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The Battle of Red Cliffs According to the Romance of the three Kingdoms

Updated on May 29, 2014
Map of the location of the Battle
Map of the location of the Battle | Source

Battle of Red Cliffs at a Glance

Long ago in 208/209 AD a battle was fought along a stretch of river, far away from the consciousness of anyone other than the people of China. This battle would determine the unity of China for the next 400 years.

There along the Yangzi, Liu Bei and Zhou Yu (Commander in Chief of Wu) managed to Defeat the tyrant Cao Cao (Also known as the Usurper.) having succeeded in defeating Cao Cao, his huge army and Ship - Force, Liu Bei established the Shu clan and Zhou YU the Wu clan as powers together along with Cao's Wei Clan that divided China into three kingdoms.

The south of the river was called Chi bi, Red Cliffs which was the name that was given to the battle. After the Battle Cao Cao was forced to flee north and although losing the battle he remained "First man" of China but never again managed to threaten South China.

Zhuge Liang managed to persuade his contemporaries that it was possible for China to exist as a triangular balance of power, this ended the four hundred years of Imperial unity that the Han Dynasty had Achieved and China then became ruled by three kingdoms.

Lui Bei's Strategist Zhuge Liang Convinces Wu

The battle may have taken a different swing because at first Cao Cao sent a Proclamation to Sun Quan which was a "Call to Arms" against the rebels which read:

Romance of the three Kingdoms

"A recent Imperial Mandate honors me with the task of punishing rebels and traitors. My troops have pointed their banners to the south, Lui Cong has submitted, and the people of Jingzhou have turned to our cause. Now our forces total a million mighty men under a thousand commanders. We invite General Sun Quan to join in a hunting expedition for Liu Bei and his forces at Jiangxia; this will seal an eternal alliance between us. do not be a distant observer, send us a quick reply!"

Despite this as well as a serious amount of pressure from his ad visors Sun Quan took the side of Liu Bei, Together with Zhuge Liang and Zhuge Jin. Zhuge Liang was the main benefactor in convincing the Wu armies to go to war and he managed to convince the Generals of the Wu Dynasty to fight because Zhuge had a long track record of providing victories for his Lord Liu Bei so his word held a lot of credence to Sun Quan's army.

Now in the Royal Chambers Zhuge Liang met with Sun Quan along with the military councilors, this is where Sun Quan and Zhuge discussed the coming battle with great detail. Zhuge did not try to downplay Cao Cao's army in fact he built it up telling Sun Quan that he would say that his army numbers one and a half million men as well as fifteen hundred experienced commanders and it was here that he managed to persuade Sun Quan to join Liu Bei's forces, much to the amazement of his Generals.

The battles that took place
The battles that took place | Source

Find all about the three kingdoms

Map of the Three Kingdoms
Map of the Three Kingdoms | Source

The Battle of Red Cliffs

Liu Bei's Army - 20,000 Soldiers

Sun Quan's Army - 30,000 Soldiers (Zhou Yu was placed in charge of Sun Quan's Army)

Cao Cao's Army - 200,000 Soldiers (Many of these where Impressment soldiers, Taken into the army by force)

Naval Skirmishes

Cao Cao's highly organized Armada, the ships where all tied together which provided great stability to the boats meaning that they could move ahead quickly and without swaying, the down side to this as they found out later is that their maneuverability was severely reduced making them prone to fire attacks.

Cao Cao considered this possibility however found it very unlikely because to his mind the winds where against them so a fire attack would not work.

Early in the morning Cao Cao and his ships left base and advanced to the Yangzi province, Drums and gongs beating to the sound of battle and the two armies met with a skirmish of bows from both sides. Along the river there was fighting on foot which was the first head on collision of the battle.

According to the Book Romance of the three Kingdoms Cao Cao allowed two General Chu and Nan to take a small portion of the army onto the land, he allowed 20 small ships containing 20 people each to accompany them along with 500 archers so with that in mind the battle on land consisted of 900 Soldiers from Cao Cao's army. unfortunately it makes no mention of how many soldiers the allied forces contributed to this fight however we can be sure that they would have seen them coming along the river and matched the oncoming force.

Wind and Fire

Now a little bit of mythology is brought into how the battle was won, Zhuge Liang ordered for an alter to be built on one of the hills to the south which was named the alter of the Seven Stars. it was nine "chi" long and high on a platform with three tiers and had to be built by 120 men with banners in their hand which they had to leave after it was built.

The purpose of this Alter was so that Zhuge could summon a strong east wind which would enable them to set fire to Cao Cao's armada spreading panic and complete dissaray to his troops as well as killing much of his force.

Although Zhuge Liang almost certainly had nothing to do with the change of the wind's it might be that he had a great knowledge of the seasons allowing him to know that an East wind was coming which would have enabled him to carry out his plan of "Wind and Fire" if that is true this would make Zhuge a Master Tactician elevating him to the levels of Alexander the Great and Napoleon.

When Cao Cao witnessed this he was emblazoned (pun not intended) and sent a force after Zhuge Liang to behead him immediately however he retreated by boat, this is when Zhuge left the battle and headed to Xiakou Zhou Yu sent messengers after him to convey his gratitude however knowing this Zhuge turned to them before they could speak and said "Please convey my compliments to the commander in chief and tell him from me to treat his soldiers well. I am on my way back to Xiakou but we shall surely meet again someday soon."

Picking up the Pieces

Cao Cao and his army was now on the retreat and fled to Quwu Forest. The allied forces here where cunning managing to disrupt communications between the opposing army and also managed to set fire to their supply line, They set up many Ambushes along the province because they managed to disperse Cao Cao's army into groups.

Meanwhile Liu Bei and his army where waiting in Xiakou for the return of Zhuge Liang, When Zhuge returned he assigned objectives to the Generals to follow.

  • He sent Zilong with 3,000 men to Quwu forest to ambush Cao Cao's Forces, Setting Fire to the forest in order to Split his troops.
  • Zhuge Sent Zhang Fei with 3,000 men to cut off the road leading to Yiling and preparing an ambush at Hulu. (just after Quwu Forest.)
  • He ordered three squadrons to patrol the rivers and take as prisoners any of the enemy that they could find
  • He sent Lord Qi to Wuchang with a portion of the remaining troops to defend its outer and inner walls, Anticipating that Cao Cao would try to capture it. the Idea here was to prevent the capture of the city so he told Qi not to chase after him
  • Liu Bei was asked to stay in Xiakou for his own safety
  • He was being very cautious with Guan Yu because he knew that him and Cao Cao had a very good relationship and although he had a very important role for Guan Yu to play he had misgivings in assigning it to him. Guan Yu put it down in writing that if he allowed Cao Cao to escape then he would be subject to military discipline so then Zhuge Liang assigned Guan Yu to Huarong road with the task of Capturing Cao Cao.

The positioning of Liu Bei's troops where absolutely key because if they hadn't been in the right places then Cao Cao could have captured Wuchang, Rallying his troops there and could still have posed a major threat to the Wu and Shu Provinces as they could now be called.

Although Cao Cao managed to escape his fate Zhuge Liang's tactics has demolished his army so much that he would never again become a threat to the southern kingdoms of China and therefore reaching his goal of having Three Kingdom's Ruling China which where Wu (Sun Quan's Province, Wei (Cao Cao's Province) and Shu (Liu Bei's Province.)

This brought and end to the Han Dynasty and brought separation of powers to China for the next 400 years, having no one Kingdom control and brought about an age of Dynasties.


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