Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

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Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby Strategist » Fri Jan 18, 2013 12:28 pm

How do the two compare as military leaders? I would have assumed Historical, but I'm given to understand the novel Cao Cao won far more effectively at Guan Du, probably had some humiliations erased, had a talent for getting out of life-threatening situations (when it happens enough by 'blind luck', calling it a talent is the best interpretation of the evidence), etc.

I'm pretty certain Cao Cao in the 2010 Three Kingdoms adaptation beats both, but that almost goes without saying.
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby TigerTally » Fri Jan 18, 2013 8:40 pm

I can't recall any significant difference between the fictional and historical Battle of Guan Du. The historical Cao Cao indeed performed much better as a military leader. For instance, he didn't suffer great loss against Mao Chao at Tong Pass like in the novel. Also, many of his misjudgements at the Red Cliff or other battlefields were fabricated.

BTW, the novel often put Cao Cao in some "life-threatening situations" as you mentioned, while the historical Cao Cao was seldom caught in such conditions. I would say the latter suits a "military leader" more.
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby Liu Yuante » Fri Jan 18, 2013 9:03 pm

I would say that while the historical Cao Cao comes off more ably and as (somewhat) less of a jerk than in the novel, especially since his SGZ biography isn't preoccupied with depicting him as a villain, in the way that the novel does, the reality is that the historical record is not without distortion or bias, either.

In particular, the accounts of his remarkably small armies and yet impressively thorough accomplishments against Yuan Shao and sons in the north are almost certainly embellished. Much as Pei Songzhi and others note in the annotations to the bio, it would be impossible for Cao to have completed some of the achievements he is said to have done if he had really had such small forces.

So, yeah, the novel is definitely twisted in one direction, but Chen Shou had a Jin ruler breathing down his neck and the Jin were eager for the Cao-Wei dynasty to be seen as having the Mandate of Heaven since they usurped the Cao-Wei. If not, then their own dynasty would be invalidated, as well. So, I don't think it's a surprise if we note that the original historical record is biased in a different way.

Fortunately, we have Pei's annotations to help curb some of this but then you also get the issue of ambiguity. Historical Cao Cao is muddier and less easy to define than Novel Cao Cao, partly because we get multiple different versions of events. The story about him killing his uncle (while not reflecting his ability as a ruler) has several different versions as does the bit with Tao Qian and his dad. And if you read through you'll notice certain authors/sources have consistent opinions. Sun Sheng for example always has something contrary to say about Cao Cao (and, indeed, other Cao family members as I am discovering with Cao Pi).

So then you have to weigh up who you believe because ultimately everyone is biased - Chen Shou, Pei Songzhi, the various sources selected by Pei for the annotations - it's simply a question of to what degree and how much does it interfere with the veracity of the account. Personally, I buy the opinion of those arguing against some of the details of Chen's account of the conquest of the north because there are 3 or 4 of them and only one of Chen, and their arguments make sense. But it jsut kind of depends on the situation.

So - yes. There are differences but there are also differences within the historical record itself.

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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby TigerTally » Fri Jan 18, 2013 9:39 pm

Talking about that, did you buy/read Rafe de Crespigny's Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao already? Its price doesn't go down even after two years. :rangry:
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby Strategist » Sat Jan 19, 2013 4:11 am

Yuan Shao was attributed to have a million soldiers at the start of chapter 22 (Chen Deng admittedly, but he's loyal to Liu Bei at this point so likely giving an honest estimate). Taking the novel as an independent work of fiction, we can infer that he must have marched at least 500,000 soldiers to attack Cao Cao who probably had nowhere near that many yet managed to hold for about two months (chapter 30).

Whatever he did (many of the preparations were off-screen and presumably impressive), could the historical Cao Cao hold out against a force of 500,000 with 200,000 or less for two months? If he could, point conceded.
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby TigerTally » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:43 am

In the novel, Yuen Shao was said to have 700000 men at Guan Du (not translated in Brewitt-Taylor's edition). Hearing the news, Cao Cao led 70000 soldiers to reinforce Xiahou Dun, hence the 1:10 ratio mentioned by Xun You (though there should be more men at Cao's side because Xiahou Dun was not guarding the place by only himself).

The exact amounts of armies for both sides were not given in history. The same 1:10 ratio was purposed by Xun Yu, saying "Now, my lord, you have held your ground against [Yuan Shao] with a force only one-tenth of his, and yet you have been able to block their advancement for over half a year". On the other hand, Cao Cao's biography told 100000+ men at Yuan's side and 10000- for Cao, and a simliar statement was also found in Zhang Fan 張範 's biography. Pei Songzhi, however, discredited these accounts based on Cao's previous capture of 300000 Yellow Turbans.

If we don't follow Pei's judgement, then the historical Cao Cao had obviously outdone his fictional counterpart. (And even if we do, his judgement could be applied on Cao Cao in novel as well since we don't know the number of men led by Xiahou Dun)
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby Strategist » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:50 am

Alright- factoring for the fact you know more about this than I do, conceding the argument.
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby Elitemsh » Sat Jan 19, 2013 10:53 am

Regarding Cao Cao's battle with Yuan Shao, doesn't Rafe present the view that Cao Cao actually had the advantage in his book? Obviously not in terms of numbers but I think there was the idea that Yuan's army was poorly supplied or something alone those lines. I don't pay that much attention to numbers anyway. The larger the army the more supplies you'd have to transport and the more vulnerable these would be. I would have thought that a smaller army is easier to train, manoeuvre and control. People talk a lot about Yuan's numbers as if it gave him some great advantage but I doubt that it did, unless his troops were better trained than Cao's. If Cao's victory over Yuan Shao was very impressive then I don't think it was because of the lesser numbers.

The Imperial Warlord book isn't as expensive as I thought it would be. I do want to get that some day. Maybe in a year. I think it sheds some light on this battle.
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby One-Eye Wei » Sun Jan 20, 2013 1:34 pm

I think comparing Cao Cao's written character, both novel and historically recorded, with the actual man is a task that is most likely to have an unresolved outcome. Both written versions have political influences that affect the final construct. At best I think the written works can be used as barometers against the confirmed accomplishments to give a general sense of Cao Cao's overall conduct.

Often events are lacking important details that can accurately explain things. Both Chi Bi and Guan Du are battles where most truthful thing that can be confirmed is that Cao Cao had a signicant difference versus his opponents. However, since we are without accurate or unbiased details on the conflicts, both the novel and historical records move to flesh out things while simultaneously fulfilling they're particular political objectives. If I were to describe a conflict where there was a "significant advantage" to one side but that the underdog was victorious, telling you that it was 7 men versus 10 is radically from saying it was 7 police officers in riot gear against 10 poorly armed civilians.

I think the legacy of Cao Cao's influence on China, from the time he lived up to modern era, is proof that he possessed the skills and good fortune to succeed against his rivals in the central plains while dominating the Imperial Court. Though he could not overcome all his adversaries, human or environmental, to conquer all of China, the retelling of his life and the challenges he faced has grown to an influence that engages and inspires people around the world.
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Re: Novel Cao Cao v.s Historical Cao Cao

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:52 am

Elitemsh wrote:Regarding Cao Cao's battle with Yuan Shao, doesn't Rafe present the view that Cao Cao actually had the advantage in his book?


Yes. If I recall rightly, the argument was that Yuan Shao was already losing ground to Cao Cao and had to fight at a time when he didn't wish it before the tide slipped utterly away from him.
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