Analysis Of He Jin

Join the Romance of the Three Kingdoms discussion with our resident Scholars. Topics relating to the novel and history are both welcome. Don't forget to check the Forum Rules before posting.
Kongming’s Archives: Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms Officer Biographies
Three Kingdoms Officer Encyclopedia
Scholars of Shen Zhou Search Tool

Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Jul 27, 2018 7:29 pm

I offered to do a "make a case for" He Jin on tumbler and it spiralled into something else. Thought I would post it here as well

Intro: He Jin the son of a butcher who became, via marriage and circumstance, General-in-Chief to the Han in it's last days of power, a man whose battle with the eunuchs left many of it's political leaders dead and led to the rise of Dong Zhuo. How deserved is his bad reputation?

Will mostly be using De Crespigny's tome and Fire Over Luoyang, the ZZTJ, for ranks used De Crespigny's explanation of the civil and military systems, and He Jin's HHS biography here: ... ranslation


Pre Turbans:

From a not wealthy family in Nanyang, He Jin was the eldest child of He Zhen. His father remarried to Lady Xing, who already a child Zhu Miao (later He Miao), and they produced Lady He before He Zhen died. When his beautiful, commanding younger sister entered the harem, He Jin got training in the civil service then in military cadets before being made Grand Administrator of Yingchuan. When sister, having given birth to a male heir, became Ling's Empress, his career jumped to high rank of Court Architect then moved to key post of Intendant of Henan [1]. That is all we have from the records, bar stylename Suigao, of He Jin's pre-Turban life however De Crespigny mentions in Fire Over Luoyang that two rumours where spread about the He family, 1) they were a butcher family (a rumour that has certainly lasted a very long time and has become one of those "facts" everyone knows) 2) the future Empress He had bribed her way into harem (while possible, I doubt she would have been the only one if she had). The second rumour may also have played into first, a butcher's daughter was not respectable enough to be in an Emperor's harem and if she had to bribe her in then it must be for an embarrassing reason. Like not being of respectable family.

We know little of how he did in any of those posts for good or for ill, there were certainly no suggestion he did them badly. It is possible that, given the importance of Intendant of Henan, he earned that rank but it could easily have been a case of Emperor Ling shuffling his ministers as he very frequently did (De Crespigny puts it about three changes per year) and that, at some point, it would look odd if He Jin was still Court Architect.


The Turbans:

In 184, Zhang Jue's long running plan to provide a useful narrative starting point for a future novel, was revealed earlier then intended. Tang Zhou leaked the plans for a major revolt, plotters within and near the capital were arrested and the Turbans rose up across the land earlier then the Zhang brothers intended, the sheer scale of the rebellion causing panic in the capital.

Emperor Ling made He Jin General-in-Chief, a post that gave command of the military forces of the capital and went to in-laws of the Emperors since that should ensure loyalty but was usually a political rank. He Jin acted quickly, gathering up the capital forces including cadets and five regiments of the northern army, gathering up the equipment then internally the forces were sent to restore order while He Jin also fortified the key passes leading to the capital. Either before or after this point (ZZTJ has before, HHS and Fire over Luoyang says after) He Jin captured the local Turban leader Ma Yuanyi and was made Marquis of Shen, Yuanyi was torn apart by chariots.

He Jin would take no part in the Turban campaign after that but his brother He Miao, as successor to Henan post, crushed the Turban revolt in the area and was promoted to the prestigious rank of General of Chariots and Cavalry. It was a good crises for the He clan, He Jin was now one of the highest ranked officials in the land and had reacted well in the face of a major crises, He Miao was treated as a hero after his victory.

While He Jin was far from the biggest contributor to the defeat of the Turbans, he had still reacted well to events, helping bring calm back to a shaken capital and securing it from threat, managed to capture the local Turban leader which would have disrupted the local rebels, simple steps perhaps but had he got it wrong the Han would have been in immense trouble. Had the Turbans taken the capital, it would have been a seismic shock to the dynasty and thrown everything into chaos but with capital secure, the Han could send it's elite soldiers to help the newly raised armies.


Post Turbans:

He Jin soon used his status to intervene against the chief eunuch Zhang Rang's vendetta against Wang Yun, he allied with leading ministers Yuan Wei and Yang Ci to ensure Wang Yun was properly cleared of charges. Eventually. [2] It was a rare intervention in court affairs for a few years as he worked quietly behind the scenes. He took his job as a leader of soldiers seriously though it was rare that he would even dispatch troops himself, let alone get involved in military discussions despite the troubles plaguing the empire. He also began efforts to recruit people, targeting opponents of the eunuchs who had been exiled as men of faction but allowed to return after Turban revolt and those who had taken up the, at the time, respected stance of refusal to serve the corrupt government. The most famed of these was Liu Biao while even famed refuseniks like Dong Fu and Chen Qun's father Ji were sometimes persuaded to serve by He Jin.

Then in 188, things started to turn badly for He Jin. Emperor Ling had, since the Turban rebellion, taken an interest in military affairs and in 188, he created his own private army with Colonels of the Western Garden including officers of the gentry but not He Jin. Instead he put at the head of the private army the eunuch Jian Shi and in a huge slap in the face to He Jin, made Jian Shi the direct boss of He Jin. This may (not) surprise you but General-in-Chief's generally did not have a direct military superior! About two months later bad omens foreseen as meaning the palace would flow in blood raised alarm, He Jin was advised that the cure for the omen was for Emperor Ling to be shown in command. There were also major revolts and a display of force may have also been felt to be a good idea. He Jin created a military parade of several thousand men for Ling to be seen inspecting, Ling was called "General Supreme" before the Emperor handed control of said men back to He Jin.

This may have been an attempt to gain favour by playing to Emperor Ling's ego and love of a show [3] while De Crespigny in Fire Over Luoyang also suggests Emperor Ling was indicating a balance between his two military forces. Any attempts to soothe the Emperor clearly didn't work and in the summer of 189, Jian Shi who hated He Jin (HHS translation has feared), persuaded his fellow eunuchs and then Emperor Ling to send He Jin against the Liang rebels. [4] He Jin got tipped off and he quickly proposed that one of Jian Shi's officers Yuan Shao should raise soldiers in Xu and Yan, this would require He Jin staying until Yuan Shao returned with these troops. The records don't state if Yuan Shao attempted the slowest recruitment drive in history but one suspects he certainly didn't hurry back.

