Biography (SGYY): Cao Zhang (Ziwen)

Home | Forum | SimRTK | History | Games | Graphics | Writing | Products | Links | Site Map

Cao Zhang (Ziwen)
曹彰 (子文)
Lifespan: Unknown

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Sam Wrest

Cao Zhang (Ziwen)

Cao Zhang, styled Ziwen, was the second son of Cao Cao. From his youth, Zhang had an immediate interest in martial arts and became an expert archer and able horse rider. It was often said that he had strength far surpassing ordinary men, and he would often grapple and even kill wild animals with his bare hands. His father had once warned him, “You love your bow and horse but not your books. This is the bravery of a common fighter. What is it worth?”

To this Cao Zhang replied, “A man of action should follow in the footsteps of Wei Qing and Huo Qubing, both for their great victories in Gobi and for their mastery of leadership over hundreds of thousands of men as they traversed the empire. I couldn’t stand to be a scholar.”

On another occasion, Cao Cao asked each of his sons about their ambitions, and Cao Zhang instantly replied, “To be a General!”

“What do you think that means?” his father had queried.

“Strapping on the hard shell of armour and hefting the pointed weapon; facing danger without looking back; leading my men by taking the van; making rewards unstinting and punishments sure.”

His father was delighted and laughed whole-heartedly at this.

In AD 218, the Wuhuan nation revolted in Dai District. Cao Zhang was put in command of fifty thousand men and ordered by his father to crush the rebellion, who warned him on the eve of his departure, “In my house you are my son; but in the field you are my vassal, bound by the law. Take my words to heart.”

Cao Zhang then marched to the northern border as far as Sangann, winning many victories over the rebels and restoring peace. Before the expedition came to a close, however, Zhang heard of his father suffering defeat by the armies of Shu at Yangping Pass, and so set off west to support him.

As Cao Zhang and his army neared Ye Gorge, he spotted his father with a battered force fleeing towards him. Zhang hastened to his father’s side and Cao Cao, cheered by his son’s arrival, said, “With my yellowbeared boy here (1), Liu Bei will be beaten!”

1: Cao Zhang was often referred to as “Yellowbeard” because, as the title would suggest, he had blonde facial hair. The only reason this warranted attention was because of how unusual it was for a Chinaman to have blonde hair.

Father and son then combined forces and established camps in Ye Gorge. Liu Bei’s commanders Liu Feng and Meng Da arrived shortly afterwards, and Cao Zhang rode out to meet them. Zhang first fought with Feng, but the Shu general was bested in only a few clashes. Meng Da then raced out, but just as their battle began, Zhang noted a disturbance in his ranks. The young general raced back and saw enemy commanders Ma Chao and Wu Lan attacking his men from a different front. Charging into the melee, Cao Zhang met up with Wu Lan and killed him with a single halberd thrust. All three armies—Cao Zhang’s, Ma Chao’s, and Meng Da’s—then fought for domination of the field, but no clear victor was recognised and the armies later returned to camp. Cao Cao ordered a retreat back to the capital, Xuchang, shortly after.

In AD 220, news was sent to Cao Zhang, who was currently serving as lord of Yanling, that his father Cao Cao had died. Zhang grieved at the loss, but upon hearing that his elder brother, Pi, was to become Cao’s heir, he mustered an army one hundred thousand strong in a burst of indecision and began marching towards the capital. Before Cao Zhang could reach Xuchang, Jia Kui, Imperial Officer First Grade, met him whilst on the march. The first question Zhang put to the man was, “Where is the late king’s seal?”

“Every family has its eldest; every state has its appointed heir,” Kui replied. “It is not appropriate for Your Lordship to enquire about the late king’s seal.”

Cao Zhang did not reply and kept silent throughout the course of their trip to the capital. Once there, Jia Kui asked, “Has Your Lordship come to attend the funeral or contest for succession?”

“For the services only,” Cao Zhang replied. “I have no hostile intentions.”

“In that case,” responded Jia Kui, “why have you brought an army?”

Cao Zhang realised his error and dismissed his guard, choosing to enter the royal palace alone. Upon seeing his brother Pi, he paid his respects as his loyal vassal, but the two brothers then embraced and wept as one at the loss of their father. Cao Zhang then turned his army over to Cao Pi, who then ordered Zhang back to Yanling. Cao Zhang took his leave of the capital city soon afterwards. He died sometime while administrating Yanling, though it is uncertain how or when.

Copyright © 2005 Sam Wrest
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong