Yellow Turban Rebellion
The Yellow Turban Rebellion, also translated as the Yellow Scarves Rebellion, was a peasant revolt in China against the Eastern Han dynasty. The uprising broke out in 184 AD during the reign of Emperor Ling. Although the main rebellion was suppressed by 185 AD, pockets of resistance continued and smaller rebellions emerged in later years. It took 21 years until the uprising was fully suppressed in 205 AD. The rebellion, which got its name from the colour of the cloths that the rebels wore on their heads, marked an important point in the history of Taoism due to the rebels' association with secret Taoist societies. The revolt was also used as the opening event in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
|Yellow Turban Rebellion|
|Part of the wars at the end of the Han dynasty|
Map showing the extent of the Yellow Turban Rebellion in China in 184 AD
|Han dynasty||Yellow Turban rebels|
|Commanders and leaders|
Zhang Bao †
Zhang Liang †
|350,000||2,000,000 (360,000 were initially followers of Zhang Jue)|
|Casualties and losses|
|Death toll said to be from 3–7 million|
|Yellow Turban Rebellion|
|Literal meaning||"Yellow Turban Conflict"|
A major cause of the rebellion was an agrarian crisis, in which famine forced many farmers and former military settlers in the north to seek employment in the south, where large landowners exploited the labour surplus to amass large fortunes. The situation was further aggravated by smaller floods along the lower course of the Yellow River. The peasants were further oppressed by high taxes imposed in order to fund the construction of fortifications along the Silk Road and garrisons against foreign infiltration and invasion. In this situation, landowners, landless peasants and unemployed former soldiers formed armed bands (around 170) and eventually private armies, setting the stage for armed conflict.
At the same time, the Han central government was weakening internally. The power of the landowners had become a longstanding problem, but in the run-up to the rebellion, the court eunuchs in particular gained considerably in influence over the emperor, which they abused to enrich themselves. Ten of the most powerful eunuchs formed a group known as the Ten Attendants, and Emperor Ling referred to one of them (Zhang Rang) as his "foster father". The government was widely regarded as corrupt and incapable and the famines and floods were seen as an indication that a decadent emperor had lost his Mandate of Heaven.
Because of its plan for a new beginning, the Taoist sect of Zhang Jue proved to be the Han dynasty's most dangerous enemy. In preparation for his revolt, Zhang Jue sent disciples out to gain support and organise followers throughout north China. Political discontent, as well as droughts and plagues, fuelled public resentment against the Han government. The rebels even had allies in the imperial court, and they were able to make their preparations while government officials were either ignorant of their intentions or intimidated by their power.
Zhang Jue planned a rising throughout the Han Empire, but before the call to arms had been issued the plan was betrayed, the rebel sympathisers in Luoyang were arrested and executed, and the revolt in the provinces had to begin ahead of time, in the second month of 184. Despite the premature call and an inevitable lack of co-ordination, tens of thousands of men rose in rebellion, government offices were plundered and destroyed and the imperial armies were immediately forced onto the defensive.
The rebellion was led by Zhang Jue (also referred to as Zhang Jiao, known to his followers as the "General of Heaven") and his two younger brothers Zhang Bao (張寶) and Zhang Liang (張梁), who were born in Julu Commandery. The brothers had founded a Taoist religious sect in present-day Shandong. They were healers, usually accepting patients pro bono who could not afford to pay them. The brothers saw the harshness of the world through their work with the peasants who were often abused by the local government, overburdened and hungry due to the heavy taxes levied upon them.
The rebels were the first followers of the Way of Supreme Peace (太平道; Tàipíng Dào) and venerated the deity Huang–Lao, who according to Zhang Jue, had given him a sacred book called the Crucial Keys to the Way of Peace (太平要術; Tàipíng Yàoshù) based on the Taipingjing. Zhang Jue, who was said to be a sorcerer, called himself the "Great Teacher" (大賢良師). When the rebellion was proclaimed, Zhang Jue created a 16-word slogan:
Zhang Jue used a form of Taoism to cure the sick by confession of sins and by faith healing. The religion and the politics of the Zhang brothers were based on belief in an apocalyptic change in the order of the world. They told their followers that in the jiazi year, the beginning of the new sexagenary cycle, the sky would become yellow, and that under this new heaven the rule of the Han dynasty would end and a new era of government begin. The characters jiazi became a symbol of the coming change and, later, when the followers of Zhang Jue went to battle they wore a yellow cloth bound about their heads as a badge. From this came the term Yellow Turbans.
Nearly all of the religious practices of the sect were communal activities (e.g. collective trances, fasts). A typical worship service consisted largely of music and chanting, the burning of incense, and sermons or anecdotes that could be given by any member of the congregation including women and those perceived as barbarians. Several Xiongnu leaders such as Yufuluo are known to have at least lent their support to the sect and a number of scholars have theorised that Zhang Jue may have derived some of his teachings from shamanism as he appeared as a mystical healer with a direct link to the heavens.
While many of the beliefs of the early Path of Supreme Peace have been lost, it is very likely that they had some relation to the Way of the Celestial Masters, considering Zhang Jue claimed to be a descendant of Zhang Daoling. Many of the writings found in the 52 surviving chapters of the Taiping Jing that are found in the Daozang have a direct relationship to the Way of the Celestial Masters. Regardless, it is quite likely that any discrepancies found within the Way were suppressed by later Taoist sects.
