About Cao Cao 曹操, Emperor Wu of Wei
Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220), zi Mengde 孟德, childhood name Aman 阿瞞. Late Han general, statesman, and writer.
Cao Cao's ancestral home was Qiao 譙 in Pei 沛 (modern Bo 亳 county, Anhui). Cao Cao is also known by his posthumous title Emperor Wu of Wei 魏武帝. His father Cao Song 曹嵩 (d. 193) was the adopted son of the eunuch Cao Teng 曹騰. Cao Cao first earned fame in 184 by leading an army to put down a Yellow Turban insurrection. In 190, he raised his own army of five thousand men and joined the "loyalists" who rose against the warlord Dong Zhuo 董卓 (d. 192). In 192 he incorporated into his own army the surrendered Yellow Turban rebels from Qingzhou 青州 (modern Shandong peninsula). From this time on Cao Cao was the supreme military power in north China. In 196 he took emperor Xian under his protection and installed him in Xu 許 (modern Xuchang 許昌, Henan). By 208, Cao Cao achieved supremacy over most of his rivals. His position was that of councilor-in-chief. In August of 208, Cao Cao led his army south on a campaign against Liu Biao 劉表 (142-208) in Jingzhou 荊州 (administrative seat Xiangyang 襄陽, modern Xiangfan 襄樊, Hubei). After Liu Biao died of natural causes, Cao easily was able to obtain the surrender of Liu Biao's son, Liu Cong 劉琮. Cao Cao's only setback was in December of 208, when his army was routed in the famous Battle of the Red Cliff (Chi bi 赤壁, modern Jiayu 嘉魚, Hubei).
In his later years, Cao Cao solidified his power in the north and continued to wage campaigns against his two main rivals, Sun Quan 孫權 (182-252) in the southeast, and Liu Bei 劉備 (162-223) in the southwest. He also established a policy of recruiting officials based on their talent rather than social status or wealth. However, to solidify his power, he granted important positions to his sons. In 211, he named Cao Pi 曹丕 (187-226) vice-chancellor. His other sons received marquisates. In 216, Cao Cao assumed the title of King of Wei and established Cao Pi as his heir designate. By the time of his death in 220, Cao Cao had prepared the way for the establishment of the Wei dynasty.
In addition to distinguishing himself as a brilliant military strategist and leader, Cao Cao was an accomplished writer. In the sixth century there was a collection titled Wei Wudi ji 魏武帝集 (Collected works of Emperor Wu of Wei) amounting to thirty juan. This was reduced to a ten-juan Xin Zhuan 新撰 (New compilation?) and a ten-juan Wu huangdi yi ji 武皇帝逸集 (Collection of the literary remains of Emperor Wu). A thirty-juan Wei Wudi ji continues to be listed in bibliographies up to Song times. These were all lost. Later collections are all reconstructions.
The bulk of Cao Cao's extant writings consist of prose. He has a total of 150 prose works including letters, commands (ling 令), prefaces, petitions, and instructions (jiao 教). Cao Cao may be the most prolific writer of commands in the Chinese literary tradition. His most famous piece in this form is "Rang xian zi ming benzhi ling" 讓現自明本志令 (Command relinquishing the counties and clarifying my basic aims). Written on 1 January 211, it is a remarkable autobiographical account of Cao Cao's life up to this time.
Cao Cao's surviving works include twenty-two poems, all of which are yuefu. However, five of these works are fragments, and two ("Tangshang xing" 堂上行 and "Shan zai xing" 善哉行 #3) may not be the work of Cao Cao. It is notable that Cao Cao does not have any fu compositions extant. Jean-Pierre Dieny divides the poems into three main themes: politics, escapism (mostly youxian or "wandering as an immortal"), the lyricism, while Xu Gongchi identifies four subjects:poems on a particular event (especially military campaigns), recounting personal feelings and aims, youxian, and history. Cao Cao had a strong interest in the "arts of the transcendents." and his youxian and those of his sons may be a reflection of that interest. Cao Cao also experimented withv arious prosodic forms. He showed a preference for the four-syllable-line pattern of the Shi jing.