Why did all this happen? Jian Shi was considered an active figure, strong and a skilled military mind so a military position makes sense, Emperor Ling clearly trusted him so a military role made sense (if highly unusual for a eunuch to hold military command at the time) but someone above the General-in-Chief? Drastic, even for a figure like Jian Shi who sounds far more qualified for comment then He Jin. However there may well have been other considerations leading to such a drastic move as to create a separate army and humiliate his general in chief. Ling had hated his wife for possibly murdering a pregnant concubine but was unable to remove her, Ling wanted his second son Liu Xie (the future Emperor Xian) as successor rather then He Jin's nephew and Ling does not seem to have liked the gentry [5].

He Jin was also in a position to be a headache: He Jin was popular with the troops, he had contacts inside the palace, being uncle to the eldest son Bian gave him political leverage and he had been cultivating support with the gentry. Jian Shi's appointment disrupts He Jin's chain of command, splits loyalty of troops and possibly brought in new troops who were not loyal to He Jin into play, counter-balancing the gentry troops with ones led by a eunuch. Getting He Jin out of the capital would get him out of his power-base and his support network while putting him in front of the fortunes of war.


New emperor and battle for control:

On the 13th May 189, Emperor Ling died at age of 34. I'll stop a moment so you can all mourn this famed and beloved Emperor.

Emperor Ling's sudden death was, in some ways, a stroke of luck for He Jin. Ling's new army may have been humiliating but had not yet been built up enough to become a major threat to He Jin's military authority, He Jin was still in the capital rather then away in Liang so the efforts to diminish his power by the Emperor and the eunuchs had failed. Ling strongly favoured his second son Liu Xie but never actually got round to choosing a successor which meant the eldest child was the natural choice. Perhaps with more time He Jin might have had a more difficult position with Emperor and the eunuchs against him, with Jian Shi having more time to build up his forces.

Jian Shi was given charge of Ling's beloved second son Liu Xie, the eunuch realized he had to move quickly if he was to get Xie on the throne so he immediately summoned his subordinate He Jin with the idea of assassinating He Jin. The General-in-Chief was out of the palace and it was unlikely he knew the Emperor was dead so would have had little reason to suspect a plot. However Jian Shi's Major Pan Yin was an old friend of He Jin and shot He Jin a warning glance so He Jin suddenly decided he was far too unwell to have a meeting and galloped back to his home. Then he discovered he was fit enough to lead his soldiers to camp in a public display of strength before falling tragically ill again.

That show of military strength, eldest first tradition and sister He being the Empress ensured his teenage nephew Bian (it is unclear if he is 14 or 17 at the time) got the throne. His sister became Empress Dowager, He Jin's position as General-in-Chief put him in a regency role for a young Emperor while the new He regime got a huge gentry stamp of approval by Yuan Wei agreeing to be Grand Tutor and share power.

Yuan Shao, a long time opponent of the eunuchs [6] and formerly on He Jin's staff, sent a message via He Jin's close ally Zhang Jin “The Yellow Gates and Regular Attendants have been usurping power for some time, even the Empress of the Palace of Perpetual Joy sides with them. General, you should cleanse the world, restore order, and end the suffering of the people.” The Empress here refers to Ling's mother the Empress Dowager Dong. He Jin put Yuan Shao and the noted gallant Yuan Shu under his banner, tying himself closer to the gentry and to Yuan Wei.

He Jin was angry with Jian Shi but initially concerted on building up his staff, seeking planners for the political battle to come. Among those numbers was Yuan Shao's follower Pang Ji (sometimes called Feng Ji or Peng Ji), He Yong was moved into his staff, Zheng Tai and Xun You combined with the former two men to be the ones He Jin completely trusted. Others recruited to staff include Chen Lin, close ally Huan Dian, future Liu Biao adviser Kuai Yue, Xun Shuang, Wang Yun and Hua Xin. In the end, he had got over 20 advisers. Some of the ranks his men held were not ranks of prestige and Huan Dian would, after ten years in the Censorate, take a demotion to gentlemen cadet. This willingness to take less prestigious posts allowed He Jin to have people in ranks that were key for He Jin's authority, showing a certain willingness to put defeating the eunuchs above their own personal pride.

Jian Shi meanwhile, having failed to kill He Jin, feared retribution might be coming so he wrote to leading eunuch Zhao Zhong urging the eunuchs to help him. “The General-in-Chief and his relatives control the state and try to usurp authority at court. Now with the men of Faction in the empire [7], they plan to kill the attendants of the late Emperor and destroy our people. The only reason he is delaying is because I control the guard. You must get together, bar the doors of the palace apartments, take him quickly and slay him.”

The plan was discussed and rejected while one of the eunuchs, Guo Sheng was from He Jin's home of Nanyang and had long been an ally of the He family so Sheng showed He Jin the letter. Unsurprisingly He Jin used this evidence to have Jian Shi arrested and executed, taking Jian Shi's soldiers under his own command which left the eunuchs very exposed. This was the third time He Jin had been forewarned of a plot against him from within the palace, either He Jin was extremely lucky or, rather more likely, he had worked to gain allies all over the place and they came good when he needed them. He Jin now had got rid of a major personal threat and now had almost completely military control in the capital, it was very much a big win for He Jin.

It isn't clear why the eunuchs rejected Jian Shi's plan. They very likely knew Jian Shi had strong personal reasons to want He Jin dead and took his urging with that in mind, several of the eunuchs had been on Empress He's side to protect her from Emperor Ling and He Miao was close to them. That He Jin had allied with men who hated the eunuchs must have been a concern but He Jin hadn't particularly taken hostile actions against the eunuchs and if he did, they may have felt they could use their connections, the He family and political tactics rather then resort to a potential battle.

