Li Jue (Han dynasty)

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Li Jue
Li Jue and Guo Si sack the capital at Chang'an.jpg
After Dong Zhuo's death, Guo Si and Li Jue sacked the Han capital at Chang'an. This is a Qing Dynasty illustration depicting the offense.
Co-Regent of Eastern Han Dynasty
Born Unknown[1]
Died 198
Predecessor Dong Zhuo
Successor Cao Cao
Traditional Chinese 李傕
Simplified Chinese 李傕
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Li.

Li Jue (died 198), courtesy name Zhiran (稚然), was a descendant of Li Guang, and a military general serving under the autocratic warlord, Dong Zhuo, during the late Han Dynasty era of Chinese history. He later succeeded the Liang Province faction from Dong Zhuo, who was murdered in a coup d'état, and was able to overtake the capital of Chang'an, keeping the emperor under collar. Despite being adept in military, he was inept at politics, quarreling with his fellow generals and made the wrong decision to let Emperor Xian escape, greatly abating his power and precipitating his downfall.


Service under Dong Zhuo[edit]

Originated from Beide commandery of Liang Province, Li Jue entered Dong Zhuo's Liang Province army as one of the earliest recruits. In helping Dong Zhuo in his many campaigns, including the suppression of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the battle of Liang Province, and the war with the coalition against Dong Zhuo, Li Jue had earned himself a military reputation.

After Dong Zhuo relocated the capital from Luoyang to Chang'an, Li Jue, along Guo Si and Zhang Ji, were sent to the frontline against the eastern warlords. At the time the alliance had been having internal conflicts, and would not unite on fighting Dong Zhou; as a result, a senior imperial officer, Zhu Jun, could only ask his old friend, Administrator Tao Qian, to give him a hand in a futile effort to fight the pillaging forces under Li Jue.[2] Tao Qian, despite having a general alliance with Dong Zhuo, indeed sent 3,000 elite danyang troops to Zhu Jun to battle Guo Si and Li Jue at Zhongmu, where Zhu Jun's force was totally crushed. Li Jue and his comrades then performed raids around area of Chenliu and Yingchuan, wherein the defenders, Cao Cao and Xiahou Yuan (Administrator of Chenliu) were also unable to stop them. Many residents there were hijacked and enslaved by Li Jue's forces.[3]

Battle of Chang'an[edit]

Before Li Jue could return to the capital, Dong Zhuo was assassinated by Lü Bu in a plot orchestrated by Wang Yun, and the Liang faction troops inside Chang'an yielded to the assassin. Li Jue and his comrades Fan Chou, Guo Si, and Zhang Ji, besought Wang Yun to show mercy, but the latter purposefully granted amnesty to all of Dong Zhuo's former generals except for these four on account they were the closest men to Dong. Therefore, the four planned to relinquish their positions and go into hiding. However, Li Jue's chief advisor Jia Xu suggested that they should take this opportunity to launch a strike at Chang'an since the regime was not stabilized after the coup. The four then roused several thousand hardcore followers to attack Chang'an. Wang Yun had sent Xu Rong and Hu Zhen (former members of the Liang faction) to fight the Liang force en route, but Xu Rong was killed in the first encounter while Hu Zhen led his troops to join the rebels, inflating the size of the rebel force. Along the way, Liang people joined the rebels' course, and the expedition force burgeoned to over 100,000 when they surrounded the capital. Lü Bu attempted to break the siege, but was forced back inside the city gate despite him seriously wounding Guo Si in a duel. Li Jue then announced they would leave if Wang Yun would go with them. Wang Yun, thinking that the four rebels only wanted his life and did not have the ambition to take the city, committed suicide. However, following his death, the rebels continued the siege and breached the city.

Controlling the emperor[edit]

Li Jue's forces usurped imperial power by taking Emperor Xian hostage. The four demanded high ranks and even thought about assassinating the emperor to take the throne, however was dissuaded from doing so by Jia Xu. With Li Jue as the leader of the Liang army, the four took the mace for the court, demoting and promoting anyone they saw fit. People who allied themselves with them, like Liu Biao, Yuan Shu, and Li Ru, were all promoted by them. Li also forced the emperor to bestow him the titles of General of Chariots and Cavalry, Marquis of Chiyang, Director of Retainers, and to give him the ceremonial axe of military authority.

When Li Jue's power was at its height, even Cao Cao had been sending emissaries to pay tribute as a token of goodwill.

