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Cao Cao
King of Wei
Born 155
Bozhou, Anhui, China
Died March 15, 220 (aged 64–65)
Luoyang, Henan, China
Successor Cao Pi
Simplified Chinese 曹操
Traditional Chinese 曹操
Pinyin Cáo Cāo
Wade-Giles Ts'ao2 Ts'ao1
Courtesy name Mèngdé (孟德)
Posthumous name Wu (武)
Temple name Wudi (武帝)

Taizu (太祖)

Other names

Infant Name

  • A-Man (阿瞞)
  • Ji-Li (吉利)

Cao Cao (Chinese: 曹操pinyin: Cáo Cāo; pronounced Ts'ao Ts'ao [tsʰɑʊ˧˥ tsʰɑʊ˥]; 155 – March 15, 220[1]) was a warlord and the penultimate Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty who rose to great power during the dynasty's final years in ancient China. As one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period, he laid the foundations for what was to become the state of Cao Wei and was posthumously titled Emperor Wu of Wei (魏武帝). Although often portrayed as a cruel and merciless tyrant, Cao has also been praised as a brilliant ruler and military genius who treated his subordinates like his family. He was also skilled in poetry and martial arts and authored many war journals.



Early life

Cao Cao was born in the county of Qiao (譙, present day Bozhou, Anhui) in 155. His father Cao Song was a foster son of Cao Teng, who in turn was one of the favorite eunuchs of Emperor Huan. Some historical records, including Biography of Cao Man, claim that Cao Song's original family name was Xiahou (thus making Cao Cao a relative of Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan, two of his most prominent generals). In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Cao Song was said to be from the Xiahou clan and was adopted into the Cao family.

Cao Cao was known for his craftiness as an adolescent. According to the Biography of Cao Man, Cao Cao's uncle often complained to Cao Song about Cao Cao's indulgence in hunting and music with Yuan Shao. In retaliation, Cao Cao feigned a fit before his uncle one day, who immediately rushed to inform Cao Song. When Cao Song went to see his son, Cao Cao behaved normally. When asked, Cao Cao replied, "I have never had a fit, but I lost the love of my uncle, and therefore he had deceived you." Henceforth, Cao Song ceased to believe the words of his brother regarding Cao Cao, and thus Cao Cao became even more blatant and perseverant in his wayward pursuits.

At that time, there was a man living in Runan named Xu Shao who was famed for his ability to evaluate one's potentials and talents. Cao Cao paid him a visit in hopes of receiving the evaluation that would earn him some political reputation. Originally, Xu pondered and refused to make a statement; however, under persistent questioning, he finally said, "You would be a capable minister in peaceful times and an unscrupulous hero in chaotic times." Cao Cao took this as a compliment and was very pleased as it was recorded that he laughed and left after hearing the comment. It is worth noting that there are two other versions of the comment in other unofficial historical records: "capable minister in peaceful times, unrighteous hero in chaotic times" (治世能臣, 亂世奸雄)[citation needed] and "sinister foe in peaceful times, great hero in chaotic times."[citation needed]

At the age of twenty, Cao Cao was recommended to be a district captain of Luoyang. Upon taking up the post, Cao placed rows of multicolored staffs outside his office and ordered his deputies to flog those who violated the law, regardless of their status. Once, an uncle of Jian Shuo, one of the most powerful and influential eunuchs under Emperor Ling, was caught walking in the city beyond the evening curfew hour by Cao's men and was given his fair share of flogging. This prompted Jian Shuo and other higher authorities to "promote" Cao to another position outside the imperial capital (governor of Dunqiu County) to remove his management.

When the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in 184, Cao was recalled to Luoyang and promoted to a captain of the cavalry (騎都尉) and sent to Yingchuan to suppress the rebels. He was successful in his military exploits and was further promoted to Governor of Dong Commandery (東郡).

Alliance against Dong Zhuo

Summary of major events
155 Born in Qiao.
180s Led troops against Yellow Turban Rebellion in Yingchuan.
190 Joined the coalition against Dong Zhuo.
196 Received Emperor Xian in Xuchang.
200 Won the Battle of Guandu.
208 Lost the Battle of Red Cliffs.
213 Created Duke of Wei and given ten commanderies as his dukedom.
216 Received the title King of Wei.
220 Died in Luoyang.
Enthroned posthumously as Emperor Wu.

