Saturday, September 20, 2008

Zhuo Wenjun

Zhuo Wenjun, or Wen Jun, 卓文君 was a poet of the Western Han dynasty. As a young widow, Zhuo Wenjun eloped with the poet Sima Xiangru. The poem ''Baitou Yin'' which complains at the inconstancy of male love, is attributed to her.

Zhang Heng

Zhang Heng was an , , , , , , , , and from , Henan, and lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He was educated in the capital cities of Luoyang and Chang'an, and began his career as a minor civil servant in Nanyang. Eventually, he became Chief Astronomer, Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages, and then Palace Attendant at the imperial court. His uncompromising stances on certain historical and calendrical issues led to Zhang being considered a controversial figure, which prevented him from becoming an official court historian. His political rivalry with the palace eunuchs during the reign of led to his decision to retire from the central court to serve as an administrator of Hejian, in Hebei. He returned home to Nanyang for a short time, before being recalled to serve in the capital once more, in 138. He died there a year later, in 139.

Zhang applied his extensive knowledge of mechanics and gears in several of his inventions. He invented the world's first armillary sphere, to represent astronomical observation; and invented the world's first seismometer, which discerned the cardinal direction of an earthquake away. Furthermore, he improved previous Chinese calculations of the . In addition to documenting about 14,000 stars in his extensive star catalogue, Zhang also posited theories about the Moon and its relationship to the Sun; specifically, he discussed the Moon's sphericity, its illumination by reflecting sunlight on one side and remaining dark on the other, and the nature of and eclipses. His '''' and '''' poetry were renowned and commented on by later Chinese writers; his were also highly regarded. Zhang received many posthumous honors for his scholarship and ingenuity, and is considered a polymath by some scholars. Some modern scholars have also compared his work in astronomy to that of Ptolemy .


Early life

Born in the town of Xi'e in Nanyang Commandery , Zhang Heng came from a distinguished but not very affluent family. His grandfather, Zhang Kan, had been governor of a commandery, and one of the leaders who supported the restoration of the Han Dynasty by , following the death of the usurper Wang Mang and his short-lived Xin Dynasty . At age ten, Zhang's father died, leaving him in the care of his mother and grandmother. After studying for some years at Luoyang's Imperial University , he became well-versed in the , and befriended notable persons, such as the mathematician and calligrapher , the official and philosophical commentator Ma Rong , and the philosopher . He spent much of his time composing on the capital cities. When Bao De was recalled to the capital in 111, to serve as a minister of finance, Zhang continued his literary work at home in Xi'e. In addition to recording heavenly observations and portents, preparing the calendar, and reporting which days were auspicious or not, Zhang was also in charge of an advanced literacy test for all candidates of the Imperial Secretariat and Censorate . Under Emperor An, Zhang also served as Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages under the Ministry of Guards, in charge of the reception of memorials submitted to the throne as well as nominees for official appointments.]]
When the government official Dan Song proposed the Chinese calendar should be reformed in 123 to adopt certain , Zhang opposed the idea. He considered the teachings to be of questionable stature and believed they could introduce errors. Liu Zhen and Liu Taotu were Zhang's only historian allies at court, and after their deaths Zhang had no further opportunities for promotion to the prestigious post of court historian. His intensive astronomical work was rewarded only with the rank and salary of 600 bushels, or ''shi'', of grain . To place this number in context, in a hierarchy of twenty official ranks, the lowest-paid official earned the rank and salary of 100 bushels and the highest-paid official earned 10,000 bushels during the Han. The 600-bushel rank was the lowest the emperor could directly appoint to a central government position; any official of lower status was overseen by central or provincial officials of high rank.

In 132, Zhang introduced an intricate seismometer to the court, which he claimed could detect the precise cardinal direction of a distant earthquake. On one occasion his device indicated that an earthquake had occurred in the northwest. As there was no perceivable tremor felt in the capital his political enemies were briefly able to relish the failure of his device,

As Palace Attendant to Emperor Shun, Zhang Heng attempted to convince him that the court eunuchs represented a threat to the imperial court. Zhang pointed to specific examples of past court intrigues involving eunuchs, and convinced Shun that he should assume greater authority and limit their influence.

Retirement and death

Zhang retired from his position under Emperor Shun in 136, Zhang's writing at this time reflects his bitterness at being unable to effectively serve the emperor. By the time of his death, Zhang had composed thirty-two written works on literature, philosophy, science, and mysticism. He was buried in his hometown Xi'e, in Nanyang Commandery; his friend Cui Yuan composed the inscription for his tomb.]]
While working for the central court, Zhang Heng had access to a variety of written materials located in the Archives of the Eastern Pavilion. Zhang read many of the great works of history in his day and claimed he had found ten instances where the ''Records of the Grand Historian'' by Sima Qian and the ''Book of Han'' by Ban Gu differed from other ancient texts that were available to him. The latter fuses ideas with Confucianism and was a precursor to later Chinese metaphysical nature poetry, according to Liu Wu-chi. A set of four short lyric poems entitled "Lyric Poems on Four Sorrows" , is also included with Zhang's preface. This set constitutes some of the earliest heptasyllabic ''shi'' Chinese poetry written. While still in Luoyang, Zhang became inspired to write his "Western Metropolis Rhapsody" and "Eastern Metropolis Rhapsody", which were based on the "Rhapsody on the Two Capitals" by the historian Ban Gu.

