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CHAPTER 4. The Deposition Of The Emperor: Prince Of Chenliu Becomes Emperor; Schemes Against Dong Zhuo: Cao Cao Presents A Sword.

| Articles of Ancient China, English Version - Romance of the Three Kingdoms Novel | March 6, 2011

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Dong Zhuo was on the point of slaying Yuan
Shao, but Li Ru checked him, saying, “You must not
kill rashly while the business hangs in the balance.”
Yuan Shao, his sword still unsheathed, left the
assembly. He hung up the seals of his office at the
east gate and went to Jizhou Region.
Dong Zhuo said to Imperial Guardian Yuan Wei,
“Your nephew behaved improperly, but I pardon him
for your sake; what think you of my scheme?”
“What you think is right,” was the reply.
“If any one opposes the great scheme, he will be
dealt with by military law,” said Dong Zhuo.
The ministers, thoroughly dreaded, promised
obedience, and the feast came to an end.
Dong Zhuo asked Counselor Zhou Bi and
Commandant Wu Qiong what they thought of the
flight of Yuan Shao.
Zhou Bi said, “He left in a state of great anger. In
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such a state of excitement much harm may ensue to
the present state of affairs, especially as the Yuan
family have been noted for their high offices for four
generations, and their proteges and dependents are
everywhere. If they assemble bold spirits and call up
their clients, all the valiant warriors will be in arms,
and the east region of the Huashang Mountains will
be lost. You would better pardon Yuan Shao and
give him a post. He will be glad at being forgiven and
will do no harm.”
Wu Qiong said, “Yuan Shao is fond of scheming,
but he fails in decision and so is not to be feared. But
it would be well to give him rank and thus win
popular favor.”
Dong Zhuo followed this advice and thereupon
sent a messenger to offer Yuan Shao the
governorship of Bohai.
On the first day of the ninth month, the Emperor
was invited to proceed to the Hall of Virtue where
was a great assembly of officials. There Dong Zhuo,
sword in hand, faced the gathering and said, “The
Emperor is a weakling unequal to the burden of
ruling this land. Now listen ye to the document I have
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And Li Ru read as follows:
“The dutiful Emperor Ling too soon left his people.
The emperor is the cynosure of all the people of this
land. Upon
the present Emperor Bian, the Heaven has
conferred but small gifts: in dignity and deportment
he is deficient, and in mourning he is remiss. Only
the most complete virtue can grace imperial dignity.
Empress He has trained him improperly, and the
whole state administration has fallen into confusion.
Empress Dong died suddenly and no one knew why.
The doctrine of the three bonds—Heaven, Earth, and
Human—and the continuity of Heaven and Earth
interdependence have both been injured.
“But Liu Xian, Prince of Chenliu, is sage and
virtuous beside being of handsome exterior. He
conforms to all the rules of propriety: his mourning is
sincere and his speech is always correct. Eulogies of
him fill the empire. He is well fitted for the great duty
of consolidating the rule of Han.
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“Now therefore the Emperor is deposed and
created Prince of Hongnong, and Empress He retires
from the administration.
“I pray the Prince of Chenliu to accept the throne
in conformity with the decrees of Heaven and Earth,
the desires of people, and the fulfillment of the hopes
of humankind.”
This having been read, Dong Zhuo bade the
attendants lead the Emperor down from the throne,
remove his seal, and cause him to kneel facing the
north, styling himself faithful servant of the Throne
and requesting commands. Moreover Dong Zhuo
bade Empress He strip off her royal dress of
ceremony and await the imperial command. Both
victims of this oppression wept bitterly, and every
minister present was deeply affected.
One minister put his discontent into words, crying,
“The false Dong Zhuo is the author of this insult,
which I will risk my life to wipe away.”
And with this he rushed at Dong Zhuo threatening
with his ivory baton of office.
It was Secretary Ding Guan. Dong Zhuo had Ding
Guan removed and summarily put to death. Before
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his death, Ding Guan ceased not to rail at the
oppressor, nor was he frightened at death.
The rebel Dong Zhuo conceived the foul design
To thrust the King aside and wrong his line.
