Biography (SGZ): Cao Ren (Zixiao)

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Cao Ren (Zixiao)
曹仁 (子孝)
(AD 167-223)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
translated by

Cao Ren, styled Zixiao, was a cousin of Cao Cao, the Grand Progenitor (1). He was fond of riding, shooting, birding and hunting when he was young. When the heroes of the land rose in contention of power, Cao Ren also secretly gathered to himself a group of youth, more than a thousand all told, and traveled around between the Huai and the Si rivers. Eventually, he offered his service to Cao Cao, and was made Major with a Separate Command and Colonel of (Lifeng).

1: Weishu: The grandfather of Cao Ren, Cao Bao, was the Grand Administrator of Yingchuan. Cao Ren’s father, Cao Chi, was a palace attendant and Colonel of the Chang River encampments.

During Cao Cao’s conquest over Yuan Shu, Cao Ren killed and captured quite a number. He also participated in the battle of Xuzhou, and was often in the vanguard leading the mounted troops. In that operation he led a side attack to rout the men of Tao Qian’s general Lü You, and after rejoining the main forces at Peng city, he vanquished Tao Qian’s army. Afterwards, when Cao Cao’s forces went on to attack Fei, Hua, Jimo, and Kaiyang, and Tao Qian sent relief forces to those prefectures, Cao Ren led a company of riders and routed them on the way. Then, when Cao Cao attacked Lü Bu, Cao Ren was ordered to take Juyang city. He succeeded, and captured Liu He, a general under Lü Bu.

After Cao Cao subdued the Yellow Scarves and escorted the Emperor to Xu, Cao Ren was made Grand Administrator of Guangyang on the account of his many merits. However, Cao Cao had high regard for his valor, and did not send him to the commandery given to him; rather, he had him remain in the capital to train cavalry troops in the position of an imperial consultant. Later on, Cao Cao led an expedition against Zhang Xiu, and Cao Ren, ordered to raid the surrounding prefectures, captured some 3,000 men and women. When Cao Cao returned to the capital, he was pursued by Zhang Xiu’s troops, and his army was at a great disadvantage. Though the soldiers were disheartened, Cao Ren went about rousing their spirits – which Cao Cao praised – and eventually they managed to defeat Zhang Xiu.

When Cao Cao and Yuan Shao were at a deadlock at Guandu, Yuan Shao sent Liu Bei to raid Yinjiang and prefectures around it. Many people there volunteered to support them. And thus, all lands south of Xu were troubled, and it has caused Cao Cao to worry constantly. Cao Ren said to him, “Those people in the south who rebelled did so only because they were threatened by Liu Bei’s forces, and they thought that our troops are currently engaged in something more urgent and would not be able to deal with them. However, Liu Bei has been put in command of those soldiers of Yuan Shao’s just recently, and surely he cannot order them fully well yet. If we should attack him, his defeat is certain.” Cao Cao approved of his words, and had him lead a company of cavalry to attack Liu Bei. Liu Bei was defeated and fled, and Cao Ren managed to subdue all the rebellious prefectures before returning. At that Yuan Shao sent a lieutenant, Han Xun, to ambush Cao Ren on the western road through which he was about to return, but Cao Ren attacked Han Xun first at Mount Jiluo and defeated him. After that, Yuan Shao dared not separate his forces again. Cao Ren, along with Shi Huan and others, also routed Yuan Shao’s supply unit and burnt their food supplies.

Once the lands north of the Yellow River has been subdued, Cao Ren joined Cao Cao’s expedition to the Hu Pass. Having besieged the city, Cao Cao ordered, “Once the city is taken, all within it shall be buried alive.” But the city held its defenses for months. Cao Ren advised Cao Cao, saying, “When one besieges a city he must show its inhabitants a way out, give them a chance to preserve their lives. But now, your excellency has told them that they will surely be killed, and so both soldier and civilian will defend the city with their lives. Furthermore, the city walls are firm and their supplies are plentiful. If we launch a direct attack, we would lose many soldiers. But if we hold the siege, then we shall be here for a long time. Encamping beneath a impregnable city to attack men who have already given up hope to live is not an advisable strategy!” Cao Cao heeded his words [to retract the order to kill all within the city], and the city surrendered. Considering this contribution, Cao Cao made Cao Ren Marquis of Du Commune.