In a fast changing political landscape, the next threat came from the rival Dowager family: Dowager Dong (the mother of Ling) and hew nephew General Dong Zhong. She had backed her ward Liu Xie as heir while Ling was alive and with the aid of some eunuchs had tried to get involved in court affairs but was thwarted by Dowager He. Meanwhile Dong Zhong was, with eunuch backing, disputing He Jin's authority. Dowager Dong eventually got so frustrated, she threatened Empress He ""You are powerful now because you rely on your brother! But I can order the General of Agile Cavalry to cut off He Jin's head, and that would be easy as turning my hand!"".

Given her nephew Dong Zhong had only a thousand men, this was a ridiculous claim but the He's did not take the threat well. He Jin arranged for the Excellencies to accuse Dowager Dong of asking local governments to send funds to her private treasury [8] while arguing two Dowager's was one too many so she should be sent back home. The Dowager was sent back to her marital home in Hejian since she was no longer needed and seems to have taken their own life while Dong Zhong was stripped of rank, arrested and promptly killed himself. However this seems to have gone down badly with the wider public as ZZTJ says they lost support, quickly killing Ling's elderly mother perhaps wasn't a great image for the new regime.

At which point Emperor Ling's funeral finally happened but He Jin, due to past claims of illness and worries about the eunuchs, was unable to attend. Fair to say, things had been busy for He Jin between Ling's death and the funeral but He Jin had certainly emerged strongly, ruthlessly ridding himself of two foes and strengthening his support with the gentry.


The final showdown:

So far the worst that could be thrown at He Jin was the PR hit for getting rid of the Dong clan, so far his career had been successful, he had shown political skill and ruthless to rid himself of rivals and left him in a strong position. This sometimes gets credited to Yuan Shao but for some of this, Yuan Shao had not even been under He Jin and when he was, no historical source credits it to Yuan Shao, they give to He Jin.

The gentry were really agitating to wipe out the eunuchs while He unity was already fracturing with He Miao, according to De Crespigny's Fire over Luoyang, closer to Empress He and allied with the eunuchs. Yuan Shao made his big pitch which is too big for this but I'll put in annotation [9] and sum up here: arguing the last General-in-Chief Dou Wu lost against eunuchs because plan leaked so they could not delay this time, that the troops of the Northern Army were inclined to back the eunuchs back then but He Jin commanded the loyalty of the army, that if He Jin acted now then He Jin would have a name that resounded throughout the ages.

Yuan Shao, while flatteringly offering the idea of He Jin making a name worthy of a hero, had a point in that loyalty of the army put He Jin in a stronger position then Dou Wu (whose army collapsed during the night of his coup) and while He Jin was on top, best act quickly. He Jin chose a more peaceful route then Dou Wu and not the route I suspect Yuan Shao wanted: He went to his sister and asked that the eunuchs be sacked, that instead males (presumably picked by He Jin) replaced them in the palace. Dowager He must have been horrified "Since ancient times it has been a custom of the house of Han that eunuchs control the forbidden apartments. You cannot do away with that. Moreover, when the late Emperor has only just left the world, how can I act so brazenly as to deal with men face to face?"

He Jin's plan was simply horrendously awful, it would have been a PR disaster and opened the He clan to major scandal. The new regime changing an ancient tradition would have been bad enough but putting men with fully functioning... equipment in the ladies quarters would have started rumour after rumour, Dowager He would certainly have been hit with salacious gossip about what she was doing with those men so soon after her husband died. There was no way Dowager He could have accepted it. Another mistake was not going for ringleaders but against all eunuchs (a familiar mistake by the gentry), the eunuchs were rarely one whole united faction but whenever gentry did a "kill/sack em all" approach they would unite so now the eunuchs and servants of the palace would be united against He Jin, he no longer seems to have got helpful tip-offs.

He Jin was pressured by Yuan Shao to take action, the future warlord warning the eunuchs were still giving orders and close to the Emperor which risked danger but He Jin was hesitant as he didn't want to act against his sister's wishes. Meanwhile events in the palace were not going the gentry's way, Dowager He's mother Xing had sided with the eunuchs (the histories suggest due to past gifts and also suggests He Miao was bribed), she and Miao often urging the Dowager to stick with the eunuchs and even warning He Jin's actions would have serious consequences "If the General-in-Chief kills eunuchs on his own authority, he will be abusing his power and will weaken the national altars [and the imperial state].", something the Dowager agreed with.

The He family opposing He Jin had good reason (beyond any bribes), they had certainly benefited from the eunuchs shielding the then Empress from Ling's anger but there were wider reasons to oppose He Jin's plans. The eunuchs had a key role in protecting the last two emperors and the gentry were risking the authority of the dynasty. If He Jin acted without the approval of the Dowager or the Emperor, it would have left imperial authority in tatters, destroying the eunuchs would have rid the Han of a faction that had upheld it for decades and had acted as an important counterbalance to the gentry.

The records remark of He Jin at this time "He Jin had only lately come to high position, and he had always been in awe of the eunuchs. Though outwardly he seemed to be in pursuit of a great name, inwardly he lacked decision, and so the matter long remained unsettled." There may have been other factors behind He Jin's hesitation: it can't have been easy going against your whole family for one. He Jin also seems to have been very keen to only force eunuchs out via official channels while he never seemed to follow the bloodthirsty cries for a massacre or mass killings.


Kuai Yue, since He Jin wouldn't massacre all the eunuchs and fearing He Jin was too indecisive so would lose, asked to be moved to be magistrate in Ruyang. The other advisers stuck with He Jin and came up with two plans to try to force Dowager He's hand by ramping up the pressure.

1) Bring in the army: Led by Yuan Shao, He Jin's advisers came up with another way to try to break the deadlock. He Jin would send instructions to generals and provincial commanders to lead troops towards the capital in a show of force and He Jin agreed. This was fiercely opposed by Chen Lin [10 for full speech] where he complained at trickery being wrong, felt He Jin was in a strong position and didn't need to go for overkill which risked losing He Jin's position as number 1 power in capital to outside armies. The Book of Wei in Cao Cao's sgz claims Cao Cao was also not a fan and felt eunuchs could be dealt with rather more simply by arresting the leaders. [11]

Who was right? He Jin's advisers were trying to get around that He Jin was stuck and since he was unwilling to use his forces to force out the eunuchs, they probably felt they couldn't let things drag on even further while armies rising up in support of He Jin and against the eunuchs would certainly have a scare factor. There was also some sense in ensuring the nearby military generals were onside, Dou Wu at least partly lost because the visiting general Zhang Huan was unaware of what was going on and ended up in command of the eunuch forces, Dou Wu's soldiers defected to the famed general that night.

