The Yellow Turban Rebellion (Huángjīn zhī luàn 黃巾之亂) is often regarded as the conflict that marked the beginning of the end for the Han Dynasty. It was instigated by the religious brothers Zhang Jue 張角, Zhang Bao 張寶 and Zhang Liang 張梁. Though initially their intentions were arguably purely religious, the rise of popularity of their teachings known as the Way of Great Peace (Tàipíng Dào 太平道) may have aspired to greater ambitions as the Zhang brothers started creating their own secret agenda.

An unfortunate betrayal forced Zhang Jue to launch his rebellion earlier than planned, on a date highly unfavorable for the Yellow Turbans.

The Battle

The origin of the battle can be dated back to the early 170's, when the Zhang brothers instigated their religious movement known as the Way of Great Peace. The brothers appointed themselves with titles.

They equipped themselves with staves with nine knots 九節杖.[3] They gathered hundreds of thousands of followers with most of them being very loyal to the Zhang brothers’ ideals.

Detailed Map of Han-China

Detailed map of Han-China. Might be helpful when reading this article.

Han-China during the Reign of the House of Liu

It was early in the 170’s when great epidemics started occurring regularly and give rise to vigorous movements. One of these movements was the Way of Great Peace, founded by the brothers Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang in about 174 A.D.[4][5] Zhang Jue was an adept of the popular cult of the Way of Huang-Lao (Huáng-Lǎo Dào 奉事黃老道) and thus a man with experience when it comes to Daoism, the basic religion for his teachings along with Buddhism.[1] Patients were ordered to kowtow before one of the Zhang brothers, or other teachers and reflect on their sins while the teacher would recite magic formulae over some water and hand it to the patient to drink. Strangely enough many of the patients were cured. They started to believe the Zhang brothers possessed divine powers and began to worship them.[6]

Because major epidemics were reported almost every second year, the teachings of the Zhang brothers were highly relevant and may have been the reason of the success of the Way of Great Peace. Throughout the 170’s the Way of Great Peace acquired wide popularity.[7]

Causes of the Rise of Popularity and Rebellion

Decades before the Yellow Turban Rebellion took place, China was already experiencing a constant series of natural disasters, a growth of population, frequent barbarian incursions, eunuch influences and other factors that, throughout the years, have been considered possible causes for the quick rise of popularity of the Way of Great Peace. In this chapter we will list all factors and possible causes;

  • Barbarian incursions[8]
  • Decline of the House of Liu[9]
  • Epidemics[7][9]
  • Eunuch influence in the Imperial Court[9]
  • Growth of population[10]
  • Natural disasters, such as…
    • Droughts
    • Earthquakes
    • Floodings
    • Hailstones as big as hen’s eggs
  • Tax increases[11]

It is also believed that these factors were not only the cause of the rise of popularity of the Way of Great Peace, but also the reason why it was founded. This, however, seems unlikely to us. We have chosen to go with Paul Michaud who stated that the Zhang brothers’ initial goals were purely religious and without any ambition of overthrowing the Han Dynasty.

Barbarian Incursions

Later Han, like most Chinese dynasties, suffered at times from economic dislocations caused by foreign wars and raids of border tripes.[8] Between 100-184 China was surrounded by various barbarian tribes:

  • Wuhuan 烏桓 and Xianbi 鮮卑, along the northern border.
  • Xiongnu 匈奴, towards the center and west.
  • Qiang 羌, on the western border.
  • Various "Man" 蠻 tribes in the south.

The relation with these tribes was not always peaceful and throughout the reign of the Later Han the dynasty witnessed various destructive incursions, especially its frontier provinces.[8]

The most dangerous of these tribes were the Qiang. From 86 to 169 there was a state of recurrent warfare between the Qiang and the Han. This was not one continuous war though, but can be divided into four distinct phases.[12]

The first was the rebellion of the Qiang chieftain Mitang 迷唐. It consisted of a series raids staged in cooperation with his allies in the province of Liang, and a series of punitive expeditions against the rebel leader. Neither of the forces was uniformly victorious and uniformly defeated, though the tide of victory rode with the Han forces. Mitang seems to have held some kind of grudge against the Han Chinese and he wasn’t bribable. His rebellion lasted until 102. Thereafter his son and the remnants of his people surrendered to Han.[13]

The second was the most violent Qiang outbreak during the Later Han dynasty. It was ignited by Qiang living within the confines of China who objected to being conscripted for the wars against the western countries. Soon after it spread to all the Qiang who became unified under a common cause. Their initial success emboldened their leader, a man by the name of Dianlian 滇零, and in 108 he proclaimed himself emperor in the northern lands. Dianlian died in 112, but until then the Qiang kept inflicting several crushing defeats on the Han armies sent against them. However, when his son Lianchang 零昌, who was young In both years and experience, succeeded him, the tides seemed to turn. A man named Langmo 狼莫 became his strategist and one Du Jigong 杜季貢, a Han renegade, was made a general. There were successes for both sides, but starting in 117, when Tu Chi-kung was murdered, the Han hired murderers to kill all the Qiang leaders. Lianchang was also stabbed to death in 117 and in 118 it was the turn of his strategist. The second outbreak was then defeated; it had lasted more than ten years, it had cost more than 24.000.000 cash to the treasury and had caused incalculable loss in life and property in the provinces of Bing and Liang.[13][14]

During 119-126 there were only a few short-lived outbreaks, which were dealt with by the Han general Ma Xian 馬賢. The third phase of the Qiang-Han conflict began in 134 and it lasted until 145, when the Han official Liang Ping 梁並 enticed the Qiang to surrender by means of kindness and favour. It was not as violent as previous Qiang outbreaks, but it lasted for about 10 years and had necessitated expenses well over 8.000.000 cash.[14]

The fourth and final outbreak began in 159 and lasted until 169. Perhaps one of the most striking features of the conflict was the alliance between the Xianbi and the Eastern Qiang in 166. This presented a special danger to the provinces Yu, Ping and Liang. One year later, a great victory by Dong Zhuo 董卓 eliminated that threat. The rebellion could have ended in 167, but the general Duan Jiong 段熲, who had taken an active part in the struggle, convinced the emperor to fight to the finish against the Eastern Qiang, the only Qiang that had not been dealt with yet. He was assigned to lead the mission and did so successfully. He fought 180 battles, beheaded 38.000 Qiang and captured in excess of 427.000 head of cattle, horses, sheep, mules and camels. His total expenditures had amounted to 4.400.000 cash and he had lost more than 400 officers and men. The Qiang had come to an end; they submitted to the Chinese.[14][15]

Decline of the House of Liu

See also: Eunuch influence in the Imperial Court

A decline of the House of Liu appears to have started in 89 A.D., with the coming of Emperor He of Han 漢和帝. The new emperor was so young (10 years at the time of ascension), that it necessitated a regency to be established. The Empress Dowager Dou 竇皇后 assumed the functions of regent and, as a rule, relied on her family for help and support.[9]

Her brothers Dou Xian, Dou Du, Dou Jing 竇景 and Dou Gui 竇瑰 all became powerful officials, though they had only relatively menial titles before. So when the Emperor He came of age, he was faced with powerful factions. It appears Emperor He and following Emperors were all born with relatively weak personalities. They also seem to have been bitterly resentful of their relatives' power.[16] Their desire to do away with their relatives' power helped give rise to the palace eunuchs.

The struggle between the various factions confined within the walls of the palace. It did not precipitate any civil war.


Epidemics seem to have been a rather constant factor throughout the reign of the House of Liu, however around the time of the foundation of the Way of Great Peace there was an increase in the frequency of reports of major epidemics. They were now reported almost every second year; in the spring of 171, the winter of 173, the spring of 179, and the winters of 182 and 185 A.D.[17] Especially the ones in 171 and 173 may have helped the Zhang brothers tremendously building up a base of loyal patient. Those who were cured believed in the teachings of the Zhang brothers and started to worship them.[6]

According to Rafe de Crespigny it appears very likely that a new, and thus virulent disease began affecting humans.[7]

Since the Zhang brothers were healers, this factor is highly relevant to the success of their teachings.

