Yuan Shang

Yuan Shao

Yuan Shao (? - 202) was a powerful warlord during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China. He occupied the northern territories of ancient China during the massive civil war towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms era. He was also the elder brother of Yuan Shu, a warlord who controlled the Huai River region, though the two were not in good terms with each other.

One of the most powerful warlords of his time, Yuan Shao spearheaded a coalition of warlords against the tyrannical Dong Zhuo, who held Emperor Xian hostage in the capital Luoyang, but failed due to internal disunity. In 200, he launched a campaign against rival warlord Cao Cao but was decisively defeated at the Battle of Guandu. He died of sickness two years later in Ye. His eventual failure despite his powerful family background and geographical advantages was commonly blamed on his indecisiveness and inability to heed the advice of his advisors.

Life

Early life and career

A local of the county of Ruyang (汝陽), Yuan Shao was born in the noble Yuan family, whose members had since the 1st century been prominent in the civil bureaucracy of the Han Dynasty. Descended from the Interior Minister Yuan An, who served under Emperor Zhang, Yuan Shao's exact parentage was the source of controversy and the major cause of dispute between him and Yuan Shu. Yuan Shao was an offspring of the Minister of Agriculture Yuan Feng (袁逢), and an elder half-brother of Yuan Feng's son, Yuan Shu, both were great-grandson of Yuan An, as recorded by the Book of Wei (魏書) by Wang Chen (王沈). Yuan Shao's mother was originally a maid in Yuan Feng's house, and since Yuan Feng lacked male offspring, the birth of Yuan Shao elevated his mother's status from a maid to a concubine. The Records of Three Kingdoms claimed that Yuan Shao was elder cousin to Yuan Shu. The reason for this was that Yuan Feng's older brother also lacked any male offsprings so Yuan Shao was adopted by Yuan Feng's older brother as his son. This adoption infuriated Yuan Shu, because despite also being a concubine's son, the younger Yuan Shu had a mother originally with higher status. The adoption of Yuan Shao by their elder uncle meant that Yuan Shao had become the eldest son of the clan, and would enjoy all the privileges associated with being the eldest. In their disputes in the later years, Yuan Shu would use the Yuan Shao's mother as an excuse to claim that Yuan Shao was really not a true son of the Yuan family, which inevitably would infuriate Yuan Shao. Yuan Shao was also a childhood friend of his future rival, Cao Cao.

When Yuan Shao was young, he participated in saving some of the "partisans" from death or other terrible fates during the second Disaster of Partisan Prohibitions. After he entered into government service, Yuan Shao initially served as an aide to General-in-Chief He Jin and was heavily trusted by the latter. After the death of Emperor Ling in 189, He Jin and Yuan Shao jointly plotted to execute the powerful eunuch faction but the empress dowager was against the move. He Jin then summoned Dong Zhuo to lead troops into the capital Luoyang to lay pressure on the empress dowager. Meanwhile, however, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuch faction, which was then involved in a bloody clash with Yuan Shao and other followers of He Jin. The resulting power vacuum provided an excellent opportunity for Dong Zhuo to seize control of the capital when he arrived.

Dong Zhuo then discussed with Yuan Shao about his plan to depose the young successor to Emperor Ling in favor of Emperor Xian, but Yuan Shao disagreed. Relationship between the two deteriorated sharply and Yuan Shao fled the capital to Ji province (冀州, present day southern Hebei). Fearing the many connections the influential Yuan family had, Dong Zhuo then assigned Yuan Shao to governor of Bohai Commandery (勃海, in the vicinity of present day Cangzhou, Hebei) in a bid to appease the latter.

Coalition against Dong Zhuo

By early 190, however, Yuan Shao became openly hostile. A coalition of regional officials and commanders from the eastern provinces, including Cao Cao, Yuan Shu, Han Fu, Zhang Miao and Bao Xin, formed up behind him in a campaign to oust Dong Zhuo. Yuan Shao declared himself "General of Chariots and Cavalry" (車騎將軍) and camped at Henei (河內), near a ford on the Yellow River just north of Luoyang. Dong Zhuo then had the emperor taken to the strategically defensive Chang'an and a year later, he burned Luoyang to the ground and withdrew to the west himself.

During this time, Yuan Shao and Han Fu had intended to boost the righteousness of the coalition by making Liu Yu, governor of You province (幽州, present day northern Hebei), the emperor. However, believing that it would be faithless to Emperor Xian for him to accept, Liu Yu declined the offer. By 191, the confrontation with Dong Zhuo had largely turned into a stalemate and the disunited leaders of the coalition soon disbanded.

Warlord state

In 191, Han Fu, governor of Ji province, gave up the governorship to Yuan Shao in the face of an imminent attack by Gongsun Zan from the north. Yuan Shao then began to build a warlord state from his base city at Ye. He engaged in a general alliance with Liu Biao against his own cousin (or half-brother) Yuan Shu so as to focus on the conflicts with Gongsun Zan. In the winter of that year, Yuan Shao successfully defeated the cavalry forces of Gongsun Zan at the Battle of Jieqiao with the use of massed crossbowmen. Yuan Shao then turned southwest to eradicate the Heishan bandits. With the short-term help from Lü Bu, Yuan Shao managed to defeat the bandit leader Zhang Yan and removed the threat to his western flank.

