Battle of Xiaoting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Battle of Yiling" redirects here. For the battle after the Battle of Red Cliffs, see Battle of Yiling (208).
Battle of Xiaoting
Part of the wars of the Three Kingdoms period
Date July 221 – July 222 CE
Location Xiaoting (north of present-day Yidu, Hubei) and Yiling (southeast of present-day Yichang, Hubei)
Result Decisive Wu victory
Kingdom of Wu Shu Han,
Tribal people in Wuling
Commanders and leaders
Lu Xun Liu Bei,
50,000[citation needed] amounted to 200,000 in the main army, not including several tens of thousands Wulong barbarians and a few hundred thousand poorly equipped civilians drafted into military[citation needed]
Casualties and losses
light 80,000 (more when including barbarian and civilian deaths)[1]
Battle of Xiaoting
Traditional Chinese 猇亭之戰
Simplified Chinese 猇亭之战
Battle of Yiling
Traditional Chinese 夷陵之戰
Simplified Chinese 夷陵之战

The Battle of Xiaoting, also known as the Battle of Yiling and the Battle of Yiling and Xiaoting, was fought between the kingdom of Wu and the state of Shu Han in 222 CE during the early Three Kingdoms period. The battle was most significant for the decisive Wu victory, which halted the Shu invasion and preceded the death of Shu's emperor Liu Bei in Baidicheng.


Guan Yu's death and the fall of Jing Province[edit]

In 219, Sun Quan's general Lü Meng invaded and annexed Liu Bei's territory in Jing Province. Liu Bei's occupation of Jing Province has been contested by Sun Quan throughout the duration of most of their allied time. The Sun army took an opportunity to quickly reclaim the territory and settle the long lasting boundary dispute. However, Guan Yu, the sworn brother and general appointed by Liu Bei to defend Jing Province, was defeated, captured and executed. Liu Bei became enraged over the loss of his brother and land and relations between him and Sun Quan became unrecoverable.

In 220, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate in his favor, effectively ending the Han dynasty and establishing the state of Cao Wei. A year later, Liu Bei declared himself "Emperor of Shu Han" in Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing). Sun Quan had not declared himself emperor yet then, but his state (a kingdom), was known as Wu. The Three kingdoms were in the height of an uneasy balance but Liu Bei had not forgotten or forgiven the death of his brother. In 221, Liu Bei declared his intent to attack Wu to retake Jing Province and avenge Guan Yu. Many of his subjects, including Zhao Yun, opposed his decision on the grounds that the three kingdoms balance was too fragile and Shu would be at risk. Liu Bei vowed to continue to invasion but agreed to hold his forces for the time being.

Zhang Fei's death[edit]

Zhang Fei was the third sworn brother to Guan Yu and Liu Bei and a renowned general in both the Shu army and throughout the thee kingdoms entirely. He was also known to have a short temper, drink often and beat his subordinates harshly. As Liu Bei ordered the mobilization of his army, he was wrought with grief and imposed strict deadlines. Fan Qiang and Zhang Da were beat harshly for not abiding to Zhang Fei's timeline and were warned that if they failed again the two would be executed under military law. Zhang Fei was growing impatient with the preparations for war, so he imposed strict deadlines on Fan Qiang and Zhang Da, but his subordinates failed him again. Out of fear, Fan Qiang and Zhang Da killed Zhang Fei while he was asleep, cut off his head, and defected to Wu. Although Sun Quan would reject their defection and imprison them, Wu would receive the brunt of the blame for Zhang Fei's death.

Liu Bei was overwhelmed with grief and anger over the loss of two of his generals and brothers who had accompanied him since the beginning of his military exploits. Zhang Fei's death sparked an immediate invasion of Wu for revenge. Again, many of Liu Bei's subjects, including Zhao Yun and Qin Mi, attempted to dissuade their lord from attacking Wu but Liu dismissed their advice. Eventually, Liu Bei departed from his capital Chengdu with a large army and advanced towards Jing Province on both land and water (along the Yangtze River). He left his chancellor Zhuge Liang and crown prince Liu Shan to defend Shu.

Military Engagements[edit]

First Stage: Wu defeats[edit]

Initially, Wu forces underestimated the enemy's tenacity due to their superiority in numbers. As the advancing Shu army captured regions including Zigui, Wu County, Mount Ba and Mount Xing, Wu forces that set out from their fortifications to engage the enemy were nearly all annihilated. The initial defeat made Sun Quan decide to promote Lu Xun as Grand Viceroy (the de facto commander-in-chief of Sun Quan's forces).