Chen Lin's complaint about trickery seems more moralistic then practical in a political battle but his concern that He Jin would lose his strong position was certainly correct, He Jin's strength lay in the support of his soldiers, that he had the gentry behind him (or the cause), he knew many of them personally. Outside soldiers would not be loyal to He Jin and their generals, who wouldn't have had much doings with He Jin, might not prove reliable or loyal. If things went wrong, it could spiral out of He Jin's control fast. Cao Cao's call for restraint and not engaging in indiscriminate murder would likely have been ignored due to his ancestry, the jailer part only would work if He Jin could persuade his sister to jail the ring-leaders. We will never know if she would have agreed to a limited purge as He Jin and co never tried, they went straight for all eunuchs to be sacked.

He Jin decided to take the gamble, he summoned nearby general Dong Zhuo and nearby Qiao Mao with their troops, he sent Wang Kuang and Bao Xin back to Taishan to recruit soldiers, HHS mentions crossbowmen in particular, Ding Yuan was dispatched for a show of force. The records say Ding Yuan was sent to make a show in Henei and burn the fortified town of Mengjin, De Crespigny in Fire over Luoyang questions if a new regime would really start by burning a town. Either He Jin was willing to commit an atrocity to scare the court or figures like Ding Yuan were using a brutal military touch without checking with their leader, I don't have a strong view either way.

Dong Zhuo was a second problem, Lu Zhi protested that the general would be vicious and hard to control, Zheng Tai protested [12] that Dong was evil and would risk the government but also that there was no need for He Jin to resort to this but he needed to act quickly. While I suspect men who had possibly never met Dong Zhuo didn't quite provide that convenient level of foreshadowing his evilness, the general had recently defied orders from the court more then once and his own soldiers were fiercely loyal to Dong so they had very good reason to warn against using him. He Jin didn't listen so Zheng Tai resigned, bemoaning to Xun You ""It is not easy to assist Lord He!"

Dong Zhuo sent up a memorial to explain to Dowager He that he was marching against the eunuchs and making clear he sided with He Jin [13]. It must have been an unsettling time for the capital and those in the palace, it is said the fires from Mengjing could be seen from the capital while troops were gathering outside the city. Yet Dowager He kept her head and would not be moved, she was not going to let the eunuchs be sacked or be intimidated by this show of force. He Miao warned He Jin to think things through ""When we first came from Nanyang we were all of us poor, and it was through the eunuchs of the inner palace that we came to wealth and honour. In affairs of state, how can you act so hastily? Once water is tipped out, it cannot be gathered up again. Think hard about it, then make peace with the eunuchs."

With talks again at a deadlock and Dong Zhuo getting worryingly close to the capital, He Jin sent word via Chong Shao carrying an imperial order, suggesting the He family was united on thing at last. Dong Zhuo disobeyed the orders at first and got as far as Henan before Chong Shao bravely managed to bring him to heel [14]. Yuan Shao and He Jin's gamble had failed, in the short term He Jin at least retained control and had more men but at some point Dong would have to be dealt with and Mengjing risked long term consequences.

2) Investigate the Eunuchs Around the same time, Yuan Shao complained (apparently he feared He Jin's mind was starting to change) "The battle-lines are drawn and our plans are in the open. How can you continue to wait and not make any decision? If the affair is delayed too long, things will change and you will be a second Dou Wu." He Jin decided to promote Yuan Shao, perhaps partly to soothe him, to Colonel Director of Retainers, with the Staff of Authority, and put Wang Yun in charge of Henan [15].

Yuan Shao gladly took to the new ranks investigative role and taking the hint as to what he should do, ordering military officials to begin investigating the eunuchs while he urged Dong Zhuo to move his troops closer (though still outside the city). This time Dowager He relented to the pressure and sacked the eunuchs, keeping only old He retainers that He Jin could trust. Why, when she had stood strong against fire and armies, did she react to this? Yuan Shao and Wang Yun both hated the eunuchs and with the authority to investigate, the eunuchs and any of their connections in the capital region were in real trouble. This time, He Jin and co would have enough legal and legitimate authority to come in and seize eunuchs when their crimes were discovered (or faked).

The eunuchs best hope was to appeal to He Jin’s mercy and show that he had won so no need to press ahead with these investigations so they went on mass to his home. He Jin, while not gracious in victory, seems to have been content for the eunuchs to leave the capital safely and take the win. "The empire is in disorder, and it is all your doing. Now Dong Zhuo is coming. Why do you not go quickly back to your homelands?"


Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory:

The gentry had won power, the eunuchs were to be sent home by order of the Empress Dowager, He Jin and his officers had ended eunuch control for first time since 159. Yuan Shao however was not happy with the lack of blood, he pressed and pressed and pressed for the eunuchs to be executed, He Jin refused to give such an order despite the pressure. Yuan Shao decided to go behind He Jin's back, ordering officers in the provinces to investigate the eunuchs and their families and arrest them on the orders of He Jin himself. The former act was beyond his remit, claiming it was by He Jin was a lie.

Then disaster struck for He Jin, something leaked out and alarmed the eunuchs who no longer felt safe leaving the capital. Whatever leaked out, it led Zhang Rang to visit his daughter-in-law, who was Dowager He's younger sister, and make an emotional appeal ""I am old and have acted wrongly. You and I, daughter-in-law, should retire together to private life. Our family, however, has received imperial favour for generations, and although I must leave the inner apartments my heart yet holds great attachment to them. I wish to return once more to the forbidden palace, to gaze from afar for one last time upon the countenance of her majesty the Empress-Dowager. Then I can go back to the mud of the ditches and die without regret."