In the march of 194, a nominal vassal and local warlord, Ma Teng,[4] requested some private provisions from the Han court but was refused. He then initiated a rebellion in Mei fortress. An imperial emissary from Emperor Xian was sent to broker peace, but to no avail. Then, Ma Teng's close friend and comrade, Han Sui, was sent to dissuade the rebel with an armed force. Once Han Sui arrived at Mei, however, he joined forces with Ma Teng, and secretly contacted Liu Yan's spies implanted in the court.[5] Liu Yan's cohorts were discovered before they could make a move, but they succeed in escaping the city and entered Ma Teng's tent. Li Jue sent out his nephew Li Li, Guo Si, and Fan Chou to counter the allied force. They dealt a major defeat with a casualty up to ten thousands to the allied forces about 13 miles west to Chang'an. Knowing the allied force was low on grain, Li Li asked Fan Chou to pursuit and wipe the enemy out, but was refused by the former because of his friendship with Han Sui. This incident was reported by Li Li to Li Jue upon the army's return, so Li Jue threw his officers a welcome banquet, where he had Fan Chou openly executed during the revelry.

Quarrel with Guo Si[edit]

After the murder of Fan Chou, the Liang generals became quite suspicious of Li Jue, but the regime under Li remained unchallenged for some time, wherein Emperor Xian was anxiously waiting for someone capable to get rid of his regents. Imperial minister Yang Biao, a court official loyal to the Han Dynasty, came up with a plan to drive Li Jue and Guo Si apart, by making Guo Si's jealous wife Lady Qiong believe that her husband was having an affair with Li Jue's wife, and that Li Jue would kill Guo Si. She made Guo Si believe this himself by poisoning food that Li Jue had given to them and feeding it to a dog. When the dog died, Guo Si believed that Li Jue was attempting to poison him. This drove Guo Si and Li Jue to battle with each other. Battles inside the imperial city of Chang'an were fought every day, and finally Li Jue kidnapped the emperor while Guo Si kidnapped court officials.

The situation deteriorated with each passing day, and had descended into full-blown civil war. There were several tens of battles fought per day in the alleys or market at its peak, on one occasion the emperor's own tent being caught in the crossfire.[6] The frequent battles had rendered Chang'an untenable for its inhabitants. But at the same time, the turmoil provided Emperor Xian with an excuse to ask Li Jue and Guo Si to let him go back to Luoyang, under the provisions that Li Jue could have Chang'an while Guo and other generals could follow the emperor to the dilapidated Luoyang. Jia Xu brought the two an imperial edict, and requested a truce between Li and Guo, and the duo temporarily ceased fire upon Jia's persuasion.


After Jia Xu and Zhang Ji pleaded Li Jue and Guo Si to cease fire, the fighting was temporarily withheld, and Guo Si started to move eastward with the emperor. However, on the journey to Chang'an, there were internal disputes, providing general Yang Feng an opportunity to rescue the Emperor. Aided by Dong Cheng and Xu Huang, Yang defeated Guo Si, who returned to Li Jue and convinced the latter to make a last-ditch effort to recapture their puppet. When they caught up with the imperial train, Li Jue and Guo Si suffered a drawback from Yang Feng, who had gained support from the White Wave Bandits. However, the imperial force was running out of food supply, some court officials had to dug tree roots out from the earth as food. Thus, Emperor Xian sent out emissaries to warlords, still nominal vassals of his, asking for help; only but a few of them replied with actual assistance. Zhang Yang, among one of the warlords who received the edict, quickly sent his staff to support the emperor with supplies, and the forces of Li Jue and Guo Si were defeated in a decisive battle.

Guo Si retreated to Mei fortress thereafter, and was later murdered by one of his commanders, who brought his remaining troops to Li Jue in Chang'an. In the April of 198, the warlord who now controlled the emperor, Cao Cao, sent envoys to incite the western warlords to attack Chang'an, Li Jue's home-base. One of Li's subordinate general, Duan Wei (段煨), mutinied, and butchered Li Jue, as well as the latter's whole clan.

Appointments and titles held[edit]

  • General of Chariots and Cavalry (車騎將軍)
  • Director of Retainers (司隸校尉)
  • Marquis of Chiyang (池陽侯)
  • Grand Marshal (大司馬)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 289. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ Fan Ye. Book of the Later Han. Biography of Zhu Jun.
  3. ^ Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 6, Biography of Dong Zhuo.
  4. ^ (是岁,韩遂、马腾等降,率众诣长安。以遂为镇西将军,遣还凉州,腾征西将军,屯郿) According to Records of Three Kingdoms, Ma Teng and Han Sui were both subordinates of Li Jue at the time.
  5. ^ (侍中马宇与谏议大夫种邵、左中郎将刘范等谋,欲使腾袭长安,己为内应) Several high-ranked officials including the eldest and second sons of Liu Yan worked as secret agents inside Chang'an.
  6. ^ (丙申,汜將兵夜攻傕門,矢及帝簾帷中。) Sima Guang. Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 61.