Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

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Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sat Dec 30, 2017 2:32 pm

I'm reading Yu Ying-Shih's essay on Han Foreign Relations and he is presenting Dong Zhuo's behavior in a way I've never seen before, I thought I'd share it with you guys to see what you make of it and whether it should impact how Dong Zhuo is viewed.

The relevant section starts in 110 AD when the Qiang rebelled in Liang. Many in the court wished to abandon the province as it was viewed as to expensive to save it. However the officials who came from Qiang argued against this. Their reasons for not wanting to abandon their home is self-evident but the argument that convinced the rest of the court was that there has to be a frontier land somewhere and if they abandoned Qiang then one of the more central regions would become more vulnerable. On top of this the Chinese who lived in Liang were more used to fighting and they didn't want to alienate them as they might then join with the Qiang, making the threat posed in the North-West even worse. So the abandonment didn't happen, however the policy wasn't forgotten.

Fast forward to 184 AD and the next major Qiang rebellion. Now as a result of previous policy and the sheer volume of Qiang in the area the Chinese people who lived in Liang (like Dong Zhuo) were culturally quite different to those who came from more central China and were 'often viewed with suspicion by Chinese of other regions'. As a result in 185 AD the chancellor, Cui Lie, revived the idea of an abandonment policy. This was opposed by Fu Xie. Now Ying-Shih argues that this wasn't just a clash of personal views but instead representative of the divide between the East and West of the Empire.

Critically he then presents Dong Zhuo and Yuan Shao's feud as a continuation of this debate, the residents of Qiang represented by Dong Zhuo and the rest of the Empire by Yuan Shao. If we take this in to account then Dong Zhuo's seizure of the Emperor and court becomes motivated by a desire to secure and support his home region. Now in power Dong obviously abused his position but I think this throws a different light on him moving his frontier army towards the capital.

What do we think? Does this have any significant impact on how we view Dong Zhuo? Do we think this is correct or do we think that this line of argument down plays other factors to much?
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Gray Riders » Sat Dec 30, 2017 5:28 pm

Thanks for sharing this!

I'd also like to note that Li Jue and Guo Si were able to recruit a significant host when they set out to avenge Dong Zhuo--clearly there were quite a few people who wanted to avenge him. I suspect there is a lot about Dong Zhuo and his intentions we don't know, and some of the things we think we know about him are likely false. This gives us more interesting pieces to the puzzle.
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sat Dec 30, 2017 5:47 pm

Indeed Gray Riders, Yu Ying-Shih further suggests that Wang Yun's antagonistic behaviour towards Li Jue was because he sides with the anti-Liang faction and it was because of this that he refused to find a peaceful solution. He quotes a section from the HHS to support this claim. This snippet is taken from just after Dong Zhuo's assassination:

The generals and colonels of Dong Zhuo and those who were in power in the court were mostly people from Liang.
Wang Yun proposed that their troops should be disbanded. Someone advised Yun saying; "The Liang people have always been fearful of Yuan Shao and the Kuan-tung group. Now if you disband these forces, everyone will become alarmed. the best strategy would be to appoint Huangfu Song [a native of Liang of course] as general to take command of their troops and keep them in Shen in order to ease their feelings. In the meantime you should also slowly take steps to establish contact with the Kuan-tung people and see how things develop."

Yun said: "No. Those who have raised armies in Kuang-tung are our own followers. While we certainly can appease the Liang group by allowing them to defend the passes and occupy Shen, in doing so we will surely arouse the suspicion of the Kuan-tung people. this would definitely not do!"

At this time rumours began to circulate widely that all of the Liang people would be put to death. as a result, they all became frightened and disturbed and those who were on the Kuan-chang area held on to their troops for self-protection.


His basic point is that Wang Yun had a chance to mediate between the two factions but instead chose to turn on the Liang people prompting them to respond in kind.

