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Ju Shou first started his career as a local clerk under the Governor of Ji Province, Han Fu. In AD 191, Han Fu's former ally, Yuan Shao overtook Ji Province. Ju Shou was made the Army Controller to help keep the discipline of Yuan Shao's forces. Ju Shou was much involved in the war fought between Yuan Shao and the Yan Province warlord, Gongsun Zan.
However, Yuan Shao later grew weary of Ju Shao's suggestion, as they contradicted the advice of Guo Tu, who was a favorite of him. Prior to the Battle of Guandu, Ju Shou advised against having Yan Liang strike Cao Cao's forces at Boma and Yanjing (延津) based on the general's impetuousness. Yuan Shao ignored the advisor, resulting in a major defeat, in which Yan Liang was slain in battle. In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ju Shou advised Yuan Shao to kill Liu Bei (who was with Yuan at the time to avoid Cao Cao) since it is highly likely Liu was acting as a mole for Cao Cao as Liu Bei's general Guan Yu slew Yan Liang and Wen Chou. However Yuan Shao was tricked into thinking that an enemy general who resembled Guan Yu had slain his general and refused to execute Liu Bei.
Earlier, Tian Feng advised against the strike on the basis that Cao Cao was near Guandu at Xuchang, and they had missed their perfect chance to capture Xuchang earlier when Cao was busy attacking Liu Bei at Xiapi. Ju Shou also agreed with Tian Feng's suggestion, however this angered Yuan Shao and he perceived it as lowering his army's morale, and put Tian in prison. This also served as a warning to Ju Shou.
Later, Yuan Shao personally led his 100,000 strong army to attack Cao Cao during the Battle of Guandu. Ju Shou advised Yuan Shao not to be overconfident, and instead concentrate on defense and reach a stalemate since Yuan's army was abundant in soldiers and supplies, and had landscape advantage, while Cao Cao's army lacked in all three; after Cao's force inevitably weakens, Yuan could launch a full force attack at the retreating Cao forces and score a major victory and take over Xuchang. However, Yuan Shao once again ignored this advice and had Ju Shou locked up under the same charge as Tian Feng, affecting the army's morale. He was overconfident that his forces were significantly stronger and had no need for a long term defensive fight, and it was more "prideful" to launch an all-out offensive.
Yuan Shao assigned Chunyu Qiong to be in charge of the army's main supply base at Wuchao (乌巢). Ju Shou knew that Chunyu Qiong was incapable of taking the responsibility of guarding the supplies and provisions and requested audience with Yuan Shao. He then advised Yuan Shao to let someone else be in charge as the loss of Wuchao would likely result in defeat. Yuan Shao was sick and tired of Ju Shou and ignored him.
As Ju Shou had predicted, Yuan Shao's army suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Guandu when their supplies and provisions at Wuchao were burnt down by Cao Cao's troops. Yuan Shao managed to flee back to Hebei but Ju Shou was captured in battle by Cao Cao's troops. Cao Cao treated Ju Shou with respect and offered to let Ju join him as an advisor. Ju Shou stated that his family had always served the Yuans, and that will never change. Cao Cao was moved by his loyalty and gave him a few days to think about the offer and kept him in his camp. However, Ju Shou attempted to escape at night by stealing a horse, but was killed by Cao Cao's men. Saddened by the loss of a great scholar, Ju Shou was given a proper burial and his grave was visited by Cao Cao himself.
Appointments and titles held
- Attendant Officer in Ji Province (冀州別駕)
- Maocai (茂才)
- County Prefect (縣令)
- Commandant of Cavalry (騎都尉) under Han Fu
- Army Inspector (監軍)
- General of Uplifting Might (奮威將軍)