In 189, Emperor Ling died and was succeeded by his eldest son (Emperor Shao), although the state power was mainly in the hands of Empress Dowager He and others. The two most powerful aristocrats then, He Jin and Yuan Shao, plotted to eliminate the clan of influential eunuchs. He Jin summoned Dong Zhuo, governor of Liang province (凉州), to lead his army into Luoyang to pressure the empress dowager to give up power, despite numerous objections pertaining to Dong's "infamy" and personality. Before Dong Zhuo arrived, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs and Luoyang was thrown into chaos as the supporters of Yuan Shao battled the eunuchs. Dong Zhuo's elite army easily rid the palace grounds of opposition. After he deposed Emperor Shao, Dong placed the puppet Emperor Xian on the throne. From a previous encounter, he deemed that Emperor Xian was more capable than the original puppet Emperor.[2]

After rejecting Dong Zhuo's appointment, Cao Cao left Luoyang for Chenliu (陳留, southeast of present day Kaifeng, Henan, Cao Cao's hometown), where he built his army. The next year, regional warlords formed a military alliance under Yuan Shao against Dong Zhuo. Cao Cao joined their cause. China fell into civil war when Dong Zhuo's was killed in 192 by his foster son Lü Bu.

Securing the emperor

Through short-term and regional-scale wars, Cao Cao continued to expand his power. In one particular incident in 193, Cao Cao massacred thousands of civilians in Xu province to avenge his father's death.

In 196, Cao Cao found Emperor Xian and convinced him to move the capital to Xuchang as suggested by Xun Yu and other advisors (as Luoyang was ruined by war and Chang'an was not under Cao Cao's military control), and he was appointed Chancellor. Cao Cao was then instated as the Commander-in-Chief (大將軍) and Marquis of Wuping (武平侯), though both titles had little practical implication. While some viewed the emperor as a puppet ruler under Cao Cao's control, Cao adhered to a strict personal rule to his death that he would not usurp the throne. Later in his life, when he was approached by his advisors to take over the Han Dynasty and start a dynasty, he replied, "If heaven bestows such a fate upon me, let me be King Wen of Zhou." King Wen of Zhou was a high official at the end of the ancient Shang Dynasty in ancient China. At the time, the corruption of King Zhou of Shang prompted many uprisings, including King Wen; but King Wen insisted that he would not take the throne himself as it is improper for him, a subordinate, to do harm to the Shang Dynasty. Instead, he allowed his son to destroy the Shang Dynasty and establish the Zhou Dynasty after his own death, and thus fulfilling his personal code of honor but also ridding the world of a terrible ruler. He was then named King Wen of Zhou posthumously by his son. Here, Cao Cao was inferring that if the Cao family were to come to power and establish a new dynasty, it would be by his descendants and not him.

To maintain a good relationship with Yuan Shao, who had become the most powerful warlord in China when he united the northern four provinces, Cao Cao lobbied to have Yuan appointed as Minister of Works (司空). This however had the exact opposite effect, as Yuan Shao believed that Cao Cao was trying to humiliate him after having the emperor's support, since Minister of Works technically ranked lower than Commander-in-Chief, and thus Yuan refused to accept the title. To pacify Yuan, Cao offered his own position, Commander-in-Chief, to Yuan Shao, while taking on the role of Minister of Works himself. While this temporarily resolved the conflict, it was nevertheless the catalyst for the Battle of Guandu later.

Uniting the North

In 200, Yuan Shao amassed more than 100,000 troops and marched southwards on Xuchang in the name of rescuing the emperor. Cao Cao gathered 20,000 men in Guandu, a strategic point on the shore of the Yellow River. The two armies came to a standstill as neither side was able to make much progress. Cao Cao's lack of men did not allow him to make significant attacks, and the pride of Yuan Shao forced him to target Cao Cao's force head-on. Despite his overwhelming advantage in terms of manpower Yuan Shao was unable to make full use of his resources because of his indecisive leadership and Cao Cao's location.

