The Battle of Yangcheng (Yángchéng zhī zhàn 陽城之戰) was a battle fought between Yuan Shu's officer Sun Jian and Yuan Shao's officer Zhou Yu 周㬂, style name Renming. With both warlords being of the Guandong Coalition, this battle was one that marked the end of the Campaign against Dong Zhuo.

The BattleEdit

Before The BattleEdit

Several years before Dong Zhuo seized power, around 187 A.D., Sun Jian was on a campaign against the Lingling and Guiyang rebels. He was accompanied by Wang Rui. The two men were succesful in subduing the rebels, but, for the most part, the credit went only to Sun Jian. This, together with Sun's remarkable promotion to Grand Administrator and his subsequent enfeoffment as a marquis, caused jealousy and tension between the two.

Wang Rui was a man from a gentry established family background, with some distinction in the empire and he could not have it that one simple fighting man such as Sun Jian was receiving the credits and honours. Wang Rui did not speak highly of Sun Jian, probably saying that simple fighting men should only serve as assisants, while a commandery would be better in the hands of an experienced Administrator. Whatever the insult was, Sun Jian did not like it, and remembered this insult.

Call of Arms; Sun Jian's Road To Yuan ShuEdit

In the first month of 190 A.D., following the Struggle against The Regular Attendants and Dong Zhuo's seizing of the Imperial Court, the Guandong Coalition was established to oppose Dong Zhuo. It was led by Yuan Shao and warlords were summoned to raise troops and join the coalition.

Sun Jian, down in Changsha, also collected an army and came to join the alliance. He was to become an officer under Yuan Shu, who was at Luyang in Nanyang at this time.

From Changsha, Sun Jian passed to the west of the Dongting Lake and his route led past Wang Rui, the Inspector of Jing province. According to Wu lu, Wang Rui had also gathered troops to join the Campaign against Dong Zhuo, but he had an old quarrel with Cao Yin, the Grand Administrator of Wuling. Wang Rui announced he wished to kill Cao Yin before he went north to join the coalition.

Cao Yin had his capital at Linyuan, quite close to Hanshou. He became frightened of Wang Rui and feared for his own safety. He knew of Sun Jian's arrival and thought to use it to his own advantage. He forged an order from an officer of investigation and sent it to Sun Jian. The order accused Wang Rui of various crimes, and instructed Sun Jian to execute him. Sun Jian, probably remembering the insult, accepted the order, brought his army forward to Hanshou, and gained entrance to the city by pretending that his men had come only to look for supplies.[1]

When Wang Rui heard of the arrival of 'some troops' he climbed a tower and sent to ask: "What do you want?" Sun Jian's Advance Division replied: "We have long been suffering the toil of fighting and labour, and we have come to ask you for some recompense." But then Wang Rui noticed Sun Jian and was alarmed.

Wang Rui: "The soldiers may want rewards, but why is Magistrate Sun here?"

Sun Jian: "I have orders to execute you."

Wang Rui: "What is my crime?"

Sun Jian: "You just don't understand things."

Wang Rui, in distress and despair, scraped gold, drank it and died.

Sun Jian continued his march to Yuan Shu in Luyang and, at some stage, was joined by his teenage nephew Sun Ben[2], son of his elder twin brother Sun Qiang. In Nanyang, he wanted his force, now combined with Wang Rui's men and included twenty to thirty thousand men, to rest and make use of the supplies available in Nanyang.

Sun Jian sent a message ahead to ask Zhang Zi, the Grand Administrator, for supplies for his army. When Sun Jian came , the two officials exchanged gifts and Sun Jian paid his respects to Zhang Zi; on the following day Zhang Zi returned the visit. While Zhang Zi was thus in Sun Jian's camp, Sun Jian's Registrar, his senior clerical officer, came in and reported that in fact there had been nothing done in Nanyang to provide for the visiting army. Zhang Zi was frightened and tried to escape, but Sun Jian arrested him, and after a short further enquiry he was judged guilty of treason and was executed according to military law[3][4]. In the commandery there was fear and trembling, and he was given everything he asked for.

When Sun Jian had settled the administration of Wan, he went forward to Luyang and joined Yuan Shu. He had already received provisional appointment as General of the Gentlemen of the Household and he was now recommended as Acting General Who Smashes the Caitiffs and Inspector of Yu province.

As an officer of Yuan Shu, Sun Jian fought Xu Rong and Li Meng near Liang, but lost after a great battle. He then went on to defeat the forces of Hu Zhen at Yangren, Dong Zhuo at Dagu, and Lü Bu at Luoyang. All of these forces were completely routed.[5]

Lü Bu's defeat was in the third month of 191 A.D.

