Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

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Attributed to
Luo Guanzhong
(Circa 1300–1400)
Translated by
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Edited by
Snow N. Snow

Chapter 30

Shunning Advice, Yuan Shao Loses Leaders and Granaries
Using Strategy, Cao Cao Scores Victory at Guandu

Hearing that Yuan Shao was hastening to attack at Guandu, Xiahou Dun wrote to the capital urgently asking for reinforcements, and Cao Cao told off seventy thousand troops with which he marched. Xun Yu was left to guard the capital.

Just as Yuan Shao’s army was starting, Tian Feng sent out a remonstrance from his prison cell, saying, “My lord, a hasty attack in full scale will bring disaster to our army. It is best now to wait upon such times as Heaven should appoint.”

Feng Ji said to Yuan Shao, “Why does this Tian Feng utter ill-omened words? My lord is sending forth an army in the cause of humanity and justice.”

Easily moved to anger, Yuan Shao was going to execute Tian Feng, but this time he forbore at the entreaties of many of his officers.

However, he was not appeased, for he said, “I will punish Tian Feng when I return from conquering Cao Cao.”

Meanwhile Yuan Shao hastened to start. The banners of his host filled the horizon, their swords were as trees in the forest. They marched to Yangwu and there made a strong camp.

Then Ju Shou once more opposed any hasty movement, saying, “Though our soldiers are many, they are not so bold as the enemy. However, veterans as are the enemy, they have not ample supplies. Therefore they will wish to force on a speedy battle, while our policy is to hold them off and delay. If we can keep from a decisive battle long enough, the victory will be ours without fighting.”

This advice did not appeal to Yuan Shao.

Said he, threateningly, “Tian Feng spoke discouraging words to my armies, and I will assuredly put him to death on my return. How dare you follow in the same way?”

Yuan Shao summoned the lictors and sent away the adviser in chains, saying, “When I have overcome Cao Cao, then will I deal with you and Tian Feng together!”

The huge army was camped in four divisions, one toward each point of the compass. The camps were thirty miles in circuit. Scouts and spies were sent out to discover the strong and the weak points of the enemy.

Cao Cao’s army arrived and were smitten with fear when they heard of the strength of their enemy. The leader called together his council.

Then said Adviser Xun You, “The enemy are many but not terrible. Ours is an army of veterans, every soldier of ours worth ten of theirs. But our advantage lies in a speedy battle, for unhappily our stores are insufficient for a long campaign.”

“You speak to the point,” said Cao Cao. “I think the same.”

Therefore Cao Cao issued orders to press noisily forward and force on a battle. Yuan Shao’s soldiers took up the challenge, and the two sides were arrayed. On Yuan Shao’s side, Shen Pei placed ten thousand of crossbowmen in ambush on the two wings, while five thousand of archers held the center. The signal for general attack was a bomb, and the onset was to continue through three rolls of the drum.

Yuan Shao wore a silver helmet and breastplate and an embroidered robe held in by a jeweled belt. He took up his post in the center with his commanders—Gao Lan, Zhang He, Han Meng, Chunyu Qiong, and others—ranged right and left. His banners and ensigns made a brave show.

When Cao Cao’s army’s center opened and the banners moved aside, the chieftain appeared on horseback with his staff of doughty leaders all fully armed—Xu Chu, Zhang Liao, Xu Huang, Li Dian, and others.

Pointing with his whip at Yuan Shao, Cao Cao cried, “In the presence of the Emperor, I pressed your claims to consideration and obtained for you the title of Regent Marshal. Why do you now plan rebellion?”

Yuan Shao replied, “You take the title of a minister of Han, but you are really a rebel against the House. Your crimes and evil deeds reach to the heavens, and you are worse than the usurper Wang Mang and the rebel Dong Zhuo. What are these slanderous words about rebellion that dare you address to me?”

“I have a command to make you prisoner!”

“I have the Girdle Decree to arrest rebels!” replied Yuan Shao.