This was told to her mother Xing who told Dowager He who hired them all back. I suspect it was less the emotional declaration of loyalty and love for her majesty that moved Dowager He (as eloquent and touching as Zhang Rang’s were), more that her eunuchs were not safe and that the He camp was acting in bad faith.

The records blames the collapse of this victory on He Jin hesitating on his plans and some unknown information of his unknown plot leaking out to the eunuchs. Presumably a plot that would have endangered the eunuchs and not to ensure they all had lovely cookies as a goodbye gift. However given He Jin had won, why did he need need another plot? As he had shown no signs of wanting to do any harm to the eunuchs before and had actively refused Yuan Shao on this, why suddenly the change? It is strange that no detail of his plot remains despite apparently everyone knowing about it. A possibility is news got back to the eunuchs that their families were being or going to be be arrested "on He Jin's orders", that this is the plot they thought was happening and it meant if they didn't act, they would be in deep trouble as they had no safe place to go.

Either He Jin's super secret "why are you plotting" plot or Yuan Shao's meddling was a disaster. It had not only denied He Jin victory and a chance for the government to move onto matters, it must have damaged He Jin's trustworthiness with the other camp, the eunuchs were certainly no longer going to leave as it would mean their likely doom. He Jin's efforts to end this by removing them from office was over, he either had to just drop the entire thing, which would have likely seen the gentry turn on him and his authority shattered, or push for the eunuchs to be executed.


That fateful night:

On the afternoon of 22nd of September, He Jin ordered some of Yuan Shu's soldiers to take guard inside the palace, particularly the eunuch entrances. Then he went to visit his sister to ask for the eunuchs to be executed and revived the "have full men attending you" idea, he had finally gone as far as the gentry wished.

The eunuchs were suspicious, presumably due to the sudden new soldiers at their apartments, so Zhang Rang sent a spy who overheard He Jin's new demands. The records say Zhang Rang and Duan Gui [16] were suspicious because He Jin was supposed to be sick back in July and suddenly visiting his sister. There are a number of problems with this, 1) given the massacre that followed how did anybody know this, 2) the two eunuchs were not complete idiots 3) He Jin claimed illness in July. It was September and he had been quite active since then. They had gone to his house not too long ago to plead for mercy so I think they had noticed he wasn't ill before this night. 4) He Jin had met with Dowager He before in her palace. Amidst the plots and the squabbles, the two camps had been in negotiations over the eunuchs and would have had to discuss government matters.

People wonder why He Jin went into the palace unguarded given everything that had gone on. He Jin, by dispatching the guards, had taken extra security measures and he had done this trip before, likely more then a few times, he would have believed he was under the protection of his sister. The eunuchs however now knew they were in desperate straights, perhaps feared He Jin would soon act without authority and so they gathered men by the gates then sent a messenger to tell He Jin his sister wanted another word with him. When he entered back into the palace, He Jin was seized and taken before the eunuchs. Quite what was happening with Yuan Shu's men is unclear, they certainly don't seem to have hindered the eunuchs in any way shape or form.

Zhang Rang confronted He Jin (from Fire over Luoyang) "If there are problems in the empire, they are not all our fault. When the late emperor was angry with the Dowager [after the death of the Lady Wang] and she was on the brink of catastrophe, it was we who wept and managed to save her, and each of us gave thousands and tens of thousands of cash from our private fortunes to have him reconcile with her. All we wanted was the patronage of your house, but now you are planning to destroy us and our families". Qu Mu would be the one to behead He Jin, ending the life of the General-in-Chief.



The eunuchs were desperate but they were also experienced, skilled political operatives. They and their predecessors had defeated two Generals-in-Chief before, helping Emperor Huan overthrow the regicide Liang Ji and seeing off Dou Wu's attempts to slay them, they must have hoped this would follow a similar pattern. With the head of the rebellion dead, the army and gentry would settle down in respect of the imperial authority. This time, their calculations were wrong:

1) In past the Emperors had been with the eunuchs, Huan instigated the overthrow, a young Emperor Ling came along with the eunuchs. This time, they did not have that backing, Emperor Bian isn't recorded to have any real role in public life but the powerful Dowager He did not throw her authority behind the killers of her brother. He Miao gathered his troops and went to join Yuan Shao which indicates the He family were unhappy with what happened.

2) Usually the General's in chief assigned officers to look after the Northern Army but never built a bond with them. They didn't react to protect Liang Ji and Dou Wu's men deserted on mass during the night. He Jin however had worked to win over the soldiers and despite being a political appointee who had never fought a battle, they loved him. His murder made them very very angry

3) The gentry backers, some from families who had been aided by eunuchs in past, of He Jin had wanted the eunuchs dead. They must have doubted that just giving up would end well, they would have remembered the exiles and the deaths of gentry after Dou Wu's plot and were not going to throw themselves on the mercy of the eunuchs.

The eunuchs tried to get Yuan Shao and Wang Yun replaced (their chosen replacements were killed instead), He Jin's men became worried when He Jin didn't reappear and launched an attack on the palace. Yuan Shu eventually burnt down the gates and things went very very bad from there, fighting for two days, mass murder of anyone who even looked like a eunuch (men were resorting to flashing their private parts to save their life) with 2000 men killed, the palace plundered. He Miao himself would fall victim as his failure to support He Jin earlier saw Wang Kuang, supported by Dong Min, rally the angry soldiers who launched an attack and killed Miao.

Dong Zhuo, spotting the fires in the capital, decided to go have a look with his troops and with the He males dead and no eunuchs, there was a power vacuum and a lot of soldiers without a leader. Not impressed by the way the gentry had managed to make a mess of things and sensing an opportunity, he would seize control, force Liu Bian to abdicate then had him take poison, Dowager He (for Dowager Dong's death) and Lady Xing were killed with Xing and Miao's corpses desecrated. One son survived and thorough his marriage to Lady Yin, would produce He Yan but alas, He Jin's grandson did not have a happy ending either. He would live to be a great scholar and would be part of Cao Shuang's reformist and controversial regime, when Sima Yi launched a coup and took power, He Yan would be executed. All in all, not a great era for the He family.