Besides the middle battleground of Guandu, two lines of battle were present. The eastern line with Yuan Tan of Yuan Shao's army against Zang Ba of Cao Cao's army was a one-sided battle in favor of Cao Cao, as Yuan Tan's own questionable leadership was no match for Zang's local knowledge of the landscape and hit-and-run tactics. On the western front, Yuan Shao's cousin, Gao Gan, performed much better against Cao Cao's army and forced several reinforcements from Cao Cao's main camp to maintain the western battle. Liu Bei, then a guest in Yuan Shao's army, also suggested to instigate rebellion in Cao Cao's territories as many associates of Yuan Shao were housed in Cao's lands. The tactic was successful initially but Man Chong's diplomatic skills helped to resolve the conflict. Man had been placed as an official there for this specific reason, as Cao Cao had foreseen the situation prior to the battle.

Finally, with the help of a defector from Yuan Shao's army, Xu You, who informed Cao Cao of the location of Yuan Shao's supply depot, Cao broke the stalemate and sent a special task force to burn all the supplies of Yuan's army and won a decisive and seemingly impossible victory. Yuan Shao fell ill and died shortly after returning from the defeat, leaving his legacy to two of his sons – the eldest son, Yuan Tan and the youngest son, Yuan Shang. As he had designated the youngest son, Yuan Shang, as his successor, rather than the eldest as tradition dictated, the two brothers consistently feuded against each other, as they fought Cao Cao. Cao employed the internal conflict within the Yuan clan to his advantage and defeated the Yuans easily. Henceforth Cao Cao assumed effective rule over all of northern China. He sent armies further out and expanded his control across the Great Wall into its northern affiliate (that is part of Korea today), and southward to the Han River.

The Three Kingdoms

Traditional site of the Red Cliffs, north of Wulin

However, Cao Cao's attempt to extend his domination south of the Yangtze River was unsuccessful. He received an initial great success when Liu Biao, administrator of Jing province, died, and his successor, Liu Cong surrendered to Cao Cao without resistance. Delighted by this outcome, he pressed on despite the objections by his military advisors and hoped the same would happen again. His forces were then defeated by the first coalition of his archrivals Liu Bei and Sun Quan (who later founded the states of Shu Han and Eastern Wu respectively) at the Red Cliffs in 208.

In 213, Cao Cao was titled Duke of Wei (魏公), given the Nine Bestowments, and given a fief of ten cities under his domain, known as Wei. In 216, Cao Cao was promoted to King of Wei (魏王). Over the years, Cao Cao, as well as Liu Bei and Sun Quan, continued to consolidate their power in their respective regions. Through many wars, China became divided into three powers – Wei, Shu and Wu, which fought sporadic battles among themselves without the balance tipping significantly in anyone's favor.

In 220, Cao Cao died in Luoyang at the age of 65, failing to unify China under his rule. His will instructed that he be buried near Ximen Bao's tomb in Yecheng without gold and jade treasures, and that his subjects on duty at the frontier were to stay in their posts and not attend the funeral as, in his own words, "the country is still unstable".

Cao Cao's eldest surviving son Cao Pi succeeded him. Within a year, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate and proclaimed himself the first emperor of Cao Wei. Cao Cao was then posthumously titled Emperor Wu of Wei.

Other contributions

Agriculture and education

While waging military campaigns against his enemies, Cao Cao did not forget the basis of society – agriculture and education.

In 194, a locust plague caused a major famine across China. According to the Records of Three Kingdoms, the people ate each other out of desperation. Without food, many armies were defeated even without fighting. From this experience, Cao Cao saw the importance of an ample food supply in building a strong military. He began a series of agricultural programs in cities such as Xuchang and Chenliu. Refugees were recruited and given wastelands to cultivate. Later, encampments not faced with imminent danger of war were also made to farm. This system was continued and spread to all regions under Cao Cao as his realm expanded. Although Cao Cao's primary intention was to build a powerful army, the agricultural program also improved the living standards of the people, especially war refugees.

By 203, Cao Cao had eliminated most of Yuan Shao's force. This afforded him more attention on construction within his realm. In autumn of that year, Cao Cao passed an order decreeing the promotion of education throughout the counties and cities within his jurisdiction. An official in charge of education matters was assigned to each county with at least 500 households. Youngsters with potential and talents were selected to undergo schooling. This prevented a lapse in the output of intellectuals in those warring years and, in Cao Cao's words, would benefit the people.


Cao Cao was also an accomplished poet. Although few of his works remain today, his verses, unpretentious yet profound, contributed to reshaping the poetry style of his time. He and his sons Cao Pi and Cao Zhi are collectively known as the "Three Cao" in poetry. Along with those of several other poets of the time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the jian'an style (建安風骨; jian'an is the era name for the period from 196 to 220).

