Cao Chun
Consultant (議郎)
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Military Adviser to the Minister of Works
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Personal details
ChildrenCao Yan
FatherCao Chi
RelativesCao Ren (brother)
Cao Cao (cousin)
OccupationMilitary Officer
Courtesy nameZihe (子和)
Posthumous nameMarquis Wei (威侯)
PeerageMarquis of Gaoling Village

Cao Chun (died 210), courtesy name Zihe,[2] was a military officer serving under the warlord Cao Cao during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He was a younger second cousin of Cao Cao, and is best known for leading the "Tiger and Leopard Cavalry" (虎豹騎), an elite mounted unit, in several battles against Cao Cao's rivals, including Yuan Tan, Tadun and Liu Bei. His elder brother, Cao Ren, also served as a military officer under Cao Cao.


Cao Chun and his elder full brother, Cao Ren, were younger second cousins of Cao Cao.[3] Their grandfather Cao Bao (曹襃) and father Cao Chi (曹熾) served in the government of the Eastern Han dynasty.[4] Their father died when Cao Chun was 13 years old, so Cao Chun and Cao Ren lived with another family. They inherited their family fortune when they became older; they were wealthy and had hundreds of servants and retainers. Cao Chun was known for being a strict, rule-abiding and fair leader among his followers. His fellow townsfolk regarded him highly. A well-read man who respected scholars, Cao Chun was also popular among the literati, many of whom flocked to him and became his retainers.[5]

At the age of 17, Cao Chun was called to serve in the Han government as a Gentleman of the Yellow Gate (黃門侍郎). Two years later, he followed his second cousin, Cao Cao, to Xiangyi (襄邑; present-day Sui County, Henan) to recruit soldiers. Since then, he had fought on Cao Cao's side in several battles against rival warlords.[6] He became a Consultant (議郎) and Military Adviser to the Minister of Works (參司空軍事) sometime between 196[a] and 205. In early 205, he led the "Tiger and Leopard Cavalry" (虎豹騎) during the Battle of Nanpi against a rival warlord, Yuan Tan. When his forces suffered heavy casualties, Cao Cao wanted to call for a retreat, but Cao Chun stopped him and said, "We've travelled a long distance to attack the enemy. While we can't defeat them at the moment by advancing, we'll definitely lose our might if we retreat. Besides, we're already deep in enemy territory and we won't be able to last long. The enemy has become complacent after their initial victory against us; we've become fearful after our initial defeat by them. We can use our fear to overcome their complacency and defeat them." Cao Cao agreed and ordered his forces to press on their attack, and eventually defeated Yuan Tan. Cao Chun's "Tiger and Leopard Cavalry" killed Yuan Tan and cut off his head during the battle.[7]

In 207, Cao Chun led the "Tiger and Leopard Cavalry" again at the Battle of White Wolf Mountain against the Wuhuan tribes, who were allied with Cao Cao's rival Yuan Shang. During the battle, Cao Chun's unit captured Tadun,[8] who was later executed by Zhang Liao, a general under Cao Cao.[9] In recognition of Cao Chun's contributions in battle, Emperor Xian enfeoffed Cao Chun as the Marquis of Gaoling Village (高陵亭侯) and gave him 300 taxable households to form his marquisate.[10]

In 208, Cao Chun accompanied Cao Cao on the campaign in Jing Province. During the Battle of Changban, Cao Chun led his troops in pursuit of the rival warlord Liu Bei and captured Liu Bei's two daughters, along with much of his equipment. They also rounded up some of Liu Bei's soldiers who were scattered during the battle and recruited them to join Cao Cao's forces. After Cao Cao occupied Jiangling County (江陵縣; present-day Jingzhou, Hubei), Jing Province's capital, Cao Chun headed back to Qiao County (譙縣; present-day Bozhou, Anhui).[11] It is not known whether Cao Chun participated in the Battle of Red Cliffs.

Cao Chun died in 210, the 15th year of the Jian'an era in the reign of Emperor Xian. In 220, Cao Cao's son and heir, Cao Pi, forced Emperor Xian to abdicate in his favour, ended the Eastern Han dynasty, and established the state of Cao Wei. After becoming emperor, Cao Pi awarded Cao Chun the posthumous title "Marquis Wei" (威侯).[12]

The "Tiger and Leopard Cavalry" (虎豹騎) unit that Cao Chun led was an elite mounted unit in Cao Cao's forces. Its recruitment process was highly selective – only soldiers who had at least 100 men under them were eligible. Even Cao Cao himself found it difficult to lead such a unit, which was why he chose Cao Chun, who was able to gain the trust and respect of those elite soldiers. After Cao Chun's death, when someone asked Cao Cao to select a new candidate to replace Cao Chun, Cao Cao said, "Who is comparable to (Cao) Chun? Am I not the only person capable of leading (this unit)?" He did not choose anyone.[13]


Cao Chun's son, Cao Yan (曹演), served as a military officer in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period and held the position of General Who Leads the Army (領軍將軍). Sometime between 254 and 256, he was enfeoffed as the Marquis of Pingle District (平樂鄉侯). After his death, his son, Cao Liang (曹亮), inherited his marquis title.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Cao Cao was appointed Minister of Works (司空) by Emperor Xian in 196.


  1. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 40.
  2. ^ (英雄記曰:純字子和。) Yingxiong Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  3. ^ (曹仁字子孝,太祖從弟也。 ... 仁弟純, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  4. ^ (魏書曰:仁祖襃,潁川太守。父熾,侍中、長水校尉。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  5. ^ (英雄記曰: ... 年十四而喪父,與同產兄仁別居。承父業,富於財,僮僕人客以百數,純綱紀督御,不失其理,鄉里咸以為能。好學問,敬愛學士,學士多歸焉,由是為遠近所稱。) Yingxiong Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  6. ^ (年十八,為黃門侍郎。二十,從太祖到襄邑募兵,遂常從征戰。) Yingxiong Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  7. ^ (初以議郎參司空軍事,督虎豹騎從圍南皮。袁譚出戰,士卒多死。太祖欲緩之,純曰:「今千里蹈敵,進不能克,退必喪威;且懸師深入,難以持乆。彼勝而驕,我敗而懼,以懼敵驕,必可克也。」太祖善其言,遂急攻之,譚敗。純麾下騎斬譚首。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  8. ^ (及北征三郡,純部騎獲單于蹹頓。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  9. ^ (從征袁尚於柳城,卒與虜遇,遼勸太祖戰,氣甚奮,太祖壯之,自以所持麾授遼。遂擊,大破之,斬單于蹋頓。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  10. ^ (以前後功封高陵亭侯,邑三百戶。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  11. ^ (從征荊州,追劉備於長坂,獲其二女輜重,收其散卒。進降江陵,從還譙。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  12. ^ (建安十五年薨。文帝即位,追謚曰威侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  13. ^ (魏書曰:純所督虎豹騎,皆天下驍銳,或從百人將補之,太祖難其帥。純以選為督,撫循甚得人心。及卒,有司白選代,太祖曰:「純之比,何可復得!吾獨不中督邪?」遂不選。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  14. ^ (子演嗣,官至領軍將軍,正元中進封平樂鄉侯。演薨,子亮嗣。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.