Cao Zhang

Cao Zhang (died 223) was the third son of the warlord Cao Cao during the late han dynasty and three kingdoms era of Chinese history. Cao Zhang was said to have wrestled and killed wild animals with his bare hands. He was also a general under his father, having led his troops to significant victories against Wuhuan tribe incursions on the northern frontier.


Biography


Background

The second of Cao Cao's four sons by Empress Dowager Bian, Cao Zhang was said to excel and obsessed in archery and armed combat in his youth so much so that he would fight fierce beasts with his bare hands. Though Cao Cao criticised his lack of academic learning, Cao Zhang had always aspired to pursue a career in the military. Once, his father sent him to the imperial University to study, but Cao Zhang lamented to his aides, saying a real man should command the army to make a name for himself instead of being a Doctor (a Doctor was both an academic degree and a formal court title for many Chinese dynasties).


As a general

When the Wuhuan tribe rebelled on the northern frontier in 218, Cao Zhang, holding the rank of Northern General of the Household, acting on the authority of General of the Resolute Cavalry (骁骑将军), led a force of 1,000 infantry and several hundreds of cavalry from central government to suppress the revolt. Before his departure, Cao Cao summoned him and specially warned him: "We are father and son in home, but we are supervisor and subordinate when assigned a task: the law will be applied straightly if you ever made any mistake, keep this in mind. " When Cao Zhang arrived the field, his force had not been joined by that of the local government as planned. Outnumbered by the enemy, Cao Zhang took up a passive stance and defended the vital passes and routes. The rebels could not gain an advantage and dissipated. Cao Zhang then led his force out in pursuit, displaying great valour in the ensuing battles. The Records of the three kingdoms says several arrows were embedded in his armor by the end of a half-day long battle. Despite opposition from his subordinates, he ordered the pursuit be continued after the initial victory. One of his staff came out and reminded him that Cao Cao's order was that the army could not cross the jurisdiction of Dai, and further pursuit was straightly prohibited, but Cao Zhang argued that a good general did not follow dull orders, and threatened if anyone did not join the pursuit would be penalized with death sentence; thus, they performed a 24 hours dash to catch up with the Wuhuan cavalry, and dealt the latter a major blow which caused a few thousands casualties. The Xianbei tribe leader Kebineng had led a ten-thousand strong cavalry force nearby to observe the ongoing war between Han and Wuhuan. Having seen the splendid victories Cao Zhang scored, Kebineng submitted to him. Unrest on the northern frontier was then quelled.


Cao Zhang then hurried west to take part in the Hanzhong Campaign against Liu Bei. Upon reaching Chang'an, however, he found out that the war had already been lost. Cao Cao then promoted his son to General of the Elite Cavalry (越骑将军) and left him to defend Chang'an against probable advances of Liu Bei.


Death

Shortly after returning to Luoyang in 220, Cao Cao fell ill. He died as Cao Zhang was en route to see him. His successor Cao Pi then sent all his brothers, including Cao Zhang, back to their individual fiefdoms, for fear that they might contest his position. In 222, Cao Zhang was enfeoffed as King of Rencheng (任城王). In the following year, Cao Zhang died due to sickness whilst attending court at the capital. He received the posthumous appellation of Wei (威), literally meaning awe-inspiring.


Theory of death

There are legends surrounding the death of Cao Zhang. The most famous of these legends is that Cao Zhang was poisoned by his own brother Cao Pi . After Cao Cao died, Cao Zhang was summoned to the palace by Cao Pi. During a casual conversation, Cao Zhang asked his brother if he could see his royal seal. This got Cao Pi worried that his brother wanted to succeed the throne of Cao Cao, which was rightfully Cao Pi's, and therefore Cao Pi decided to kill him. Cao Pi knew that Zhang was his mother Empress Bian's favourite son, so in order to get away with it, he had to make Cao Zhang's death seem natural. A few weeks later, Cao Pi invited his brother to a game of weiqi during their mother's birthday. The match was very close in the middle game when Cao Pi's servants brought some prunes, some that were poisoned. Cao Pi made sure he ate the unmarked ones that were not poisonous and make sure his brother ate the other ones. When Cao Zhang realized that he had been poisoned, he screamed for help. Empress Bian got to the scene on her bare feet and tried to search for water to flush down the poison that was now in Cao Zhang's body. But unfortunately for Cao Zhang, the crafty Cao Pi had secretly placed all the containers away beforehand and so Bian Hou failed to get the water; Cao Zhang then died at the hands of his own brother.


North General of the Household (北中郎將)


General of Valiant Cavalry (驍騎將軍)


Prince of Rencheng (任城王)


Prince Wei of Rencheng (任城威王) - granted to Cao Zhang posthumously


Personal information

Father

Cao Cao


Mother

Lady Bian


Children

Cao Kai (曹楷)


Last update 20-06-2012

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