In subsequent years, Yuan Shao achieved considerable success in consolidating his domain and absorbing the smaller powers around him. In 196 his prominent position in northern China was recognized by Emperor Xian, who granted him the position of General-in-Chief and the title of Marquis of Ye, but Yuan Shao turned them down. In 198 Yuan Shao advanced against Gongsun Zan and encircled his remaining force at Yijing (易京, present day Xiongxian County, Hebei). By early 199 Gongsun Zan had been defeated for good at the decisive Battle of Yijing and Yuan Shao held absolute power over the four provinces north of the Yellow River. Despite warnings from his advisor Ju Shou that the move could sow seeds for future trouble, Yuan Shao insisted on sending his first-born Yuan Tan away to govern Qing province (青州, present day eastern Shandong). Then, after establishing alliance with the Wuhuan tribes on the northern frontier, Yuan Shao eventually turned his attention to Cao Cao, who had been consolidating his power south of the Yellow River.

Battle of Guandu

Both sides made preparations for a decisive battle, which would come to be known as the Battle of Guandu. Towards the end of 199 skirmishes were already being fought at Liyang, a major crossing point of the Yellow River. Cao Cao prepared his defenses around Guandu (官渡, northeast of present day Zhongmu County, Henan), slightly south of the river. Heavily outnumbering Cao Cao and holding large cavalry force, Yuan Shao's initial attacks almost overwhelmed his enemy's positions. A strike at Yuan Shao's supply lines in late 200, however, brought the northern army to a collapse. As many of his generals defected, Yuan Shao fled north across the Yellow River with his sons.

His first major defeat was also a decisive one. Thereafter, Yuan Shao lost the initiative and never regained it. In 202, he was again defeated, this time at Cangting (倉亭, in the vicinity of present day Yanggu County, Shandong). He died shortly after. His first wife, so filled with jealousy, killed his other five consorts and disfigured their faces to prevent them from meeting him in the underworld. True to Ju Shou's previous warning, Yuan Shao's legacy was left to contention between his eldest and youngest sons, Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang. Cao Cao was able to manipulate this internal rivalry, and by 207 had defeated both.

It is said that Cao Cao paid respect to Yuan Shao's tomb after his total annexation of his former countries, Cao Cao was showing remorse in front of his generals and made a comment that it was unavoidable for turning his former friend into an enemy.

Cause of his defeat

Yuan Shao's defeat to Cao Cao at Guandu is cited as an excellent example of how superior tactics and strategy can be used to defeat much larger forces. By using feints, counterattacks and strategic withdrawals, Cao Cao managed to render Yuan Shao's vastly superior manpower useless. It can be said Yuan Shao was simply outsmarted by his former friend Cao Cao. According to some sources, however, his defeat can be attributed to his failure to listen to his advisor Tian Feng. It is said that he lost his chance to defeat Cao Cao early on when he refused to mobilise his army, claiming his son was ill with a toothache.

Some believe Yuan Shao's defeat was caused by senility. They argue that it would explain how a man who managed to become for a good period of time the dominant force in China could suddenly fail so completely. It is highly likely that it was a combination of senility, inability to listen to advice and his unfortunate luck in finding such a cunning foe that was Yuan Shao's downfall.

Cao Cao had once analysed Yuan Shao before the Battle of Guandu. Cao Cao said: Yuan Shao will be defeated during the war.

  1. He is arrogant, self-centred, and senile;
  2. His advisers fight against each other;
  3. His generals have brawn but no brain, (to put it literally) Yan Liang and Wen Chou, valiant but stupid in terms of using tactics;
  4. His sons' rivalry: All 3 brothers can't seem to unite
  5. he did not respect his officers or troops

These reasons Cao Cao noted were indeed true, Yuan Shao was defeated not long after this analysis.

Modern citations

  • Yuan Shao has appeared in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Dynasty Tactics video game series.
  • In Warriors Orochi a crossover game between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, Yuan Shao leads a resistance army with the aid of Yukimura Sanada. After his defeat at Cheng Du he and his forces are captured by Orochi, but are rescued by the resistance army led by Zhao Yun. He then joins Zhao Yun in the fight against Orochi.
  • Yuan Shao has a minor role in Koei's Kessen II title. In the game, the Battle of Guandu distracts Cao Cao, allowing Liu Bei, an ally of Yuan Shao and the player's character, to advance to Runan, setting the stage for the game's second level.
  • He also is in each of the 11 versions of Koei's strategical simulation, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He is portrayed very closely to that of his novel persona, and has stats that follow the same pattern as Cao Cao's in the game, but lower.
  • He is also mentioned in Squaresoft's 'Final Fantasy IX': There is a location called the Yuanshao Peninsula.

See also

References

  • Chen Shou (2002). San Guo Zhi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80665-198-5.

External links

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