Biography (SGZ): Cao Xiu (Wenlie)

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Cao Xiu (Wenlie)
曹休 (文烈)
(AD ??-228)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography (I)
translated by

I: Details on descendants excluded.

Cao Xiu, styled Wenlie, was a junior of Cao Cao’s in the Cao clan. When civil strife ravaged the land, all his relations left their homes and were scattered. Cao Xiu was merely a lad in his teens at that time. His father died, and he carried the coffin personally to the burial site, with just one servant to help him. After that, he took his elderly mother and crossed the Yangtze River into the Wu lands (1).

1: Wei Shu: Cao Xiu’s grandfather had once been the Grand Administrator of Wu Commandary. When Cao Xiu was visiting at the Grand Administrator’s residence, he caught sight of a portrait of his grandfather, hanging on the wall. Thus he got up from his seat, and prostrated himself before it with many a tear. All those who were present praised him [for his filial piety].

At the occasion of Cao Cao’s raising a volunteer army [to fight Dong Zhuo], Cao Xiu travelled incognito northwards, through Jingzhou, to meet up with Cao Cao. Cao Cao told those around him, “This is indeed the stallion of my family who runs a thousand li!” And he had Cao Xiu share quarters with Cao Pi, treating him as his own son. He also had Cao Xiu accompany him in battles frequently, and made him the captain of the Tiger and Panther Cavalry unit, Cao Cao’s personal guard.

When Liu Bei sent Wu Lan to hold position at Xiabian, Cao Cao sent Cao Hong to attack him. Cao Xiu was made Colonel of the Cavalry and sent along and advise Cao Hong in military affairs. Cao Cao said thus to Cao Xiu, “Though I send you as an advisor, you are actually the general-in-chief.” Cao Hong, having heard this, delegated all to Cao Xiu’s discretion.

Liu Bei sent Zhang Fei to Mount Gu, acting as if they were going to cut Cao Hong’s troops off from the back. All [in the Cao camp] were divided on what to do, but Cao Xiu said, “If the enemy truly wants to cut us off, they would march stealthily. Since they are making a lot of noise, it’s clear that it’s a feint. I suggest that we take advantage of the fact that they have not been organised yet, and launch a surprise attack on Wu Lan. When Wu Lan is defeated, Zhang Fei will simply retreat.” Cao Hong accepted this plan, and led his troops to attack Wu Lan, scoring a big victory. Indeed, Zhang Fei subsequently retreated. After the conquest of Han Zhong, Cao Cao and all his generals returned to Chang’an. There, he made Cao Xiu Commander of the Imperial Guard.

When Cao Pi became the Prince of Wei, Cao Xiu was made General Who Directs the Army, and on account of his former merits, was granted the title of Marquis of Dongyang Commune. Upon Xiahou Dun’s death, Cao Pi then made Cao Xiu General who Guards the South, and gave him temporary [supreme power] to be chief controllor of all military matters. When Cao Xiu was about to leave, the emperor went to see him off personally with an escort of chariots, and alighted from his carriage to hold Cao Xiu’s hands in farewell.

Sun Quan sent a commander to garrison at Liyang. Cao Xiu went there and defeated that commander, before sending a separate force to cross the Yangtze to burn several thousand tents of the enemy’s at Wu Lake. For that he was promoted to General Who Conquers the East, designated Inspector of Yang Commandary, and then granted the title of Marquis of Anyang Commune (2).

2: Wei Shu: Cao Xiu was most filial when mourning for his mother. The emperor sent a palace attendant to disrobe Cao Xiu of his mourning garments, and to order him to drink wine and eat meat; however, Cao Xiu became even more even more emanciated with grief. He petitioned to be allowed to return to Qiao in order to bury his mother. The emperor then sent Xue Qiao, Colonel of the Outstanding Calvary, (II) along with a decree commanding Cao Xiu to curb his grief and to bury his mother within one day of reaching home. Once the burial was over he was to return to where the emperor was. When the emperor saw him, he personally consoled him. This was how much he cherished Cao Xiu.
II: Captain of the imperial guards.

When the Emperor went on an expedition against Sun Quan, he made Cao Xiu General-in-Chief who Conquers the East, granted him the Imperial Golden Axe, and put him in charge of Zhang Liao and some other commanders, on top of twenty-odd battalions from different provinces. With that, Cao Xiu attacked Lü Fan and other generals under Sun Quan at Dongpu and vanquished them. For that he was made Protector of Yang Province.

When the Illustrious Emperor [Cao Rui] came to the throne, he promoted Cao Xiu to be Marquis of Changping. The Wu general Shen De set up a garrison at Wan. Cao Xiu proceeded to rout [the Wu troops], and beheaded Shen De. At that, Han Zong, Zhai Dan, among others from Wu surrendered along with their commands. Consequently Cao Xiu’s fief was increased by four hundred households, making a total of 2,500 households. He was also promoted to be Commander-in-Chief, and to remain the controller of Yang Province as before.

In the second year of Taihe (AD 228), the Emperor commanded two forces to attack Wu–one led by Sima Yi, to go by the way of the Han River, and the other by Cao Xiu towards Xunyang. An enemy commander feigned surrender, and tricked Cao Xiu into the enemy strongholds. Cao Xiu was unable to gain the upper hand in battle, and thus retreated to make camp at Shiting. However, the camp was disturbed in the middle of night, and the soldiers ran away in disarray. Many sets of armour and carts of supplies were abandaned. Cao Xiu sent in a memorial acknowledging his fault. The emperor sent Yang Ji, Colonel of the Garrisoned Cavalry (III) to console him, and to bestow many gifts on him. On account of this, Xiu developed an ucler on his back and died of it. His posthumous title was “Valiant Marquis”. His son, Shao, became his heir (3).

III: Captain of the imperial guards.
3: Shiyu: Shao was styled Changsi.

Copyright © 2003 – 2004
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi