Shortly in Luoyang, Cao Cao died of a brain tumour after Guan Yu's death.
His son and successor, Cao Pi, forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him and created the state of Cao Wei to replace the Han dynasty. About a year later, Liu Bei declared himself emperor and founded the state of Shu Han as a continuation of the Han dynasty. While Liu Bei was intending to avenge Guan Yu, Zhang Fei was assassinated in his sleep by his subordinates.
The long years of battle between Shu and Wei saw many changes in the judgment Cao family in Wei. The influence of the Caos weakened after Cao Rui's death and state power finally fell into the hands of the regent Sima Yi and then to his sons, Sima Shi and Sima Zhao
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, such as the dramas and folk stories of its day, features Liu Bei and his partners as the protagonists; hence the depiction of the people in Shu Han was glorified. Cao Cao, the antagonistson the other hand, were denigrated. This suited the political climate at the Ming dynasty, unlike in the Jin dynasty, when Cao Wei was considered the legitimate successor to the Han dynasty.
After pacifying the south, Zhuge Liang led the Shu army on five military expeditions to attack Wei as part of his mission to restore the Han dynasty
. However, his days were numbered because he had been suffering from chronic illness and his condition worsened under stress. He would die of illness at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains while leading a stalemate struggle against the Wei general Sima Yi
During those times of upheaval, Cao Cao saved Emperor Xian in the remnants of Dong Zhuo's forces, established the new imperial capital in Xu and became the new head of the central government. He defeated rival warlords like Lü Bu, Yuan Shu and Zhang Xiu in a series of wars in central China before scoring a decisive victory over Yuan Shao in the Battle of Guandu
. Throughout his conquests, Cao Cao united northern and central China under his control. The lands he conquered served as the foundation of the state of Cao Wei in the future.
The story -part historical, part legend, and part mythical -romanticises and dramatises the lives of feudal lords and their retainers, who tried to replace the dwindling Han dynasty or restore it. While the novel follows hundreds of figures, the focus is mainly on the three power blocs that emerged from the remnants of the Han dynasty, and would eventually form the 3 states of Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. The novel deals with the plots, personal and military conflicts, intrigues, and struggles of these states to achieve dominance for almost 100 years.
Cao Cao escaped from Luoyang, returned to his hometown and sent out a fake imperial edict to various regional officials and warlords, calling them to rise up against Dong Zhuo. Under Yuan Shao's leadership, 18 warlords formed a coalition military and launched a punitive campaign against Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo felt threatened after losing his forces lost the battles of Sishui Pass and Hulao Pass, so he evacuated Luoyang and moved the imperial capital to Chang'an
. He compelled Luoyang's residents to move together with him and had the city set aflame. The coalition eventually broke up due to poor leadership and conflicting interests among its members. Meanwhile, in Chang'an, Dong Zhuo was betrayed and murdered by his foster son Lü Bu in a dispute over the maiden Diaochan as part of a plot orchestrated by the minister Wang Yun.