Deposing the Han emperor: Chenliu becomes emperor; plotting against the villain Dong Mengde presents a dagger.
Let us now turn to Dongzhuo, who was about to kill Yuan Shao; Li Ru stopped him, saying, "The matter cannot yet be decided, you should not kill indiscriminately." Yuan Shao bid farewell to the ministers and departed, sword in hand. He hung a bamboo placard on the eastern gate which announced his intention to depart for Jizhou. Zhuo said to Grand Tutor Yuan Wei, "Your nephew lacks courtesy, but I would not wish for you to lose face, so I will let it slide for now. What about the issue of deposing the emperor?" Wei said, "Grand Commandant, if that is your view, then so be it." Zhuo said, "Anyone who dares to interfere with my plans shall be dealt with severely according to military law." All of the ministers were paralyzed with fear; they all said, "We will all obey your orders." After the banquet had ended, Zhuo asked his aide Zhou Bi and captain Wu Qiong, "What do you make of Yuan Shao's leaving?" Zhou Bi said, "Yuan Shao left in anger; in the heat of the moment, if we were to place a bounty on his head, it would mean rebellion for sure. Moreover, the Yuan family have shown benevolence to the people for four generations; their students and former employees are scattered throughout the land. If the talented ones of their group were to gather their followers, other brave warriors would rise up as well. If that were to happen, the entire area to the east of the mountains would no longer be yours. If you were to pardon him and make him a governor of a commandery, then Shao would be delighted by the prospect of a reprieve. Then, you would not have anything to worry about." Wu Qiong said, "Yuan Shao is fond of scheming, but lacks judgment. He is not worth worrying about. I truly think it is best to make him governor of a commandery. This would appease the people's minds."
Dong Zhuo followed their advice. That day, he sent someone to give the post of governor of Bohai Commandery to Shao. On the first day of the ninth lunar month, the emperor was invited to Jiade Hall, where all of the military and civilian officials had gathered. Zhuo drew his sword and addressed the crowd, "the Son of Heaven is ignorant and weak, and is not qualified to rule the country. I have a proclamation that I would like read out loud." With that, he ordered Li Ru to read the proclamation; it said:
The late Emperor Ling of Han abandoned his subjects for the next world at far too young an age. An emperor is someone that everyone looks up to and relies on. However, the current emperor does not have it within him to take matters seriously, and does not command respect. Moreover, he has not been diligent in observing the period of mourning for the late emperor. His poor sense of decorum is evident for all to see; he is an embarrassment to the throne. His mother, the empress dowager, did not teach him properly, the way a mother should; as a result, the administration of the government is in a state of chaos. After the Empress Dowager of Yongle died suddenly, the people expressed suspicions of foul play. Is it not evident that there has been a breakdown in the observance of the three essential relationships and that there has been a violation of the laws of heaven and earth? Prince Xie of Chenliu is virtuous and majestic, and earnestly observes proper etiquette. He has also shown remorse during the period of mourning for the late emperor, and has never said anything wrong. His good and decent reputation is well-known throughout the land. He is a suitable heir to the late emperor, and can unify the country for the next 10,000 generations. The current emperor is hereby demoted to Prince of Hongnong, and the empress dowager will henceforth relinquish all control of the government. The Prince of Chenliu is invited to become emperor. In so doing, he shall be conforming to the wishes of both heaven and man, and thereby give hope to the citizenry.
After Li Ru finished reading the proclamation, Zhuo ordered his aides to assist the emperor off of the throne. They confiscated his imperial jade seal, which had a silk cord attached to it; they made him kneel down facing north, declare himself a vassal, and agree to obey any orders given to him. They also instructed the empress dowager to remove her royal vestments, and await the imperial decree. Both the emperor and the empress dowager began to wail and cry, and all of the ministers were saddened. A senior minister, who was standing at the base of the throne, became angry and screamed out, "Dong Zhuo, you villainous scoundrel! You dare carry out a scheme which deceives heaven. I shall stain you with the blood of my severed neck!" With that, he raised his ivory tablet and lunged at Dong Zhuo, intending to strike him. Zhuo was outraged, and ordered the soldiers to seize him. It was chief of staff Ding Guan. Zhuo ordered him to be dragged outside and beheaded. Guan shouted expletives non-stop, and did not change his demeanor until he was dead. People of later generations wrote a poem lamenting him, it went:
The villainous Dong harbored plans of deposing the emperor; the ancestral hall and imperial alter of the house of Han lay in ruins.