Zhang's long lyrical poems also revealed a great amount of information on urban layout and basic geography. His rhapsody "Sir Based-On-Nothing" provides details on terrain, palaces, hunting parks, markets, and prominent buildings of Chang'an, the Western Han capital. Zhang Heng's writing confirms the size of the imperial hunting park in the suburbs of Chang'an, as his estimate for the circumference of the park's encircling wall agrees with the historian Ban Gu's estimate of roughly 400 '''' . Along with Sima Xiangru , Zhang listed a variety of animals and hunting game inhabiting the park, which were divided in the northern and southern portions of the park according to where the animals had originally came from: . Somewhat similar to the description of Sima Xiangru, Zhang described the Western Han emperors and their entourage enjoying boat outings, water plays, fishing, and displays of archery targeting birds and other animals with stringed arrows from the tops of along Chang'an's Kunming Lake. The focus of Zhang's writing on specific places and their terrain, society, people, and their customs could also be seen as early attempts of ethnographic categorization. In his poem "Xijing fu", Zhang shows that he was aware of the new foreign religion of Buddhism, introduced via the Silk Road, as well as the legend of the birth of with the vision of the white elephant bringing about conception. In his "Western Metropolis Rhapsody", Zhang described court entertainments such as ''juedi'', a form of theatrical wrestling accompanied by music in which participants butted heads with bull horn masks.

With his ''Response of my Idleness'' , Zhang was an early writer and proponent of the Chinese literary genre ''shelun'', or hypothetical discourse. Authors of this genre created a written dialogue between themselves and an imaginary person ; the latter poses questions to the author on how to lead a successful life. He also used it as a means to criticize himself for failing to obtain high office, but coming to the conclusion that the true gentleman displays virtue instead of greed for power.

Zhang wrote about the various love affairs of emperors unsatisfied with the imperial harem, going out into the city incognito to seek out prostitutes and sing-song girls. This was seen as a general criticism of the Eastern Han emperors and their imperial favorites, guised in the criticism of earlier Western Han emperors. Besides criticizing the Western Han emperors for lavish decadence, Zhang also pointed out that their behavior and ceremonies did not properly conform with the Chinese cyclical beliefs in yin and yang. In a poem criticizing the previous Western Han Dynasty, Zhang wrote:

Achievements in science and technology

Astronomy and mathematics

For centuries the Chinese approximated pi as 3; Liu Xin made the first known Chinese attempt at a more accurate calculation of 3.154, but there is no record detailing the method he used to obtain this figure. Zhang Heng compared the celestial circle to the diameter of the earth, proportioning the former as 736 and the latter as 232, thus calculating pi as 3.1724. In Zhang's day, the ratio 4:3 was given for the area of a square to the area of its inscribed circle and the volume of a cube and volume of the inscribed sphere should also be 42:32. Zhang then attempted to remedy this by amending the formula with an additional \tfracD3, hence V=\tfracD3 + \tfracD3 = \tfracD3. From this formula, Zhang calculated pi as the square root of 10 .

In his publication of AD 120 called ''The Spiritual Constitution of the Universe'' , In comparison, this star catalogue featured many more stars than the 850 documented by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in his catalogue, and more than Ptolemy , who catalogued over 1,000. Zhang supported the "radiating influence" theory to explain and eclipses, a theory which was opposed by Wang Chong . In the ''Ling Xian'', Zhang wrote:

The Sun is like fire and the Moon like water. The fire gives out light and the water reflects it. Thus the moon's brightness is produced from the radiance of the Sun, and the Moon's darkness is due to the sun being obstructed. The side which faces the Sun is fully lit, and the side which is away from it is dark. The planets have the nature of water and reflect light. The light pouring forth from the Sun does not always reach the moon owing to the obstruction of the earth itself—this is called 'an-xu', a lunar eclipse. When happens with a planet an occultation; when the Moon passes across then there is a solar eclipse.

Zhang Heng viewed these astronomical phenomena in supernatural terms as well. The signs of comets, eclipses, and movements of heavenly bodies could all be interpreted by him as heavenly guides on how to conduct affairs of state.

The theory posited by Zhang and Jing was supported by later pre-modern scientists such as Shen Kuo , who expanded on the reasoning of why the Sun and Moon were spherical.

Extra tank for inflow clepsydra

The outflow clepsydra was a timekeeping device used in China as long ago as the Shang Dynasty , and certainly by the Zhou Dynasty . The inflow clepsydra with an indicator rod on a float had been known in China since the beginning of the Han Dynasty in 202 BC and had replaced the outflow type. Joseph Needham states that this was perhaps the ancestor of all found in mechanical clocks by the 8th century, but he notes that these figures did not actually move like clock jack figurines or sound the hours. Zhang mentioned a "jade dragon's neck", which in later times meant a siphon. He wrote of the floats and indicator-rods of the inflow clepsydra as follows:

Bronze vessels are made and placed one above the other at different levels; they are filled with pure water. Each has at the bottom a small opening in the form of a 'jade dragon's neck'. The water dripping enters two inflow receivers , the left one being for the night and the right one for the day. On the covers of each there are small cast statuettes in gilt bronze; the left one is an immortal and the right one is a policeman. These figures guide the indicator-rod with their left hands, and indicate the graduations on it with their right hands, thus giving the time. The Greek astronomer Eratosthenes invented the first armillary sphere in 255 BC. The Chinese armillary sphere was fully developed by 52 BC, with the astronomer Geng Shouchang's addition of a permanently fixed equatorial ring. In 84 AD the astronomers Fu An and Jia Kui added the ecliptic ring, and finally Zhang Heng added the horizon and meridian rings.

