Dong Zhuo: Wikis


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Dong Zhuo
Dong Zhuo Portrait.jpg
Portrait of Dong Zhuo from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Chancellor of State, Senior Grand Tutor
Born 138
Died May 22, 192
Simplified Chinese 董卓
Traditional Chinese 董卓
Pinyin Dǒng Zhuō
Wade-Giles Tung Cho
Courtesy name Zhongying (仲穎)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Dong (董).

Dong Zhuo (138 - May 22, 192) was a regional warlord during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He seized control of the capital city 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 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 city to Chang'an. Dong Zhuo was assassinated in 192 by his foster son Lü Bu as part of a plot by Interior Minister Wang Yun.



Early life

Dong Zhuo was born in Lintao (臨洮) of Longxi Commandery (隴西) and said to be a chivalrous youth in his early days. He travelled around the Qiang region and befriended many men of gallantry. As a resourceful and physically adept man, Dong participated in the campaign against Qiang rebels in Bing Province (并州). 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 Han Sui rebelled in Liang Province (涼州), Dong was reinstated as Knight General and sent to suppress the rebels.

During a battle with the Qiang tribes, who were allies of Han Sui, 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 after that, effectively thwarting all pursuits by the enemy with the now replaced river.

Dong Zhuo was henceforth promoted to General of the Front and Governor of Bingzhou. However, he refused to accept his new post as he was unwilling to leave his troops and subordinates back in Liang Province.

Rise to power

Following the death of Emperor Ling in 189, General-in-Chief He Jin ordered Dong Zhuo to lead his 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 Calvary 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. Dong also instigated Lü Bu to kill his foster father Ding Yuan, another warlord summoned to Luoyang by He Jin. Lü defected over to Dong Zhuo's side. Dong was in control of the military forces of Luoyang by then.

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. Dong Zhuo 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 Yangcheng (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 had sex with palace maids.

Move 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. 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 evacuation, 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 burning down the palace.

After moving to Chang'an, Dong Zhuo appointed his younger brother Dong Min as General of the Left and several of his kin became court officials as well. Dong also built a personal castle in Mei County near Chang'an, where he stored 30 years worth of food supplies. He also threw lavish banquets, during which savage tortures would be performed on enemy captives. Dong would also dish out cruel punishments to those who opposed him. Within two years, thousands of people were wrongly accused and executed under Dong's tyrannical rule. Dong also had bronze statues and bells melted and recast into coins, which flooded the market and caused serious inflation, rendering the coin currency useless.

Downfall and death

Dong Zhuo aroused the anger of many for his provocative actions and reckless behavior, putting him at a high risk of being assassinated by enemies. Dong depended heavily on his adopted son Lü Bu as a personal bodyguard, who shadowed him most of the time. When Dong throws a temper, he would hurl a halberd at Lü Bu but Lü dodged the weapon most of the time and Dong's anger subsided quickly. Nonetheless, Lü bore a furtive displeasure for his adoptive father for that. Besides, as Lü Bu had access to Dong's residence, he had an amorous affair with one of Dong's chambermaids and was 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." before delivering a fatal blow to Dong Zhuo. Dong's corpse was left on the streets and anyone who went forth to collect the body was killed. The official guarding the corpse lit a wick on Dong's navel and it burned for days with the corpse's fats as fuel. Meanwhile, Dong Zhuo's brother Dong Min and his relatives were put to death.

After Dong Zhuo's death, several of his loyalists, such as Li Jue, Guo Si 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." Dong's followers were outraged and waged war on Wang, but were defeated by the imperial forces and Lü Bu. In one battle, Li Jue and Fan Chou served as diversions to lure Lü Bu out to fight them while the others seized the castle. The plan succeeded and Lü Bu retreated after the castle was breached. The capital city Chang'an eventually fell into the hands of Dong Zhuo's followers and Emperor Xian was taken hostage. State power fell into the hands of Li Jue and Guo Si while Wang Yun was killed and Lü Bu escaped.

Dong Zhuo 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 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 Diao Chan

Dong Zhuo (played by Li Po) and Diao Chan (played by Chen Hong) as depicted in the TV series Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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.

Dong Zhuo's imminent death, with Lü Bu approaching with a halberd in hand, as depicted in the TV series Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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 pled 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 the county of Mei (郿) 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!"

Modern references

Dong Zhuo as he appears in Koei's Dynasty Warriors 6.
  • Dong Zhuo is a playable character in Koei's video game series, Dynasty Warriors. He is portrayed as a ruthless tyrant who has usurped the authority of the Han. He is also playable in the Dynasty Warriors spin-off series, Warriors Orochi.
  • In the eroge Koihime Musō, Toutaku Chuuei (Dong Zhuo name and style name in Japanese) is shown as a kind, sweet, and timid girl; a drastic change from her historical counterpart.
  • In the collectible card game Magic the Gathering there is a card named Dong Zhou, the Tyrant, in the Portal: Three Kingdoms set.



  • Chen Shou (2002). San Guo Zhi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80665-198-5.  
  • Luo Guanzhong (1986). San Guo Yan Yi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80520-013-0.  
  • Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3467-9.  

See also

Preceded by
Chancellor of China
189 – 192
Succeeded by
Cao Cao

Simple English

File:Dong Zhuo
Dong Zhuo

Dong Zhuo (董卓 139-192) was a reckless general in ancient China. He took control over the imperial court of Han in 189. He was later killed by his own foster son, Lu Bu.

Dong Zhuo had been a successful warrior and general since his youth. Anyway, he was defeated by Yellow Scarves rebels in 184 and demoted. After the death of Emperor Ling, the eunuchs kidnapped the young follower Liu Bian and his brother Liu Xie. Dong Zhuo freed them and intimidated the kidnappers so they committed suicide by drowning in the Yellow River. Dong then brought the emperor and his brother back to the capital Luoyang and seized perfect control over the court. Because Liu Bian seemed too stupid to him, Dong deposed him and made his brother Liu Xie emperor instead (Emperor Xian). In 190 he poisoned Liu Bian.

Dong Zhuo became arrogant and violent. He even forced the emperor to move to the city Chang'an as capital instead and burned Luoyang. Because of that, many warlords and Han generals all over the country formed an alliance to destroy Dong's reign. After some fierce battles, Lü Bu knew that his position was lost, and killed his foster father Dong in 192.

Dong's associates Guo Si and Li Jue continued to control the emperor, but they started struggles and the emperor escaped. He was rescued by Cao Cao in 196.

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