Out of all of the ministers in the imperial court, Lord Ding was the only real man!
Zhuo asked the Prince of Chenliu to ascend the throne. After all of the ministers had finished performing the ritual obeisance celebrating the crowning of a new emperor, Zhuo ordered Empress Dowager He, along with the Prince of Hongnong and his consort -- the lady Tang --, to be exiled to Yong'an Palace. The doors to the palace were to be sealed, and none of the ministers were to be allowed unauthorized entry. The poor young emperor had only assumed the throne in the fourth lunar month, and was now being deposed in the ninth lunar month. The emperor chosen by Zhuo, Prince Xie of Chenliu -- whose style name was Bohe -- was the middle son of Emperor Ling, and is now known as Emperor Xian. At the time, he was nine years old. Chuping was chosen as the new era name. Dong Zhuo made himself Chancellor of State. However, he did not need to announce his name during the ritual audience with the emperor. Furthermore, he was able to casually saunter in or out of the throne room, as he pleased. Finally, he wore his sword and shoes when in audience with the emperor. His tyrannical ways were unparalleled. Li Ru advised Zhuo to select a prominent personage for appointment to a post; this would satisfy the hopes of the people. Therefore, the talents of Cai Yong were recommended. Zhuo ordered him to be appointed, but Yong would not come. Zhuo became angry, and sent someone to tell Yong, "If you don't come, your entire clan shall be put to death." Yong was terrified, so he had no choice but to do as ordered, and came. Zhuo was overjoyed at the sight of Yong. He visited him many times in one month. He made him his trusted attendant; he was very much treated with warmth and kindness.
Let us now turn to the young emperor who, along with Empress Dowager He and Consort Tang, was imprisoned within Yong'an Palace. They were gradually running out of clothing, food and drink; the young emperor's tears could not be dried. One day, he suddenly saw a pair of flying swallows in the courtyard. It inspired him to compose a poem, which went:
Amidst green tender grass and congealing mist, a pair of flying swallows.
The pristine waters of the Luo River are the envy of all who stand on footpaths between rice paddies.
I look off into the distance, and see my old palace among the blue-green clouds.
Whose loyalty can be trusted, that I may reveal to them the resentment in my heart!
Dong Zhuo frequently sent people to keep tabs on the situation; they acquired this poem on that day, and came and presented it to Dong Zhuo. Zhuo said, "He shows his resentment by composing poems; now I have a good excuse to kill him." He then ordered Li Ru to take ten soldiers, and enter the palace to kill the emperor. At the time, the emperor was upstairs with the empress dowager and his consort. When a lady-in-waiting reported the arrival of Li Ru, the emperor was greatly surprised. When Li Ru offered poisoned wine to the emperor, the emperor asked the reason. Ru said, "Springtime is when everything becomes more warm and cordial, and so Chancellor of State Dong has especially sent this wine in honor of your birthday." The empress dowager said, "Since it is wine for his birthday, you can drink first." Ru angrily replied, "You won't drink?" He ordered his attendants to hold a dagger and a white silk shroud in front of them, and said, "If you don't drink the birthday wine, you can take these two items instead!" Consort Tang kneeled and declared, "I will drink the wine on behalf of the emperor; my only wish is that you spare the lives of mother and son." Ru scolded her, "Who are you, that you can die on behalf a monarch?" He then held up the wine and said to Empress Dowager He, "You can drink first!" The empress dowager cursed He Jin for his lack of foresight in bringing bandits into the capital, which was the cause of today's tragedy. Ru pressed the emperor, so the emperor said, "Allow me to bid farewell to the empress dowager." Filled with great emotion, he composed a verse. The verse went:
Heaven and earth are changed and the sun and moon are overturned; the emperor has been cast aside and banished to the frontier.
