Cao cao

“Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is a popular historical novel written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th Century based on some real-life historical figures. Comprised of over 800,000 words, 1191 characters, and 120 chapters, it takes place when China was divided into many warring and focuses on three kingdoms — Wei, Wu and Shu. It remains popular throughout Asia today and has been an inspiration for scores of movies, television dramas, manga and video games. What has made the book so popular is not so much the battles and fighting but the personalities involved and their interactions.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is based upon events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era, starting in A.D. 168 and ending with the reunification of the land in 280. Acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, it is arguably the most widely read historical novel in late imperial and modern China.. Some say its literary influence in East Asia is comparable to that of the works of Shakespeare on English literature.

Carrie Gracie of BBC News wrote: “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is for China roughly what Homer is for Europeans, a swashbuckling adventure story, with lots of blood, excitement and craftiness on the battlefield. Chinese boys live and breathe the story, with its hundreds of characters in cloaks and long robes and multiple sub-plots, spanning a century of convulsion before the empire was reunited. it retells the events surrounding the demise of the Han dynasty and echoes Confucian values that were popular at the time. The story begins just as the Han empire is about to break up. The opening words are: "It is a general truism of this world that anything long divided will surely unite, and anything long united will surely divide." [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 15, 2012]

“The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a good corrective to the hypnotising story of harmony that Chinese rulers like to tell when they are in control and trying to stay there. China is not a readily stable and harmonious country. In fact, governments need a powerful narrative of unity precisely because China has such a tendency to fall apart. "Chinese history is not as clean-cut as written in textbooks," says archaeologist Wang Tao. "It's full of fighting. And I remember looking at some archaeological sites and you see so many remains - weapons, headless bodies. There is actually a lot of blood in history, which of course now we don't normally see in textbooks."

“The Confucian code insists that the superior man achieves his goals without resort to force. Liu Bei and his enemies were certainly ready to use intelligence, diplomacy and downright lying if it got them what they wanted. As Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War": “A leader leads by example not by force," he wrote, several centuries earlier. "To know your enemy, you must become your enemy. Opportunities multiply as they are seized. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across. All warfare is based on deception." There is no shortage of deceptions in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

Romance of the Three Kingdoms Story

Three Kingdoms

The story (part historical and part myth) romanticizes and dramatizes the lives of feudal lords and their retainers, who tried to replace the decaying Han Dynasty or restore it. While the novel actually follows literally hundreds of characters, the focus is mainly on the three power blocs that emerged from the remnants of the Han Dynasty and became the states of Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. The novel deals with the plots, personal conflicts, army battles, intrigues and struggles as these states strive to achieve dominance for period that extends more than 100 years. The novel also gives readers a sense of how the Chinese view their history in a cyclical lens. The famous opening lines of the novel (as added by Mao Lun and his son Mao Zonggang) summarize this view: It is a general truism of this world that anything long divided will surely unite, and anything long united will surely divide.” [Source: Wikipedia]

One of the greatest achievements of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the way it weaves together a highly complex story with a long list of characters. The novel is comprised of numerous "mini-stories", many of which could be developed into full-length novels in their own right (the Battle of Red Cliffs and the treatment of Guan Yu by Hua Tuo being two examples). [Source: ]

“Since it is full of stories about political and military strategy, Romance is popular in the circle of business management in China, Japan, and Korea," Xu Datong, a Nanjing historian told Archaeology magazine.“Three Heroes of Three Kingdoms,” silk painting by Japanese artist Sekkan Sakurai (1715-1790), is hung in the offices of businessmen to show that they are trustworthy, just as three heros of the story — Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei— were to each other.

Kaiser Kuo, the leader of famed Chinese rock group Tang Dynasty, told the BBC he was once introduced to the Chinese-American founder of a Silicon Valley computing firm, who was born and raised with these stories and saw them as directly relevant to the company's business. "He had his senior management team meet every Monday morning to discuss a chapter of Three Kingdoms," says Kuo. "The real story is about how to deploy people of talent. It's really all about management and when I read these stories today, I still find just tremendous relevance."

Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Beginning of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

According to “The story begins in the last years of the Han Dynasty when incompetent eunuchs deceived the emperor and banished good officials. The government had become extremely corrupt on all levels, leading to widespread deterioration of the empire. During the reign of the penultimate Han emperor, Emperor Ling, the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out under the leadership of Zhang Jiao, who allegedly practiced Taoist wizardry and held immortal powers. Zhang pretended to be a traveling healer curing people of sickness while secretly inciting them to revolt. In this time of turmoil, many of the major characters are introduced;Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Cao Cao, Sun Jian, etc.The rebellion was barely suppressed by imperial troops under the command of He Jin, Emperor Ling’s brother-in-law and the Supreme Commander of the armies of the Central Government. [Source:]

Frances Wood, curator of the East Asia collection at the British Library told the BBC: "This is the first time that an imperial collapse has happened with a power vacuum ensuing.The Han had overthrown the Qin [dynasty]. That was a straightforward regime change, if you like. But at the end of the Han you get fragmentation. The major nightmare of all the Chinese at all times is that if there's no central power, then the country is going to split up and that's very much what was happening at this time. You get different generals in different parts of China setting up different regimes, and then fighting each other." [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 15, 2012 ]

Carrie Gracie of BBC News wrote: “ The government is struggling to suppress a rebellion by peasants called the Yellow Turbans. It is forced to do what it hates to do: outsource troop recruitment - and that gives an opportunist called Liu Bei his big break. "He had fallen on hard times and he was making a living just selling straw sandals and mats," recounts Kaiser Kuo, who loved the stories of Liu Bei as a child. "In the story he stands looking at the poster that's been put up calling for the brave men of the kingdom to rise up. And he sighs. And behind him there is a big burly guy by the name of Zhang Fei, a butcher, who chastises him for merely sighing and not actually doing something about it."[Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 15, 2012 ]

“The two of them go off to have a drink in the tavern and come across a man with a red face, a very long beard and a green battle gown, Guan Yu. The three of them then swear an oath of eternal brotherhood in a peach orchard and set about trying to save the Han dynasty. Our trio represent the south-west kingdom. They face, in the north kingdom, the cunning and ruthless Cao Cao, and in the south-east the vacillating and deceitful Sun Quan. A mindboggling amount of fighting and double-crossing follows."

Dong Zhuo's Tyrannical Rule

Guan Yu, Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, the Peach Orchard Oath

According to “Fearing his growing power, the eunuchs under Zhang Rang lured He Jin alone into the palace following Emperor Ling's death and murder that was orchestrated by his rivals. His stunned guards, led by Yuan Shao, responded by charging into the palace, which turned into an indiscriminate slaughter. In the ensuing confusion, the child Emperor Shao and the Prince of Chenliu (later Emperor Xian) disappeared from the palace. [Source: ]

“Soon, the Emperor and the Prince were discovered by soldiers belonging to the warlord Dong Zhuo from Western Liang, who proceeded to seize control of the capital under the pretext of protecting the emperor. Dong later had Emperor Shao deposed and replaced with the Prince of Chenliu, who became Emperor Xian. Under Dong Zhuo’s violent rule, the people suffered greatly. There were assassination attempts on him by both the court physician Wu Fu and Cao Cao but both attempts failed. Cao Cao managed to escape and issued an edict in the emperor's name to all governors, calling them to remove Dong Zhuo from power. Under general Yuan Shao, 18 governors and nobles joined forces in a campaign against Dong Zhuo, but undermined by poor leadership and conflict of interest, they only managed to drive him from the capital Luoyang to Chang'an. However, Dong Zhuo was later betrayed and murdered by his own foster son Lü Bu, from a dispute over the beautiful Diaochan, in a scheme orchestrated by minister Wang Yun.”

Conflicts among Warlords and Nobles

According to “In the meantime, however, the empire was already disintegrating into civil war. Sun Jian, governor of Changsha, found the Imperial Jade Seal at the bottom of a well in the ruins of Luoyang but secretly kept it for his own purposes, further weakening royal authority. Without a strong central government, warlords began to rise up and fight each other for land and power. In the north, Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan were at war, and in the south, Sun Jian and Liu Biao. Many others, even those without title or land, such as Cao Cao and Liu Bei, were also starting to build up power. [Source: ]

“Cao Cao took Emperor Xian from Dong Zhuo’s former subordinates Li Jue and Guo Si and established the new court in Xuchang. Even more powerful now with the emperor in his control, Cao Cao quickly subdued his rivals such as Yuan Shu, Lu Bu and Zhang Xiu, culminating in his greatest military victory, over Yuan Shao in the famous Battle of Guandu despite being outnumbered 10-to-1. Cao Cao pursued the defeated Yuan clan and finally united northern China, which later served as the foundation for the Kingdom of Wei.