Then Cao Cao became wrathful and bade Zhang Liao ride forth as his champion. From the other side rode Zhang He on a curvetting steed. The two champions fought forty or fifty bouts with no advantage to either. In his heart Cao Cao thought the contest amazing. Then Xu Chu whirled up his sword and went to help. From the other side, to match him rode out Gao Lan with his spear set, and the contestants were now four, battling two and two. Then Cao Cao ordered three thousand troops under Xiahou Dun and Cao Hong to attack the opponents’ array. Thereupon on Yuan Shao’s side, Shen Pei gave the signal for attack, and the legion of crossbowmen on the wings shot and the center archers let fly all together. The arrows flew all over the field in front, and Cao Cao’s troops could not advance. They hastened away toward the south. Yuan Shao threw his soldiers on their rear, and they were broken. They fled away toward Guandu, and Yuan Shao advanced another stage. He camped near them.

Then Shen Pei said, “Now send one hundred thousand soldiers to guard Guandu, and get near Cao Cao’s camp. Then build up observation mounds to get a clear view of the enemy, and choose vantage points whence to shoot arrows into the midst of their host. If we can force him to evacuate this place, we shall have gained a strategic point whence Capital Xuchang can be attacked.”

Yuan Shao adopted this suggestion. From each of the camps, they sought out the strongest veterans who dug with iron spades and carried earth to raise mounds near Cao Cao’s camp.

Cao Cao’s soldiers saw what their enemies were doing and were anxious to make a sortie and drive them off. But the archers and crossbowmen came out commanding the narrow throat through which it was necessary to attack and stayed them. At the end of ten days, they had build up more than half a hundred mounds, and on the summit of each was a lofty tower, whence the archers could command their opponents’ camp. Cao Cao’s soldiers were greatly frightened and held up their bucklers to keep off the various missiles. From the mounds the arrows flew down like a fierce rain after each roll of drums. The soldiers of Yuan Shao’s army laughed and jeered when they saw their enemies crouching under their shields and crawling on the ground to avoid their missiles.

Cao Cao saw that his troops were getting out of hand under this attack, so he called a council.

Liu Ye spoke up, saying, “Let us make catapults and so destroy them.”

Cao Cao at once had models brought and set cunning workers to make these stone-throwing machines. They soon constructed some hundreds and placed them along the walls of the camp inside, just opposite the high ladders on the enemy’s mounds.

Then Cao Cao’s troops watched for Yuan Shao’s archers to ascend the towers. As soon as the archers began to shoot, all the catapults began to heave stone balls into the skies and they wrought great havoc. There was no shelter from the falling stones, and enormous numbers of the archers were killed. Yuan Shao’s troops called these machines “Rumblers,” and after their appearance the archers dared not ascend the mounds to shoot.

Then Shen Pei, the strategist, thought out another plan. He set troops to tunnel under the walls into the midst of Cao Cao’s camp and called this corps “The Sappers”. Cao Cao’s soldiers saw the enemy digging out pits behind the mounds and told the chief, who at once sought a counter plan from Liu Ye.

“As Yuan Shao can no longer attack openly, he is attacking secretly and is tunneling a road under ground into the midst of our camp,” said Liu Ye.

“But how to meet it?”

“We can surround the camp with a deep moat which renders their tunnel useless.”

So a deep moat was dug as quickly as possible, and when the enemy sappers arrived thereat, lo! their labor had been in vain and the sap was useless.

Cao Cao held Guandu throughout the eighth and ninth months when, his army being worn out and provisions failing, he began to think of giving up and returning to the capital. As he could not make up his mind, he referred his difficulties by letter to Xun Yu, whom he had left to guard Xuchang. The reply he got was to this effect:

“I have received your command to decide whether to continue the campaign or retire. It appears to me that Yuan Shao assembled such large forces at Guandu with the expectation of winning a decision. You, Sir, are very weak while he is very strong. If you cannot get the better of him, he will be able to work his will on you, and this will be a crisis of the empire. Your opponents are indeed numerous, but their leader knows not how to use them. With your military genius and discernment, where are you not sure to succeed? Now though your numbers are small, your situation is still brighter than Liu Bang [Gaozu]’s when he faced against Xiang Yu [Xiang Ji] in Jungyang and Chenggao. You are securely entrenched with your hands on Yuan Shao’s throat; and even if you cannot advance, that state of things cannot endure forever but must change. This is the time to play some unexpected move, and you must not miss it. The device I leave to your illustrious ingenuity.”