The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the jian'an poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, which frequently lament over the ephemerality of life. In the history of Chinese literature, the jian'an poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

One of Cao Cao's most celebrated poems, written during a campaign against the northern Wuhuan in 207, is Though the Tortoise Lives Long (龜雖壽).


Though the Tortoise Lives Long


Though the tortoise blessed with magic powers lives long,
Its days have their allotted span;


Though winged serpents ride high on the mist,
They turn to dust and ashes at the last;


An old war-horse may be stabled,
Yet still it longs to gallop a thousand li;


And a noble-hearted man though advanced in years
Never abandons his proud aspirations.


Man's span of life, whether long or short,
Depends not on Heaven alone;


One who eats well and keeps cheerful
Can live to a great old age.


And so, with joy in my heart,
I hum this song.

Another Cao Cao's most well known poems, written right before the Battle of Red Cliffs in the winter of 208 AD, is Short Song Style. (短歌行)


Short Song Style


I lift my drink and sing a song,
for who knows if life is short or long?


Man's life is but the morning dew,
past days many, future ones few.


The melancholy my heart begets,
comes from cares I cannot forget.;


What can unravel these woes of mine?
I know but one drink – Du Kang Wine.


Disciples dress in blue,
my heart worries for you.


You are the cause,
of this song without pause.


Across the bank a deer bleats,
in the wild where it eats.


Honored my guests I salute,
strike the harp! Play the flute!


Bright is the moon's spark,
when can I pick it apart?


Thoughts of you from deep inside,
cannot settle, cannot subside.


Friends drop by via a country road,
the respect they pay really show.


A long due reunion we fest,
sharing past stories we possessed.


Stars around the moons are few,
southward the crows flew.


Flying with no rest,
where shall they nest?


No mountain too steep,
no ocean too deep.


Sage pauses [from meals] when guests call,
so at his feet the empire does fall!

Discovery of Cao Cao's tomb

The discovery of Cao Cao's tomb in Xigaoxue Village (西高穴村) in Anyang County, Henan Province was reported by archaeologists in December 2009. Legends report that the tomb was protected by 72 decoys to keep its location secret, though the recent discovery casts doubt on that legend.[3] The tomb was unearthed by workers of a nearby kiln when they were digging mud for making bricks, but the discovery was not initially reported to the authorities. Tomb raiding had been carried on since the tomb's initial discovery, until local authorities seized stone tablets carrying inscriptions of "King Wu of Wei" (魏武王) — Cao's posthumous reference — from tomb raiders and brought the tomb to light. Archaeologists began excavating the tomb in December 2008.[4]

The 740-square-meter tomb, a size appropriate for a king, was confirmed to have been built at the time of Wei and to be that of Cao Cao. Within the tomb were stone tablets identifying Cao Cao as the owner of the tomb, 250 artifacts including weapons, armour, and pottery,[5] the remains of a man in his 60s, and the bones of two women in their 50s and 20s.[3] No luxury items were found in the tomb, which is in accordance to Cao's will that he should be buried simply.[5] The bodies are believed to be Cao Cao and his wife, along with her female servant.[3]

Although, this recently discovered tomb is officially comfirmed as Cao Cao’s tomb, there are scholars and public who criticise the reliability of evidence. For instance, Professor Yuan Jixi of Renmin University’s Faculty of Ancient Chinese Study suggests that because this tomb had been greatly disturbed by tomb raiders, the items found in the tomb can not be guaranteed as original, and the most important evidence carrying inscriptions of "King Wu of Wei" may have been created by modern antique traders. [6]

The Cao clan

Direct male descendants

With Lady Bian

With Lady Liu

  • Cao Ang (曹昂)
    • Cao Wan (succeeded Cao Ang but was the son of Cao Jun (曹均)) (曹琬)
      • Cao Lian (曹廉)
  • Cao Shuo (曹鑠)
    • Cao Qian (曹潛)
      • Cao Yan (曹偃)

With Lady Huan

  • Cao Chong (曹冲)
    • Cao Cong (succeeded Cao Chong but was the son of Cao Ju (曹据)) (曹琮)
  • Cao Ju (曹据)
  • Cao Yu (曹宇)

With Lady Du

  • Cao Lin (曹林)
    • Cao Wei (曹緯)
  • Cao Gun (曹袞)
    • Cao Fu (曹孚)