Zhang Jue's plans for rebellion
Before the rebellion started, Zhang Jue had sent Ma Yuanyi (馬元義) to recruit followers from Jing and Yang provinces and gather them in Ye. As Ma Yuanyi frequently travelled to Luoyang, the Han imperial capital, he managed to build connections with Feng Xu (封諝) and Xu Feng (徐奉), two members of the influential eunuch faction in the imperial court, and convince them to secretly collaborate with Zhang Jue. They set 3 April 184 as the date for the rebellion. However, before the plans were set in motion, Tang Zhou (唐周) betrayed Ma Yuanyi and reported him to the authorities. Ma Yuanyi was arrested and executed by dismemberment in Luoyang.
After Emperor Ling learnt that Zhang Jue was plotting a revolt, he ordered Zhou Bin (周斌), Prefect of the Palace Parks (鉤盾令), to conduct an investigation and capture all the conspirators. Hundreds of people were arrested and executed during this time.
When Zhang Jue heard that the Han government had caught wind about his plans to rebel, he quickly sent messengers to contact his allies throughout China and take action immediately. Sometime between 29 February and 29 March 184, Zhang Jue started the Yellow Turban Rebellion with some 360,000 followers under his command, all of whom wore yellow headscarves or turbans. He called himself "Lord General of Heaven" (天公將軍), while his brothers Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang were respectively called "Lord General of Earth" (地公將軍) and "Lord General of People" (人公將軍). The rebels attacked government offices, pillaged counties and villages, and seized control of commanderies. Within 10 days, the rebellion had spread throughout China and caused much alarm to the Han imperial court in Luoyang.
The rebels were mostly concentrated in Ji, Jing, You and Yu provinces. The group led by Zhang Jue and his brothers gained their support in Ji Province, located just north of the Yellow River, near Zhang Jue's home territory of Julu Commandery (鉅鹿郡; around present-day Pingxiang County, Hebei) and Wei Commandery (魏郡; around present-day Handan, Hebei). A second major uprising took place in Guangyang Commandery (廣陽郡; around present-day Beijing) and Zhuo Commandery (涿郡; around present-day Zhuozhou, Hebei) in You Province. The third centre of the rebellion was in Yingchuan Commandery (潁川郡; around present-day Xuchang, Henan) and Runan Commandery (汝南郡; around present-day Xinyang, Henan) in Yu Province, and Nanyang Commandery (南陽郡; around present-day Nanyang, Henan) in northern Jing Province.
On 1 April 184, Emperor Ling appointed his brother-in-law He Jin, the Intendant of Henan (河南尹), as General-in-Chief (大將軍) and ordered him to supervise the imperial armies to suppress the rebellion. At the same time, Emperor Ling also appointed three generals – Lu Zhi, Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun – to lead three separate armies to deal with the rebels. Lu Zhi went for Zhang Jue's base in Ji Province, while Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun headed to Yingchuan Commandery. They had a total of about 40,000 troops.
You Province: Guangyang and Zhuo commanderies
In You Province, the rebels killed Guo Xun (郭勳), the provincial Inspector, and Liu Wei (劉衛), the Administrator of Guangyang Commandery.
Yu Province: Runan and Yingchuan commanderies
Zhao Qian (趙謙), the administrator of Runan Commandery (汝南郡; around present-day Xinyang, Henan), led his troops to attack the rebels before Zhu Jun arrived, but was defeated at Shaoling (邵陵; in present-day southeastern Henan). When Chen County (陳縣; present-day Huaiyang County, Henan) was under attack by the rebels, seven of Zhao Qian's subordinates, who were non-military personnel, armed themselves with swords and attempted to fight the rebels but were all killed. Later, after the rebellion was suppressed, Emperor Ling issued an edict to honour the seven as the "Seven Virtuous" (七賢).
Chen State (陳國; around present-day Zhoukou, Henan), one of the commanderies in Yu Province and the princedom of Liu Chong (劉寵), was rather peaceful during the rebellion. This was because the rebels feared Liu Chong, who was famous for his prowess in archery, and an elite archer unit under his command.
The rebels in Runan Commandery, led by Bo Cai (波才), initially defeated Zhu Jun in battle and drove him back. The imperial court then sent Cao Cao, a cavalry commandant, to lead reinforcements to assist Zhu Jun. Sometime between 28 May and 25 June, Zhu Jun, Huangfu Song and Cao Cao joined forces and defeated Bo Cai at Changshe (長社; east of present-day Changge, Henan). While Bo Cai attempted to flee, Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun pursued him to Yangzhai County (陽翟縣; present-day Yuzhou, Henan) and defeated him again there, causing the rebels to scatter.
Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun then defeated the rebels in Runan Commandery, led by Peng Tuo (彭脫), at Xihua County (西華縣; south of present-day Xihua County, Henan). The imperial court then ordered them to split up: Huangfu Song would attack the rebels at Dong Commandery (東郡; around present-day Puyang County, Henan), while Zhu Jun would attack the rebels at Nanyang Commandery (南陽郡; around present-day Nanyang, Henan). During this time, Wang Yun, the Inspector of Yu Province, found evidence that the rebels had been secretly maintaining contact with Zhang Rang (張讓), the leader of the eunuch faction in Luoyang, so he reported it to Emperor Ling, who scolded Zhang Rang but did not punish him.
Between 7 November and 6 December, Bao Hong (鮑鴻), a colonel, led imperial forces to attack the rebels in Gebei (葛陂; northwest of present-day Xincai County, Henan) and defeated them.
Ji Province: Wei and Julu commanderies
In the meantime, Lu Zhi defeated Zhang Jue's rebel forces in Julu Commandery and besieged the rebel leader in Guangzong County (廣宗縣; southeast of present-day Guangzong County, Hebei). However, after a eunuch falsely accused him of treason, Emperor Ling ordered Lu Zhi to be removed from his command and escorted back to Luoyang as a prisoner. The imperial court then ordered the general Dong Zhuo to take over Lu Zhi's position and attack Zhang Jue. However, Dong Zhuo failed and retreated.