This letter greatly pleased Cao Cao, and he urged upon his troops to use every effort to maintain the position.

Yuan Shao then retired some ten miles, and Cao Cao sent out scouts to ascertain his new dispositions. One of Xu Huang’s officers, Shi Huan, captured an enemy spy and sent him to his chief. Xu Huang interrogated him and found out that a convoy of supplies was expected and that this spy and others had been sent to find out what the risks of the route were. Xu Huang went at once to tell Cao Cao.

When Xun You heard that the commander of the convoy was Han Meng, he said, “That fellow is a valiant fool. A few thousand light horse sent to intercept him can capture the whole train and cause much trouble in the enemy’s camp.”

“Whom should I send?” asked Cao Cao.

“You might send Xu Huang. He is capable of such a task.”

So Xu Huang was deputed, and he took with him Shi Huan, who had captured the spy, and his company. And this party was supported by Zhang Liao and Xu Chu.

It was night when the commissariat train of many thousands of wagons drew near Yuan Shao’s camp. As they passed through a defile, Xu Huang and Shi Huan came out and stopped the train. Han Meng galloped up to give battle but was soon overcome. The guard was scattered, and soon the whole train was in flames. The escort and their leader fled away.

The glow of the flames seen from Yuan Shao’s camp caused great consternation, which became fear when the escaped soldiers rode in and told their tale.

Yuan Shao sent out Zhang He and Gao Lan to try to intercept the raiders, and they came upon Xu Huang and his company. Just as Zhang He and Gao Lan were attacking, reinforcements from Zhang Liao and Xu Chu came up, and the Yuan Shao’s troops were between two fires. They were cut to pieces and the successful generals of Cao Cao rode back to Guandu, where they were richly rewarded.

As an additional safeguard, Cao Cao made a supporting outpost in front of the main camp to be the apex of a triangle of defense.

When Han Meng returned with his woeful tidings, Yuan Shao was angry and threatened to put him to death. His colleagues begged him off.

Then said Shen Pei, “Food is very important for an army in the field and must be defended with the greatest diligence. Wuchao is our main depot and must be carefully guarded.”

“My plans being complete,” said Yuan Shao. “You may as well return to Capital Yejun of Jizhou and undertake the control of the supplies. Let there be no shortage.”

So Shen Pei left the army. Then a force of twenty thousand troops was told off to defend the depot in Wuchao. The leaders of this body were Chunyu Qiong, Sui Yuanjin, Han Xun, Lü Weihuang, and Zhao Rui.

Of these generals, Chunyu Qiong was a hard man and a heavy drinker, who in his cups was a terror to the soldiers. Under the idle life of guarding the supply depot, the leaders gave themselves up to indulgence and drank heavily.

In Cao Cao’s army food was also getting scarce, and a message was sent to Capital Xuchang to send grain quickly. The messenger with the letter, however, had not gone far when he fell into the hands of Yuan Shao’s guards, who took him to the adviser Xu You.

Seeing from the letter that Cao Cao was short of supplies, Xu You went to Yuan Shao and told him, saying, “Cao Cao and we have been at grips here for a long time, and Capital Xuchang must be undefended. A small army sent quickly could take it, and at the same moment an attack here would deliver Cao Cao into our hands. Now is the moment to strike, for his supplies are short.”

Yuan Shao replied, “Cao Cao is full of ruses, and this letter is artfully designed to bring about a battle to suit himself.”

“If you do not take this chance, he will do you some injury by and by.”

Just at this juncture in came a dispatch from Yejun in which, after some details regarding the forwarding of grain, Shen Pei said he had discovered that Xu You had been in the habit of receiving bribes while in Jizhou and had winked at his relatives collecting excess taxes. One of his son and nephew were then in prison.

At this Yuan Shao turned on Xu You angrily and said, “How can you have the face to stand before me and propose plans, you extortionate fellow? You and Cao Cao have old liking for each other, and he has bribed you to do his dirty work for him and help his base schemes. Now you want to betray my army. I ought to take off your head, but temporarily I will let your neck carry it away. Get out and never let me see you again.”

