Dian Wei

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Dian Wei
Dian Wei Qing illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Dian Wei
Colonel (校尉)
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?) – 197 (197)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Commandant (都尉)
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Major (司馬)
(under Cao Cao)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Ningling County, Henan
DiedFebruary or March 197[a]
Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan
ChildrenDian Man
OccupationMilitary officer

Dian Wei (About this soundpronunciation ) (died February or March 197)[a] was a military officer serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. Famed for his enormous strength, Dian Wei excelled at wielding a pair of jis (a halberd-like weapon), each of which was said to weigh 40 jin. He was killed in action at the Battle of Wancheng while covering Cao Cao's escape from Zhang Xiu's forces.[2]


Dian Wei was from Jiwu County (己吾縣), Chenliu Commandery (陳留郡), in present-day Ningling County, Henan. He was described as a stalwart man with great strength the ambition of becoming a youxia (vigilante).[3]

Assassinating Li Yong[edit]

When he was young, Dian Wei once agreed to help a certain Liu family in Xiangyi County (襄邑縣; present-day Sui County, Henan) take revenge against one Li Yong (李永). As Li Yong was a former county chief,[b] he had bodyguards to protect him during his travels.[4]

Dian Wei disguised himself as a marquis and travelled to Li Yong's house in a carriage filled with food and wine. He entered the house without challenge, stabbed Li Yong with a concealed dagger, and killed Li Yong's wife as well. He then left the house and retrieved his weapons (a sword and a ji) from the carriage and walked away. As Li Yong lived near the marketplace, news of his death spread quickly and the whole town was shocked. Hundreds of men went to pursue the murderer but none of them dared to approach Dian Wei. After travelling four or five li on foot, Dian Wei met his companions and they escaped after a brief fight with the pursuers. Dian Wei became recognised as a hero after this incident.[5]

Service under Cao Cao[edit]

Around February or March 190,[6] when the regional official Zhang Miao was rallying an army to join the campaign against Dong Zhuo, Dian Wei answered the call and became a subordinate of Zhao Chong (趙寵), a military officer serving under Zhang Miao. Once, a large banner was swaying in the strong wind and many men could not stop it from swaying despite their combined efforts. Dian Wei used only one hand to grab the banner pole and succeeded in keeping it upright. Zhao Chong was very impressed with Dian Wei's strength.[7]

Dian Wei later became a subordinate of Xiahou Dun, a general under the warlord Cao Cao. He was promoted to the rank of Major (司馬) for his valour in battle.[8]

Battle of Puyang[edit]

Around September 194,[9] when Cao Cao was at war with a rival warlord Lü Bu in Yan Province, he launched a surprise night raid on one of Lü Bu's camps located 40-50 li west of Puyang County and destroyed it before dawn.[10] Just as Cao Cao and his troops were planning to return to their base, Lü Bu personally led reinforcements from Puyang County to attack them and caught them in an onrush.[11]

Dian Wei ordered dozens of men to gather around him, put on two layers of armour, discard their shields and arm themselves only with spears and jis.[12] Another wave of enemy soldiers closing in from the west unleashed a barrage of arrows onto Dian Wei and his men. Dian Wei remained oblivious to the arrows and told his men, "Let me know when the enemy is ten paces away." The men did so. Dian Wei then said again, "Let me know when they are five paces away." The men then suddenly cried out in fear, "The enemy is upon us!" Dian Wei was holding on to a dozen jis, and he flung them at the enemy when they approached him. Each ji knocked down an enemy soldier and not a single one missed its target.[13]

As the sun rose, Lü Bu retreated back to Puyang while Cao Cao withdrew back to his base as well. Cao Cao was so impressed with Dian Wei that he promoted him to the rank of Commandant (都尉) and put him in command of hundreds of his personal bodyguards who patrolled the areas around his tent.[14]

As Cao Cao's bodyguard[edit]

Dian Wei was a robustly built fighter. He personally selected the soldiers who would serve under him. In battle, Dian Wei and his men were always the first to charge into the enemy formation. Dian Wei was later promoted to the rank of Colonel (校尉).[15]

Dian Wei was known for being a loyal, prudent and responsible man. He often stood guard outside Cao Cao's tent from morning until dusk, and even at night he would sleep beside Cao Cao's tent, and he rarely returned to his own quarters. He was also a heavy eater and drinker, eating in huge mouthfuls and drinking in long gulps. Because of his enormous appetite, several men were required to serve him whenever he sat down for meals. Cao Cao was very impressed with him.[16]

