The Liang Province Rebellion was damaging to Sun Jian’s reputation, but
it wrongly cemented Dong Zhuo’s reputation as a man of action and ensured him
undeserved promotions. Sun Jian returned to Jiangdong with a label of a
failure, while Dong continued the fight with the veteran general Huangfu Song;
their assured victory against the weakened rebels was snatched away from them
by the death of Emperor Ling, but Dong would enjoy another stroke of luck as an
unforeseen opportunity allowed him to exploit the power vacuum that had been
created in the aftermath of Ling’s death.
The new Empress Dowager and her brother, Commander-in-Chief Hè Jin, immediately seized power for Ling’s eldest son, but the surviving ‘Ten Attendants’ - who had been critically divided over who should inherit the throne - were keen to exert their authority over the Dowager and her son, now created Emperor Shao; the resulting feud led to the death of Hè Jin, the last of the ‘Ten’ and most of the palace eunuchs. Dong Zhuo - who had been invited to the capital Luoyang as additional military muscle by Hè Jin and his deputy Yuan Shao - used his newfound position as the highest-ranking military officer in the city to seize power, grant himself the highest civilian rank and establish his own followers as the new guardians of the young emperor. What followed was almost impossible to believe: Dong Zhuo deposed and quietly murdered Emperor Shao and the Dowager, and then he installed the deposed sovereign’s younger half-brother, Prince Liu Xie, as Emperor Xian.
In reaction to the regicide and a subsequent violent purge of disaffected courtiers, Yuan Shao - who was, in addition to being the late Hè Jin’s most trusted ally, the chieftain of one of the wealthiest and most influential clans in the empire - immediately called upon his fellow warlords to join his fight against Dong Zhuo.
Sun Jian was one of the first to lend his might to the ‘Eastern Pass Coalition’ that hoped to defy the tyrant chancellor, but Jian’s place in society affected his role from the first moment: despite his considerable achievements and a recently-awarded title of ‘lesser marquis’, Sun could not lead his own militia, since he was not a landowner or high-ranking administrator. The only option was to pledge his allegiance to a man that had the rights that he lacked, and his choice of ‘master’ - a choice that would affect the rest of his life - was Yuan Shu, the embittered, jealous brother of Coalition Commander Yuan Shao. Yuan Shu eagerly accepted the service of such a famous hero, but his plans extended beyond Sun’s temporary servitude or his own place as the brother of his clan’s chieftain: he had the intention of challenging Shao for the clan chieftainship and command of the Eastern Pass Coalition, and Shao unwittingly gave Shu the chance to do so when his orders amounted to little more than ‘blockade the capital’. Dong Zhuo was barely challenged, and he continued to do as he pleased, including torturing and slaughtering anyone in Luoyang that was in any way related to the coalition members.
“…As we’ve said before, it’s really Yuan Shao’s fault that our clan’s suffered in the way that it has,” Bofu grumbled. “If he’d kept his brother in check, or done a better job against Dong Zhuo, maybe backed up Dad and Cao Cao instead of just sitting there…”