The discredited adviser sighed and went out, saying, “Faithful words offend his ear. He is a pest and unworthy of advice from me. And now that Shen Pei has injured my son and nephew, how can I look my fellow folks in the face again?”

And Xu You drew his sword to end his life. But his people prevented that.

They said, “If Yuan Shao rejects your honest words, then assuredly he will be taken by Cao Cao. You are an old friend of Cao Cao’s: Why not abandon the shade for the sunlight?”

Just these few words awakened Xu You to consciousness of his position, and he decided to leave Yuan Shao and go over to Cao Cao for he was an old friend.

Vainly now for chances lost
Yuan Shao sighs; once he was great.
Had he taken Xu You’s advice,
Cao Cao had not set up a state.

Xu You stealthily left the camp and set out for Cao Cao’s lines. He was captured on the way. He told his captors: “I am an old friend of the Prime Minister. Go and tell the Prime Minister that Xu You of Nanyang wishes to see him.”

They did so. Cao Cao was resting in his tent, his clothing loose and comfortable after the toils of the day. When he heard who wished to see him, he arose quite joyfully and hastily ran out, on bare feet, to receive Xu You. Cao Cao went forth to greet him. They saw each other in the distance, and Cao Cao clapped his hands with gladness, bowing to the ground when near enough to his visitor.

Xu You hastened to help him rise, saying, “Sir, you, a great minister, should not thus salute a simple civilian like me.”

“But you are my old friend, and no name or office makes any difference to us,” replied Cao Cao.

“Having been unable to choose the lord I would serve, I bowed my head before Yuan Shao wishing to support him sincerely. But he was deaf to my words and disregarded my plans. Wherefore I have left him and come now to see my old friend from whom I hope employment.”

“If you are willing to come, then have I indeed a helper,” said Cao Cao. “I desire you to give me a scheme for the destruction of Yuan Shao.”

“I counseled him to send a light force to take Capital Xuchang and at the same time attack here in full scale so that head and tail be both attacked.”

Cao Cao was alarmed, saying, “If he does so, I am lost!”

“How much grain have you in store?” said the new adviser.

“Enough for a year.”

“I think not quite,” said Xu You, smiling.

“Well, half a year.”

The visitor shook out his sleeves, rose and hurried toward the door of the tent, saying, “I offer him good counsel, and he repays me with deceit. Could I have expected it?”

Cao Cao held him back.

“Do not be angry,” said he. “I will tell you the truth. Really I have here only enough for three months.”

“Everybody says you are a marvel of wickedness, and indeed it is true,” said Xu You.

“But who does not know that in war there is no objection to deceit?” replied Cao Cao.

Then whispering in Xu You’s ear, he said, “Actually here I have only supplies for this month’s use.”

“O do not throw dust in my eyes any more. Your grain is exhausted and I know it.”

Cao Cao was startled, for he thought no one knew of the straits he was in.

“How did you find that out?” said Cao Cao.

Xu You produced the captured letter, saying, “Who wrote that?”

“Where did you get it?”

Whereupon Xu You told Cao Cao the story of the captured messenger.

Cao Cao seized him by the hand, saying, “Since our old friendship has brought you to me, I hope you have some plan to suggest to me.”

Xu You said, “To oppose a great army with a small one is to walk in the way of destruction, unless you inflict quick defeat. I can propose a plan which will defeat the innumerable hordes of Yuan Shao without fighting a battle. But will you follow my advice?”

“I very much desire to know your plan,” said Cao Cao.

“Your enemy’s stores of all kinds are at Wuchao, where the Commander of the Guard is that drunkard Chunyu Qiong. You can send some of your trusty veterans to pretend they belong to one of Yuan Shao’s generals, Jiang Qi, sent to help guard the depot. These soldiers can find an opportunity to fire the grain and stores of all kinds, which will upset all Yuan Shao’s calculations. In three days Yuan Shao is no more.”

Cao Cao greatly approved. He treated Xu You very liberally and kept him in his camp. Forthwith he chose five thousand of horse and foot ready for the expedition.

Zhang Liao protested, saying, “The enterprise will be futile as the grain depot will certainly be well guarded. Without caution, we may be victims of the treachery on the part of the newly arrived Xu You.”

