Cao Shuang

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Cao Shuang
Regent of Cao Wei
Born (Unknown)
Died 249
Traditional Chinese 曹爽
Simplified Chinese 曹爽
Pinyin Cáo Shuǎng
Wade–Giles Ts'ao Shuang
Courtesy name Zhaobo (Chinese: 昭伯; pinyin: Zhāobó; Wade–Giles: Chao-po)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Cao.

Cao Shuang (died 249), courtesy name Zhaobo, was a military general, politician and regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He was the son of Cao Zhen. He initially held great power in Cao Wei as the Grand Commander but later, he lost his power to Sima Yi and was executed on charges of treason.


Around the new year of 239, when Emperor Cao Rui grew ill, Cao Rui resolved to pass the throne to Cao Fang. He initially wanted to entrust Cao Fang to his uncle Cao Yu (曹宇), to serve as the lead regent, along with Xiahou Xian (夏侯獻), Cao Shuang, Cao Zhao (曹肇), and Qin Lang (秦朗). However, his trusted officials Liu Fang (劉放) and Sun Zi (孫資) were unfriendly with Xiahou Xian and Cao Zhao and were apprehensive about their becoming regents, and managed to persuade him to make Cao Shuang (with whom they were friendly) and Sima Yi (who was then with his troops at Ji (汲縣, in modern Xinxiang, Henan) regents instead. Cao Yu, Cao Zhao, and Qin Lang were excluded from the regency. As a result, Cao Shuang rose to power. However, Cao Shuang was clearly inadequate for the important job assigned to him. When Cao Rui asked him if could do it, Cao Shuang was so nervous that he could not even say a word to answer and finally, it was Sima Yi answered for him, promising Cao Rui that they would do their best and Cao Rui would have nothing to worry about.

Despite his inability, Cao Shuang and his brothers, Cao Xi and Cao Xun wielded great power in Cao Wei, and he was often at conflict with Sima Yi, who had greater influence and support. In 243, Sima Yi's position further strengthened by another successful deployment: Zhuge Ke of Eastern Wu was constantly sending agents to Shouchun to prepare an invasion, so Sima Yi led Cao Wei forces to Shu county (舒县) of Lujiang commandery (庐江郡), near the border. Hearing the news, Sun Quan immediately ordered Zhuge Ke to withdraw to Chaisang County (柴桑县) Yuzhang commandery (豫章郡). Sima Yi's popularity and influence instantly multiplied as he was cheered as being able to scare away the enemy numbering over a hundred thousand without a fight and thus secured the border and saved the city from certain attack. Alarmed, Cao Shuang used his greater authority than Sima Yi, to persuade the emperor, Cao Fang, as a reward, to promote Sima Yi to the rank of Grand Tutor (太傅), which actually meant that Sima was in an honorary position and was left without any real authority in military affairs.

Cao Shuang was desperate for a victory to boost his own fame, and he selected Shu Han as his target. Leading an army numbering more than sixty thousand, Cao Shuang invaded Shu Han in March, 244.[1] However, two months later, he was soundly defeated by Wang Ping and Fei Yi in the Battle of Xingshi, and was barely able to escape back to Guanzhong with his own life. The most devastating result, however, was that Cao Shuang lost more than one hundred and twenty thousand troops, or fifteen percent of the total armed troops of Cao Wei's eight hundred thousand army, a serious blow that could not be recovered. Furthermore, most of the lost troops were the crack units of Cao Wei. Cao Shuang's popularity and influence was dropped to a new low as his military defeat, while in the same time, Sima Yi's popularity and influence further increased for his opposition to the campaign from the start. To fool Cao Shuang into letting down his guard, Sima Yi stopped any political activities in May 247 and later retired, and he would go further to pretend to be ill and senile. In the same year, Cao Shuang followed the advice of Li Sheng, Deng Yang and Ding Mi in order to maintain his power: he moved Empress Dowager Guo to Yongning Palace, effectively kept her under house arrest and away from the young emperor Cao Fang.

In the winter of 248, Cao Shuang's protégé Li Sheng was named as the Inspector of Jingzhou, and before he left for his position, Cao Shuang sent Li Sheng to check on Sima Yi. Cao Shuang and his followers overjoyed when Li Sheng reported that Sima Yi was indeed ill and that he could not even hear what Li Sheng said. Cao Shuang sensed that Sima Yi no longer posed a threat to him and drew his attention away from Sima.

Sima Yi's coup d'état and death of Cao Shuang[edit]

On January 6, 249, Cao Shuang and his two brothers, Cao Xi and Cao Xun (曹訓), left the capital city to accompany the emperor Cao Fang to pay respect to Cao Rui at his resting place at Gaoping Tomb (高平陵), and they continued to stay out on a hunting expedition.

Sima Yi and his sons launched a coup d'état and seized control of the capital city by first closing all the city gates. Sima then assigned his protégés to take over the positions held by Cao Shuang's brothers after taking the armory: Excellency over the Masses (司徒) Gao Rou replaced Cao Shuang, and Minister Coachman (太僕) Wang Guan (王觀) replaced Cao Xi to command the imperial bodyguards. Sima Yi went to see Empress Dowager Guo, requesting her to give an order to arrest Cao Shuang and his brothers on charges of treason.

Huan Fan, an advisor of Cao Shuang, escaped from the capital with the seal signifying the power of Grand Commander and brought it to Cao Shuang. Cao Shuang was in a dilemma, unsure whether to surrender his power or not. Cao Shuang's family and loved ones were in Sima Yi's control, and Sima Yi promised that Cao Shuang would not be harmed, as Sima Yi was only after Cao's power. Eventually, Cao Shuang agreed to surrender and give up his power.

On January 10, 249, Cao Shuang returned to Luoyang, the capital of Cao Wei and his fate was sealed. Once having gained power, Sima Yi had Cao Shuang and his brothers arrested on charges of treason, then had them executed.

Appointments and titles held[edit]

  • Gentleman of Scattered Cavalry (散騎侍郎)
  • Colonel of the City Gates (城門校尉)
  • Attendant of Scattered Cavalry (散騎常侍)
  • General of the Military Guards (武衛將軍)
  • Marquis of Shaoling (邵陵侯) - inherited by Cao Shuang from his father Cao Zhen
  • General-in-Chief (大將軍)
  • Imperial Secretary (錄尚書事)
  • Palace Attendant (侍中)
  • Marquis of Wu'an (武安侯)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "正始五年,爽乃西至長安,大發卒六七萬人,從駱谷入。" See SGZ vol.9.