Why is Cao Ren so revered?

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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Elitemsh » Wed Feb 02, 2011 2:06 pm

Rydain wrote: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.


I have recently read some of those very interesting articles on Wikipedia in regards to the battle at Jiangling. There are mentions of things I had no idea of. I am mainly referring to little battles concerning Guan Yu. Now I understand why people in the past have claimed he had a long list of defeats prior to his eventual demise. According to these articles he was beaten by Yue Jin, Wen Pin and Li Tong. I just wish I knew where this information came from. I think we can say confidently that someone didn’t just make this up. Having said that, these little battles were not mentioned at all in the ZZTJ (that of course doesn’t mean that they weren’t true however because I think I read somewhere that the ZZTJ is somewhat Shu biased). However, I do think that Rafe de Crespigny makes a very brief mention of them somewhere in his work.

Sorry for the digression but I thought this might be worth mentioning.

Rydain wrote: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.


I think that from a certain perspective it does imply something. Cao Ren’s SGZ states the rough enemy troop number without giving any mention of his numbers. I would have thought that stating the enemy numbers as if they had a really strong army and say nothing of your own is as if to say that the enemy has an advantage. I’ll admit that this is simply a matter of perspective and is certainly not a definite implication.

Rydain wrote: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.


There is no reason for Zhou Yu to be concerned about enemy reinforcements. Cao Ren would actually have to send a message to call for help and at this point in time he had no reason to do that. When he was besieging Gan Ning heavily at Yiling, Cao Ren probably expected to succeed. Reinforcements will not arrive unless they’re either requested by Cao Ren or there are reports that Cao Ren was at a major disadvantage. Neither of which was true. Besides it is not so easy to merely dispatch reinforcements. There is a cost every time one puts an army into the field. Reinforcements are rarely requested or dispatched unless the situation is really desperate. How many times have you read about reinforcements being requested or sent?

I would therefore say with confidence that the Wu camp was not concerned about enemy reinforcements but rather whether they could maintain the line against Cao Ren’s main force. I would therefore conclude that it is likely that Cao Ren had more troops than Wu, especially combining the above reason with the suspicious lack of mention of the size of Cao Ren’s army in his own SGZ. If Cao Ren commanded inferior numbers then his biased bio would be all too willing to mention that.

Rydain wrote: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.


Morale of the army is the responsibility of the leader. Zhou Yu was wounded (which would be expected to lower morale) but he kept morale high showing his skill as a general. Cao Ren failed to do the same for his army. If there are no extenuating circumstances listed, we can assume that this is a failure on Ren’s part as a general. Or at the very least it certainly isn’t a success.

Rydain wrote: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.


I agree that Lu Meng’s trick to gain the horses was not the fault of Cao Ren. However, the loss of Yiling Cao Ren must take responsibility for. Wu’s capture of Yiling was more due to their own tactical analysis of the situation which was evidently superior to Cao Ren’s. Wu understood the strategic importance of Yiling. Cao Ren underestimated the importance of that city. He cannot escape responsibility here. He was tactically beaten.

Rydain wrote: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.


With the evidence that we have available to us, I don’t see how Cao Ren showed skill in this campaign. You say that he did well in managing resources and morale. I can’t agree with that. According to the evidence, Cao Ren likely commanded an army larger than his enemy (or at least the same size) and there is no information on supply problems for Ren’s army (out of Ren’s control) and therefore we can assume his resources were more than adequate for a defense. Yet despite clearly having enough manpower, he failed to use his strength adequately while Wu used theirs very well.

Cao Ren did hold out for many months but I don’t see how that’s an especially impressive achievement either. As far as I can tell he had more than enough manpower to do the job. Perhaps it does show that he was a reasonably tough enemy to overcome but it doesn’t show much else.

I agree that after Yiling was taken Cao Ren was at a disadvantage but that was partly his own failing. He lost Yiling to Gan Ning. We can praise Wu but I don’t see how we can praise Cao Ren.

Rydain wrote: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.


