Cao Hong
Cao Hong Qing illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Cao Hong
General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎將軍)
In office
c. late 220s (c. late 220s) – 232 (232)
MonarchCao Rui
General of the Rear (後將軍)
In office
227 (227) – c. late 220s (c. late 220s)
MonarchCao Rui
General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎將軍)
In office
220 (220) – c. early 220s (c. early 220s)
MonarchCao Pi
Personal details
OccupationMilitary general
Courtesy nameZilian (子廉)
Posthumous nameMarquis Gong (恭侯)
PeerageMarquis of Lecheng

Cao Hong (died 232), courtesy name Zilian, was a Chinese military general of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China.[1] He started his career in the late Eastern Han dynasty under the warlord Cao Cao, who was his older second cousin.[2]

Early life and career

Cao Hong's uncle, Cao Ding (曹鼎), served as the Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令) in the Han central government. Because of this connection, Cao Hong gained an official appointment as the Chief (長) of Qichun County (蘄春縣; northwest of present-day Qichun County, Hubei).[3]

Around 190,[4] the warlord Cao Cao, an older second cousin of Cao Hong, raised an army to participate in the campaign against the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo, who controlled the Han central government. Cao Hong joined Cao Cao around this time and served as an officer in his army. Cao Cao engaged Dong Zhuo's general Xu Rong at the Battle of Xingyang, but was defeated and forced to retreat. While fleeing from the enemy, Cao Cao lost his horse so Cao Hong got off his own horse and offered it to him. When Cao Cao declined, Cao Hong said, "The world can do without (Cao) Hong, but it can't do without you." He then escorted Cao Cao on foot to the bank of the Bian River. As the river was too deep for them to wade across, Cao Hong swam around in search of a boat and finally found one. They crossed the river and returned to Cao Cao's hometown in Qiao County (譙縣; present-day Bozhou, Anhui) safely.[5]

Chen Wen (陳溫), the Inspector of Yang Province, was on friendly terms with Cao Hong. At the time, Cao Hong had about 1,000 men from his own militia. He asked for troops from Chen Wen, who provided him with 2,000 of his best soldiers. Cao Hong then went to Danyang Commandery (丹楊郡) and managed to recruit about another 1,000 men with help from the commandery's Administrator, Zhou Xin. He brought along his 4,000 troops to meet Cao Cao at Longkang (龍亢; in present-day Huaiyuan County, Anhui) and became one of Cao Cao's most loyal followers since then.[6][7]

Service under Cao Cao

Battles against Lü Bu in Yan Province

Further information: Battle of Yan Province

In 194,[8] when Cao Cao was away on a campaign in Xu Province, his subordinates Zhang Miao and Chen Gong started a rebellion in his base, Yan Province, and defected to a rival warlord, Lü Bu. Around the time, a famine had broken out in Yan Province. Cao Hong led a vanguard force to retake Dongping (東平) and Fan (范) counties from Lü Bu and stockpile grain to feed the troops. After that, Cao Cao attacked Lü Bu at Puyang County (濮陽縣; west of present-day Puyang County, Henan) and defeated him. Cao Cao subsequently attacked and retook Dong'e (東阿), Jiyin (濟陰), Shanyang (山陽), Zhongmu (中牟), Yangwu (陽武), Jing (京), Mi (密) and other counties from Lü Bu. For his contributions in the Battle of Yan Province against Lü Bu, Cao Hong was first commissioned as Soaring Eagle Colonel (鷹揚校尉) and later promoted to General of the Household Who Spreads Martial Might (揚武中郎將).[9]

Joining Cao Cao in receiving Emperor Xian

In February 196, acting on the advice of Xun Yu and Cheng Yu, Cao Cao sent Cao Hong west to fetch Emperor Xian[a] but was blocked by Dong Cheng and Yuan Shu's subordinate Chang Nu (萇奴).[10] In August 196,[11] Cao Cao led his forces into Luoyang and received Emperor Xian. Two months later, he relocated the emperor to his own base in Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan), where the new imperial capital was established. Emperor Xian appointed Cao Hong as a Counsellor Remonstrant (諫議大夫).[12]