On 23 or 24 September, Huangfu Song and Fu Xie (傅燮), a Major under him, defeated the rebels at Cangting (倉亭; north of present-day Yanggu County, Shandong), captured their leader Bu Ji (卜己), and killed over 7,000 rebels, including other minor leaders Zhang Bo (張伯) and Liang Zhongning (梁仲寧). On 25 September, the imperial court ordered him to replace Dong Zhuo and lead his troops north to Guangzong County and attack Zhang Jue.
Zhang Jue died of illness while under attack by Huangfu Song in Guangzong County. Between 21 November and 20 December, Huangfu Song kept attacking Zhang Liang, who had taken over command of his brother's followers at Guangzong County, but could not overcome the rebels because Zhang Liang probably had the best fighters among the Yellow Turbans with him. Huangfu Song then switched to a defensive approach to trick the rebels into lowering their guard, which they did. He then seized the opportunity to strike back at night and inflicted a devastating defeat on the rebels. Zhang Liang was killed in action along with some 30,000 rebels, while another 50,000 rebels who attempted to flee across the river ended up drowning. Huangfu Song also burnt over 30,000 carts containing supplies for the rebels and captured most of their family members. Huangfu Song then had Zhang Jue's body excavated and decapitated, and sent his head to the imperial court in Luoyang.
In recognition of Huangfu Song's achievements, Emperor Ling promoted him to Left General of Chariots and Cavalry (左車騎將軍). Between 21 December 184 and 18 January 185, Huangfu Song joined forces with Guo Dian (郭典), the Administrator of Julu Commandery, to attack the remaining rebels led by Zhang Jue's other brother, Zhang Bao. They defeated the rebels at Xiaquyang County (下曲陽縣; west of present-day Jinzhou, Hebei), killed Zhang Bao and received the surrender of over 100,000 rebels.
Jing Province: Nanyang Commandery
On 24 March 184, the rebels led by Zhang Mancheng (張曼成) killed Chu Gong (褚貢), the Administrator of Nanyang Commandery (南陽郡; around present-day Nanyang, Henan), and occupied the commandery's capital, Wancheng (宛城; present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan). Chu Gong's successor, Qin Jie (秦頡), rallied local forces in Nanyang Commandery to attack Zhang Mancheng and defeated and killed him between 26 June and 25 July, before reinforcements led by Zhu Jun showed up.
After Zhang Mancheng's death, Zhao Hong (趙弘) became the new rebel leader in Wancheng. Around October 184 or after, Qin Jie and Zhu Jun combined forces with Xu Qiu (徐璆), the Inspector of Jing Province, to attack Wancheng with an army of about 18,000. They defeated and killed Zhao Hong.
Following Zhao Hong's death, Han Zhong (韓忠) and the remaining rebels seized control of Wancheng and continued to resist imperial forces. Zhu Jun ordered his troops to pretend to attack from the southwest, while he secretly led 5,000 elite soldiers to infiltrate Wancheng from the northeast. Han Zhong retreated into the citadel and wanted to surrender. Qin Jie, Xu Qiu and Zhang Chao (張超), a Major under Zhu Jun, all urged Zhu Jun to accept Han Zhong's surrender but he refused. Later, Zhu Jun pretended to lift the siege to lure Han Zhong to come out and attack. Han Zhong fell for the ruse, lost the battle and tried to flee north while some 10,000 of his men were slaughtered by imperial forces. In desperation, Han Zhong surrendered to Zhu Jun, but Qin Jie, who hated him, had him executed.
On 11 January 185, Zhu Jun defeated another rebel force led by Sun Xia (孫夏), who then fled towards Xi'e County (西鄂縣; north of present-day Nanyang, Henan). Zhu Jun pursued him there, defeated him and caused the remaining rebels to disperse.
Xu and Yang provinces
Sun Jian, then a minor official serving in Xiapi County (下邳縣; south of present-day Pizhou, Jiangsu) in Xu Province, came to join Zhu Jun's army as a Major. He brought along with him several young men from Xiapi County and other soldiers he recruited from the Huai River region.
In Yang Province, the rebels attacked Shu County (舒縣; in present-day central Anhui), a county in Lujiang Commandery (廬江郡; around present-day Lu'an, Anhui), and set fire to buildings. Yang Xu (羊續), the Administrator of Lujiang Commandery, managed to rally thousands of able-bodied men aged 19 or above to help him in fighting the rebels and putting out the fires. He succeeded, restoring peace and stability in the region.
End of the rebellion
By the beginning of 185, the rebellion had mostly been suppressed following Zhu Jun's recapture of Wancheng in Nanyang Commandery and Huangfu Song's victories over the Zhang brothers in Ji Province. The remaining, scattered rebels were pursued by government forces in various mopping-up operations, and in mid-February 185, Emperor Ling issued a proclamation of celebration by changing his era name from Guanghe (光和) to Zhongping (中平; "pacification achieved").
Resurgent Yellow Turban activities after early 185
Although the Yellow Turban Rebellion ended by February 185, smaller rebellions by Yellow Turban remnants continued to break out throughout China over the following decades, even in provinces which were previously largely unaffected.
White Wave Bandits
Between 16 March and 13 April 188, Guo Tai (郭太) led some 100,000 Yellow Turban remnants to start a rebellion in Xihe Commandery (西河郡; around present-day Fenyang, Shanxi). As they originated from Baibo Valley (白波谷; "White Wave Valley") in Xihe Commandery, they later became known as the "White Wave Bandits" (白波賊). They allied with the Xiongnu leader Yufuluo and attacked Taiyuan Commandery (太原郡; around present-day Taiyuan, Shanxi) and Hedong Commandery (河東郡; around present-day Yuncheng, Shanxi). Between 27 October and 25 November 189, when the bandits attacked Hedong Commandery, the warlord Dong Zhuo sent his son-in-law Niu Fu to lead troops to attack them, but Niu Fu failed to defeat them.