Xu You is no traitor,” said Cao Cao. “He has come sent by Heaven to defeat Yuan Shao. If we do not get grain, it will be hard to hold out. I have to either follow his advice or sit still and be hemmed in. If he were a traitor, he would hardly remain in my camp. Moreover this raid has been my desire for a long time. Have no doubts: The raid will certainly succeed.”

“Well, then, you must look out for an attack here while the camp is undefended.”

“That is already well provided for,” said Cao Cao gleefully.

The arrangements for the raid on the grain depot were made with extreme care to ensure success. Cao Cao assigned Xun You, Jia Xu, and Cao Hong to guard the main camp, together with Xu You; Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan to guard the left camp; Cao Ren and Li Dian to guard the right camp. When all was ready they set out, Cao Cao himself in the center, with Zhang Liao and Xu Chu as van leaders and Xu Huang and Yu Jin as rear guard. The army showed the ensigns of their opponents. The troops carried bundles of grass and faggots to make a blaze. The soldiers were gagged and the horses tied round the muzzles so as to prevent any noise. They set out at dusk.

The night was fine and the stars shone brightly.

Ju Shou, still a prisoner in Yuan Shao’s camp, saw the stars were very brilliant and told his gaolers to conduct him out to the central pavilion whence he could study them. While watching he saw the planet Venus invade the quarter of the Bear and Lyra, which startled him very greatly.

“Some misfortune is near!” said Ju Shou.

So although it was still night, he went to see his master. But Yuan Shao was sleeping after indulgence in too much wine and was in bad humor. However, when they had roused him saying that the prisoner had a secret message to deliver, he got up.

“While I happened to be studying the aspect of the heavens,” said the night visitor, “I saw Venus, then between Hydra and Cancer, suddenly shoot into the neighborhood of the Bear and Lyra. There is danger of a robber raid, and special precautions must be taken at the grain depot. Lose no time in sending good soldiers and vigorous leaders thither, and keep a lookout on the byways among the hills that you may escape the wiles of Cao Cao.”

“You are a criminal!” said Yuan Shao. “How dare you come with such wild nonsense to upset my armies.”

And turning to the gaolers Yuan Shao continued, “I bade you confine him. Why did you let him come?”

Then he issued orders to put the gaolers to death and appointed others to keep the prisoner in close custody.

Ju Shou went away, wiping his falling tears and sighing deeply, “Our soldiers’ destruction is at hand, and I know not where our poor corpses may find a resting place.”

Blunt truth offended Yuan Shao,
Too stupid any plan to make,
His stores destroyed this is evident
That Jizhou also is at stake.

Cao Cao’s raiding party went along through the night. Passing one of Yuan Shao’s outpost camps, they were challenged.

Cao Cao sent forward a man to say, “Jiang Qi has orders to go to Wuchao to guard the grain stores.”

Seeing that the raiders marched under the ensigns of Yuan Shao, the guard had no suspicions and let them pass. At every post this ruse was effective, and they got safely through. They reached their objective at the end of the fourth watch, the straw and wood were placed in position without loss of time, and the blaze started. Then Cao Cao’s commanders beat to attack.

At this time Chunyu Qiong and his companions were all asleep after a heavy drinking bout. However, when the alarm was given, they sprang up and asked what was the matter. The hubbub was indescribable. Very soon the fuddled officers were caught with hooks and hauled out of their camp.

Yuan Shao’s generals Sui Yuanjin and Zhao Rui were just returning from taking grain to the camp and seeing the flames arise, they hastened to assist.

Some of Cao Cao’s soldiers ran to him, saying, “The enemy is coming up in the rear. Send reinforcements.”

But Cao Cao only replied, “Press on to the front till the enemy is actually close at hand and then face about.”

So the attack was pressed on and they all hastened forward. Very soon the fire gained strength, and thick smoke hung all around filling the sky. When Sui Yuanjin and Zhao Rui drew near, Cao Cao turned about and attacked them. They could not stand this for a moment, and both generals were killed. Finally the stores of grain and forage were utterly destroyed.