Zhang did not initiate the Chinese tradition of hydraulic engineering, which began during the mid Zhou Dynasty , through the work of engineers such as Sunshu Ao and Ximen Bao. Zhang's contemporary, Du Shi, was the first to apply the motive power of waterwheels to operate the bellows of a blast furnace to make pig iron, and the cupola furnace to make cast iron. Zhang provided a valuable description of his water-powered armillary sphere in the treatise of 125, stating:

The equatorial ring goes around the belly of the armillary sphere 91 and 5/19 away from the pole. The circle of the ecliptic also goes round the belly of the instrument at an angle of 24 with the equator. Thus at the summer solstice the ecliptic is 67 and a fraction away from the pole, while at the winter solstice it is 115 and a fraction away. Hence where the ecliptic and the equator intersect should give the north polar distances of the spring and autumn equinoxes. But now the spring equinox is 90 and 1/4 away from the pole, and the autumn equinox is 92 and 1/4 away. The former figure is adopted only because it agrees with the method of measuring solstitial sun shadows as embodied in the Xia calendar.

Zhang Heng's water-powered armillary sphere had profound effects on Chinese astronomy and mechanical engineering in later generations. His model and its complex use of gears greatly influenced the water-powered instruments of later astronomers and engineers such as Yi Xing , Zhang Sixun , Su Song , Guo Shoujing , and many others. Water-powered armillary spheres in the tradition of Zhang Heng's were used in the eras of the Three Kingdoms and , yet the design for it was temporarily out of use between 317 and 418, due to invasions of northern Xiongnu nomads. Zhang Heng's old instruments were recovered in 418, when Emperor Wu of Liu Song captured the ancient capital of Chang'an. Although still intact, the graduation marks and the representations of the stars, Moon, Sun, and planets were quite worn down by time and rust. These theories were ultimately derived from the ancient text of the '''' , in its fifty-first hexagram. There were other early theories about earthquakes, developed by those such as the . Anaxagoras believed that they were caused by excess water near the surface crust of the earth bursting into the Earth's hollows; Democritus believed that the saturation of the Earth with water caused them; believed they were the result of massive pieces of the Earth falling into the cavernous hollows due to drying; and Aristotle believed they were caused by instability of vapor caused by the drying of the moist Earth by the Sun's rays. These oracles of the occult observed the direction, force, and timing of the winds, to speculate about the operation of the cosmos and to predict events on Earth. These ideas influenced Zhang Heng's views on the cause of earthquakes. Against the grain of earlier theories proposed by his fellow Chinese and contemporary Greeks, Zhang Heng believed that earthquakes were caused by wind and air, writing:

quote|The chief cause of earthquake is air, an element naturally swift and shifting from place to place. As long as it is not stirred, but lurks in a vacant space, it reposes innocently, giving no trouble to objects around it. But any cause coming upon it from without rouses it, or compresses it, and drives it into a narrow space ... and when opportunity of escape is cut off, then 'With deep murmur of the Mountain it roars around the barriers', which after long battering it dislodges and tosses on high, growing more fierce the stronger the obstacle with which it has contended. This was essential for the Han government in sending quick aid and relief to regions devastated by this natural disaster.

To indicate the direction of a distant earthquake, Zhang's device dropped a bronze ball from one of eight tubed projections shaped as dragon heads; the ball fell into the mouth of a corresponding metal object shaped as a toad, each representing a direction like the points on a compass rose. His device had eight mobile arms connected with cranks having catch mechanisms at the periphery. Wang Zhenduo argued that the technology of the Eastern Han era was sophisticated enough to produce such a device, as evidenced by contemporary levers and cranks used in other devices such as crossbow triggers.

Later Chinese of subsequent periods were able to reinvent Zhang's seismometer. They included the 6th-century mathematician and surveyor Xindu Fang of the and the astronomer and mathematician Lin Xiaogong of the Sui Dynasty . Like Zhang, Xindu Fang and Lin Xiaogong were given imperial patronage for their services in craftsmanship of devices for the court. By the time of the Yuan Dynasty , it was acknowledged that all devices previously made were preserved, except for that of the seismometer. This was discussed by the scholar Zhou Mi around 1290, who remarked that the books of Xindu Fang and Lin Xiaogong detailing their seismological devices were no longer to be found.

Hong-sen Yan states that modern replicas of Zhang's device have failed to reach the level of accuracy and sensitivity described in Chinese historical records. Wang Zhenduo presented two different models of the seismometer based on the ancient descriptions of Zhang's device. In his 1936 reconstruction, the central pillar of the device was a suspended pendulum acting as a movement sensor, while the central pillar of his second model in 1963 was an inverted pendulum. He argued that transverse shock would have rendered Wang's immobilization mechanism ineffective, as it would not have prevented further motion that could knock other balls out of their position.


The and and official Pei Xiu was the first in China to describe in full the geometric grid reference for maps that allowed for precise measurements , as well as topographical elevation. However, map-making in China had existed since at least the 4th century BC with the maps found in Gansu in 1986. Pinpointed accuracy of the winding courses of rivers and familiarity with scaled distance had been known since the and Han Dynasty, respectively, as evidenced by their existing maps, while the use of a rectangular grid had been known in China since the Han as well. Historian Howard Nelson states that, although the accounts of Zhang Heng's work in cartography are somewhat vague and sketchy, there is ample written evidence that Pei Xiu derived the use of the rectangular grid reference from the maps of Zhang Heng. Historian Florian C. Reiter notes that Zhang's narrative "Guitian fu" contains a phrase about applauding the maps and documents of Confucius of the Zhou Dynasty, which Reiter suggests places maps on a same level of importance with documents . Rafe de Crespigny asserts that it was Zhang who established the rectangular grid system in Chinese cartography. Moreover, the ''Book of Later Han'' hints that Zhang was the first to make a mathematical grid reference, stating that he "cast a network of coordinates about heaven and earth, and reckoned on the basis of it."

Ancient Chinese texts describe the mechanical carriage's functions; after one li was traversed, a mechanically-driven wooden figure struck a drum, and after ten li had been covered, another wooden figure struck a gong or a bell with its mechanically-operated arm. There is speculation that at some time during the 1st century BC the beating of drums and gongs was mechanically driven by the rotation of the road wheels.


