The Battle of Yijing: 關門捉賊 Encircle and Capture
After the Battle of Jieqiao, Warlords Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan continued to fight to gain dominion over Northern China. Eventually Yuan Shao gained the upper hand. However, Gongsun Zan still had a large army which would pose a constant threat to Yuan Shao. The time had come for a climatic battle and decisive encounter between the two rivals.
Battle of Yijing (Source: Wikipedia)
The Time: AD199
The Place: Yijing, Hebei
The Rivals: Yuan Shao vs. Gongsun Zan
After a series of military setbacks, Gongsun Zan was in dire straits. Further, a famine had occurred in his lands. He decided that it was too risky to engage Yuan Shao’s force head on due to the latter’s numerical superiority.
He decided instead to build a large capital city, Yijing. This city comprised of many large towers on top of mounds, where he and his generals lived. Altogether, there were ten mounds around the city barred with iron doors and supplied with huge grain supplies. With this, Gongsun Zan felt that he would be able to withstand any possible siege by his nemesis, Yuan Shao.
Gongsun Zan left his frontier armies and soldiers on their own believing that they would fight harder as they had no other option other than to oppose Yuan Shao. Instead, most of his soldiers either surrendered or fled.
Stratagem: 關門捉賊 Encircle and Capture
In AD198, Yuan Shao’s forces invaded Gongsun Zan’s territory and defeated his garrisons. His armies reached the gates of Yijing, but the city withstood several attacks from the Yuan Shao’s army.
Spring AD199: Gongsun Xu and Zhang Yan brought relief to Yijing with 100,000 men. Before they arrived, Gongsun Zan had sent a message to his son telling him to lay an ambush of 5,000 elite cavalry on low ground north of the city. They were then to signal Gongsun Zan to charge out of the city with his troops, planning to surround Yuan Shao's troops.
However, Yuan Shao's troops caught the messenger and laid their own troops in ambush. Yuan Shao’s forces then fooled Gongsun Zan into attacking and routed his unit and forced him back into the city.
Yuan Shao's troops followed up their success by digging tunnels under the city and then supporting them with beams which they later torched. The tunnel went into the center of the city and its collapse caused Zan's towers to crumble as well.
Realizing his doom, Gongsun Zan killed his sisters and wives and committed suicide by self-immolation. Yuan Shao's men climbed into the citadel and cut off Gongsun Zan's head, which was sent to Xu Chang to report Yuan Shao's victory to the imperial court.
With Gongsun Zan’s defeat, Yuan Shao now held absolute power over the four provinces north of the Yellow River. This would set the scene for the battle between the two Northern Dragons, Warlords, Yuan Shao and Cao Cao. The fate of all of Northern China and Han Dynasty now laid with them.