Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

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Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Lu Kang » Wed Nov 11, 2009 4:11 pm

One of Cao Cao's most important decisions can when he withdrew from pressuring the Yuan brothers. In doing so he allowed Yuan Shang and Yuan Tan to turn against one another and start in figting. This gave him a strong advantage along the lines of "divide and conquer" and then he systematically defeated them over the next several years. My question is this: What if they had remained united, or alternatively a single brother took the reigns and was the clear heir? Would Cao Cao have been able to defeat them as easily? Would the war be dragged out indefinitely? I am curious about the question as it is also linked to how much strength Yuan Shao had after Guandu.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Qu Hui » Wed Nov 11, 2009 5:02 pm

It would have been impossible for the Yuan Brothers, united or as one, to defeat Cao Cao for several reasons.

1. None of the sons had any real leadership abilities; Yuan Shang was often kept in Ye by his father, while Yuan Tan and Yuan Xi were governors.

2. Following Guandu, Cangting and Yuan Shao's death, the Yuan army was severly weakened and demoralized, while Cao Cao's army was expertly trained and riding a wave of momentum.

3. Several of Yuan Shao's best officers, such as Yan Liang, Wen Chou, Shen Pei, Ju Shou and Tian Feng were dead. His remaining officers, assuming they would have served the children, were not up to par.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby WuLordoftheNewAge » Wed Nov 11, 2009 7:54 pm

Qu Hui wrote:It would have been impossible for the Yuan Brothers, united or as one, to defeat Cao Cao for several reasons.

1. None of the sons had any real leadership abilities; Yuan Shang was often kept in Ye by his father, while Yuan Tan and Yuan Xi were governors.

2. Following Guandu, Cangting and Yuan Shao's death, the Yuan army was severly weakened and demoralized, while Cao Cao's army was expertly trained and riding a wave of momentum.

3. Several of Yuan Shao's best officers, such as Yan Liang, Wen Chou, Shen Pei, Ju Shou and Tian Feng were dead. His remaining officers, assuming they would have served the children, were not up to par.


This.

The Yuan's were doomed after epic Guandu defeat.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Nov 11, 2009 9:15 pm

Yet Yuan Shang seems to have managed to drive Cao Cao back and had some success in the field, despite Yuan Tan under-performing.

Despite Cao Cao's claims of victory, I'm inclined to support Professor Rafe's assertion that the Yuans had the better of the fight so forced Cao Cao to withdraw. I think the Yuan's still had the resources and some capable generals left to make it difficult if they stood united. Yuan Tan and Gou Yuan both needed careful observance as the first had got lax, the second could be overly confident but they were good generals. Yuan survival would also rely on support from Liu Biao but if Wu presses Jing then Cao Cao can slowly grind down Yuan, using his tactical superiority to find an eventual breakthrough.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Lu Kang » Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:20 pm

I agree that the Yuan brothers had more power than it may appear. While Guandu was a serious defeat and changed the political landscape, it served more to bring Cao Cao onto equal footing with Yuan rather than destroy all northern strength. Guandu took place in 200 and it took 7 years before Cao Cao defeated them, with their own infighting. If they had been able to present a united front how much longer would it have taken? 10 years? 15? What would be the implications of this with Liu Biao, Ma Chao, Sun Quan, and Liu Bei all on the horizon?

Qu Hui, I believe that Shen Pei actually served Yuan Shang and defended Ye. He only lost it due to treachery too.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Qu Hui » Thu Nov 12, 2009 3:37 am

Dong Zhou wrote:Yet Yuan Shang seems to have managed to drive Cao Cao back and had some success in the field, despite Yuan Tan under-performing.

When did Yuan Shang drive Cao Cao back? The only records I can find of Shang's success are Shang against Yuan Tan, and as you said Tan underperformed.

Dong Zhou wrote:Despite Cao Cao's claims of victory, I'm inclined to support Professor Rafe's assertion that the Yuans had the better of the fight so forced Cao Cao to withdraw.

Where did he state that?

Dong Zhou wrote:I think the Yuan's still had the resources and some capable generals left to make it difficult if they stood united.

But the question here is, were those generals a match for Cao Cao's extraordinary generals, or even Mengde himself?

Dong Zhou wrote:Yuan Tan and Gou Yuan both needed careful observance as the first had got lax, the second could be overly confident but they were good generals.

Guo Yuan was indeed a good general, but I think that his arrogance got the best of him. Even then, though, I don't think he would have lasted too much longer against Cao. As for Yuan Tan, I don't know much of his accomplishments, but if his later battles were any indication, then he was a poor general.

Dong Zhou wrote:Yuan survival would also rely on support from Liu Biao but if Wu presses Jing then Cao Cao can slowly grind down Yuan, using his tactical superiority to find an eventual breakthrough.

Isn't that almost exactly what happened in history?

Lu Kang wrote:I agree that the Yuan brothers had more power than it may appear. While Guandu was a serious defeat and changed the political landscape, it served more to bring Cao Cao onto equal footing with Yuan rather than destroy all northern strength. Guandu took place in 200 and it took 7 years before Cao Cao defeated them, with their own infighting. If they had been able to present a united front how much longer would it have taken? 10 years? 15? What would be the implications of this with Liu Biao, Ma Chao, Sun Quan, and Liu Bei all on the horizon?

