Cao Ren
Cao Ren Qing illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Cao Ren
Grand Marshal (大司馬)
In office
14 December 221 (14 December 221) – 6 May 223 (6 May 223)
MonarchCao Pi
General-in-Chief (大將軍)
In office
May / June (May / June) – 14 December 221 (14 December 221)
MonarchCao Pi
General of Chariots and Cavalry (車騎將軍)
In office
220 (220) – May / June 221 (May / June 221)
MonarchCao Pi
General Who Attacks the South (征南將軍)
In office
c. 210s (c. 210s)–220 (220)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Personal details
Died(223-05-06)6 May 223 (aged 55)[a]
  • Cao Tai
  • Cao Kai
  • Cao Fan
  • Cao Chi (father)
Courtesy nameZixiao (子孝)
Posthumous nameMarquis Zhong (忠侯)
PeerageMarquis of Chen

Cao Ren (pronunciation ) (168 – 6 May 223),[a][4] courtesy name Zixiao, was a military general serving during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China under the warlord Cao Cao, who was also his older second cousin.[5] He continued serving in the state of Cao Wei – founded by Cao Cao's son and successor, Cao Pi – during the Three Kingdoms period. He played a significant part in assisting Cao Cao in the civil wars leading to the end of the Han dynasty. He was appointed as the Grand Marshal (大司馬) when Cao Pi ascended the throne, and was also credited by the latter for the establishment of Wei. However, Cao Ren was also once derided as a mediocre commander by Zhu Huan, a general from Wei's rival state Eastern Wu.[6]

Early life

Cao Ren was a younger second cousin of Cao Cao.[7] His grandfather Cao Bao (曹襃) and father Cao Chi (曹熾) served in the government of the Eastern Han dynasty.[8] He had a younger full brother, Cao Chun. As their father died when they were still young, Cao Ren and Cao Chun lived with another family. They inherited their family fortune when they became older. They were known for being wealthy and having hundreds of servants and retainers.[9]

As a youth, Cao Ren was fond of horse-riding, archery and hunting. When chaos broke out in China towards the end of the Han dynasty, Cao Ren rallied a militia of over 1,000 men and they wandered around the region near the Huai and Si rivers. Cao Ren and his followers eventually joined Cao Cao around 190 when the latter was raising an army to join the campaign against Dong Zhuo. Cao Ren held the rank of a Major of Separate Command (別部司馬) under Cao Cao but he was actually an acting Sharp Edge Colonel (厲鋒校尉).[10]

Campaigns in central China

Further information: Campaign against Yuan Shu, Cao Cao's invasion of Xu Province, Battle of Yan Province, and War between Cao Cao and Zhang Xiu

Throughout the 190s, Cao Ren followed Cao Cao on various campaigns against rival warlords in central China. He made great contributions in the campaign against Yuan Shu between 197 and 199. When Cao Cao invaded Xu Province from 193–194 to attack the provincial governor Tao Qian, Cao Ren was in charge of the cavalry and he led the vanguard. He defeated Tao Qian's general Lü You (呂由) and led his force to rendezvous with Cao Cao's main army at Pengcheng (彭城; present-day Xuzhou, Jiangsu), where they scored a major victory over Tao Qian's forces. Cao Ren and his cavalry later defeated Tao Qian's subordinates in various battles at the counties in Xu Province.[11] During the conflict between Cao Cao and Lü Bu, Cao Ren attacked Lü Bu's subordinate Liu He (劉何) at Gouyang (勾陽) and captured the enemy commander alive.[12]

After Cao Cao had defeated the Yellow Turban rebels, he received Emperor Xian (who had escaped from the clutches of Li Jue and Guo Si) and set up the new capital at Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan) in 196. Cao Ren was appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Guangyang Commandery (廣陽郡) for his achievements. However, Cao Ren never exercised governorship over his jurisdiction because Cao Cao appreciated his military skills and kept him by his side in Xu. Cao Ren was still in charge of the cavalry even though he held the position of a civil official as a Consultant (議郎).[13]

The following year, Cao Ren followed Cao Cao on a campaign against the warlord Zhang Xiu, and was authorised to lead a separate force to raid the counties around Zhang Xiu's base in Wan (宛; or Wancheng, present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan) and he captured over 3,000 civilians. Zhang Xiu surrendered to Cao Cao initially, but rebelled later and launched a surprise attack, which led to the Battle of Wancheng. Cao Cao was defeated and he retreated after his forces succeeded in repelling further attacks by Zhang Xiu. However, as they were withdrawing, Zhang Xiu attacked again and Cao Cao's men were unable to drive the enemy away. The morale of Cao Cao's army started falling but Cao Ren helped to raise the soldiers' spirits by encouraging and inspiring them. Cao Cao was very impressed with Cao Ren, and he managed to defeat Zhang Xiu later in a counterattack.[14]

