Why is Cao Ren so revered?

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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:32 am

Vitruvius wrote:He is the Zhao Yun of Wei. Skilled, loyal, brave and resilient. An extremely good defensive general and held for long periods of time on his own. Had a Zhao Yun moment in his rescue of Niu Jin. His only defeat was at Bowang.


That was Xiahou Dun.

Did you mean Xin Ye? In which case that was novel only.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Yang Dayang » Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:29 pm

Yeah and historically; he lost in Jiangling against Zhou Yu and in Ruxu against Zhu Huan. Not aware of any other notable loses, his loss at Jiangling is actually pretty heroic. He rescued Niu Jin + held out for a year. I don't know any details about his loss against Zhu Huan though.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Tue Oct 12, 2010 6:22 am

Yang Dayang wrote:Yeah and historically; he lost in Jiangling against Zhou Yu and in Ruxu against Zhu Huan. Not aware of any other notable loses, his loss at Jiangling is actually pretty heroic. He rescued Niu Jin + held out for a year. I don't know any details about his loss against Zhu Huan though.



Ruxu Kou seems to be the Wu equivalent of Hefei though, incredibly well fortified. The odds it seems are always with the defenders.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Yang Dayang » Tue Oct 12, 2010 3:32 pm

Crazedmongoose wrote:
Yang Dayang wrote:Yeah and historically; he lost in Jiangling against Zhou Yu and in Ruxu against Zhu Huan. Not aware of any other notable loses, his loss at Jiangling is actually pretty heroic. He rescued Niu Jin + held out for a year. I don't know any details about his loss against Zhu Huan though.



Ruxu Kou seems to be the Wu equivalent of Hefei though, incredibly well fortified. The odds it seems are always with the defenders.


Exactly that slipt outta my mind. I don't blame anyone for losing in Ruxu, even Cao Cao couldn't take it :\

Oh and correct me if I was wrong but He Fei wasn't fortified as Ruxu when Zhang Liao defended against Sun Quan right?
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Gray Riders » Tue Oct 12, 2010 6:54 pm

Yang Dayang wrote:Exactly that slipt outta my mind. I don't blame anyone for losing in Ruxu, even Cao Cao couldn't take it :\

Oh and correct me if I was wrong but He Fei wasn't fortified as Ruxu when Zhang Liao defended against Sun Quan right?

I haven't been able to find much specific commentary Hefei's defenses at that time. It seems rather unlikely to me, though, that Hefei wasn't very well fortified by that point. It was right on the Wu border and had been one of Cao Cao's frontiers for over a decade by that point--he appointed Liu Fu in 200, so Cao Cao had about 15 years to prepare it. I have seen Liu Fu given some credit for Sun Quan's inability to take the region but I don't know if he built defenses up along with his agricultural colonies and apparent popularity.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Yuan Gonglu » Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:07 am

SharoKham wrote:From what I saw in the novel, he was little more than one of Cao Cao's nepotistic appointments.


Given that Cao Cao has for centuries been widely credited as being the exact opposite of a nepotist, frequently employing men of honor and ability from all backgrounds and social strata, I can't help but think that your argument has no basis in fact and thus means that, by default, Cao Ren was a very talented commander. But from a more educated perspective, Cao Ren's exploits are limited as far as the histories go. He is mostly known for two great feats: defending Nanjun against Zhou Yu and defending Fan against Guan Yu.

The first is actually quite impressive. According to the histories, Cao Ren held the besieged city for more than a year against Wu before retreating. Given that this was immediately following Cao Cao's disastrous loss at Red Cliff, Cao Ren's defense saved Cao's kingdom from a premature demise. Had he not been able to hold Jingzhou, Liu Bei and Sun Quan would have been able to capitalize on Cao Cao's massive defeat and driven the Wei armies all the way back to the capital. Losing Jing could have placed all of Cao's land below the Yellow River at risk. But because Cao Ren was able to hold the line for such a long time he blunted Wu's momentum and allowed Cao Cao to regroup and consolidate his power in the north. In short, Cao Ren saved his master's greatest blunder from becoming his downfall. The fact that Cao Ren was picked to secure such an important region as Nanjun shows how much faith Cao Cao placed in his abilities.

On the second event, Cao Ren's defense of Fan was vital to the security of the Wei kingdom. Had Guan Yu taken Fan he would have been within striking distance of the capital. In fact Cao Cao was so afraid of this possibility that he considered moving the emperor north. A quick victory at Fan could have allowed Guan Yu to consolidate his position, repel the Wu invasion, and become the dominant figure in central China. By halting the Jingzhou army's advance Cao Ren ultimately brought about Guan Yu's downfall, thus securing northern Jing and maintaining his lord's power along the Han river. Given the death of Pang De, Yu Jin's capture, the loss of the seven armies, and the flooding of Fan, the fact that Cao Ren was able to hold Fan at all is remarkable in itself. Cao Ren's ability to maintain order among his isolated and outnumbered troops during such a demoralizing time is a testament to his talent as a commander.

