Yuan Shu
Yuan Shu (155-199 AD) was a Chinese warlord who played a key role in the fall of the Later Han dynasty, taking the title of Guardian over Emperor Liu Xie until his defeat in 199 AD at the hands of a great coalition led by Cao Cao. The half-brother of Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu was a member of the proud Yuan clan, and he ruled over Huainan in Yang Province (present-day Anhui). Yuan Shu came into possession of the Imperial Seal in 195 AD and used it to declare himself Emperor of the "Zhou Dynasty", but he was defeated by Liu Bei, Cao Cao, Sun Ce, and Lu Bu numerous times. After a final defeat while attempting to march north and join forces with his brother Yuan Shao in Ji Province, he fell ill and died, and the Imperial Seal fell into Cao Cao's hands.


Yuan Shu

Yuan Shu in battle gear before the Battle of Sishui Gate

Yuan Shu was the younger cousin and half-brother of warlord Yuan Shao and was born of noble lineage to the House of Yuan. Yuan Shu became the Governor of Huainan, and in 189 AD he was one of the warlords who participated in his brother's slaying of the Ten Eunuchs in Luoyang. However, this allowed for the cruel warlord Dong Zhuo, Governor of Liang Province, to seize Emperor Shao of Han and declare himself the ruler of China. Yuan Shao and his childhood friend Cao Cao formed an anti-Dong Zhuo coalition, and Yuan Shu was one of the seventeen names that signed on to join the alliance. He became angry when Governor Sun Jian of Changsha was named the commander of the army while Yuan Shu was only named the Chief of the Commissariat, and at the Battle of Sishui Gate in 190 AD, he refused to send the supply convoy out to Sun Jian while he was besieging Sishui Gate, saying that even if he did send the supply convoy, all of the glory would go to Sun Jian. This act of jealousy nearly caused a defeat, and Dong Zhuo's general Hua Xiong charged out of the gate, killing several Allied Forces warriors until Liu Bei's sworn brother Guan Yu put a stop to him. Yuan Shu was also present during the battle of Hulao Gate, but contributed little to the outcome of the battle.

After the disbanding of the anti-Dong Zhuo alliance following Dong Zhuo's flight to Chang'an with the emperor, Sun Jian discovered the Imperial Seal in a ceramic vase in the burnt-down city of Luoyang. Sun Jian decided to ally with Yuan Shu, becoming one of his generals. Yuan Shu became a rival of Liu Biao, and Sun Jian had to fight his way through Jing Province in order to return to Jiangdong in 191 AD. The next year, 192 AD, Yuan Shu proposed a dual attack on Liu Biao and Yuan Shao; if successful, Yuan Shu would capture Yuan Shao (who wanted to seize the Imperial Seal from Sun Jian) and become the new Governor of Ji Province, while Sun Jian would take over all of Jing Province from Liu Biao. However, at the Battle of Xiangyang, Sun Jian was lured into an ambush by Lu Gong and slain, and Yuan Shu lost his top commander. He was forced to retreat south to his lands in Huainan in Yang Province, where he made his base.

In 194 AD, Yuan Shu decreased relations with the House of Sun when Sun Ce was passed over as Governor of Lujiang Commandery by Liu Xun, one of Yuan Shu's vassals, despite Yuan Shu promising Sun Ce the lands. Nevertheless, he allowed Sun Ce to campaign in Jiangdong to reconquer Yang Province for the Sun family, as one of his generals Wu Jing was being pushed back by the regional warlords Liu Yao, Yan Baihu, and Wang Lang. Yuan Shu allowed Sun Ce to borrow 1,500 of his troops, and by 197 AD, Sun Ce had full control over the region. In 196 AD, Yuan Shu called upon Sun Ce, his generals Zhou Yu, Huang Gai, and Han Dang, and his siblings Sun Quan and Sun Shangxiang to assist him when Liu Bei and Lu Bu besieged Shouchun Castle on the orders of Cao Cao. Yuan Shu was defeated, and laid down his arms when he lost a bet on Lu Bu's archery abilities. However, he had the audacity to declare himself the Emperor of the Zhou Dynasty when Sun Ce gave him the Imperial Seal in exchange for borrowing his troops for the conquest of the Wu Territory, causing the land to unite against him.

In 197 AD, Cao Cao formed a coalition against Yuan Shu. This included not only Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and Lu Bu, but also Sun Ce, who was tired of Yuan Shu's claims to the throne and who wanted to become independent from him. The coalition besieged Shouchun castle, where Yuan Shu and his army made a stand. Yuan Shu fled early in the battle, leaving the city's defenses to Li Feng, Liang Gang, Yue Jiu, and Chen Ji. Cao Cao sped up the construction of the siege works by beheading the chief of the commissariat Wang Hui, forcing his men to build them before three days passed. They quickly assaulted the city, and all of Yuan Shu's generals guarding the city were executed in the marketplace.

Forced to withdraw, Yuan Shu eventually came up with a plan to ally with Yuan Shao and form a united front against his enemies. Yuan Shu promised Yuan Shao the Imperial Seal and his title as Emperor if he would send him reinforcements and ally with him. In 199 AD, Cao Cao allowed Liu Bei to borrow Lu Zhao and Zhu Ling for a brief campaign to prevent Yuan Shu from meeting up with his allies. Yuan Shu's self-centered personality alienated his generals Chen Lan and Lei Bo, who became bandits at Mt. Song. His only general left was Ji Ling, who was a fierce warrior that carried a trident into battle. Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, Guan Yu, Zhu Ling, and Lu Zhao attacked his army in Xu Province, and they were destroyed. Yuan Shu was forced to seek refuge in Jiangling with the last 1,000 troops of his army. He fell ill while he stayed there, not being able to swallow the coarse food that his soldiers were given. One day, when he asked his chef for honeyed water, the cook told him that there was no honeyed water, and the only water was tainted with blood. Yuan Shu rolled off of his couch and fell onto the floor, crying, and his mouth gushed blood. Yuan Shu died that day, and his sons Yuan Yin and Yuan Yao were executed while trying to flee with his possessions. The Imperial Seal was given to Cao Cao, who became the new regent of the Later Han dynasty.