Eunuch influence in the Imperial Court

Eunuchs, or more specifically Regular Palace Attendants and Junior Attendants of the Yellow Gates, which were the highest eunuch positions, originally served under the Minister Steward, but became largely independent during Later Han.[18] There were two instances which really helped the eunuchs gain individual power. The first was when Liu Zhao 劉肇, alias Emperor He 漢和帝, ascended the throne in 88 A.D. Liu Zhao ascended the throne at the young age of ten. Though that was not uncommon during Later Han, the emperor was born with a weak personality and therefore relied heavily upon the help of others, such as the eunuchs, who, from that moment onwards, were allowed to meddle in state affairs.[19]

The second instance came in the 120's, during Emperor An's 漢安帝 reign. Emperor An placed a lot of trust in his wetnurse Wang Sheng 王聖, his wife Empress Yan Ji 閻姬 and the two eunuchs Jiang Jing 江京 and Li Run 李閏 (both Junior Attendants at the Yellow Gates and later made Regular Palace Attendants). All four of them, however, were corrupt in intentions and they abused the Emperor’s trust to seize power and wealth for themselves. In 124 A.D. Jiang Jing and Empress Yan Ji were involved in falsely accusing the then nine-year-old Crown Prince Liu Bao 劉保 of crimes and wanted the Emperor to depose him.

The following year, 125 A.D., Emperor An suddenly died. Prince Bao was Emperor An's only son and thus the only legal heir to the throne. Empress Yan Ji, however, abused this momentum to put Liu Yi 劉懿 on the throne. She thought he would be easier to control given his young (but unknown) age.

Later that year Liu Yi, alias Emperor Shao 漢少帝, became seriously ill and later passed away. Afraid that Empress Yan Ji would again bypass Prince Bao, the eunuch Sun Cheng 孫程, a "good" eunuch, championed the cause of the Crown Prince Bao by entering into a conspiracy with nineteen other eunuchs. Their first move was an attack on Li Run, Jiang Jing and the other eunuchs of the ruling clique. Li Run was kept alive because of his influence, and was forced, by knife-point, to escort the new emperor and take control of the imperial Secretariat.[20]

Empress Yan Ji

Empress Yan Ji

When Prince Bao was finally enthroned he richly awarded those to whom he owed his throne.[21] Several years later, in 135 A.D. he even allowed eunuchs to adopt children, which also meant that those adopted children would inherit their fathers wealth and titles.[22]

Some years later, during the reign of Emperor Huan 漢桓帝 from 147 – 167, the eunuchs became a powerful individual faction. In 168 A.D. there seemed to have been founded some sort of a eunuch clique, with Cao Jie 曹節 being the most influential of them.[22] They enjoyed great favour and influence, which was shown by Emperor Huan’s indifferent behavior towards memorials attacking the eunuchs.

Around the year 168 A.D. after the passing of Emperor Huan, sixteen years before the rebellion began and five or so years before the Way of Great Peace was founded, the eunuchs began to act somewhat as a cohesive political group.[21] It was around this time that a first struggle against the eunuchs began, with Dou Wu 竇武 secrectly plotting against Cao Jie and his faction.

In 181 A.D. Cao Jie passed away but not much later the eunuchs Zhang Rang 張讓 and Zhao Zhong 趙忠 became strong influential individuals and seemed to have somewhat formed their own clique at court. According to several sources, such as the Zizhi Tongjian 資治通鑒, they had contact with the Yellow Turbans.[23]

Growth of Population

It is considered that a continuous growth of population caused economical problems. In the year 2 A.D. the recorded population of China was 59.594.978 individuals.[24] This was the highest figure preserved for the two Han dynasties and will be used as a base for this part of the article.

In 9 A.D. Wang Mang 王莽 usurped the throne and established his own dynasty; named the Xin Dynasty 新朝. In 23 A.D. his dynasty was attacked by Red Eyebrow rebels (chimei 赤眉) and Wang Mang was killed during the battle. In 23 A.D. the Han dynasty was restored by Liu Xuan 劉玄, alias Emperor Gengshi of Han 漢更始帝. Two years later, in 25 A.D., Liu Xuan was strangled to death by Xie Lu 謝祿. After Liu Xuan’s death it was Liu Xiu 劉秀, a descendant of the former imperial clan, who ascended the throne, restored the dynasty and became the founder of the Later Han Dynasty. As Emperor Guangwu of Han 漢光武帝 he spent the greatest part of his reign waging wars against rebels such as the Red Eyebrows. In 57 A.D., two years before his death, the population is reported to have shrunk to 21.007.820.[24] Almost 1/3 of the figure of 55 years earlier.

Not too much can be attached to this figure. People, for example, could’ve avoided a census taken for the purpose of tax collection due to the many civil wars that had kept the empire occupied. It remains safe to say though the population did undergo a decrease throughout those warring years.[24]

In 105 A.D., however, reports say the population had increased and was now 53.256.229 individuals. Probably due to Emperor Guangwu’s successes during his wars which resulted in pacifying the empire.[24]

In 140 A.D. the population had again decreased, this time because of a number of disasters such as floods, droughts, floods and plagues of locusts. There were also several barbarian uprisings. The population in the year 140 A.D. was reported to have been 49.150.220. Sixteen years later though, population had again increased to a total of 56.486.856, which was the highest figure for the Later Han Dynasty and also the last recorded figure for the dynasty.[24]

In short: in 100 years (57 – 156 A.D.) the population went up from roughly 21 million to roughly 56 million. It remains hard to determine what this caused the Han.

Natural Disasters

In researching this factor we are handicapped. Historical sources are inadequate and record only the date and location of a certain natural disaster, they do not tell us the range of the damage it caused or if it caused any damage at all, nor do they tell us if civilians suffered from this.[25]

To try to get an impression of these catastrophes and what they might have caused we will first list all the sorts of catastrophes that occurred.

  • Draughts
  • Earthquakes
  • Excessive rains
  • Floods
  • Hailstones
  • Locust plagues

We are told that only the years 126, 134, 136, 141-143, 150, 160, 163 and 170 were free of any catastrophes.[25] So it seems these factors were constant and therefore it seems safe to assume that this did not directly cause a rebellion.

However it should be noted that at that time the Chinese believed that natural disasters were caused by misbehavior of the emperor.[25] Looking at the frequency of the catastrophes the Chinese would’ve believed the emperor misbehaved on many occasions.

Tax Increases

Harsh tax increases at a time of natural disasters and epidemics were said to have stripped people of their hope. Properties were damaged and destroyed and households suffered from the epidemics making it very tough to earn the money needed to restore their property and would’ve been made impossible if taxes were harshly increased. However, historical sources list only one instance of remission of field tax since Emperor Ling ascended the throne in 168 A.D.[11] Therefore it seems unlikely this factor had much or anything to do with the rebellion.

Causes: Conclusion

From listing these factors we can draw a conclusion for what seems probable causes for the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans. It should be noted, though, that no surviving documents of the Yellow Turbans themselves exist. Therefore we had to rely on what is written in works such as Sanguo zhi, Hou Han ji and Hou Han shu about the Yellow Turbans and the years preceding the rebellion. Because of these works the following conclusions are made.

It seems improbable to believe that the people rebelled because of an economical crisis. The factors which could've caused an economical crisis (natural disasters, barbarian incursions, population problems, etc) appear to have been constant and therefore it seems unlikely that these could've caused an economical crisis.