Dian Wei's weapons of choice were a pair of jis or long swords. There was a saying in Cao Cao's army about Dian Wei: "In our camp resides the warrior Dian Wei, who wields a pair of jis weighing 80 jin in total."[17]

Death at the Battle of Wancheng[edit]

Dian Wei wielding his dual jis as depicted in the Peking opera Battle of Wan

In February 197,[18] Cao Cao invaded Wancheng (宛城; present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan) in the north of Jing Province. Wancheng was the territory of the warlord Zhang Xiu, who immediately surrendered upon learning of Cao Cao's invasion. Cao Cao was pleased so he threw a party for Zhang Xiu and his men.[19] During the party, Dian Wei stood guard behind Cao Cao, holding a giant battle axe whose blade was one chi long. Zhang Xiu and his followers did not dare to look up when they toasted to Cao Cao.[20]

Cao Cao had stayed in Wancheng for more than 10 days when Zhang Xiu suddenly rebelled and launched a surprise attack on his camp. Cao Cao was caught unprepared so he retreated with a few horsemen.[21]

Dian Wei stood guard at the entrance to the camp and prevented Zhang Xiu's soldiers from advancing further. The enemy then scattered and broke into Cao Cao's camp from the other entrances. Dian Wei had about a dozen men with him and they were all heavily outnumbered by Zhang Xiu's forces.[22] However, Dian Wei fought bravely with a long ji, and with each swing of his weapon, he broke more than ten enemy spears. As the battle went on, Dian Wei's men were eventually all killed and Dian himself had sustained several wounds all over his body, but he continued fighting the enemy at close quarters with short weapons. Dian Wei grabbed two enemies and killed them, and the others did not dare to approach him.[23] Dian Wei then rushed forward and slew several more enemy soldiers before eventually succumbing to his wounds. Just before his death, he was still glaring and swearing at the enemy. Only after confirming that Dian Wei was dead did the enemies dare to come forward and decapitate him. Dian Wei's head was passed around for Zhang Xiu's men to see. They also came to look at his headless body.[24]

By then, Cao Cao had already retreated safely to Wuyin County (舞陰縣; southeast of present-day Sheqi County, Henan), and he broke down in tears when he heard of Dian Wei's death. He ordered his men to retrieve Dian Wei's body and personally attended the funeral and had Dian Wei buried in Xiangyi County (襄邑縣; present-day Sui County, Henan). Later, whenever Cao Cao passed by Dian Wei's grave, he would stop to pay his respects and mourn Dian Wei.[25]


Cao Cao appointed Dian Wei's son, Dian Man (典滿), as a langzhong (郎中). Cao Cao missed Dian Wei later so he promoted Dian Man to Major (司馬) and kept Dian Man close to him. After Cao Cao died in 220, his son Cao Pi appointed Dian Man as a Commandant (都尉) and granted him the title of a Secondary Marquis (關內侯).[26]

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

Dian Wei appears as a character in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period.

Dian Wei first appeared in Chapter 10, and he was first introduced by Xiahou Dun to Cao Cao sometime in 193. According to Xiahou Dun, Dian Wei used to serve Zhang Miao but he could not get along well with Zhang's men, and he once killed tens of men before fleeing into the hills. While Xiahou Dun was out hunting, he saw Dian Wei chasing a deer across a stream and he brought the man back to his lord. Xiahou Dun continued to tell Cao Cao about Dian Wei's background and physical prowess. Cao Cao then asked Dian Wei to demonstrate his skills. At that time, a huge banner was swaying in the wind and was on the verge of collapsing. Many of Cao Cao's men were unable to keep the banner upright even with their combined efforts. Dian Wei shouted at them to move back and he grabbed the banner pole with one hand and kept it steady. Cao Cao exclaimed, "This is Elai[c] of ancient times!" Dian Wei then became a Commandant under Cao Cao.[27]

Dian Wei's death at the Battle of Wancheng is described in greater detail in Chapter 16, but is more exaggerated than his historical biography. In this exaggeration, it was mentioned that Dian Wei was able to pick up the dead bodies of enemies by their feet and swing them as a means of attack, before he was finally killed by raining arrows and piercing spears. At Dian Wei's funeral, Cao Cao wept and told his followers, "I don't feel very sad over the loss of my eldest son (Cao Ang) and my favourite nephew (Cao Anmin). I'm only mourning Dian Wei!"[28]

In popular culture[edit]