Science and technology

Florentine marble carving of Ptolemy , who created an Earth-centered universe theory that the scholars Jin Guantao, Fan Hongye, and Liu Qingfeng compare with Zhang Heng's theory published in 125 The cosmic model of nine points of Heaven corresponding with nine regions of earth conceived in the work of the scholar-official Chen Hongmou followed in the tradition of Zhang's book ''Spiritual Constitution of the Universe''. The seismologist John Milne, who created the modern seismograph in 1876 alongside Thomas Gray and J. Alfred Ewing at the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo, commented in 1886 on Zhang Heng's contributions to seismology. The historian Joseph Needham emphasized his contributions to pre-modern Chinese technology, stating that Zhang was noted even in his day for being able to "make three wheels rotate as if they were one." More than one scholar has described Zhang as a polymath. However, some scholars also point out that Zhang's writing lacks concrete scientific theories. Comparing Zhang with his contemporary, Ptolemy of , Jin Guantao, Fan Hongye, and Liu Qingfeng state:

Based on the theories of his predecessors, Zhang Heng systematically developed the celestial sphere theory. An armillary constructed on the basis of his hypotheses bears a remarkable similarity to Ptolemy's earth-centered theory. However, Zhang Heng did not definitely propose a theoretical model like Ptolemy's earth-centered one. It is astonishing that the celestial model Zhang Heng constructed was almost a physical model of Ptolemy's earth-centered theory. Only a single step separates the celestial globe from the earth-centered theory, but Chinese astronomers never took that step.

Here we can see how important the exemplary function of the primitive scientific structure is. In order to use the Euclidean system of geometry as a model for the development of astronomical theory, Ptolemy first had to select hypotheses which could serve as axioms. He naturally regarded circular motion as fundamental and then used the circular motion of deferents and epicycles in his earth-centered theory. Although Zhang Heng understood that the sun, moon and planets move in circles, he lacked a model for a logically structured theory and so could not establish a corresponding astronomical theory. Chinese astronomy was most interested in extracting the algebraic features of planetary motion to establish astronomical theories. Thus astronomy was reduced to arithmetic operations, extracting common multiples and divisors from the observed cyclic motions of the heavenly bodies. The influential poet Tao Qian wrote that he admired the poetry of Zhang Heng for its "curbing extravagant diction and aiming at simplicity", in regards to perceived tranquility and rectitude correlating with the simple but effective language of the poet. Tao wrote that both Zhang Heng and Cai Yong "avoided inflated language, aiming chiefly at simplicity", and adding that their "compositions begin by giving free expression to their fancies but end on a note of quiet, serving admirably to restrain undisciplined and passionate nature".

Posthumous honors

Zhang was given great honors in life and in death. The philosopher and poet Fu Xuan of the and dynasties once lamented in an essay over the fact that Zhang Heng was never placed in the . Writing highly of Zhang and the 3rd-century mechanical engineer Ma Jun, Fu Xuan wrote, "Neither of them was ever an official of the Ministry of Works, and their ingenuity did not benefit the world. When employ personnel with no regard to special talent, and having heard of genius neglect even to test it—is this not hateful and disastrous?"

In honor of Zhang's achievements in science and technology, his friend Cui Ziyu wrote a memorial inscription on his burial stele, which has been preserved in the ''Guwen yuan''. Cui stated, " mathematical computations exhausted the heavens and the earth. His inventions were comparable even to those of the Author of Change. The excellence of his talent and the splendour of his art were one with those of the gods." The minor official Xiahou Zhan of the Wei Dynasty made an inscription for his own commemorative stele to be placed at Zhang Heng's tomb. It read: "Ever since gentlemen have composed literary texts, none has been as skillful as the Master in choosing his words well ... if only the dead could rise, oh I could then turn to him for a teacher!"

Several things have been named after Zhang in modern times, including the , the asteroid 1802 Zhang Heng, and the mineral Zhanghengite.

Wang Can

Wang Can was a politician, scholar and poet during the late Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China. He contributed greatly to the establishment of laws and standards during the founding days of the Principality of Wei – predecessor to the later Cao Wei Dynasty – under Cao Cao. For his literary achievement Wang Can was ranked among the Seven Scholars of Jian'an .

Wang Can was also renowned for his photographic memory. The '''' describes an incident where Wang Can was watching a game of . Someone accidentally knocked into the board and scattered the pieces. Wang Can then placed the pieces back to their original positions based on memory.


A local of Guangping Commandery , Wang Can was born in a family of high-ranking bureaucrats. His greatgrandfather and grandfather were among the Three Excellencies under and respectively.

When the warlord Dong Zhuo usurped power in 190, placing in the throne the puppet , Wang Can was merely thirteen years of age. A year later, Dong Zhuo moved the capital from Luoyang to the more strategically secure Chang'an. Wang Can then headed for the new capital, where he settled down for the next three years. During his stay in Chang'an, Wang Can's talent was recognized by the prominent scholar and calligrapher Cai Yong . The young Wang Can was also offered several posts, all of which he turned down.

In 194, Wang Can went to to seek a position under the governor Liu Biao. However, Liu Biao did not favor Wang Can as the latter looked pallid and sickly. After the death of Liu Biao in 208, his son was persuaded by Wang Can to surrender to Cao Cao.

Wang Can's talent was finally exploited under his new lord. In 213, Cao Cao was enfeoffed the Duke of Wei and given ten cities under his fiefdom, which was named the State of Wei. Wang Can was then entrusted with establishing a new system of laws and standards to replace the old one, which had largely fallen into disuse. In late 216, Wang Can followed Cao Cao on his fourth southern campaign against Sun Quan. He died on the way due to sickness in the spring of 217.