Wu forces realized that the Shu troops were better versed in warfare in mountainous terrain as they were mostly ground troops. Thus, they decided to abandon their defenses at certain territories and retreat to vital positions and defend them instead. After that, they would hold on to those positions and wait for an opportunity to launch a counterattack.

In January, Shu naval forces led by Wu Ban and Chen Shi captured Yiling. Liu Bei built his headquarters in Zigui but did not stay there for long as his forces continued to make progress and push further into the heartland of Wu. In February, the Shu vanguard broke through enemy lines at Yidao and defeated the Wu defenders in engagement outside the city. The Wu general Sun Huan, who was guarding Yidao, retreated with his remaining troops into the city and held on to their positions until a stalemate was reached.

Meanwhile, the main Shu force led by Liu Bei reached Xiaoting and was unable to push any further as Wu forces led by Lu Xun held on firmly to their positions. With no further retreat by Wu forces, both sides reached at stalemate at Xiaoting.

Second Stage: Stalemate[edit]

As Shu troops ventured further into Wu territory the supply lines from Chengdu lengthened and supplies took longer to arrive. They territory they moved through was considered newly annexed. The army pillaged very little of territory they considered their own and relied on movement of equipment from Yi Province. The constant skirmishes and marching also wore down the Shu soldiers as they took losses. The terrain became flatter and the Shu infantry lost its advantage in mountainous terrain. Liu Bei, in an effort to recover, changed his deployment to stretch across 50 camps along the 350 km line from Wuxia to Yiling on the southern bank of the Yangtze River. His vanguard army was isolated 150 km away at Yidao.

By March, most of the Wu forces have evacuated from mountainous terrain and held up in their fortifications on flat terrain. Summer soon arrived and the sweltering heat took over much of the traditionally humid Jing weather. Liu Bei's forces camped at Yiling were directly next to a forest to help combat heat and humidity but many Shu soldiers still succumbed to heatstroke. By then, the Shu army's morale had fallen significantly as compared to at the start of the campaign, as the troops were now weary and suffering from the intense heat.

Liu Bei, in an effort to continue the campaign, planned an ambush which turned out to be a failure. He deployed eight thousand troops to lie in ambush in nearby valleys and sent Wu Ban to lead a weaker force to challenge and lure Wu forces out of their fortifications into the ambush. Lu Xun, Sun Quan's commander, refused to be lured out in open battle and waited until the ambush had to depart in failure.

Third Stage: Burning of the Camps[edit]

Shu troops continued to suffer in the stalemate as the campaign ran nearly seven months. The early, extreme summer became unbearable. Liu Bei decided to shift his camp into the nearby forest for shade and shelter. Ma Liang, adviser to the army, opposed his decision.

By July, Lu Xun planned a counterattack. He ordered saboteurs to encircle Liu Bei's camp by travelling on water with the navy. Once they were behind the camp at Yiling, the saboteurs set the camp on fire. The forest fire spread rapidly from camp to camp. As Shu soldiers rushed towards the Yangtze River for water to put out the fires, Wu archers lying in ambush shot them down. Shu forces attempted a counterattack, but Wu forces led by Pan Zhang broke through the lines they reformed making retaliation impossible. The Shu army fell into disarray; many deserted the army and the rest retreated.

Stage 5: Shu Retreat[edit]

The Shu navy initially better by barely managing an orderly retreat. Cheng Ji, a Shu official, personally led a group of men to cover the navy as it withdrew. Wu marine forces caught up with the rear guard of the Shu navy and engaged in battle. Cheng Ji and his men were surrounded by the Wu vanguard force but they managed to hold on by sinking the smaller enemy boats. However, the main Wu navy caught up with the slow Shu encirclement and annihilated the enemy force.

Shu forces lost the majority of his camps on the 350 km line to a rockslide at the Ma'an Hills. Liu Bei attempted to reform and regroup his remaining forces at the hills to make a last stand. However, his troops were split up before they could regroup as one. The Wu general Zhu Ran led an army of five thousand to disrupt the lines and prevent Liu Bei from reforming. Lu Xun personally led an attack on Shu forces together with Xu Sheng and Han Dang, and succeeded in preventing Liu Bei from reforming. Liu Bei had faced a near total defeat at the Ma'an Hills and fell back in disorder to Yi Province.

