Biography (COB): Cao Pi (Zihuan)

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Cao Pi (Zihuan)Cao Pi (Zihuan)
曹丕 (子桓)

Comprehensive Officer Biography
Translated & Authored by

Place of Birth: Qiao County, Pei (1) (Presently Bozhou city in An Hui Province)
Lifespan: AD 187 – 226
Titles: Prime Minister, Prince Wei, Emperor of Wei
Family: Cao Cao (father), Lady Bian (mother), Cao Zhi, Cao Zhang, Cao Xiong (brothers), Cao Ang (half brother), Lady Zhen (wife), Lady Guo (concubine), Cao Rui (son)

Cao Pi was the eldest son of Cao Cao and his concubine Lady Bian, and brother to Cao Zhang, Cao Zhi and Cao Xiong. Out of all these brothers, Cao Pi was the most shrewd. Instead of studying hard or conducting military affairs, he was always in the presence of court officials in order to get their support. Whenever his father would leave for a campaign, he would lament in front of his officers (2). At the beginning of his career, Cao Pi was mostly in charge of defense with his brother Cao Zhi. He guarded the city of Xu Chang with half a million soldiers after the defeat of Yuan Shao at Guan Du. He also wed the widow of Yuan Xi, the Lady Zhen (3).

In the sixteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 211), Cao Pi defeated Tian Yin (田银) and was appointed Imperial Corps Commander and Deputy Prime Minister.

In the twenty-first year od Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 216), Cao Cao was crowned King of Wei. He then needed to appoint his heir for the throne. He was considering both Cao Pi and Cao Zhi as his heir, but he could not make up his mind. Jia Xu, a friend of Cao Pi, insisted that only Cao Pi could be the legitimate heir; Cao Cao agreed (4). Later on in the twenty-second year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 217), Zihuan took the post of Prime Minister and was titled Prince Wei.

Three years later, after his father’s death, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne and proclaimed himself Wei Emperor (5). The reign title was changed from Rebuilt Tranquility to Yellow Dawn. Cao Pi continued his father’s wars against the Kingdoms of Shu and Wu but was unsuccessful. Though Wei prospered during Cao Pi’s rule, most of the peace and wealth can be attributed to Cao Cao’s foundation of Wei.

The ascension of Cao Pi caused a lot of internal conflict. He was eager to punish his younger brother Cao Zhi for his lack of respect. He demoted his brother to Lord of Anxing, and had two of his best friends executed (6). His younger brother Cao Xiong did not attend the funeral of their late father, and out of fear for his brother, he comitted suicide. Cao Pi also put Yu Jin to shame for his loss against Guan Yu, which caused him to become ill and die (7). Cao Zhang made an attempt to secure the Imperial Court before his brother could, but he was too late, so he ordered his troops to go back and he went on to pay homage to his brother.

In the year AD 221, Cao Pi conferred the title of King of Wu to Sun Quan. In the autumn of the fifth year of Yellow Dawn (AD 224), Cao Pi assembled a great fleet to attack the Kingdom of Wu. His fleet was lead by Cao Zhen as Commander; Zhang Liao, Zhang He, Wen Ping, and Xu Huang were Chief Commanders; Xu Chu and Lu Qian were guards of the Center Army; and Cao Xiu commanded the rear guard; the strategists were Liu Ye and Jiang Ji. Their troops number to more than three hundred thousand. Cao Pi lead the fleet to cross the Great River at night, but they were scared of by a fake wall made by Xu Sheng of Wu. Cao Pi ordered his fleet to turn around, but the winds were so powerful that his boat was brought down. He was saved by his officers, but not long after they turned around, their army was ambushed by Sun Shao and his force. Though Sun Shao’s force was only small, Cao Pi could not withstand the attack, and many of his soldiers were slain. He was rescued by Zhang Liao and Xu Huang. As they retreated further up the river Huai, they were again ambushed, this time by Ding Feng. Cao Pi got away, however, Zhang Liao was hit by an arrow in his loins. He died of his wounds soon after. Cao Pi’s campaign was a failure and again the Wei Emperor was no closer to fulfilling his goal. He died two years later at the young age of thirty-nine.

Before his death, Cao Pi forced his wife Lady Zhen to commit suicide through a ruse of Lady Guo. He then made his beloved concubine Empress, and she took care of her step-son Cao Rui (8). Though Empress Guo did not favor Cao Rui, her husband insisted that he would be made heir.

Zihuan loved literature and poetry like his father and wrote over a hundred articles on various subjects. He also ordered educational officials to write an extensive work titled “Perception of the Emperor”

(1) Qiao was an ancient county in Pei. It was the home of the Cao and Xiahou families, but also the origin of the Great Ancestor, founder of the Han, Liu Bang. When Cao Pi declared himself Emperor, he first went to Qiao to hold a great feast. <return>

(2) Romance Chapter 68, tells us that Jia Xu advises Cao Pi to be the most filial son. Since Cao Pi did not have the talent of his brother Cao Zhi, nor the strength of Cao Zhang, he had to be deceptive in order to win support. The courtiers of his father would praise him whenever Cao Pi feigned a sincere farewell. He would also invite his father’s friends to his house to discuss the many merits of Cao Cao’s deeds. <return>

(3) Lady Zhen was beautiful princess who caused many problems in the Cao family. Cao Zhi loved her but Cao Pi’s violent and cruel attitude ensured his marriage with Lady Zhen. Later on, Lady Zhen was mentioned in many different folktales, for those of you who play Dynasty Warriors, this would be Zhen Ji. <return>

(4) When Cao Cao consulted Jia Xu, he could not answer, when Cao Cao asked why he did not answer, Jia Xu responded: “I was thinking of two fathers, Yuan Shao and Liu Biao, and their sons”. Yuan Shao chose his younger son Yuan Shang as successor over the rightful heir Yuan Tan, which caused an internal conflict that detroyed their forces. Liu Biao’s wife Lady Cai installed her younger son as heir after his death. The older brother Liu Qi seperate his forces and sided with Liu Bei. In SGZ Wei, it is said that the reason for Cao Cao’s choice was the excessive drinking of his younger son Cao Zhi.

The original heir to Cao Cao was his first son Cao Ang, borne to the Lady Liu, who died in the battle of Wan Castle. <return>

(5) While Cao Cao was still alive, Emperor Xian was the still the legitimate ruling authority of the Han. When Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate, he replaced the Han with the Wei Empire and legitimately ruled over the other two Kingdoms of Wu and Shu. The former Emperor was assassinated by Cao Pi’s men, which led to the formation of the Shu Empire, since Liu Bei wanted to restore the Han and avenge Emperor Xian. <return>

(6) See Cao Zhi’s Sanguo Zhi biography for more details. Also see chapter 79 of Romance. <return>

(7) Cao Pi had painted murals in the tomb of his father, depicting the drowning of the seven armies and the defeat of Yu Jin. See also the biography of Yu Jin. <return>

(8) For more information on the death of Lady Zhen, see Chapter 91 of Romance. <return>

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Major Sources: Beifangshi - Han/Ming Professor E.Lin (1982 Beijing)