A political crisis seems more likely. Based upon what is written above, the following arguments seem probable:

  • The people lost faith in the Han.
    The Han was suffering from internal struggles and might've been too occupied with itself and less-than-need be with its people. Furthermore, it suffered from negative influence from its numerous palace eunuchs and the people had gotten aware of both of these factors.
  • The people frequently suffered from epidemics; either...
    • ...the cost of treatment was very high, especially considering the damage the various natural disasters might have cost. The people were looking for cheaper alternatives, and found faith-healers like Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang, or the Three Zhangs in the west.
    • ...the demand for medical treatment was too high and couldn't be met and people were forced to find treatment elsewhere.
    • ...The Han was too occupied with itself and did not provide its people with sufficient doctor's offices.

Meanwhile, Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang had a rather good understanding of what was really going on and spread various omens throughout the country which they presented to the people as concrete evidence that Heaven had withdrawn its mandate to rule from the Emperor, further decreasing the people's faith and strengthening their loyalty towards the Way of Great Peace. For example there was an omen which respresented eunuchs meddling in state affairs and an omen which represented bearers of the colour Yellow would replace the Han.

Propagation of the Way of Great Peace

Main article: Way of Great Peace

From the above we have learned that either the foundation of the Way of Great Peace coinciding with a series of epidemics, or economical hardships seriously helped Zhang Jue and his brothers in gathering followers. Zhang Jue further increased the amount of his followers by sending eight disciples to convert the people of the eight provinces Qing 靑, Xu 徐, You 幽, Ji 冀, Jing 荆, Yang 扬, Yan 兗 and Yu 豫 to his teachings. The people passed his words from one to another for more than ten years. With success, as there were some who sold up all their property and left their homes to follow him and his brothers.[6][26] People blocked the roads in their rush to join Zhang Jue. About 10.000 people failed to reach him, because they died of illness along the way[27]

Zhang Jue Art

Zhang Jue

In 178 A.D. Zhang Jue introduced a host of omens which he presented as concrete evidence that Heaven had withdrawn its mandate to rule from the emperor.[17] Examples of omens are a black mist in the form of a dragon and a hen transforming into a rooster. The latter symbolized the emperor allowing eunuchs to meddle in state affairs, which was in fact true.[17]

Ignorance of the Government

The officials in the commanderies and government offices had noticed the flocking of their people, but they did not really understand what was going on. Instead, they reported that Zhang Jue was reforming men with his fine teachings.[6]

For some years the Han Excellency Yang Ci 禓賜 had been concerned at the development of the Zhang brothers’ movement. In 180 A.D. he and his Senior Clerk Liu Tao 劉陶 had been discussing the possible threat of the Way of Great Peace to good order.[28] During the discussion Yang Ci said to Liu Tao:

"If Zhang Jue is met with an amnesty he will not repent and his movement will keep on gradually increasing and spreading. Now, if the officials of the provinces and commanderies are ordered to have them arrested, I fear that this would cause further stir and quickly bring disaster. I wish to order urgently the Inspectors and heads of the commanderies and kingdoms to classify and divide the wandering people and escort each to his native commandery in order to weaken the party and to isolate it. Afterwards it will be easy to punish the leaders and to establish tranquility."[29]

Liu Tao encouraged Yang Ci to write these words down in a memorial and send it to Emperor Ling of Han.[30] But because Yang Ci left office soon after sending the memorial the matter was simply pigeon-holed. [6]

Liu Tao then joined the Censorate as an Imperial Clerk and in 183 he, jointly with the Commandant of Equipage Yue Song 樂松 and the Consultant Yuan Gong 袁貢, sent in another memorial in which Yang Ci’s earlier memorial was cited and added that:[28]

"Zhang Jue’s secret plans become increasingly dangerious. The empire is full of whispers and rumours, and it is claimed that Zhang Jue and his followers have gained entry into the capital and have spies within the court. They twitter like birds, they have the hearts of wild beasts, and they make plots together. The provinces and commanderies have put the whole question under a taboo: they compare notes with one another privately, but they are reluctant to say anything in the open. Your majesty should issue a clear edict, calling for the arrest of Zhang Jue and his supporters, and promising rewards of land from the state for those who capture them. If any should dare to evade your call, they can share the same punishment."[6]

But the advice was again ignored. Around that time Liu Tao was commissioned to compose the commentary Chunqiu tiaoli 春秋條例 on the Spring and Autumn Annals.[28]

Preparing for Rebellion

In the meantime Zhang Jue had amassed "hundreds of thousands" of followers. A frequently given figure is 360.000 followers, which Paul Michaud confirms.[31][32] Zhang Jue then set-up 36 Divisions (Fāng, 方). There were two kinds of Divisions: Small Divisions and Large Divisions. A Small Division had 6.000 ~ 7.000 men. A Large Division had over 10.000 men. Every Division had an appointed Division Leader, who in his turn could appoint a "Gang Leader" (qú shuài 渠帥) (perjorative term) to a selection of his troops.[29] In 180 A.D. they spread the word that:[7]

"The azure sky is dead and a Yellow Heaven will take its place. When the year is jiazi great fortune will come to the world."[6]

Then, the followers of the Way of Great Peace used white clay or white chalk to write the hanzi for 'jiazi', 甲子, on the walls of the capital, the gates of the government offices and provincial and commandery yamens.[33][34]

The year jiazi was the first year of a new cycle. A cycle consisted of 60 years. For a millenary doctrine such as Zhang Jue's, this was a most suitable omen for the beginning of the rebellion. In theories of the Five Powers 五行, the colour yellow, which is referred to in the Yellow Turbans slogan (Yellow Heaven) and their clothing style (yellow turbans, scarves, bandannas, etc), was the symbolizing colour of the Power of Earth, which would succeed the Power of Fire, which was the Han's reignpower. The colour Yellow also referred to the Yellow Emperor, who held an important position in the doctrines of the Zhang brothers.

Ma Yuanyi

By 183 A.D. Ma Yuanyi 馬元義, a Large Division Leader (dà fāng 大方) and leader in planning for rebellion, had, together with others, collected "several tens of thousands" of men from the provinces of Jing and Yang and they had arranged a date for a rising at Ye city, which was the administrative center of Wei commandery and Ji province. [35]

Meanwhile, Ma Yuanyi made frequent trips to the capital city Luoyang 洛陽, which lay about 200 kilometers southwest and upriver from Ye city.[36] There, he compiled confidential reports[32] and claimed adherents, even among the palace eunuchs. With the Regular Palace Attendants Feng Xu 封胥 and Xu Feng 徐奉 (and possibly more) Ma Yuanyi arranged an attack from within the palace that was to coincide with local risings throughout the country.[36] The date for the attack and the coincided rising was set at the fifth day of the third lunar month, which was 3 April 184.[5][6][36][n 1]

Zhang Jue Betrayed

And so the date was set. On 3 April, third month of the first year of the new cycle the Zhang brothers and their followers would all rise and attempt to overthrow the Han Dynasty. However, before the appointed day, in spring of 184, a disciple of Zhang Jue, a man from Ji'nan commandery in Qing province named Tang Zhou 唐周, sent a memorial to the court in which he revealed the plot. The reasons for this are unknown.[37]

According to History of the Later Han 69/59 it was He Jin 何進 who exposed the plot of Ma Yuanyi.[37][38][39]

Subsequently Ma Yuanyi was arrested and torn into pieces by chariots in Luoyang. An edict then ordered the Three Excellencies and the Colonel Director of Retainers to arrest an question all those attendants and guards of the palace and the common people of the capital district who were followers of the teachings of the Way of Great Peace. Over a thousand people were executed.[23]

Orders were sent to Ji province that Zhang Jue and his followers should be arrested. They had already realized that their plans had been discovered though, and Zhang Jue had sent messengers to all thirty-six Divisions. They rode day and night to tell the Divisions that they should all rise together.[23]

The Yellow Turban Rebellion

In preparation for their rebellion, Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao, Zhang Liang and their followers all wore pieces of yellow cloth, as means of identification and as a sign of the Yellow Heaven to come. People called them Yellow Turbans (Huángjīn 黃巾), or Yellow Turbans Ash.[7] They were also known as "Ant Bandits" (because they were so numerous)[40] and "Moth Bandits".[41]

Second Lunar Month of Jiazi

February 29 – March 29[37]
The brothers gave themselves titles. Zhang Jue proclaimed himself Lord of Heaven General (tiāngōng jiāngjūn 天公將軍), Zhang Bao proclaimed himself Lord of Earth General (dígōng jiāngjūn 地公將軍) and Zhang Liang proclaimed himself Lord of Man General (réngōng jiāngjūn 人公將軍),[42] presenting themselves as symbolic embodiments of heaven, earth and man, the all-embracing triad.[27] It is said that Zhang Jue killed a man to propitiate Heaven just before he rose in revolt.[43] Though it should be noted that "official" historical texts were not required to be 100% factual and it seems more plausible that this was added to give the Yellow Turbans a more evil and barbarian character.

