An illustration of Xu Huang from a Qing Dynasty edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms
|General of Cao Wei|
|Style name||Gongming (Chinese: 公明; pinyin: Gōngmíng; Wade–Giles: Kung-ming)|
|Posthumous name||Marquis Zhuang (simplified Chinese: 壮侯; traditional Chinese: 壯侯; pinyin: Zhuàng Hóu; Wade–Giles: Chuang Hou)|
Xu Huang (died 227), style name Gongming, was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He later served in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period under the first two rulers, Cao Pi and Cao Rui, before his death at the start of Cao Rui's reign. Xu Huang is best noted for breaking the siege at the Battle of Fancheng in 219 by routing the enemy commander Guan Yu on the field. Chen Shou, the author of the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, considered Xu Huang among the Five Elite Generals of Cao Cao, together with Zhang Liao, Yue Jin, Zhang He and Yu Jin.
Early life and service under Yang Feng 
Xu Huang was a native of Yang (楊), Hedong (河東), which is located southeast of present-day Hongdong County, Linfen, Shanxi. He served as a minor official in the local commandery office in his youth. Later, he became a subordinate of Yang Feng from the White Wave Bandits (originally a sect of Yellow Turban rebels that rose up in Xu Huang's hometown in Shanxi), after the bandits raided Hedong and Taiyuan (太原) in 188. Over the years, the leaders of the White Wave Bandits had been holding different attitudes toward the central government, and Yang Feng submitted to Dong Zhuo. Xu Huang later followed Yang Feng to quell some remnants of the Yellow Turban rebels, and was appointed a Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉) by the Han imperial court under the Liang Province faction led by Dong Zhuo.
The successors of Dong Zhuo were Li Jue and Guo Si, but the two regents had grown suspicious of each other and started warring within the streets of the capital. At that time, Yang Feng and Xu Huang were subordinates of Li Jue. In 195, Xu Huang joined a plot against Li Jue - he convinced Yang Feng to escort Emperor Xian from Chang'an back to Luoyang, which by then was much dilapidated. There, Yang Feng and Dong Cheng's rivalry had led the latter to summon Cao Cao. Early the next year, Cao Cao came personally without resistance, and he moved the emperor to his secured base in Xuchang. Xu Huang then prompted Yang Feng to join Cao Cao's forces, and Yang nearly heeded the advice but refused at last. Cao Cao soon attacked Yang Feng, whereupon Xu Huang switched his allegiance to the aggressor.
Performance in Cao Cao's campaigns in central and northern China 
Cao Cao sent Xu Huang with an army to attack the enemy at Juan (卷) and Yuanwu (原武). Xu Huang defeated them and was promoted to Major-General (裨將軍). When conflict broke out between Cao Cao and Lü Bu around 194-195, Xu Huang attacked and defeated Lü Bu's subordinates Zhao Shu (趙庶) and Li Zou (李鄒) in battle. He also killed Sui Gu together with Shi Huan (史渙) at Henei (河內).
In 200, during the Battle of Guandu between Cao Cao and Yuan Shao, Xu Huang participated in the early skirmishes at Boma (白馬) and Yan Ford (延津), where he assisted in defeating the warlord Liu Bei (who had joined Yuan Shao after his earlier defeat in Xu Province) and Yuan Shao's generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou. He was promoted to Lieutenant-General (偏將軍) for his achievements, and later joined Cao Hong in defeating the rebel Zhu Bi (祝臂) at Yinjiang (氵隱 疆; southwest of present-day Xuchang, Henan).
Yuan Shao had been storing supplies at a depot in the village of Gushi (southwest of present-day Yanjin County, Henan). Xu Huang and Shi Huan were sent to attack this position, and they defeated the defenders and burnt Yuan's grain carts, forcing Yuan to call for relief supplies in response to this raid. Xu Huang received the title of "Marquis of a Chief Village" (都亭侯) for his contributions.
A few years later, Xu Huang joined the follow-up operation against the heirs of Yuan Shao (who died in 202, two years after his defeat at Guandu). In 203, the defender of Yiyang (易阳), Han Fan (韓範), feigned surrender and strengthened his town. Xu Huang then wrote a letter of persuasion and had it fired into the city on an arrow. The defender was hence won over and Xu Huang conquered the city without bloodshed. Before the city fell, Xu Huang went to see Cao Cao and asked the latter to refrain from massacring the residents of Yiyang only after Han Fan did surrender, and the rationale of their final decision was entirely based on tactical consideration, which was to soften other defending cities by setting up an example. Cao Cao agreed to Xu Huang's suggestion.