With folded arms the courtiers stood, save one
Ding Guan, who dared to cry that wrong was
Then the Emperor designate, Prince of Chenliu,
went to the upper part of the hall to receive
congratulations. After this the late Emperor—now
Prince of Hongnong—, his mother, and the Imperial
Consort, Lady Tang, were removed to the Palace of
Forever Calm. The entrance gates were locked
against all comers.
It was pitiful! There was the young emperor, after
reigning less than half a year, deposed and another
put in his place. The new Emperor was Liu Xian, the
second son of the late Emperor Ling. He was nine
years of age, five years younger than his deposed
brother. The new reign−style was changed to
Inauguration of Tranquillity, the first year (AD 190).
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Becoming the Prime Minister, Dong Zhuo was
most powerful and arrogant. When he bowed before
the Throne, he did not declare his name; in going to
court he did not hasten. Booted and armed he
entered the reception halls. He amassed a wealth
exceeding any other’s.
His adviser, Li Ru, impressed upon Dong Zhuo
constantly to employ people of reputation so that he
should gain public esteem. So when they told him
Cai Yong was a man of talent, Dong Zhuo
summoned him. But Cai Yong would not go. Dong
Zhuo sent a message to him that if he did not come,
he and his whole clan should be exterminated. Then
Cai Yong gave in and appeared. Dong Zhuo was
very gracious to him and promoted him thrice in a
month. Cai Yong became High Minister. Such was
the generosity of the tyrant.
Meanwhile the deposed ruler, his mother, and his
consort were immured in the Palace of Forever Calm
and found their daily supplies gradually diminishing.
The deposed Emperor wept incessantly. One day a
pair of wallows gliding to and fro moved him to verse:
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Spring and the green of the tender grass,
Flushes with joy as the swallows pass;
The wayfarers pause by the rippling stream,
And their eyes will new born gladness gleam;
With lingering gaze the roofs I see
Of the palace that one time sheltered me.
But those whom I sheltered in all righteousness,
Let’s not stay in silence when the days pass
The messenger, sent by Dong Zhuo from time to
time to the palace for news of the prisoners, got hold
of this poem and showed it to his master.
“So he shows his resentment by writing poems,
eh! A fair excuse to put them all out of the way,” said
Dong Zhuo.
Li Ru was sent with ten men into the palace to
consummate the deed. The three were in one of the
upper rooms when Li Ru arrived. The Emperor
shuddered when the maid announced the visitor’s
Presently Li Ru entered and offered a cup of
poisoned wine to the Emperor. The Emperor asked
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what this meant.
“Spring is the season of blending and harmonious
interchange, and the Prime Minister sends a cup of
the wine of longevity,” said Li Ru.
“If it be the wine of longevity, you may share it
too,” said Empress He.
Then Li Ru became brutally frank.
“You will not drink?” asked he.
He called the men with daggers and cords and
bade the Emperor look at them.
“The cup, or these?” said he.
Then said Lady Tang, “Let the handmaiden drink
in place of her lord. Spare the mother and her son, I
“And who may you be to die for a prince?” said Li
Then he presented the cup to the Empress once
more and bade her drink.
She railed against her brother, the feckless He
Jin, the author of all this trouble. She would not drink.
Next Li Ru approached the Emperor.
“Let me say farewell to my mother,” begged he,
and he did so in these lines:
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“The heaven and earth are changed; Alas! the
sun and the moon leave their courses,
I, once the center of all eyes, am driven to the
farthest confines.
Oppressed by an arrogant minister my life nears
its end,
Everything fails me and vain are my falling tears.”
Lady Tang sang:
“Heaven is to be rent asunder, Earth to fall away;
I, handmaid of an Emperor, would grieve if I
followed him not.
We have come to the parting of ways, the quick
and the dead walk not together;
Alas! I am left alone with the grief in my heart.”
When they had sung these lines, they fell
weeping into each others’ arms.
“The Prime Minister is awaiting my report,” said Li
Ru, “and you delay too long. Think you that there is
any hope of succor?”
The Empress broke into another fit of railing, “The
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rebel forces us to death, mother and son, and
Heaven has abandoned us. But you, the tool of his
crime, will assuredly perish.”
Thereupon Li Ru grew more angry, laid hands on
the Empress and threw her out of the window. Then
he bade the soldiers strangle Lady Tang and forced
the lad to swallow the wine of death.