Around 20-25 March the Yellow Turban Rebellion had begun;[44][n 2] everywhere they were the followers of Zhang Jue and his brothers burned down and destroyed government offices and looted the villages. Provincial and commandery administrations were compelled to abandon their offices and most of the officials ran away. Within a few weeks the whole empire had responded to the rebellion. The capital was in fear and trembling. In the kingdoms of Anping and Ganling people seized their kings and made cause with the rebels.[23]

Probably, many of the Yellow Turban rebels were poorly equipped, taking pitchforks, scythes and the like into battle. When they attacked and took over commanderies they probably took over their equipment as well. Thus they might've eventually fought using proper weaponry and armour as well as horses.

It should be noted that it seems plausible that not all of Zhang Jue's "hundreds of thousands/360.000" followers responded and that the number of followers actually going into combat may have been fewer. When Zhang Jue sent messengers riding day and night to tell all Division Leaders to rise together they had to travel hundreds of kilometers to reach the most distant Divisions. Messengers of Han could have preceded the messengers of Zhang Jue, or Zhang Jue’s may not have reached the most distant Divisions.

In short, either of the following could have happened:

  1. Distant Divisions did not receive any orders.
  2. The messengers arrived too late at distant Divisions, the element of surprise was lost and the Division Leaders disobeyed orders.
  3. Local authorities were warned in time and managed to prevent local risings.
Organization of the Yellow Turbans
Main article: Military Organization of the Yellow Turbans

The Yellow Turbans had three main centers of rebellion.[45]

  1. Centre of Rebellion in Ji province.
    The group of Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang
    Active in: Julu commandery and Wei commandery.
  2. Centre of Rebellion in You province
    Guangyang and Zhuo commanderies.
  3. Centre of Rebellion in Yu province and Jing province
    Active in: Yingchuan commandery (Yu), Runan commandery (Yu) and Nanyang commandery (Jing).

Third Lunar Month of Jiazi

30 March[37] - 27 April
On the day wushen, which corresponds to 2 April,[23][n 3] the capital city of Luoyang was placed under martial law.[37] The brother of the Empress He 何, He Jin, who was Intendant of Henan at that time, was now made General-in-Chief (大將軍) and enfeoffed as Marquis of Shen. Hou Han shu 69/59 says He Jin received the marquisate for exposing Ma Yuanyi's plot.[46] Possibly the memorial that Tang Zhou had sent to the court had fallen into He Jin's hands either directly or through one of his men.

He Jin took command of the guards of the divisions of the Right and of the Left and of the Feathered Forest Troops, together with the five regiments of the Northern Army and led them to camp at the Capital Hostel.

There, they prepared weapons and equipment to keep order in the capital. Chief Commandants were appointed for each of the Eight Passes leading to the capital city of Luoyang.[44]
Fortified Passes to Luoyang in 184

A map of the fortified passes around Luoyang.
(names written in Wade-Giles)

According to the biography of Huangfu Song in Hou Han shu these events occurred some ten days after the immediate rising of the Yellow Turbans.
On the Eight Passes

The Eight Passes lay in circle around Luoyang, for more detail about their location, click on the picture.

  • Hangu Pass (Han-ku), was on the road leading westwards to Chang'an city.
  • Yique Pass (Yi-ch'üeh), controlled the passage along the Yi River south of Luoyang.
  • Taigu Pass (T'ai-ku), guarded the road leading across the Xionger Shan towards Nanyang commandery.
  • Guangcheng Pass (Kuang-ch'eng), controlled the passage along the Ru River. It also represented a southern outpost of the Yique and Taigu routes.
  • Huanyuan Pass (Huan-yüan), guarded the roas past Song Mountain leading southeast from Luoyang towards Yingchuan commandery.
  • Xuanmen Pass (Hsüan-men), guarded the road which led due uest to the North China plain.
  • Meng Crossing (Meng-chin), also known as Meng Ford. It was on the southern bank of the Yellow River.
  • Xiaoping Crossing (Hsiao-p'ing), gave passage across the Yellow River. [46]

Emperor Ling had summoned all his ministers to a council. The Inspector of Yu province Wang Yun 王允 said that the proscription of the Men of Faction should be ended so that disaffected gentlemen could join the insurgents.[47] Huangfu Song 皇甫嵩, the Grand Administrator of Beidi commandery and nephew of Huangfu Gui 皇甫規, had the same suggestion, and added that there should be a greater distribution of the resources of the palace treasure and of the horses in the Western Garden stables to equip the army.[23] Emperor Ling asked the "good" Regular Palace Attendant Lü Qiang 呂強 what he thought of the proposal. Lü Qiang said:

"The proscription has been maintained for a long time and the people [affected by it] have been made angry and resentful. Unless they are given a pardon, they could quite easily join Zhang Jue. The rebellion would become very much more serious and it would be too late to do anything about it."
"I ask now that you should first execute those of your attendants who are greedy and corrupt, issue a complete amnesty for all the Men of Faction, and examine all the Inspectors and the heads of commanderies and kingdoms to see which are competent to do their job. After that, there will be no more trouble from rebels."

It frightened the Emperor, who then accepted the policy.

On the day renzi, which corresponds to 5 April, an amnesty was issued for all the Men of Faction in the empire and those who had been exiled were allowed to return home. Only Zhang Jue was omitted from the amnesty.[23]

Trained soldiers were raised from the Empire and general summons were sent out, requiring all provincial and commandery administrations to gather horses and crossbows, and instructing them to recommend the sons and grandsons of former military officers and those among the common people who had some understanding of warfare, so that they might attend at Luoyang for possible appointment.[46]

Probably at the same conference on 5 April a pacification campaign was initiated;

  • Lu Zhi 盧植 was made General of the Gentlemen of the Household of the North with the Staff of Authority (北中郎將節) and sent directly to Zhang Jue in Julu commandery.[48]
  • Huangfu Song was made General of the Gentlemen of the Household of the Left with the Staff of Authority (左中郎將節) and sent in joint command with Zhu Jun against the rebels in Yingchuan commandery.[49]
  • Zhu Jun 朱儁 was made General of the Gentlemen of the Household of the Right with the Staff of Authority (右中郎將節) and sent in joint command with Huangfu Song against the rebels in Yingchuan commandery.[50]
  • Earlier, He Jin was already made General-in-Chief, commanding the Northern Army for the defense of Luoyang.[39]

He Jin's army consisted of:

Huangfu Song's and Zhu Jun's army consisted of roughly 40.000 men[52] and the following officers:

Lu Zhi's army consisted of:

Furthermore there were was also an army led by Zou Jing 鄒靖, whose army consisted of:[58]

Not much is known about Zou Jing and his men. They fought "Yellow Turbans in the north"[58] (Zhuo commandery?), but we do not know when Zou Jing was ordered to do so. Could be at the same time as Huangfu Song, Zhu Jun and Lu Zhi, or perhaps later. Sooner seems highly unlikely.

