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Cao Cao

Cao Cao (Simplified Chinese: 曹操; Traditional Chinese: 曹操; Pinyin: Cáo Cāo) (155-220), zi Mende (Simplified Chinese: 孟德; Traditional Chinese: 孟德; Pinyin: m?ng d?), was a regional warlord who rose to become the self-appointed Imperial Secretarist under Han Xian Di and the de facto ruler of Northern China during the last years of Eastern Han Dynasty. He laid down foundations for what was to become the Kingdom of Wei under his son Cao Pi. Although generally remembered as a cruel and suspicious character, Cao Cao was also a brilliant ruler, strategist and poet.

Historical Interpretation

Cao Cao was the son of a court official of the Han Dynasty. He held positions at this court until an attempted coup by general Dong Zhuo brought down the dynasty. Dong Zhuo was not able to consolidate his hold on the empire and China fell into civil war and anarchy. Cao Cao was part of the Alliance against the Dong Zhuo-contolled Han Dynasty. He quickly gained fame by winning several battles against the Han which earned him the name the "Hero of Chaos" (梟雄 Xiao Xiong).

In the resulting chaos Cao Cao emerged as the Cao Cao Unification of the North|military ruler of northern China, winning a critical battle (the Battle of Guandu) at the Huang He (Yellow River). He assumed effective rule of Northern China and assumed the title of Imperial Secretarist. The last Han emperor would remain a figurehead until the abdication in 220. Cao Cao extended his control northward, past the Great Wall of China, into northern Korea, and southward to the Han River. His attempt to extend his domination south of the Yangtze River was dashed as his forces were defeated by the coalition of Liu Bei (who later founded the Kingdom of Shu in southwestern China) and Sun Quan (who later founded the Kingdom of Wu in southeastern China) at the naval Battle of Red Cliff in 208.

In 213, he was titled Wei Gong (Duke of Wei) and given ten cities as his domain. This area was named the "State of Wei". In 216, Cao Cao was promoted to King of Wei (魏王- Wei Wang).

Cao Cao died some time after the defeat and death of the general Guan Yu of Shu. Cao Cao's death was possibly the result of a brain tumor, as he had complained often of painful headaches. A number of his most loyal followers, including his cousin and general Xiahou Dun as well as his bodyguard Xu Chu, died soon after as well, as if following their master into the afterlife. He was posthumously given the title of Wei Wudi (魏武帝, Martial Emperor of Wei). His eldest surviving son Cao Pi inherited his position as Imperial Secretarist and the title Wei Wang (Prince of Wei). Within one year Cao Pi seized the imperial throne and proclaimed himself to be the first Emperor of the Wei Dynasty - usually referred as the Kingdom of Wei.

Cao Cao in Art

Cao as depicted in Peking Opera. His face is traditionally painted white to symbolize his treacherous character.

While the historical record indicates Cao Cao was a brilliant ruler and poet, in classical Chinese literature he is traditionally represented as a cunning and deceitful general. Cao Cao is also a character in the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where he is cast as the cunning and capable villain, as he is in Chinese opera, where his character's black makeup is meant to reflect his wicked heart. This is likely due to a subsequent Confucianist interpretation of events which would have attributed his failure to unify China to flaws in his character.


In his lifetime, Cao Cao had twenty five sons, as a result of having many consorts. Their dates of births and deaths, and their mothers are stated.

Lady Bian

Cao Pi (曹丕 187-226)
Cao Zhang (曹彰 190-223)
Cao Zhi (曹植 192-232) one of the most famous poet in china's history
Cao Xiong (曹熊 195-220)

Lady Liu

Cao Ang (曹昂 175-197)
Cao Shuo (曹鑠)
Cao Qinghe|Princess Qinghe

Lady Huan

Cao Chong (曹沖 196-208)
Cao Ju (曹拠)
Cao Yu (曹宇 219-?)

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