Xu Huang later set up an ambush and defeated the Yuans' forces at Maocheng (毛城), defeated Yuan Tan at the Battle of Nanpi, and suppressed a revolt in Pingyuan (平原). He also participated in Cao Cao's campaign against Yuan Shang, Yuan Xi and the Wuhuan tribes, which led to the Battle of White Wolf Mountain in 207. Xu Huang was further promoted to 'General Who Sweeps Across the Wilderness' (橫野將軍) for his contributions in battle.
Battles of Jiangling 
In 208, Xu Huang followed Cao Cao to pacify Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan), and was supposed to participate in the Battle of Red Cliffs in the same year. When Cao Cao retreated north after his defeat at Red Cliffs, Xu Huang was ordered to stay behind with Cao Ren in Jiangling to resist Sun Quan's counteroffensive. In one occasion, the enemy commander Zhou Yu left the defence of his main camp to his subordinate, Ling Tong, and led most of the troops to rescue another subject, Gan Ning, who was surrounded by Cao Ren's cavalry in a distant castle. Even Ling Tong was left with only a wee fraction of the army to guard the camp, the numerically superior Xu Huang and Cao Ren were unable to surpass their much younger opponent and the enemy camps remained intact. As a result, a yearlong vigorous fighting followed and the casualty count on Cao Cao's side became enormous, so Xu Huang and Cao Ren finally abandoned Jiangling and retreated north.
Cao Cao's northwestern campaigns 
After suppressing a rebellion by Shang Yao (商曜) in Taiyuan (太原) in 210, Xu Huang joined Cao Cao in his campaigns in northwestern China, around the Liang Province region. In 211, Cao Cao engaged a coalition of northwestern warlords led by Ma Chao and Han Sui at the Battle of Tong Pass. After discovering that Han Sui did not leave any troops to guard the shallow of Puban (浦阪津), Xu Huang suggested to Cao Cao to send him north and cross the Yellow River via Puban Ford to circumvent Tong Pass from the west of the river. Cao Cao assented to Xu Huang's plan, and sent Zhu Ling to go with him. They crossed Puban and started pitching camps, but before the defence fortification was completed, one of the coalition members, Liang Xing, scouted them. Instead of asking his allies for reinforcement, Liang Xing attacked right away, but was routed in the end. Xu Huang and Zhu Ling then impelled the pace to complete the defence, and waited for the arrival of the main forces. However, the discovery of Xu Huang's presence had alerted the coalition forces and created a serious crisis for Cao Cao's crossing of the river.
After Cao Cao's victory at Tong Pass, he sent Xu Huang and Xiahou Yuan to pacify the various Di tribes in Yumi (隃麋) and the Qian River (汧) areas. Xu Huang and Xiahou Yuan later rendezvoused with Cao Cao's main army at Anding (安定). After Cao Cao had returned to Ye (鄴; in present-day Handan, Hebei), he sent Xu Huang and Xiahou Yuan again to suppress revolts in Fu (鄜) and Xiayang (夏陽), where they defeated Liang Xing and forced some 3,000 households into surrender.
When Cao Cao embarked on another campaign in western China to attack the warlord Zhang Lu in Hanzhong, he sent Xu Huang with a separate force to pacify the Di tribes around Du (櫝) and Chouyi (仇夷). Xu Huang succeeded and was promoted to 'General Who Suppresses Rebels' (平寇將軍). He also lifted the siege by rebel forces on a general Zhang Shun (張順) and defeated the rebel leader Chen Fu (陳福).
Hanzhong Campaign 
In 215, Xu Huang was tasked with defending Hanzhong's communication line, Mamingge (馬鳴閣), under the command of Xiahou Yuan to halt the advances of Liu Bei's army. When Liu Bei sent his general Chen Shi in an attempt to sever the supply routes to the city, Xu Huang struck the enemy head-on. Due to Xu Huang's ferocious attack, many enemy soldiers jumped off the cliff, and the casualty was high enough to keep Hanzhong secure for the time being.
Cao Cao was delighted when he heard of the victory and he gave orders to Xu Huang, "This pass is a crucial gateway into Hanzhong. Liu Bei intends to isolate the pass and then move on to conquer Hanzhong. You've done well in foiling the enemy's attempt."