“Meanwhile, an ambush had violently concluded Sun Jian's life in a war with Liu Biao, fulfilling his own rash oath to heaven. His eldest son Sun Ce then delivered the Imperial Jade Seal as tribute to rising royal pretender Yuan Shu of Huainan, in exchange for much needed reinforcements. Now, like the proverbial tiger that has been given claws, he soon secured himself a state in the rich riverlands of Jiangdong, on which the Kingdom of Wu would eventually be founded. Tragically, Sun Ce also died at the height of his career from illness under stress of his terrifying encounter with the ghost of Yu Ji, a venerable magician whom he had falsely accused and executed in jealousy. However, his successor and younger brother Sun Quan, led by skilled advisors Zhou Yu and Zhang Zhao, proved to be a masterful and charismatic ruler, inspiring hidden talents from across the land such as Lu Su to join his service, while raising a strong military which would truly receive a trial by fire in Cao Cao’s great southern campaign.

Liu Bei's Unrealized Ambition

Liu Bei

According to “Liu Bei, along with his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei had sworn allegiance to the Han Dynasty (in the famous Oath of the Peach Garden) and pledged to do their best to serve the emperor and the common people. However, their goals and ambitions had not been realized till the later part of the novel. Liu Bei, ever since he had successfully quelled the Yellow Turban Rebellion, was not recognized for his efforts and was made only the magistrate of a small county. [Source: ]

“Later, Liu Bei joined Gongsun Zan and participated in the war against Dong Zhuo. Cao Cao invaded Xuzhou as a revenge against Tao Qian, the governor of Xuzhou who unknowingly allowed his subordinate to kill Cao Cao’s father. Liu Bei led his troops from Pingyuan to help Tao Qian and Tao passed on his post as Governor of Xuzhou to Liu Bei before he died. At that same time, Lu Bu was at war with Cao Cao as he also longed to dominate China ever since he had killed Dong Zhuo. Lu Bu was defeated by Cao Cao and he sought refuge under Liu Bei.

“Later, Lu Bu repaid Liu Bei’s kindness with evil and seized control of Xuzhou. Liu Bei was forced to join forces with Cao Cao and they defeated Lu Bu. Lu Bu was executed and Liu Bei became officially recognized by Emperor Xian as the Emperor’s Uncle. Liu Bei plotted with some officials to kill Cao Cao as Cao Cao wielded far too much power and had the intention of usurping the throne. Liu Bei failed to kill Cao Cao as the plot was exposed. He seized control of Xuzhou but lost to Cao Cao when Cao Cao led his troops to conquer Xuzhou. Liu Bei got control of Runan with help from some former Yellow Turban rebels but was defeated once again by Cao Cao in battle. Liu Bei had no choice but to move to Jingzhou to seek Liu Biao’s protection. Liu Biao treated Liu Bei with respect and put him in charge of Xinye. At Xinye, Liu Bei recruited the talented Zhuge Liang personally and slowly built up his forces.”

Cao Cao

20111123-Wiki CCao_Cao_Portrait_ROTK.jpg
Cao Cao
Cao Cao (A.D. 155 - 220), the Han Dynasty general and warlord, is one of China's greatest and most reviled historical figures. Renowned for his ruthlessness and cunning, he is known to most Chinese people as the villain of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and is a byword for treachery in Peking opera. Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, “Also known as the Emperor Wu of Wei, he was a politician, general and poet whose brilliance as a military strategist and wordsmith was tarnished forever by” “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” in which “he is portrayed as a scheming, merciless tyrant who is so suspicious of everyone he meets that he mistakes a plan to slaughter a pig in his honor as an assassination plot and responds by killing everyone involved, including women and children. In Peking opera he is almost unique as a emperor with a white face, which signifies betrayal. A common saying, ‘speak of Cao Cao and he appears’, is the equivalent of the English phrase ‘speak of the devil’.”[Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, December, 27, 2009 /~/]

Lauren Hilgers wrote in Archaeology magazine, “Cao Cao is more than just a historical figure — he's a cultural phenomenon. Though characterized as a villain, he has a place in the heart of every Chinese child, history buff, and book lover... In Romance, the self-styled emperor comes off as a ruthless and canny strategist, demonically intent on carving out a piece of the failing Han Dynasty for himself. With fine Machiavellian flair, he betrays friends and manipulates emperors — his military campaigns eventually unite most of northern China...Over the centuries, Cao Cao has been the subject of countless folktales and Chinese operas, where his characteristic mask is usually drawn with heavy brows and a sinister white face. He has also found a place in comic books, video games, and fan-written fiction for his strategic acumen and ambition. [Source: Lauren Hilgers, Archaeology magazine, September/October 2010 ]

