Hao Zhao, courtesy name Bodao (伯道), was a military general of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. His single most important victory over the much larger Shu Han army led by Zhuge Liang during the Siege of Chencang made him a celebrity overnight, but he soon died of illness before he could further his exploits.
Hao Zhao was born in Taiyuan, and he joined the army at a young age. Described as masculine and strong, the physically adept Hao Zhao was soon assigned an superintendent to a group of militia under the Han Dynasty's chancellor, Cao Cao. He gained a few deeds in battle as a captain, and was granted the lowest ranking of generalship because of them. As a general, Hao Zhao was dispatched to Hexi (河西) and stayed there for roughly ten years, earning both the fear and obeisance from the residents and foreign tribes alike.
Before the regent of Shu, Zhuge Liang, deployed for his second campaign against the rival state of Wei, the Wei marshal, Cao Zhen, correctly predicted Zhuge's route of advancement, and recommended Hao Zhao to build fortifications for Chencang, assuring the young emperor, Cao Rui, of the defense. However, Hao Zhao was only assigned 1,000 men for the building project. After the failure on Mount Qi and Jieting, the Shu regent indeed changed his target to Chencang as Cao Zhen foresaw. This time, Zhuge Liang brought with him a selection of siege weapons, and 100,000 troops. He determined to march through Chencang, in order to establish a foothold for further military actions. When the attackers reached the fortress-city, the denfence was apparently not completed as Cao Zhen had not sent additional forces to settle in.
Encasing the lone fortress from all sides, Zhuge Liang sent Jin Xiang, a friend of Hao Zhao, to convince the latter to betray Wei, but faced stern refusal. Hao Zhao announced he would die defending the citadel, and asked the besiegers to attack. Yet, the Shu regent again sent his lobbyist to soften the defender. "Our armies are enormous while you only have a tiny force, what good is it to perish for nothing?" said Jin Xiang. This time, however, Hao Zhao fitted an arrow and replied "What I said earlier remains solid. As I know you, my arrow doesn't." Upon hearing this, the attack began.
The odds were drastically against Hao Zhao - he only had 1,000 men at the time, while the Shu army numbered 100,000 had developed three layers of barricades. Zhuge Liang's first attempt was to carry out an escalade tactic through the use of siege ladders, but Hao Zhao countered with fire arrows, burning the platforms and parching the men upon them. While the ladders were still aflame, the enemies' battering rams had arrived the city gate; Hao Zhao hurriedly chained some great stones and rolled them down, smashing the rams.
Zhuge Liang then drew back and rethought on his tactic, and decided to create more possible attack points. Therefore, the besiegers started to fill the moats and prepared their siege towers. With the entrenchments removed, the siege engines moved upon the walls while foot-soldiers climbed the walls like ants. However, Zhuge Liang was outwitted by Hao Zhao, who had already built interior walls inside the original walls before the attackers finished filling the trenches. As long as the siege towers could not pass the first walls, the soldiers, descending from the towers and overcoming the outer walls, could not climb the second inner walls.
Suffering another defeat, Zhuge Liang attempted an architectural approach. It is recorded that Zhuge Liang wanted to create some underground passages for his armies to enter the city directly. That is a much perilous approach compared to the prevailing mining tactic, because defenders can counter-tunnel to cut into the attackers' works and topple them prematurely, killing anyone affected by the collapse, and that is just what Hao Zhao did.
The struggle had been continuing non-stop for 20-odd days and nights, with Zhuge Liang becoming increasingly aggressive. News about Wei relief forces being led by Zhang He reached the camp of Zhuge Liang, who retreated before the main reinforcement reached Chencang. A Wei general, Wang Shuang, was killed when he attempted a pursuit.
After the siege was broken, an imperial decree was passed down to grant Hao Zhao a title of marquis, and summoned him to the imperial capital. The emperor, Cao Rui, yearning to meet this new hero of his country, once commented to his trusted aide, Sun Zi (孫資, not to be confused with Sun Tzu), "your county has produced such a fiery general, what worries should I have?" Cao Rui intended to assign great tasks to Hao Zhao (郝凯), but the latter became seriously ill, sojourning in Luoyang to receive medication. As the sick man collapsed, he gave his final words to his son Hao Kai as thus:
"I, as a general, know what a general should not do. I have opened up many a grave mound, obtaining their wood to be used in making equipment during battle; thus I know a grand funeral is of no use to the dead. You are to dress my body in casual clothes. In life the living has a place of dwelling, in death where do they go? Now make my grave far away, north, south, east, or west, it is up to you."
When the emperor knew Hao Zhao would not recover, he was so saddened that he lost appetite and ordered certain higher officials to reduce meals. Sima Yi protested that for the emperor to worry about Hao Zhao, who was from a lower origin, to such a degree was beyond the rituals suggested.
- (昭字伯道，太原人，为人雄壮，少入军为部曲督，数有战功，为杂号将军，遂镇守河西十余年，民夷畏服。). Brief History of Wei. Yu Huan.
- (亮围陈仓，使昭乡人靳详于城外遥说之，昭于楼上应详曰“魏家科法，卿所练也；我之为人，卿所知也。我受国恩多而门户重，卿无可言者，但有必死耳。卿还谢诸葛，便可攻也。”). Brief History of Wei.
- (亮又使详重说昭，言人兵不敌，无为空自破灭。昭谓详曰：“前言已定矣。我识卿耳，箭不识也。”详乃去。). Brief History of Wei.
- (贼众十万，顿兵郭下，围城三匝，于是不逞作慝). Records of Shanxi (《山西通志》).
- (亮乃更为井阑百尺以射城中，以土丸填堑，欲直攀城，昭又于内筑重墙。) Brief History of Wei.
- (亮又为地突，欲踊出于城里，昭又于城内穿地横截之。). Brief History of Wei.
- (昼夜相攻拒二十余日，亮无计) Brief History of Wei.
- (及还，帝引见慰劳之，顾谓中书令孙资曰：“卿乡里乃有尔曹快人，为将灼如此，朕复何忧乎？”仍欲大用之。). Brief History of Wei.
- (司马懿上明帝书：“昭寝疾不起，此乃命也。方今朔土未一，四海喁喁，天戴陛下，而以下流之念，减损大官肴馔，过於礼制，臣窃忧惶。” ). Brief History of Wei.
- Yu Huan. Brief History of Wei
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Chapter 3, Biography of Emperor Ming.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Chapter 9, Biography of Cao Zhen.