Battle of Fancheng 
Xu Huang's most glorious moment in his military career came at the Battle of Fancheng in 219. When Fan (樊; also called Fancheng, in present-day Fancheng District, Xiangfan, Hubei) and Xiangyang were besieged by Liu Bei's general Guan Yu and the first relief force led by Yu Jin was vanquished by a natural disaster, Xu Huang was sent with a second reinforcement army to help protect the cities. Cao Ren, the general defending Fan, and Lü Chang (呂常), who defended Xiangyang, were both trapped in their respective fortresses by Guan Yu's forces for months.
Knowing that most of his soldiers were composed of new recruits without training, Xu Huang did not go into battle straight away but camped behind the enemy to impose a deterrent effect. Meanwhile, he instructed his subordinates Xu Shang (徐商) and Lü Jian (呂建) to oversee the digging of trenches around the nearby enemy city of Yancheng (偃城) to deceive the enemy into thinking that they were trying to cut off supplies into the city. The enemies were deceived and abandoned their position, yielding Xu Huang a foothold on the battlefield. By this time, a total of twelve camps had been gathered under the flag of Xu Huang. With the strengthened army, Xu Huang finally unleashed an attack on Guan Yu's camp. The enemy encirclement consisted of five camps, so Xu Huang spread news that he was planning to attack the main camp, while he secretly attacked the other four side camps instead. When Guan Yu saw that the four side camps had been destroyed, he personally led 5,000 horsemen to meet the attackers, but was eventually outmatched. Many of his soldiers were forced into the nearby Han River and drowned. The siege on Fancheng was then lifted. When Cao Cao heard of the victory, he praised Xu Huang: "The enemy formation was very thick but yet you managed to achieve victory and destroyed their camps and killed so many of their men. I've participated in battles for over 30 years, but I've never heard of any person in history who attempted to break a siege by launching a direct attack on the enemy's encirclement. The situation at Fan and Xiangyang was much worse than that at Ju and Jimo. Your achievements are comparable to those of Sun Wu and Rangju."
The Shu Ji (蜀記) recorded an incident about Xu Huang meeting Guan Yu on the battlefield. Xu Huang had a close friendship with Guan Yu. They often chatted about other things apart from military affairs. When they met again at Fancheng, Xu Huang gave an order to his men, "Whoever manages to take Guan Yunchang's head will be rewarded with 1,000 jin of gold." Guan Yu was shocked and he asked Xu Huang, "Brother, what are you talking about?" Xu Huang replied, "This is an affair of the state."
Upon Xu Huang's return, Cao Cao went seven li out of Xuchang to greet him, giving him full credit for securing Fan and Xiangyang. Throughout the field reception, the soldiers of other commanders shifted about in order to get a better view of Cao Cao, but Xu Huang's men stood stationary in neat files. Seeing this, Cao Cao lauded, "General Xu has truly inherited the style of Zhou Yafu."
Service under Cao Pi 
Cao Cao died in 220 and his vassal king title, "King of Wei", was inherited by his son Cao Pi. Xu Huang continued to be heavily trusted by Cao Pi, and he was appointed "General of the Right" (右將軍) and received the title of "Marquis of Lu" (逯鄉侯). Later that year, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him, becoming emperor and establishing the state of Cao Wei. Cao Pi conferred the title of "Marquis of Yang" (楊侯) on Xu Huang, and sent him and Xiahou Shang to lead an army to attack Liu Bei's city of Shangyong (上庸), where they achieved success. Xu Huang was later ordered to garrison at Yangping (陽平), so his marquis title was changed to "Marquis of Yangping" (陽平侯).
Service under Cao Rui and death 
Cao Pi died in 226 and was succeeded by his son Cao Rui. During that time, Xu Huang successfully repelled an invasion on Xiangyang by the Eastern Wu general Zhuge Jin. For his contributions, he was awarded another 200 taxable households in his marquis fief, bringing the total number to 3,100. When Xu Huang became seriously ill later, he gave instructions that he was to be given a simple burial after his death. Xu Huang died in 227 and was posthumously granted the title of "Marquis Zhuang" (壯侯), which literally means "robust marquis".
Xu Huang's titles were inherited by his son Xu Gai (徐蓋) after his death. When Xu Gai died, the titles were inherited by his son, Xu Ba (徐霸). Cao Rui granted the titles of marquises to Xu Gai and Xu Ba and placed some households under their control.