First let us deal with the issue that sometimes hangs over He Jin's head: Nepotism. He certainly benefited strongly from it but the system of a monarchy/empire has nepotism at it's head while the use of General-in Chief was via nepotism as an in-law is tied to the throne so unlikely to raise the capital troops against the Emperor (in theory). While other ranks weren't via outright nepotism, the gentry and the eunuchs all knew how to use family contacts, their clients and inherited wealth to advance their own ends including getting the very highest ranks. He Jin would have been foolish to reject the chance created by his sister's advancement and he should not have it held (whatever we think of his abilities) against him if we do not use the same stick against others.

Till the big fight with the eunuchs, He Jin was an effective, ruthless political operator. He dealt with matters quickly and decisively be it the panic in the capital, the political battles with Jian Shi and the Dong clan. He was seen to be in such a strong position against the eunuchs because he had built it, he seemed to always have contacts inside the palace until the last moments, unlike his predecessors as General-in-Chief He Jin worked to win the loyalty of the Northern Army despite being a political appointee who had not known battle. He Jin had also tried to build support with the gentry even before Ling's death and getting Yuan Wei’s backing was a real coup for the regime.

So why did things go wrong? In some ways He Jin never escaped his background and the manner of his rise, it shaped him and it has shaped his reputation. He Jin probably should have avoided a fight with the eunuchs, history would have pounded him for it (like they attack his family for backing the eunuchs) but it would have been a lot better for the Han. However figures like Yuan Shao offered He Jin the chance to become a hero throughout history, men of great blood and fame were willing to serve He Jin directly to restore "proper men" back to power. This attention and support must have been tantalising for a man whose background was being smeared and questioned, nevertheless He Jin should have stood against them and been strong, that was his biggest policy failing.

The gentry and histories seem frustrated that, having got to such a strong position, He Jin didn't act on it. Had he wanted to, He Jin could have led the Northern Army to storm the palace and take/kill the eunuchs by force, or less drastically use that threat to force his way in and take them, it would have very likely have worked. This is clearly meant to be seen as a decisive, bold option by noble young men and that lesser born He Jin's failure to do so was indecisive, a man in awe to unworthy eunuchs due to his meagre background. I doubt it was that simple. Bear in mind what is being asked of He Jin, to go against his own family, to destroy their authority and that of his nephew Emperor by force of arms and kill a lot of people. It would have been a disaster for the Han and to imperial authority to take these steps, as the other He's certainly recognized, but blinded by "if only the eunuchs were gone and true noble men in power, everything would be better again" belief and a craving for revenge, the gentry couldn't see that.

He Jin attempted a slower but more moderate approach, negotiating with the authorities, trying to get the eunuchs overthrown with imperial approval and not wanting to just kill everyone. Though his plan of replacing eunuchs with his own men was, to be frank, utterly stupid. Most of his advisers adapted to his ways, even if they begrudged it, and sought to find a way of increasing the pressure. Yuan Shao's plan to use the army was an excessive gamble that had very real risk that neither worked or (while He Jin was alive) went as bad as it could have but it would have left problems, He Jin's "you guys do some investigating" was a good idea, should have been allowed to run it's course before they tried the military idea and it worked.

It had taken He Jin 3 or so months to do what the gentry had failed to do for decades by squeezing pressure on the court from a position of strength. It was far from perfect victory, some of the methods used was storing up problems for the long term and it would have still have weakened Dowager He. who would no longer have a faction of her own to protect her against the gentry. However the eunuchs were out and had things settled that way, He Jin's reputation might have been different.

He Jin's “indecisiveness” is not what cost them, he had managed victory. Then something went wrong, either He Jin's now lost to time and utterly needless plan leaked out somehow from his loyalists. Or (much more likely in my view) Yuan Shao's "boldness", willingness to go behind his lord's back so he could commit mass murder got discovered. If the latter, the bloodthirsty liar Yuan Shao wrecked the victory by making sure the eunuchs couldn't go home, that their destruction awaited them if they left the capital and made He Jin seem dishonest and unreliable. Victory over, eunuchs clearly desperate and everything that would follow, He Jin's death and the fall of the Han among them, would be due to Yuan Shao's deceitful actions.

Had He Jin won, could he and his family have saved the Han? No. The gentry winning would have meant some good things like willingness to serve and an ending of long running tensions, Bian was the natural choice for Emperor so no real disputes there, some of Ling's issues like extravagance and constant changing of ranks could have ended. However fundamental issues like gentry tax dodging, struggles in Liang, famine and loss of popular support were still there.

He Jin self-inflicted problems would be there: the need for Dowager He to find a new faction to counter-act the gentry or have her authority destroyed for example. The immense reputation damage to the new regime of "men in the private chambers of the newly widowed Empress”, “killing the old mum of Ling" and, whether his fault or not, the burning of a town. Dong Zhuo's presence outside the capital would have been a major problem, while He Jin's death turned his summons into a far far worse situation then it should have been, it was still likely a gamble that would have gone wrong the longer he hang around. Dong had a history of ignoring orders and loyal troops under him, something would have had to have been done to prevent a major fight outside the capital and it is hard to see a non-damaging outcome.

He Jin also wasn't the right man to take these challenges on. At best his administrative skills were quietly competent and not the brilliant figure needed, he had shown no interest or aptitude in military affairs bar his handling of his soldiers. He Jin had shown too much eagerness for popularity which is an issue when hard decisions would have needed to have been made, even if he had the sense to modify the brutal gentry plans, he also seems to have had a really bad judgement when it comes to PR. Certainly killing Dowager Dong can be excused as trade off for getting rid of a threat, maybe the town wasn't his fault but the non-eunuchs issue was and there is a pattern of things happening that earnt ill-will.

I also wonder how long the gentry loyalty/gratitude would have lasted, the soldiers loyalty seems genuine but I'm not convinced He Jin's officer core, as a whole, were loyal to He Jin himself. They had rallied to He Jin for the cause of destroying the eunuchs (one that had become a totemic issue for the gentry and blinded them to how much deeper problems for the Han lay) and restoring themselves to power but even then, they hadn't acted particularly loyally. Two had resigned, there was frustration with He Jin from others, Yuan Shao went behind He Jin's back, some people were clearly spreading rumours about the He legitimacy. Their thanks would not have lasted long, He Jin was not one of them and at some point, the gentry may well have sought to remove him to ensure the gentry really were in power again.