Enfeoffment of Eunuchs
Main article: Struggle against The Regular Attendants in 189

At this time the Regular Palace Attendants Zhao Zhong 趙忠, Zhang Rang 張讓, Xia Yun 夏暉, Guo Sheng 郭勝, Duan Gui 段圭 and Song Dian 宋殿 were all enfeoffed as marquises and treated with great favour. The Emperor would often say:

"The eunuch Zhang is my father, the eunuch Zhao is my mother."[60]

From this, the eunuchs became very confident of their position. They built great houses that rivaled even the Imperial Palace. However, when Feng Xu and Xu Feng were found out, the Emperor became furious and said:

"You people always said it was the men of faction who plotted rebellion and you had me proscribe them from office and some of them were executed. But now it appears that the men of faction are servants of the state and it's you people that follow Zhang Jue. Why shouldn't I have you beheaded?"

The eunuchs kowtowed and replied:

"This was all the fault of Wang Fu 王甫 and Hou Lan 侯覽."

Later, they also blamed the "good" eunuch Lü Qiang, who was subsequently put in jail, where he later killed himself. The Regular Palace Attendant Xiang Xu 向栩 and the Gentleman of the Palace Zhang Jun 張鈞 both sent memorials to court in which they criticized the Regular Palace Attendants. Both of these men were imprisoned and killed.[23]

Pacification Campaign Begins

Preparations for the campaign must have taken a good deal of time, because it was not until the fourth lunar month (beginning on 28 April) before the Han forces first met with those of Zhang Jue.[61]

Lu Zhi left the capital city, either via the Meng or Xiaoping Crossings, and headed towards Julu commandery in Ji province. He was assisted by the General of the Gentlemen of the Household Protecting the Wuhuan, Zong Yuan, who had brought with him non-Chinese auxiliaries to assist Lu Zhi against the Yellow Turbans. Lu Zhi himself lead a force composed of soldiers of the Northern Army, militia levies and strategic reserves.[62]

Route of the Imperial Army during YTR

Route of the Han forces

Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun left the capital later than Lu Zhi[49][n 4]They left from the capital, probably entering Yu province through the passes Huanyuan or Taigu, or both and they marched south along the Wei and Ying rivers respectively.[61]

Nanyang commandery. On the day gengwu, which corresponds to 23 April,[46][n 5] the Yellow Turbans of Nanyang commandery, led by Zhang Mancheng 張曼成, attacked and defeated the Grand Administrator of Nanyang commandery Chu Gong 褚貢.

Luoyang city, Henan commandery. Near the end of the month, Emperor Ling asked the Grand Commandant Yang Ci for his opinion about the Yellow Turban outbreak. Yang Ci's reply was very straight-forward and straight to the point. It did not please the Emperor.[23]

Sometime later, the Emperor was on a visit to the Southern Palace where he was browsing amongst various old documents. Amidst those documents he found the memorials written by Yang Ci and Liu Tao in which they warned the Emperor about Zhang Jue. He enfeoffed Yang Ci as Marquis of Linjin and Liu Tao as Marquis of Zhongling District.[46]

When Huangfu Song was sent against the Yellow Turbans in Yingchuan commandery, Fu Xie was made his Major. Fu Xie had long disapproved of the eunuchs at court and as he was about to leave he sent the emperor the following memorial:[54]

"I have heard that the misfortunes of the empire come not from the outside but from within. This is why Yu-Shun first banished the four criminals before he appointed the sixteen chancellors. He understood well that if the evil-doers had not been driven away the good men would never come forward."
"Now Zhang Jue has led a rebellion in Zhao [commandery] and Wei [commandery], and the Yellow Turbans are causing disorder in six provinces. This is an illustration of the way that troubles can begin at home and spread through all the world. We have received your commission to attack and destroy the criminals and we obey your commands. Since we first entered Yingchuan [commandery] we have been succesful in every battle. Though the Yellow Turbans are numerous they are nothing to give anxiety to yout court."
"My real concern, however, is that we may be controlling the waters, but we are doing nothing about the source, and the spread of the flood may yet do more damage. Your majesty is loving and virtuous, generous and forgiving, you cannot bear to be too strict, and so your eunuch servants have usurped power and your loyal ministers are unable to come forward."
"Even when Zhang Jue has been beheaded and his followers have changed their clothing and submitted to law and order, your servants will still be anxious that things may get worse. How should that be? In just the same way as one vessel should not contain charcoal and ice, so wicked men and virtuous men should not both take part in government. Wicked men realise that when a good man's work is noticed, there appear the signs of their own destrution. They will work deceits and falsehood and they will combine to create distrust and hypocrisy. A mother may doubt her own true son, and the three men can set a tiger in the market-place. Unless you are careful to test whether you are being told truth or lies, your loyal subjects will find themselves in the predicament of Bo Qi at Duyou."
"Your majesty should remember how Yu-Shun dealt with the four criminals, and you should quickly arrange the execution of your false advisors. Then good men will be glad to come forward and evil will naturally disappear."[23]

Fourth Lunar Month of Jiazi

28 April[61] ~ 26(?) May

Encounter with Bo Cai

Yingchuan commandery. In this month the Imperial Army of Han made for the first time contact with the rebels. Zhu Jun was first to encounter the rebels when he, somewhere north of Yangdi city, the administrative center of Yingchuan commandery, faced one of the largest Divisions of Yellow Turbans which was led by a certain Bo Cai 波才. Surprisingly it was Zhu Jun who was beaten and he was forced to retreat.[61] There are no details on this battle, but Bo Cai had probably already captured the city and used it to his advantage. Also, we are told that Bo Cai commanded one of the largest Divisions, this makes it plausible that he was a Large Division Leader and his army probably matched Zhu Jun's size-wise.

Huangfu Song Art1

Huangfu Song

When Huangfu Song heard of the defeat of Zhu Jun, he must've realized he was at a disadvantage and he advanced to Changshe city.[64] The victorious Bo Cai went on to besiege Huangfu Song. The troops under the command of Huangfu Song were in fewer numbers than those of Bo Cai and Huangfu Song's men were afraid. Huangfu Song exhorted his soldiers not to lose hope, supporting his argument with relevant historical precedents.[64][65]

Meanwhile the enemy had set up a camp amidst the high and dry grass[65] (or actually made a camp out of the grass and bushels, as some sources suggest).[23] When, during a night, a strong wind came to blow, Huangfu Song executed a plan to defeat the rebels. Some of his men were sent to mount the walls with grass in their hands. Another party was sent over hidden paths to slip past the siege-lines. There, they set fire to the high grass surrounding the enemy camp (or the encampment itself) and sounded their battle-cries. The men on the walls raised their torches in reply. Huangfu Song then led soldiers from the city. Supported by drums and battle-cries they charged the enemy lines. Bo Cai's army was terrified and they fled in disorder. They fell back westward to Yangdi.[23][64][65]

Just as the enemy lines were shattered, the Chief Commandant of Cavalry, Cao Cao 曹操 of Pei kingdom, arrived with reinforcements.[64]

Rough Core of the Yellow Turbans

Rough Core of Yellow Turbans

Runan commandery. Yellow Turbans in Runan commandery (Yu province) defeated its Grand Administrator Zhao Qian 趙謙 at Shaoling county.

