Yuan Shu is one of the major antagonists in the beginning of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms stories. He is the half-brother of Yuan Shao, whom he does not get along with. Yuan Shu is a despotic and tyrannical ruler, who is often portrayed as stealing all of the crops from his people, and taxing them heavily.
At the beginning of the story, Yuan Shu is a vassal of He Jin, along with Cao Cao, Dong Zhuo, Sun Jian, Liu Bei, and Yuan Shao. Under He Jin's leadership, they are successfully defeated Zhang Jiao's rebellion. Later on, He Jin attempted to rid the Han court of the Ten Eunuchs, a group of ten corrupt ministers that had complete control over the emperor.
The ten eunuchs assassinated He Jin, however. Yuan Shu, along with He Jin's other followers moved to eliminate the ten eunuchs, and were successful. Meanwhile Dong Zhuo had seized the emperor and began a reign of terror. Under his brother's leadership, Yuan Shu joined a coalition to despose of Dong Zhuo.
Later on, when China had fallen into complete civil war, Sun Ce (Sun Jian's eldest son) asked Yuan Shu for help in invading the Wu territory. In return, Sun Ce gave Yuan Shu the Chinese Imperial Seal. The Imperial Seal was the symbol of the Han empire. After Sun Ce was successful. Yuan Shu claimed that HE was now the emperor because he had the Imperial Seal. Cao Cao called Yuan Shu a traitor to the Han empire, and formed an alliance with Liu Bei, Sun Ce, and Lu Bu, to destroy Yuan Shu. Yuan Shu was crushed by the alliance and never recovered. He died from illnesses.
Yuan Shu is a firm believer in his noble pedigree, even more so than Yuan Shao, and is often at odds with his relative, that believing himself to be the superior man between them. While his arrogance, however, is more inflated than Yuan Shao's, seeing almost everyone else to be inferior men based on their lesser births, lower rank or lack of talent in his eyes. He does not think too highly of Sun Ce, while seeing the youth as a somewhat useful vassal, but mostly as a vassal that should remain subservient to him.
- He is a playable character in the Dynasty Warriors video game series.