Incident with Man Chong

When Man Chong was serving as the Prefect (令) of Xu County (許縣; present-day Xuchang, Henan), he arrested some of Cao Hong's retainers who broke the law. When Cao Hong heard about it, he wrote to Man Chong, asking for their release, but Man Chong refused. Cao Hong then brought up the issue to Cao Cao, who summoned the official who was overall in charge to come and see him. Man Chong thought that Cao Cao wanted to pardon Cao Hong's retainers, so he immediately ordered their execution. Cao Cao was pleased and he remarked, "Isn't this what an officeholder should do?"[13]

Battles against Zhang Xiu

In 197,[11] Cao Cao lost the Battle of Wancheng against a rival warlord Zhang Xiu and retreated to Wuyin County (舞陰縣; southeast of present-day Sheqi County, Henan). After Cao Cao left Wuyin County and returned to Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan), the officials in Nanyang (南陽), Zhangling (章陵) and other counties who had surrendered to him earlier rebelled and defected to Zhang Xiu's side. Cao Cao sent Cao Hong to lead troops to recapture those counties but Cao Hong failed and was forced to retreat to a garrison at Ye County (葉縣; southwest of present-day Ye County, Henan). The garrison came under multiple attacks by Zhang Xiu and his ally Liu Biao.[14]

Battle of Guandu

Further information: Battle of Guandu

In the year 200,[15] Cao Hong participated in the Battle of Guandu between Cao Cao and the northern warlord Yuan Shao. When both sides were locked in a stalemate around winter, Cao Cao heeded the advice of Xu You, a defector from Yuan Shao's side, and personally led 5,000 riders to raid Yuan's supply depot at Wuchao (烏巢; southeast of present-day Yanjin County, Henan), which was guarded by Chunyu Qiong. Cao Hong was ordered to remain behind to guard Cao Cao's main camp during the raid. Cao Cao succeeded in destroying Yuan Shao's supplies in the raid and killed Chunyu Qiong in battle.[16]

When Yuan Shao heard that Wuchao was under attack, he sent his generals Zhang He and Gao Lan (高覽) to attack Cao Cao's main camp in the hope of diverting Cao's attention away from Wuchao. However, Zhang He and Gao Lan, already frustrated with Yuan Shao, ended up defecting to Cao Cao's side instead.[17] They destroyed their own camps and led their men to Cao Cao's main camp to surrender. Cao Hong was initially suspicious about Zhang He and Gao Lan, but Xun You managed to convince him to accept their surrender.[18]

Battles against Liu Biao and promotions

Cao Hong participated in the campaign against the warlord Liu Biao in Jing Province and defeated Liu's subordinates in battles at Wuyang (舞陽), Yinye (陰葉), Duyang (堵陽) and Bowang (博望). For his achievements, he was promoted to General of Sharp Edge (厲鋒將軍) and enfeoffed as the Marquis of Guoming Village (國明亭侯). Later, as he made more contributions in battles, he was further promoted to Protector-General (都護將軍).[19]

Hanzhong Campaign

Further information: Hanzhong Campaign

In the winter of 217, the warlord Liu Bei sent Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, Wu Lan (吳蘭) and others to garrison at Xiabian County (下辯縣; northwest of present-day Cheng County, Gansu) in preparation for an invasion of Hanzhong Commandery, which Cao Cao had seized from the warlord Zhang Lu after the Battle of Yangping in 215.[20] Cao Cao ordered Cao Hong to lead forces to resist the enemy, with Cao Xiu serving as Cao Hong's adviser. Cao Cao had told Cao Xiu, "You may be an adviser, but you're actually the commander." When Cao Hong received the order, he delegated his command to Cao Xiu. Cao Hong heeded Cao Xiu's advice and defeated Wu Lan in the spring of 218 and killed Wu's deputy, Ren Kui (任夔). Wu Lan was slain by Qiangduan (強端), a Di chieftain from Yinping (陰平). Zhang Fei was forced to retreat.[21][22]

