In the spring of 190 CE, capitalizing on the chaos after a palace coup and the ensuing power vacuum, Dong Zhuo (d. 192 CE), a warlord from the northwestern region who had just arrived in the imperial capital city Luoyang with his troops, suddenly assumed military dominance over the imperial center. To further shore up his power, Dong tried to make use of the remaining political legitimacy of the imperial house by deposing the reigning boy emperor and replacing him with another young prince, who was then no more than a puppet of the warlord. Nevertheless, Dong was not the only one to profit from the upheaval in the imperial center. Regional governors and local strongmen across the empire wasted no time in exploiting the opportunities to expand their military forces and territories. Meanwhile, some governors and officials based on the eastern sector of the empire decried Dong’s self-proclaimed regency and, in the name of restoring legitimate order, forged a military alliance against him. Since all diplomatic means of pacifying those rivals had failed, Dong announced at a court meeting that he was going to raise a large army to crush the resistance in the east. In a submissive atmosphere that permeated the imperial court in Dong’s grip, nobody but one courtier named Zheng Tai (ca. 152–192 CE) dared to object. Upon Dong’s query, Zheng addressed the warlord in winged words,

Now, the eastern provinces and commanderies have forged alliances with one another and mobilized their people. One would not say that they are not strong. However, since the reign of Emperor Guangwu [founding emperor of the dynasty], there has been no military alert in the interior of the empire. For a long time, the people have enjoyed peace and have forgotten about war. As Confucius said, “To send the people to war without giving them training is equal to throwing them away.” Even they [i.e. the populace in the interior] are numerous, they are unable to cause us any harm … Your Excellency is a man from the western province and has been a general of the empire since a young age. You have profound knowledge of military affairs and have frequently engaged in battle. Your name resounds over the whole realm and everyone is awed by Your reputation. [Leaders of the eastern provinces such as] Yuan Benchu [Yuan Shao (d. 202 CE)] is a descendent of grand ministers and was born and grew up at the imperial capital; Zhang Mengzhuo [Zhang Miao (d. 2195 CE)] is a gentleman from Dongping, well-known for his strict adherence to the principles of courtesy; Kong Gongxu [Kong Zhou (fl. 160s–190s CE)] is good at pure conversation and abstruse talk that he is able to bring withered things to life and living things to die with his eloquence. None of them, however, have the ability of commanding armies. They are no match with Your Excellency in wielding arms and facing enemies in decisive moments … It is a commonplace that there is no well-trained and brave soldier in the east … Even if they have capable people, their ranks are in disorder and they lack the legitimation from the throne. Each of them will rely on his own strength and end up in a stalemate, in which wait for others to take action rather than coordinating with each other in their advance or retreat. [People of] various commanderies in the west are accustomed to the business of warfare. Since they have long been fighting with the Qiang, even women and girls can carry and use halberds, spears, bows and arrows. How could the ignorant [eastern] people resist the strong and brave soldiers [of the west]? The victory [of the west] is assured … The men of Bing and Liang, as well as tribes of the Xiongnu and the Tuge, the voluntary followers from the Huangzhong area, and the eight stocks of the Western Qiang are the most vigorous fighters under Heaven and are feared by the people. They are all under the command of Your Excellency and serve as your teeth and claws. [Sending them to the east] will be like driving tigers and rhinoceros into packs of dogs and sheep … Moreover, Your military officers are as close to you as your heart and stomach; they have gotten along with You for a long time. There is mutual trust between you. Their loyalty can be counted on; so is their sagacious advice. Despatching our solid cohort against the loose alliance [of the east] will be like scattering dead leaves with a violent wind … 1