Guangyang commandery. The rebels in Guangyang commandery, which was the administrative center of You province, had killed the provincial Inspector Guo Xun 郭勳 and its Grand Administrator Liu Wei 劉衛. In addition to this, the Yellow Turbans controlled their headquarters area in Julu commandery. If one draws lines in Ji province between the most important locations and the locations which controlled significant forces, a result as seen in the map on the left is seen.[23]

Fifth Lunar Month of Jiazi

27 May – 25 June
Yingchuan commandery. Huangfu Song, Zhu Jun and Cao Cao combined their force and met Bo Cai's Division at Yangdi. Bo Cai was defeated and killed.[66] Some rebels survived the encounter and they apparently tried to slip the flank of the combined force of Huangfu Song, Zhu Jun and Cao Cao, who were pursuing them southeastwards. Perhaps they were trying to escape north to Zhang Jue's headquarters.[67]

Julu commandery. Lu Zhi encountered the, what must have been the main force of the Yellow Turban rebels, which were under the personal command of the Lord of Heaven General Zhang Jue. The date of this encounter is not known, but it is known that Lu Zhi "soon made contact" after departing. Lu Zhi left during the third month and the last of his encounters with the Julu rebels was before the sixth month.[62]

It appeared that Zhang Jue was no match for Lu Zhi and he was beaten in one battle after another. During those battles he had lost over 10.000 men to Lu Zhi. Zhang Jue and his followers fled to take refuge in the county city Guangzong.[23][62]

Sixth Lunar Month of Jiazi

26 June[68] ~ 23(?) August (leap month)
Runan commandery. The combined force of Huangfu Song, Zhu Jun and Cao Cao caught up with the fleeing rebels at Xihua in Runan commandery, just northeast of Shaoling county. They were now led by a certain Peng Tuo 彭脫. After a battle he was defeated and destroyed. The rebels had made a fatal error for not attempting to escape to Wan city in Nanyang commandery, where the Yellow Turbans led by Zhang Mancheng had been very successful in holding off Imperial troops.[68]

According to Sun Jian’s biography in Sanguo zhi (with comments by Pei Songzhi 裴松之), Sun Jian was following up on success and he had gone a long way in advance. Near Xihua they had the worst of it in an encounter. Sun Jian was wounded and fell from his horse. His men under his command were scattered. His horse, a piebald, galloped back to camp, pawed at the ground and neighed impatiently. Some officers and men followed the horse to some bushes where they found Sun Jian. He was brought back to the camp and after two weeks his wound was sufficiently healed and he went out to fight again. [69]

Merits of Fu Xie

During the Yingchuan campaign, Fu Xie was sent to serve under Huangfu Song as a major.[54] We are told that the Yellow Turban leaders Liang Zhongning 梁仲寧 and Zhang Bo 張伯 were both killed by him when he led a troop of Huangfu Song’s army. Dates are unknown, but we do know that Zhang Bo was killed in Yingchuan commandery. The location of Liang Zhongning’s death is not known, but as he was born in Yingchuan he probably fought there as well.[70][71][72]

The Yellow Turbans suffered some serious losses. The remnant rebels either surrendered or scattered and the three commanderies of Yingchuan, Runan and Chen were pacified.[23]

Huangfu Song then sent a report to the throne in which he gave credit to Zhu Jun for his work. Subsequently Zhu Jun was advanced in fief to be Marquis of Xi District and was transferred to appointment as General of the Gentlemen of the Household Who Maintains the Rebels in Order. An imperial edict ordered Huangfu Song to attack Dong commandery in Yan province and Zhu Jun to attack Nanyang commandery in the north of Jing province.[23]

Nanyang commandery. For about 100 days the Yellow Turban rebel Zhang Mancheng was able to camp in the vicinity of Wan city. The Grand Administrator of Jiangxia commandery, Qin Xie 秦頡, was made the new Grand Administrator of Nanyang. He led Jiangxia troops to Wan where he attacked Zhang Mancheng and managed to kill him. The rebels, yet undaunted, selected one Zhao Hong 趙弘 as their new leader and their strength in numbers again increased.[73]

Around this time Zhu Jun and a force of the Inspector of Jing Province, Xu Qiu 徐璆, had both arrived and joined in a siege of Wan city. Xu Qiu was commanding provincial troops and together they are reported to have commanded 18.000 men.[74] The Yellow Turbans under Zhao Hong were said to have "multitude gradually augmented to more than 100.000", but one (or both) of these figures were deliberately distorted to make it look like the imperial forces won against overwhelming odds. It seems more logical to believe that the imperial forces were stronger in numbers than the Yellow Turban rebels and that they just struggled against them because they had used the captured cities to their advantage.

In any case, Zhu Jun, Xu Qiu and other local commanders started attacking Wan city in this month.

Julu commandery. Earlier Lu Zhi had scored some victories against the Julu rebels commanded by Zhang Jue (or Zhang Liang)[n 6] Early in the sixth month Lu Zhi surrounded them, built a siege-wall, dug a moat around the city, and constructed scaling ladders. He was ready for the final attack against the most important group of rebels. At Luoyang, meanwhile, the Emperor had sent the eunuch Zuo Feng 左豐, a Junior Attendant at the Yellow Gates, to see how Lu Zhi was doing. Someone told Lu Zhi that he should prepare a bribe for the eunuch, but Lu Zhi was unwilling.[62] When Zhuo Feng returned to the capital he told the Emperor:

"It would be easy to destroy the rebels in Guangzong, but general Lu allows his army to rest behind strong defences. He does no more than hope that some punishment from Heaven will befall the rebels."[23]
Dong Zhuo Art1

Dong Zhuo

Angered, the Emperor sent a cage cart to bring Lu Zhi back to the capital. He was sentenced to death commuted by one degree. The General of the Gentlemen of the Household of the East (東中郎將), Dong Zhuo 董卓 of Longxi commandery, replaced him.[75]

During the same month, Dong Zhuo, assisted by Guo Dian 郭典, the Grand Administrator of Julu commandery, attacked the rebels in Julu. Apparently Guo Dian fought more energetic than Dong Zhuo and, by doing so, embarrassed Dong Zhuo.[76][n 7] There exists (at least) two different accounts on what happened when Dong Zhuo attacked the Yellow Turbans.

Theory 1

According to Carl Leban, who references to HHS A8:11b and HHSJJ B61:3a, Dong Zhuo attacked Lord of Earth General Zhang Bao at the Zhang brothers’ headquarters in Xiaquyang city in Julu commandery, but could make no headway and retreated. He was condemned for his failure. Guo Dian, meanwhile, kept on fighting the rebels. He pressed the attack morning and night so that Zhang Bao held the city and dared not emerge.[75]

Theory 2

According to Rafe de Crespigny Dong Zhuo attacked the Lord of Man General Zhang Liang, who had maintained the defence of Guangzong city when Zhang Jue was taken ill during, or after Lu Zhi’s attacks. When Lu Zhi was taken back to Luoyang and replaced by Dong Zhuo, the imperial troops may have lost some morale and moreover allowed the rebels to fortify themselves in a stronghold in Guangzong. Dong Zhuo could make no headway against Zhang Liang and was condemned for his failure.[23][77]

Seventh Lunar Month of Jiazi

24(?) August ~ 21(?) September
Southwest of Luoyang, in Ba commandery of Yi province, a man named Zhang Xiu 张脩 had been curing peoples illnesses in a way similar to the teachings of Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang. The price to pay for treatment was five dou of rice and the movement became known as the Way of the Five Dou of Rice (Wǔ Dǒu Mǐ Dào 五斗米道), or Five Dou of Rice sect (Wǔ Dǒu Mǐ 五斗米). In the seventh month Zhang Xiu gathered followers and rebelled in Ba commandery. They raided the commanderies and counties and the people started to call them the Rice Rebels.[78]

Historian Henry Maspero believed that the Five Dou of Rice sect, because of its similar style and rising in the same year, was essentially the same as the Way of Great Peace.[79] But more recent historians believe, and provided convincing theories, that the Way of Great Peace and the Way of the Five Dou of Rice were two independent movements.[80]

Eight Lunar Month of Jiazi

10(?) September ~ 9(?) October
Luoyang. Some senior officials memorialized that Zhu Jun should be recalled. It was two months ago that he attacked the Yellow Turban Zhao Hong at Wan city, but so far he had achieved no success. The Excellency of Works Zhang Wen 张温 wrote to the Emperor:

"In ancient times, Qin used Bo Qi and Yan gave office to Yue Yi. Both of them spent years doing nothing, but when it came to the end their enemies were defeated. Zhu Jun has already had considerable success in Yingchuan commandery and now he is leading his army against the south and his plans are settled. All the military writers caution against changing generals in the middle of a campaign. We may wait for days or even months, but in the end he will produce results"[23]

So the Emperor kept Zhu Jun in his command.