I agree with him that this explains why Dong Zhuo and his followers behaved as they do in a way I've not seen before. However I'm not sure I'm so inclined to believe that a disagreement over the Liang region would be Yuan Shao's motivation for rebelling. I'm sure that's got more to do with Dong replacing the Emperor!
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Gray Riders » Sat Dec 30, 2017 6:26 pm

Wang Yun seems to have handled the situation poorly in general--he turned down the ideas to appease Dong Zhuo's followers, but he also refused Lu Bu's suggestions to destroy them, therefore leading to Li Jue and the others being left intact but with no reassurance they won't be next.

Sun Fin wrote:I agree with him that this explains why Dong Zhuo and his followers behaved as they do in a way I've not seen before. However I'm not sure I'm so inclined to believe that a disagreement over the Liang region would be Yuan Shao's motivation for rebelling. I'm sure that's got more to do with Dong replacing the Emperor!

I tend to agree.
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Han » Sat Dec 30, 2017 8:07 pm

Agreed with both of your analysis.

The cultural divide between the West and East China is always facinating. Sichuan for example, was important places for the Qin Dynasty and the Han Dynasty, being incorporated by Qin way back before the Unification and at the same time the power base of both Liu Bang and Liu Bei. Yet culturally speaking, it was not as Han as JingChu until the Three Kingdoms period at the very least.
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:54 pm

Wang Yun is the 3kingdoms example of great number 2, awful leader. A brilliant minister who seemed to have all the skills needed for the task of reviving the Han but who seem to utterly lose his head.

Liang theory is intresting. I have wondered if some of it was that he was a general, the miliatry could feel looked down on by the elite who were clearly messing things up, so why not show them how to do it? Some of his failings may less be MWHAHAHAHA evil but a sheer lack of political/PR nous and trying to transfer strict miliatry leadership to the political/administrative game. There were efforts by him for good rule, particularly in the early days, to be fair.

I can see why he gets a bad rap. He brought down the Han in effect, 3kingdom court historians moved to distance themselves from him ("what? No that isn't a signed Sun Jian and Dong photo saying BFF's 4eva! Sun Jian tried to kill him honest"), some of what he certainly did may have made sense to him but makes him look bad, future rulers and gentry probably also didn't want to encourage "taking court by force" so selling the idea only a man of utmost evil would do it. I just wonder sometimes if things like massacring the village is due to that rather then something he actually did?
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:49 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:
Liang theory is intresting. I have wondered if some of it was that he was a general, the miliatry could feel looked down on by the elite who were clearly messing things up, so why not show them how to do it? Some of his failings may less be MWHAHAHAHA evil but a sheer lack of political/PR nous and trying to transfer strict miliatry leadership to the political/administrative game. There were efforts by him for good rule, particularly in the early days, to be fair.


I think this is probably true but once in position power corrupted him. I also wonder if there was a divide between Lu Bu and his officers and Dong Zhuo's other Liang ones.
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Re: Another perspective on Dong Zhuo and the Liang campaign

Unread postby Gray Riders » Sun Dec 31, 2017 4:00 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:Liang theory is intresting. I have wondered if some of it was that he was a general, the miliatry could feel looked down on by the elite who were clearly messing things up, so why not show them how to do it? Some of his failings may less be MWHAHAHAHA evil but a sheer lack of political/PR nous and trying to transfer strict miliatry leadership to the political/administrative game. There were efforts by him for good rule, particularly in the early days, to be fair.

Under Confucianism weren't soldiers viewed in fairly poor light? One site I found says they were seen as an "unavoidable embarassment".
If so it seems very plausible to me that Dong Zhuo had a harsh view of the noble elite who looked down on them then, as you said, figured they'd screwed things up and military-style management might fix things.

Sun Fin wrote:I think this is probably true but once in position power corrupted him. I also wonder if there was a divide between Lu Bu and his officers and Dong Zhuo's other Liang ones.

Koei's games usually go by the idea that most of Lu Bu's followers came with him from Ding Yuan, which seems possible to me (Gao Shun is interesting--he seemed very loyal to Lu Bu but it's hard to find where he could have come to him without betraying someone else. A mystery we'll probably never have an answer to, I guess), though since we know a number of them were from Yan I wouldn't be surprised if some or all of Gao Shun, Song Xian, and the others came to him that way.
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