Campaign against Yuan Shao

Main article: Battle of Guandu

In 200, when the forces of Cao Cao and Yuan Shao were locked in a stalemate at the Battle of Guandu, Yuan sent Liu Bei with an army to support the rebellions against Cao Cao in Yinjiang (氵隱疆; southwest of present-day Xuchang, Henan), roughly 8.3 km south of the capital. Cao Cao became worried about such developments in the territories under his control, so he sent Cao Ren to suppress the uprisings. Cao Ren observed that the rebels dared to create trouble because they had Liu Bei's support, but the men under Liu were newly recruited and inexperienced, so it was not difficult to defeat them. Cao Ren targeted the rebel chief Liu Pi and killed him in battle, and subsequently defeated Liu Bei as well. Yuan Shao attempted to cut off Cao Cao's route to the west by sending Han Meng (韓猛)[15] southwest. Cao Ren responded to the threat by defeating Han Meng at Jiluo Hill (雞洛山; located 50 li northeast of present-day Xinmi, Henan). Yuan Shao became afraid and did not dare to send out his troops. Cao Ren and Shi Huan (史渙) later led a force to attack a convoy transporting supplies to Yuan Shao's camp and destroyed the food supplies.[16]

After Cao Cao's victory at Guandu, Cao Ren continued to join Cao Cao in his campaigns against Yuan Shao's heirs in the early 3rd century. During one battle near Hu Pass (壺關; present-day Huguan County, Shanxi), Cao Cao gave orders that all the enemy troops would be buried alive after the city fell. However, after several days of siege, Cao Cao's forces were unable to capture the city. Cao Ren then told Cao Cao, "When we besiege a city, we must leave the defenders with a final option of surrendering. Now, as you've already said that the defenders would be slaughtered after the city is taken, all of them would definitely put up fierce resistance. Besides, the city's fortifications are strong and the defenders have much supplies, so our forces would suffer heavy casualties if we attack, and we will be held up here if we switch to a defensive stance. It's not a wise choice to besiege a city whose defenders are willing to fight to the death." Cao Cao heeded Cao Ren's advice, and the enemy surrendered later. After the campaign, Cao Ren received the title of a "Marquis of a Chief Village" (都亭侯) for his contributions.[17]

Battle of Jiangling, and campaigns in northwest China

Main article: Battle of Jiangling (208)

In 208, after losing to Sun Quan and Liu Bei at the Battle of Red Cliffs, Cao Cao retreated north and left Cao Ren and Xu Huang to defend the strategic Jiangling Commandery (江陵郡; in present-day Jingzhou, Hubei) from the advances of Sun Quan's forces, which were led by Zhou Yu. Cao Ren was serving as acting General Who Attacks the South (征南將軍) then. Zhou Yu despatched a several thousand-strong vanguard to challenge Cao Cao's forces at Jiangling. Cao Ren was aware that his army's morale was low, since they were recently defeated at Red Cliffs, so he ordered his subordinate Niu Jin to lead 300 volunteer soldiers into battle, in the hope that they would display bravery and boost his men's morale. Niu Jin and his men were heavily outnumbered and surrounded by the enemy. Cao Ren's Chief Clerk (長史), Chen Jiao (陳矯), turned pale when he saw the situation from the top of the city walls. However, unlike what everyone thought, Niu Jin managed to create havoc around the Wu's army with just 100 men left by then. Cao Ren experienced a surge of fury and courage after watching how Niu Jin with so little men could make the entire Wu army three times the strength get so tired battling just 300 of his own men, so he ordered every troop in the city to be prepared to go into battle. Chen Jiao and the others attempted to dissuade him from braving danger, but Cao Ren ignored them and every soldiers in his command was ordered to charged into the enemy formation. Cao Ren successfully rescued Niu Jin and his surviving men and even turned back to save his remaining soldiers who were still trapped in the enemy formation. Sun Quan's forces retreated. When Cao Ren returned, his subordinates exclaimed, "General, you're truly a man from Heaven!" The troops were awed by Cao Ren's bravery, and Cao Cao was very impressed when he heard about this incident. Cao Ren's marquis title was changed to "Marquis of Anping Village" (安平亭侯).[18]