Nanyang commandery. Zhu Jun, now pressed by the events at Luoyang, attacked Zhao Hong. The Yellow Turban leader was defeated and lost his head in battle. His army, however, was far from defeated and was now led by Han Zhong 韓忠, who re-occupied Wan.[81]

Zhu Jun tried a diversionary attack on the southwest, complete with drums and battle-cries.[n 8] All the rebels rushed southwest to deal with the attack, but in the meantime Zhu Jun personally led 5.000 picked troops secretly to the northeast. They climbed the walls and got into the city. Han Zhong fell back to defend the inner wall of the city and asked to negotiate a surrender.[82] All officers thought they should accept this plea, but Zhu Jun said:

"In warfare, things may look the same but be quite different in reality. In ancient times, when the Xiang family opposed the Qin dynasty, the people had no recognized ruler, and so it was necessary to offer rewards in order to encourage new recruits. At the present day, all the world is united in our empire, and it is only the Yellow Turbans who make rebellion. If we accept their surrender, it will be no encouragement to people that they should practice virtue; but if we kill them it will be sufficient warning to everyone that they should avoid conduct. If we take them in now, we will be opening the way to ideas of rebellion. When bandits see advantage, they will come forward to attack us, and when they feel they are in difficulties, they will simply ask to surrender. The enemies of the state everywhere will become bolder and more dangerous. This would not be a good plan."[23]

So Zhu Jun continued to press his attacks. The rebels then stiffened their resistance and Zhu Jun could make no progress. He then broke off the siege. Zhu Jun climbed a hill of earth to look over the scene. He turned to his Major Zhang Chao and said:

"I have it! The enemy have a tight siege-ring around them, and inside their camp they must be quite desperate. They have asked to surrender and it has been refused, they want to break out but they find it impossible. So they know they must fight to the death. Ten thousand men with one idea in their minds would be too much to handle, and now we’ve got a hundred thousand to deal with! The best thing to do is to break off the siege and combine our forces to enter the city. When Han Zhong sees that the siege has opened he will certainly come out, and when he coms out of his defences he will become less vigilant. That is the easy way to destroy him."[23]

So they opened the siege and Han Zhong did come out to fight. The imperial troops attacked him and completely defeated him and they took "more than ten thousand heads." Han Zhong then surrendered, apparently without conditions. Qin Xie, the Grand Administrator of Nanyang commandery, then killed Han Zhong. The remaining rebels chose one Sun Xia 孫夏 as their new leader and once again encamped in Wan.[82]

Routes to Guangzong and Xiaquyang

Huangfu Song's road to and through Julu commandery.

Dong commandery. Almost two months after Huangfu Song received the edict which told him to advance to Dong commandery, a troop of Huangfu Song, commanded by Fu Xie encountered the Yellow Turban local leader Bu Si 卜巳 at Cangting village. He fought, captured and killed the rebel.[83]

This is the sum of information concerning this phase of the campaign available to us. Given the location of Cangting village (south of Guangzong, see the map), it could’ve been an important base of the Yellow Turbans.

Following the victory Huangfu Song received an edict on the day yisu (25 September), which ordered him to advance to the Yellow Turbans in Julu commandery.[75]

Ninth Lunar Month of Jiazi

10(?) October ~ 8(?) November
Nothing significant happened in this month. Huangfu Song was on his way to Julu commandery. Zhu Jun was still fighting the Wan rebels.

Liu Xu 劉續, the King of Anping, was found guilty of impious conduct and was executed and his kingdom was abolished.[23] Earlier in 184 he was kidnapped by Yellow Turbans. A ransom was levied from the people of the state and he was restored to the throne. Later the state Chancellor Li Xie 李燮 argued that Liu Xu had failed to maintain the principles of a true vassal. At first he was overruled and sent to prison for insulting the imperial clan, but a few months later Liu Xu was indeed found guilty.[84]

Tenth Lunar Month of Jiazi

9(?) November ~ 8(?) December
Julu commandery. Winter. Huangfu Song fought with Zhang Jue's brother Zhang Liang at Guangzong. Earlier, according to theory 2, Dong Zhuo could make no progress against Zhang Liang and Huangfu Song actually started in similar fashion. Zhang Liang's forced were well-trained, spirited and brave and Huangfu Song could make no progression. The next day, he kept the gates of his camp closed and rested his troops and watched for a change in the enemy's camp. He realized that the enemy's determination had abated slightly, and so during the night he prepared his men for a sortie. At cock-crow, under the cover of darkness, he mustered his troops and rushed the enemy-lines. They fought the entire morning and until late afternoon. They completely defeated the rebels, taking "30.000 heads" while another "50.000 rebels had rushed into the Yuan river where they drowned". During the fighting Zhang Liang was killed; his head was cut off. Earlier, Zhang Jue had died of the illness that had befallen him during/after his fight with Lu Zhi. The Imperial Army dug up his grave, broke open his coffin, decapitated the body and sent the head to the capital.

Eleventh Lunar Month of Jiazi

9(?) December ~ 17(?) January
Julu commandery. With Zhang Liang and Zhang Jue dead, only Zhang Bao remained. About the battle with Zhang Bao, there are (at least) two theories:

Theory 1

Guo Dian was still fighting Zhang Bao at Xiaquyang city, or at least was still near the city with a force. When Huangfu Song defeated Zhang Liang, he promptly joined Guo Dian in attacking Zhang Bao at Xiaquyang. The rebels were low on morale and completely defeated. Zhang Bao died in the slaughter.[85]

Theory 2

According to this theory, Zhang Bao fled, with his Yellow Turbans, to Xiaquyang in the north of Julu commandery, after Zhang Liang was defeated. Huangfu Song pursued them and beaten them at Xiaquyang. Zhang Bao died in the slaughter.[86]Apparantley "100.000 rebels were killed" and a mound of bodies, covered with earth, was erected south of the city. By standing upon it, one could see the capital city of Luoyang.

Zhang Bao by Yoshitoshi

Zhang Bao

personal opinion on these theories

Theory 1 says that Dong Zhuo attacked Xiaquyang, but why would he do so when Lu Zhi had beaten Zhang Jue/Liang one a series of battles and was preparing himself for the final battle? Perhaps, as Theory 2 said earlier on, the rebels were now fortified and Dong Zhuo opted to attack Xiaquyang instead.
Theory 2 indicates that Zhang Bao was actually with Zhang Liang in Guangzong city, or at least near him. Could Huangfu Song really beat a combined force of Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang? Besides, if we count the numbers of the forces (though not reliable) we have 180.000 rebels (100.000 + 50.000 + 30.000), with the majority belonging to Zhang Bao. In Rafe’s theory we also learn that 50.000 rebels fled to drown in the Yuan river after Zhang Liang’s defeat. Why would they do that if they could’ve joined Zhang Bao in fleeing towards Xiaquyang? Together they would’ve had a total of 150.000! Earlier, Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun had a combined force of 40.000 men. If they would split up, they would each have roughly 20.000 men. In my opinion, I’d go for theory 1 on both occasions.

When word of Huangfu Song's victories spread out, relieved peasants composed a ballad:

"Great chaos in the empire,
The markets were desolate.
Mothers could not protect children,
Wives lost their husbands.
Depending on Huangfu,
Again we live in peace.