Cao Hong then threw a party to celebrate his victory. He ordered some prostitutes to dress scantily and dance on drums to entertain everyone. Yang Fu, one of Cao Cao's advisers, openly reprimanded Cao Hong for the indecency of the performance, and then stormed out. Cao Hong immediately called off the performance and invited Yang Fu to return to his seat.[23]

Service in the state of Cao Wei

Cao Cao died in 220. Later that year,[24] his son and successor Cao Pi ended the Eastern Han dynasty and established the state of Cao Wei with himself as the emperor. Cao Pi appointed Cao Hong as General of the Guards (衞將軍) and promoted him to General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎將軍). He also made Cao Hong the Marquis of Yewang (野王侯) and gave him an additional 1,000 taxable households for his marquisate, making it 2,100 households in total. Cao Hong's marquis title was later renamed to "Marquis of Duyang" (都陽侯).[25]

Cao Hong was wealthy but was also known for being stingy with his wealth. When Cao Cao was still the Minister of Works, he set an example by getting the county offices to keep records of the accounts of officials, including his. When he heard that his personal wealth was equivalent to Cao Hong's, he remarked, "How can my personal wealth be the same as Zilian's?"[26]

Fall from grace

In the past, when Cao Pi was still a youth, he once asked Cao Hong for a loan, but the stingy Cao Hong rejected him. Later, when Cao Pi was Cao Cao's heir apparent, he once asked Cao Hong to donate 100 rolls of silk but Cao Hong refused.[27] Cao Pi bore a grudge against Cao Hong because of this. After Cao Pi became emperor, he found an opportunity to take revenge against Cao Hong. In one incident, when Cao Hong's retainers committed crimes, Cao Pi used the incident as an excuse to accuse Cao Hong of negligence and had him imprisoned to await execution. When his ministers tried to persuade him to spare Cao Hong, Cao Pi refused to listen.[28]

Apparently, Cao Hong had previously offended Cao Zhen, another relative of Cao Cao who also served as a general in Wei. In 224, when Cao Zhen returned from a campaign, Cao Pi ordered Wu Zhi to host a banquet in his residence in Cao Zhen's honour. During the banquet, Wu Zhi instructed actors to put up a skit to make fun of Cao Zhen and Zhu Shuo (朱鑠), who were fat and thin respectively. Cao Zhen was enraged and he shouted at Wu Zhi, "Are you and your men seeking a fight with me and my men?" Cao Hong and Wang Zhong egged Wu Zhi on by saying, "If you want to make the General (Cao Zhen) admit that he is fat, you have to show that you're thin." Cao Zhen drew his sword, glared at them and said, "I'll kill whoever dares to mock me."[29] When Cao Hong got into trouble later, Cao Zhen told Cao Pi, "If Cao Hong is to be executed, he'll definitely say something nasty about me." Cao Pi replied, "I'll deal with him myself. Why do you need to worry?"[30]

Cao Pi's mother, Empress Dowager Bian, intervened and scolded her son, "If not for what Zilian did at Liang (梁) and Pei (沛),[b] you wouldn't have made it to where you are today." She also told Cao Pi's empress, Guo Nüwang, "If Cao Hong dies today, tomorrow I'll make the Emperor remove you from your position as Empress." The empress then tearfully pleaded with Cao Pi several times to spare Cao Hong. Cao Pi finally agreed to spare Cao Hong, but stripped him of his appointments and titles and confiscated his properties. After Empress Dowager Bian intervened again, Cao Pi reluctantly returned Cao Hong his properties but did not restore him to his former positions.[31][32] Upon learning that Cao Pi had pardoned him, Cao Hong was so overjoyed that he wrote a memorial to the emperor to express his remorse and said he would spend the rest of his life behind the walls of his home.[33]