[1] His ranks were training, more training, running Yingchuan in Yu. Court Architect was, according to Professor de Crespigny's Later Han Civil Administration was "responsible for the imperial and other state buildings, and also for two groups of convict labourers.". Intendant of Henan was, according to Later Han Military Organisation, "The Intendant (yin) of Henan, whose rank/ salary of Two Thousand shi matched that of the heads of comparable units throughout the empire, governed the commandery about the capital, with responsibility for the markets and the supply of goods to them, including the grain stores at the great Ao Granary east of Luoyang"

[2] Wang Yun, as inspector of Yu, had fought Turbans and came across letters had exposed Zhang Rang's supporters for being allies of the Turbans. Zhang Rang somehow calmed an angry Emperor Ling but the eunuch didn't show such forgiveness to the man who had endangered him so. He conspired to have Wang Yun arrested, there was an amnesty and he was made Inspector again but Wang Yun was back in jail within a week. Yang Ci and Wang Yun's own Yu officers tried to persuade Wang Yun to kill himself to save him from a worse fate, Wang Yun refused and put himself in jail cart. The first efforts of the ministers spared him death, more efforts got him released and Wang Yun changed his name and went into hiding until Emperor Ling's death

[3] De Crespigny's biographical dictionary entry of Emperor Ling remarks " Like Caligula and Nero during the previous century in Rome, Emperor Ling evidently regarded his position and power as an opportunity for play-acting and pleasure; he was, however, less blood-thirsty.

[4] One of the Liang rebels, Han Sui, had been noted by He Jin as a talent but He Jin's refusal to act against the eunuchs put Han Sui off serving.

[5] One of the first nights of Emperor Ling's reign saw the gentry leaders Dou Wu and Chen Fan attempt to massacre all the eunuchs for the crimes of a few, funnily enough all the eunuchs got a bit annoyed and told a young Ling the two gentry leaders were planning to overthrow the newly enthroned Emperor. Ling's relationship with the gentry was never happy after that, Emperor Ling and his eunuch allies would seek ways to reduce the influence of the gentry at local and national level, the gentry fighting back and complaining a lot (sometimes with good reason but not always).

[6] Yuan Shao had run escape lines for men of faction to escape eunuch's wrath and once persuaded to take office by uncle, had been recruited first by He Jin but had served as one of Jian Shi's Colonels and helped ensure He Jin could not be sent to Liang.

[7] Men of faction was the name for those anti-eunuch figures who exiled, killed and generally purged after the fall of Dou Wu and Chen Fan, their exile lasted for 15 years.

[8] There were suspicions she had encouraged Ling in selling ranks and her brother Dong Chong had been executed for extortion in 169 so these charges may not have been hard to arrange

[9] "In the past, when Dou Wu planned to kill the palace favourites, the only reason he came to grief was because he allowed the news to leak out. The men of the five regiments [of the Northern Army] feared the eunuchs and were prepared to obey them, but Dou Wu had counted on those troops, so he brought misfortune upon himself.

At the moment, you and your brother [He Miao] both control strong forces. Your subordinate and divisional commanders are all brave men of fine reputation, fully prepared to carry out your orders. Everything is in your hands, and this is an occasion sent by heaven. You, my general, must act at once to remove evil from the empire, and leave a name for later generations. You cannot let this opportunity slip."

[10] "There is a proverb about closing the eyes to catch a bird. Such deceit is sure to fail in small matters, and the rule must apply yet more strongly in great affairs of state. How can policy be maintained by trickery? You hold the imperial authority, and all essential military strength. With the leap of a dragon and the pace of a tiger, you may act as you will.

"The present plan, however, is like pumping up fire in a stove when all that is required is the singeing of a hair. You need only act quickly, and display the thunder of your power. Use your own judgement to make a decision, and both heaven and man will approve. If, on the other hand, you fail to use the strength you have, but call in help from outside, then great armies will gather and the strongest will win. That is like turning a spear against yourself and passing the handle to someone else. The project will surely fail, and you will have embarked upon a road to ruin."

[11] “The use of eunuchs as officials has always been practised, but if the Emperor did not allow such authority and favour to be bestowed on them, they would not cause situations such as this. Since they are controlling affairs with their wicked behaviour the ringleaders should be put to death, and a single prison guard would be sufficient to do so; why is it necessary to repeatedly have others called in from outside? To seek the wrongdoers’ total extermination will result in the plot being found out, and in my opinion those doing the plotting will come to harm.”"

[12] "Dong Zhuo is extremely brutal and has small sense of honour, while his ambitions have no limit. If you involve him in the imperial government and entrust him with great affairs you will lose control over his evil intentions and you will certainly endanger the court.

Through your own personal qualities, and by your close relationship to the throne, you hold the authority of Aheng with power to make your own decisions and to take your own action against criminals. It is quite inappropriate for you to favour Dong Zhuo by asking for his assistance. Furthermore, if you delay matters, there will be changes. The example of Yin is not far off. You must make your mind up soon."

[13] "The Regular Palace Attendant Zhang Rang and his fellows have usurped favour and played for advantage. They have corrupted and disrupted all within the seas. I have heard of people who would fan a fire to stop the soup from boiling, but it is far better to take away the firewood. To burst an abscess is painful, but better than a malignant growth.

In ancient times Zhao Yang raised the armed men of Jinyang to drive away the wicked from the side of his lord. Now and at once I sound the bells and drums and march to Luoyang. I beg permission to arrest Zhang Rang and his fellows, to clear out the evil and wickedness."

[14] Chong Shao was first turned aside but met Dong at Henan, feeding and congratulating the troops and tried again. Dong was suspicious and sent armed men to interrogate Chong Shao but Chong Shao shamed Dong into apologizing. Chong Shao and Dong would never get on.

