Li Dian
General Who Destroys Barbarians
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
General Who Captures Barbarians
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Juye County, Shandong
RelationsLi Qian (uncle)
  • Li Zhen
  • at least one other son
Courtesy nameMancheng (曼成)
Posthumous nameMarquis Min (愍侯)
PeerageMarquis of a Chief Village

Li Dian (c. 180 – c. 217),[1] courtesy name Mancheng, was a Chinese military general and politician serving under the warlord Cao Cao during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He participated in the Battle of Guandu in 200 between Cao Cao and Yuan Shao. He also played a significant role in the defence of Hefei during the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford of 214–215 against the forces of Sun Quan.

Early life and career

Li Dian was from Juye County (鉅野縣), Shanyang Commandery (山陽郡), which is in present-day Juye County, Shandong. His uncle, Li Qian (李乾), was an influential man in the region and had thousands of retainers working under him in Chengshi County (乘氏縣; east of present-day Heze, Shandong).[2]

During the Chuping era (190–193) in the reign of Emperor Xian of the Eastern Han dynasty, Li Qian and Li Dian led their followers to assist the warlord Cao Cao in suppressing the Yellow Turban Rebellion and they defeated the rebels at Shouzhang County (壽張縣; south of present-day Dongping County, Shandong). Li Dian and his uncle later followed Cao Cao in his campaigns against rival warlords such as Yuan Shu and Tao Qian.[3] When conflict broke out between Cao Cao and Lü Bu in 194, Cao sent Li Qian back to Chengshi County to reaffirm the support of the locals towards him. Lü Bu's subordinates Xue Lan (薛蘭) and Li Feng (李封) tried to persuade Li Qian to defect to their side but Li Qian refused so they killed him. Cao Cao then gave command of Li Qian's troops to Li Qian's son, Li Zheng (李整), and sent some of his men to assist Li Zheng to attack Xue Lan and Li Feng. Li Zheng achieved victory over Xue Lan and Li Feng, and later helped to pacify the various counties in Yan Province. He was appointed as the Inspector (刺史) of Qing Province.[4]

After Li Zheng's death, Li Dian was appointed as the Prefect () of Yingyin County (潁陰縣; in present-day Xuchang, Henan) and General of the Household (中郎將), and took over command of his cousin's troops. Li Dian was known to be very studious since he was a youth, and he showed little interest in military affairs. He read classics such as the Spring and Autumn Annals and the Zuo Zhuan. Cao Cao was pleased with Li Dian and wanted to test his abilities.[5] He reassigned Li Dian to be the Administrator (太守) of Lihu Commandery (離狐郡; southeast of present-day Dongming, Shandong), where Li was primarily in charge of managing civil affairs.[6]

Cao Cao's campaigns against Yuan Shao and the Yuan brothers

In 200, when the forces of Cao Cao and Yuan Shao clashed at the Battle of Guandu, Li Dian, along with his clansmen and subordinates, took charge of supplying Cao's forces at the frontline with food and equipment. After Yuan Shao was defeated, Cao Cao appointed Li Dian as a Major-General (裨將軍) and ordered him to garrison at Anmin (安民).[7]

Yuan Shao died in 202, after which his sons Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang started fighting over their father's territories. During the Battle of Liyang of 202–203 against the Yuan brothers, Cao Cao put Li Dian and Cheng Yu in charge of escorting food supplies to the frontline by crossing the Yellow River. Yuan Shang sent his subordinate Gao Fan (高蕃) to station near the river bank to block Cao Cao's supply route. Cao Cao had instructed Li Dian and Cheng Yu to send the supplies by land if they could not cross the river. However, Li Dian gathered his men and told them, "Gao Fan's troops are lightly armoured and they block the water route. This shows that they are lax, so they can be overcome easily. The military does not act against orders, but they can make their own decisions if they feel they are doing something beneficial to the country. Let's take them out quickly." Cheng Yu agreed with Li Dian, so they led their forces across the river to attack Gao Fan and defeated the enemy, thus securing the supply route across the river.[8]

In 204, after the Battle of Ye against Yuan Shang's forces, Cao Cao sent Li Dian and Yue Jin to attack Yuan Shang's cousin and ally, Gao Gan, at Hu Pass (壺關; present-day Huguan County, Shanxi). Li Dian defeated Guan Cheng (管承) at Changguang County (長廣縣; east of present-day Laiyang, Shandong), and was promoted to General Who Captures Barbarians (捕虜將軍) and made a Marquis of a Chief Village (都亭侯) for his achievements.[9]

