
205, Cao captured Yuan's final stronghold of Nanpi (南皮, in modern Cangzhou, Hebei) and killed Yuan Tan in battle. Yuan Xi's subordinate Jiao Chu (焦觸) then rebelled and submitted to Cao, and Yuan Xi and Yuan Shang abandoned You Province and fled north to the Wuhuanchief Ta Dun, who had remained loyal to Yuan Shao and wanted to help the Yuans to regain their territory.
At this time, Gao also rebelled against Cao. In
206, Cao crushed his forces, and Gao fled south, intending to flee to Liu Biao's territory. On the way, he was intercepted by Cao's forces and killed. Bing Province fell under Cao's control as well. In 207, Cao marched north against Ta Dun, and surprised Ta Dun's headquarters, defeating and killing him. Yuan Xi and Yuan Shang fled east to the warlord Gongsun Kang, who controlled roughly the modern Liaoning. Gongsun executed them and sent their heads to Cao. The Yuan power bloc was no more. (During Cao's campaign against Ta Dun, Liu Bei, who had by now fled to Liu Biao, advised Liu Biao to make an attack against the capital Xu; Liu Biao declined, missing out on a chance to surprise Cao -- one that he would regret later not taking.)
The Battle of Red Cliffs
Prelude to the Battle of Red Cliffs
For the next several years, Cao conducted no major campaigns while awaiting an opportunity to act against the three major remaining warlords -- Sun Quan, who had succeeded his brother Sun Ce in
200after Sun Ce died in battle; Liu Biao; and Liu Zhang. During this time, Sun was strengthening himself as well. In 208he defeated and killed Liu Biao's vassal Huang Zu(who had years earlier killed his father Sun Jian in battle) in the Battle of Xiakou, seizing most of Huang's territory.
208, Cao began a major assault on Liu Biao's Jing Province, while Liu Biao was ill. Despite Liu Biao's earlier futile counsel to Yuan Shao's sons to stop infighting, he himself was having the same issue -- a succession struggle between his older son Liu Qiand younger son Liu Cong, whom his second wife Lady Caifavored (because he had married her niece). After Huang's death, Liu Qi was therefore given Huang's post as the governor of Jiangxia Commandery (roughly modern Huanggang, Hubei). When Liu Biao died later in 208 as Cao was marching south, Liu Cong therefore succeeded him, and Liu Qi was displeased and considered, but did not carry out, an attack against his brother. Nevertheless, Liu Cong, in fear of having to fight Cao and his brother on two fronts, surrendered to Cao against Liu Bei's advice. Liu Bei, unwilling to submit to Cao, fled south. Cao caught up to him and crushed his forces in the Battle of Changban, but Liu Bei escaped with his life; he fled to Dangyang (當陽, in modern Yichang, Hubei). Cao took over most of Jing Province, and appeared set on finally unifying the empire.
Sun was well aware of Cao's intentions, and he quickly entered into an alliance with Liu Bei and Liu Qi to prepare for a Cao assault. Cao wrote Sun with an intimidating letter, and in view of Cao's overwhelming force (estimated to be about 220,000 men, although Cao claimed 800,000, against Sun's own 30,000 and the Lius' combined force of 10,000), many of Sun's subordinates, even including the highly capable
Zhang Zhao, advocated surrender. Sun refused, under advice from Zhou Yuand Lu Suthat Cao would surely not tolerate him even if he surrendered. A battle awaited.
Sun put Zhou in charge of his 30,000 men, largely stationed on naval ships, and Zhou set up a defensive position in conjunction with Liu Bei, whose army was stationed on land. About this time, a developing plague significantly weakened Cao's forces. Zhou set up a trap where he pretended to be punishing his subordinate
Huang Gai, and Huang pretended to be in such fear that he was willing to surrender to Cao. Zhou then sent ships under Huang's command to pretend to surrender and, as Huang's ships approached Cao's fleet, they were lit on fire to assault Cao's fleet, and Cao's fleet was largely destroyed by fire. Cao led his forces to escape on land, but much of the force was destroyed by Sun's and Liu Bei's land forces. The death rate was said to be over 50%.
Entrenchment of Sun and Liu
Immediately, after Cao withdrew, Sun took over the northern half of Jing Province. Liu Bei marched south and took over the southern half. The Sun-Liu alliance was further cemented by a marriage of Sun's sister to Liu. Zhou was suspicious of Liu's intentions, however, and suggested to Sun that Liu be seized and put under house arrest (albeit mild) and his forces be merged into Sun's; Sun, believing that Liu's forces would rebel if he did that, declined. Sun did agree to Zhou's plans to consider attacking Liu Zhang and
Zhang Lu(who controlled the modern southern Shaanxi) to try to take over their territories, but after Zhou died in 210, the plans were abandoned. However, Sun was able to persuade the warlords in modern Guangdong, Guangxi, and northern Vietnamto submit to him, and they became part of his domain. He then yielded northern Jing to Liu as well, agreeing with Liu that southern Jing was insufficient to supply his troops.
