Cao Hong

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Cao Hong
Cao Hong Qing illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty portrait of Cao Hong
General of Cao Wei
Born (Unknown)
Died 232
Traditional Chinese 曹洪
Simplified Chinese 曹洪
Pinyin Cáo Hóng
Wade–Giles Ts'ao Hung
Courtesy name Zilian (Chinese: 子廉; pinyin: Zǐlián; Wade–Giles: Tzu-lien)
Posthumous name Marquis Gong (Chinese: 恭侯; pinyin: Gōng Hóu; Wade–Giles: Kung Hou)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Cao.

Cao Hong (died 232),[1] courtesy name Zilian, was a military general of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era. He started his career in the late Eastern Han Dynasty under the warlord Cao Cao, who was also his cousin.

Early life and career[edit]

Cao Hong's uncle Cao Ding, held a high position in the late Han Dynasty imperial court, and because of this connection, Cao Hong was given command of Qichun County (蘄春県) at a young age. In 190, Chen Wen (陳温), the governor of Yang Province (揚州) pledged allegiance to Cao Cao, who had just raised an army of his own to join the coalition against Dong Zhuo. Cao Hong was a close friend of Chen Wen, and together they joined Cao Cao. He became a general in Cao Cao's army along with Cao Ren, his cousin. After Dong moved the capital to Chang'an, Cao Cao set out to attack Chenggao without much assistance, because most of the other generals in the coalition found nothing but a burnt-down Luoyang from their initial successes, and were hesitant to engage Dong further. Cao Cao's forces were intercepted in Xingyang, and were greatly defeated. Xu Rong, a general of Dong Zhuo's army, had injured Cao Cao and killed his horse. At the time Cao Hong asked Cao Cao to take his horse, but the latter once wanted to relinquish his ambition and refused, Cao Hong then strongly rebuked his cousin and said: "The world can do without me, but can't without you!"[2] Hence, Cao Cao got on Cao Hong's horse, and the latter protected Cao Cao on foot, and returned to their base safely.

Middle career[edit]

He later served as the vanguard when Cao Cao returned from his campaign against Xu Province to fight Lu Bu, who seized most of Yan Province during his leave. Despite initial failure, Cao and Lu went into a stalemate when both sides went out of food. Cao Hong then collected grain from different commanderies to supply the troops.[3] When Cao Cao finally succdeded in driving Lu out of the province, Cao Hong was tasked to pacify the counties loyal to Lu.

After Yan was retrieved, Cao Hong was ordered to convoy Emperor Xian; however, he was defeated by Dong Cheng and a slave of Yuan Shu.[4] When Zhang Xiu was welcomed by the people of Nanyang and Zhangling, Cao Hong led a separate command to attack him, but was dealt a major blow and was forced to retreat to Yip, where he was defeated and raided several times.[5] Thus, he requested reinforcement from Cao Cao, who rendered him assistance on defeating Zhang's ally, Liu Biao's subordinates around the area.

In the Battle of Guandu, Cao Hong was responsible to act as the second in command. His greatest accomplishment during that battle (in 200) was defending Cao Cao's maincamp from the attack of Zhang He and Gao Lan when Cao Cao personally led 5,000 cavalry to burn down the supplies of Yuan Shao's army at Wuchao.

From 208 to 218, Cao Hong followed Cao Cao in several ill-fated campaigns against the eastern warlord, Sun Quan, and was reassigned to join the battle for Hanzhong against the western warlord, Liu Bei, in 219, whereins Cao Hong was able to enlist the forces of the Di living in Yinping (陰平). Assisted by his tactician, Cao Xiu, he defeated the invasion of Liu Bei's generals Zhang Fei and Ma Chao, and ordered the Di leader Jiang Duan (強端) to deal with the subordinate generals of Zhang and Ma, leading to the death of Wu Lan and Lei Tong. For this accomplishment, he was given the title of Commandant General(都護将軍). However, he was too overjoyed with his success, and held large-scaled celebrations in his camp while his comrade Xiahou Yuan was desperately resisting Liu Bei in Nanzheng region. Once, Cao Hong ordered some prostitutes to dance on drums during a banquet, which he invited his officers to attend.[6] During the gathering, his strategist, Yang Fu, angrily came up to him and openly reprimanded his behavior. Cao Hong thus grudgingly called off his favourite show and apologized to Yang.