Cao Cao is said to have died in the year 220, of an unknown illness. According to one myth, he refused medical treatment and was so paranoid about being poisoned that he jailed his doctor, who subsequently perished in prison. Before he died Cao Cao gave very specific instructions on where and how he should be buried: in simple style among the hills west of Yecheng in Henan. “ One historian told Archaeology magazine: “There have been lots of things written about Cao's tomb in historical literature. Romance itself says that he ordered 72 [false] tombs to prevent someone discovering his real tomb after his death." According to some historical records, Cao Cao’s fear was justifiable as he himself was known to rob wealthy tombs to support and reward his troops. /~/

“Discovery” of Cao Cao's Tomb?

Cao Cao as depicted in a movie
In December 2009, Chinese archaeologists claimed they had found the tomb of Cao Cao may been located near the ancient capital of Anyang, in Henan province. An epitaph and inscription were also found in the tomb that appear to identify the warlord, who helped to unify northern China. Lauren Hilgers wrote in Archaeology magazine, “The announcement...of the discovery of Cao cao's tomb led to a firestorm of criticism — with local officials and archaeologists accused of over-interpretation and outright fabrication... The discovery—“alleged” discovery, that is — of Cao Cao's final resting place is one of the most disputed archaeological findings in China's recent history, revealing a popular distrust of the local government institutions tasked with overseeing the country's archaeology. As arguments have flared for months, the tomb also highlights a challenge all archaeologists in China face — reconciling material culture with the country's deep and beloved written archive. [Source: Lauren Hilgers, Archaeology magazine, September/October 2010 ]

The tomb consists of two main chambers separated by an arched doorway and flanked by smaller side rooms. At 8,000 square feet, the tomb covers the area of a baseball infield, but it seems modest and oddly cramped for someone of imperial rank. The walls are bare. There are gaps where stones are missing from the floor. A gaping hole blown in the ceiling by tomb raiders a few years ago.

Dismissing ancient rumors that he ordered the construction of 72 tombs to hide the real location, historians have homed in on the location in Anyang in recent years. In 1998, a stone tablet unearthed nearby revealed that the resting place of the Emperor Wu of Wei could be found 1,420 steps west from Gaojue bridge, and then 170 steps south. The ancient tomb complex contained three ancient corpses, one man and two women. The man died in his 60s, the same age as Cao Cao when he died." [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, December, 27, 2009 /~/]

The discovery and excavation of the tomb was listed as a Top Ten Archaeology Achievement in 2009 by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Despite the announcement, it is still far from certain that the warlord's resting place had been found. Tests on the bones at the site suggest that the man died in his sixties. But there are many tombs in the same area, which is the cradle of Chinese civilization. Without more conclusive proof, many remain skeptical that the ancient puzzle has been solved.

In August 2010, experts revealed that findings and artifacts in Cao Cao's tomb were fake. A total of 23 experts and scholars from across the country presented evidence at the National High-Level Forum on Culture of the Three Kingdoms Period held in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, to prove that the tomb was a fake. [Source: Jiang Wanjuan, Global Times, August 23, 2010 ==]

According to epigrapher Li Luping, director of the Committee of Calligraphy and Appraisal of Jiangsu Province, the epitaph of Lu Qian, which directly indicates the specific location of the tomb of Cao Cao, is the source of the forgery. Li discovered that the character for the year on the epitaph was written in almost the same style as is in modern times, quite different to the more square style in use at the time in history. “After over thousands of years of erosion, how come there is residue of the cave on the stone steles from Cao Cao's tomb?” Li said. ‘such a cheap counterfeit takes at most three years, if not three days." ==

Lin Kuicheng, director of the Calligraphy and Painting Committee of Kaifeng Federation of Literature and Art Circle, Henan Province, said that the title Wei Wu King carved on the stele of Cao Cao's supposed tomb was not accurate or appropriate. “Wei King was his title when he was alive and Wu King is his title after his death," Lin explained. “Under ancient customs, there is no way the two titles would have been permitted to be put together." ==

Three Heros

Battle of Red Cliffs

The Battle of Red Cliff is one of the key episodes of “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” It is a real historical event, otherwise known as the Battle of Chibi, that took place on the Yangtze river in the winter of A.D. 208-209 during the end of Han dynasty, 12 years before the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period. Cao Cao's navy is moored on one bank of the Yangtze while Liu Bei and his ally Sun Quan are plotting on the other. Cao Cao is ultimately defeated and forced to flee back to Jingzhou. Liu Bei and Sun Quan’s victory thwarts Cao Cao's effort to conquer the land south of the Yangtze River and reunite the territory of the Eastern Han dynasty. Liu Bei and Sun Quan in turn take control of the Yangtze, which provides them with a line of defence and the basis for the later creation of the two southern states of Shu Han and Eastern Wu. The battle has been called the largest naval battle in history in terms of numbers involved.