Xu Huang led a humble and simple life and he was very self-disciplined. When he went into battle and realised he could not win, he would still encourage his men to fight on in pursuit of glory and they did not rest or have meals until they had won. He often sighed, "The people in the past complained that they did not have a chance to meet and serve a wise lord. Now, I'm privileged to have encountered one, so I should do my best to serve him instead of seeking to increase my personal fame!" He did not maintain a wide social network throughout his life.
In fiction 
In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Xu Huang made his first appearance in chapter 13, where he served under Yang Feng. Xu Huang and Yang Feng escorted Emperor Xian back to Luoyang after the death of Dong Zhuo, who had been holding the emperor hostage.
When Cao Cao came to Luoyang to fetch the emperor to Xuchang, Yang Feng sent out Xu Huang to deter him. Cao Cao knew that Xu Huang was an extraordinary man on first sight and he sent Xu Chu to duel with Xu. Neither side could gain an advantage over each other after 50 bouts, and by then, Cao Cao was very impressed by Xu Huang's skill. Not wanting either of the two men to get hurt, Cao Cao then called for Xu Chu to retreat. Knowing his lord intended to recruit Xu Huang, Man Chong, a subject of Cao Cao and a fellow townsman of Xu Huang, volunteered to persuade Xu to defect. That very night, Man Chong disguised himself as a common soldier, sneaked into Xu Huang's tent and successfully persuaded Xu to join Cao Cao. Man Chong then suggested slaying Yang Feng as a gesture of defection but Xu Huang refused to kill his former superior.
Xu Huang, along with Zhang Liao, was the closest friend to Guan Yu when the latter temporarily served under Cao Cao. They met again when Xu Huang led Cao Cao's army against Guan Yu during the Battle of Fancheng. After exchanging pleasantries, Xu Huang shouted to his men, offering 1,000 pieces of gold for whoever that took Guan's head. Guan Yu was stunned, and Xu Huang remarked that as he was on official duty, and he would not allow his private friendship with Guan to affect his performance.
In the novel, Xu Huang met his end outside Xincheng (新城), where he was shot in his forehead by Meng Da from the city wall. His men immediately took him back to camp, where the physician removed the arrow and tried to heal him, but Xu Huang eventually died later that night. The novel claimed that he was 59 years old, but this figure is not supported by any evidence from historical records.
Modern references 
Xu Huang is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series. He also appears in all 12 instalments of Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy game series.
See also 
- ^ Cao Cao was referring to the military exploits of Tian Dan, a general of the Qi state in the Spring and Autumn Period. In 284 BC, Tian Dan successfully defended the city of Ju (莒; formerly the Ju state, which was annexed by Qi) from an attack by the Yan state. He defeated Yan forces again later in 279 BC at the siege of Jimo (即墨) by using the "Fire Cattle Columns" strategy.
- ^ "Rangju" refers to Tian Rangju, a general of the Qi state in the Spring and Autumn Period who was famous for his military discipline.
- Xu Huang's biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms stated that he died in the first year of the Taihe era (227-233) in the reign of Cao Rui. (太和元年薨， ...)