Friction with others[edit]

Cao Hong had a tendency to take advantage of his previous accomplishments in order to further himself and his own position. As well as bragging about what he had done, he also was known to maliciously tease Cao Zhen, a distant nephew of Cao Cao, for being overweight. For this behavior, he was admonished by Yang Fu several times. Although Cao Hong's behavior bothered many in the Kingdom of Wei, Cao Cao compared him to Gaozu of Han, noting that in love of women and riches, they were the same.

When Cao Cao died and was succeeded by his son, Cao Pi, Cao Hong's position was put in danger. Years earlier, their relationship had been spoiled when Cao Pi requested a loan from him but was outright refused. When Cao Cao was no longer alive to save him, Cao Pi took the opportunity to have Cao Hong arrested for a crime committed by one of his house guests. Only with the intercession of Empress Dowager Bian was his life spared, but all of Cao Hong's land, possessions, and titles were stripped. However, in 226, when Cao Pi died at the age of 39 and Cao Rui succeeded him as Emperor of Wei, Cao Hong was given titles of nobility and generalship again and was treated well for the remainder of his days.

He was posthumously awarded the title of Marquis Gong (恭侯), literally meaning the humble marquis.[7]

In fiction[edit]

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an overly-romanticized account of the Three Kingdoms period, Cao Hong's role in the Battle of Tong Pass against Ma Chao is prominent. Cao Hong was instructed to guard Tong Pass for ten days at all costs, with strict orders from Cao Cao not to leave his fortifications. After being taunted by Ma Chao's troops for nine days, he gave in to his anger and led his troops out of the pass to do battle. He was soundly defeated, and on top of that the pass was taken by Ma Chao.

Cao Cao was greatly upset by this and ordered Cao Hong's execution but Cao Cao's advisors stopped him. However, very soon afterwards Cao Cao himself was defeated by Ma Chao, and was in danger of losing his life when Cao Hong came to his rescue and fought 100 passes with Ma Chao until losing strength and retreating. His life being saved, Cao Cao forgave Cao Hong's earlier defeat. There is no record of this incident in Records of Three Kingdoms, the official history text of the period written by Shu general, Chen Shou.


  • Uncles:
    • Cao Ding (曹鼎), served as Chancellor of Hejian, Administrator of Wu Commandery, and Imperial Secretary
    • Cao Yu (曹瑜), appointed General of the Guards, granted a marquis title
  • Children:
    • Cao Fu (曹馥), son, inherited Cao Hong's fief
    • Cao Zhen (曹震), son, granted a marquis title
    • Lady Xun-Cao (荀曹氏), daughter, married Xun Yu's son Xun Can (荀粲)

Appointments and titles held[edit]

  • Soaring Eagle Colonel (鷹揚校尉)
  • General of the Household Who Spreads Martial Might (揚武中郎將)
  • Counsellor Remonstrant (諫議大夫)
  • General of Sharp Edge (厲鋒將軍)
  • Marquis of Guoming (國明亭侯)
  • Protector General (都護將軍)
  • General of the Guards (衛將軍)
  • General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎將軍)
  • Marquis of Yewang (野王侯)
  • Marquis of Duyang (都陽侯)
  • General of the Rear (後將軍)
  • Marquis of Lecheng (樂城侯)
  • Marquis Gong (恭侯) - granted to Cao Hong posthumously

See also[edit]


  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 42. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ 「天下可無洪,不可無君。」 See SGZ vol. 9.
  3. ^ "時大饑荒,洪將兵在前,先據東平、范,聚糧谷以繼軍。" See SGZ vol. 9.
  4. ^ "乃遣曹洪將兵西迎,衛將軍董承與袁術將萇奴拒險,洪不得進。" See SGZ vol. 1.
  5. ^ "南陽、章陵諸縣復叛為綉,公遣曹洪擊之,不利,還屯葉,數為綉、表所侵。" See SGZ vol. 1.
  6. ^ "洪置酒大會,令女倡著羅縠之衣,蹋鼓,一坐皆笑。" See vol. 9.
  7. ^ "敬事尊上曰恭。尊賢貴義曰恭。尊賢敬讓曰恭。既過能改曰恭。執事堅固曰恭。愛民長弟曰恭。執禮御賓曰恭。芘親之闕曰恭。尊賢讓善曰恭。" Cao Hong was posthumously named as "Gong" because he was able to correct his mistake (*being able to change his attitude snobbishly.) See Lost book of Zhou. Rules on assigning a posthumous name.