Cao Ren took part in the operation against Jingzhou, and Cao Cao made him General who Conquers the South, and stationed him at Jiangling to defend against the Wu general Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu came to attack the city with several tens of thousands of men, and a vanguard several thousand in strength. Cao Ren observed their approach from the top of the city walls, and thereupon he recruited three hundred men and had his subordinate Niu Jin lead them to confront the enemy. However, the enemy was many, and Niu Jin’s men were few, and quickly they were surrounded. At that time, many of the officers, including the Chief Clerk, Chen Qiao, were on the city walls; seeing that Niu Jin’s men disappearing in the multitudes of the enemy they all stood aghast. Cao Ren, in a great fury, ordered his men to bring his horse. Chen Qiao and others held his horse and said, “The enemy is strong, and it would be futile to fight them now. How bad can it be, to lose a few hundred men, compared to putting yourself in risk in battle?” Cao Ren did not reply, and donning his armor he mounted his horse, and led some tens of his most valiant riders out of the city. The riders were a hundred-odd paces away from the melee when they approached the moat. Chen Qiao and others all thought that Cao Ren should halt there to be backup support for Niu Jin, but Cao Ren instead rode straight on, fording the moat, and charging into the encirclement. Thus Niu Jin was able to escape, but some of his men were still trapped. And so Cao Ren charged back into the melee and saved the rest of Niu Jin’s men; several of them were lost. The enemy retreated at that. At first, when Chen Qiao saw Cao Ren riding forth, they were all worried; but when he saw Cao Ren coming back he sighed and said, “The General is indeed godlike!” The three armies all convinced of his valor then. Cao Cao praised him greatly for this deed, and changed his title to Marquis of Anping Commune (I).

I: From the passage that follows, it seems that Cao Cao, though praising Cao Ren’s valor, demoted him for the loss of Jiangling. The rank of General who Conquers the South was only provisionally re-given him after he defeated Su Bo and Tian Yin, and fully only after he subdued Hou Yin’s rebellion.

Cao Ren was made General who Tranquilizes the West when Cao Cao set off to attack Ma Chao. He led the other generals in the defense of Tong Pass, and defeated Ma Chao at Weinan. After that, Su Bo and Tian Yin rose in rebellion. Cao Ren was then given the title of General of the Resolute Cavalry, and leading seven other commands, he quelled the rebellion. He was then re-installed provisionally as General who Conquers the South, given the jie honors, and stationed at Fan city to guard Jingzhou. Soon after, Hou Yin of Wan city rebelled, taking all city with him and capturing many thousands from surrounding prefectures. Cao Ren thus led his command to defeat Hou Yin, and succeeded in beheading him. After he returned to his garrison in Fan, the rank of General who Conquers the South was fully given him again.

When Guan Yu attacked Fan city, the Han River flooded, destroying all seven companies of Yu Jin’s, causing Yu Jin to surrender to Guan Yu. Cao Ren was guarding the city with a thousand men and mounts, and only several feet of the city could be seen above the waters. Guan Yu rode on a boat and approached the city walls, and made his men encircle the city several times over. All communication between the city and the outside was cut, the stores were almost depleted, and yet the relief forces had not arrived yet. Cao Ren went about raising the morale of his soldiers, showing them that he was ready to give his life in the defense of the city. Then, Xu Huang arrived with the relief troops, and the water level began to lower. Striking Guan Yu from without, Xu Huang allowed Cao Ren to lift the siege, and together they forced Guan Yu to retreat.

As a young man, Cao Ren was undisciplined and unruly. However, once he grew up and became a general, he abided by all the laws and commands strictly; he had often put a copy of the code of laws wherever he worked, and consulted it when he dealt with various affairs. When Cao Zhang, Marquis of Yanling, went on the northern expedition against Wuwan, the Crown Prince Cao Pi admonished him in a letter thus: “As a general one should obey the law, just like the General who Conquers the South [Cao Ren]!” And when Cao Pi came to the throne, he bestowed upon Cao Ren the title of General of the Chariots and Cavalry, and put him in charge of all military affairs in the provinces of Jing, Yang, and Yi. He also promoted him to be Marquis of Chen, and increased his fief by 2,000 households, to a total of 3,500 households. The late father of Cao Ren, Cao Chi, was given the posthumous title of Marquis of Chenmu, and ten households were allotted to watch over his grave.

Later on, Cao Ren was ordered to garrison at Wan. Since Sun Quan had sent the general Chen Shao to hold Xiangyang, Cao Ren was commanded to take over it. And so Cao Ren and Xu Huang defeated Chen Shao, entered Xiangyang and had the general Gao Qian and others relocate the subjugated commoners from south of the Han River to the north. Upon the victory, the Literary Emperor [Cao Pi] sent an emissary to ceremoniously grant the title of General-in-Chief to Cao Ren.

Afterwards, Cao Pi commanded Cao Ren to move to guard Linying, and then promoted him to Commander-in-Chief. Then, Cao Ren lead the several commands to hold the Wujiang river, and he himself returned to the fort at Hefei. He died in the 4th year of Huangchu (AD 223), and his posthumous title was Marquis of Loyalty (2). His heir was Cao Tai, who reached the position of General who Guards the East, and who was giving the jie honors and the Marquisate of Ningling. When Cao Tai died, his son Cao Chu inherited the Marquisate. Cao Tai’s younger brothers Cao Kai and Cao Fan were both made marquis, and Niu Jin was eventually promoted to the position of General of the Rear.

2: Weishu: Cao Ren died at the age of 56.
Fuzi: The bravery of Commander-in-Chief Cao (Ren) exceeds even that of [Meng] Ben and [Xia] Yu [of the Spring and Autumn era]. Even Zhang Liao was second to him.

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