Liu Bei's escape and death[edit]

The remaining camps of the Shu army were set ablaze by retreating Shu soldiers to hinder Wu forces' pursuit. Meanwhile, the isolated Shu vanguard force at Yidao was also completely destroyed by Wu forces. Huang Quan managed to escape together with his deputy Pang Lin and over three hundred horsemen to the northern bank of the Yangtze River, where they were cut off from the rest of the Shu army and eventually surrendered to Wei.

Liu Bei fled to Zigui with Wu in close pursuit. The demoralized Shu troops were unable to hold ground and continued in disarray. During the withdrawal, Wang Fu, the Shu official in charge of Jing Province, was killed in the ensuing battle, but his death bought time for Liu Bei to continue retreating. Xiang Chong, who was stationed at Jing Province, managed to regroup the surviving Shu troops and lead them on an orderly retreat without them suffering any further great losses.

Xiang Chong also led Liu Bei safely to Yufu (present-day Fengjie County, Chongqing) and managed to repel any further attacks by pursuing enemy forces. Liu Bei was impressed with Xiang Chong and promoted him to the rank of Viceroy. Eventually, reinforcements from Jiangzhou led by Zhao Yun arrived and a stalemate was reached before Wu forces retreated on their own accord, thus ending their counterattack. Of all the Shu commanders who participated in the battle, many of them were killed and only Xiang Chong and the naval commanders Wu Ban and Chen Shi managed to return safely.

Liu Bei died a year later in the spring of 223 at Baidicheng. He was succeeded by his crown prince Liu Shan, with the chancellor Zhuge Liang and the general Li Yan serving as regents.


Until the Battle of Xiaoting, Shu had fielded a large army and was rightfully among the strongest of the three kingdoms, if only for a brief period. The weakening of Shu and the cementing Wu as a contender to both Shu and Wei further exacerbated the delicate stalemate between the three kingdoms. After Liu Bei's death, the chancellor-regent of Shu, Zhuge Liang, succeeded in restoring the Shu-Wu alliance in 223.

With the reestablishment of the alliance, Wu would end a 15 year boundary dispute to give them recognized control over Jing Province. Lu Xun rose to fame for his role in the battle, and his victory marked the beginning of an illustrious career that led to his appointment as chancellor of Wu more than twenty years after the battle. The Wu control over Jing would continue for another 50 years until the Jin dynasty, which disposed Wei and conquered Shu, would eventually unite the three kingdoms.

Order of battle[edit]

Size of armies[edit]

Liu Bei personally led the bulk of Shu's army out for the campaign, with his force amounting to more than 100,000. He was supported by his allies, the tribes along the five creeks further south of Jing Province, amongst them, the strongest was the Wuling tribal king Shamoke, who commanded warriors numbering tens of thousands; while the forces of Wu was anticipating a probable invasion from the state of Wei, and had the army split: the Wu forces in Xiaoting amounted to about 50,000.

In fiction[edit]

The events before, during, and after the Battle of Xiaoting are mentioned in chapters 81-84 of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi) by Luo Guanzhong, in which some fictitious stories were included, and actual events largely exaggerated, for dramatic effect.

The following are some notable events related to the battle, as described in the novel:

Opposition to Liu Bei's decision to go to war[edit]

Liu Bei planned to go to war with Sun Quan to avenge Guan Yu and retake Jing Province, but his decision was opposed by many of his subjects. The first person who attempted to dissuade Liu Bei was Zhao Yun, but Liu ignored Zhao and gave orders to prepare for war.[2] Following that, several officials came to see the chancellor Zhuge Liang and urge him to stop Liu Bei, so Zhuge brought them along to meet Liu and advise him against his decision, but Liu Bei refused to accept their advice. Just as Liu Bei was preparing for war, Qin Mi opposed his decision to attack Sun Quan, and Liu Bei was so angry that he wanted to have Qin executed, but Zhuge Liang intervened and Qin was spared. Zhuge Liang then submitted a memorial to Liu Bei, explaining why they should not go to war with Sun Quan, but Liu Bei threw the memorial to the ground after reading and exclaimed, "My decision is final. There is no need to advise me against my decision anymore!"[3]