Because of the insistence of a certain minister, my life on this earth is not much longer; the situation is lost, and my tears flow in vain!
Consort Tang also composed a verse, which went:
The great and almighty heavens have collapsed, and the vast earth is in ruins; as a concubine of the emperor, I regret that I cannot follow him into the hereafter.
Life and death are two separate roads, and now we part company; how did this loneliness come upon me? My heart is full of sadness!
Having finished their verses, they embraced each other and began to cry. Li Ru barked, "Chancellor of State is impatiently waiting for us to report back to him, but both of you are stalling; who do you think will save you?" The empress dowager cursed, "That scoundrel Dong is forcing a mother and her son, and heaven will not protect him! You are helping an evil tyrant, and your whole family shall certainly be wiped out!" Ru was furious, and grabbed the empress dowager with both hands, throwing her straight down the stairs. He ordered his soldiers to hang Consort Tang, and to kill the young emperor by pouring the poisoned wine down the his throat. He then reported back to Dong Zhuo. Zhuo ordered their bodies be buried outside of the city. From then on, he entered the palace each evening and had his way with the ladies-in-waiting of the palace; he then spent the night sleeping on the dragon bed. He led his troops out of the city to the area around Yangcheng. Around the second lunar month, the villagers were holding their springtime earth god festival. All of the men and women were gathered together; Zhuo ordered his soldiers to surround and kill them. They seized the women and spoils, and loaded them onto their carts. They also hung more than 1,000 severed heads on the carts. They made their way back to the capital in a long caravan, and spread the word that they had returned from a major victory against bandits. They burned the human heads at the gates of the city, and the women and spoils were divided amongst all the soldiers.
Captain of Light Cavalry Wu Fu, whose style name was Deyu, saw Zhuo's cruelty and was incensed. He wore light armor underneath his ceremonial court clothes, and carried a concealed dagger; he was waiting for an opportune moment to kill Zhuo. One day, Zhuo was on his way to court, when Fu intercepted him at the foot of a pavilion; he drew his dagger and thrust it at Zhuo. Zhuo's strength was great, and he used both hands to catch the attacker's arms. Lü Bu then entered and tackled Wu Fu. Zhuo asked him, "Who told you to commit treason?" Fu glared at him, and shouted, "You are not my lord, and I am not your subject; why shouldn't I rebel against you? Your crimes are too many to mention; anyone would kill you if they had the chance! I regret that you cannot be tied up, limb-by-limb, to horse-drawn carriages and pulled apart; that would appease the country!" Zhuo was outraged, and ordered him to be dragged outside, drawn and quartered. Right up to his death, Fu screamed obscenities non-stop. People of later generations composed a poem in praise of him; it went:
In the final years of Han, the ministers all talked of Wu Fu, and how his awesome heroism went unmatched in this world.
His reputation for slaying bandit rebels still precedes him at court; one can call him a real man for all time!
From that point on, Dong Zhuo brought armed escorts with him whenever going to or from court. At the time, Yuan Shao was in Bohai. When he heard that Dong Zhuo was abusing his power, he sent someone to deliver a secret communiqué to Wang Yun. The communiqué went something like:
The villain Zhuo has cheated heaven and deposed the ruler, and there is nothing that anyone can say about it; however, you have indulged his overbearing actions as if you knew nothing about them. How can you then call yourself a loyal and devoted servant of the empire? I shall gather and train an army; I would like to clean out the royal household, but do not want to be hasty in my actions. If you have the inclination, you should seize the opportunity to plot against him. If you have an assignment for me, I shall follow your orders.