Around 211, Cao Ren participated in Cao Cao's campaigns against a coalition of northwestern warlords led by Ma Chao and Han Sui, which led to the Battle of Tong Pass. Cao Ren held the appointment of acting General Who Stabilises the West (安西將軍) and commanded the defence at Tong Pass (潼關; present-day Tongguan County, Weinan, Shaanxi) before Cao Cao reached the frontline.[19]

When Su Bo (蘇伯) and Tian Yin (田銀) rebelled in 212,[20] Cao Ren was appointed acting General of Valiant Cavalry (驍騎將軍) and he led seven armies to attack the rebels and defeated them.[21]

Battle of Fancheng

Main article: Battle of Fancheng

Cao Ren was reappointed acting General Who Attacks the South (征南將軍) was ordered to garrison at Fan (樊; also called Fancheng, in present-day Fancheng District, Xiangfan, Hubei) and oversee Cao Cao's forces in Jing Province. After suppressing a rebellion by Hou Yin (侯音) in Wan (宛; present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan) between late 218 and early 219,[22][23] Cao Ren was officially commissioned as General Who Attacks the South and he continued to garrison at Fan.[24]

In the autumn of 219, Liu Bei's general Guan Yu, who was in charge of Liu's territories in southern Jing Province, led an army north to attack Fan. Cao Cao sent the general Yu Jin to lead seven armies to resist Guan Yu, but the armies were destroyed in a flood when the Han River overflowed due to heavy rains. Yu Jin surrendered to Guan Yu while his subordinate Pang De refused and was executed by Guan. Cao Ren was left with a few thousand troops to defend Fan. Guan Yu and his forces sailed towards Fan on boats and besieged the fortress. By then, Cao Ren and his troops had been completely isolated inside Fan as they had lost contact with outside, while their supplies were running out and there were no reinforcements in sight. Cao Ren encouraged his men to fight to the death and they were very inspired by his words. By the time reinforcements led by Xu Huang arrived, the water level had subsided slightly. While Xu Huang was attacking Guan Yu, Cao Ren seized the opportunity to counterattack and break the siege. Guan Yu failed to conquer Fan so he retreated.[25]

Service under Cao Pi

See also: Cao Pi's invasions of Eastern Wu

Although Cao Ren behaved brashly and had no regard for laws when he was young, after he joined the military when he grew up, he started following rules and regulations strictly and he went by the book in everything he did. Once, when Cao Cao's son Cao Zhang was on away on a campaign against the Wuhuan, his brother Cao Pi wrote to him, "Shouldn't you follow rules and regulations in the same way Cao Ren does?"[26]

Cao Cao died in 220 and was succeeded by Cao Pi. Later that year, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him, ended the Han dynasty, and established the state of Cao Wei. Cao Ren was appointed as General of Chariots and Cavalry (車騎將軍) and was placed in charge of military affairs in Jing, Yang and Yi provinces. He also received the title "Marquis of Chen" (陳侯) and was given 2,000 more taxable households in his marquisate, making it a total of 3,500 households.[27]

Cao Ren moved to Wan (宛; present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan) in northern Jing Province and garrisoned there. Later, when Sun Quan sent Chen Shao (陳邵) to attack Xiangyang, Cao Pi ordered Cao Ren to lead an army to Xiangyang to resist Sun Quan's forces. Cao Ren and Xu Huang defeated Chen Shao and their forces entered Xiangyang. Cao Ren had the general Gao Qian (高遷) oversee the relocation of civilians from the southern bank of the Han River to the north. Cao Pi appointed Cao Ren as General-in-Chief (大將軍). Later, Cao Pi ordered Cao Ren to move to Linying (臨潁) and promoted him to Grand Marshal (大司馬). Cao Ren was placed in charge of the armies along the Wu River (烏江) and he garrisoned at Hefei.[28] In 222, Cao Ren led several tens of thousands men to assail Sun Quan's garrison at Ruxu (濡須; north of present-day Wuwei County, Anhui), where the defending general, Zhu Huan, had only 5,000 troops remaining inside the city walls.[29] However, Cao Ren was deemed only as an inferior commander by Zhu Huan and his colleagues, so the defenders put up a staunch defence. Even though Cao Ren had a complete numerical advantage, the battle concluded with Zhu Huan as the victor – Cao Ren lost not only over 1,000 men, but also two of his subordinates, Chang Diao (常雕) and Wang Shuang.[30]