Around mid-195, Emperor Xian fled from the imperial capital Chang'an, where he had been held hostage by Dong Zhuo's followers, led by Li Jue and Guo Si, since Dong Zhuo's death in 192. He returned to the ruins of the old imperial capital Luoyang, which Dong Zhuo burnt down in 191 while forcefully relocating its residents to Chang'an. Dong Cheng (a former subordinate of Niu Fu) and Yang Feng (a former White Wave bandit) protected Emperor Xian in Luoyang when Li Jue and Guo Si tried to pursue and bring the emperor back to Chang'an. Dong Cheng and Yang Feng summoned the White Wave Bandits, led by Li Le (李樂), Han Xian, Hu Cai (胡才) and others, to come to Emperor Xian's aid. Xiongnu forces led by Qubei (去卑) also responded to the call and came to help Emperor Xian resist Li Jue and Guo Si's forces. Between 195 and 196, the warlord Cao Cao led his forces into Luoyang and escorted Emperor Xian to his own base in Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan) and established the new imperial capital there.
Yi Province: Ma Xiang and Zhao Zhi
Between 12 July and 10 August 185, Ma Xiang (馬相) and Zhao Zhi (趙祗) led Yellow Turban remnants to start a rebellion in Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing). They killed Li Sheng (李升; Prefect of Mianzhu County 緜竹縣), Zhao Bu (趙部; Administrator of Ba Commandery 巴郡) and Xi Jian (郗儉; Inspector of Yi Province). Ma Xiang even declared himself emperor. The rebellion was suppressed by local forces led by Jia Long (賈龍), a former subordinate of Xi Jian.
Qing Province: Zhang Rao, Guan Hai, Xu He and Sima Ju
Around 189, Zhang Rao (張饒) led some 200,000 Yellow Turban remnants to ravage Qing Province. He defeated imperial forces under Kong Rong, the Han-appointed Chancellor of Beihai State (北海國; around present-day Weifang, Shandong) in Qing Province. Later, Kong Rong was besieged in Duchang County (都昌縣; present-day Changyi, Shandong) by thousands of Yellow Turban rebels led by Guan Hai (管亥). Taishi Ci, then a military officer under Kong Rong, managed to break out of the siege and seek help from Liu Bei, who was then the Chancellor of the nearby Pingyuan State (平原國). Liu Bei brought along 3,000 troops to attack Guan Hai and succeeded in saving Kong Rong.
In the 200s, Xu He (徐和) and Sima Ju (司馬俱) led Yellow Turban remnants from Jinan Commandery (濟南郡; around present-day Zhangqiu, Shandong) and Le'an Commandery (樂安郡; around present-day Zibo, Shandong) respectively to ravage Qing Province. They were defeated and killed by Xiahou Yuan, Zang Ba and Lü Qian sometime between 206 and 209.
Yan Province: Cao Cao's Qingzhou Army
Around May 192, some hundreds of thousands of Yellow Turban remnants from Qing Province swarmed into Yan Province and killed Zheng Sui (鄭遂), the Chancellor of Rencheng State (任城國; around present-day Zoucheng, Shandong), before moving into Dongping Commandery (東平郡; around present-day Dongping County, Shandong). Liu Dai, the Inspector of Yan Province, wanted to lead his troops to attack the rebels but the general Bao Xin advised him against it. Liu Dai ignored Bao Xin's advice, attacked the rebels, and met his end. Bao Xin and another official, Wan Qian (萬潛), went to Dong Commandery (東郡; around present-day Puyang, Henan) to invite Cao Cao to be the new Governor of Yan Province. Bao Xin then led government forces to attack the rebels at the east of Shouzhang County (壽張縣; south of present-day Dongping County, Shandong) but was killed in action. Later, despite having fewer troops, Cao Cao managed to defeat the rebels in Jibei State. The rebels, numbering over 300,000, surrendered to Cao Cao along with their families. Cao Cao then recruited their best warriors and organised them to form an elite military unit, the Qingzhou Army (青州兵; also translated as "Qingzhou Corps").
Runan and Yingchuan commanderies: He Yi, Liu Pi, Gong Du and others
In Runan Commandery (汝南郡; around present-day Xinyang, Henan) and Yingchuan Commandery (潁川郡; around present-day Xuchang, Henan), thousands of Yellow Turban remnants remained active under the leadership of He Yi (何儀), Liu Pi (劉辟), Huang Shao (黃邵), He Man (何曼) and others. They were initially allied with the warlords Yuan Shu and Sun Jian, but became an independent force in the 190s. Between 17 March and 15 April 196, the warlord Cao Cao led his forces to attack them and killed Liu Pi, Huang Shao and He Man. He Yi and the others surrendered to Cao Cao.
There were other Yellow Turban remnant forces led by Gong Du (共都/龔都) and Wu Ba (吳霸) in Runan Commandery. Wu Ba was defeated and captured by the general Li Tong. Gong Du posed a threat to Cao Cao when he allied with Cao Cao's rival, Liu Bei, and seized control of Runan Commandery in 201. Cao Cao first sent Cai Yang (蔡揚) to eliminate them, but after Cai Yang was killed, he personally led his troops to attack them and defeated them. Liu Bei fled south to join Liu Biao, while Gong Du and the remaining rebels dispersed.
Yang and Jiao provinces
In the 200s, Chen Bai (陳敗) and Wan Cheng (萬秉) started a rebellion in Jiuzhen Commandery (九真郡; present-day Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnam) in Jiao Province. In 202, they were defeated and captured by Zhu Zhi, the commandery's Administrator.
