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Cao Ren

Cao Ren (曹仁; style name Zixiao 子孝; 168-223) was a military commander under the third century China|Chinese warlord Cao Cao. He played a significant part in the civil wars leading to the fall of the Han Dynasty, and the establishment of the state of Wei during the Three Kingdoms.

Born in Qiao, Cao Ren was a younger cousin of Cao Cao. His father and grandfather had both held significant civil and military posts and the family is described as having a large estate and several hundred retainers and slaves in their employ. Cao Ren's father died in 183 and he managed the family property together with his younger brother Cao Chun. Cao Ren was said to have been fond of hunting on horseback in his youth. He and his followers joined Cao Cao's uprising in 190 as a commander in his clan army. Throughout the early 190s he accompanied Cao Cao on campaigns around north China, against Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shu, Tao Qian and Lü Bu. In most of the encounters, Cao Ren commanded his own corps of cavalry, which would often be placed at the van of the army to "break the enemy line".

In 196, when Cao Cao gained control of the Han imperial court, he gave Cao Ren the position of Grand Administrator of Guangyang (廣陽太守) and had his men garrison capital Xuchang as part of the imperial guard. Later in 199, Cao Ren saw action in Jing province against Zhang Xiu (張繡). In the decisive Battle of Guandu against Yuan Shao in 200, Cao Ren led his cavalry against a southern incursion by Yuan's forces and acted as a mobile striking force harassing Yuan's line of supply. Following the victory at Guandu, he accompanied Cao Cao across the Yellow River, pushing into Yuan Shao's territories. After the fall of Huguan, Cao Ren was enfeoffed as Marquis of Duting.

In 208, Cao Ren accompanied Cao Cao south on his historic Battle of Red Cliffs|Red Cliffs campaign. After Cao Cao's defeat by Sun Quan and Liu Bei, Cao Ren was kept in the south as rearguard, holding the strategic city of Jiangling on the Yangzi River. He held the city against Sun Quan's commander Zhou Yu until he was outflanked by a push by Gan Ning from the west. One story about the siege tells of an incident when Cao Ren rode out of the city with a few dozen horsemen against hundreds of enemy footsoldiers in order to rescue Niu Jin (牛金) one of his lieutenants. Upon his return his soldiers are said to have remarked, "General, indeed you are a man from Heaven!" Despite his northern retreat, Cao Cao promoted him to become Marquis of Anpingting. Later, in 211 he also fought against Ma Chao and his confederates in northwest China.

Throughout most of the 210s Cao Ren held the position of General Who Campaigns in the South (征 南將軍). He and his men were garrisoned at Fan, with general responsibility to defend Jing province against Liu Bei and Sun Quan's forces in the south. Fan, on the Han River, was strategically important to Cao Cao as the last significant natural barrier before the North China Plain. In 219, Liu Bei had become sufficiently powerful to threaten Cao Cao's borders. His spring campaign in the west suceeded in capturing Hanzhong and resulted in the death of Xiahou Yuan, one of Cao Cao's premier generals.

Probably as a result of Liu Bei's increasing strength, Cao Ren had to deal with a number of revolts in northern Jing province in early 219. In autumn, Liu Bei's general Guan Yu came in force with marine forces to take Fan. He cut off communications and supply lines from the city and diverted the Han River to flood its walls. An early relief attempt by Yu Jin and Pang De was unsuccessful. Cao Ren roused his men and held out until a second relief army under Xu Huang came. By this time, Sun Quan had assaulted Guan Yu's rear and the siege unravelled.

Cao Ren's ultimate victory at the siege of Fan was much lauded at Cao Cao's court. As a result, he was given a long list of titles and positions, including General of Chariots and Cavalry (車騎將軍) and Marquis of Chen (陳侯), as well as stipends from 3500 households. Officially, he was made commander-in-chief of all military affairs in south China.

Cao Ren was kept in Jing province, with headquarters at Wan. He defended the city of Xiangyang against an incursion by Sun Quan and made an effort to transfer the people south of the Han River to the north. After the death of Cao Cao and the ascension of Cao Pi to the imperial throne, Cao Ren was made General-in-chief (大將軍) and later Great Minister of War (大司馬). In his last years, he defended Hefei against a number of Sun Quan's offensives.

He died in 223 and was posthumously enfeoffed as Marquis "Zhong", meaning "Loyal". Indeed this was largely how he is remembered, as a steadfastly loyal commander who enforced military law strictly. His efforts at the siege of Fan especially made him one of the heroes of the state of Wei. After his death his sons were all made marquises and his lieutenant Niu Jin was made General of the Rear (後將軍).

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