The Partisan Prohibitions were repealed during the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion in 184 CE, largely because the court did not want to continue to alienate a significant portion of the gentry class who might otherwise join the rebellions. The Yellow Turbans and Five-Pecks-of-Rice adherents belonged to two different hierarchical Daoist religious societies led by faith healers Zhang Jue (d. 184 CE) and Zhang Lu (d. 216 CE), respectively. Zhang Lu’s rebellion, in modern northern Sichuan and southern Shaanxi, was not quelled until 215 CE.Zhang Jue’s massive rebellion across eight provinces was annihilated by Han forces within a year, however the following decades saw much smaller recurrent uprisings.Although the Yellow Turbans were defeated, many generals appointed during the crisis never disbanded their assembled militia forces and used these troops to amass power outside of the collapsing imperial authority.
General-in-Chief He Jin (d. 189 CE), half-brother to Empress He (d. 189 CE), plotted with Yuan Shao (d. 202 ) to overthrow the eunuchs by having several generals march to the outskirts of the capital. There, in a written petition to Empress He, they demanded the eunuchs’ execution.After a period of hesitation, Empress He consented. When the eunuchs discovered this, however, they had her brother He Miao rescind the order.The eunuchs assassinated He Jin on September 22, 189 CE. Yuan Shao then besieged Luoyang’s Northern Palace while his brother Yuan Shu(d. 199 CE) besieged the Southern Palace. On September 25 both palaces were breached and approximately two thousand eunuchs were killed.Zhang Rang had previously fled with Emperor Shao (r. 189 CE) and his brother Liu Xie—the future Emperor Xian of Han (r. 189–220 CE). While being pursued by the Yuan brothers, Zhang committed suicide by jumping into the Yellow River.
General Dong Zhuo (d. 192 CE) found the young emperor and his brother wandering in the countryside. He escorted them safely back to the capital and was made Minister of Works, taking control of Luoyang and forcing Yuan Shao to flee.After Dong Zhuo demoted Emperor Shao and promoted his brother Liu Xie as Emperor Xian, Yuan Shao led a coalition of former officials and officers against Dong, who burned Luoyang to the ground and resettled the court at Chang’an in May 191 CE. Dong Zhuo later poisoned Emperor Shao.
Dong was killed by his adopted son Lü Bu (d. 198 CE) in a plot hatched by Wang Yun (d. 192 CE).Emperor Xian fled from Chang’an in 195 CE to the ruins of Luoyang. Xian was persuaded by Cao Cao (155–220 CE), then Governor of Yan Province in modern western Shandongand eastern Henan, to move the capital to Xuchang in 196 CE.
Yuan Shao challenged Cao Cao for control over the emperor. Yuan’s power was greatly diminished after Cao defeated him at the Battle of Guandu in 200 CE. After Yuan died, Cao killed Yuan Shao’s son Yuan Tan (173–205 CE), who had fought with his brothers over the family inheritance. His brothers Yuan Shang and Yuan Xi were killed in 207 CE by Gongsun Kang (d. 221 CE), who sent their heads to Cao Cao.
After Cao’s defeat at the naval Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 CE, China was divided into three spheres of influence, with Cao Cao dominating the north, Sun Quan (182–252 CE) dominating the south, and Liu Bei (161–223 CE) dominating the west.Cao Cao died in March 220 CE. By December his son Cao Pi (187–226 CE) had Emperor Xian relinquish the throne to him and is known posthumously as Emperor Wen of Wei. This formally ended the Han Dynasty and initiated an age of conflict between three states:Cao Wei, Eastern Wu, and Shu Han.