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Dong Zhuo
Han Dynasty warlord and politician

Dong Zhuo

Dong Zhuo
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Han Dynasty warlord and politician
A.K.A. Tung Cheuk
Is Politician Warlord
From China
Field Military Politics
Gender male
Birth 1 April 139, China
Death 22 May 192, Chang'an
The details (from wikipedia)


Dong Zhuo (died 22 May 192), courtesy name Zhongying, was a politician and warlord who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He seized control of the capital Luoyang in 189 when it was in a state of turmoil following the death of Emperor Ling and a clash between the eunuch faction and some court officials led by General-in-Chief He Jin. Dong Zhuo subsequently deposed Emperor Shao and instated Emperor Xian.
Dong Zhuo rose to power in the Han imperial court and ruled the nation with tyranny and cruelty for a brief period of time. The following year, a coalition of regional officials and warlords launched a punitive campaign against Dong, forcing him to move the capital to Chang'an. Dong Zhuo was assassinated in 192 by his foster son Lü Bu as part of a plot orchestrated by Interior Minister Wang Yun.

Early life

Dong Zhuo was born in Lintao, Longxi Commandery (present-day Min County, Gansu) and was said to be a chivalrous youth who was excellent in horseback archery in his early days. He travelled around the Qiang region and befriended many men of gallantry. When he grew up, he returned and started farming in the countryside, where he incidentally excavated a blade, which had obscure inscription fading from it which said "slash the kings like logging." When he took the sabre to the famed scholar Cai Yong for appraisal, the latter asserted to him that it was the blade of the Hegemon-King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu. As a physically adept man with a good background, Dong became an imperial guard, and joined Zhang Huan's campaign against Qiang rebels in Bing Province as a Major. He was rewarded with 9,000 rolls of fine silk for his performance, all of which he distributed to his colleagues and subordinates.

Dong was sent to quell the Yellow Turban Rebellion in the early 180s after a few subsequent promotions but he was defeated by the rebels and demoted. When the tribes of Qiang and Hu rebelled with local gentries Han Sui and Bian Zhang in Liang Province, Dong was reinstated as Knight General and sent to suppress the rebels. During a battle with the Qiang tribes, Dong Zhuo's army was outnumbered and a river sealed his retreat route. To prevent his army from being routed by the enemy, Dong ordered his troops to dam the river and pretend to fish in the reservoir formed. He sent his men to cross the drained lower stream and break the dam in order to thwart any subsequent pursuits by the enemy. Despite failing the campaign, Dong's unit was the only unscathed unit of the Han forces.

Dong Zhuo was henceforth promoted to General of the Van and Inspector of Bing Province. However, he refused to accept his new post as he was unwilling to leave his troops and subordinates back in Liang Province. Realizing the Han authority was declining from its failure in subjugating the Qiang tribe, Dong focused on building his power in Liang. At the time, a Han military officer, Sun Jian, suggested to his superior that Dong's arrogance and insubordination to the court warranted a death sentence, but his advice was not heeded.

Rise to power

A Qing Dynasty illustration of Dong Zhuo's plan to depose Emperor Shao of Han during his rise to power.

Following the death of Emperor Ling in 189, General-in-Chief He Jin ordered Dong Zhuo to lead troops into Luoyang to aid him in eliminating the eunuch faction. Before Dong's arrival, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs and the capital city fell into a state of turmoil. The eunuchs took Emperor Shao hostage and fled from Luoyang. Dong Zhuo's army intercepted the eunuchs and brought the emperor back to the palace.

At the same time, He Jin's half-brother, General of Chariots and Cavalry He Miao (何苗), was killed by his subordinates after they accused him of colluding with the eunuchs. He Jin and He Miao's forces were without a leader and came under Dong Zhuo's command when the latter led his ferocious Liang Province troops into the city. Dong also instigated Lü Bu to kill the latter's foster father and Imperial Commandant of Capital Guards, Ding Yuan, when the Commandant disagreed on his proposal to replace Emperor Shao with a younger Liu Xie. Lü then became Dong's adopted son and trusted aide, and assisted Dong to take total control of the imperial capital of Luoyang. At the onset of his arrival to Luoyang, the powerful gentries and eastern warlords did not wish to see Dong becoming influential, and Dong was aware of that and told his generals to lead troops out of the city at night and re-enter through the front-gate at noon. Thus, the lords perceived Dong as possessing a sizeable army and dared not make a move, and Dong was able to grab power using a series of plots deemed unjust in most Confucians' eyes.