Literary achievement

Wang Can was an established poet. Along with six other poets of his time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the jian'an? style . They were collectively called the Seven Scholars of Jian'an .

The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the jian'an poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, while lament over the ephemerality of life was also a central theme of works from this period. In terms of the history of Chinese literature, the jian'an poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

The representative work by Wang Can was the ''Poem of Seven Sorrows'' , a five-character poem lamenting the suffering of the people during the years of war.

? Jian'an was the for the period from 196 to 220.

Sima Xiangru

Sima Xiangru was a writer. He was a minor official of the Western Han Dynasty but was better known for his skills, '''' business, and controversial marriage to the widow Zhuo Wenjun after both eloped. One of his most famous works is the Chang Men Fu , written in the style '''', of rhymed prose under commission from a former Empress. In fact, Sima was largely responsible for establishing ''fu'' as a literary genre.

He was also a guqin player.

Much is known about him through Sima Qian's biography of him, Shij ji 117.

Sima Qian

Sima Qian was a Prefect of the Grand Scribes of the Han Dynasty. He is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography because of his highly praised work, ''Records of the Grand Historian'' , an overview of the history of China covering more than two thousand years from the Yellow Emperor to . His definitive work laid the foundation for later Chinese historiography.

Early life and education

Sima Qian was born and grew up in Longmen, near present-day Hancheng, Shaanxi. He was raised in a family of historiographers. His father, Sima Tan, served as the Prefect of the Grand Scribes of Emperor Wu of Han . His main responsibilities were managing the imperial library and calendar watching . Under the influence of his father, at the age of ten, Sima Qian was already well versed in old writings. He was the student of the famous Kong Anguo and Dong Zhongshu. At the age of twenty, with the support of his father, Sima Qian started a journey throughout the country, collecting useful first-hand historical records for his main work, ''Shiji''. The purpose of his journey was to verify the ancient rumors and legends and to visit ancient monuments, including the renowned graves of the ancient sage kings and . Places he had visited include Shandong, Yunnan, Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Hunan.

After his travels, he was chosen to be a Palace Attendant in the government whose duties were to inspect different parts of the country with Emperor Han Wudi. In 110 BC, at the age of thirty-five, Sima Qian was sent westward on a military expedition against some "barbarian" tribes. That year, his father fell ill and could not attend the Imperial Feng Sacrifice. Suspecting his time was running out, he summoned his son back to complete the historical work he had begun. Sima Tan wanted to follow the ''Annals of Spring and Autumn'' - the first chronicle in the history of Chinese literature. Fuelled by his father's inspiration, Sima Qian started to compile ''Shiji'' in 109 BC. In 105 BC, Sima was among the scholars chosen to reform the calendar. As a senior imperial official, Sima was also in the position to offer counsel to the emperor on general affairs of state.

In 99 BC, Sima Qian got involved in the Li Ling Affair: and Li Guangli , two military officers who led a campaign against the Xiongnu in the north, were defeated and taken captive. Emperor Han Wudi attributed the defeat to Li Ling, and all the officials in the government condemned Li Ling for the defeat. Sima was the only person to defend Li Ling, who had never been his friend but whom he respected. Emperor Han Wudi interpreted Sima’s defence of Li Ling as an attack on his brother-in-law, who had also fought against the Xiongnu without much success, and sentenced Sima to death. At that time, execution could be either by money or castration. Since Sima did not have enough money to atone his "crime", he chose the latter and was then thrown into prison, where he endured three years. He described his pain thus: "When you see the jailer you abjectly touch the ground with your forehead. At the mere sight of his underlings you are seized with terror... Such ignominy can never be wiped away."

In 96 BC, on his release from prison, Sima chose to live on as a palace eunuch so as to complete his histories, rather than commit suicide as was expected of a gentleman-scholar. As Sima Qian's words explained:


Although the style and form of Chinese historical writings varied through the ages, ''Shiji'' has defined the quality and style from then onwards. Before Sima, histories were written as dynastic history; his idea of a general history affected later historiographers like Zhengqiao in writing Tongshi and Sima Guang in writing Zizhi Tongjian . The Chinese historical form was codified in the second dynastic history by Ban Gu’s , but historians regard Sima’s work as their model, which stands as the "official format" of the history of China.

In writing ''Shiji'', Sima initiated a new writing style by presenting history in a series of biographies. His work extends over 130 chapters — not in historical sequence, but was divided into particular subjects, including annals, chronicles, treatises — on music, ceremonies, calendars, religion, economics, and extended biographies. Sima's influence on the writing style of histories in other places is also evident in, for example ''The History of Korea''.

Literary figure

Sima's ''Shiji'' is respected as a model of biographical literature with high literary value, and still stands as a "textbook" for the study of classical Chinese worldwide. Sima’s writings were influential to Chinese writing, and become a role model for various types of prose within the neo-classical movement of the Tang- period. The great use of characterisation and plotting also influenced fictional writing, including the classical short stories of the middle and late medieval period , as well as the vernacular novel of the late imperial period.

The influence is derived from the following key elements of his writing:

;Skillful depiction
Sima portrayed many distinguished subjects based on true historical information. He would illustrate the response of the subject by placing him in a sharp contrast or juxtaposition, and then letting his words and deeds speak for him. The use of conversations in his writing also makes the descriptions more vibrant and realistic.

;Innovative approach
Sima's new approach in writing involved using language which was informal, humorous and full of variations. This was an innovative way of writing at that time and thus it has always been esteemed as the highest achievement of classical Chinese writing; even Lu Xun regarded ''Shiji'' as "the first and last great work by historians, poems of Qu Yuan without rhyme."
in his Hanwenxueshi Gangyao .

