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Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD

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The warlord Cao Cao, founder of the Three Kingdoms state of Wei, is most commonly known through the romantic tradition of the novel Sanguo yanyi and other dramatic fictions, which portray him as cruel and vicious. In fact, however, Cao Cao was a fine strategist and politician who restored a measure of order after the political turmoil and civil war that brought the end of The warlord Cao Cao, founder of the Three Kingdoms state of Wei, is most commonly known through the romantic tradition of the novel Sanguo yanyi and other dramatic fictions, which portray him as cruel and vicious. In fact, however, Cao Cao was a fine strategist and politician who restored a measure of order after the political turmoil and civil war that brought the end of Han. The present work offers a detailed account of Cao Cao's life and times, using historical materials and the man's own words from official proclamations and personal poetry. Exceptionally for such a distant time, there is sufficient information in the texts to provide a rounded interpretation of one of the great characters of early China. Rafe de Crespigny, Ph.D. (1968) of the Australian National University, is Professor of Asian Studies at that university and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.


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The warlord Cao Cao, founder of the Three Kingdoms state of Wei, is most commonly known through the romantic tradition of the novel Sanguo yanyi and other dramatic fictions, which portray him as cruel and vicious. In fact, however, Cao Cao was a fine strategist and politician who restored a measure of order after the political turmoil and civil war that brought the end of The warlord Cao Cao, founder of the Three Kingdoms state of Wei, is most commonly known through the romantic tradition of the novel Sanguo yanyi and other dramatic fictions, which portray him as cruel and vicious. In fact, however, Cao Cao was a fine strategist and politician who restored a measure of order after the political turmoil and civil war that brought the end of Han. The present work offers a detailed account of Cao Cao's life and times, using historical materials and the man's own words from official proclamations and personal poetry. Exceptionally for such a distant time, there is sufficient information in the texts to provide a rounded interpretation of one of the great characters of early China. Rafe de Crespigny, Ph.D. (1968) of the Australian National University, is Professor of Asian Studies at that university and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

47 review for Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The union of Wei, Shu and Wu essentially represents Han China in the mid-2nd century The End of the Han Empire From the Yuan dynasty roman fleuve, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, to recent blockbuster movies like Red Cliff, Cao Cao (155-220) has been portrayed as the consummate villainous warlord consumed by personal ambition, a portrayal that overlooks the fact that he introduced a revolution in Chinese lyric poetry and was the patron of an important cultural revival, just to mention a few poi The union of Wei, Shu and Wu essentially represents Han China in the mid-2nd century The End of the Han Empire From the Yuan dynasty roman fleuve, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, to recent blockbuster movies like Red Cliff, Cao Cao (155-220) has been portrayed as the consummate villainous warlord consumed by personal ambition, a portrayal that overlooks the fact that he introduced a revolution in Chinese lyric poetry and was the patron of an important cultural revival, just to mention a few points that don't quite fit with the popular image. He failed to unify China under his rule (but then so did everybody else until the fairly short-lived Sui dynasty was founded in 581), but his descendants ruled the state of Wei during the Three Kingdom period and one of his sons, Cao Zhi, became one of the greatest poets in China's long tradition. So who was this man, Cao Cao, actually? Fortunately, we are exceptionally blessed with a relatively large amount of extant contemporary sources concerning Cao, and in Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao (2010) the Late Han/Three Kingdoms specialist, Rafe de Crespigny, brings these often contradictory sources together into an unexpectedly complete picture of the man and his turbulent times. When Cao was born in 155, the Han dynasty had ruled China for nearly four centuries. The Han had certainly already faced serious problems, but by the time Cao was a young man matters were coming to a head. Setbacks in the centuries long struggle with northern "barbarians", a series of underage emperors with grasping regents, significant religious/proletarian uprisings such as the misnamed Yellow Turban rebellion, and yet other factors had transformed the wobbling of the dynasty into a teetering. Of course, the Chinese state stretched from Korea to Vietnam to central Asia and encompassed approximately fifty million registered inhabitants at this time, so it was a wonder that the Han were able to kept it all together for as long as they did. As bad as it is for many these days, most can count their blessings that they did not live in north central China in the late 2nd century, for that is where occurred the worst of the devastation during the long military free-for-all between the dozens of ambitious men vying for personal advantage as the reins of the Han slipped off entirely. It is a sad story of treachery, murder, revenge and unprincipled angling for personal gain that includes the catastrophe of the sacking and burning of the capital city of Luoyang in which important cultural accomplishments of the Han empire were irretrievably lost. De Crespigny follows the entire trajectory of Cao's life from his birth to an adopted son of a powerful eunuch and his military and political apprenticeship in his twenties, through his eventful, up-and-down rise to prominence during the civil war (*) when he acquired control over the young emperor(**) and his famous failure to extend his rule below the Yangtze at the Battle of the Red Cliffs in 208, to his death in 220 in the re-built city of Luoyang. Late Han bronze Though Cao Cao was as ruthless as many of his contemporaries in that violent age, he was able to forgive and welcome former opponents into his service in such a way that he retained their loyalty, and he tended to incorporate conquered armies into his own instead of destroying them. He also recognized that a satisfied peasantry was essential to his rule and formed domestic policies to that end. De Crespigny provides a very detailed political, military, administrative and, to a lesser extent, social history of China at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century of our era. But he does detour into cultural matters, since Cao Cao was an important poet and presided over "an extraordinary flourishing of literary and scholarly talent" examined in Chapter Eight of this book. Cao was one of the first to adapt a more plain-spoken tradition of versification in order to express emotion in his own name, and I shall close with an excerpt from a poem he wrote in 207 after a lengthy period of campaigning in the north, shortly before he began his ill-fated attempt to conquer the south. Each region of the world is different; North of the River it is fiercely cold: Ice drifts down the streams And boats find it hard to go on. The ground is harder than a spade, Weeds flourish in the fields. The water is gone and flows no longer And the ice is firm enough to walk. Gentlemen hide in distress, As bullies care little for the laws. Always in my heart are sighing and sorrow, Much grief, and sympathy for their plight. Fortune indeed is come And singing expresses our hopes. (*) Which effectively began with a massacre of the thousands of eunuchs who had accumulated wealth and power in the imperial court and administration and the confiscation of the boy emperor's person by the general Dong Zhuo in 189. (**) The escapades and travails of the last Han emperor, Liu Xie, make interesting reading. Captured and held at the age of eight years by Dong Zhuo, he escaped at age thirteen and then wandered around western China trying to stay alive and independent, a peregrination that included escaping malefactors by climbing down a cliff face on an unfurled roll of bloody silk. He returned to ruined Luoyang in order to re-establish the capital, where he fell into Cao's grasp at the age of fifteen, "accepted" his invitation to move to Cao's early capital city of Xu and remained there until his abdication twenty-five years later under Cao's son's pressures.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dave Tigges

    I'm glad that a book like this exists. There are very few biographies in English of people from Chinese history, especially prior to the 20th century. Major figures, the Chinese equivalents of Julius Caesar or George Washington, often have no biography that is available. Cao Cao is one of those major figures of Chinese history. This book is, for the most part, a scholarly narrative biography of Cao Cao's life, though with many tangents to discuss the general history of the time, and later in the I'm glad that a book like this exists. There are very few biographies in English of people from Chinese history, especially prior to the 20th century. Major figures, the Chinese equivalents of Julius Caesar or George Washington, often have no biography that is available. Cao Cao is one of those major figures of Chinese history. This book is, for the most part, a scholarly narrative biography of Cao Cao's life, though with many tangents to discuss the general history of the time, and later in the book a few of the chapters are thematic rather than chronological. There are many notes that provide additional background; they can be read or skipped depending on your level of interest. Crespigny writes very well and is interesting to read. The book is not dry, though it can be difficult to keep track of the many names and places. The many maps throughout the book, as well as the map in the back of the book, together make it easier to keep track of where the action is taking place.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    a rather adequate biography of what has to be the Three Kingdom's most notable warlord. However, the book is merely a collection of all the information available, and is limited as such. Personally this book taught me nothing the Sanguozhi, Weilue, and Zizhi Tongjian couldn't have. a rather adequate biography of what has to be the Three Kingdom's most notable warlord. However, the book is merely a collection of all the information available, and is limited as such. Personally this book taught me nothing the Sanguozhi, Weilue, and Zizhi Tongjian couldn't have.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nabilah

    This is really good. Surprisingly accessible given that i can read this despite the academic tone of this book. I hope the author would consider releasing his works in cheap paperback editions for all of us, casual fans of this period in history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thach Nguyen

  6. 4 out of 5

    Entropia

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ioannis Navera

  8. 5 out of 5

    Conrad Le

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  10. 5 out of 5

    王晓

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  12. 4 out of 5

    R9devil

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elena Buzaitė

  14. 5 out of 5

    [چوہا] آدمی

  15. 4 out of 5

    Han Asra

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hein Drop

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill

  18. 5 out of 5

    SuperTechmarine

  19. 4 out of 5

    PLVS OVLTRE

  20. 4 out of 5

    Citrus

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim Duquette

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

  23. 5 out of 5

    George

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eadweard

  25. 5 out of 5

    Albert

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  27. 4 out of 5

    أثير

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cian

  30. 5 out of 5

    Henrik

  31. 5 out of 5

    Da Wei

  32. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  33. 5 out of 5

    Pine

  34. 5 out of 5

    Xin

  35. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  36. 5 out of 5

    ប៉េងអៀង ឃាង

  37. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian

  38. 4 out of 5

    Alessandro Santoro

  39. 5 out of 5

    Dеnnis

  40. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  41. 4 out of 5

    Cyril Thomson

  42. 5 out of 5

    Sandeep Mohan

  43. 5 out of 5

    Tomek Piotrowski

  44. 5 out of 5

    Yasser Mohamed

  45. 5 out of 5

    Bishop

  46. 4 out of 5

    Tré

  47. 4 out of 5

    Mohamed Samour

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