How Cao Cao Begins His Political Career-Ending
In AD 190, anti-Dong Zhuo forces joined Cao Cao at Chenliu. The allies made Yuan Shao commander-in-chief and assembled an army of over 100,000. But, instead of launching a joint strike against Dong Zhuo, who upon hearing of the allied forces had abandoned Luoyang and moved the emperor to Chang'an, the warlords simply held their troops in wait.
Cao Cao tried to talk his friends into further brave action: "I do not see what you are all waiting here for, when we are joined together in this war of justice against evil. Just think of what we have: Dong Zhuo has held hostage the emperor and burnt down the royal palace; the whole nation is outraged. Dong Zhuo is now doomed. We will fight him and defeat him, and we must do it now or never!"
His eloquence persuaded no one, because what he spoke of was not really what the allies wanted. Even allied commander Yuan Shao cared less about fighting Dong Zhuo than of cashing in on the current turbulence. Disappointed, Cao Cao marched alone, with his squad of 5,000, in pursuit of Dong Zhuo. Instead of waiting for Cao Cao to come and take up battle in Chenggao, Dong Zhuo sent his general Xu Rong to surprise him on his way at the Bianshui River.
The ambush inflicted heavy losses on Cao Cao's troops. Back at the allied forces' camp, a frustrated Cao Cao saw his friends merely partying and forgetting about the war, until there was nothing left to sustain the joint campaign, and they each went back to where they had come from. Leaving these defeatists, Cao Cao rebuilt his army in Yangzhou. He was on his way to becoming a full fledged leader.