Dong Zhuo

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Portrait of Dong Zhuo from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Simplified Chinese:董卓
Traditional Chinese:董卓
Pinyin:Dǒng Zhuō
Wade-Giles:Tung Cho
Zi:Zhongying (仲颖)

Dong Zhuo (? – 192) was a warlord during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms Period in ancient China. He seized control of Luoyang in 189 after the capital fell into chaos following the death of Emperor Ling and a bloody clash between the powerful eunuch faction and the court officials. Dong Zhuo subsequently deposed the rightful heir to the throne and instated the puppet Emperor Xian.

However, Dong Zhuo's tyrannical and cruel ways angered many, and warlords around the country formed a coalition against him, forcing him to move the capital west to Chang'an. Dong Zhuo was eventually assassinated by his adoptive son L Bu as part of a plot by Interior Minister Wang Yun.



Early life

Born in Lintao (临洮) of the Longxi Commandery (陇西), Dong Zhuo was said to be full of chilvary in his youth. Travelling widely in the Qiang region, he made friends with many a gallant man. Being both resourceful and physically adept, Dong Zhuo later participated in the campaign against Qiang rebels in Bingzhou (并州). For his excellent performance Dong Zhuo was rewarded with 9,000 rolls of fine silk, all of which he distributed to his colleagues and subordinates.

Having been promoted a few times subsequently, Dong Zhuo was sent to quell the Yellow Turban Rebellion in the early 180s but was defeated and demoted. When Han Sui rebelled in Liangzhou (凉州), Dong Zhuo was reinstated as Knight General and sent to put down the rebellion.

During a battle against Qiang tribes, who allied themselves with Han Sui, Dong Zhuo's force was outnumbered with a river cutting off its retreat. To prevent a rout, Dong Zhuo had his troops dam up the river, pretending to fish in the reservoir formed. Then he ordered his men to cross the dried up lower stream and break the dam. All pursuits were effectively thwarted by the now replaced river.

Dong Zhuo was henceforth promoted to General of the Front and Bingzhou Governor. However, unwilling to leave the troops and subjects loyal to him in Liangzhou, Dong Zhuo declined the new post.

Rise to power

Following the death of Emperor Ling in 189, Supreme General He Jin summoned Dong Zhuo to lead his troops into Luoyang to aid his plot to eliminate the powerful eunuch faction. Before Dong Zhuo arrived, however, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs and the capital fell into chaos. The eunuchs then kidnapped the young emperor and headed out of the capital. They were intercepted by Dong Zhuo, who brought the emperor back to the palace.

During this time, He Jin's half brother, General of Chariots and Cavalry He Miao (何苗), was suspected of colluding with the eunuchs and killed by his own subjects. The former troops of He Jin and He Miao, having no leader, then came under Dong Zhuo's command. Meanwhile, Dong Zhuo also enticed L Bu to slay his own master Ding Yuan, another warlord summoned to Luoyang by the late He Jin, and defect. Thus Dong Zhuo grasped control of all troops in the capital.

In 190, Dong Zhuo deposed the young emperor and placed in the throne the puppet Emperor Xian. He also made himself the Prime Minister and henceforth began to show his tyrannical ways. He would carried sword to court, which was forbidden. The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms recorded an incident where Dong Zhuo led his troops to Yangcheng (阳城) and ordered them to cut down the heads of all male inhabitants. The soldiers then ransacked the city and brought back the women, oxes and valuables, claiming to have defeated a rebel force. Dong Zhuo himself also slept with palace maids and even princesses.

Move to Chang'an

In the same year, warlords around the country formed a coalition against Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo then moved the capital west to the strategically sound Chang'an. Before he did so, however, he had the tombs of late emperors excavated and the treasures within robbed. He then burnt down the palace.

After moving to Chang'an, Dong Zhuo made his younger brother Dong Wen the General of the Left and all his kin court officials. He also built a castle at the county of Mei, 260 li from Chang'an. In the castle he stored thirty years worth of food and threw banquets, during which savage tortures would be performed on captured rebels. Against his opposition Dong Zhuo would also pass cruel punishments. Within two years, those wrongly accused and executed numbered in the thousands.

Dong Zhuo also ordered bronze statues and bells be melted down and recast into coins, which were flooded into the market. Serious inflation occurred as a result and the coin currency soon became useless.


Because of his many outrageous deeds, Dong Zhuo had aroused the wrath of many and the risk of assassination was high. For his personal safety, Dong Zhuo depended heavily on L Bu, whom he had adopted as a son. The son shadowed the father almost all the time.

However, in his frequent bouts of temper Dong Zhuo would hurl a halberd at L Bu. Although the agile L Bu could always duck the throw, and Dong Zhuo's fury would dissipate quickly, L Bu nonetheless bore a furtive displeasure against his adoptive father. Furthermore, being entrusted to guard the residence of Dong Zhuo, L Bu held an amorous affair with one of Dong Zhuo's chambermaids. For this he was constantly in fear of being discovered.

In 192, encouraged by Interior Minister Wang Yun, L Bu finally made up his mind to murder Dong Zhuo. Bringing along a dozen trusted man, including Cavalry Captain Li Su, L Bu greeted Dong Zhuo at the palace gate. When Li Su stepped up and stabbed Dong Zhuo, the obese warlord cried out for his son. But saying "This is an imperial order," L Bu delivered the fatal blow.

Dong Zhuo's corpse was then left in the streets, while anyone who went forward to collect the body was slain. The official guarding the corpse lit a wick in Dong Zhuo's navel and it burned for days on the fats. Dong Zhuo's relatives were also executed subsequently.

Dong Zhuo in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, was a romanticization of the events that occurred before and during the Three Kingdoms Period. 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. 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 Jue 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 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

Perhaps the most popular story about Dong Zhuo was the fictional triangular love relationship involving Dong Zhuo, L Bu and Diao Chan, which eventually led to the death of Dong Zhuo in the hands of his own adoptive son, L 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 Diao Chan, 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 L Bu.

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

Missing image
Dong Zhuo and his concubine Diao Chan in the 84-episode TV serial Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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

When L Bu heard about this the next morning, he headed for Dong Zhuo's bedroom and peeped in through the window. There he saw Diao Chan sitting up grooming her hair while Dong Zhuo was still asleep. Aware of L Bu's presence, Diao Chan then 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 L Bu staring fixedly at Diao Chan. L Bu was then shoved out and forbidden to come into the house.

Then one day, while Dong Zhuo was holding a conversation with Emperor Xian, L Bu stole to his foster father's residence and met with Diao Chan in the Fengyi Pavilion (凤仪亭). Weeping, Diao Chan pled with L Bu to rescue her from Dong Zhuo. Placing his halberd aside, L Bu held Diao Chan in his arms and comforted her with words.

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

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

Missing image
Dong Zhuo faced with imminent death as L Bu approached with his halberd in the 84-episode TV serial Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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 surrounded the carriage and stabbed Dong Zhuo with spears.

Injured only in the arms as he was wearing heavy armor, Dong Zhuo then cried out for L Bu. But L Bu impaled Dong Zhuo's throat with his halberd, proclaiming, "I have a imperial decree to slay the rebel!"


See also

fr:Dong Zhuo ja:董卓 zh:董卓


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