Aftermath and impact
The Han armies gained victory at high cost. Over wide areas, government offices had been destroyed, officials had been killed, and whole districts were cut off from the writ of the central government. Rebel deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands, while many non-combatants had been left homeless or destitute by the wars, and the economy and society over great parts of this most populous region of the empire were left in ruins and without resources. Unrest remained and bandits appeared in every district; the Han government, in no position to put down all the lesser disturbances, was forced to patch up the situation as best it could. A long period of consolidation was needed to restore some measure of peace and prosperity, but that breathing space was not given.
While the rebellion was eventually defeated, the military leaders and local administrators gained self-governing powers in the process. This hastened the collapse of the Han dynasty in 220. After Emperor Ling died in 189, a power struggle between He Jin and the eunuchs ensued in which He Jin was assassinated on 22 September 189. He Jin's chief ally, Yuan Shao, retaliated by setting the palace on fire and slaughtering the eunuchs. Finally, the warlord Dong Zhuo was able to gain control over the underage heir to the throne which he used as a legitimation for occupying the capital, which was ransacked on the occasion. Because of his cruelty, Dong Zhuo was murdered in 192, setting the stage for Cao Cao's rise to power.
Despite the negative manner in which the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms describes the Yellow Turban Rebellion, many subsequent peasant uprisings in China drew inspiration from the Yellow Turban Rebellion and even claimed to be its spiritual successors.
- Yellow Turban rebels
- Zhang Jue, overall leader of the rebellion, stationed in Wei and Julu commanderies.
- (POW) Bu Ji (卜己), leader of the rebels at Cangting.
- † Zhang Mancheng (張曼成), leader of the rebels in Nanyang Commandery.
- † Zhao Hong (趙弘)
Han Zhong (韓忠)
- Sun Xia (孫夏)
- Bo Cai (波才), leader of the rebels in Runan and Yingchuan commanderies.
Ma Yuanyi (馬元義)
- Tang Zhou (唐周)
- Han imperial forces
- Emperor Ling
- He Jin, General-in-Chief (大將軍)
- Lu Zhi, North General of the Household (北中郎將).
- Huangfu Song, Left General of the Household (左中郎將).
- Zhu Jun, Right General of the Household (右中郎將).
- Zhang Chao (張超), Major (司馬).
- Sun Jian, Major (司馬).
- Dong Zhuo, General of the Household (中郎將)
- Cao Cao, Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉)
- Bao Hong (鮑鴻), Colonel (校尉).
- Guo Dian (郭典), Administrator of Julu Commandery
- Xu Qiu (徐璆), Inspector of Jing Province.
- † Chu Gong (褚貢), Administrator of Nanyang Commandery.
- Qin Jie (秦頡), Administrator of Nanyang Commandery.
- Tao Qian, Inspector of Xu Province.
- Zang Ba, Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉).
- Yang Xu (羊續), Administrator of Lujiang Commandery.
- † Guo Xun (郭勳), Inspector of You Province
- † Liu Wei (劉衛), Administrator of Guangyang Commandery.
- Zou Jing, Colonel (校尉).
- Wang Yun, Inspector of Yu Province.
- Zhao Qian (趙謙), Administrator of Runan Commandery (汝南郡).
- † Yuan Mi (袁祕), yisheng (議生; scholar).
- † Feng Guan (封觀), Officer of Merit (功曹).
- † Chen Duan (陳端), Registrar (主簿).
- † Fan Zhongli (范仲禮), a menxiadu (門下督; patrol officer).
- † Liu Weide (劉偉德), zeicao (賊曹; law enforcement officer).
- † Ding Zisi (丁子嗣), zhujishi (主記史; historian).
- † Zhang Zhongran (張仲然), a jishishi (記室史; scribe/note-taker).
- Liu Chong (劉寵), Prince of Chen.
- Zhao Qian (趙謙), Administrator of Runan Commandery (汝南郡).
Resurgent Yellow Turban rebels
- † Ma Xiang (馬相), started a rebellion in Yi Province in 188.
- Zhang Rao (張饒), attacked and defeated Kong Rong in Qing Province around 189.
- Guan Hai (管亥), attacked and besieged Kong Rong in Duchang County around 189 or 190, but was defeated by Liu Bei.
- † Wu Huan (吳桓), active in Kuaiji Commandery.
He Yi (何儀), led rebels in the 190s in Runan Commandery
- Gong Du (共都/龔都), active in Runan Commandery, allied with Liu Bei in 201.
- (POW) Wu Ba (吳霸), active in Runan Commandery.
- † Xu He (徐和), led rebels in the 200s in Jinan Commandery.
- † Sima Ju (司馬俱), led rebels in the 200s in Le'an Commandery.
- (POW) Chen Bai (陳敗), led rebels in the 200s in Jiuzhen Commandery.
- (POW) Wan Cheng (萬秉)
- White Wave Bandits
- Guo Tai (郭太), started a rebellion in 188 in Xihe Commandery. This group of rebels became the White Wave Bandits.
- Yang Feng, became a subordinate of Li Jue. He protected Emperor Xian from Li Jue and Guo Si in 195.
- Li Le (李樂), along with Han Xian, Hu Cai and others, came to Emperor Xian's defence in Luoyang in 195.
- Han Xian
- Hu Cai (胡才)
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
The rebellion is portrayed in the opening chapters of the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which portrays the Zhang brothers as sorcerers, having been provided the Taiping Jing from the "old immortal spirit from the southern lands" (sometimes identified as Zhuangzi).
Many fictional Yellow Turban figures were created for the novel, including:
- Du Yuan, killed by Liao Hua for kidnapping Liu Bei's wives.