;Concise language
The style was simple, concise, fluent, and easy-to-read. Sima made his own comments while recounting the historical events. In writing the biographies in ''Shiji'', he avoided making general descriptions, and instead tried to catch the essence of the events. He would portray the subjects concretely, giving the readers vivid images with strong artistic appeal.

Other literary works

Apart from ''Shiji'', Sima had written eight rhapsodies , which are compiled in ''Hanshu''. Sima expressed his suffering during the Li Ling Affair and his perseverance in writing ''Shiji'' in these rhapsodies.


Sima and his father were both court astrologers 太史 in the . At that time, the astrologer had an important r?le, responsible for interpreting and predicting the course of government according to the influence of the Sun, Moon, and stars, as well as other phenomena like solar eclipses, earthquakes, etc.

Before compiling ''Shiji'', in 104 BC, Sima Qian created ''Taichuli'' on the basis of the Qin calendar. Taichuli was one of the most advanced calendars of the time. The creation of Taichuli was regarded as a revolution in the Chinese calendar tradition, as it stated that there were 365.25 days in a year and 29.53 days in a month.

Sima adopted a new method in sorting out the historical data and a new approach to writing historical records to establish the relationship between heavenly law and men. He analysed the records and sorted out those which could serve the purpose of ''Shiji''. He intended to find out the patterns and principles of the development of human history.

Sima emphasised the role of men in affecting the historical development of China. It is the first time in Chinese history that men were put under the spotlight in the analysis of historical development. He also denounced Emperor Han Wudi, who was superstitious, and prayed to gods extravagantly. In addition, he also proposed his historical perception that a country cannot escape from the fate of the cycle. With these in-depth analyses and insight, Sima set an example for writing journalistic articles in later generations.

Unlike ''Hanshu'', which was written under the supervision of the Imperial Dynasty, ''Shiji'' was a privately written historiography. Although Sima was the Prefect of the Grand Scribes in the Han government, he refused to write ''Shiji'' as an official historiography covering only those of high rank. The work also covers people of the lower classes and is therefore considered a "veritable record" of the darker side of the dynasty.

The minor planet 12620 Simaqian is named in his honour.

Books about Sima Qian in English

*Burton Watson ''Ssu-ma Ch'ien: Grand Historian of China''. New York: Columbia University Press.
*Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang ''Records of the Historians''. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.
* Qian, Sima and trans. Watson, Burton , ''Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty''. Research Center for Translation, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Columbia University Press.
* Qian, Sima and trans. Watson, Burton , ''Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty''. Research Center for Translation,

Kong Rong

Kong Rong was a bureaucrat, poet, and minor warlord during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China. He was also the 20th generation descendant of Confucius. As he was once the governor of Beihai Commandery , he was also known as Kong Beihai. He was defeated by Yuan Tan in 196 and escaped to the capital Xuchang, where he served effectively under Cao Cao, who held under his control. For being a political opponent of Cao Cao and humiliating him on multiple occasions, Kong Rong was eventually executed.

Famed for his quick wits and elaborate literary style, Kong Rong was ranked among the Seven Scholars of Jian'an , a group of representative literature of his time. However, most of his works had been lost. Those that survived can be found in compilations from the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty.

A well-known story commonly used to educate children even nowadays on the values of courtesy and fraternal love involves the four-year-old Kong Rong giving up the larger pears to his elder and younger brothers. This story is also mentioned in the ''Three Character Classic'', a text used for elementary education since the Song Dynasty.


Early life and career

Born in the former , Kong Rong showed his quick wits since a young age. According to the ''Epilogue of Han'' by Sima Biao , when he was a teenager, Kong Rong paid a visit to a renowned official named , who received no one but the very eminent and his own relatives. Claiming to be a relative, Kong Rong was brought to Li Ying, who asked how they were related. Kong Rong answered that his ancestor Confucius was a student and friend of Lao Tzu . Another guest present was not impressed, however, and commented that a person who showed great ability at a young age might not grow up to be especially capable. Kong Rong immediately retorted, saying, "I suppose you were really smart when you were young." Li Ying laughed at this and predicted the child would grow up to be a great man.

When he grew older, Kong Rong entered the bureaucratic system of the Eastern Han Dynasty. He was successively promoted and in 190 was appointed as the governor of , which situated in , the region most heavily infested by the Yellow Turban Rebellion of the 180s. Upon taking up office, Kong Rong concentrated on reconstruction of the city and establishment of schools. He promoted Confucian studies and provided proper burial for deceased refugees without family members to look after their funeral affairs. During this time, however, he was besieged by an army consisting of the remnant of Yellow Turban rebels led by Guan Hai . Kong Rong sent Taishi Ci to seek help from Liu Bei, who was the governor of at that time. Taishi Ci came back with 3,000 elite troops, whereupon the rebels dispersed. In 195, Kong Rong was further elevated to governor of the entire Qingzhou under a recommendation by Liu Bei.

Stay in Xuchang

In the next year, however, the powerful warlord Yuan Shao sent his eldest son Yuan Tan to take over Qingzhou. Kong Rong was defeated and his family was captured. He escaped to the capital Xuchang, where he was subsequently appointed as the Privy Treasurer . During his stay in Xuchang, Kong Rong often stood against policies of the chancellor Cao Cao, the de facto ruler who held Emperor Xian under his control. When Cao Cao imposed a ban on alcohol due to crop shortage, Kong Rong wrote to him retorting, "Since the kings and were overthrown due to their desire for women, why don't you ban marriage as well?" Kong Rong was then stripped of his official post but soon reinstated, albeit to a titular position. However, because of his hospitality, his house was always filled with guests.