The de facto leader of the Wei kingdom, Cao Cao was the most powerful leader in the Battle at Red Cliff and was one of the most powerful men in China at that time. He commanded an 800,000-strong army and wanted to expand his kingdom to the south and west. Sun Quan is the King of the southern state Wu. Liu Bei is the leader of a western state. Zhiu Yu, the viceroy of Wu and Zhuge Liang, a military advisor for Liu Bei, form a friendship and convince the leader of Wu and Shu to form an alliance to battle Cao Cao and ultimately prevail with a force of only 50,000 men. There are a number if warriors such as Zhoa Yun, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu that play key parts in the battle. At first it takes some time to become familiar with all the characters and their relationships to one another — particularly for Western audiences who are not familiar with the story.

The Battle of Red Cliff determined the borders of the Three Kingdoms period, when China had three separate rulers. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ From the initial marshaling of forces on both sides, to the final decisive pitched battle, the whole sequence of events lasted mere several months, but has since then inspired people's imagination for over a thousand years, and even well into today. Poets, painters, calligraphers, playwrights, novelists, and many others, all in their various creative ways, join to extol this historical and historic romance of the legendary battle, as well as its constellation of heroes and heroines... On the whole, the battle set the stage for the ultimate partitioning of the then nominal existence of a weak Empire into three independent kingdoms, Wei, Shu, and Wu. Yet the subsequent and culminating reunification of the whole China once again as an empire, was not effected by any of the three original aspiring camps. History does have a life of its own.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Background to the Battle of the Red Cliffs

In 208 A.D., in the final days of the Han Dynasty, shrewd Prime Minster Cao Cao convinced the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite all of China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu in the west and East Wu in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale, led by the Prime Minister, himself. Left with no other hope for survival, the kingdoms of Xu and East Wu formed an unlikely alliance. Numerous battles of strength and wit ensued, both on land and on water, eventually culminating in the battle of Red Cliff. During the battle, two thousand ships were burned.” [Source: IMDb]

According to “Cao Cao, who declared himself the Prime Minister, led his troops to attack southern China after uniting the north. At Xinye, he was defeated twice by Liu Bei’s forces but Liu Bei lost Xinye and had to move to Jingzhou. Unfortunately, Liu Biao had died by then and left Jingzhou split between his two sons Liu Qi and Liu Cong. Liu Bei led the civilians of Xinye to Xiangyang, where Liu Cong ruled but Liu Bei was denied entry. Liu Cong later surrendered to Cao Cao, and Liu Bei had no choice but to move to Jiangxia where Liu Qi ruled. On the way, Liu Bei and the civilians were pursued by Cao Cao’s troops and several innocent civilians were killed. Liu Bei and his men managed to reach Jiangxia where he established a strong foothold against Cao Cao’s invasion. [Source: ]

“To resist Cao Cao’s invasion, Liu Bei sent Zhuge Liang to persuade Sun Quan in Jiangdong to form an alliance. Zhuge Liang managed to persuade Sun Quan to form an alliance with Liu Bei against Cao Cao and stayed in Jiangdong as a temporary advisor. Sun Quan placed Zhou Yu in command of the forces of Jiangdong (East Wu) to defend against Cao Cao’s invasion. Zhou Yu felt that the talented Zhuge Liang would become a future threat to East Wu and tried several times to kill Zhuge, but failed. In the end, he had no choice but to co-operate with Zhuge Liang for the time being as Cao Cao’s armies were at the border.”