Li Ru reported the achievement to his master who
bade them bury the victims without the city. After this
Dong Zhuo’s behavior was more atrocious than
before. He spent his nights in the Palace, defiled the
imperial concubines there, and even slept on the
Dragon Couch.
Once he led his soldiers out of the city to
Yangcheng when the villagers, men and women,
were assembled from all sides for the annual spring
festival. His troops surrounded the place and
plundered it. They took away booty by the cart load,
and women prisoners and more than one thousand
severed heads. The procession returned to Capital
Luoyang and published a story that they had
obtained a great victory over some rebels. They
burned the heads beneath the walls, and the women
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and jewelry were shared out among the soldiers.
A general named Wu Fu was disgusted at this
ferocity and sought a chance to slay Dong Zhuo. Wu
Fu constantly wore a breastplate underneath his
court dress and carried in conceal a sharp dagger.
One day when Dong Zhuo came to court, Wu Fu met
him on the steps and tried to stab him. But Dong
Zhuo was a very powerful man and held Wu Fu off
till Lu Bu came to his help. Lu Bu struck down the
“Who told you to rebel?” said Dong Zhuo.
Wu Fu glared at him and cried, “You are not my
prince, I am not your minister: where is the rebellion?
Your crimes fill the heavens, and every man would
slay you. I am sorry I cannot tear you asunder with
chariots to appease the wrath of the world!”
Dong Zhuo bade the guards take him out and
hack him to pieces. Wu Fu only ceased railing as he
ceased to live.
That loyal servant of the latter days of Han.
His valor was high as the Heavens, in all ages
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In the court itself would he slay the rebel, great is
his fame!
Throughout all time will people call him a hero.
Thereafter Dong Zhuo always went well guarded.
At Bohai, Yuan Shao heard of Dong Zhuo’s misuse
of power and sent a secret letter to Minister of the
Interior Wang Yun:
“That rebel Dong Zhuo outrages Heaven and has
deposed his ruler. Common people dare not speak
of him; that is
understandable. Yet you suffer his aggressions
as if you knew naught of them. How then are you a
dutiful and loyal minister? I have assembled an army
and desire to sweep clean the royal habitation, but I
dare not lightly begin the task. If you are willing, then
find an opportunity to plot against this man. If you
would use force, I am at your command.”
The letter arrived but Wang Yun could see no
chance to plot against Dong Zhuo. One day while
among the throng in attendance, mostly people of
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long service, Wang Yun said to his colleagues, “This
is my birthday, I pray you come to a little party in my
humble cot this evening.”
“We certainly will,” they cried, “and wish you long
That night the tables were spread in an inner
room, and his friends gathered there. When the wine
had made a few rounds, the host suddenly covered
his face and began to weep.
The guests were aghast.
“Sir, on your birthday too, why do you weep?”
said they.
“It is not my birthday,” replied Wang Yun. “But I
wished to call you together and I feared lest Dong
Zhuo should suspect, so I made that the excuse.
This man insults the Emperor and does as he wishes
so that the imperial prerogatives are in imminent
peril. I think of the days when our illustrious founder
destroyed the Qin, annihilated Chu, and obtained the
empire. Who could have foreseen this day when that
Dong Zhuo has subjugated all to his will? That is why
I weep.”
Then they all wept with him.
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Seated among the guests, however, was Cao
Cao, who did not join in the weeping but clapped his
hands and laughed aloud.
“If all the officers of the government weep till
dawn, and from dawn weep till dark, will that slay
Dong Zhuo?” said Cao Cao.
Wang Yun turned on him angrily.
“Your forbears ate the bounty of the Hans; do you
feel no gratitude? You can laugh?”
“I laughed at the absurdity of an assembly like
this being unable to compass the death of one man.
Foolish and incapable as I am, I will cut off his head
and hang it at the gate as an offering to the people.”
Wang Yun left his seat and went over to Cao
“These later days,” Cao Cao continued, “I have
bowed my head to Dong Zhuo with the sole desire of
finding a chance to destroy him. Now he begins to
trust me and so I can approach him sometimes. You
have a sword with seven precious jewels which I
would borrow, and I will go into his palace and kill
him. I care not if I die for it.”
“What good fortune for the world that this is so!”
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said Wang Yun.
With this Wang Yun himself poured out a goblet
for Cao Cao who drained it and swore an oath. After
this the treasured sword was brought out and given
to Cao Cao who hid it under his dress. He finished
his wine, took leave of the guests, and left the hall.