The commander, Chunyu Qiong, was made prisoner and taken to Cao Cao who ordered him to be deprived of ears, nose, and hands. He was bound on a horse and sent, thus horribly mutilated, to his master.

From Yuan Shao’s camp, the flames of the burning depot were seen away in the north, and they knew what they meant. Yuan Shao hastily summoned his officers to a council to send a rescue party.

Zhang He offered to go with Gao Lan, but Guo Tu said, “You may not go. It is certain that Cao Cao is there in person, wherefore his camp is undefended. Let loose our soldiers on the camp, and that will speedily bring Cao Cao back again. This is how Sun Bin besieged Wei and thereby rescued Zhao.”

But Zhang He said, “Not so; Cao Cao is too wily not to have fully prepared against a chance attack. If we attack his camp and fail and Chunyu Qiong should be caught, we shall all be captured too.”

Guo Tu said, “Cao Cao will be too intent on the destruction of the grain to think of leaving a guard. I entreat you to attack his camp.”

So Yuan Shao sent five thousand soldiers under Zhang He and Gao Lan to attack Cao Cao’s camp, and he sent ten thousand with Jiang Qi to go to recover the grain store.

Now after overcoming Chunyu Qiong, Cao Cao’s troops dressed themselves in the armor and clothing of the defeated soldiers and put out their emblems, thus posing as defeated force running back to their own headquarters. And when they happened upon Jiang Qi’s rescue body, they said they had been beaten at Wuchao and were retreating. So Cao Cao’s troops were suffered to pass without molestation while Jiang Qi hastened on. But soon Jiang Qi came to Zhang Liao and Xu Chu who cried out, “Stop!”

And before Jiang Qi could make any opposition, Zhang Liao had cut him down. Soon his force were killed or dispersed, and the victors sent false messengers to Yuan Shao’s camp to say that Jiang Qi had attacked and driven away the attackers of the granaries. So no more relief were sent that way. However, Yuan Shao sent reinforcements to Guandu.

In due course, the Yuan Shao’s force came down upon Cao Cao’s camp at Guandu, and the defenders—Xiahou Dun, Cao Ren, and Cao Hong—at once came out and fought them on three sides so that they were worsted. By the time reinforcements arrived, Cao Cao’s army, returning from the raid, had also come, and Yuan Shao’s army were attacked in the rear. So they were quite surrounded. However, Zhang He and Gao Lan managed to force their way out and got away.

When the remains of the defenders of the grain stores reached their master’s camp, they were mustered. Seeing the mutilated state of their one time leader, Yuan Shao asked how Chunyu Qiong had come to betray his trust and to suffer thus.

The soldiers told their lord, “The General was intoxicated at the time of the attack.”

So Yuan Shao ordered Chunyu Qiong to be forthwith executed.

Guo Tu, fearing lest Zhang He and Gao Lan would return and testify the whole truth, began to intrigue against them.

First Guo Tu went to his lord, saying, “Those two, Zhang He and Gao Lan, were certainly very glad when your armies were defeated.”

“Why do you say this?” asked Yuan Shao.

“O they have long cherished a desire to go over to Cao Cao. So when you sent them on the duty of destroying his camp, they did not do their best and so brought about this disaster.”

Yuan Shao accordingly sent to recall these two to be interrogated as to their faults. But Guo Tu sent a messenger in advance to warn them, as though in friendly guise, of the adverse fate that awaited them.

So when the orders reached them to return to answer for their faults, Gao Lan asked, “For what reason are we recalled?”

“Indeed I do not know,” said the messenger.

Gao Lan drew his sword and killed the messenger.

Zhang He was astonished at this demonstration, but Gao Lan said, “Our lord has allowed someone to malign us and say we have been bought by Cao Cao. What is the sense in our sitting still and awaiting destruction? Rather let us surrender to Cao Cao in reality and save our lives.”

“I have been wanting to do this for some time,” replied Zhang He.

Wherefore both, with their companies, made their way to Cao Cao’s camp to surrender.

When they arrived, Xiahou Dun said to his master, “These two have come to surrender, but I have doubts about them.”

Cao Cao replied, “I will meet them generously and win them over, even if they have treachery in their hearts.”