Cao, after resting his forces for several years in light of the defeat at Chibi, made a major advance west in 211, ostensibly to attack Zhang Lu. The warlords in control of the other parts of modern Shaanxi,
Han Suiand Ma Chao, suspected that Cao instead had designs on them and acted against Cao's armies. Cao crushed them easily in the Battle of Tong Passand took control of their territories.
That would have unforeseen consequences for Cao's hopes of unifying the empire, however. Liu Zhang, whose territory was further south of Zhang's, became concerned, and made the decision to welcome Liu Bei to his domain to help him defend against both Cao and Zhang. The subordinate that Liu Zhang sent to welcome Liu Bei,
Fa Zheng, was unimpressed with Liu Zhang's abilities and wanted Liu Bei to take over, and he advised Liu Bei of this. Liu Bei, after hesitating initially, agreed with Fa and his strategist Pang Tong, and he entered Liu Zhang's domain under the pretense of assisting Liu Zhang against Cao and Zhang. In 212, using the excuse that Liu Zhang was inadequately supplying his troops, Liu Bei broke off his alliance with Liu Zhang and attacked him. Zhuge Liangled a detachment of the forces Liu Bei left in Jing Province and joined him, leaving Guan Yu in defense of Jing. Ma Chao, who had fled to Zhang, also arrived to join Liu Bei. With Liu Bei's forces besieging his capital of Chengdu, Liu Zhang capitulated and surrendered the city. Liu Bei spared him but sent him to Jing Province. Liu Bei now was in control of the rich Yi Province and quickly settled in, using its mountainous surroundings as natural defenses.
215, the Sun-Liu alliance appeared on the verge of break-up, because Sun demanded that Liu return Jing Province and Liu refused. Sun made an initial attack against Guan, and most of the eastern Jing Province (east of the Xiang River) quickly surrendered. However, after a face-to-face summit between Guan and Lu, the sides renewed their alliance, dividing Jing Province at the Xiang.
Later that year, Cao attacked Zhang Lu and defeated him, taking over his domain. However, against his strategists' advice to advance further against Liu Bei, Cao withdrew his forces, leaving only a small portion in
Xiahou Yuan's command to defend Zhang's former territory. In 216, Cao pressured Emperor Xian into making him the Prince of Wei. During the next few years, the honor and style that Cao was bestowed with became increasingly imperial.
219, Liu Bei marched north to attack Xiahou Yuan and killed him in the Battle of Mount Dingjun. Cao quickly arrived and saved Xiahou's forces from annihilation, but instead of battling with Liu, chose to withdraw, so Liu took over Zhang's former territory of Hanzhong (漢中, modern southern Shaanxi). After his victory, Liu claimed for himself the title of the Prince of Hanzhong (not daring to claim the title of Prince of Han -- a title that Han Dynasty's founder, Liu Bang, once held), but was clearly posturing himself for eventual claim of the imperial title as well. At the same time, Guan also advanced north, attacking Fancheng (樊城, in modern Xiangfan, Hubei), scoring a major victory over Cao's cousin Cao Ren. While Fanchengdid not fall at this time, Guan put it under siege, and the situation was severe enough that Cao Cao considered moving the capital away from Xu. However, Sun, resentful of Guan's prior constant instigation of hostilities (including seizing Sun's food supplies to use for his campaign north), took the opportunity to attack Guan from the rear, and Guan's forces collapsed. Guan was captured and killed by Sun's general Lü Meng; Jing Province became Sun's once more, and the Sun-Liu alliance was over. Sun instead nominally submitted to Cao and urged him to take the throne. Cao declined.
Emperor Xian's abdication
Cao Cao died in early 220. Cao Pi inherited his title of the Prince of Wei -- without awaiting for formal authorization from Emperor Xian -- an increasing sign of the irrelevance of the Han emperor.
In winter 220, the Han Dynasty finally formally ended. Emperor Xian, after making sacrifices to Emperor Gao, sent the imperial seal to Cao Pi and issued an edict abdicating the throne in favor of Cao. Cao formally declined three times, but finally accepted.
Cao Weiwas thereby established, with its capital moved to Luoyang. Emperor Xian was made the Duke of Shanyang. In 221, after the news arrived in Yi Province, Liu Bei would declare himself emperor, establishing Shu Han(which claimed to be the continuation of Han Dynasty, although most historians do not treat it so). Sun became nominally a subject of Cao Wei, but in 222broke away and formed the separate Principality of Wu (later known in history as Eastern Wu) and eventually claiming an imperial title as well.
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