During this time Kong Rong befriended Mi Heng, a talented man from . Despite being very learned, Mi Heng was unconventional and unconstrained. Upon reaching Xuchang, he wrote a prose putting down every eminent person there. When asked whom he would then consider talented, Mi Heng replied, "First there is Kong Rong, second there is ." Kong Rong tried to recommend him to Cao Cao, but Mi Heng first played a drum naked at a feast hosted by Cao Cao before many guests and then criticized Cao Cao loudly outside the latter's doors. Unwilling to kill Mi Heng himself, Cao Cao then sent the presumptuous man away to Liu Biao, governor of Jingzhou.

In 198, Cao Cao was gearing up for an encounter with Yuan Shao along the shores of the Yellow River. Kong Rong held a pessimistic stand, telling Cao Cao's advisor Xun Yu that Yuan Shao would be extremely difficult to defeat as he had ample food supplies, far superior troop strength and many capable and loyal subjects. However, Cao Cao took advantages of Yuan Shao's weaknesses and eventually defeated the latter at the decisive Battle of Guandu in 200. Yuan Shao died two years later, leaving his legacy to contest between his eldest and youngest sons Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang.

In 204, Cao Cao defeated the latter and conquered the city of , whereupon he married Lady Zhen to his own son, Cao Pi. When Kong Rong heard of this, he wrote Cao Cao a letter, saying, "When King Wu of Zhou defeated , he married Daji to the Duke of Zhou." Thinking that Kong Rong cited a classic text to praise him, Cao Cao asked about the source when he returned, but Kong Rong said, "Seeing what happened in our day, I thought it must be so then."


In 208, Kong Rong spoke ill of Cao Cao before an emissary from Sun Quan, a powerful warlord occupying southeast China. Cao Cao then sentenced him to death. According to the ''Spring and Autumn Annals of Wei'' by Sun Sheng , Kong Rong's two eight-year-old sons were playing a game of when their father was arrested. When others urged them to escape, they answered:

How could there be unbroken eggs under a toppled nest?

This later became a Chinese idiom , used to describe that when a group suffers, all individuals belonging to it will be affected. An alternate but similar story could also be found in ''A New Account of the Tales of the World'' by Liu Yiqing , which is written in a more elaborate style.

After Kong Rong was executed along with his entire family, his body was left in the streets. Not a single court official who used to be close to him dared to collect the corpses for burial except Zhi Xi , who fell over Kong Rong's body and wept, crying, "Now you have left me for death, who could I talk to that would understand me?"

Literary achievement

Although he did not meet with much success in politics, Kong Rong was undeniably a leading literary figure of his time, famed for his proses as well as poems. Along with six other poets of his time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the Jian'an style . Collectively they were known as the Seven Scholars of Jian'an . The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the ''Jian'an'' poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, while lament over the ephemerality of life was also a central theme of works from this period. In terms of the history of Chinese literature, the ''Jian'an'' poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

Kong Rong's outstanding literary skills, however, were often thought to be an elaborate but empty fa?ade not supported by sound reasons. Cao Pi commented in his ''A Discourse on Literature'' that Kong Rong's words cannot hold discourses and surpassed their reasoning, so much so that they almost seem like mere sarcasm or mockery.

After Kong Rong's death, Cao Pi collected twenty-five of his poems and included them in ''A Discourse on Literature''. However, most of these had been lost and only five survive till this day, out of which the authenticity of two has not been verified. Nine volumes containing Kong Rong's proses under the ''Book of Sui'' had also been lost. Those that survived could be found in compilations from the Ming and Qing Dynasty. These include several letters Kong Rong wrote to Cao Cao in criticism of the latter's policies.

Jia Yi

Jia Yi was a poet and statesman of the Han Dynasty.


Jia Yi was born in 201 BCE in Luoyang.

When he reached the age of 18, he was already well known in his county for his ability in poems and essay-writing, and was referred to as "Jia sheng", i.e. "Student Jia". Soon, he was recommended by ''Wu Gong'' to Emperor Wen of Han. He soon achieved a high status but was repulsed by older, high-ranking officials at the time such as ''Zhou Bo'' and ''Guan Ying'' .

Jia Yi made many suggestions to Emperor Wen about governing his empire. As an advocate of reforms, attacking Xiongnu and lessening the power of local governors, he made enemies at court and lost his position. He became the tutor to the King of Changsha, a place he disliked as he feared its humid climate would lead to an early death. When passing the Xiang river, he wrote several poems grieving for his sad fate and compared himself with Qu Yuan, as he believed he was sent into exile. Changsha was known as "The home of Qu and Jia " because of their influence.

In 173 BC, he was recalled by the emperor to the capital Luoyang, allegedly to be asked about matters of mysticism by Emperor Wen, and was later made a tutor of his youngest son, Prince Huai of Liang , true name Liu Yi .

In 169 BC, Prince Huai of Liang who he tutors fell off a horse and died. The following year Jia committed suicide, allegedly out of feelings of responsibility for the incident.


He is known for his '''' , poems in a mixed prose and poetry style that was popular in the Han Dynasty, and for his political works such as Guo Qin Lun and Zhi'An Ce , the latter mostly lost. Since he wrote favorably of social and ethical ideas attributed to Confucius and wrote an essay focused on the failings of the -based Qin Dynasty , he was classified by other scholars in the Han Dynasty .

Cui Yuan (Han Dynasty)

Cui Yuan , Ziyu, was a minor military officer, mathematician, scholar, noted calligrapher, poet, and temporary fugitive of the Han Dynasty in China. He is known for his many written works, although in political life he became involved in court intrigues which damaged his career.