Cao Ren did hold out for over a year but he had resources and manpower which were at least equal to his enemy (based on available evidence). As for the morale reason, it is Cao Ren’s responsibility to inspire morale for his own troops and I personally don’t think Wu’s victory at Chi Bi would have given them a morale advantage in this battle. After all ‘you’re only as good as your last battle’.

We shouldn’t really be comparing Zhang Liao or Zhao Yun’s moments to Cao Ren in this battle. My apologies for bringing that up. My point when mentioning them was merely to say that in those battles, they had some disadvantages that we definitely know of. The same can’t be said with any confidence of Cao Ren at Jiangling although it can be said of Ren at Fan.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think Cao Ren was an impressive figure and he proved that in other battles he fought. I think that Ren did excellently at Fan because he was really up against it then and none of that was due to his own failing. However at Jiangling it was a different story. To be fair to Ren he was facing Wu’s best but I still can’t say he performed really well in that campaign. After all, the facts are that he was thoroughly defeated and he lost the city that he was assigned to protect and with no extenuating circumstances that have yet been brought to light. Having said that, he did show great courage and prowess when he rescued Niu Jin. To sum it up I think that Cao Ren proved he was a top class warrior in the battle of Jiangling but I don’t think he showed any significant skill as a general in that particular conflict.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Rydain » Wed Feb 02, 2011 3:33 pm

Elitemsh wrote:I have recently read some of those very interesting articles on Wikipedia in regards to the battle at Jiangling. There are mentions of things I had no idea of. I am mainly referring to little battles concerning Guan Yu. Now I understand why people in the past have claimed he had a long list of defeats prior to his eventual demise. According to these articles he was beaten by Yue Jin, Wen Pin and Li Tong. I just wish I knew where this information came from. I think we can say confidently that someone didn’t just make this up. Having said that, these little battles were not mentioned at all in the ZZTJ (that of course doesn’t mean that they weren’t true however because I think I read somewhere that the ZZTJ is somewhat Shu biased). However, I do think that Rafe de Crespigny makes a very brief mention of them somewhere in his work.

Sorry for the digression but I thought this might be worth mentioning.


No apologies necessary. :) Li Tong and Yue Jin's victories are verified by their SGZ.

Elitemsh wrote:Morale of the army is the responsibility of the leader. Zhou Yu was wounded (which would be expected to lower morale) but he kept morale high showing his skill as a general. Cao Ren failed to do the same for his army. If there are no extenuating circumstances listed, we can assume that this is a failure on Ren’s part as a general. Or at the very least it certainly isn’t a success.


I bring up morale because I suspect that Cao Ren may not have brought enough troops to overwhelm a fired-up Zhou Yu and company, which ties into a point I'll be making later.

Elitemsh wrote:I agree that Lu Meng’s trick to gain the horses was not the fault of Cao Ren. However, the loss of Yiling Cao Ren must take responsibility for. Wu’s capture of Yiling was more due to their own tactical analysis of the situation which was evidently superior to Cao Ren’s. Wu understood the strategic importance of Yiling. Cao Ren underestimated the importance of that city. He cannot escape responsibility here. He was tactically beaten.


I disagree. Yiling was a city in allied territory. Cao Ren could have reasonably expected it to hold long enough to call for help if required, whether from him or other Wei forces. Instead, it fell immediately. The wiki article states that Xi Su, the commander of Yiling, surrendered without a fight as soon as Gan Ning arrived. The ZZTJ verifies Xi Su's surrender but not the timing. However, if this is true, it would have put Ren at a disadvantage unavoidable without a gamble of preemptively force marching troops 100km away. Conventional wisdom would require him to keep all his men at Jiangling unless they were specifically needed to help some other regional point of interest. Furthermore, the particulars of Gan Ning's approach would have probably been a shot in the dark. Zhou Yu and company were marching on the other side of a gorge in their own territory. I imagine that they could have easily stayed out of sight of Ren's scouts, especially given that ranged viewing aids weren't readily available at the time.

When Yiling fell, Ren sent troops to outnumber Gan Ning's force 5 to 1. This is a sensibly generous number that would have taken the city if it weren't for Zhou Yu bringing most of the army against it. Again, conservative wisdom vs. risky tactics, and I don't see how this is a failing of Ren's.