After Wang Yun received the letter, he thought long and hard, but could not think of a plan. One day, Yun saw that all of the old ministers were inside the guardhouse, so he told them, "Today is my birthday; you must all come to my residence this evening for a few drinks." They all answered, "By all means, we will all come to celebrate your birthday." That evening, Wang Yun arranged for a banquet in the rear chamber of his residence, and all of the high-level ministers came. After a few rounds of drinks, Wang Yun suddenly covered his face with his hands and began to weep uncontrollably. All of the officials were taken aback, and asked, "Minister over the Masses, it is your birthday, why are you so upset?" Yun responded, "Actually, today is not my birthday. I used that as a pretext, because I wanted to get everyone together so that I could tell you all something, but I was afraid that Dong Zhuo would become suspicious. Dong Zhuo has double-crossed the emperor, and abused his power; the nation is in imminent danger of being lost. It makes me think of how Emperor Gao vanquished the Qin, destroyed the Chu, and had the whole world in the palm of his hands. Who would have thought that what he began so long ago, which has lasted to this day, would be wiped out by the hand of Dong Zhuo. That is why I am crying."
All of the ministers then started to cry. One of the men sitting in the group began to clap his hands and laugh uproariously, saying, "Can a bunch of ministers all crying from dusk till dawn and from dawn until dusk cry Dong Zhuo to death?" Yun looked at him, it was Captain of armed cavalry Cao Cao. Yun angrily responded, "Your ancestors also enjoyed the bounty of the Han Dynasty, and now instead of wanting to serve your country, you laugh instead?" Cao replied, "I am laughing at something else; I am laughing at the fact that none of you has a single idea of how to kill Dong Zhuo. Although I am not that talented, I am willing to cut off Dong Zhuo's head and hang it on the gates of the capital in order to appease the nation." Out of respect, Yun stood up from his seating mat and asked, "May I ask what you have in mind?" Cao replied, "Actually, the reason for my having bowed down in service to Zhuo is that I wanted to seize the opportunity to plot against him. Now that Zhuo somewhat trusts me, there are certain times when I can get close to Zhuo. I heard that you are in possession of a dagger called the seven star blade; I would like to borrow it so that I can enter his residence and stab him to death. Even if it means my life, I won't regret it." Yun said, "If you really are of such a mind, the country is indeed fortunate!" He then personally poured a cup of wine and toasted Cao. Cao made a solemn pledge while allowing his wine to slowly drip onto the floor, then Yun gave him the dagger. Cao concealed the dagger, and finished his drink. He then got up, bid everyone farewell, and left. The others sat for a while, and then also dispersed.
The following day, Cao Cao came to the chancellor's residence, wearing the dagger, and asked about the whereabouts of the chancellor. His attendants said, "He is in the small room." Cao then went in to see him. Dong Zhuo was sitting on the bed. Lü Bu was standing guard at his side. Zhuo said, "Mengde, why are you so late?" Cao replied, "My horse is frail, so I'm late." Zhuo then said to Bu, "I have some fine horses that have recently come in from Xiliang. Fengxian, why don't you go pick a mount to give to Mengde." Bu obeyed the instructions and left. Cao thought to himself, "Now is the time for this villain to die!" He wanted to pull out his dagger and stab him, but was worried that Zhuo was strong, so he did not dare act rashly. Zhuo was large and rotund, and could not bear to sit for long periods of time; so he lay down to rest, facing inwards, away from the door. Cao again thought, "This villain should be laid to rest!" He quickly drew his dagger. Just as he was about to stab, Dong Zhuo unexpectedly looked up and saw the clothes mirror. In it, he saw the reflection of Cao Cao behind him, drawing a dagger. He quickly turned around and asked, "Mengde, what are you doing?"