Rehabilitation and death

As Cao Hong was highly regarded for having made great contributions in the past, many people were upset over his demotion and fall from grace. Cao Pi died in 226 and was succeeded by his son, Cao Rui, as the emperor of Wei.[34] Cao Rui rehabilitated Cao Hong by appointing him as General of the Rear (後將軍) and enfeoffing him as the Marquis of Lecheng (樂城侯) with 1,000 taxable households as his marquisate. Later, he promoted Cao Hong to General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎將軍).[35]

Cao Hong died in 232 and was given the posthumous title "Marquis Gong" (恭侯), which means "humble(d) marquis".[c] His title, Marquis of Lecheng (樂城侯), was passed on to his son, Cao Fu (曹馥). Cao Zhen (曹震), another son of Cao Hong, had already previously been enfeoffed as a marquis. Cao Yu (曹瑜), an older relative of Cao Hong, was known for being conscientious and respectful, and had served as General of the Guards (衞將軍) and been enfeoffed as a marquis as well.[37] Cao Hong's daughter, who was known for her beautiful looks, married Xun Can, a son of Xun Yu. She died a few years after their marriage, and Xun Can was so grieved by her death that he also died a few years later.[38]

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Cao Hong appears as a minor character in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. In chapter 58, Cao Hong had a rather prominent role at the Battle of Tong Pass between Cao Cao and a coalition of northwestern warlords led by Ma Chao and Han Sui. Cao Cao had instructed Cao Hong to guard Tong Pass for ten days at all costs and not leave his post. However, after hearing taunts from the enemy for nine days, Cao Hong finally gave in to his anger and led his troops out of the pass to engage the enemy. He not only lost the battle but also lost the pass as well. Cao Cao was so angry with Cao Hong that he wanted to execute him for disobeying orders, but his subordinates stopped him. Later on, Cao Hong redeemed himself by risking his life to save Cao Cao, who was fleeing from the battlefield after being defeated by Ma Chao. Cao Hong blocked Ma Chao from chasing Cao Cao and duelled with him for about 100 rounds until Ma gave up and retreated. Cao Cao pardoned Cao Hong for his earlier mistake after taking into consideration how Cao Hong saved his life.[39] There is no mention of these incidents in historical records.

See also


  1. ^ Emperor Xian was held hostage in Chang'an by Li Jue, Guo Si and other former followers of Dong Zhuo. Around 195, when internal conflict broke out between Li Jue and Guo Si, Emperor Xian escaped from Chang'an and returned to the ruins of Luoyang (Luoyang was destroyed by fire in 190 when Dong Zhuo moved the capital to Chang'an). In Luoyang, he came under the protection of Dong Cheng and Yang Feng.
  2. ^ Empress Dowager Bian was probably referring to the incident after the Battle of Xingyang where Cao Hong saved Cao Cao's life.
  3. ^ According to the "Rules of assigning posthumous names" chapter in the Yizhoushu, an official could receive the posthumous name "Gong" (恭) for being able to correct past mistakes.[36] In Cao Hong's case, he changed his snobbish attitude after being punished.


