A Qing dynasty illustration of Xu Huang
|General of Cao Wei|
|Courtesy 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), courtesy 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, who wrote Xu Huang's biography in the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi), named Xu one of the Five Elite Generals of his time, alongside Zhang Liao, Yue Jin, Yu Jin and Zhang He.
- 1 Early life and service under Yang Feng
- 2 Cao Cao's campaigns in central and northern China
- 3 Battle of Jiangling
- 4 Cao Cao's northwestern campaigns
- 5 Hanzhong Campaign
- 6 Battle of Fancheng
- 7 Service under Cao Pi and Cao Rui
- 8 Appraisal
- 9 In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
Early life and service under Yang Feng
Xu Huang was from Yang County (楊縣), Hedong Commandery (河東郡), which is located southeast of present-day Hongdong County, Shanxi. He served as a minor official in the 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) commanderies in 188. Over the years, the leaders of the White Wave Bandits had been holding different attitudes toward the Han central government. Yang Feng submitted to Dong Zhuo, a warlord who controlled the central government in the early 190s. Xu Huang later followed Yang Feng to quell some remnants of the Yellow Turban rebels, and was appointed as a Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉) by the Han imperial court.
After Dong Zhuo was assassinated in 192, his subordinates Li Jue and Guo Si seized control of the central government and held Emperor Xian, the figurehead Han ruler, hostage in the imperial capital, Chang'an. In 195, internal conflict broke out between Li Jue and Guo Si, whose respective factions started warring with each other in the streets of Chang'an. Yang Feng and Xu Huang were Li Jue's subordinates at the time. In the same year, Xu Huang convinced Yang Feng to escort Emperor Xian from Chang'an back to the old imperial capital Luoyang, which laid in ruins after Dong Zhuo burnt it down years ago while moving the capital to Chang'an. In Luoyang, when conflict broke out between Yang Feng and Dong Cheng, the latter summoned the warlord Cao Cao to help him deal with his rival. In early 196, Cao Cao arrived in Luoyang and fetched Emperor Xian to his base in Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan), which was designated as the new imperial capital. When Xu Huang urged Yang Feng to join Cao Cao's forces, Yang wanted to heed his advice but ultimately refused. In late 196, Cao Cao attacked and defeated Yang Feng. Xu Huang then switched his allegiance to Cao Cao.
Cao Cao's campaigns in central and northern China
Cao Cao sent Xu Huang with an army to attack rebels at Juan (卷) and Yuanwu (原武) counties. Xu Huang defeated them and was promoted to Major-General (裨將軍). During the battles between Cao Cao and Lü Bu in Xu in 198, Xu Huang attacked and defeated Lü Bu's subordinates Zhao Shu (趙庶) and Li Zou (李鄒) in battle. With aid from Shi Huan (史渙), he also defeated and killed Sui Gu at Henei (河內; in present-day Henan).
In 200, during the Battle of Guandu between Cao Cao and Yuan Shao, Xu Huang participated in the early skirmishes at Boma (白馬; near Hua County, Henan) and Yan Ford (延津; present-day Yanjin County, Henan), where he defeated the warlord Liu Bei – who had joined Yuan Shao after losing 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 eliminating rebels led by Zhu Bi (祝臂) at Yinjiang (氵隱 疆; southwest of present-day Xuchang, Henan).
Yuan Shao had stored his supplies at a depot in Gushi (故市; southwest of present-day Yanjin County, Henan). Cao Cao sent Xu Huang and Shi Huan to attack this position. They defeated the defenders at Gushi and burnt down Yuan Shao's grain carts, forcing Yuan to call for relief supplies in response to this raid. Xu Huang received the title of a 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. In 203, the defender of Yiyang (易阳), Han Fan (韓範), feigned surrender and strengthened his defences. Xu Huang then wrote a letter of persuasion and had it fired into the city on an arrow. The defender was won over and Xu Huang conquered the city without bloodshed. Before the city fell, Xu Huang went to see Cao Cao and asked him to refrain from massacring the residents of Yiyang only after Han Fan surrendered. The rationale of their final decision was entirely based on tactical consideration, which was to induce other enemy cities into voluntarily surrendering by setting an example. Cao Cao approved Xu Huang's suggestion.
Xu Huang later set up an ambush and routed the Yuans' forces at Maocheng (毛城), defeated Yuan Tan at the Battle of Nanpi, and suppressed a revolt in Pingyuan Commandery (平原郡; around present-day Dezhou, Shandong). 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.