In 190, Dong deposed Emperor Shao and replaced him with the Prince of Chenliu, who became known as Emperor Xian. Dong declared himself Chancellor and monopolized state power. He was given special permission to carry his sword to the Imperial Court while others were forbidden to do so. This privilege had not been granted to any state official since Xiao He in Emperor Gaozu's time. The Chancellor was also allowed to enter the court without removing his footwear. Records of the Three Kingdoms recorded an incident in which Dong Zhuo led his troops to Luoyang (洛陽城) and ordered them to kill all the male inhabitants and loot the city, under the pretext of eliminating a rebel army. It was said that Dong Zhuo even slept on the emperor's bed and slept with palace maids.

Coalition against Dong Zhuo

Dong Zhuo retreats to Chang'an

In the same year, regional officials and warlords around the country formed a coalition force and launched a punitive campaign against Dong Zhuo. In response, he sent a detachment to intercept the coalition vanguard led by Sun Jian, and ordered his son-in-law, Niu Fu, to develop the fortress of Mei, where Niu stored 30 years of food supply. After his subordinates, Hua Xiong, Hu Zhen, and Lu Bu, were defeated by Sun Jian at Yangren, Dong Zhuo sent an eloquent Li Jue to propose a marriage between Sun's son and Dong's daughter, the lobbyist promised Sun Jian that the country could be split between the two families. But the vanguard general rebutted Li Jue strongly, and made further preparation to attack Luoyang. Thus, Dong evacuated everyone in Luoyang and moved them to the new capital city of Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) in the west. Before the relocation, Dong ordered his troops to excavate the tombs of the late Han emperors for treasures and sent his men to seize valuables from the wealthier residents in Luoyang, as well as burn down the palaces and anything that might be useful to the allied forces.

Then, the chancellor assembled his forces in the city and personally led them to ambush the approaching army. When Sun Jian advanced to the imperial graveyard, he was intercepted by Dong, who had been awaiting him. However, Dong Zhuo was unable to suppress his archrival, and was routed during the combat. He then ordered Lu Bu to lead a cavalry force back to the city to halt Sun's progress before he took flight for Mianchi. Lu Bu and his knights had gotten back to Luoyang before Sun Jian arrived, but they were unable to hold the eastern third gate (宣陽城門) when the latter attacked, and a fight inside the city was ensured, wherein Lu Bu was defeated once more.

Defeat of the coalition

After their capture of Luoyang, the allied forces found nothing but a scene of ruins, so they retreated back and awaited further development. Dong Zhuo then sent his skilled generals, Li Jue, Guo Si, and Zhang Ji to the frontline against the eastern warlords. At the time the alliance was having internal conflicts and did not focus on fighting them, so the senior imperial officer, Zhu Jun could only ask his old friend, Tao Qian to give him a hand in a futile effort to fight the forces of Dong. Tao, despite having a general alliance with Dong, indeed sent 3,000 elite danyang troops to Zhu to battle Dong forces at Zhongmu, where Zhu was totally crushed. Li and his comrades then performed raids around area of Chenliu and Yingchuan, wherein Cao Cao and the likes were unable to stop them, and many residents there were hijacked and enslaved. The soldiers of the coalition were quite terrified by the creative and insane treatment Dong designed for them, if captured: he would have the captives tied up with fat-soaked clothes, and started a fire from their foot; as the captives' heads were unbound, he could enjoy the screams and facial expressions from them, however, such a hobby was not shared by most of the educated imperial officials.

Rule of terror

Since the warlords were far from able to stop him separately, Dong Zhuo's autocracy started to stabilize in the new capital. Two months after he moved the capital, Dong Zhuo revived and held the title of Grand Master, an antiquated title once reinvigorated by Wang Mang, but was scrapped in Eastern Han. He also appointed his younger brother Dong Min as General of the Left, and gave official posts to several of his kin. Dong Zhuo had also been constantly building up his personal castle in Mei County near Chang'an, where he thought he could outlive the coalition even if the latter worked together again and waged war on him. He also threw lavish banquets, during which savage tortures would be performed on captured enemies as entertainment: he would first cut their tongue so they wouldn't make much noise for the following operations, which were the severing of limbs and removal of eyeballs. The operations required professional skill because the betrayers would remain conscious when they were thrown into boiling oil. Now, a literal "meat-ball" would be rolling around the center of the banquet for all to observe. Dong was quite comfortable with his "masterpiece" and enjoyed his meal as usual, while the rest of the audience were said to have experienced a high degree of discomfort. Dong would also dish out cruel punishments to his political enemies; when he was in Luoyang, he wiped out the entire Yuan clan within the city, because Yuan Shao was the leader of the coalition against him. Within two years, thousands of public servants were wrongly accused and executed, and numerous commoners were kidnapped or killed under his tyrannical rule. In order to purchase materials for further development of his invincible Mei citadel, he had bells and bronze statues, among which were nine of the Twelve Metal Colossi, melted and recast into coins. This flooded the market and caused a serious inflation, rendering the currency useless. His venomous policies had greatly reduced Han authority and raised resentment among most gentries and commoners of the time (while the Liang armies adored him like a god).