Cao Ren died on 6 May 223[a][31] at the age of 56 (by East Asian age reckoning).[32] He was posthumously granted the title "Marquis Zhong" (忠侯), which literally means "loyal marquis". He was best remembered for his bravery and courage, which placed him above Zhang Liao among all of Cao Cao's generals.[33]


Cao Ren's grandfather Cao Bao (曹褒) served as the Administrator (太守) of Yingchuan Commandery (潁川郡) in the Eastern Han dynasty. Cao Ren's father Cao Chi (曹熾) also served as a Palace Attendant (侍中) and Changshui Colonel (長水校尉) in the Eastern Han dynasty, and was posthumously awarded the title "Marquis Mu of Chen" (陳穆侯) by Cao Pi.[34] Cao Ren's younger brother Cao Chun was also a general under Cao Cao.

Cao Ren's titles were inherited by his son Cao Tai (曹泰), who served as General Who Guards the East (鎮東將軍) and later had his marquis title changed to "Marquis of Ningling" (寗陵侯). Cao Tai was succeeded by his son Cao Chu (曹初). Cao Ren's other sons (Cao Tai's younger brothers) Cao Kai (曹楷) and Cao Fan (曹範) also received marquis titles.[35]

In popular culture

Cao Ren is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series.

In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering there is a card named "Cao Ren, Wei Commander" in the Portal Three Kingdoms set.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Cao Ren's biography in the Sanguozhi recorded that he died in the 4th year of the Huangchu era of Cao Pi's reign.[1] Cao Pi's biography in the Sanguozhi recorded a more precise date: The dingwei day of the 3rd month of the 4th year of the Huangchu era of Cao Pi's reign.[2] This date corresponds to 6 May 223 in the Gregorian calendar. The Wei Shu further recorded that Cao Ren was 56 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died.[3] By calculation, Cao Ren's year of birth should be 168.


