During the end of the Han dynasty, the capital Luoyang fell under the control of the warlord Dong Zhuo who, fleeing a coalition of lords against him, burned it and moved the young Xian Emperor to Chang'an. After Lu Bu assassinated Dong, Chang'an fell under the control of the warlords Li Jue and Guo Si, who fought each other soon afterward. The emperor escaped and eventually reached the ruins of Luoyang. According to Chinese Wikipedia (and other sources), this trip took one year:





Later, Li and Guo fought each other, the people fell upon hard times, and the Xian Emperor fled Chang'an with a group of courtiers on July of the second year of Xingping (AD 195). On this trip, on multiple occasions they became the target of capture by Li Jue, Guo Si, Zhang Ji, Yang Feng and other warlords.


The Xian Emperor of Han and his courtiers finally reached the old capital of Luoyang after a year in July of the first year of Jian'an (AD 196).

Here's a map showing Chang'an and Luoyang; they are < 400km / 250miles apart:

map of chang'an luoyang

From https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f4/Dufuschina.jpg/300px-Dufuschina.jpg

Although the trip passes through difficult terrain and a few mountain passes, it is also a key artery in the empire and very well travelled. The trip shouldn't take anywhere close to a year under normal circumstances.

So why did it take emperor Xian one year? What were they doing? What happened during this trip?


2 Answers 2


Their itinary as per the Zizhi Tongjian 61 and 62:

July 195: The emperor departed Chang'an via the Xuanping Gate. After being briefly stopped by Guo Si's men (who retired when the emperor told them off), they arrived at Baling that night. Later, Guo Si wanted everyone to go to Gaoling, but the ministers and Zhang Ji thought Hongnong was more appropriate.

August 195: Travelled to Xinfeng. Guo Si repeatedly told the emperor he wanted him to return to Chang'an, but failing, he went with his troops to the southern mountains.

October 195: Guo Si's adherents Xia Yu and Gao Shuo tried to force the Emperor west. Yang Ding and Dong Cheng escorted the Emperor to Yang Feng's camp. Yang Ding and Yang Feng defeated Xia Yu and friends, and the emperor was able to move to Huayin.

November–December 195: The emperor reached Hongnong. Li Jue, Guo Si and Zhang Ji went in pursuit. There was a battle at Dongjian where the emperor's generals Dong Cheng and Yang Feng suffered a defeat, with many officials and soldiers killed. Dong Cheng and Yang Feng sent for assistance from the White Wave leaders Li Le, Han Xian and Hu Cai, as well as the Xiongnu "prince of the right" Qubei. Together, they defeated Li Jue and the others, killing thousands.

They resumed the journey east, with Dong Cheng and Li Yue accompanying the emperor while the rest served as a rearguard. Li Jue pursued and inflicted a defeat similar in scale to that at Dongjian. Amongst those killed or captured and executed were Minister of the Masses Zhao Wen and six of the Nine Ministers. The Huben ("Energetic Tiger") and Yulin ("Feathered Forest") imperial guards numbered fewer than 100 men after the defeat. The emperor crossed the Yellow River, losing more followers along the way.

The emperor reached Dayang, where Li Le had his camp. He then proceeded to Anyi in an oxcart. The prefect of Henei Zhang Yang was one of those who provided assistance. Later, he came from Yewang and suggested that the Emperor go to Luoyang, but as the Emperor's generals would not agree, Zhang Yang returned to Yewang.

January 196: Dong Cheng and Zhang Yang wanted the emperor to return to Luoyang, while Yang Feng and Li Le opposed.

February 196: Han Xian attacked Dong Cheng, who went to Yewang. Han Xian was stationed at Wenxi, while Hu Cai and Yang Feng were at Wuxiang. Hu Cai wanted to attack Han Xian but the emperor ordered him not to.

February-April 196: Zhang Yang sent Dong Cheng ahead to rebuild the palace in Luoyang (Dong Zhuo had sacked it in 189).

May 196: The emperor went to the camp of Yang Feng, Li Le and Han Xian, asking them to take him to Luoyang.

June 196: The emperor reached Wenxi. Later, Yang Feng and Han Xian sent the emperor east, with Zhang Yang providing provisions.

July 196: The Emperor reached Luoyang.


It is entirely possible.

  • The emperor did not travel alone: he had to travel with his eunuchs, empress, concubines, etc. Lots of women made their trip extremely slow.
  • All of China was infested by bandits, warlords, deserters and angry farmers. The emperor might need to hide for a while or even go back and forth in order to hide from danger. As you can read from your English translation above, the emperor was a target for a number of warlords. Warlords might have blocked the road or been fighting each other.
  • Their food supply was cut. No one was offering them any food or water, and this would make their trip very difficult as they might need to buy (if they had any money), exchange, or even beg for supplies.
  • They might have traveled to a totally different destination first, but changed their mind later.
  • This story was recorded long time after it had happened, so time-wise, it might have been a bit inaccurate. The historian might want to highlight how much hardship the emperor had to go through so he decided this trip took one year. Chinese history has been recorded not only based on facts but very often on the historian's personal political standing and view.
  • There's a lot of speculation and a lack of references. Were there any records detailing the emperor's retinue, how do you know there were lots of women? Which different destination did they go to? Why do you think Chen Shou would make up the duration, when his other records are otherwise very reliable? Aug 26, 2016 at 3:47
  • Why would women travel more slowly than men? Jun 9, 2019 at 3:25
  • @AaronBrick Later on, because of their feet. That wasn't a thing in Han China, but upper-class women traveling in style were still slower than men fleeing for their lives on horseback, which is presumably what Yu was comparing. Further, you are aware that even in this enlightened day and age women tend to have shorter legs than men and slower average speeds? Besides, you saw what he said about Chinese historiography adjusting facts to better reflect the historian's personal views. Yu Zhang may be giving you a demonstration of that.
    – lly
    Feb 29, 2020 at 10:58

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