Downfall and death

Dong Zhuo was fully aware that his provocative actions and reckless behavior had aroused the anger of many, and he was at a high risk of being assassinated by enemies, so he ordered his strongest warrior and adopted son, Lü Bu as a personal bodyguard, who shadowed him most of the time. When Dong threw a temper, he would hurl a halberd at Lü Bu who would dodge the weapon every time, and Dong's anger would quickly subside. Nonetheless, Lü bore a furtive displeasure for his adoptive father for that. Besides, as Lü had access to Dong's residence, he had been having an amorous affair with one of Dong's chambermaids, and the couple were constantly in fear of being discovered.

In 192, with encouragement from Interior Minister Wang Yun, Lü Bu made his decision to kill Dong Zhuo. One morning, Lü greeted Dong at the palace gate with a dozen trusted men led by Cavalry Captain Li Su. Li stepped forward and stabbed Dong. Dong cried out for Lü Bu to save him, but Lü merely answered, "This is an imperial order," after which he delivered a fatal blow to Dong. It was recorded that Dong's corpse was left on the streets for people to enjoy the sight of a lit corpse: The official guarding the corpse lit a wick on Dong's navel (belly) and it burned for days with the corpse's fats as fuel. But a special provision stating anyone who went forth to collect the body would be killed. However, three officials including the famous Cai Yong still challenged the order and were executed. Meanwhile, all the affiliates of Dong clan were put to death, including Dong's 90-year-old mother, who screamed for her amnesty.


After Dong Zhuo's death, several of his loyalists, such as Li Jue, Guo Si, Zhang Ji and Fan Chou, escaped on the belief that their allegiance to him would be considered as treason. Wang Yun, who had taken control of the government, heard their appeal for pardon and said, "Of all those who should be forgiven, they are the exceptions." The four then planned to relinquish their positions and go into hiding. However, an advisor named Jia Xu suggested they should take this opportunity to launch a strike at Chang'an since the Liang faction was actually unscathed. The four then roused several-thousand hardcore followers to attack Chang'an. Wang sent Xu Rong and Hu Zhen(former members of the Liang faction) to fight the Liang force en route, but Xu was killed in the first encounter and Hu led his troops to join the rebels and the size of the rebel force was inflated to 100,000 when they surrounded the capital. Lu Bu attempted to break the siege, but was defeated outside the city gate, thus Chang'an fell into the hands of Dong Zhuo's followers and Emperor Xian was taken hostage. State power fell into the hands of the Liang faction once again.


  • Father: Dong Junya (died 181)
  • Mother: Lady Dong (102-192), titled Lady of Chiyang, executed
  • Younger brother: Dong Min (died 192) - After Dong Zhuo backed Emperor Xian, Dong Min was appointed to the rank of Left General. After Lü Bu killed Dong Zhuo, Dong Min was labeled an accomplice and executed, and his head was put on public display
  • Nephew: Dong Huang (died 192) - born in Lintao County, Gansu, fathered by Dong Zhuó (董擢, note different character than his own) elder brother of Dong Zhuo, executed
  • Sons: Dong Zhuo had some infant sons who were enfeoffed and later presumably executed, and at least one son of his was born 171 but died earlier than 190
    • Granddaughter: Dong Bai (董白), born after 178, titled Lady of Weiyang, presumably executed.
    • Grandson: born 186, executed
  • Daughter: married Niu Fu
  • Foster Son: Lü Bu

Appointments and titles held

  • Infantry and Cavalry Officer (兵馬掾)
  • Inspector of Bing Province (并州刺史)
  • Administrator of Hedong (河東太守)
  • East General of the Household (東中郎將)
  • General Who Defeats Barbarians (破虜將軍)
  • Marquis of Li (斄鄉侯)
  • General of the Vanguard (前將軍)
  • Excellency of Works (司空)
  • Grand Commandant (太尉)
  • Marquis of Mei (郿侯)
  • Chancellor of State (相國)
  • Grand Master (太師)

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th-century historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, was a romanticization of the events that occurred before and during the Three Kingdoms era. Because the real-life Dong Zhuo was already much of a cruel and treacherous character, the novel probably could do little more to accentuate that treachery and cruelty. It did, however, on two occasions deviate from the history.