- (評曰：太祖建茲武功，而時之良將，五子為先。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17.
- (徐晃字公明，河東楊人也。為郡吏，從車騎將軍楊奉討賊有功，拜騎都尉。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (李傕、郭汜之亂長安也，晃說奉，令與天子還洛陽，奉從其計。天子渡河至安邑，封晃都亭侯。及到洛陽，韓暹、董承日爭鬬，晃說奉令歸太祖；奉欲從之，後悔。太祖討奉於梁，晃遂歸太祖。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太祖授晃兵，使擊卷、原武賊，破之，拜裨將軍。從征呂布，別降布將趙庶、李鄒等。與史渙斬眭固於河內。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (從破劉備，又從破顏良，拔白馬，進至延津，破文醜，拜偏將軍。與曹洪擊彊賊祝臂，破之， ...) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (... 又與史渙擊袁紹運車於故市，功最多，封都亭侯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太祖旣圍鄴，破邯鄲，易陽令韓範偽以城降而拒守，太祖遣晃攻之。晃至，飛矢城中，為陳成敗。范悔，晃輒降之。既而言於太祖曰：「二袁未破，諸城未下者傾耳而聽，今日滅易陽，明日皆以死守，恐河北無定時也。原公降易陽以示諸城，則莫不望風。」太祖善之。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (別討毛城，設伏兵掩擊，破三屯。從破袁譚於南皮，討平原叛賊，克之。從征蹋頓，拜橫野將軍。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (從征荊州，別屯樊，討中廬、臨沮、宜城賊。又與滿寵討關羽於漢津，與曹仁擊周瑜於江陵。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (十五年，討太原反者，圍大陵，拔之，斬賊帥商曜。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (韓遂、馬超等反關右，遣晃屯汾陰以撫河東，賜牛酒，令上先人墓。太祖至潼關，恐不得渡，召問晃。晃曰：「公盛兵於此，而賊不復別守蒲阪，知其無謀也。今假臣精兵臣松之云：案晃于時未應稱臣，傳寫者誤也。渡蒲阪津，為軍先置，以截其裏，賊可擒也。」太祖曰：「善。」使晃以步騎四千人渡津。作塹柵未成，賊梁興夜將步騎五千餘人攻晃，晃擊走之，太祖軍得渡。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (遂破超等，使晃與夏侯淵平隃麋、汧諸氐，與太祖會安定。太祖還鄴，使晃與夏侯淵平鄜、夏陽餘賊，斬梁興，降三千餘戶。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (從征張魯。別遣晃討攻櫝、仇夷諸山氐，皆降之。遷平寇將軍。解將軍張順圍。擊賊陳福等三十餘屯，皆破之。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太祖還鄴，留晃與夏侯淵拒劉備於陽平。備遣陳式等十餘營絕馬鳴閣道，晃別征破之，賊自投山谷，多死者。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太祖聞，甚喜，假晃節，令曰：「此閣道，漢中之險要咽喉也。劉備欲斷絕外內，以取漢中。將軍一舉，克奪賊計，善之善者也。」太祖遂自至陽平，引出漢中諸軍。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (復遣晃助曹仁討關羽，屯宛。會漢水暴隘，于禁等沒。羽圍仁於樊，又圍將軍呂常於襄陽。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (晃所將多新卒，以羽難與爭鋒，遂前至陽陵陂屯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太祖復還，遣將軍徐商、呂建等詣晃，令曰：「須兵馬集至，乃俱前。」賊屯偃城。晃到，詭道作都塹，示欲截其後，賊燒屯走。晃得偃城，兩面連營，稍前，去賊圍三丈所。未攻，太祖前後遣殷署、朱蓋等凡十二營詣晃。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (賊圍頭有屯，又別屯四冢。晃揚聲當攻圍頭屯，而密攻四冢。羽見四冢欲壞，自將步騎五千出戰，晃擊之，退走，遂追陷與俱入圍，破之，或自投沔水死。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太祖令曰：「賊圍塹鹿角十重，將軍致戰全勝，遂陷賊圍，多斬首虜。吾用兵三十餘年，及所聞古之善用兵者，未有長驅徑入敵圍者也。且樊、襄陽之在圍，過於莒、即墨，將軍之功，踰孫武、穰苴。」) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (蜀記曰：羽與晃宿相愛，遙共語，但說平生，不及軍事。須臾，晃下馬宣令：「得關雲長頭，賞金千斤。」羽驚怖，謂晃曰：「大兄，是何言邪！」晃曰：「此國之事耳。」) Annotations from the Shu Ji (蜀記) to Chen Shou's Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 36, Biography of Guan Yu.
- (晃振旅還摩陂，太祖迎晃七里，置酒大會。太祖舉巵酒勸晃，且勞之曰：「全樊、襄陽，將軍之功也。」時諸軍皆集，太祖案行諸營，士卒咸離陣觀，而晃軍營整齊，將士駐陣不動。太祖歎曰：「徐將軍可謂有周亞夫之風矣。」) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (文帝即王位，以晃為右將軍，進封逯鄉侯。及踐阼，進封楊侯。與夏侯尚討劉備於上庸，破之。以晃鎮陽平，徙封陽平侯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (明帝即位，拒吳將諸葛瑾於襄陽。增邑二百，并前三千一百戶。病篤，遺令歛以時服。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (太和元年薨，謚曰壯侯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (子蓋嗣。蓋薨，子霸嗣。明帝分晃戶，封晃子孫二人列侯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- (性儉約畏慎，將軍常遠斥候，先為不可勝，然後戰，追奔爭利，士不暇食。常歎曰：「古人患不遭明君，今幸遇之，常以功自效，何用私譽為！」終不廣交援。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Xu Huang.
- Chen Shou (2002). Records of the Three Kingdoms. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 978-7-80665-198-8.
- Luo Guanzhong (1986). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 978-7-80520-013-2.
- Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8048-3467-4.