The historical text Sanguozhi did not mention anything about Zhuge Liang opposing Liu Bei's decision to go to war with Sun Quan. However, it did state that Zhao Yun and Qin Mi attempted to dissuade Liu Bei. The Zhao Yun Biezhuan mentioned that Zhao Yun advised Liu Bei against attacking Sun Quan, but Liu ignored him and proceeded with his campaign.[4] Qin Mi's biography in the Sanguozhi stated that Liu Bei had Qin thrown into prison when the latter urged him not to attack Sun Quan on the grounds that the circumstances were unfavourable to them. Qin Mi was released from prison later.[5]

Huang Zhong's death[edit]

The Shu general Huang Zhong participated in the campaign against Sun Quan even though he was already over 70 years old at that time, but he was still fit and strong nonetheless. He slew Pan Zhang's subordinate Shi Ji (史蹟) and defeated Pan in an engagement on the first day. On the second day, while pursuing the retreating Pan Zhang, he fell into an ambush and was surrounded by Sun Quan's generals Zhou Tai, Han Dang, Ling Tong and Pan. He was hit by an arrow fired by Ma Zhong. Guan Xing and Zhang Bao saved him, but he died from his wound that night in camp. Liu Bei mourned his death. Since the Battle of Xiaoting historically took place between 221-222, by the novel's account, Huang Zhong's year of death should be around that time.[6]


Huang Zhong's biography in the Sanguozhi stated that Huang Zhong died in 220, a year after the Hanzhong Campaign ended. His cause of death was not specified.[7]

Guan Xing killing Pan Zhang[edit]

In one of the early engagements, Guan Xing encountered the Wu general Pan Zhang, who captured his father Guan Yu in an ambush during the Battle of Maicheng. In his eagerness to avenge his father, Guan Xing pursued Pan Zhang into a valley but lost his way inside. Night fell and Guan Xing wandered around for hours until he found a small house inhabited by an old man, and he requested for food and lodging for the night. Inside the house, Guan Xing saw his father's portrait on the wall. Later that night, Pan Zhang also found his way to the house and asked to stay there. Guan Xing saw Pan Zhang and shouted at him. Just as Pan Zhang was about to walk out of the door, he encountered Guan Yu's ghost and was petrified. Guan Xing caught up with Pan Zhang, killed him, dug out his heart and placed it on the altar as a sacrifice to his father's spirit.[8]


Pan Zhang's biography in the Sanguozhi stated that he died in 234 — more than 10 years after the Battle of Xiaoting. His cause of death was not specified though.[9] Besides, Guan Yu's biography mentioned that Guan Xing served as a civil official in Shu after reaching adulthood (around the age of 19) and died a few years later while in office.[10]

Gan Ning's death[edit]

The Wu general Gan Ning was down with dysentery around the time of the Battle of Xiaoting, but he still participated in the battle regardless of his illness. He was resting when he heard that enemy forces were approaching, so he quickly mounted his horse and prepared for battle. He encountered a group of barbarian warriors led by Liu Bei's ally, the tribal king Shamoke. He saw that the enemy force was too large and decided to withdraw without fighting. While retreating on horseback, Gan Ning was hit in the head by an arrow fired by Shamoke. He fled, with the arrow still embedded in his head, reached Fuchi (富池; in present-day Yangxin County, Hubei), sat down under a big tree and died. Dozens of crows on the tree flew around Gan Ning's body. When Sun Quan heard of Gan Ning's death, he was deeply saddened and ordered Gan Ning to be buried with full honours.[11]


No details were given on Gan Ning's cause and time of death in his biography in the Sanguozhi. Gan Ning's death was briefly stated as follows: When Gan Ning died, Sun Quan deeply lamented his death.[12]

Zhao Yun killing Zhu Ran[edit]

Liu Bei retreated under the protection of Guan Xing and Zhang Bao after his camps were set on fire by the Wu forces, and he was pursued by the enemy while withdrawing. At a critical moment, Zhao Yun showed up and blocked the attacks from the Wu soldiers. Zhao Yun encountered the Wu general Zhu Ran during the battle and he killed Zhu and covered Liu Bei as the latter headed towards Baidicheng.[13]


The Zhao Yun Biezhuan stated that Zhao Yun did not participate in the Battle of Xiaoting. Zhao Yun previously urged Liu Bei not to go to war with Sun Quan (see the section above) but Liu ignored his advice and proceeded with the campaign. Liu Bei ordered Zhao Yun to remain behind and put him in charge of Jiangzhou (江州; within present-day Chongqing). When Zhao Yun learnt that Liu Bei had been defeated by Wu forces at Zigui (秭歸), he led a force to Yong'an (永安; within present-day Chongqing) to help Liu Bei, but the Wu forces had already retreated.[14]