By now, Lü Bu had already led a horse to the outside of the room; Cao was scared, so he held the dagger and knelt down, saying, "Sir, I have a dagger which I would like to present to you." Zhuo took it and looked at it, it was a little more than one chi in length, and decorated with the seven treasures. It was very sharp, and was truly a prized dagger. He then handed it to Lü Bu, who took hold of it. Cao unfastened the sheath, and gave it to Bu. Zhuo led Cao outside to look at the horse. Cao thanked him, saying, "I'd like to try out this mount." Zhuo then called for a saddle and bridle. Cao led the horse outside of the chancellor's residence, then rode southeast, urging the horse with his riding crop. Bu said to Zhuo, "Just now, it seemed as though Cao Cao was about to stab you; I must have interrupted, so he presented you with the dagger instead." Zhuo said, "I am also suspicious of him."
While they were speaking, Li Ru arrived; Zhuo told him what had happened. Ru said, "Cao does not keep his wife and children in the capital, he has a place of his own where he lives by himself. Send someone to call for him; if he comes without suspecting anything, then he was presenting a dagger. If he makes up an excuse to not come, then he was trying to assassinate you, and we can take him into custody for questioning." Zhuo agreed with the suggestion, and sent four jailers to summon Cao. They had been gone for quite some time before returning with their report, saying, "Cao did not return to his place. He got on his horse and exited the city via the eastern gate. When the gate keeper questioned him, Cao said, 'The chancellor is sending me on urgent official business,' then rode off on his horse." Ru said, "Cao had treacherous intentions and has now fled. He was attempting to assassinate you for sure." Zhuo was outraged, saying, "Even after I gave him such an important position, he still wanted to harm me!" Ru said, "Something like this must have co-conspirators. We can find out once we nab Cao Cao." Zhuo then called for wanted posters with Cao Cao's likeness to be sent throughout the land. Whoever caught him and handed him in would be given a thousand pieces of gold, and be made marquis over ten thousand households; anyone who harbored him would be punished as his accomplice.
Let us now turn to Cao Cao, who was fleeing the city and galloping toward Qiao Commandery. He was detained by garrison soldiers as he traveled past Zhongmu County, and was taken to the county governor. Cao said, "I am a traveling merchant. My surname is Huangfu." The county governor took a close look at Cao Cao; after muttering to himself for a while, he said, "When I was seeking a post in Luoyang, I had known you as Cao Cao. Why are you being evasive? Take him and throw him into a cell; tomorrow, we will hand him over to the authorities in the capital, and ask for the reward." All of the garrison soldiers received extra rations of food and wine, then left.
At midnight, the county governor ordered his personal aides to discreetly escort Cao Cao to the rear courtyard for questioning; he asked, "I have heard that the chancellor treats you very well, so why have you brought such trouble upon yourself?" Cao said, "'How can a little songbird understand the ambitions of a grand swan?' You have captured me, and now you can leisurely turn me over to the authorities and collect your reward. Why ask more questions!" The county governor ordered his attendants to withdraw, and then said to Cao, "Don't think so little of me. I'm not some yokel official; I just haven't yet met someone to call lord, that's all." Cao said, "My ancestors have eaten the bounty of the Han for generations. If I didn't think of a way to serve my country, how would I be any different from an animal? I subjugated myself to Zhuo because I wanted to seize upon the opportunity to plot against him, so that this evil could be removed from the world. The fact that I was not successful is the will of heaven!" The county governor said, "Where were you heading on this trip?" Cao said, "I was returning to my home village. I was hoping to issue a forged imperial edict which would call on all of the nobles to raise armies and defeat Dong Zhuo."
Upon hearing this explanation, the county governor personally untied his ropes, and helped him onto a chair. He then paid ritual obeisance, saying, "You truly are a loyal servant of the country!" Cao Cao also gave obeisance, and asked for the county governor's name. The county governor said, "My surname is Chen, and my given name is Gong; my style name is Gongtai. My dear old mother and my wife are both in Dong Commandery. I am moved by your loyalty to the country; I would like to abandon my post and follow you on your escape." Cao was extremely happy. That night, Chen Gong collected some travel money, and gave Cao Cao a change of clothes; he also brought along two straight swords, one for each of them. They climbed onto their horses and rode toward his home village.