  1. ^ a b de Crespigny (2007), p. 42.
  2. ^ (曹洪字子廉,太祖從弟也。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  3. ^ (魏書曰:洪伯父鼎為尚書令,任洪為蘄春長。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  4. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 59.
  5. ^ (太祖起義兵討董卓,至熒陽,為卓將徐榮所敗。太祖失馬,賊追甚急,洪下,以馬授太祖,太祖辭讓,洪曰:「天下可無洪,不可無君。」遂步從到汴水,水深不得渡,洪循水得船,與太祖俱濟,還奔譙。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  6. ^ (揚州刺史陳溫素與洪善,洪將家兵千餘人,就溫募兵,得廬江上甲二千人,東到丹楊復得數千人,與太祖會龍亢。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  7. ^ (太祖兵少,乃與夏侯惇等詣揚州募兵,刺史陳溫、丹楊太守周昕與兵四千餘人。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  8. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 61.
  9. ^ (太祖征徐州,張邈舉兖州叛迎呂布。時大饑荒,洪將兵在前,先據東平、范,聚糧穀以繼軍。太祖討邈、布於濮陽,布破走,遂據東阿,轉擊濟陰、山陽、中牟、陽武、京、密十餘縣,皆拔之。以前後功拜鷹揚校尉,遷揚武中郎將。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  10. ^ (太祖將迎天子,諸將或疑,荀彧、程昱勸之,乃遣曹洪將兵西迎,衞將軍董承與袁術將萇奴拒險,洪不得進。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  11. ^ a b Sima (1084), vol. 62.
  12. ^ (天子都許,拜洪諫議大夫。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  13. ^ (... 為許令。時曹洪宗室親貴,有賔客在界,數犯法,寵收治之。洪書報寵,寵不聽。洪白太祖,太祖召許主者。寵知將欲原,乃速殺之。太祖喜曰:「當事不當耳邪?」) Sanguozhi vol. 26.
  14. ^ (公乃引兵還舞陰,繡將騎來鈔,公擊破之。繡奔穰,與劉表合。 ... 遂還許。公之自舞陰還也,南陽、章陵諸縣復叛為繡,公遣曹洪擊之,不利,還屯葉,數為繡、表所侵。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  15. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 63.
  16. ^ (冬十月,紹遣車運穀,使淳于瓊等五人將兵萬餘人送之,宿紹營北四十里。紹謀臣許攸貪財,紹不能足,來奔,因說公擊瓊等。左右疑之,荀攸、賈詡勸公。公乃留曹洪守,自將步騎五千人夜往,會明至。瓊等望見公兵少,出陳門外。公急擊之,瓊退保營,遂攻之。紹遣騎救瓊。左右或言「賊騎稍近,請分兵拒之」。公怒曰:「賊在背後,乃白!」士卒皆殊死戰,大破瓊等,皆斬之。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  17. ^ (紹初聞公之擊瓊,謂長子譚曰:「就彼攻瓊等,吾攻拔其營,彼固無所歸矣!」乃使張郃、高覽攻曹洪。郃等聞瓊破,遂來降。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  18. ^ (太祖乃留攸及曹洪守。太祖自將攻破之,盡斬瓊等。紹將張郃、高覽燒攻櫓降,紹遂棄軍走。郃之來,洪疑不敢受,攸謂洪曰:「郃計不用,怒而來,君何疑?」乃受之。) Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  19. ^ (別征劉表,破表別將於舞陽、陰葉、堵陽、博望,有功,遷厲鋒將軍,封國明亭侯。累從征伐,拜都護將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  20. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 67.
