Biography (COB): Cao Cao (Mengde)

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Cao Cao (Mengde)Cao Cao (Mengde)

Comprehensive Officer Biography
Translated & Authored by

Place of Birth: Qiao County, Pei County (Presently Bo Zhou city, An Hui Province)
Lifespan: AD 155 – 220 (65 years)
Titles: Prime Minister, Lord of Wuping, King of Wei, King Wu

Cao Mengde was a descendant of Cao Can, the Prime Minister of the Western Han Dynasty. As a young man, Cao Mengde was said to be very clever, tricky, unconventional, self-indulgent and loyal. Cao Cao’s father Cao Song was originally of the Xiahou Family, but was adopted by the eunuch Cao Teng, and therefore took the Cao family name.

At the age of twenty Cao Cao, after completing the district exams, received recommendation for filial piety and integrity, which resulted in his first official appointment. Cao Mengde proved himself to be worthy of higher responsibility and was put in command of security in the Capital District of Luo Yang. He adhered to strict rules and discipline, and no troops under his command would dare break the laws.

Next in line for Cao Cao was the office of Magistrate in Dun Qiu, and was then enlisted at the court as Counselor. At the beginning of the Yellow Turban rebellion in AD 184, Cao Mengde was elevated to the rank of Cavalry Commander and led troops to Ying Chuan district.

After the rebellion was subdued, Cao Mengde held the position of Commandant of the Valiant Army and in AD 190, fled to Ji Wu after failing to assassinate Dong Zhuo. From the on, Cao Cao took matters into his own hand and formed his own army of talented officers and soldiers. Using a forged Imperial Decree, Cao Mengde rallied together seventeen other Lords to fight against Dong Zhuo.

For this Cao Cao was appointed Governor of Dong Jun. In the year AD 192, Cao Mengde forced over three hundred thousand Yellow Turbans to surrender to him at Ji Bei. In the first year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 196), Cao Cao defeated several smaller lords and was appointed General Who Establishes Firm Virtue and titled Lord of Feiting. At this point, Cao Mengde took Emperor Xian to Xu Chang as a hostage and used him as puppet Emperor (1). With this new power, Cao Cao elevated himself to Great General and Lord of Wuping.

In the fifth year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 200), Cao Cao killed Lü Bu, made Zhang Xiu surrender and fought against Liu Bei. He conquered the counties of Ji Zhou and after fighting Yuan Shao at Guan Du, pacified all of the north. In June of the thirteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 208), Cao Mengde appointed himself as Prime Minister of the Han. The next month, Cao Cao started a war against Liu Biao in Jing Zhou, in September he fought Liu Bei, and in December suffered major casualties at Chi Bi.

In the summer of the sixteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 211), Cao Mengde fought Ma Chao and Han Sui in the west. A year later he received the title Duke of Wei from Emperor Xian and assumed the Nine Dignities of a patriarchal lord. In the spring of AD 213, Cao Cao led an army to Ru Xu Mountain where he captured Gongsun Yang. The next year, Cao Mengde received the Imperial Jade Seal from the Emperor, placing him above all the other lords (2).

In the twentieth year of Rebuilt Tranquility (AD 215), after annihilating Zhang Lu in Han Zhong, Cao Cao was authorized by Emperor Xian to appoint vassals in the Kingdom and to appoint the three Great Ministers. In May of the next year, he assumed the titled King of Wei. Two years later (AD 217), Cao Cao fought against Liu Bei at Han Zhong but was forced to withdraw to Chang An.

In January of the twenty-fifth year of Rebuilt Tranquility, (AD 220), Cao Mengde passed away after a stroke (3). He was buried at Gao Ling the next month. Posthumously he was titled King Wu.

(1) Though the account uses different wording; I rearranged some of the words to prevent awkward expressions and misconceptions. <return>

(2) The Jade Seal was the symbol of an Emperor’s right to rule. Emperor Xian’s act of giving the seal to Cao Cao, meant that he left the Han Empire’s future in the hands of the Prime Minister, thus in actually ending the Han rule prematurely. <return>

(3) The author of this book notes that Cao Cao also suffered from a large brain tumor which caused many headaches. Whether or not the tumor caused the stroke in uncertain, but seems like the most plausible explanation. <return>

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A Kongming’s Archives Exclusive Production
Major Sources: Beifangshi - Han/Ming Professor E.Lin (1982 Beijing)