Campaign against Yuan Shu

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Campaign against Yuan Shu
Part of the wars at the end of the Han dynasty
Date197 - 199 CE
LocationRegion south of the Huai River, China
Result Han victory
Han dynasty Zhong dynasty
Commanders and leaders
Cao Cao
Sun Ce
Liu Bei
Lü Bu
Lei Bo
Chen Lan
Wu Jing
Sun Ben
Yuan Shu
Yuan Tan
Wu Jing (defected)
Sun Ben (defected)
Zu Lang Surrendered
Campaign against Yuan Shu
Traditional Chinese 袁術討伐戰
Simplified Chinese 袁术讨伐战

The campaign against Yuan Shu was a punitive expedition that took place between 197 and 199 in the late Eastern Han dynasty. The campaign was initiated by the Han government against the warlord Yuan Shu, after Yuan declared himself "Son of Heaven", an act perceived as treason against Emperor Xian, the nominal Han ruler. The campaign concluded with the defeat of Yuan Shu and collapse of his self-established Zhong dynasty.


The Imperial Seal, a symbol of the Emperor's authority, was lost in Luoyang when Dong Zhuo ravaged the city. Sun Jian, a member of the coalition against Dong Zhuo found the Imperial Seal by chance in the ruins of Luoyang and kept it for himself. Sun Jian was a general under Yuan Shu at this time, so when Yuan heard that Sun had acquired the Seal, he held Sun's wife hostage and forced Sun to pass the Seal to him.

Around 196, when Sun Jian's son and successor Sun Ce was attacking territories in Jiangdong, Yuan Shu perceived his control over southern China as secure. In early 197, he hurriedly declared himself a "Son of Heaven" (i.e. Emperor), starting a new Zhong (仲) dynasty in Huainan.[1] Yuan Shu's action was viewed as treason against the Han emperor, causing Sun Ce to break ties with him which may have given other warlords a reason to attack his regime. The imperial court, which was under Cao Cao's control then, issued edicts to Sun Ce and Lü Bu, urging them to take aggressive action against Yuan Shu.

The campaign[edit]

Upon receiving news that Yuan Shu had declared himself a "Son of Heaven", Sun Ce sent letters to his uncle Wu Jing and cousin Sun Ben, who both served under Yuan Shu, as an administrator and general, respectively, asking them to sever relations with him. Both Wu Jing and Sun Ben responded to Sun Ce's call and defected to him. As a consequence, Yuan Shu lost Guangling and the territories conquered by Sun Ce in Jiangdong, dramatically reducing his influence in southern China. Meanwhile, Lü Bu defeated Yuan Shu's forces at the north of the Huai River and pillaged the area. In an effort to turn the tide, Yuan Shu sent an army to invade Chen, but was defeated by Han forces led by Cao Cao.[2] Yuan Shu then relocated his base to south of the Huai River.

When Yuan Shu's influence had been reduced to a minimal, internal conflict arose among the members of the alliance formed against him. Lü Bu, upon request from Yuan Shu, attacked Liu Bei, who received support from Cao Cao to fight back. The conflict led to the Battle of Xiapi in 198, fought between the allied forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei against Lü Bu. Facing a dire situation, Lü Bu turned to Yuan Shu for aid. Yuan Shu sent only about 1,000 cavalry to reinforce Lü Bu, but the force was defeated before it reached Xiapi. As Lü Bu's downfall seemed inevitable, Yuan Shu sent messengers to incite the Shanyue tribes and bandit leader Zu Lang (祖郎) to attack Sun Ce. Sun Ce defeated the enemy and continued to strengthen his influence in Jiangdong.

On the other hand, Yuan Shu's was faring badly; his treasury was empty and his military was too weak to resist an invasion or suppress a rebellion. As a result, Yuan Shu opted to incinerate his palace complexes and escape to the Qian hills, where two of his former followers, Lei Bo (雷薄) and Chen Lan (陳蘭), were currently hiding. However, Lei Bo and Chen Lan refused to accept Yuan Shu, so Yuan Shu wrote to his clansman Yuan Shao, promising to give Yuan Shao the Imperial Seal if the latter would help him. In response, Yuan Shao dispatched his son, Yuan Tan, to escort Yuan Shu to Qing Province (covering present-day Shandong). Cao Cao sent Liu Bei and Zhu Ling to intercept Yuan Shu while Yuan was en route to Qing Province, so Yuan had no choice but to turn back to Huainan. Yuan Shu eventually died of illness on the way back to his capital Shouchun.[3]


Yuan Shu's family went to rely on Yuan Shu's former follower Liu Xun, while his other followers Yang Hong (楊弘) and Zhang Xun (張勳) planned to surrender to Sun Ce, but Liu Xun had them captured and held in Lujiang. In 199, Sun Ce defeated Liu Xun and conquered Lujiang, freeing Yuan Shu's family and men.

In popular culture[edit]

The campaign is featured in the sixth and seventh installments of the video game series Dynasty Warriors produced by Koei.


  1. ^ ([獻帝建安二年] ... 袁術稱帝於壽春,自稱仲家, ...) Sima Guang. Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 62.
  2. ^ (袁術欲稱帝於淮南,使人告呂布。布收其使,上其書。術怒,攻布,為布所破。秋九月,術侵陳,公東征之。術聞公自來,棄軍走,留其將橋蕤、李豐、梁綱、樂就;公到,擊破蕤等,皆斬之。術走渡淮。公還許。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 1, Biography of Cao Cao.
  3. ^ (袁術自敗於陳,稍困,袁譚自青州遣迎之。術欲從下邳北過,公遣劉備、朱靈要之。會術病死。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 1, Biography of Cao Cao.