With Lady Qin

  • Cao Xuan (曹玹)
    • Cao Heng (曹恒)
  • Cao Jun (曹峻)
    • Cao Ao (曹澳)

With Lady Yin

  • Cao Ju (曹矩)
    • Cao Min (succeeded Cao Ju but was the son of Cao Jun (曹均)) (曹敏)
      • Cao Kun (曹焜)

With other consorts

  • Cao Gan (曹幹)
  • Cao Shang (曹上)
  • Cao Biao (曹彪)
    • Cao Jia (曹嘉)
  • Cao Qin (曹勤)
  • Cao Cheng (曹乘)
  • Cao Zheng (曹整)
    • Cao Fan (succeeded Cao Zheng but was the son of Cao Ju (曹据)) (曹范)
    • Cao Chan (younger brother of Cao Fan by birth, succeeded Cao Fan) (曹闡)
  • Cao Jing (曹京)
  • Cao Jun (曹均)
    • Cao Kang (曹抗)
      • Cao Chen (曹諶)
  • Cao Ji (曹棘)
  • Cao Hui (曹徽)
    • Cao Xi (曹翕)
  • Cao Mao (曹茂)

Extended family

Cultural legacy

A mask of Cao Cao in Chinese opera

While historical records indicate Cao Cao as a brilliant ruler, he was represented as a cunning and deceitful man in Chinese opera, where the character of Cao Cao is given a white facial makeup to reflect his treacherous personality. When writing the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong took much of his inspiration from the opera.

As a result, such unscrupulous depictions of Cao Cao have become much more popular among the common people than the real image of Cao. There have been attempts to revise this depiction.[7][8]

As the Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been adapted to modern forms of entertainment, so has its portrayal of Cao Cao. Given the source material upon which these adaptations are founded, Cao Cao continues to be characterised as a prominent villain.

Through to modern times, the Chinese equivalent of the English idiom "speak of the Devil" is "Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives." ("說曹操,曹操到"; Pinyin: Shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào).

Fictional depiction in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Cao Cao as portrayed by Bao Guo'an in the TV series Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, was a romanticization of the events that occurred during the Three Kingdoms period. While adhering to historical facts most of the time, Romance of the Three Kingdoms inevitably re-shaped Cao Cao dramatically to some extent, so as to portray him as a cruel and suspicious villain. In some chapters, Luo created fictional or semi-fictional events involving Cao Cao. They include:

Attempted assassination on Dong Zhuo

While in reality Cao Cao did leave Dong Zhuo, the tyrannical warlord who held Emperor Xian hostage in 190 to consolidate power, Luo Guanzhong took a step further in describing Cao's attempted assassination on Dong:

Dong Zhuo deposed Emperor Shao, the successor of the late Emperor Ling, and placed Emperor Xian on the throne. His autocratic behavior and acts of brutality against his political opponents and the common people incurred the anger of various court officials. One of them, Wang Yun, called for a secret meeting of the officials under the pretext of his birthday celebration. During the feast, Wang cried upon recalling the cruel deeds of Dong Zhuo. His colleagues felt the same anguish and joined him in tears.

Cao Cao, however, laughed and said, "All the officials of the court – crying from dusk till dawn and from dawn till dusk – can you make Dong Zhuo die by crying?" Wang Yun met him in private later and lent him the Seven Gems Sword (七星劍) after Cao Cao promised to assassinate Dong Zhuo personally.

The next day, Cao Cao brought the precious sword to see Dong Zhuo. Having much trust in Cao, Dong received the guest in his bedroom. Lü Bu, Dong Zhuo's foster son, left the room for the stable to select a better horse for Cao Cao, who complained about his slow ride. When Dong Zhuo turned away, Cao Cao prepared to unsheathe the sword. However, Dong saw Cao's action through a reflection in the mirror and hastily turned to question Cao's intention. Coincidentally, Lü Bu returned at that moment as well. In desperation, Cao knelt down and claimed that he wanted to present the sword to Dong Zhuo. Cao seized the opportunity to escape from Luoyang under the pretext of trying a ride on the new horse. Dong realized later that Cao had intended to assassinate him and sent his men to summon Cao back to see him. However, Cao had already escaped and Dong issued a warrant for Cao's arrest.