Elitemsh wrote:With the evidence that we have available to us, I don’t see how Cao Ren showed skill in this campaign. You say that he did well in managing resources and morale. I can’t agree with that. According to the evidence, Cao Ren likely commanded an army larger than his enemy (or at least the same size) and there is no information on supply problems for Ren’s army (out of Ren’s control) and therefore we can assume his resources were more than adequate for a defense. Yet despite clearly having enough manpower, he failed to use his strength adequately while Wu used theirs very well.

Cao Ren did hold out for many months but I don’t see how that’s an especially impressive achievement either. As far as I can tell he had more than enough manpower to do the job. Perhaps it does show that he was a reasonably tough enemy to overcome but it doesn’t show much else.


Keep in mind that siege defenses are about far more than the specific skirmishes vs. commanders that we've been discussing. Cao Ren would have been playing a constant game of whack-a-mole with tunnel diggers, equipment construction sites, earthwork builders, and so on and so forth. He would need to manage the repair of damage to the walls. That all requires long-term efficient use of manpower. Also consider that Jiangling was a city and not an established fortress such as Chencang. Forts have stronger walls, limited lines of approach, and other advantages that make a defender's job easier.

Elitemsh wrote:Cao Ren did hold out for over a year but he had resources and manpower which were at least equal to his enemy (based on available evidence). As for the morale reason, it is Cao Ren’s responsibility to inspire morale for his own troops and I personally don’t think Wu’s victory at Chi Bi would have given them a morale advantage in this battle. After all ‘you’re only as good as your last battle’.


Human moods aren't reset so easily, especially in the strain of warfare.

Elitemsh wrote:To sum it up I think that Cao Ren proved he was a top class warrior in the battle of Jiangling but I don’t think he showed any significant skill as a general in that particular conflict.


I still think Cao Ren showed skill with regard to the overall game of keep-away. His main downfall seemed to be a cautious strategy focused on holding out, without any penchant for swift and/or risky offenses that might have made a difference. He appeared to commit conservative troop counts to various engagements. During the 10-day relief of Yiling, Ling Tong guarded the Wu main camp with a skeleton force. Cao Ren sent Xu Huang to attack, but he was unable to take it. The wiki article on Yiling states that Ren did not launch an all-out attack because Ling Tong fooled him into thinking that he had far more troops in the camp. If this is true, it fits the pattern. Ren would want to threaten the camp in some regard - scare the enemy, kill some soldiers, burn some supplies, or so on - but not to waste men if he had little reasonable chance of sacking it. You could say that he was outsmarted by Ling Tong's ruse, but it also goes to show that he took a measured approach rather than an all-out gamble.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Elitemsh » Thu Feb 03, 2011 2:31 pm

Rydain wrote:I disagree. Yiling was a city in allied territory. Cao Ren could have reasonably expected it to hold long enough to call for help if required, whether from him or other Wei forces. Instead, it fell immediately. The wiki article states that Xi Su, the commander of Yiling, surrendered without a fight as soon as Gan Ning arrived. The ZZTJ verifies Xi Su's surrender but not the timing. However, if this is true, it would have put Ren at a disadvantage unavoidable without a gamble of preemptively force marching troops 100km away. Conventional wisdom would require him to keep all his men at Jiangling unless they were specifically needed to help some other regional point of interest. Furthermore, the particulars of Gan Ning's approach would have probably been a shot in the dark. Zhou Yu and company were marching on the other side of a gorge in their own territory. I imagine that they could have easily stayed out of sight of Ren's scouts, especially given that ranged viewing aids weren't readily available at the time.

When Yiling fell, Ren sent troops to outnumber Gan Ning's force 5 to 1. This is a sensibly generous number that would have taken the city if it weren't for Zhou Yu bringing most of the army against it. Again, conservative wisdom vs. risky tactics, and I don't see how this is a failing of Ren's.