- Zhou Cang, Guan Yu's rebel-turned-weapon bearer.
- Gao Sheng, a subordinate of Zhang Bao.
- Cheng Yuanzhi, defeated by Liu Bei's forces in their first engagement.
- Deng Mao, Cheng Yuanzhi's champion.
- Bian Xi, an eventual servant of Cao Cao who tried and failed to kill Guan Yu.
Though not a fictional character, Liao Hua was presented in the novel as having been a Yellow Turban rebel in his earlier days; this is historically unlikely, given his date of death and predicted lifespan.
In popular culture
The rebellion also appears as an early stage in each iteration of Koei's Dynasty Warriors video game franchise, remaining largely unchanged throughout the series. It is also featured in Total War: Three Kingdoms as playable factions in a DLC led by He Yi, Gong Du, and Huang Shao.
- Referring to the Han government
- Referring to the Yellow Turban Rebellion
- That is, at the beginning of the next cycle, i.e. 184 AD.
- Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's biographies in the Sanguozhi did not mention their involvement in the Yellow Turban Rebellion, but it seems reasonable to assume they were, since they joined Liu Bei rather early.
- It is not known exactly when Xu He and Sima Ju were defeated and killed. In Xiahou Yuan's biography in the Sanguozhi mentioned them between the time Yu Jin quelled a rebellion by Chang Xi (in 206) and 209 (14th year of the Jian'an era).
- Qingzhou refers to Qing Province, where the rebels came from.
- Smitha, Frank E. "DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE (9 of 13)". Macrohistory and World Timeline. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
By the year 205 (21 years after it had begun) the Yellow Turban Rebellion was over, and rule by the Han family was shattered and at its end.
- Ropp, Paul S (10 June 2010). China in World History. Oxford University Press. p. 40. ISBN 9780199798766.
- Tom. "The 10 Most Lethal Civil Wars Ever Fought". Realitypod. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
- Bowker, John (1997). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.
- Generals of the South, Rafe de Crespigny Archived 2007-09-15 at the Wayback Machine(pp. 85–92)
- (初，鉅鹿張角自稱「大賢良師」，奉事黃老道，畜養弟子，跪拜首過，符水咒說以療病，病者頗愈，百姓信向之。角因遣弟子八人使於四方，以善道教化天下，轉相誑惑。十餘年閒，眾徒數十萬，連結郡國，自青、徐、幽、冀、荊、楊、兗、豫八州之人，莫不畢應。遂置三十六方。方猶將軍號也。大方萬餘人，小方六七千，各立渠帥。訛言「蒼天已死，黃天當立，歲在甲子，天下大吉」。以白土書京城寺門及州郡官府，皆作「甲子」字。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- The Scripture on Great Peace: The Taiping Jing and the Beginnings of Daoism. University of California Press. 2007. ISBN 9780520932920.
- W.Scott Morton. China: "Its History and Culture". ISBN 0-07-043424-7.
- (中平元年，大方馬元義等先收荊、楊數萬人，期會發於鄴。元義數往來京師，以中常侍封諝、徐奉等為內應，約以三月五日內外俱起。未及作亂，而張角弟子濟南唐周上書告之，於是車裂元義於洛陽。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (靈帝以周章下三公、司隸，使鉤盾令周斌將三府掾屬，案驗宮省直衛及百姓有事角道者，誅殺千餘人，推考冀州，逐捕角等。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (中平元年春二月，鉅鹿人張角自稱「黃天」，其部師有三十六萬，皆著黃巾，同日反叛。安平、甘陵人各執其王以應之。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- 角等知事已露，晨夜馳敕諸方，一時俱起。皆著黃巾為摽幟，角稱「天公將軍」，角弟寶稱「地公將軍」，寶弟梁稱「人公將軍」，所在燔燒官府，劫略聚邑，州郡失據，長吏多逃亡。旬日之閒，天下嚮應，京師震動。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (三月戊申，以河南尹何進為大將軍，將兵屯都亭。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (遣北中郎將盧植討張角，左中郎將皇甫嵩、右中郎將朱雋討潁川黃巾。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (於是發天下精兵，博選將帥，以嵩為左中郎將，持節，與右中郎將朱雋，共發五校、三河騎士及募精勇，合四萬餘人，嵩、雋各統一軍，共討潁川黃巾。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (廣陽黃巾殺幽州刺史郭勳及太守劉衛。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (靈帝末，黃巾起，州郡各舉義兵，先主率其屬從校尉鄒靖討黃巾賊有功，除安喜尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 32.
- (中平元年，黃巾賊起，特選拜豫州刺史。 ... 討擊黃巾別帥，大破之，與左中郎將皇甫嵩、右中郎將朱雋等受降數十萬。於賊中得中常侍張讓賓客書疏，與黃巾交通，允具發其姦，以狀聞。靈帝責怒讓，讓叩頭陳謝，竟不能罪之。) Houhanshu vol. 66.
- (汝南黃巾敗太守趙謙於邵陵。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (忠子祕，為郡門下議生。黃巾起，祕從太守趙謙擊之，軍敗，祕與功曹封觀等七人以身扞刃，皆死於陳，謙以得免。詔祕等門閭號曰「七賢」。) Houhanshu vol. 45.
- (謝承書曰「秘字永寧。封觀與主簿陳端、門下督范仲禮、賊曹劉偉德、主記史丁子嗣、記室史張仲然、議生袁秘等七人擢刃突陳，與戰並死」也。) Annotation from Xie Cheng's Houhanshu in (Fan Ye's) Houhanshu vol. 45.
- (中平中，黃巾賊起，郡縣皆棄城走，寵有彊弩數千張，出軍都亭。國人素聞王善射，不敢反叛，故陳獨得完，百姓歸之者眾十餘萬人。) Houhanshu vol. 76.