According to IMDb, based on the film “Red Cliff”: In the summer of AD 208 “Cao Cao embarks on a campaign to eliminate the southern warlords Sun Quan and Liu Bei in the name of eliminating rebels, with the reluctant approval of the Emperor. Cao Cao's mighty army swiftly conquers the southern province of Jingzhou and the Battle of Changban is ignited when Cao Cao's cavalry unit starts attacking the civilians who are on an exodus led by Liu Bei. During the battle, Liu Bei's followers, including his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, give an excellent display of their legendary combat skills by managing to hold off the enemy while buying time for the civilians to retreat. The warrior Zhao Yun fights bravely to rescue his lord Liu Bei's entrapped family but only succeeded in rescuing Liu's infant son. Following the battle, Liu Bei's chief advisor Zhuge Liang sets forth on a diplomatic mission to Eastern Wu to form an alliance between Liu Bei and Sun Quan to deal with Cao Cao's invasion. Sun Quan was initially in the midst of a dilemma of whether to surrender or resist, but his decision to resist Cao Cao hardens after Zhuge Liang's clever persuasion and a subsequent tiger hunt with his Grand Viceroy Zhou Yu and his sister Sun Shangxiang. Meanwhile, naval commanders Cai Mao and Zhang Yun from Jingzhou pledge allegiance to Cao Cao and were received warmly by Cao, who placed them in command of his navy. [Source: IMDb, D-Man2010 based on the historical record Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms rather than the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms]

Ingenuity and Intrigue and the Battle of Red Cliffs

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Battle of Red Cliff is a prime example of how ingenious tactics can result in a brilliant victory out of an outnumbered situation. The intrigue games plotted by all three camps involved to outwit one another prior to the battle, the dramatic twists and turns during the course of battle, as well as the impacts and developments after the battle, are so fascinating as to have triggered much discussion and study among posterity.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Frances Wood told the BBC: "It's very much just about warfare but also cunning strategy. There are wily generals who do very clever things. If they run out of arrows, they send a boat down the river past the enemy camp, and the enemy thinks, 'Goodness me what is this?' and they fire a million arrows into the side of the boat. And they capture them in straw, and so that's how you get spare arrows. "So it's full of stories that are not just about slaying or taking territory, but also about being clever, and outwitting your enemy." [Source: Carrie Gracie BBC News, October 15, 2012]

Carrie Gracie of BBC News wrote: “It is deception not force of numbers that wins the battle of Red Cliff. But there is more scheming to come from Liu Bei and friends. "Knowing that the enemy has a spy in their camp, they publicly beat and humiliate one of the most important generals so that this is reported back and his defection then looks completely authentic," explains Kaiser Kuo. Consequently, when Cao Cao's army sees the defector's ship heading toward them, they do not do anything about it. They are expecting him. "In fact his ship is laden with flammable materials and he sets it on fire and manages to set a good part of the enemy fleet afire. They say that the Red Cliffs, the cliffs that give their name to both the famous battle and the John Woo movie are still charred black to this day because of smoke from the burning fleet."

After Red Cliff: Tensions Between Liu Bei and Sun Quan and the Fight Against Cao Cao

Lui Bei defeats Cao Cao

According to “After the great battle at the Red Cliff, East Wu and Liu Bei vied for control of Jingzhou. Zhou Yu led the troops of East Wu to attack Jingzhou and gained a victory, but eventually Jingzhou ended up in Liu Bei’s hands, as Zhuge Liang had advised Liu Bei to seize Jingzhou while Zhou Yu and Cao Cao’s forces were at war. Zhou Yu was extremely unhappy and reported the matter to Sun Quan. Sun Quan dispatched Lu Su to Jingzhou to negotiate with Liu Bei for Jingzhou. Again and again, Liu Bei refused to hand over Jingzhou to East Wu. Sun Quan had no choice but to use new strategies suggested by Zhou Yu to take Jingzhou. One of these was the Beauty Scheme, in which Sun Quan lured Liu Bei to Jiangdong (where he intended to hold Liu Bei hostage in exchange for Jingzhou) by pretending to betroth his younger sister to Liu Bei. However, Zhuge Liang outwitted Zhou Yu, and Liu Bei returned to Jingzhou safely with his new wife. Zhou Yu tried and failed repeatedly to take Jingzhou. After being infuriated by Zhuge Liang twice, Zhou Yu eventually coughed out blood. The third time, he coughed out even more, and died unconscious. [Source:]

“In the northwest, Ma Chao started a campaign against Cao Cao to avenge his father, Ma Teng, who was killed by Cao Cao. Ma Chao’s forces were formidable as he had the support of Han Sui and troops from the Qiang minority. However, Cao Cao managed to defeat Ma Chao’s forces by using cunning strategies to make Ma Chao and Han Sui turn against each other. Han Sui defected to Cao Cao and Ma Chao was left stranded. Ma Chao later sought refuge under Zhang Lu of Hanzhong, and eventually joined Liu Bei.