A very convincing argument you’ve made. To be fair Cao Ren was assigned to protect the city of Jiangling not Yiling. Did Yiling even fall under Ren’s jurisdiction? Was he in charge of appointment of personnel there? I don’t think he was. Therefore the initial loss of Yiling was not Ren’s fault. I was thinking that Ren could have reinforced Yiling in advance but then it occurred to me that he may not have even been able to interfere in the affairs of Yiling until Wu had taken the city.

I can also appreciate Ren’s attempts to regain the city. He sent a sizeable force and it was a reasonable judgment call. At the very least he did appreciate that Yiling needed to be retaken. He had every chance of success but Gan Ning did well to hold out.

Rydain wrote:Keep in mind that siege defenses are about far more than the specific skirmishes vs. commanders that we've been discussing. Cao Ren would have been playing a constant game of whack-a-mole with tunnel diggers, equipment construction sites, earthwork builders, and so on and so forth. He would need to manage the repair of damage to the walls. That all requires long-term efficient use of manpower. Also consider that Jiangling was a city and not an established fortress such as Chencang. Forts have stronger walls, limited lines of approach, and other advantages that make a defender's job easier.


Siege attack is also more complicated than we have discussed. The enemy has similar siege problems in regards to attacking the city. Wu would have to build siege machines etc and thus I see no reason to suggest that defending Jiangling from a siege attack would be harder than attacking. I agree that defending Jiangling would have been harder than Chencang.

Rydain wrote:Human moods aren't reset so easily, especially in the strain of warfare.


I don’t agree at all with the either of morale carrying on from the previous battle. Every battle is unique with its own different conditions and different troops and generals involved in the battles and in different positions. It is like saying that Liu Bei’s forces had the advantage of morale when they attacked Hanzhong simply because they had recently taken Yi. Perhaps this is where we have to agree to disagree.

Rydain wrote: I still think Cao Ren showed skill with regard to the overall game of keep-away. His main downfall seemed to be a cautious strategy focused on holding out, without any penchant for swift and/or risky offenses that might have made a difference. He appeared to commit conservative troop counts to various engagements. During the 10-day relief of Yiling, Ling Tong guarded the Wu main camp with a skeleton force. Cao Ren sent Xu Huang to attack, but he was unable to take it. The wiki article on Yiling states that Ren did not launch an all-out attack because Ling Tong fooled him into thinking that he had far more troops in the camp. If this is true, it fits the pattern. Ren would want to threaten the camp in some regard - scare the enemy, kill some soldiers, burn some supplies, or so on - but not to waste men if he had little reasonable chance of sacking it. You could say that he was outsmarted by Ling Tong's ruse, but it also goes to show that he took a measured approach rather than an all-out gamble.


This is where I think Ren failed. Cao Ren had an opportunity to win the battle at this point and he didn’t take it. Now perhaps he was being prudent but in war risks have to be taken in order to achieve victory. Wu took a calculated risk but it was tactical and it paid off. There are many examples of generals in other battles taking tactical risks and them paying off. If it was part luck then it was deserved.

The fact that the Wu army was initially so hesitant to send most of their army to aid Gan Ning tells us that Ling Tong’s position was tenuous. They would not have been so worried otherwise. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Ren had every chance of overcoming the Wu main camp had he attacked using full force and it would not have been a waste of soldiers.

The main point for me is that the Wu army took their opportunities to win the war but Cao Ren didn’t. Cao Ren’s flaw as a general probably was an overly cautious disposition.

I would say that Cao Ren did not show incompetence in the Jiangling campaign and he was unfortunate to lose Yiling but I still can’t agree that he showed really impressive skill as a general in this campaign. I don’t think it was anywhere near the highlight of his career. His defense of Fan Castle stands out much more.

I think Cao Ren’s main achievement at Jiangling was his demonstration of martial prowess. That I agree was impressive.
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Re: Why is Cao Ren so revered?

Unread postby Rydain » Thu Feb 03, 2011 2:51 pm

Thanks for the discussion. :) I enjoyed having a chance to dig into more details of the campaign for further analysis. You raised plenty of good points to ponder, and I'm happy to leave off with our differences of opinion. I do agree that Cao Ren's cautiousness was his main flaw, and that Fan was a more impressive defense.
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