After riding for three days, they arrived at the area around Chenggao, just as it was turning dark. Cao used his riding crop to point to a thick forested area, saying to Gong, "There is a man who lives here who is my father's sworn brother; his surname is Lü, and his given name is Boshe. Let's go and ask him for news of my family, and see if he can put us up for the night; what do you say?" Gong said, "Perfect." The two rode to the front of the villa, got off of their horses, and entered in to see Boshe. She said, "I heard that the court has issued a warrant for your arrest, and that they are scouring the countryside for you. Your father has already fled to Chenliu. How were you able to make it here?" Cao told him the whole story up to that point, saying, "If it weren't for county governor Chen, I would be mincemeat by now." Boshe paid obeisance to Chen Gong, saying, "If the son of my sworn brother had not had you, the entire Cao family would have been decimated. Why don't you sit back and relax. Tonight, you can lodge in my humble abode." After he finished speaking, he got up to go inside. After a while, he came back out and said to Chen Gong, "I don't have any decent wine in the house. Allow me to travel to the village in the west to buy a jug for you." With that, he hurried off on his donkey.
Cao and Gong had been sitting for a while, when they suddenly heard the sound of knives being sharpened from behind the villa. Cao said, "Lü Boshe is not a very close relative; his leaving seemed suspicious. We should eavesdrop on them." The two of them snuck out to the back of the house, where they heard the voices of people saying, "We'll tie 'em up and then kill 'em, alright?" Cao said, "Aha! If we don't strike first, we will be captured for sure." He then drew his sword, and went straight in, along with Gong. Everyone was killed, regardless of gender; in all, eight people in a row were killed. However, when they found the kitchen, they spotted a pig that had been tied up, ready to be killed. Gong said, "You jumped to conclusions, and killed innocent people by mistake!" They hurriedly ran out of the villa, got on their horses, and fled.
They had not gone more than two li, when they saw Lü Boshe come along with two bottles of wine on his donkey's saddle pommel along with fruit and vegetables in his hands; he said, "Why are the two of you leaving?" Cao said, "An accused man cannot afford to stay in one place for too long." Boshe said, "I have already instructed my family to slaughter a pig in your honor; what's wrong with staying for just one night? Please come back with me."
Cao paid him no mind; he whipped his horse with his riding crop, and kept going. After going a few steps, he suddenly drew his sword, turned around, and called out to Boshe, saying, "Who is that coming?" When Boshe turned his head to see, Cao raised his straight sword, and cut Boshe down off of his donkey. Gong was shocked, saying, "That was a mistake a little while ago, what are you doing now?" Cao said, "When Boshe arrives at his house and sees all of the people that were killed, how would he ever be willing to let it go? If he leads a search party, it will spell trouble for sure." Gong said, "You knowingly committed premeditated murder; it is highly immoral!" Cao said, "I would rather that everyone were betrayed by me, instead of me being betrayed by everyone." Chen Gong was speechless.
當夜行數里，月明中敲開客店門投宿。喂飽了馬，曹操先睡。陳宮尋思：「我將謂曹操是好人，棄官跟他；原來是個狠心之人！今日留之，必為後患。」便欲拔劍來殺曹操。正是：設心狠毒非良士， 操卓原來一路人。 畢竟曹操性命如何，且看下文分解。
That evening, after having traveled a few li, they knocked on the door of an inn until they were allowed to enter, and lodged there for the night. After they fed their horses, Cao Cao was the first to go to sleep. Chen Gong thought to himself, "I mistakenly believed that Cao Cao was a good person, so I abandoned my post to follow him; it turns out that he is a cruel hearted man! If I stay with him from now on, there will be consequences for sure." He then drew his sword to kill Cao Cao. It was a case of:
He is filled with venom for an unjust man; it turns out that Cao and Zhuo are of the same ilk.
How did things turn out for Cao Cao? Did he live or die? Keep reading, and all will be explained.