Before long the others dispersed.
The next day Cao Cao, with this short sword
girded on, came to the palace of the Prime Minister.
“Where is the Prime Minister?” asked he.
“In the small guest room,” replied the attendants.
So Cao Cao went in and found his host seated on
a couch; Lu Bu was at his side.
“Why so late, Cao Cao?” said Dong Zhuo.
“My horse is out of condition and slow,” replied
Cao Cao.
Dong Zhuo turned to his henchman Lu Bu.
“Some good horses have come in from the west.
You go and pick out a good one as a present for
And Lu Bu left.
“This traitor is doomed,” thought Cao Cao. He
ought to have struck then, but Cao Cao knew Dong
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Zhuo was very powerful, and he was afraid to act; he
wanted to make sure of his blow.
Now Dong Zhuo’s corpulence was such that he
could not remain long sitting, so he rolled over couch
and lay face inwards.
“Now is the time,” thought the assassin, and he
gripped the good sword firmly.
But just as Cao Cao was going to strike, Dong
Zhuo happened to look up and in a mirror he saw the
reflection of Cao Cao behind him with a sword in the
“What are you doing, Cao Cao?” said Dong Zhuo
turning suddenly. And at that moment Lu Bu came
along leading a horse.
Cao Cao in a flurry dropped on his knees and
said, “I have a precious sword here which I wish to
present to Your Benevolence.”
Dong Zhuo took it. It was a fine blade, over a foot
in length, inlaid with the seven precious signs and
very keen—a fine sword in very truth. Dong Zhuo
handed the weapon to Lu Bu while Cao Cao took off
the sheath which he also gave to Lu Bu.
Then they went out to look at the horse. Cao Cao
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was profuse in his thanks and said he would like to
try the horse. So Dong Zhuo bade the guards bring
saddle and bridle. Cao Cao led the creature outside,
leapt into the saddle, laid on his whip vigorously, and
galloped away eastward.
Lu Bu said, “Just as I was coming up, it seemed
to me as if that fellow was going to stab you, only a
sudden panic seized him and he presented the
weapon instead.”
“I suspected him too,” said Dong Zhuo. Just then
Li Ru came in and they told him.
“Cao Cao has no family here in the capital but
lodges quite alone and not far away,” said Li Ru.
“Send for him. If he comes forthwith, the sword was
meant as a gift; but if he makes any excuses, he had
bad intentions. And you can arrest him.”
They sent four prison warders to call Cao Cao.
They were absent a long time and then came back,
saying, “Cao Cao had not returned to his lodging but
rode in hot haste out of the eastern gate. To the gate
commander’s questions he replied that he was on a
special message for the Prime Minister. He went off
at full speed.”
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“His conscience pricked him and so he fled; there
is no doubt that he meant assassination,” said Li Ru.
“And I trusted him so well!” said Dong Zhuo in a
“There must be a conspiracy afoot. When we
catch him, we shall know all about it,” said Li Ru.
Letters and pictures of the fugitive Cao Cao were
sent everywhere with orders to catch him. A large
reward in money was offered and a patent of nobility,
while those who sheltered him would be held to
share his guilt.
Cao Cao traveled in hot haste toward Qiao, his
home county. On the road at Zhongmou, he was
recognized by the guards at the gate and made
prisoner. They took him to the Magistrate. Cao Cao
declared he was a merchant, named Huang Fu. The
Magistrate scanned his face most closely and
remained in deep thought.
Presently the Magistrate said, “When I was at the
capital seeking a post, I knew you as Cao Cao. Why
do you try to conceal your identity?”
The Magistrate ordered Cao Cao to the prison till
the morrow when he could send Cao Cao to the
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capital and claim the reward. He gave the soldiers
wine and food as a reward.
About midnight the Magistrate sent a trusty
servant to bring the prisoner into his private rooms
for interrogation.
“They say the Prime Minister treated you well;
why did you try to harm him?” said Magistrate.
“How can swallows and sparrows understand the
flight of the crane and the wild goose? I am your
prisoner and to be sent to the capital for a reward.
Why so many questions?”
The Magistrate sent away the attendants and
turning to the prisoner said, “Do not despise me. I
am no mere hireling, only I have not yet found the
lord to serve.”