[15] Director of Retainers allowed Yuan Shao to report central government officials for wrongdoing and Staff of Authority gave Shao freedom to act without needing to consult He Jin (in this case, to act against any wrongdoing), Henan gave Wang Yun control of police forces within the capital.

[16] "The General-in-Chief said he was ill. He did not attend the mourning, and he did not accompany the funeral. Now he comes suddenly to the palace, and what does this mean? Is the Dou Wu business coming again?"
“You, are a rebellious son who abandoned his father. You are a cruel brigand who murdered his lord. How can Heaven and Earth put up with you for long? And unless you die soon, how can you face the sight of men?”

my tumbler

my officer analysis
User avatar
Dong Zhou
Posts: 16551
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:32 pm
Location: "Now we must die. May Your Majesty maintain yourself"

Re: Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby LiuBeiwasGreat » Sat Jul 28, 2018 2:22 pm

Wonderful, a great read. I always liked He Jin ang's thought there was more to him. He was a very flawed man who apparently was very likable. He wasn't what the Han needed but there were far worse options out there.
"If you can't drink a lobbyist's whiskey, take his money, sleep with his women and still vote against him in the morning, you don't belong in politics."
Scholar of Shen Zhou
Posts: 2653
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2004 4:13 pm
Location: Raleigh, NC

Re: Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby Gray Riders » Sat Jul 28, 2018 7:07 pm

An excellent post. Thanks for posting it here! I find He Jin an intriguing and sometimes overlooked figure who was more than just "that guy who put down the rebellion than got assassinated and sent everything spiraling into the abyss".

Considering some of his later actions and your note on the gentry later turning on He Jin, I wonder if Yuan Shao's plotting was intended to leave He Jin in a weak position after the eunuchs were gone so he would be easier to deal with. I think Yuan Shao is actually one of the most interesting figures in the period when you look at the whole of his actions--I feel we're missing something about him.
Gray Riders
Scholar of Shen Zhou
Posts: 2148
Joined: Sat Jul 17, 2010 1:02 am

Re: Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Jul 29, 2018 8:07 am

Thank you LiuBeiwasGreat and Gray Riders, glad you enjoyed it. I did this to greatly annoy daolun as I do have a fondness for figures that perhaps are harshly done by judgement of history, what happened those months shaped everything that was to come

Gray Riders wrote:Considering some of his later actions and your note on the gentry later turning on He Jin, I wonder if Yuan Shao's plotting was intended to leave He Jin in a weak position after the eunuchs were gone so he would be easier to deal with. I think Yuan Shao is actually one of the most interesting figures in the period when you look at the whole of his actions--I feel we're missing something about him.

I think Yuan Shao was wrapped up in the attitude of young gentry of the time where adventuring was a thing, where boldness and "eunuchs must die at all costs" attitude was around. Wang Yun for example ignored an amnesty and killed one eunuch decades earlier, as I understand it he wasn't the only one where killing eunuchs trumped the law and due process, compared to that Yuan Shao's faking orders is almost a trifle. I think the gentry had got into their heads a "if only the eunuchs were gone and righteous men back in place, everything would be restored" attitude, you know the sort of thing where if only a certain group or political party/person was gone, things would be better (usually when things are rather more fundamentally wrong. For Yuan Shao and co, victory wasn't enough, the eunuchs crimes had to be met with death

Was Yuan Shao also trying to weaken He Jin? I don't think so, I think were focused on defeating the eunuchs so would not have been thinking of moves against him yet. If you asked them "are you loyal to He Jin", they would have answered yes and I think they would have believed it, I can imagine Yuan Shao somehow thought "he was helping He Jin". It is just when push came to shove they didn't show real loyalty and I strongly suspect they weren't shutting down the rumours (at best). After the honeymoon period of He Jin who defeated the eunuchs, where he would have been honoured, been given fist-bumps by all the important figures, they would have found some reason to be discontented at butcher boy and believed it would be important to remove him for the Han.

As for Yuan Shao missing something. True. It does feel like there are gaps in his life, in his officer core and that the manner of his end shaped how his story got told
“You, are a rebellious son who abandoned his father. You are a cruel brigand who murdered his lord. How can Heaven and Earth put up with you for long? And unless you die soon, how can you face the sight of men?”

my tumbler

my officer analysis
User avatar
Dong Zhou
Posts: 16551
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:32 pm
Location: "Now we must die. May Your Majesty maintain yourself"

Re: Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby Sun Fin » Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:07 pm

Yes! I'm very excited to read this! Thanks for taking the time Dong! :D
Have a question about a book or academic article before you buy it? Maybe I have it!
Check out my library here for a list of Chinese history resources I have on hand!
User avatar
Sun Fin
Librarian of Shen Zhou
Posts: 7567
Joined: Sat Nov 10, 2007 9:20 pm
Location: Vicar Factory

Re: Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby DaoLunOfShiji » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:29 am

I did this to greatly annoy daolun

And it worked :!:
"Looking at Zhong Hui is like viewing an armory, one sees only spears and lances"
— Pei Kai
Check out this list of historical resources I have.
Check out this list of cited biographies I have written.
User avatar
Posts: 322
Joined: Wed Aug 02, 2017 3:26 pm
Location: "A genius like Cao Zhi, as martial as Cao Cao."

Re: Analysis Of He Jin

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:41 pm

Sun Fin wrote:Yes! I'm very excited to read this! Thanks for taking the time Dong! :D

I hope you enjoy it

He Jin's long interested me due to his place at the start of things, I have long liked that in awe of eunuchs line and I enjoyed writing it, I might do some more when the heat dies down and I get more free time.

DaoLunOfShiji wrote:
I did this to greatly annoy daolun

And it worked :!:

Was that before or after that anon asked why you wrote it? :wink:
“You, are a rebellious son who abandoned his father. You are a cruel brigand who murdered his lord. How can Heaven and Earth put up with you for long? And unless you die soon, how can you face the sight of men?”

my tumbler

my officer analysis
User avatar
Dong Zhou
Posts: 16551
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:32 pm
Location: "Now we must die. May Your Majesty maintain yourself"

Return to Sanguo Yanyi Symposium

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests

Copyright © 2002–2008 Kongming’s Archives. All Rights Reserved