Dong Zhuo and the three sworn brothers

Dong Zhuo first appeared as early as late in Chapter 1. Being sent to quell the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Dong Zhuo was defeated by the rebel leader Zhang Jiao and the battle was turning into a rout.

The three newly sworn brothers, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, happened to be nearby. They then led their forces out to Dong Zhuo's rescue. Suddenly met with this new opposition, the rebels were swept off their feet and had to retreat.

After returning to camp, Dong Zhuo asked the three brothers what offices they currently held. And they replied that they held none. Dong Zhuo harrumphed and then ignored them. This angered Zhang Fei so much that he grabbed his sword and wanted to kill Dong Zhuo. He was however stopped by his two brothers, who suggested taking their service elsewhere. Thus was Dong Zhuo's life spared and the three brothers went their own way.

Dong Zhuo and Diaochan

Perhaps the most popular story about Dong Zhuo was the fictional love triangle involving Dong Zhuo, Lü Bu and Diaochan, which eventually led to the death of Dong Zhuo in the hands of his own adoptive son, Lü Bu.

After Dong Zhuo moved the capital to the more strategically sound Chang'an, Interior Minister Wang Yun started to contemplate a plot to assassinate the tyrant by using the petite Diaochan, a song girl who was brought up in his household but whom he had been treating like his own daughter, to plant the seed of dissension between Dong Zhuo and Lü Bu.

Inviting Lü Bu over one night, Wang Yun asked Diaochan to serve wine to the guest. Lü Bu was immediately seized by the girl's beauty. Well aware of this, Wang Yun then promised to marry Diaochan to the mighty warrior.

A few days later, however, Wang Yun laid a feast for Dong Zhuo and repeated the feat. Like Lü Bu, Dong Zhuo could not lift his eyes off Diaochan, who also displayed her prowess in song and dance. Dong Zhuo then brought Diaochan home and made her his concubine.

When Lü Bu heard about this early the next morning, he headed for Dong Zhuo's bedroom and peeped in through the window. There he saw Diaochan sitting up grooming her hair while Dong Zhuo was still asleep. Aware of Lü Bu's presence, Diaochan put up a sorrowful expression and pretended to wipe tears off her eyes with a handkerchief.

A similar incident recurred about a month later, but this time Dong Zhuo woke up in time to see Lü Bu staring fixedly at Diaochan. Lü Bu was then thrown out and forbidden to come into the house.

Then one day, while Dong Zhuo was holding a conversation with Emperor Xian, Lü Bu stole to his foster father's residence and met with Diaochan in the Fengyi Pavilion (鳳儀亭). Weeping, Diaochan pleaded with Lü Bu to rescue her from Dong Zhuo. Placing his halberd aside, Lü Bu held Diaochan in his arms and comforted her with words.

Right then, Dong Zhuo returned to find the duo in the pavilion. The startled Lü Bu turned to flee. Dong Zhuo grabbed the halberd and gave chase. Being too slow, Dong Zhuo could not catch up with the agile Lü Bu. He then hurled the halberd at Lü Bu but the latter fended it off and got away.

After the incident, Lü Bu became increasingly displeased with Dong Zhuo. The displeasure was further inflamed by Wang Yun, who suggested subtly that Lü Bu kill Dong Zhuo. Lü Bu was eventually persuaded.

The conspirators sent Li Su to fetch Dong Zhuo from his castle in Meiwu (郿塢) under the pretense that the emperor intended to abdicate the throne to the warlord. The overjoyed Dong Zhuo then came to the palace gate, where his troops were barred from entering. As Dong Zhuo's carriage neared the palace building, soldiers loyal to Wang Yun escorted Dong Zhuo to the trap they set. Then suddenly a general stabbed Dong Zhuo.

Injured only in the arms, Dong Zhuo then cried out for Lü Bu to save him. Lü Bu walked over and impaled Dong Zhuo's throat with his halberd, proclaiming, "I have an imperial decree to slay the rebel!"

In popular culture


  • The character Toutaku Chuuei of the anime short series, Ikki Tousen, is based roughly on Dong Zhuo.


  • Dong Zhuo appears as a character in the Hong Kong manhua The Ravages of Time illustrated by Chan Mou.


  • Dong Zhuo is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series.
  • In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering there is a card named Dong Zhou, the Tyrant, in the Portal: Three Kingdoms set.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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