The camp gates were opened to the two officers, and they were invited to enter. They laid down their weapons, removed their armor, and bowed to the ground before Cao Cao, who said, “If Yuan Shao had listened to you, he would not have suffered defeat. Now you two coming to surrender are like Weizi (Viscount of Wei) leaving the falling House of Shang to go to Zhou and Han Xin leaving Xiang Yu [Xiang Ji] to go over to the rising House of Han.”

Cao Cao made them Generals and conferred upon Zhang He the title of Lord of Duting and upon Gao Lan Lord of Donglai, which pleased them much.

And so as Yuan Shao had formerly driven sway his adviser, Xu You, so now he had alienated two leaders and had lost his stores at Wuchao, and his army was depressed and down-hearted.

When Xu You advised Cao Cao to attack Yuan Shao as promptly as he could, the two newly surrendered generals volunteered to lead the way. So Cao Cao sent Zhang He and Gao Lan to make a first attack on the camp, and they left in the night with three thousand troops. The fighting went on confusedly all night but stayed at dawn. Yuan Shao had lost half of his army.

Then Xun You suggested a plan to Cao Cao, saying, “Now is the moment to spread a report that an army will go to take Suanzao and attack Yejun, and another to take Liyang and intercept the enemy’s retreat. Yuan Shao, when he hears of this, will be alarmed and tell off his troops to meet this new turn of affairs; and while he is making these new dispositions, we can have him at great disadvantage.”

Cao Cao adopted the suggestion, and care was taken that the report spread far around. It came to the ears of Yuan Shao’s soldiers, and they repeated it in camp. Yuan Shao believed it and ordered his son Yuan Tan with fifty thousand troops to rescue Yejun, and General Xin Ming with another fifty thousand to go to Liyang, and they marched away at once. Cao Cao heard that these armies had started, and at once dispatched troops in eight divisions to make a simultaneous attack on the nearly empty camp. Yuan Shao’s troops were too dispirited to fight and gave way on all sides.

Yuan Shao without waiting to don his armor went forth in simple dress with an ordinary cap upon his head and mounted his steed. His youngest son, Yuan Shang, followed him. Four of the enemy generals—Zhang Liao, Xu Chu, Xu Huang, and Yu Jin—with their forces pressed in his rear, and Yuan Shao hastened across the river, abandoning all his documents and papers, baggage, treasure, and stores. Only eight hundred horsemen followed him over the stream. Cao Cao’s troops followed hard but could not come up with him. However, they captured all his impedimenta, and they slew some eighty thousands of his army so that the watercourses ran blood and the drowned corpses could not be counted. It was a most complete victory for Cao Cao, and he made over all the spoil to the army.

Among the papers of Yuan Shao was found a bundle of letters showing secret correspondence between him and many persons in the capital and army.

Cao Cao’s personal staff suggested that the names of those concerned should be abstracted and the persons arrested, but their lord said, “Yuan Shao was so strong that even I could not be sure of safety. How much less other people?”

So Cao Cao ordered the papers to be burned and nothing more was said.

Now when Yuan Shao’s soldiers ran away, Ju Shou, being a prisoner, could not get away and was captured.

Taken before Cao Cao, who knew him, Ju Shou cried aloud, “I will not surrender!”

Said Cao Cao, “Yuan Shao was foolish and neglected your advice: Why still cling to the path of delusion? Had I had you to help me, I should have been sure of the empire.”

Ju Shou was well treated in the camp, but he stole a horse and tried to get away to Yuan Shao. This angered Cao Cao who recaptured him and put him to death, which he met with brave composure.

“I have slain a faithful and righteous man!” then said Cao Cao sadly.

And the victim was honorably buried at Guandu. His tomb bore the inscription This is the tomb of Ju Shou the Loyal and Virtuous.

Ju Shou was honest and virtuous,
The best in Yuan Shao’s train,
From him the stars no secrets held,
In tactics all was plain.
For him no terrors had grim death.
Too lofty was his spirit,
His captor slew him, but his tomb
Bears witness to his merit.

Cao Cao now gave orders to attack Jizhou.

In feeling over confident, that’s where one’s weakness lay;
The other bettered him by plans which never went astray.

The following chapter will tell who won the next campaign.