Yuan Shao was born into a family of powerful traders. Although he claimed to be a descendant of the noble Yuan family of the Zhou Dynasty, this was probably not true. He entered the Han court as a clerk and rose in power until he became a regional governor.
He controlled a large amount of territory in North China. He spearheaded the effort to stop the Yellow Turban Rebellion and overthrow the traitor Dong Zhuo. As a result, he gained a large amount of power in the capital. His only competition was Prime Minister Cao Cao. Yuan Shao was worried that his rival had too much power, and devised a plan to take control of the throne. When Cao Cao learned of this, he prepared his army to face Yuan Shao. At the Battle of Guandu, Yuan Shao lost. Cao Cao spared Yuan Shao's life, sending him into exile instead. He died the next year, in 202.