Battle of Jiangling
In 208, Xu Huang followed Cao Cao to pacify Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan), and participated 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 (江陵; present-day Jiangling County, Hubei) 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 general, Gan Ning, who was surrounded by Cao Ren's cavalry at Yiling (夷陵; present-day Yichang, Hubei). Ling Tong was left with only a wee fraction of the army to guard the camp. Xu Huang and Cao Ren were unable to defeat Ling Tong and the enemy camp 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 present-day Shanxi) 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 Puban Ford (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 Commandery (安定郡; covering parts of present-day Gansu and Ningxia). After Cao Cao had returned to Ye (in present-day Handan, Hebei), he sent Xu Huang and Xiahou Yuan again to suppress revolts in Fu (鄜) and Xiayang (夏陽) counties, 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) counties. 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).
In 215, Xu Huang was tasked with defending Hanzhong Commandery's communication line, Mamingge (馬鳴閣). He served under the command of Xiahou Yuan to halt the advances of Liu Bei's army. When Liu Bei sent Chen Shi to cut off Xiahou Yuan's supply routes, Xu Huang led troops to strike the enemy head-on. Due to Xu Huang's ferocious attack, many enemy soldiers jumped off the cliff, and the casualty rate 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, Cao Cao first sent Yu Jin to lead a relief force to lift the siege but Yu Jin's seven armies were destroyed by a flood. Cao Cao then ordered Xu Huang to lead a second relief force to lift the siege. Cao Ren, the general defending Fan, and Lü Chang (呂常), who defended Xiangyang, were both trapped in their 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 straight into battle but camped behind the enemy to impose a deterrent effect. In the meantime, he instructed his subordinates Xu Shang (徐商) and Lü Jian (呂建) to oversee the digging of trenches around the nearby enemy stronghold of Yancheng (偃城) to deceive the enemy into thinking that they were trying to cut off supplies into Yancheng. The enemy fell for the ruse and abandoned their position, yielding Xu Huang a foothold on the battlefield. By this time, a total of 12 camps had gathered under Xu Huang's flag. With his strengthened army, Xu Huang unleashed an attack on Guan Yu. 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 counter the attackers, but was eventually outmatched. Many of his soldiers were forced into the nearby Han River, where they drowned. The siege on Fancheng was thus 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.[a] Your achievements are comparable to those of Sun Wu and Rangju."[b]
The Shu Ji (蜀記) recorded an incident about Xu Huang meeting Guan Yu on the battlefield. Xu Huang had a close personal 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 and Cao Rui
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 "Marquis of Lu District" (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 "Marquis of Yang" (楊侯) on Xu Huang, and sent him and Xiahou Shang to lead an army to attack Shangyong Commandery (上庸郡), 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).
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 marquisate, 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 granted the posthumous title "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.
Chen Shou concluded Xu Huang's biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms with a brief appraisal:
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 Romance of the Three Kingdoms
In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 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 his base in Xu, Yang Feng sent Xu Huang to stop him. Cao Cao knew on first sight that Xu Huang was an extraordinary man so he sent Xu Chu to duel with Xu Huang. 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 him 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.
In the novel, Xu Huang met his end during the Xincheng Rebellion when he was struck by an arrow in the forehead fired by the rebel leader Meng Da. 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.
In popular culture
Xu Huang is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series. He also appears in all instalments of Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy game series.
- 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 BCE, 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 BCE 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.
- The Sanguozhi stated that Xu Huang died in the first year of the Taihe era (227-233) in the reign of Cao Rui. Quote from Sanguozhi vol. 17: (太和元年薨， ...)
- (評曰：太祖建茲武功，而時之良將，五子為先。于禁最號毅重，然弗克其終。張郃以巧變為稱，樂進以驍果顯名，而鑒其行事，未副所聞。或注記有遺漏，未如張遼、徐晃之備詳也。) Sanguozhi vol. 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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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， ...) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (... 又與史渙擊袁紹運車於故市，功最多，封都亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (十五年，討太原反者，圍大陵，拔之，斬賊帥商曜。 ... 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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (晃所將多新卒，以羽難與爭鋒，遂前至陽陵陂屯。 ... 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。 ... 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。 ... 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。」) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。」) Shu Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 36.
- (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。」) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。 ... 太和元年薨，謚曰壯侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (子蓋嗣。蓋薨，子霸嗣。明帝分晃戶，封晃子孫二人列侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- (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。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
- Sanguo Yanyi ch. 13.
- Sanguo Yanyi ch. 94.
- Chen, Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
- Luo, Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi).
- Pei, Songzhi. Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).