“After Zhou Yu’s death, relations between Liu Bei and Sun Quan deteriorated, but not to the point of outright war. Following Zhuge Liang's advice, Liu Bei invaded and conquered Xichuan, where the incompetent noble Liu Zhang ruled. He also took Hanzhong, which had been in Cao Cao’s control. Liu Bei proclaimed himself King of Hanzhong, while Cao Cao had himself promoted from Prime Minister to King of Wei; Sun Quan was known as the Duke of Wu. At this time, Liu Bei ruled a vast area of land from Jingzhou to Sichuan in the west. This would later serve as a strong foundation for the founding of the Kingdom of Shu-Han. Meanwhile, Sun Quan and Cao Cao were also at war, with defeats and victories for both sides at the battles of Ruxu and Hefei.

“The situation among the three major powers almost reached a stalemate after this, until Cao Cao died due to a brain tumor. The following year, Cao Cao’s son Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate, ending the Han Dynasty which had lasted for centuries. Cao Pi proclaimed himself emperor and renamed his dynasty Cao Wei. In response to this, Liu Bei declared himself Emperor of Shu-Han, to signify that he still carried on the bloodline of the Han royal family, but was based in Shu.

“Sun Quan, tired of Liu Bei’s repeated refusals to hand over Jingzhou, made plans to retake it. He made peace with Cao Cao and was bestowed the title of Prince of Wu. Liu Bei left his sworn brother Guan Yu in charge of Jingzhou, and Guan led the Jingzhou troops to attack Cao Cao. Sun Quan took advantage of the situation and sent Lu Meng to seize Jingzhou. Lu Meng disguised his troops as merchants and finessed a quiet entry. As Guan was besieging Wei general Cao Ren, Lu Meng's forces attacked Guan from the rear, and routed his army with ease. In desperate retreat, his army scattered, Guan Yu was captured. Sun Quan had him beheaded after he refused to renounce his loyalty to Liu Bei. Liu Bei deeply grieved the death of Guan Yu and the loss of Jingzhou. He was already planning to avenge Guan Yu when he heard that his other sworn brother, Zhang Fei, had been murdered in his sleep by subordinates who then fled to Eastern Wu. Liu Bei was determined to avenge both brothers. Disregarding advice from Zhuge Liang and others, Liu Bei led a formidable army of 750,000 to attack East Wu.”

Battle of Yiling

Cao Cao presents his sword

According to “Sun Quan offered Liu Bei the return of the Jing province and of his sister (Liu's ex-wife Sun Ren). Liu Bei's advisers, including Zhuge Liang, urged him to accept these terms, but Liu persisted. After initial victories, a series of strategic mistakes due to the impetuosity of Liu Bei led to the cataclysmic defeat of Han troops in the Battle of Yiling. However, Lu Xun, the commander of Wu who spearheaded the war against Shu-Han, refrained from pursuing Liu Bei’s defeated troops. Famous generals from both Wu and Shu-Han forces perished. Lu Xun’s caution was vindicated when Cao Pi launched an invasion against Wu, thinking that Wu forces would still be abroad. The invasion was crushed by strong Wu resistance, coupled with a plague outbreak. [Source:]

“Meanwhile, in Baidicheng, sixty-two year old Liu Bei, ailing after three years of neglecting his health, died, leaving his young son Liu Shan in the care of Zhuge Liang. In a moving final conversation between Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei asked Zhuge Liang to assume the imperial throne himself in place of Liu Shan, should Liu Shan prove to be inept. He refused to do so, and swore that he would remain faithful to the trust that Liu Bei had for him. This promise was to be a raison d'être for the rest of Zhuge Liang's life.

“Cao Pi, following Sima Yi’s advice, induced several forces, including Sun Quan, turncoat Shu general Meng Da, Meng Huo of the Nanman, and the Qiang tribe, to attack Shu Han, in coordination with a Cao Wei army. Zhuge Liang successfully deployed the Shu Han troops and caused the five armies to retreat without shedding a single drop of blood. An envoy from Shu Han named Deng Zhi subsequently persuaded Sun Quan to renew its former alliance with Shu Han.

