Yuan Shu was born into the powerful Yuan family (as the half-brother of Yuan Shao) during the final years of the Han Dynasty. He rose to power as one of the most prominent warlords in the land, participating in the alliance to against Dong Zhuo led by his older brother. The dissolution of the alliance led to bad blood between the brothers and a bitter rivalry began.
He was eventually driven from his base and fled to the southeast, where he fought Cao Cao's forces. Again finding fortune against him, Yuan Shu fled further southeast away from his foes. From his new base, he expanded his influence and power, often calling on his subordinate Sun Ce (son of Sun Jian) to aid him in his power grabs. His ambition led him into conflict with yet another dangerous enemy warlord, Liu Bei. To aid in his conquest of Liu Bei's land, he enlisted the aid of Lu Bu (a former ally of Liu Bei's). Against the both of them, Liu Bei stood little chance and surrendered for a time.
It was around this time that Yuan Shu did the act for which he is most remembered for. Believing himself to be chosen by heaven as the next Emperor (in part due to his possession of the Imperial Seal). Needless to say, his enemies weren't very happy about this. Decrying him as a false emperor, various warlords banded against him (including his former ally, Sun Ce). Yuan Shu's powerful forces were eventually reduced to shambles and he attempted to flee with his life to his estranged brother in the north. Yuan Shao agreed to take him in and sent his son, Yuan Tan, to meet him, but his escape was thwarted by Liu Bei and he died before reaching his brother.
Portrayal in Romance of the Three Kingdoms
In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game series, Yuan Shu is shown to be very arrogant and sometimes cruel. His stats, in-game, show him to be intelligent and a competent leader in battler, but his lack of charisma and political ability can make it difficult to manage his empire. His attempt to claim the imperial throne is a playable scenario in most games, and it is possible to play as Yuan Shu and defeat all of your many enemies to win, but it is on of the more difficult scenarios to play.
Portrayal in Dynasty Warriors
Yuan Shu also appears in Dynasty Warriors, though not as a playable officer. He is an important non-playable character in all the games, however, retaining many of his roles from history. His arrogance and cruelty are played up to an extreme to degree, as can be expected in a Dynasty Warriors game.
- "I am the land itself. You dare threaten me, you landless peasant?" - Yuan Shu in Dynasty Warriors 7
- "What is going on? Why are you fighting over my land? I hold the Imperial Seal, which makes me as good as the Emperor. We will punish all who bring war and chaos to our land." - Yuan Shu in Dynasty Warriors 6
- Although he is sometimes thought to be Yuan Shao's cousin, he is in fact his half-brother.
- Yuan Shao's mother was not of noble birth, a fact that Yuan Shu apparently mocked his brother for. This could have caused some of the hostility between the brothers.