Dian Wei appears as a character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors, Warriors Orochi, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game series. He also appears in Chan Mou's manhua series The Ravages of Time, a retelling of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dian Wei's biography in the Sanguozhi recorded that he was killed during the Battle of Wancheng, but did not give details on his time of death. According to Cao Cao's biography in the Sanguozhi, the Battle of Wancheng took place in the 1st month of the 2nd year of the Jian'an era of the reign of Emperor Xian of the Eastern Han dynasty.[1] This month corresponds to 5 February to 6 March 197 in the Gregorian calendar.
  2. ^ Li Yong (李永) was from Suiyang County (睢陽縣; present-day Suiyang District, Shangqiu, Henan). He previously served as the Chief (長) of Fuchun County (富春縣; in present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang).[4]
  3. ^ Elai was a bodyguard of King Zhou of the Shang dynasty who was known for his immense physical strength.


  1. ^ ([建安]二年春正月,公到宛。張繡降,旣而悔之,復反。公與戰,軍敗,為流矢所中,長子昂、弟子安民遇害。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 138.
  3. ^ (典韋,陳留己吾人也。形貌魁梧,旅力過人,有志節任俠。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  4. ^ a b (襄邑劉氏與睢陽李永為讎,韋為報之。永故富春長,備衞甚謹。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  5. ^ (韋乘車載雞酒,偽為候者,門開,懷匕首入殺永,并殺其妻,徐出,取車上刀戟,步出。永居近巿,一巿盡駭。追者數百,莫敢近。行四五里,遇其伴,轉戰得脫。由是為豪傑所識。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  6. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 59.
  7. ^ (初平中,張邈舉義兵,韋為士,屬司馬趙寵。牙門旗長大,人莫能勝,韋一手建之,寵異其才力。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  8. ^ (後屬夏侯惇,數斬首有功,拜司馬。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  9. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 61.
  10. ^ (太祖討呂布於濮陽。布有別屯在濮陽西四五十里,太祖夜襲,比明破之。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  11. ^ (未及還,會布救兵至,三面掉戰。時布身自搏戰,自旦至日昳數十合,相持急。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  12. ^ (太祖募陷陣,韋先占,將應募者數十人,皆重衣兩鎧,棄楯,但持長矛撩戟。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  13. ^ (時西面又急,韋進當之,賊弓弩亂發,矢至如雨,韋不視,謂等人曰:「虜來十步,乃白之。」等人曰:「十步矣。」又曰:「五步乃白。」等人懼,疾言「虜至矣」!韋手持十餘戟,大呼起,所抵無不應手倒者。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  14. ^ (布衆退。會日暮,太祖乃得引去。拜韋都尉,引置左右,將親兵數百人,常繞大帳。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  15. ^ (韋旣壯武,其所將皆選卒,每戰鬬,常先登陷陣。遷為校尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  16. ^ (性忠至謹重,常晝立侍終日,夜宿帳左右,稀歸私寢。好酒食,飲噉兼人,每賜食於前,大飲長歠,左右相屬,數人益乃供,太祖壯之。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  17. ^ (韋好持大雙戟與長刀等,軍中為之語曰:「帳下壯士有典君,提一雙戟八十斤。」) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  18. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 62.
  19. ^ (太祖征荊州,至宛,張繡迎降。太祖甚恱,延繡及其將帥,置酒高會。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  20. ^ (太祖行酒,韋持大斧立後,刃徑尺,太祖所至之前,韋輒舉斧目之。竟酒,繡及其將帥莫敢仰視。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  21. ^ (後十餘日,繡反,襲太祖營,太祖出戰不利,輕騎引去。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  22. ^ (韋戰於門中,賊不得入。兵遂散從他門並入。時韋校尚有十餘人,皆殊死戰,無不一當十。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  23. ^ (賊前後至稍多,韋以長戟左右擊之,一叉入,輒十餘矛摧。左右死傷者略盡。韋被數十創,短兵接戰,賊前搏之。韋雙挾兩賊擊殺之,餘賊不敢前。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  24. ^ (韋復前突賊,殺數人,創重發,瞋目大罵而死。賊乃敢前,取其頭,傳觀之,覆軍就視其軀。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  25. ^ (太祖退住舞陰,聞韋死,為流涕,募閒取其喪,親自臨哭之,遣歸葬襄邑, ... 車駕每過,常祠以中牢。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  26. ^ (拜子滿為郎中。 ... 太祖思韋,拜滿為司馬,引自近。文帝即王位,以滿為都尉,賜爵關內侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  27. ^ Sanguo Yanyi ch. 10.
  28. ^ Sanguo Yanyi ch. 16.
  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23-220 AD. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004156050.
  • Luo, Guanzhong (14th century). Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi).
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.