Actually, it may have taken less time, since Cao Cao spent half a year or so waiting for the Yuan children to start fighting, as well as the wait for Gongsun Kang to kill the Yuan children. A long campaign was expect for such a large chunk of the empire, and the fact that Cao also had to deal with the Wuhuan further extended the campaign. As for Liu Biao and Liu Bei, they had attempted an unsuccessful attack in the south in 203. Ma Teng was allied with Cao Cao at this point, and the Sun Ce attack would have failed for reasons listed here.

Lu Kang wrote:Qu Hui, I believe that Shen Pei actually served Yuan Shang and defended Ye. He only lost it due to treachery too.

Oh yeah. I always forget that Shen Pei served Yuan Shang as well. As for the treachery part, it really wasn't all that treacherous; Ye was grainless and half of the population had already died of starvation at the time of surrender. Shen Pei, if he could have, would have held out until he himself had died of starvation.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Thu Nov 12, 2009 8:20 am

When did Yuan Shang drive Cao Cao back? The only records I can find of Shang's success are Shang against Yuan Tan, and as you said Tan underperformed.


The Kaoyi commentary of Sima Guang observes that HHS 74/64B says Yuan Shang made a
successful counter-attack, and this was why Cao Cao withdrew to Xu city. SGZ 6, however,
does not mention the incident: cf . passage B following. Sima Guang therefore discounts
the story
ZZTJ commentary, however, notes that in his celebrated "Second Memorial at the
Beginning of a Campaign," presented to the court of Shu-Han in 228, Zhuge Liang refers
to Cao Cao being hard pressed at Liyang: SGZ 35 (Shu 5), 923 PC quoting Han-Jin chunqiu;
Fang, Chronicle I, 258. Hu Sanxing suggests this may imply Cao Cao suffered a set-back,
and he argues that the historians of Wei would have suppressed any such record. The
commentary of Lu Bi to SGZ 6 tends to agree, noting that the text of the letter of Liu Biao
to Yuan Tan in HHS 74/64B (see passage D below) mentions the brothers' defeat of a
powerful enemy at Ye, while Cao Cao himself issued a statement soon afterwards referring
to punishment or demotion for those of his officers who were unsuccessful on campaign:
SGZ 1, 23; not recorded in ZZTJ .
On the other hand, SGZ 6, followed by ZZTJ , states that Cao Cao gathered the harvest,
which certainly indicates control of the field. SGZ 6 also adds that Cao Cao stormed the
city of Yin'an, near present-day Neihuang; though that was some fifty kilometres southeast
of Ye, near the Yellow River, and would be rather associated with Jia Xin's holding position
than with close investment of Ye.
Since we know the campaign lasted six months, it seems reasonable to assume the
statement in passage C of Jian'an 7, the previous year, that the Yuan brothers were
invariably defeated, is exaggerated. Cao Cao surely suffered some setbacks, and he may
indeed have lost an encounter outside Ye. Overall, however, it seems likely he did withdraw
of his own accord, maintaining a bridge-head on the north of the Yellow River about


But the question here is, were those generals a match for Cao Cao's extraordinary generals, or even Mengde himself?


we don't have as detailed biographies of the generals on the Yuan side so hard to say. They could be, when well managed and coordinated, a formidable threat that even while divided caused problems and took 7 years to destroy. United, they could prove a real pain

Guo Yuan was indeed a good general, but I think that his arrogance got the best of him. Even then, though, I don't think he would have lasted too much longer against Cao. As for Yuan Tan, I don't know much of his accomplishments, but if his later battles were any indication, then he was a poor general.


As I say, Gou Yuan needed someone to restrain him and he could cause trouble, had he been more careful he may have got the west under Yuan control.

That last attitude has hit the reputations of men like Yuan Shao and Liu Bei, Yuan Tan was a famed general early in his career.

Isn't that almost exactly what happened in history?


Liu Biao made, one attack I think?
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:41 am

What if for the hypothetical we stretched the Yuan family a bit? :D


Say Yuan Shu wasn't an idiot or if he didn't have great ambitions and never had a falling out with Yuan Shao, and never self declared as emperor and suffered such a huge defeat. Would Cao Cao have been able to stand a two front war initially against Yuan Shu and Yuan Shao? Keeping in mind both of them are very questionable as military leaders.

Or rather, let's just do a hypothetical situation. You're Cao Cao. It's 197 or so. Lu Bu controls Xu Zhou, Liu Bei controls Xia Pei. Yuan Shu hasn't declared emperor and is still going strong. Yuan Shao's got about 2 more years of campaigning against Gongsun Zan in the north. But after 2 years let's just say somehow everybody expects Yuan Shu and Yuan Shao to ally and try to finish you off and you know this.

What do you do?
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Jordan » Sun Nov 15, 2009 5:50 pm

Yuan Tan and Shang were defeated by Cao Cao even when they worked together. On the other hand, they weren't really decisively defeated. It would have been difficult for Cao Cao to maintain a war against them.

I would agree with Qu Hui and the others that the Yuan brothers would have lost. Even with Liu Bei inciting Liu Biao, I'm not really sure that the latter would attack Cao Cao's rear. Ma Teng also allied with Cao Cao against Guo Yuan historically. That aid would have helped Cao Cao too.
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Re: Did Cao Cao have the strength to defeat a united Yuan front?

Unread postby Lu Kang » Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:27 pm

I think a Yuan Shao and Yuan Shu front against Cao Cao would be pretty devastating. At this time Xuzhou is still in the hands of Tao Qian, Lu Bu is at large, and Cao Cao hasn't solidified his forces. After all, it took a 4 member alliance to effectively destroy Yuan Shu. If he was a little better organized Cao Cao would have been in some hot water.
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