“In one of his final strokes of brilliance, Zhuge Liang personally led the Shu troops to subdue the southern barbarian king Meng Huo of the Nanman tribe. The barbarian troops were no match for the Shu troops and Zhuge Liang captured Meng Huo seven times by using cunning strategies. The first six times, Meng Huo complained that he had been captured by trickery, and had no chance to fight a real battle with the Shu troops. Zhuge Liang agreed to let him go every time, allowing him to come back again for another battle. The seventh time, Zhuge Liang wanted to release Meng Huo once again but this time Meng Huo refused. Meng Huo was ashamed of rebelling against Shu-Han and was so deeply touched by Zhuge Liang’s benevolence that he swore allegiance to Shu-Han forever.”

Battle Between Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi

According to “At this time, Cao Pi also died of illness and was succeeded by Cao Rui. Ma Chao died of illness as well, age 48. In Jiangdong, Sun Quan declared himself Emperor of East Wu. Zhuge Liang then turned his eyes northwards, and planned to attack Wei to restore the Han Dynasty as he had promised Liu Bei at the latter’s deathbed. However, his days were numbered and Shu was far too weak to overcome the material superiority of Wei. His last significant victory against Wei was probably the defection of Jiang Wei, a young general whose brilliance paralleled his own. [Source:]

“Zhuge Liang had all along had a chronic illness, which was compounded when he refused to rest even into the early hours of the morning, so that he would be able to complete his analysis of the battlegrounds or to formulate his next plan. He finally died of sickness at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains, while leading a stalemated battle against the Wei commander, Sima Yi, with his far superior force. As a final ploy, he set up a statue of himself to scare off Sima Yi in order to buy time for the Shu army to retreat.

“The long years of battle between Wei and Shu saw many changes in the ruling Cao family in Wei. The Cao family gradually grew weak after the death of Cao Rui and Sima Yi slowly plotted to usurp the throne. Sima Yi removed Cao Shuang, a powerful noble of Wei from power with a cunning strategy and since then the power of Wei had been in the hands of Sima Yi. After Sima Yi’s death, his sons Sima Shi and Sima Zhao continued wielding the power of Wei in their hands. Sima Zhao had Cao Fang removed from the throne and replaced Cao Fang with Cao Mao. Later, Cao Mao tried to assassinate Sima Zhao, who had the intention of usurping the throne, but was killed by Sima Zhao’s subordinate. Sima Zhao pretended to grieve and mourn Cao Mao’s death and even later had his subordinate, whom he ordered to kill Cao Mao, executed for committing regicide.”

End of the Three Kingdoms

According to “Jiang Wei, who succeeded Zhuge Liang’s brilliance, carried on Zhuge Liang’s campaign against Wei for a bitter three decades. However, Liu Bei’s son Liu Shan did not heed Jiang Wei’s advice and listened to the evil eunuch Huang Hao instead. In order to escape from the rival officials in the court, Jiang Wei decided to resigned from his military title for the time being and went off to a fertile land of Tazhong. The Wei general Deng Ai, who was at war with Jiang Wei, took the chance to attack Shu-Han. Deng Ai and his troops arrived in front of Chengdu, the capital city of Shu-Han, by taking a shortcut. Liu Shan surrendered without a battle and ended the Kingdom of Shu-Han. Jiang Wei planned to rebuild Shu-Han by uniting forces with a Wei general, Zhong Hui, who was at odds with Deng Ai. However, he was not able to see it to the end when his heartache grew intolerable in the midst of the final battle. Seeing the rebellion has failed, he then killed himself with a sword, marking the last stand of Shu. [Source: ]

“In Eastern Wu, there was internal conflict among the nobles ever since the death of Sun Quan. Zhuge Ke tried to usurp the throne of Eastern Wu but was assassinated by Sun Lin. Later, Sun Lin himself also lusted for power and had the emperor of Eastern Wu Sun Liang deposed and replaced with Sun Xiu. Sun Xiu sought help from the old veteran general Ding Feng and had Sun Lin assassinated, and the power of Eastern Wu went back into the hands of the emperor. This did not last for long.

“In Wei, Sima Yan, son of Sima Zhao, finally forced the last Wei emperor Cao Huan to abdicate in the same manner as Cao Pi had forced Emperor Xian of Han to abdicate. Sima Yan established the Jin Dynasty in AD 265, declaring himself the first emperor of the new dynasty. The Kingdom of Wei came to an end. Sima Yan ordered the Jin troops to attack Eastern Wu from the former land of Shu-Han and succeeded in conquering Eastern Wu after a long period of struggle when the last tyrannical emperor of Eastern Wu, Sun Hao surrendered. Thus the Three Kingdoms period concluded after almost a century of civil strife.”

Image Sources: Nolls website, Palace Museum Tapei, CNTO, Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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