- (會帝遣騎都尉曹操將兵適至，嵩、操與朱雋合兵更戰，大破之，斬首數萬級。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (朱雋為黃巾波才所敗。 ... 五月，皇甫嵩、朱雋復與波才等戰於長社，大破之。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (雋前與賊波才戰，戰敗，嵩因進保長社。波才引大眾圍城，嵩兵少，軍人皆恐，乃召軍吏謂曰：「兵有奇變，不在眾寡。今賊依草結營，易為風火。若因夜縱燒，必大驚亂。吾出兵擊之，四面俱合，田單之功可成也。」其夕遂大風，嵩乃約敕軍士皆束苣乘城，使銳士閒出圍外，縱火大呼，城上舉燎應之，嵩因鼓而奔其陳，賊驚亂奔走。 ... ) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (嵩、雋乘勝進討汝南、陳國黃巾，追波才於陽翟，擊彭脫於西華，並破之。餘賊降散，三郡悉平。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (皇甫嵩、朱雋大破汝南黃巾於西華。詔嵩討東郡，朱雋討南陽。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- ([中平五年]冬十月， ... 徐黃巾復起，寇郡縣。 ... 遣下軍校尉鮑鴻討葛陂黃巾。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (盧植破黃巾，圍張角於廣宗。宦官誣奏植，抵罪。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (遣中郎將董卓攻張角，不剋。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (時北中郎將盧植及東中郎將董卓討張角，並無功而還，乃詔嵩進兵討之。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (後為護軍司馬，與左中郎皇甫嵩俱討賊張角。) Houhanshu vol. 58.
- (又進擊東郡黃巾卜己於倉亭，生禽卜己，斬首七千餘級。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (燮軍斬賊三帥卜巳、張伯、梁仲寧等，功高為封首。) Xu Han Shu annotation in Houhanshu vol. 58.
- (八月，皇甫嵩與黃巾戰於倉亭，獲其帥。乙巳，詔皇甫嵩北討張角。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (嵩與角弟梁戰於廣宗。梁眾精勇，嵩不能剋。明日，乃閉營休士，以觀其變。知賊意稍懈，乃潛夜勒兵，雞鳴馳赴其陳，戰至晡時，大破之，斬梁，獲首三萬級，赴河死者五萬許人，焚燒車重三萬餘兩，悉虜其婦子，繫獲甚眾。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (角先已病死，乃剖棺戮屍，傳首京師。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (冬十月，皇甫嵩與黃巾賊戰於廣宗，獲張角弟梁。角先死，乃戮其屍。以皇甫嵩為左車騎將軍。十一月，皇甫嵩又破黃巾于下曲陽，斬張角弟寶。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (嵩復與鉅鹿太守馮翊郭典攻角弟寶於下曲陽，又斬之。首獲十餘萬人，築京觀於城南。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (庚子，南陽黃巾張曼成攻殺郡守褚貢。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (六月，南陽太守秦頡擊張曼成，斬之。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (時南陽黃巾張曼成起兵，稱「神上使」，眾數萬，殺郡守褚貢，屯宛下百餘日。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (後太守秦頡擊殺曼成，賊更以趙弘為帥，眾浸盛，遂十餘萬，據宛城。雋與荊州刺史徐璆及秦頡合兵萬八千人圍弘，自六月至八月不拔。有司奏欲徵雋。 ... 雋因急擊弘，斬之。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (賊餘帥韓忠復據宛拒雋。雋兵少不敵，乃張圍結壘，起土山以臨城內，因鳴鼓攻其西南，賊悉眾赴之。雋自將精卒五千，掩其東北，乘城而入。忠乃退保小城，惶懼乞降。司馬張超及徐璆、秦頡皆欲聽之。 ... 因急攻，連戰不剋。雋登土山望之， ... 既而解圍，忠果出戰，雋因擊，大破之。乘勝逐北數十里，斬首萬餘級。忠等遂降。而秦頡積忿忠，遂殺之。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (癸巳，朱雋拔宛城，斬黃巾別帥孫夏。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (餘眾懼不自安，復以孫夏為帥，還屯宛中。雋急攻之。夏走，追至西鄂精山，又破之。復斬萬餘級，賊遂解散。) Houhanshu vol. 71.
- (會徐州黃巾起，以謙為徐州刺史，擊黃巾，大破走之，境內晏然。) Houhanshu vol. 73.
- (黃巾起，霸從陶謙擊破之，拜騎都尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
- (中平元年，黃巾賊帥張角起於魏郡，託有神靈，遣八使以善道教化天下，而潛相連結，自稱黃天泰平。三月甲子，三十六萬一旦俱發，天下響應，燔燒郡縣，殺害長吏。漢遣車騎將軍皇甫嵩、中郎將朱儁將兵討擊之。儁表請堅為佐軍司馬，鄉里少年隨在下邳者皆願從。堅又募諸商旅及淮、泗精兵，合千許人，與儁并力奮擊，所向無前。汝、潁賊困迫，走保宛城。堅身當一面，登城先入，衆乃蟻附，遂大破之。儁具以狀聞上，拜堅別部司馬。) Sanguozhi vol. 46.
- (... 四遷為廬江太守。後揚州黃巾賊攻舒，焚燒城郭，續發縣中男子二十以上，皆持兵勒陳，其小弱者，悉使負水灌火，會集數萬人，并埶力戰，大破之，郡界平。) Houhanshu vol. 31.
- ([中平五年二月， ...]黃巾餘賊郭太等起於西河白波谷，寇太原、河東。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (魏書曰：於夫羅者，南單于子也。中平中，發匈奴兵，於夫羅率以助漢。會本國反，殺南單于，於夫羅遂將其衆留中國。因天下撓亂，與西河白波賊合，破太原、河內，抄略諸郡為寇。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 1.