  1. ^ (黃初四年薨, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  2. ^ ([黃初四年三月]丁未,大司馬曹仁薨。) Sanguozhi vol. 2.
  3. ^ (魏書曰:仁時年五十六。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  4. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 46.
  5. ^ (曹仁字子孝,太祖從弟也。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  6. ^ (... 桓喻之曰:「凡兩軍交對,勝負在將,不在衆寡。諸君聞曹仁用兵行師,孰與桓邪?兵法所以稱客倍而主人半者,謂俱在平原,無城池之守,又謂士衆勇怯齊等故耳。今人旣非智勇,加其士卒甚怯,又千里步涉,人馬罷困,桓與諸軍,共據高城,南臨大江,北背山陵,以逸待勞,為主制客,此百戰百勝之勢也。雖曹丕自來,尚不足憂,況仁等邪!」) Sanguozhi vol. 56.
  7. ^ (曹仁字子孝,太祖從弟也。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  8. ^ (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.
  9. ^ (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, ...) Yingxiong Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  10. ^ (少好弓馬弋獵。後豪傑並起,仁亦陰結少年,得千餘人,周旋淮、泗之間,遂從太祖,為別部司馬,行厲鋒校尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  11. ^ (太祖之破袁術,仁所斬獲頗多。從征徐州,仁常督騎,為軍前鋒。別攻陶謙將呂由,破之,還與大軍合彭城,大破謙軍。從攻費、華、即墨、開陽,謙遣別將救諸縣,仁以騎擊破之。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  12. ^ (太祖征呂布,仁別攻勾陽,拔之,生獲布將劉何。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  13. ^ (太祖平黃巾,迎天子都許,仁數有功,拜廣陽太守。太祖器其勇略,不使之郡,以議郎督騎。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  14. ^ (太祖征張繡,仁別徇旁縣,虜其男女三千餘人。太祖軍還,為繡所追,軍不利,士卒喪氣,仁率厲將士甚奮,太祖壯之,遂破繡。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  15. ^ Other historical sources recorded his name as "Han Xun" (韓荀) or "Han Ruo" (韓若). Leban, p. 364
  16. ^ (太祖與袁紹乆相持於官渡,紹遣劉備徇氵隱彊諸縣,多舉衆應之。自許以南,吏民不安,太祖以為憂。仁曰:「南方以大軍方有目前急,其勢不能相救,劉備以彊兵臨之,其背叛固宜也。備新將紹兵,未能得其用,擊之可破也。」太祖善其言,遂使將騎擊備,破走之,仁盡復收諸叛縣而還。紹遣別將韓荀鈔斷西道,仁擊荀於雞洛山,大破之。由是紹不敢復分兵出。復與史渙等鈔紹運車,燒其糧穀。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  17. ^ (河北旣定,從圍壺關。太祖令曰:「城拔,皆坑之。」連月不下。仁言於太祖曰:「圍城必示之活門,所以開其生路也。今公告之必死,將人自為守。且城固而糧多,攻之則士卒傷,守之則引日乆;今頓兵堅城之下,以攻必死之虜,非良計也。」太祖從之,城降。於是錄仁前後功,封都亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  18. ^ (從平荊州,以仁行征南將軍,留屯江陵,拒吳將周瑜。瑜將數萬衆來攻,前鋒數千人始至,仁登城望之,乃募得三百人,遣部曲將牛金逆與挑戰。賊多,金衆少,遂為所圍。長史陳矯俱在城上,望見金等垂沒,左右皆失色。仁意氣奮怒甚,謂左右取馬來,矯等共援持之。謂仁曰:「賊衆盛,不可當也。假使棄數百人何苦,而將軍以身赴之!」仁不應,遂被甲上馬,將其麾下壯士數十騎出城。去賊百餘步,迫溝,矯等以為仁當住溝上,為金形勢也,仁徑渡溝直前,衝入賊圍,金等乃得解。餘衆未盡出,仁復直還突之,拔出金兵,亡其數人,賊衆乃退。矯等初見仁出,皆懼,及見仁還,乃歎曰:「將軍真天人也!」三軍服其勇。太祖益壯之,轉封安平亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  19. ^ (太祖討馬超,以仁行安西將軍,督諸將拒潼關,破超渭南。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  20. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 66.
  21. ^ (蘇伯、田銀反,以仁行驍騎將軍,都督七軍討銀等,破之。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  22. ^ (冬十月,宛守將侯音等反,執南陽太守,劫略吏民,保宛。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  23. ^ (初,曹仁討關羽,屯樊城,是月使仁圍宛。 ... 二十四年春正月,仁屠宛,斬音。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  24. ^ (復以仁行征南將軍,假節,屯樊,鎮荊州。侯音以宛叛,略傍縣衆數千人,仁率諸軍攻破音,斬其首,還屯樊,即拜征南將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  25. ^ (關羽攻樊,時漢水暴溢,于禁等七軍皆沒,禁降羽。仁人馬數千人守城,城不沒者數板。羽乘船臨城,圍數重,外內斷絕,糧食欲盡,救兵不至。仁激厲將士,示以必死,將士感之皆無二。徐晃救至,水亦稍減,晃從外擊羽,仁得潰圍出,羽退走。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  26. ^ (仁少時不脩行檢,及長為將,嚴整奉法令,常置科於左右,案以從事。鄢陵侯彰北征烏丸,文帝在東宮,為書戒彰曰:「為將奉法,不當如征南邪!」) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  27. ^ (及即王位,拜仁車騎將軍,都督荊、揚、益州諸軍事,進封陳侯,增邑二千,并前三千五百戶。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  28. ^ (後召還屯宛。孫權遣將陳邵據襄陽,詔仁討之。仁與徐晃攻破邵,遂入襄陽,使將軍高遷等徙漢南附化民於漢北,文帝遣使即拜仁大將軍。又詔仁移屯臨潁,遷大司馬,復督諸軍據烏江,還屯合淝。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  29. ^ (黃武元年,魏使大司馬曹仁步騎數萬向濡須,仁欲以兵襲取州上,偽先揚聲,欲東攻羨溪。桓分兵將赴羨溪,旣發,卒得仁進軍拒濡須七十里間。桓遣使追還羨溪兵,兵未到而仁奄至。時桓手下及所部兵,在者五千人, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 56.
  30. ^ (桓部兵將攻取油船,或別擊雕等,桓等身自拒泰,燒營而退,遂梟雕,生虜雙,送武昌,臨陣斬溺,死者千餘。) Sanguozhi vol. 56.
  31. ^ (黃初四年薨,謚曰忠侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  32. ^ (魏書曰:仁時年五十六。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  33. ^ (傅子曰:曹大司馬之勇,賁、育弗加也。張遼其次焉。) Fu Zi annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  34. ^ (追賜仁父熾謚曰陳穆侯,置守冢十家。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  35. ^ (子泰嗣,官至鎮東將軍,假節,轉封寗陵侯。泰薨,子初嗣。又分封泰弟楷、範,皆為列侯,而牛金官至後將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.