Cao Xiu

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Cao Xiu
General of Cao Wei
Born (Unknown)
Died 228
Traditional Chinese 曹休
Simplified Chinese 曹休
Pinyin Cáo Xiū
Wade–Giles Ts'ao Hsiu
Courtesy name Wenlie (Chinese: 文烈; pinyin: Wénliè; Wade–Giles: Wen-lieh)
Posthumous name Marquis Zhuang (traditional Chinese: 壯侯; simplified Chinese: 壮侯; pinyin: Zhuàng Hóu; Wade–Giles: Chuang Hou)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Cao.

Cao Xiu (died 228),[1] courtesy name Wenlie, was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He served the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. A distant nephew of Cao Cao, Cao Xiu was given special attention by the former, who once asserted him befitting the role of a commander. During Liu Bei's Hanzhong Campaign, Cao Xiu outwitted his two opponents, Zhang Fei and Ma Chao. Cao Xiu became a district commander during his late life and led various campaigns against Sun Quan's forces; despite defeating several enemy units, few of the campaigns were met with success. He died in 228 shortly after his disastrous final campaign against Eastern Wu.


Early life[edit]

According to the Records of Three Kingdoms, Cao Xiu lost his father before he turned twenty, when the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out. Bringing along his old mother, Cao Xiu moved south across the Yangtze River away from the rebel-infested north. When Cao Cao was raising an army to join the coalition against Dong Zhuo in 190, Cao Xiu heeded the call. Cao Cao was pleased to see his distant nephew, whom he described as the thousand-li horse of his clan. Since then, Cao Cao had Cao Xiu reside with his future successor, Cao Pi, and treated Cao Xiu like his own son. Beside Cao Zhen and Cao Chun, Cao Xiu was also responsible for leading the elite Tiger and Leopard Cavalry during military operations.

Service under Cao Cao and Cao Pi[edit]

Cao Xiu participated mainly in campaigns against the forces of rival warlord Liu Bei during Cao Cao's time, notably against Zhang Fei and Ma Chao. When Cao Hong was threatened by Zhang Fei that his retreat route would be cut off, Cao Xiu saw though the ruse and stated that if Zhang Fei indeed wanted to block their retreat route, he would do so secretly instead of showing his intention so obviously. He then suggested Cao Hong that they should strike the enemy upfront when Zhang Fei and Ma Chao were still dwelling on the fantasy that their tactic would work out. Zhang Fei and Ma Chao retreated back to Han Zhong after being defeated by Cao Hong, and Wu Lan (吳蘭) fled to the Di tribute, and was killed by its ruler. Cao Xiu was later made Commander of the Imperial Guard.

After Cao Cao's death in 220, Cao Xiu enjoyed a close relationship with Cao Pi, who had assumed the throne as the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei. Cao Xiu was made General who Guards the South (鎮南將軍) and sent to the southern frontier to defend against Sun Quan's forces. Personally seeing Cao Xiu off, Cao Pi dismounted from his carriage and held his trusted general's hands, reluctant to part.

In 222, Cao Pi personally led an offensive against Sun Quan. Cao Xiu was appointed Great General who Conquers the East (征東大將軍). He supervised over twenty armies (An army or jun was a military unit. Every 12,500 soldiers were counted as one jun)[citation needed] from various regions and defeated Sun Quan's force under Lü Fan at Dongpu (洞浦, in the vicinity of present-day Wuhu, Anhui). Despite his victory over Lü, who was able to regroup his forces, Cao Xiu was defeated by Wu reinforcements sent by Xu Sheng and Quan Cong.

Defeat and death[edit]

Following Cao Pi's death in 227, Cao Xiu continued to serve under the second Wei emperor Cao Rui. He was promoted to Great Defender-in-Chief (大司馬) but remained in command of the defense of Yangzhou (揚州).

In 228, Cao Rui launched yet another offensive against Sun Quan (The Battle of Shiting). Cao Xiu led a force towards Xunyang (尋陽, present day Huangmei, Hubei). Believing the words of an enemy general, Zhou Fang, who pretended to surrender, he led his army deep into unfriendly territory and suffered a disastrous defeat, which amounted to tens of thousands of casualties. Submitting a memorial, Cao Xiu pleaded guilty for his misjudgment. Cao Rui, however, not only forgave him but treated him with even more respect thereafter.

Cao Xiu died shortly after the Battle of Shiting from skin infections on his back resulting from wounds incurred in the battle. He was given the posthumous title of Marquis Zhuang (壯侯), literally meaning “robust marquis”.


In May 2010, archaeologists announced the discovery of Cao Xiu's tomb in Mengjin County, Luoyang, Henan Province. The tomb, 50 meters long and 21 meters wide, held chinaware, copperware, liquor cups, and jars as well as some human bones. Tests suggested that these bones belonged to a 50-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman. A bronze seal, about the size of a coin and engraved with Cao Xiu's name, revealed the tomb owner's identity.[2]

In fiction[edit]

In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, on one occasion when Yue Jin was losing to the enemy general Ling Tong in a duel, Cao Xiu fired an arrow which hit Ling's steed. Ling fell from the horse and would have been killed by Yue if Gan Ning had not intervened and saved him.


  • Grandfather: Cao Ding (曹鼎), served as Chancellor of Hejian, Administrator of Wu Commandery, and Imperial Secretary
  • Children:
    • Cao Cuan (曹篡), oldest son
    • Cao Zhao (曹肇), second son

Appointments and titles held[edit]

  • Guard of Tiger and Leopard Cavalry (虎豹騎宿衛)
  • Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉)
  • Central Commander of the Army (中領軍)
  • General Who Commands the Army (領軍將軍)
  • Marquis of Dongyang (東陽亭侯)
  • General Who Guards the South (鎮南將軍)
  • General Who Attacks the East (征東將軍)
  • Inspector of Yang Province (揚州刺史)
  • Marquis of Anyang (安陽鄉侯)
  • Senior General Who Attacks the East (征東大將軍)
  • Governor of Yang Province (揚州牧)
  • Marquis of Changping (長平侯)
  • Grand Marshal (大司馬)
  • Marquis Zhuang (壯侯) - granted to Cao Xiu posthumously

See also[edit]


  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 49. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ Ancient General's Tomb Found