Murder of Lü Boshe

Following the escape from Dong Zhuo is a legendary episode aimed at illustrating Cao Cao's near-Machiavellian tendencies for later characterizations of him as a villain. Though never exactly proven, it is said that Cao Cao escaped with Chen Gong, a county magistrate who arrested him earlier and released him out of admiration for Cao's sense of righteousness later. They sought shelter at the home of Lü Boshe, a close friend of Cao Cao's father. Lü promised to protect him and left to purchase some materials in preparation for a feast. Cao and Chen overheard a conversation between Lü's servants about a murder plot. Cao's suspicious nature caused him to jump to the conclusion that Lü Boshe had deceived him and intended to kill him and hand over his corpse to Dong Zhuo for a reward. Cao and Chen burst in and killed everyone in the house, including Lü's wife and children. They discovered later that the servants were actually discussing how to "murder" (slaughter) a pig for the feast.

Cao Cao and Chen Gong fled immediately and ran into Lü Boshe, who had just returned from his errand. When questioned, Cao provided an excuse, saying that he was afraid of being followed, as the reason for his abrupt departure. Cao then asked Lü Boshe, "Who's that behind you?" When Lü turned around, Cao stabbed and killed him from behind. Chen Gong was shocked and asked him why he committed that atrocity. Cao explained that it was for their safety, because if Lü went home and saw the ghastly sight, he would report the murder to the authorities and hence create serious trouble for them. Cao then raised his sword and famously said, "I'd rather let the world down than to allow the world to let me down." (寧教我負天下人,休教天下人負我). According to Cao Cao's biography in Records of Three Kingdoms, Cao said "I'd rather let others down than to allow others to let me down." (寧我負人,毋人負我) with a sense of regret and remorse.[9] The exact quote was altered in Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms, with "world" (天下人; literally: people under Heaven) replacing "others" (人; literally: people). Historian Yi Zhongtian speculated that Cao was probably trying to console himself after mistakenly killing Lü Boshe, by speaking with a sense of remorse. Yi believed that Luo had changed the quote to reflect that Cao Cao had no sense of remorse (because "world" carries greater weight than "others"), so as to enhance Cao's image as a villain in his novel.[10]

Portrait of Cao Cao from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the hunched figure clearly portraying him as a villain

Strict disciplinarian

Du Mu's account of Cao Cao's life states that he was such a strict disciplinarian. He cited the example of an incident, in which Cao condemned himself to death for having allowed his horse to stray into a field of corn, violating a military law that dictates any soldier who damages commoners' crops would be executed. However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice by cutting off a lock of his hair. "When you pass a law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed, the offender must be punished."

Death of Cao Cao and Hua Tuo

In 220, Cao Cao died in Luoyang due to an unknown illness. Legends contain explanations for the cause of his death. Romance of the Three Kingdoms included some of these legends, as well as Luo Guanzhong's own story about the involvement of Hua Tuo, a renowned Chinese physician.

When Cao Cao started complaining about splitting headaches in the last days of his life, his subjects recommended Hua Tuo, a physician with remarkable healing skills. Upon examination, Hua diagnosed Cao's illness to be a form of rheumatism in the skull. He suggested giving Cao Cao a dose of hashish and then splitting open his skull with a sharp axe to extract the pus within.

Due to an earlier incident with another physician called Ji Ping who attempted to poison him, Cao grew suspicious of any physician. Cao believed that Hua intended to kill him to avenge the death of Guan Yu. He had Hua Tuo imprisoned and Hua died a few days later. Without proper treatment, Cao died soon as well. In another account of Cao Cao's cause of death, it was said that a curse befell him when he tried to cut down a sacred tree and use its wood to build a lavish villa.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Emperor Xian and his brother, the original emperor, escaped Luoyang to the west as the battle waged between the generals and the eunuchs, and encountered Dong Zhuo's army. Dong Zhuo acted arrogantly, causing the original emperor to cower in fear; but Emperor Xian asked calmly with authority, "Are you here to protect or harm the Emperor? If you are here to protect the Emperor, why are you still on horse and not kneeling before him?" Dong Zhuo was surprised at the young Emperor Xian's wit and cool, and decided that he should be the Emperor instead.
  3. ^ a b c Lin Shujuan, "Tomb of legendary ruler unearthed.". China Daily. Updated: 2009-12-28.
  4. ^ Tomb of legendary general Cao Cao unearthed in central China. Xinhua. 2009-12-27.
  5. ^ a b Li Xinran. "Tomb of Cao Cao, early ruler, is found." Shanghai Daily. 2009-12-28.
  6. ^ 河南安阳曹操墓证据遭质疑 考古队领队回应. QQ. 2009-12-29.
  7. ^ 亦有可聞:魏延為何負上「叛徒」罵名
  8. ^ 谭其骧与郭沫若的学术论争
  9. ^ Chen, Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Book of Wei, Chapter One
  10. ^ Yi, Zhongtian. Appreciating the Three Kingdoms (品三國), Chapter One - The Real and Fake Cao Cao (第一篇 - 真假曹操)