Said Cao Cao, “My ancestors enjoyed the bounty
of Han, and should I differ from a bird or a beast if I
did not desire to repay them with gratitude? I have
bowed the knee to Dong Zhuo that thereby I might
find an opportunity against him, and so remove this
evil from the state. I have failed for this time. Such is
the will of heaven.”
“And where are you going?”
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“Home to my county. Thence I shall issue a
summons calling all the bold spirits to come with
forces to kill the tyrant. This is my desire.” Thereupon
the Magistrate himself loosened the bonds of the
prisoner, led him to the upper seat, and bowed,
saying, “I am called Chen Gong. My aged mother
and family are in the east county of Dongjun. I am
deeply affected by your loyalty and uprightness, and
I will abandon my office and follow you.”
Cao Cao was delighted with this turn of affairs.
Chen Gong at once collected some money for the
expenses of their journey and gave Cao Cao a
different dress. Then each took a sword and rode
away toward Qiao. Three days later at eventide they
reached Chenggao. Cao Cao pointed with his whip
to a hamlet deep in the woods and said, “There lives
my uncle, Lu Boshe, a sworn−brother of my father.
Suppose we go and ask news of my family and seek
shelter for the night?”
“Excellent!” said his companion Chen Gong, and
they rode over, dismounted at the farm gate and
Lu Boshe greeted them and said to Cao Cao, “I
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hear the government has sent stringent orders on all
sides to arrest you. Your father has gone into hiding
to Chenliu. How has this all come about?”
Cao Cao told him and said, “Had it not been for
this man here with me, I should have been already
hacked to pieces.”
Lu Boshe bowed low to Chen Gong, saying, “You
are the salvation of the Cao family. But be at ease
and rest, I will find you a bed in my humble cottage.”
Lu Boshe then rose and went into the inner
chamber where he stayed a long time. When he
came out, he said, “There is no good wine in the
house. I am going over to the village to get some for
And he hastily mounted his donkey and rode
away. The two travelers sat a long time. Suddenly
they heard at the back of the house the sound of
sharpening a knife.
Cao Cao said to Chen Gong, “He is not my real
uncle; I am beginning to doubt the meaning of his
going off. Let us listen.”
So they silently stepped out into a straw hut at the
back. Presently some one said, “Bind before killing,
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“As I thought;” said Cao Cao, “now unless we
strike first, we shall be taken.”
Suddenly Cao Cao and Chen Gong dashed in,
sword in hand, and slew the whole household male
and female, in all eight persons.
After this they searched the house. In the kitchen
they found a pig bound ready to kill.
“You have made a huge mistake,” said Chen
Gong, “and we have slain honest folks.”
Cao Cao and Chen Gong at once mounted and
rode away. Soon they met their host Lu Boshe
coming home, and over the saddle in front of him
they saw two vessels of wine. In his hands he carried
fruit and vegetables.
“Why are you going, Sirs?” Lu Boshe called to
“Accused people dare not linger,” said Cao Cao.
“But I have bidden them kill a pig! Why do you
refuse my poor hospitality? I pray you ride back with
me.” Cao Cao paid no heed, urging his horse
forward. But he suddenly drew his sword and rode
back after Lu Boshe.
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“Who is that coming along?” called Cao Cao.
Lu Boshe turned and looked back, and Cao Cao
at the same instant cut Lu Boshe down.
Chen Gong was frightened.
“You were wrong enough before,” cried Chen
Gong. “What now is this?”
“When he got home and saw his family killed,
think you he would bear it patiently? If he had raised
an alarm and followed us, we should have been
“To kill deliberately is very wrong,” said Chen
“I would rather betray the world than let the world
betray me!” was the reply.
Chen Gong only thought. They rode on some
distance by moonlight and presently knocked up an
inn for shelter. Having first fed their horses, Cao Cao
was soon asleep, but Chen Gong lay thinking.
“I took him for a true man and left all to follow him,
but he is as cruel as a wolf. If I spare him, he will do
more harm later,” thought Chen Gong.
And Chen Gong rose intending to kill his
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In his heart lie cruelty and venom, he is no true
In nought does he differ from his enemy Dong
The further fortunes of Cao Cao will be told in
later chapters.
Three Kingdoms Romance

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