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April 27, 2012

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曹操 Cao Cao(155-220) Speak his name and he arrives

CAO Cao was a central figure in the late years of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) and the early years of the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD). He laid the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of Wei and was posthumously given the title Emperor Wu of Wei.

Cao was often portrayed by some historians and story writers as a tyrannical ruler and unscrupulous schemer, but according to Lu Xun (1881-1936), a pioneer of modern Chinese literature, "Cao Cao was actually a man of great capability, at least he's a hero."

Cao was born into an aristocratic family in today's Bozhou in eastern China's Anhui Province. His father Cao Song was the adopted son of Cao Teng, an influential imperial palace attendant who had served four emperors. Cao's father himself was once appointed to a post in charge of military affairs under the Emperor Hanling.

As a teenager, Cao was shrewd, cunning and perceptive. However, he indulged himself in hunting and music and shied away from studies of classics. Some of his relatives said Cao would not have a great future, but others predicted that he would become "a hero in troubled times."

When he was only 20, Cao was appointed district captain of Luoyang, capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Soon after his appointment, Cao asked his subordinates to place more than a dozen thick wooden sticks of various colors outside his office. He ordered his officials to use the clubs to beat anyone who violated local laws, regardless of their social status and family background.

By doing so, Cao quickly earned himself a reputation as a tough, upright official, but also offended some powerful people in the capital.

As a result, he was later banished to a remote county.

Cao was not able to demonstrate his great talent in military and political affairs and governance until he joined the war to suppress the so-called Yellow Turban Uprising, a large-scale peasant revolt that broke out in 184 AD. He won a series of battles against the rebels.

Later, Cao joined a campaign against Dong Zhuo, a powerful warlord who seized the capital in 189 AD and installed a puppet emperor under his control.

Dong's rule proved to be short-lived. In 192 AD, he was assassinated by his foster son.

After Dong's death, Cao began to systematically expand his own forces, even recruiting hundreds of surrendered Yellow Turban peasant rebels.

In 196 AD, Cao convinced the emperor to move the capital to Xuchang, a place under his military control. Cao then became the Commander-in-Chief and a de facto ruler of the dynasty.

However, the real turning point in Cao's political life came when he defeated the 100,000 troops of Yuan Shao, apparently the most powerful warlord at that time, at Guandu on the Yellow River.

With only 20,000 men, Cao created an impressive paradigm of "using the few to defeat the many" after he routed the Yuan forces and eventually established his military dominance in the northern part of the country.

Although his success had laid a solid foundation for the Kingdom of Wei, which was later established by his son Cao Pi in 220 AD, Cao himself failed to extend his rule across the Yangtze River into the southern part of the country due to unremitting resistance from the Kingdom of Shu and the Kingdom of Wu.

Today, Cao is remembered not only for his political and military achievements, but also for some popular poems and journals he had written during his tumultuous years.

But he is best remembered in a widespread Chinese idiom: "Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives," an equivalent of the English saying "speak of the devil," because Cao is frequently depicted in modern plays, movies, TV dramas as a ruthless tyrant, miscreant and "devil."


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