Zhu Ran's biography in the Sanguozhi stated that he died in 249 at the age of 68 (by East Asian age reckoning), about 27 years after the Battle of Xiaoting.[15] Besides, Zhu Ran outlived Zhao Yun, who historically died in 229.[16]

Lady Sun's death[edit]

News of Liu Bei's defeat in the battle reached his ex-wife Lady Sun, who had returned to Sun Quan's territory in Wu. After hearing rumours that Liu Bei had been killed in battle, Lady Sun ventured out to the bank of the Yangtze River, where she faced the west and cried before drowning herself in the river.[17]


Nothing was recorded in history about what happened to Lady Sun after she left Liu Bei and returned to Sun Quan's territory.

Lu Xun's encounter with Zhuge Liang's Stone Sentinel Maze[edit]

Modern references[edit]

The battle is featured as a playable stage in Koei's video game series Dynasty Warriors, in which it is known as the "Battle of Yi Ling".


  1. ^ (權將陸遜大敗劉備,殺其兵八萬餘人,備僅以身免) Fu Xuan's Fu Zi explicitly pointed out that the casualty rate was 80,000 on Liu Bei's side.
  2. ^ (說先主起兵東征。趙雲諫曰: ... 遂不聽趙雲之諫,下令起兵伐吳;) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 81.
  3. ^ (當下孔明引百官來奏先主曰: ... 次日,先生整兵要行。學士秦宓奏曰: ... 孔明聞知,即上表救秦宓。其略曰: ... 先主看畢,擲表於地曰:「朕意已決,無得再諫!」) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 81.
  4. ^ (雲別傳曰: ... 孫權襲荊州,先主大怒,欲討權。雲諫曰:「國賊是曹操,非孫權也,且先滅魏,則吳自服。操身雖斃,子丕篡盜,當因衆心,早圖關中,居河、渭上流以討凶逆,關東義士必裹糧策馬以迎王師。不應置魏,先與吳戰;兵勢一交,不得卒解也。」先主不聽,遂東征,留雲督江州。) Zhao Yun Biezhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  5. ^ (先主旣稱尊號,將東征吳,宓陳天時必無其利,坐下獄幽閉,然後貸出。) Sanguozhi vol. 38.
  6. ^ (卻說章武二年春正月, ... 言訖,不省人事,是夜殞於御營。 ... 先主見黃忠氣絕,哀傷不已,敕具棺槨,葬於成都。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 83.
  7. ^ (建安二十四年, ... 明年卒,...) Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  8. ^ (原來關興殺入吳陣,正遇讎人潘璋,驟馬追之。 ... 早被關興手起劍落,斬於地上,取心瀝血,就關公神像前祭祀。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 83.
  9. ^ (嘉禾三年卒。) Sanguozhi vol. 55.
  10. ^ (子興嗣。興字安國,少有令問,丞相諸葛亮深器異之。弱冠為侍中、中監軍,數歲卒。) Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  11. ^ (卻說甘寧正在船中養病,聽知蜀兵大至,火急上馬,正遇一彪蠻兵,人皆披髮跣足,皆使弓弩長鎗,搪牌刀斧;為首乃是番王沙摩柯,生得面如噀血,碧眼突出,使兩個鐵蒺藜骨朵,腰帶兩張弓,威風抖擻。甘寧見其勢大,不敢交鋒,撥馬而走;被沙摩柯一箭射中頭顱。寧帶箭而走,到得富池口,坐於大樹之下而死。樹上群鴉數百,圍繞其屍。吳王聞之,哀痛不已,具禮厚葬,立廟祭祀。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 83.
  12. ^ (寧卒,權痛惜之。) Sanguozhi vol. 55.
  13. ^ (雲正殺之間,忽遇朱然,便與交鋒;不一合,一鎗刺朱然於馬下,殺散吳兵,救出先主,望白帝城而走。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 84.
  14. ^ (先主不聽,遂東征,留雲督江州。先主失利於秭歸,雲進兵至永安,吳軍已退。) Zhao Yun Biezhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  15. ^ (年六十八,赤烏十二年卒,...) Sanguozhi vol. 56.
  16. ^ ([建興]七年卒,追謚順平侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  17. ^ (時孫夫人在吳,聞猇亭兵敗,訛傳先主死於軍中,遂驅車至江邊,望西遙哭,投江而死。) Sanguo Yanyi ch. 84.