Ongoing Tension Between Shu and ShaoEdit

When Sun Jian captured Luoyang however, there was already some tension between the warlords of the coalition. Yuan Shu, who regarded himself as the head of his family, was jealous of the prestige enjoyed by Yuan Shao as leader of the alliance. He spread stories against him, saying: "Shao is not a true son of the Yuan clan" and "Shao is our family slave." Yuan Shao was predictably furious when he heard about this.

For his own part, Yuan Shao was worried about the fact that he still did not have a territorial base. He was the leader of a coalition, but this coalition was already showing signs of breaking up. Early 191 A.D. he pressured Han Fu, a coalition member, to yield his place as Governor of Ji province, and at about the same time, he sent an army against Yuan Shu's possessions.

He named a man from Kuaiji, Zhou Yu, styled Renming, as rival inspector of Yu province[6]. Yuan Shao sent him to make a surprise attack on Sun Jian's territory while Sun Jian was still away, having just defeated Lü Bu at Luoyang.

Before this, on his march toward Luoyang, Sun Jian had sent a detachment to occupy the city of Yangcheng in Yingchuan commandery and when he moved back from Luoyang, this outpost remained to watch for any action by Dong Zhuo from the west. The city was in Yu province and under Sun Jian's government as Inspector, but on the other hand it also belonged to Yuan Shao, or at least, was in the sphere of his influence of Ji province and Henei commandery to the north of the Yellow River.

Battle Begins; Zhou Yu Attacks Sun JianEdit

At this point, Zhou Yu attacked Sun Jian's camp at Yangcheng by surprise and captured it.[7]

When Sun Jian heard of Zhou Yu's attack, he sighed and spoke:

"Together we raised loyal troops to save the nation. Now the rebels and bandits are almost destroyed, and yet each can act like this. Whom can I work with?"

Sun Jian launched a counterattack and was reinforced by Gongsun Yue 公孫越 and 1,000 of his cavalry from You province.

During one of the first few skirmishes, Gongsun Yue was hit by a stray arrow and died.

Gongsun Zan 公孫瓚, elder cousin of Gongsun Yue, was furious when he heard of his younger cousin's death, he said: "My cousin is dead, and Yuan Shao is to blame."

Zhou Yu had some initial successes against Sun Jian, and Sun Jian needed time to recover from the ground he had lost. After some set-backs, however, including the death of Gongsun Yue, he regained control of the situation and defeated Zhou Yu in several battles.

Following Sun Jian's victory, Yuan Shu attacked Zhou Ang in Jiujiang. Zhou Yu went on to support his brother, but both were defeated by Yuan Shu.[8]

Sun Jian was probably Yuan Shu's most succesful officer; since his loss to Xu Rong, he won four succesive battles, all against formidable opponents.

In the meantime, Gongsun Zan led out his army and camped at the Pan River. The Battle of Jieqiao followed.[9][10]

See AlsoEdit


  • The Zhou Yu mentioned in this article is a man from Kuaiji commandery and styled Renming. He is not the same man as the future Wu commander Zhou Yu 周瑜.
  • Many different sources list many different theories of which of the three Zhou brothers (Zhou Ang, Zhou Yu and Zhou Xing), were sent to attack Sun Jian. Wu lu and Rafe de Crespigny think it was Zhou Yu, based on the careers of the three brothers. Zizhi tongjian says Zhou Ang and History of the Later Han says Zhou Xing. This article is based on the interpretation of Wu lu and Rafe de Crespigny.


  1. SGZ 46 (Wu 1), 1096 (8a-9b), the Biography of Sun Jian.
  2. It is not mentioned if Sun Ben battled Zhou Yu at Yangcheng, but it seems likely as this was Sun's base. I, User:Zantam03, think Ben was either at Luoyang with Sun Jian, or stationed at Yangcheng's base, thus involved in the battle. Sun Ben was definately not with Yuan Shu; because he didn't serve him until after Sun Jian's death.
  3. Generals of the South, by Rafe de Crespigny, chapters on Sun Jian.
  4. Wu li has a slightly different version of this event; Zhang Zi refused to visit Sun Jian. Sun Jian pretended to be seriously ill and offered to turn his troops over to Zhang Zi's command. When Zhang Zi came to his tent to take up the offer, Sun Jian leaped from his bed, swore at his visitor, and cut his head off on the spot.
  5. TTK Wiki; Campaign against Dong Zhuo.
  6. SGZ 46/Wu 1, 1100 PC note 10
  7. Generals of the South by Rafe de Crespigny; Sun Jian, chapter 1.
  8. Generals of the South by Rafe de Crespigny; Sun Jian, chapter 2.
  9. SGZ 46 (Wu 1), 1100 (14b) PC quoting Wu lu.
  10. HHS 73/63, 2359-60 (5b-7b), the Biography of Gongsun Zan;
    SGZ 8, 242 (7a), the Biography of Gongsun Zan.


  • de Crespigny, Rafe. Generals of the South: the foundation and early history of the Three Kingdoms state of Wu. Canberra: The Australian National University, 1990.