Biography (SGZ): Cao Hong (Zilian)

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Cao Hong (Zilian)
曹洪 (子廉)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
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Cao Hong, styled Zilian, was a younger cousin of Cao Cao, the Great Progenitor (1). When Cao Cao answered the call to arms to fight against Dong Zhuo, a general of Dong’s, Xu Rong, at Xingyang, defeated him. His horse was lost, and the enemy was hot in pursuit. Cao Hong dismounted, and gave his horse to Cao Cao, who declined the offer. Cao Hong said, “The world can do without Cao Hong, but not without you!” Thus he followed Cao Cao on foot to the Bian River. The river being a deep one, they could not ford it; Cao Hong went along the banks until he found a boat, with which he and Cao Cao crossed the river and fled back to Qiao commandery.

1: Cao Hong’s other uncle, Cao Ding, was [shangshuling], and he appointed Cao Hong to be Chief of Qichun prefecture.

Now, Cao Hong had been good friends with Chen Wen, the Inspector of Yangzhou. And so he lead 1,000 of his personal troops to recruit more followers in Chen Wen’s land. By the Lu River he got 2,000 armored troops, and going east to Danyang, he recruited several thousand more men, before rejoining Cao Cao at Longkang.

When Cao Cao attacked Xuzhou, Zhang Miao led all of Yanzhou to join Lü Bu in rebellion. There being a great famine at that time, Cao Hong marched in the van, and took over Dongping and Fan, to gather the grains and foods there to supply the army. And so Cao Cao fought Zhang Miao and Lü Bu at Puyang, causing Lü Bu to flee. As a result Cao Cao held Dong’e. Turning around, Cao Hong attacked and took over more than ten prefectures, including Jiying, Shanyang, Zhongmou, Yangwu, Jing, and Mi.

By his merits in all those battles, Cao Hong was made Soaring Eagle Colonel, and then he was made General of the Interior who Manifests Firmness. When the Emperor made his capital at Xu, he made Cao Hong an Imperial Courtier (Jianyi Dafu). Afterwards, Cao Hong participated in the operation against Liu Biao, and defeated his generals at Wuyang, Yinye, Duyang, and Bowang. Because of those achievements he was promoted to General of Fierce Keenness and Marquis of Guoming Commune. He fought under Cao Cao’s banner in many other battles, and was consequently promoted to General who Protects the Capital. When the Literary Emperor [Cao Pi] ascended the throne, he made Cao Hong General of the Guards, and then promoted him to General of the Agile Cavalry and Marquis of Yewang. He also increased his fief by 1,000 households to a total of 2,100 households – a great increase in rank. Afterwards he was relocated to be Marquis of Duyang.

Cao Hong’s family had been wealthy but he used to be a stingy man. When the young Cao Pi went to borrow money from him, Cao Hong refused him. As a result Cao Pi had always borne a grudge against him. So eventually, Cao Pi had Cao Hong put in jail on the pretext that one of his retainers had violated the law, and was about to have Cao Hong executed. All the officers at court pleaded for his life, but none succeeded. And so, Empress Dowager Bian said to the Empress Guo, “If Cao Hong dies today, tomorrow I shall have the Emperor depose you.” Thus the Empress, with many a tear, implored Cao Pi to spare Cao Hong. Cao Pi conceded at the end, and Cao Hong was only dismissed from his position, and his fief taken away from him (2) Since he was a general of great achievements under the previous lord, many people of that time held him in great respect. When the Brilliant Emperor [Cao Rui] came to the throne, he made Cao Hong General of the Rear, and then, in a big leap in promotion, gave him the title of Marquis of Lecheng, and a fief of 1,000 households. wei te jin. Later on he was reinstated as the General of the Agile Cavalry. He died in the 6th year of Taihe (AD 232), and give the posthumous title of “The Respectful Marquis”.

2: Weilue: When Cao Pi arrested Cao Hong, Cao Zhen was around, and entreated the emperor thus: “If Your Majesty order have Cao Hong killed, Cao Hong would think that it was I who defamed and accused him.” The Emperor said, “I will take care of him myself; this does not affect you.” But the Empress Dowager Bian was infuriated, and reproved him, “Between the lands of Liang and Pei, if it were not Zilian, you would not be where you are today!” And so the Emperor had Cao Hong released, while still confiscating all his properties. The Empress Dowager rebuked him again for this, and so he returned them to Cao Hong. In the past, when Cao Cao was the Chief Minister of the Works, he had the prefectures split the incomes each year to all the officers. The Chief of Qiao prefecture distributed the same amount to Cao Hong as to Cao Cao’s own family members. Cao Cao said, “Would it be that those from my family be equal to Cao Hong in quality!” When the Emperor was still the Crown Prince, once he borrowed a hundred bolts of silk from Cao Hong, who was not satisfied with the deal. And so when Cao Hong was found guilty by the law, he thought that he would certainly be killed. When he was pardoned, he was elated, and memorialized in thanksgiving: “When I, your servant, was young, I did not adhere to the Way, nor did I hold to the precepts of human relations. Long have I held a post that I did not deserve, and thus I was able to supply you with goods. However, I was undisciplined and ungrateful, but instead had the insatiable greed of jackals and wolves. My greed increased with my age, and eventually I came to violate the code of laws. I am guilty of thousands of things, and none pardonable. I should have been executed and my head be hung in the marketplace. However, by the grace of My Lord, my life has been returned to me! Lifting my head to look at the heavens, I am ashamed to face the spirits and gods; bowing down I only see my crimes, and tremble in shame. Not able to articulate gracefully my deepest feelings, I humbly present myself at the palace gates, and submit this memorial for Your perusal.”

Cao Hong’s son Cao Fu inherited the Marquisate. Earlier on, Cao Cao took a part of Cao Hong’s fief to make his son Cao Zhen a marquis. Cao Hong’s uncle, Cao Yu, was a refined and careful man, respectful of the law. He reached the position of General of the Guards, and was a marquis.

Copyright © 2002 - 2003 Lady Wu
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi