Cao Cao
Cao Cao (155 AD-220 AD) was a Chinese official and military general who served as Governor of Yu Province before rising to become Prime Minister in the last days of the year 200 AD. Cao Cao defeated the armies of Zhang Jiao, Dong Zhuo, Lu Bu, Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao, Yuan Shao's sons, Ma Chao, and Zhang Lu to rise to greatness, dominating all of the Central Plains and northern China. He died in 220 AD after having created a power base that would become independent from the Later Han the same year, his son Cao Pi deposing the last nominal Han emperor and creating the Kingdom of Cao Wei.


Cao Cao cousins

Cao Cao advancing, Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan at his flanks.

Cao Cao was born in Qiao in Yu Province, the son of Cao Song. He was also the grandson of Cao Teng. Cao Cao was the half-cousin of Cao Ren and the cousin of Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan, born to the illustrious Cao family. As a young man, he was friends with Yuan Shao, indulging in hunting and music with him, which angered his uncle, but Cao Song ceased to believe his uncle's word on Cao Cao after Cao Cao told him that his uncle had decieved him. 
Cao Cao Hulao

Cao Cao fighting in battle

In 175 AD, he was made district captain of Luoyang, and in 184 AD, with the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Cao Cao was promoted to commander of the Imperial Army's cavalry forces. He suppressed Yellow Turbans in Yingchuan before taking part in the sieges of Xia Pi Castle, He Nan Yin, and Ju Lu. The last battle, fought at Guangzong, sealed the fate of the Yellow Turban master Zhang Jiao, who died in battle.
Xiahou Dun Cao Cao

Xiahou Dun with Cao Cao

Cao Cao won military honor for his victory over the Taoist rebellion, but in 189 AD, the land again devolved into perpetual chaos when Dong Zhuo, a brutal military general who had been Governor of Xi Liang, seized power in the Imperial Court from the Ten Eunuchs with aid from Yuan Shao. Soon, Cao Cao and Yuan Shao formed an alliance against Dong Zhuo, which was joined by Liu Bei, Sun Jian, Gongsun Zan, Yuan Shu, and Kong Rong, among others. The alliance defeated Dong Zhuo's armies at Sishui, Dagu, and Hulao, before forcing Dong Zhuo out of Luo Yang, which he burnt as he left. 

In 192, Dong Zhuo was killed by his general Lu Bu, whose penchant for betrayal earned him the scorn of others. Cao Cao was now free to concentrate on territorial expansion. In 193 AD, when his father was killed by Yellow Turban Zhang Kai, Cao Cao invaded the lands of Tao Qian, the warlord for whom Zhang Kai served. Cao Cao massacred thousands of civilians and soldiers in his campaign in Xu Province, and although Liu Bei was able to push him out with aid from Lu Bu's renegade army, Cao Cao gained influence in the north and rose to power in a series of conflicts with barbarian tribes. 

Cao Cao started campaigning for lands in Yan Province soon after the campaign in Xu, allying with Bao Xin against the Yellow Turbans of He Yi, and took over Yan when Bao Xin died in battle. Cao Cao's resplendent troops also evicted Lu Bu's hetorodox army from Yanzhou in 195 AD and surmounted Yuan Shu in a series of scrimmages. He also gained Xu Province from Liu Bei in exchange for aiding him in defeating Lu Bu at Xia Pi in 198 AD, which resulted in Lu Bu's death and the accretion of Zhang Liao as an officer. He crushed a revolt by Liu Bei in 199 AD that was planned to gain autonomy once more as Cao Cao was campaigning against Yuan Shu.

Cao Cao and Guan Yu

Cao Cao and Guan Yu at the Battle of Guan Du in 200.

In 200 AD, Cao Cao fought against Yuan Shao in the north, as Yuan Shao was embarassed that Cao Cao put his name in for the emperor to name him Minister-of-Works, which was supposed to instead be a peace offering. Cao Cao destroyed Yuan Shao's numerically-superior army at Guandu and proceeded to crush the remnants of Yuan Shao's army with aid from Guo Jia and Zhang He, both former Yuan Shao officers. For the durations of the first decade of the 3rd century, he fought against the remnants of Yuan Shao's army, the Qiang tribes, the last of the Yellow Turbans, and the army of Liu Bei, whom he chased vigorously yet lost to at the battles of Xinye (203), Bowang Po (208), Changban (208), and finally, at the decisive Battle of Chibi (208), which cost him an army of 800,000 troops. His forces were in full retreat afterwards, as the alliance of Liu Bei, Sun Quan, and Zhuge Liang tipped the balance toward their numerically-inferior army. Cao Cao lost Jing Province to Liu Bei and Sun Quan's armies, and with the capture of Yizhou by Liu Bei in 214 AD, the foundations for the Three Kingdoms were laid down.

Cao Cao's might and influence were challenged by an alliance of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, who invaded his domains in harmony, but also squabbled over Jing Province. Cao Cao convinced Sun Quan to ally with him to capture Jing Province in 219 AD, as Liu Bei's general Guan Yu refused to withdraw, even though Liu Bei agreed to give Wu another third of Jing in exchange for an attack on He Fei. Cao Cao was sitting in Xuchang as his general Cao Ren skillfully defeated the army of Guan Yu, who was slain by Xiahou Dun. Cao Cao died a year later, and after his death, his son Cao Pi overthrew the Later Han and established the Kingdom of Cao Wei.

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