  • Chen Shou (2002). San Guo Zhi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80665-198-5. 
  • Luo Guanzhong (1986). San Guo Yan Yi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80520-013-0. 
  • Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3467-9. 
  • Sun Tzu (1983). The Art of War. Delta. ISBN 0-440-55005-X. 

External links

Emperor Wu of Cao Wei
Born: 155 Died: 220
Regnal titles
Preceded by
as Duke of Wei
King of Wei
216 – 220
Succeeded by
Cao Pi
as Emperor of Cao Wei
Political offices
Title last held by
Dong Zhuo
Chancellor of China
Eastern Han
208 – 220
Chinese nobility
New title Duke of Wei
213 – 216
Succeeded by
as King of Wei


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Cáo Cāo (曹操; 155 – 220 March 15) was a Chinese military leader, a regional warlord and the penultimate Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty who rose to great power during its final years in ancient China. As one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period, he laid the foundations for what was to become the Kingdom of Wei (also known as Cáo Wèi) and was posthumously titled Emperor Wu of Wei (魏武帝)


  • 「寧我負人,毋人負我!」
    • Translation: "I'd rather betray others, than have others betray me."
    • Statement in 190, after falsely killing Lü Boshe. Source: Sun Sheng Zaji, page 5 of Sanguo Zhi.
  • 「吾任天下之智力,以道御之,無所不可.」
    • "I would employ the wise and strong of the empire, using righteousness to lead them. In this way, nothing is impossible."
    • Statement by Cao Cao around 191 during a discussion with Yuan Shao. The two compare their long term strategies, with Cao giving an abstract approach. The conversation is generaly considered to be fictional, and recorded only for allegorical effect. Source: Sanguo Zhi, page 26.
  • 「彼各為其主,勿追也。」
    • Translation: "Each man is for his lord, do not give chase."
    • Statement to his retainers in 200, referring to the recently left Guan Yu. Source: page 940 of Sanguo Zhi.


  • 「寧教我負天下人,休教天下人負我」
    • Translation: "I'd rather betray the people of the empire, but never allow the people of the empire to betray me."
    • Statement to Chen Gong after falsely killing Lü Boshe and his household. Source: Romance of the Three Kingdoms. An adaptation of the Sanguo Zhi original.

Simple English

Cao Cao (曹操 155-220) was a Chinese general. He managed to control the last Han Emperor Xian and conquered the whole northern China.

Cao Cao gathered an army in 184 to fight against the Yellow Scarves rebellion. After the Dong Zhuo had seized the Emperor Liu Bian in 189 and deposed him in favour of his brother Liu Xie (Emperor Xian), a coalition of local warlords all over the country arose against Dong. It was called by Cao Cao and led by Yuan Shao, and many powerful warriors joined it. After Dong Zhuo's death through the hands of his foster son Lü Bu, Emperor Xian was controlled by Dong's associates. He fled to Chang'an (the old capital) in 195 but almost starved to death. Cao Cao saved him in 196 and brought him to his own place at Xuchang.

With the emperor under his control, Cao Cao managed to slay most of the minor warlords in Northern China and was even able to defeat Lü Bu and the powerful Yuan Shao at Guandu in 200. He tried to conquer the south, too, but Liu Bei and Sun Quan opposed him and defeated his forces in the Battle at Red Cliffs. Cao Cao led several campaigns against the south, but with fairly low success. Also, he managed to get the famous general Guan Yu killed by Sun Quan's general Lü Meng.

Cao Cao died in 220, and his son Cao Pi followed him in control of the emperor. He eventually deposed him the same year and became Emperor Wen of Wei, making his father posthumously Emperor Meng of Wei.

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