Overall I would say that Cao Ren was a capable officer and one of Cao Cao's most trusted and reliable generals. His exploits may not have been as renowned as those of Zhang Liao, Zhang He, or Xu Chu, but he was certainly a talented and worthy individual whose accomplishments were as important as any of the great commanders of that time.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Mon Jan 31, 2011 11:15 am

In fairness, the poster was using the novel there.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Jordan » Tue Feb 01, 2011 3:48 am

I don't think Hefei was very fortified the first time Sun Quan attacked it (shortly after Chi Bi). After that I think it was fairly defensible, but it still wasn't in as insurmountable a position as when the city was moved inland at the suggestion of Man Chong. To me it seems like Wu had the advantage when Hefei was defended by Zhang Liao. They failed to take Hefei because of Zhang Liao's superior command ability and tactical planning rather than because Hefei was impenetrable.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Elitemsh » Tue Feb 01, 2011 12:23 pm

The problem with rating Cao Ren is the contradiction in the historical records. I am referring exclusively to the battle against Wu for Jiangling.

Cao Ren’s SGZ implies (although it cleverly doesn’t directly state) that Cao Ren had a numerical disadvantage and the enemy he was facing was formidable in terms of numbers. This is in complete contradiction to the Wu sources which clearly imply (Lu Meng’s SGZ) that Cao Ren had greater numbers hence why Zhou Yu and others were initially somewhat reluctant to aid Gan Ning. They weren’t sure that they had enough soldiers to both aid Gan Ning at Yiling and also hold the line against Cao Ren. It is clear therefore from the Wu sources that Cao Ren had a larger army.

Now I am more inclined to believe the Wu version simply because Cao Ren’s is unfairly inaccurate. It doesn’t even mention the fact that he was defeated and he lost the city which of course was true. I understand not going into detail about the defeat but Ren’s bio doesn’t even acknowledge that he was beaten. It only mentions his apparent heroics in rescuing Niu Jin. This makes me seriously question the reliability of Cao Ren’s bio in regards to this battle.

I am not so sure how good Cao Ren’s performance was in this battle. As far as I can tell the facts were that he had a numerical advantage over Wu and was merely defending the city and hence he had most of the basic advantages. In addition when Zhou Yu attacked and was consequently wounded, Cao Ren attempted to attack Zhou Yu’s army and yet despite being at no disadvantage, Cao Ren was defeated by an injured Zhou Yu and his army. As far as I can tell, Cao Ren was not only outsmarted by Lu Meng but was beaten in direct battle by Zhou Yu. Where are the great feats of generalship?

Cao Ren demonstrated bravery and warrior prowess in the battle when he rescued Niu Jin but he certainly didn’t show any significant skill as a general. Not as far as I can tell anyway.

Zhang Liao was completely outnumbered at He Fei and yet through his own might and intellect he overcame the enemy. Zhao Yun did a similar thing at Han Zhong. They had pretty major disadvantages when they fought their enemies. Hence why I respect them so much. I can’t say the same for Cao Ren at Jiangling.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Rydain » Tue Feb 01, 2011 2:15 pm

Edited this morning's brain dump into a proper response. :)

First off, a Cliffs Notes overview of the Jiangling siege, with key points that I was able to corroborate with English translated historic documents:

Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu had 20-30,000 men, kept away from Jiangling by the Yangzi gorge. Gan Ning traveled to Yiling, a bridgehead 100 km upriver, with several hundred troops, and seized it immediately. Cao Ren sent a 5000-6000 troop detachment to retake Yiling. Zhou Yu left a minimal force to maintain the siege and sent most of the army to relieve Gan Ning. Ren's detachment was unable to reclaim the city, and lost 300 cavalry on its retreat when Lu Meng barricaded the trails with logs. Wu established a garrison on Jiangling's side of the river to oppose Cao Ren. All told, Cao Ren retreated after over a year of fighting.

More specifics are discussed further on. There are also some Wikipedia articles on the Battle of Yiling and the Battle of Jiangling, which lumps together all the nearby anti-Cao Cao campaigns going on after Chi Bi. Both reference the SGZ and Chinese textbooks that I have no means to double-check. I thought they were worth a mention in case anyone can confirm or deny any relevant details.