Battle of Bowang

Main article: Battle of Bowang

In 202, Jing Province's governor, Liu Biao, sent Liu Bei north to attack Cao Cao when Cao was away on his campaigns in northern China. Cao Cao sent Xiahou Dun and Li Dian to lead an army to resist Liu Bei's forces. Liu Bei burnt his supplies and pretended to retreat. When Xiahou Dun wanted to pursue Liu Bei, Li Dian cautioned him, "There must be an ambush because the enemy is retreating for no reason. The roads to the south are narrow and the vegetation is very dense. We shouldn't pursue the enemy." Xiahou Dun ignored Li Dian's warning and went off in pursuit of Liu Bei together with Yu Jin, while Li Dian remained behind. As Li Dian expected, Xiahou Dun and his men did fall into Liu Bei's ambush later but Li showed up with the remaining troops and rescued them. Liu Bei retreated when he saw that Li Dian's reinforcements had arrived.[10]

Relocation of clansmen and close followers

Li Dian had over 3,000 families in his clansmen and close followers, all of whom lived in Chengshi County (乘氏縣; east of present-day Heze, Shandong). He proposed to Cao Cao to have them relocated to Wei Commandery (魏郡; north of present-day Ci County, Hebei), Cao Cao's base of operations during his campaigns in northern China. Cao Cao laughed and asked Li Dian, "You admire Geng Chun[a] and wish to emulate him, don't you?" Li Dian replied, "I'm humble and timid and my contributions are lowly, but the rewards I've received are too high, so I should have my entire clan join me in service so that I'll feel more deserving of the rewards. Besides, the chaos haven't ended yet, so it's better to keep them close to better control the Empire. I'm not emulating Geng Chun." Li Dian's clansmen and close followers were then relocated to Ye (鄴; in present-day Handan, Hebei). Cao Cao was pleased and he promoted Li Dian to General Who Destroys Barbarians (破虜將軍).[11]

Battle of Xiaoyao Ford

Main article: Battle of Xiaoyao Ford

After the Battle of Jiangling in 209, Cao Cao left Li Dian, Zhang Liao and Yue Jin to defend Hefei, a strategic location at the border between Cao Cao and Sun Quan's territories. Around 214, when Sun Quan led his forces to attack Hefei, Zhang Liao wanted to lead their troops out of the city to resist the enemy. However, Zhang Liao was aware that the three of them could not get along with each other and he was worried that they would not comply with his orders.[12] Zhang Liao said, "Our lord is away at war. By the time his reinforcements reach here, we're already done for. So he's actually instructing us to take advantage of the situation, when the enemy has just arrived and not fully gathered yet, to attack them and devastate their morale so as to calm our men and strengthen our defences. Victory or defeat, it all depends on this battle. Why are the two of you still hesitating?"[13] Li Dian was moved and he said, "This is a national crisis. We'll see how your strategy works out. How can I allow my personal issues take precedence over my official duties?" Zhang Liao, Li Dian and Yue Jin then worked together and succeeded in defeating and driving away Sun Quan's much larger army. Li Dian was rewarded with an additional 100 taxable households in his marquisate, bringing the total number of households to 300.[14]


Li Dian's biography in the Sanguozhi did not state when and how he died, but it is known that he died at the age of 36 (by East Asian age reckoning).[15] His titles were inherited by his son, Li Zhen (李禎).

In 220, after Cao Pi (Cao Cao's son and successor) forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him and became the emperor of the state of Cao Wei, he awarded Li Dian the posthumous title "Marquis Min" (愍侯), which literally means "sympathetic marquis", in recognition of Li's merits at the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford.[b] Li Zhen was awarded another 100 taxable households in his marquisate, while another of Li Dian's sons received the title of a Secondary Marquis and 100 taxable households.[17]


Li Dian's biography in the Sanguozhi mentioned that Li was known to be a keen and humble learner who respected the literati. He did not fight with others for merits, and he regarded official duties as more important than his personal affairs.[18] Chen Shou, who wrote Li Dian's biography, praised Li for his noble and gentlemanly demeanour, and for his 'duty before self' attitude.[19]

In popular culture

Li Dian is first introduced as a playable character in the eighth instalment of Koei's Dynasty Warriors video game series.

