Here’s a general map of the regions controlled by the major (and minor) warlords near the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty
Born: 155 (age 45 in year 200)
Warlord of Yan Province
Protector/Controller of Emperor Xian, Cao Cao will emerge from the Battle of Guandu as the uncontested ruler of Northern China, ultimately known as the Kingdom of Cao-Wei.
Born: (unknown), but a contemporary of Cao Cao… likely of similar age (post-40)
Warlord of much of Northern China, Cao Cao’s one-time co-commander, ally, and friend, the pair would become bitter rivals as each sought to unify China under their own respective rules. In 200, he will attack Yan from across the Yellow river in an attempt to break through Cao Cao’s defensive line and seize the figurehead emperor for himself.
Following the Battle of Guandu, he will retreat in defeat and die 2 years later in 202. His sons will vie with each other for power, and Cao Cao will play them against one another, and destroy each in turn, there ensuring his uncontested dominion of the North.
Born: (unknown, but younger than Yuan Shao)
Yuan Shao’s younger half-brother. The two were estranged and not on friendly terms. He controlled the regions around the Huai River south of Cao Cao’s Yan Province.
In 197 he proclaimed himself the Emperor of his newly established Zhong Dynasty, resulting in the defection of his lieutenant Sun Ce and prompting a coalition of other warlords led by Cao Cao to attack and depose him. Following his defeat, he died of illness (or sadness) in 199.
Born: 161 (age 39 in year 200)
A warlord of the period, he gets off to a rough start, bouncing between more powerful allies and being involved in a string of embarrassing defeats. Following the Battle of Guandu, he’ll be force to flee south to escape the wrath of Cao Cao and seek the protection of his distant cousin Liu Biao. From there, he will ultimately rise to form his own power bloc and ultimately proclaim himself the Emperor of the Shu-Han State in 221.
Born: 175 (age 25 in 200)
Yuan Shu’s lieutenant, but quit in disgust in 197 following Yuan’s treasonous self-promotion to Emperor.
Sun Ce will die young in year 200, the victim of assassins after going out on a hunt alone. Nevertheless, his territories of the southeast coast of China will be passed to his younger brother, Sun Quan, who will go on to found the third of the Three Kingdoms, Sun-Wu (a.k.a. Eastern Wu)
The Battle of Guandu
Cao Cao’s territories (blue) and Yuan Shao’s territories (red) at the time of the battle:
Yuan Shao’s Army: 110,000 soldiers, including 10,000 cavalry, and siege towers
Cao Cao’s Army: 40,000 soldiers, traction trebuchets, and prepared earthen fortifications
The two armies clashed along the southern banks of the Yellow River. Cao Cao, realizing he could not effectively defent the riverbanks from Yuan Shao’s much larger force, made a strategic withdrawal to his prepared fortifications at Guandu, called Fort Dushi. From there, Cao Cao’s army would grind Yuan’s offensive to a halt, and launch devastatingly effective raids against the attackers’ food stores at Wuchao. With their supply chains stretched to the breaking point, Yuan Shao launched a final desperate attack, but was once more repulsed. Cao Cao followed up with a counter-attack which broke Yuan Shu’s demoralized armies and decisively defeated them. Yua Shao was force to flee in defeat and despair.
Outcome: decisive victory for Cao Cao, ~70,000 dead, Yuan Shao’s power-base broken… ultimately Cao Cao’s total control of Northern China.
The Dushi Fort