Elitemsh wrote:Cao Ren’s SGZ implies (although it cleverly doesn’t directly state) that Cao Ren had a numerical disadvantage and the enemy he was facing was formidable in terms of numbers. This is in complete contradiction to the Wu sources which clearly imply (Lu Meng’s SGZ) that Cao Ren had greater numbers hence why Zhou Yu and others were initially somewhat reluctant to aid Gan Ning. They weren’t sure that they had enough soldiers to both aid Gan Ning at Yiling and also hold the line against Cao Ren. It is clear therefore from the Wu sources that Cao Ren had a larger army.

Now I am more inclined to believe the Wu version simply because Cao Ren’s is unfairly inaccurate. It doesn’t even mention the fact that he was defeated and he lost the city which of course was true. I understand not going into detail about the defeat but Ren’s bio doesn’t even acknowledge that he was beaten. It only mentions his apparent heroics in rescuing Niu Jin. This makes me seriously question the reliability of Cao Ren’s bio in regards to this battle.


SGZ biographies are not guaranteed to be complete and comprehensive descriptions of a general's record. They commonly highlight accomplishments and notable events, and they may omit defeats that were described elsewhere in terms of the victor's accomplishments. Even so, Cao Ren's SGZ doesn't imply anything about the total relative troop counts on each side. It specifically refers to the enemy being "many" in comparison to Niu Jin's 300.

Elitemsh wrote:I am not so sure how good Cao Ren’s performance was in this battle. As far as I can tell the facts were that he had a numerical advantage over Wu and was merely defending the city and hence he had most of the basic advantages.


I'm having trouble getting a verifiable estimate of Cao Ren's troop count, and it's difficult to draw one up from Zhou Yu's concern about not having enough troops to both maintain the siege and send relief to Yiling. The siege of Jiangling was just one of various anti-Wei campaigns going on at the same time. Zhou Yu may have been worried about possible reinforcements to Jiangling from other forces of Cao Cao, not just Ren's own numbers.

Elitemsh wrote:In addition when Zhou Yu attacked and was consequently wounded, Cao Ren attempted to attack Zhou Yu’s army and yet despite being at no disadvantage, Cao Ren was defeated by an injured Zhou Yu and his army. As far as I can tell, Cao Ren was not only outsmarted by Lu Meng but was beaten in direct battle by Zhou Yu. Where are the great feats of generalship?

Cao Ren demonstrated bravery and warrior prowess in the battle when he rescued Niu Jin but he certainly didn’t show any significant skill as a general. Not as far as I can tell anyway.


Zhou Yu can have due credit for his victory, but I'd need more context to judge whether Cao Ren actually had no disadvantage. He may have been taking a chance on low enemy morale, whereas Yu was able to greatly encourage his men.

As mentioned above, Lu Meng tricked a detachment, not Cao Ren himself. The fall of Yiling came down to risky unconventional tactics winning out against conservative counter-moves. Cao Ren sent enough troops to have a reasonable expectation of sacking the city while he stayed at Jiangling. Zhou Yu and Lu Meng brought the bulk of their army to Yiling as relief. Wu's capturing the city seems to me like a successful gamble on their part, not a fault of Ren's ability.

Cao Ren's skill in this campaign was more about managing resources and morale well enough to maintain months of stalemate - ideally, to hold out until Wu gave up or could be driven off. Yiling was a crucial point of supply and contact to Wei territory. After its loss, which Rafe nails as the decisive breakthrough, I'm not sure Ren had the opportunity to lift the siege himself. Li Tong assisted his retreat, but I've been unable to verify any specifics on who - if anyone - may have come to aid him during the actual defense. The more isolated Ren was, the more difficult his job would have been, in terms of morale as well as manpower. The Jiangling wiki article claims that he had reinforcements from various cities of Cao Cao, but it cites Chinese SGZ excerpts that I'm no help with reading.

Elitemsh wrote:Zhang Liao was completely outnumbered at He Fei and yet through his own might and intellect he overcame the enemy. Zhao Yun did a similar thing at Han Zhong. They had pretty major disadvantages when they fought their enemies. Hence why I respect them so much. I can’t say the same for Cao Ren at Jiangling.


I can't compare Zhao Yun here because I'm unfamiliar with the specifics of his Han Zhong feat. That said, Zhang Liao held out for 10 days against a disorganized force that he successfully spooked with a raid. Cao Ren held out for over a year against a high morale force coming off a major win against Cao Cao. I bring up morale repeatedly because it is a major consideration when evaluating extenuating circumstances. Numbers mean nothing if the troops can't keep it together.

To further compare these defenses, we would have to determine what Cao Ren could have reasonably expected to accomplish, and whether he had blown any opportunities that would have turned the tide of battle.
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