See also


  1. ^ Geng Chun (耿純) was one of the Yuntai 28 generals (雲台二十八將) who served under Liu Xiu (Emperor Guangwu), who restored the Han dynasty (as the Eastern Han dynasty) after Wang Mang's usurpation. In 23 CE, Geng Chun led over 2,000 families, comprising his clansmen and close associates, to join Liu Xiu in Handan, Hebei.
  2. ^ According to the "Rules of assigning posthumous names" chapter in the Yizhoushu, an official would receive the posthumous name "Min" for either one of the following criteria: being killed while serving the country; letting civilians be harmed; being belittled (or sick) for a long time; being involved in a coup d'etat (or rebellion). Li Dian's cause of death remains unknown but he was probably fatally wounded in battle as deduced from his posthumous name. Another of Cao Cao's generals, Xiahou Yuan, who was killed in action during the Hanzhong Campaign, also shared this posthumous name.[16]


  1. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 409.
  2. ^ (李典字曼成,山陽鉅野人也。典從父乾,有雄氣,合賔客數千家在乘氏。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  3. ^ (初平中,以衆隨太祖,破黃巾於壽張,又從擊袁術,征徐州。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  4. ^ (呂布之亂,太祖遣乾還乘氏,慰勞諸縣。布別駕薛蘭、治中李封招乾,欲俱叛,乾不聽,遂殺乾。太祖使乾子整將乾兵,與諸將擊蘭、封。蘭、封破,從平兖州諸縣有功,稍遷青州刺史。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  5. ^ (魏書曰:典少好學,不樂兵事,乃就師讀春秋左氏傳,博觀羣書。太祖善之,故試以治民之政。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  6. ^ (整卒,典徙潁陰令,為中郎將,將整軍,遷離狐太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  7. ^ (時太祖與袁紹相拒官渡,典率宗族及部曲輸穀帛供軍。紹破,以典為裨將軍,屯安民。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  8. ^ (太祖擊譚、尚於黎陽,使典與程昱等以船運軍糧。會尚遣魏郡太守高蕃將兵屯河上,絕水道,太祖勑典、昱:「若船不得過,下從陸道。」典與諸將議曰:「蕃軍少甲而恃水,有懈怠之心,擊之必克。軍不內禦;苟利國家,專之可也,宜亟擊之。」昱亦以為然。遂北渡河,攻蕃,破之,水道得通。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  9. ^ (從圍鄴,鄴定,與樂進圍高幹於壺關,擊管承於長廣,皆破之。遷捕虜將軍,封都亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  10. ^ (劉表使劉備北侵,至葉,太祖遣典從夏侯惇拒之。備一旦燒屯去,惇率諸軍追擊之,典曰:「賊無故退,疑必有伏。南道窄狹,草木深,不可追也。」惇不聽,與于禁追之,典留守。惇等果入賊伏裏,戰不利,典往救,備望見救至,軍散退。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  11. ^ (典宗族部曲三千餘家,居乘氏,自請願徙詣魏郡。太祖笑曰:「卿欲慕耿純邪?」典謝曰:「典駑怯功微,而爵寵過厚,誠宜舉宗陳力;加以征伐未息,宜實郊遂之內,以制四方,非慕純也。」遂徙部曲宗族萬三千餘口居鄴。太祖嘉之,遷破虜將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  12. ^ (與張遼、樂進屯合肥,孫權率衆圍之,遼欲奉教出戰。進、典、遼皆素不睦,遼恐其不從, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  13. ^ (公遠征在外,比救至,彼破我必矣。是以教指及其未合逆擊之,折其盛勢,以安眾心,然後可守也。成敗之機,在此一戰,諸君何疑?) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  14. ^ (典慨然曰:「此國家大事,顧君計何如耳,吾不可以私憾而忘公義乎!」乃率衆與遼破走權。增邑百戶,并前三百戶。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  15. ^ (年三十六薨, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  16. ^ (在國逢難曰愍。使民折傷曰愍。在國連憂曰愍。禍亂方作曰愍。) Yizhoushu vol. 6. ch. 54.
  17. ^ (子禎嗣。文帝踐阼,追念合肥之功,增禎邑百戶,賜典一子爵關內侯,邑百戶;謚典曰愍侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  18. ^ (典好學問,貴儒雅,不與諸將爭功。敬賢士大夫,恂恂若不及,軍中稱其長者。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  19. ^ (評曰:李典貴尚儒雅,義忘私隙,美矣。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.