In 189 the general Dong Zhuo had seized control of the Han court. Refusing to acknowledge his authority, the governors and generals of the Han Empire's eastern provinces rebelled. With neither side able to win a decisive victory the war turned into a stalemate and the rebel alliance fell apart, its leaders concentrating on building up their own power base. In the latter half of 191 Gongsun Zan went to war against his enemy to the south, Yuan Shao, the Governor of Ji province. Gongsun Zan sent Tian Kai to attack Qing province, then controlled by Yuan Shao, appointing him Inspector of Qing. Tian Kai managed to establish himself in the northern part of Qing, but was unable to defeat Yuan Shao's rival appointment for Inspector, his oldest son Yuan Tan. In 193 Gongsun Zan and Yuan Shao concluded a truce, both sides exhausted after two years of continuous war.
In 194 Tao Qian, Inspector of Xu province, who was under heavy attack from the rising warlord Cao Cao, approached Tian Kai for aid. Tian sent one of his officers, Liu Bei, with a few thousand men to help Tao Qian. Tao Qian gave Liu Bei four thousand more so Liu Bei shifted his allegiance away from Tian Kai.
In 198 Yuan Shao again advanced against Gongsun Zan, winning a decisive victory in 199 in the Battle of Yijing where Tian Kai was killed and Gongsun Zan committed suicide.
- de Crespigny, Rafe. "To Establish Peace: being the Chronicle of the Later Han dynasty for the years 189 to 220 AD as recorded in Chapters 59 to 69 of the Zizhi tongjian of Sima Guang". Volume 1. Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra. 1996. ISBN 0-7315-2526-4.
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