  21. ^ (劉備遣將吳蘭屯下辯,太祖遣曹洪征之,以休為騎都尉,參洪軍事。太祖謂休曰:「汝雖參軍,其實帥也。」洪聞此令,亦委事於休。備遣張飛屯固山,欲斷軍後。衆議狐疑,休曰:「賊實斷道者,當伏兵潛行。今乃先張聲勢,此其不能也。宜及其未集,促擊蘭,蘭破則飛自走矣。」洪從之,進兵擊蘭,大破之,飛果走。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  22. ^ ([二十二年冬] ... 劉備遣張飛、馬超、吳蘭等屯下辯;遣曹洪拒之。 ... [二十三年春] ... 曹洪破吳蘭,斬其將任夔等。三月,張飛、馬超走漢中,陰平氐強端斬吳蘭,傳其首。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  23. ^ (洪置酒大會,令女倡著羅縠之衣,蹋鼓,一坐皆笑。阜厲聲責洪曰:「男女之別,國之大節,何有於廣坐之中裸女人形體!雖桀、紂之亂,不甚於此。」遂奮衣辭出。洪立罷女樂,請阜還坐,肅然憚焉。) Sanguozhi vol. 25.
  24. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 69.
  25. ^ (文帝即位,為衞將軍,遷驃騎將軍,進封野王侯,益邑千戶,并前二千一百戶,位特進;後徙封都陽侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  26. ^ (初,太祖為司空時,以己率下,每歲發調,使本縣平貲。于時譙令平洪貲財與公家等,太祖曰:「我家貲郍得如子廉邪!」) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  27. ^ (文帝在東宮,嘗從洪貸絹百匹,洪不稱意。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  28. ^ (始,洪家富而性吝嗇,文帝少時假求不稱,常恨之,遂以舍客犯法,下獄當死。羣臣並救莫能得。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  29. ^ (質別傳曰: ... 質黃初五年朝京師,詔上將軍及特進以下皆會質所,大官給供具。酒酣,質欲盡歡。時上將軍曹真性肥,中領軍朱鑠性瘦,質召優,使說肥瘦。真負貴,恥見戲,怒謂質曰:「卿欲以部曲將遇我邪?」驃騎將軍曹洪、輕車將軍王忠言:「將軍必欲使上將軍服肥,即自宜為瘦。」真愈恚,拔刀瞋目,言:「俳敢輕脫,吾斬爾。」遂罵坐。質案劒曰:「曹子丹,汝非屠机上肉,吳質吞爾不搖喉,咀爾不搖牙,何敢恃勢驕邪?」鑠因起曰:「陛下使吾等來樂卿耳,乃至此邪!」質顧叱之曰:「朱鑠,敢壞坐!」諸將軍皆還坐。鑠性急,愈恚,還拔劒斬地。遂便罷也。) Wu Zhi Biezhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 21.
  30. ^ (魏略曰:文帝收洪,時曹真在左右,請之曰:「今誅洪,洪必以真為譖也。」帝曰:「我自治之,卿何豫也?」) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  31. ^ (卞太后謂郭后曰:「令曹洪今日死,吾明日勑帝廢后矣。」於是泣涕屢請,乃得免官削爵土。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  32. ^ (會卞太后責怒帝,言「梁、沛之間,非子廉無有今日」。詔乃釋之。猶尚沒入其財產。太后又以為言,後乃還之。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  33. ^ (及洪犯法,自分必死,旣得原,喜,上書謝曰:「臣少不由道,過在人倫,長竊非任,遂蒙含貸。性無檢度知足之分,而有犲狼無厭之質,老惛倍貪,觸突國網,罪迫三千,不在赦宥,當就辜誅,棄諸市朝,猶蒙天恩,骨肉更生。臣仰視天日,愧負靈神,俯惟愆闕,慙愧怖悸,不能雉經以自裁割,謹塗顏闕門,拜章陳情。」) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  34. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 70.
  35. ^ (洪先帝功臣,時人多為觖望。明帝即位,拜後將軍,更封樂城侯,邑千戶,位特進,復拜驃騎將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  36. ^ (敬事尊上曰恭。尊賢貴義曰恭。尊賢敬讓曰恭。既過能改曰恭。執事堅固曰恭。愛民長弟曰恭。執禮御賓曰恭。芘親之闕曰恭。尊賢讓善曰恭。) Yizhoushu vol. 6.
  37. ^ (太和六年薨,謚曰恭侯。子馥,嗣侯。初,太祖分洪戶封子震列侯。洪族父瑜,脩慎篤敬,官至衞將軍,封列侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  38. ^ (驃騎將軍曹洪女有美色,粲於是娉焉,容服帷帳甚麗,專房歡宴。歷年後,婦病亡, ...) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  39. ^ Sanguo Yanyi ch. 58.