Nanyang commandery. The Assistant Major Sun Jian was able to climb the city walls and on 11 January 185 A.D. they stormed Wan city. Sun Xia fled and was chased as far as the Jing Hills in Xi'e, where he was finally defeated and killed. Another "10.000 heads were cut off in the process". The last major rebel force was defeated. The Zhang brothers were dead and the Yellow Turbans were scattered. Remnants were dealt with by the provincial and commandery governments.[69]

Twelfth Lunar Month of Jiazi

18(?) January - 18 February[88]
About mid-February of 185 the government issued a proclamation of celebration, changing the reign title from Guanghe ("Brilliant Harmony")[89] to the slogan Zhongping ("Pacification Achieved.")[69] The Han had scored a remarkable achievement in defeating the Yellow Turbans so quickly. However, the cost was high. Many government offices had been destroyed and magistrates were killed. The enemy had been slaughtered, but their wives and children were left either homeless or without income. Unrest remained and bandits (some of them claiming affiliation with the Yellow Turbans) appeared in almost every district.[89][90]

Events Left out of the Main Article

This is a list of events left out of the main article ("The Battle"), because the sources used for this article do not give us a date of these events, thus they could not be implemented in the article.

  • Wang Du 王度, was an assistant magistrate of one Cheng Yu 程昱 in Dong'a county in Dong commandery. He joined the rebels when they broke out in 184, but was eventually defeated by Cheng Yu and the local leader Xue Fang 薛方.[91]
    Possible date: Since this happened in Dong commandery it seems plausible that it occurred before Huangfu Song attacked the place in the ninth lunar month. As his biography in Rafe de Crespigny’s A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms suggests he probably rebelled at the end of March, when the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out.
  • Wang Yun found letters which revealed that clients of the palace eunuch Zhang Rang had been in contact with the Yellow Turbans. Wang Yun reported this to the throne. Zhang Rang managed to persuade Emperor Ling to take no action, but he was furious with Wang Yun. It is not known when he exactly found this letters, but we do know he found them while fighting under Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun.
  • Chen Bao 陳寶 was, according to Latter Biographies of Worthy Women, cited by Hui Dong in HHSJJ 84/74:3080 a Yellow Turban bandit. He attempted to rape and then killed the Lady Lü Rong 吕榮.[92] The attribution to the Yellow Turbans is most unlikely though. Her husband died in 140. Would she still be a suitable target for rape 44 years later? She would’ve been at least 60 years of age. Furthermore, the region of Wu, where the murder took place, was not under the influence of the Yellow Turbans. Calling Chen Bao a Yellow Turban was probably a mistake, or just an attempt at slander.[93]
  • Zou Jing 鄒靖 fought Yellow Turbans in the north. Liu Bei 劉備, Zhang Fei 張飛 and Guan Yu 關羽 were under his command.[58][59]
  • Wu Ba 吳霸, a Great Commander (dà shuài 大帥) of Yellow Turbans in Runan commandery, was defeated and captured by Li Tong 李通. His followers were compelled to surrender.[94]

Post Jiazi Yellow Turbans

After the Yellow Turbans were crushed, bandits would emerge throughout the country and claim affiliation with the Yellow Turbans. Some were sympathic to the ideals of the Zhang brothers, others simply used the name to strike fear into their opponents.

Some post 184 Yellow Turbans are:

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  1. There seems to be some miscalculation among historians about this date. Howard Levy, for example, says the fifth day was 4 April instead of 3 April[27]3 April is seen most frequently and therefore used in this article.
  2. According to Huangfu Song's biography in Hou Han shu all under Heaven had responded within ten days. This was 2 April, so the rebellion would have begun around 23 March.
  3. Again there seems to be some miscalculation among historians about this date. By citing Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling I've followed the most recent version. Carl Leban says wushen was actually 1 April.[37]
  4. Rafe de Crespigny’s Biographical Dictionary says Lu Zhi had already been sent northeast when Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun went southeast.
  5. More conflicting date-calculations. Carl Leban says gengwu was 13 April,[63] but Rafe de Crespigny is the most recent source and he also mentions the date 23 April twice, so he must be rather confident about this.
  6. Zhang Jue would fall ill during the rebellion and Zhang Liang would then maintain the defence of Guangzong. However, it is not exactly known when Zhang Jue fell ill; during or after Lu Zhi's attacks.
  7. This might have been another attempt to slander the future usurper Dong Zhuo.
  8. Rafe de Crespigny says the diversionary attack was southwest, Carl Leban says it was southeast.

Fact vs. Fiction



  1. 1.0 1.1 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 69
  2. 2.0 2.1 Yuan Hong, Hou Han ji, Annals of Emperor Xiao-Ling of the Latter Han, the 24th Chapter of the Middle Scroll
  3. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 78
  4. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 69
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chen Qiyun, Confucian, Legalist and Taoist thought in Later Han in Cambridge History of China, volume 1, page 801
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Guanghe 6
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhang Jue, pages 1058-9
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 57
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 54
  10. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 66
  11. 11.0 11.1 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 74
  12. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 60
  13. 13.0 13.1 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 61
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 62
  15. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 63
  16. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 55
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 214
  18. de Crespigny, Outline of Civil Administration, page 2
  19. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 53
  20. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liu Yi, page 576
  21. 21.0 21.1 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 67
  22. 22.0 22.1 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 68
  23. 23.00 23.01 23.02 23.03 23.04 23.05 23.06 23.07 23.08 23.09 23.10 23.11 23.12 23.13 23.14 23.15 23.16 23.17 23.18 23.19 23.20 23.21 de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling Zhongping 1
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 65
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 64
  26. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 70
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Levy, Bifurcation of the Yellow Turbans, page 253
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Yang Ci, page 947-8
  29. 29.0 29.1 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 96
  30. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, footnotes to Guanghe 6
  31. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 102
  32. 32.0 32.1 Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 219
  33. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 79
  34. Levy, Bifurcation of the Yellow Turbans, page 251
  35. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 80
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 81
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 37.4 37.5 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 82
  38. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liu Tao, page 548-9
  39. 39.0 39.1 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of He Jin, pages 311-2
  40. Levy, Bifurcation of the Yellow Turbans, page 252
  41. Lagerwey, Early Chinese Religion, page 1065
  42. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII, page 77
  43. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII, page 94
  44. 44.0 44.1 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 83
  45. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, chapter on Sun Jian, page 88
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 46.4 de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, footnotes to Zhongping 1
  47. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 93
  48. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 96
  49. 49.0 49.1 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Huangfu Song, pages 355-6
  50. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhu Jun, pages 1161-3
  51. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Fan Zeng, pages 207
  52. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 97
  53. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Cheng Pu, page 90
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Fu Xie, page 234
  55. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, chapter on Sun Jian, page 90
  56. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Wang Yun, page 841-3
  57. 57.0 57.1 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zong Yuan, page 1178
  58. 58.0 58.1 58.2 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zou Jing, page 1179
  59. 59.0 59.1 59.2 59.3 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liu Bei, page 478-84
  60. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII, page 70
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 61.3 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 98
  62. 62.0 62.1 62.2 62.3 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 114
  63. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 104
  64. 64.0 64.1 64.2 64.3 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 100
  65. 65.0 65.1 65.2 Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 220
  66. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 112
  67. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 102
  68. 68.0 68.1 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 102-3
  69. 69.0 69.1 69.2 de Crespigny, Generals of the South, chapter on Sun Jian, page 91
  70. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liang Boning, page 446
  71. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liang Zhongning, page 464
  72. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhang Bo, page 1034
  73. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 105
  74. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 106
  75. 75.0 75.1 75.2 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 115
  76. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Guo Dian, page 281
  77. E-mail contact with Rafe de Crespigny, see the forums to read the mail.
  78. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 51
  79. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 79
  80. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans in Monumenta Serica XVII page 81
  81. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 107
  82. 82.0 82.1 Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 108
  83. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 110
  84. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Liu Xu, page 566-7
  85. Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 116
  86. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Zhang Bao, page 1033-4
  87. Levy, Bifurcation of the Yellow Turbans, page 254
  88. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Zhongping 2
  89. 89.0 89.1 Levy, Yellow Turban Religion and Rebellion, page 221
  90. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, chapters on Sun Jian, page 92
  91. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Wang Du, page 809
  92. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Chen Bao, page 60-1
  93. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Lü Rong, the Lady, page 631
  94. Chen Shou, Sanguo zhi, Wei 18


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