- (白波賊寇河東，董卓遣其將牛輔擊之。) Houhanshu vol. 9.
- (初，靈帝末，黃巾餘黨郭太等復起西河白波谷，轉寇太原，遂破河東，百姓流轉三輔，號為「白波賊」，眾十餘萬。卓遣中郎將牛輔擊之，不能卻。) Houhanshu vol. 72.
- (傕將楊奉本白波賊帥， ...) Houhanshu vol. 72.
- (李傕、郭汜既悔令天子東，乃來救段煨，因欲劫帝而西， ... 而張濟與楊奉、董承不相平，乃反合傕、汜，共追乘輿，大戰於弘農東澗。承、奉軍敗，百官士卒死者不可勝數，皆棄其婦女輜重，御物符策典籍，略無所遺。 ... 天子遂露次曹陽。承、奉乃譎傕等與連和，而密遣閒使至河東，招故白波帥李樂、韓暹、胡才及南匈奴右賢王去卑，並率其眾數千騎來，與承、奉共擊傕等，大破之，斬首數千級，乘輿乃得進。董承、李樂擁衛左右，胡才、楊奉、韓暹、去卑為後距。傕等復來戰，奉等大敗，死者甚於東澗。) Houhanshu vol. 72.
- ([中平五年六月， ...]益州黃巾馬相攻殺刺史郗儉，自稱天子，又寇巴郡，殺郡守趙部，益州從事賈龍擊相，斬之。) Houhanshu vol. 8.
- (是時梁州逆賊馬相、趙祗等於緜竹縣自號黃巾，合聚疲役之民，一二日中得數千人，先殺緜竹令李升，吏民翕集合萬餘人，便前破雒縣，攻益州殺儉，又到蜀郡、犍為，旬月之間，破壞三郡。相自稱天子，衆以萬數。州從事賈龍素領兵數百人在犍為東界，攝斂吏民，得千餘人，攻相等，數日破走，州界清靜。) Sanguozhi vol. 31.
- (時黃巾寇數州，而北海最為賊衝，卓乃諷三府同舉融為北海相。融到郡，收合士民，起兵講武，馳檄飛翰，引謀州郡。賊張饒等群輩二十萬眾從冀州還，融逆擊，為饒所敗，乃收散兵保朱虛縣。) Houhanshu vol. 70.
- (時黃巾復來侵暴，融乃出屯都昌，為賊管亥所圍。融逼急，乃遣東萊太史慈求救於平原相劉備。備驚曰：「孔北海乃復知天下有劉備邪？」即遣兵三千救之，賊乃散走。) Houhanshu vol. 70.
- (濟南、樂安黃巾徐和、司馬俱等攻城，殺長吏，淵將泰山、齊、平原郡兵擊，大破之，斬和，平諸縣，收其糧穀以給軍士。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
- (又與于禁討昌豨，與夏侯淵討黃巾餘賊徐和等，有功，遷徐州刺史。 ... 濟南黃巾徐和等，所在劫長吏，攻城邑。虔引兵與夏侯淵會擊之，前後數十戰，斬首獲生數千人。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
- ([初平三年夏四月]青州黃巾衆百萬入兖州，殺任城相鄭遂，轉入東平。劉岱欲擊之，鮑信諫曰：「今賊衆百萬，百姓皆震恐，士卒無鬬志，不可敵也。觀賊衆羣輩相隨，軍無輜重，唯以鈔略為資，今不若畜士衆之力，先為固守。彼欲戰不得，攻又不能，其勢必離散，後選精銳，據其要害，擊之可破也。」岱不從，遂與戰，果為所殺。信乃與州吏萬潛等至東郡迎太祖領兖州牧。遂進兵擊黃巾於壽張東。信力戰鬬死，僅而破之。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
- (魏書曰：太祖將步騎千餘人，行視戰地，卒抵賊營，戰不利，死者數百人，引還。賊尋前進。黃巾為賊久，數乘勝，兵皆精悍。太祖舊兵少，新兵不習練，舉軍皆懼。太祖被甲嬰冑，親巡將士，明勸賞罰，衆乃復奮，承間討擊，賊稍折退。賊乃移書太祖曰：「昔在濟南，毀壞神壇，其道乃與中黃太一同，似若知道，今更迷惑。漢行已盡，黃家當立。天之大運，非君才力所能存也。」太祖見檄書，呵之罪，數開示降路；遂設奇伏，晝夜會戰，戰輙禽獲，賊乃退走。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 1.
- (追黃巾至濟北。乞降。冬，受降卒三十餘萬，男女百餘萬口，收其精銳者，號為青州兵。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
- (汝南、潁川黃巾何儀、劉辟、黃邵、何曼等，衆各數萬，初應袁術，又附孫堅。[建安元年]二月，太祖進軍討破之，斬辟、邵等，儀及其衆皆降。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
- 又生禽黃巾大帥吳霸而降其屬。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
- ([建安六年]九月，公還許。紹之未破也，使劉備略汝南，汝南賊共都等應之。遣蔡揚擊都，不利，為都所破。公南征備。備聞公自行，走奔劉表，都等皆散。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
- (吳書曰：留贊字正明，會稽長山人。少為郡吏，與黃巾賊帥吳桓戰，手斬得桓。贊一足被創，遂屈不伸。) Wu Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 64.
- (建安七年，權表治為九真太守，行扶義將軍，割婁、由拳、無錫、毗陵為奉邑，置長吏。征討夷越，佐定東南，禽截黃巾餘類陳敗、萬秉等。) Sanguozhi vol. 56.
- Roberts, Moss (1991). Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22503-1.