Cui Yuan was born in the commandery of Lecheng in what is now modern Hebei province. He was the son of Cui Yin, who died while Yuan was in his teens. After years of study, he ventured to the Han capital at Luoyang when he was eighteen. There he studied under Jia Kui and befriended notable persons such as the scholar and commentator Ma Rong and the prolific inventor, mathematician, scientist, and official Zhang Heng . Cui gained a reputation as a with his work on reforming the Chinese calendar and as a scholar following his commentary on the ''Book of Changes''.

Consort Ban

Consort Ban called Ban Jieyu in Chinese, was a Chinese scholar and during the Western Han Dynasty .

She was a concubine of . She bore him two sons, but both died in infancy. Once she declined an invitation to ride in a palanquin because she feared to distract him from matters of state. She was also renowned as a great scholar, able to recite poems from the Shi Jing.

Because neither the nor Consort Ban produced him an heir, the encouraged him to take more concubines. Around 19 BC, however, Emperor Cheng took a liking to the dancing girl and her sister . They were both made concubines and he favored them over Empress Xu and Consort Ban. In 18 BC both the Empress and Consort Ban were accused of witchcraft. Empress Xu was put under house arrest away from court, but Consort Ban pleaded her case and was allowed to stay at court. She then choose to become a lady in waiting to the Empress Dowager, instead of remaining consort to the Emperor.

Consort Ban once saved her brother Ban Zhi from a charge of treason. Ban Zhi who was to become the father of the historian Ban Biao. He in turn had a son and a daughter, Ban Gu and Ban Zhao, who would complete their father's historic work Book of Han.

In her most famous poem, she compares herself to an autumn fan that is discarded. It deals with her sorrow at having been abandoned by the Emperor and is written in the style of poetry.

Her poems were read for many centuries after her death.

Cao Zhi

Cao Zhi was a poet during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period. His poetry style, greatly revered during the and Southern and Northern Dynasties, came to be known as the ''jian'an'' style.

Cao Zhi was also the son of the powerful warlord Cao Cao. Together with his elder brother Cao Pi, they were the strongest contestants for their father's position. Cao Pi eventually succeeded Cao Cao in 220 and within a year declared himself the first emperor of the Kingdom of Wei. Like many powerful families, tension among brothers was high. In his later life, Cao Zhi was not allowed to meddle in politics, despite his many petitions to seek office.


Born in 192, Cao Zhi was the third son of the powerful warlord Cao Cao and . According to the '''', Cao Zhi could recite the ''Shi Jing'', ''Analects'' and more than ten thousand verses worth of poems before he even turned twenty. His literary talent made him a favorite son of Cao Cao in the early stage of his life.

However, Cao Zhi was an impetuous man with little self-discipline. He was also a heavy drinker. On the other hand, his elder brother Cao Pi was a shrewd man who knew how to feign emotions at the right times. Cao Pi also enjoyed a much closer relationship to the servants and subjects around Cao Cao, and they spoke well of him. In 217, Cao Cao eventually picked Cao Pi to succeed himself. This further aggravated Cao Zhi's already eccentric behavior. He once rode his chariot along the road reserved for the emperor and through the front gate of the palace. This infuriated his father, who sentenced the chariot driver to death.

Having chosen a successor, Cao Cao took measures to emasculate other contestants. He did this by executing , a chief advisor to Cao Zhi. This greatly unsettled Cao Zhi, but failed to jolt him back to his senses. On the contrary, he sank further into his drunken habits. In 219, Cao Cao's cousin and leading general Cao Ren was besieged at the fortress at Fancheng by the Shu general, Guan Yu. Cao Cao named Cao Zhi to lead a relief force to the rescue, in the hope that the task would instill into the latter a sense of responsibility. However, Cao Zhi was so drunk that he could not come forth to take the order. Cao Cao then gave up on this son.

Within months, Cao Cao died. One of the first things Cao Pi did was to do away with Ding Yi and , two firm supporters of Cao Zhi. He also sent Cao Zhi, along with the other brothers, away from the capital and prohibited them from taking part in central political issues.

Prospects for Cao Zhi did not improve after Cao Pi died in 226. He wrote to the second Wei emperor Cao Rui many times, seeking a position to apply his talents. In 232, he even sought a private meeting with Cao Rui to discuss politics. However, Cao Rui probably still considered him a threat to the throne and declined all the offers. Severely depressed by the setbacks, Cao Zhi soon died of illness, leaving behind instructions for a simple burial.


Despite his failure in politics, Cao Zhi was hailed as one of the representatives of the poetic style of his time, together with his father Cao Cao, his elder brother Cao Pi and several other poets. Their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the ''jian'an'' style . The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the ''jian'an'' poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, while lament over the ephemerality of life was also a central theme of works from this period. In terms of the history of Chinese literature, the ''jian'an'' poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

Although ''jian'an'' refers to the time between 196 and 220, Cao Zhi's poems could in fact be categorized into two periods, with the year 220 as the watershed. The earlier period consisted of poems that expressed his ambitions. These poems were optimistic and romantic in nature. On the other hand, his setbacks in political pursuits after the death of his father in 220 gave rise to the grievous tone of his later works.

More than ninety poems by Cao Zhi remain today, more than sixty of which are five-character poems . These are held in high esteem for their significant influence over the development of five-character poetry in later ages. The most complete collection of Cao Zhi's poems and other literary works is ''Chen Si Wang Ji'' , compiled during the Ming Dynasty. One of Cao Zhi's most celebrated poems is ''On the White Horse''. Written in the early years of his life, the poem portrayed a young warrior who answered fearlessly to the need of his country and reflected Cao Zhi's own aspiration to contribute to his times.

On the White Horse


A white horse, in a halter of gold,

Galloping swiftly to the northwest.


Ask which family's son is the rider –

A noble knight, who hails from You and Bing.


He left his home in early youth, and now,

His name is known throughout the deserts.


Morning and evening he clutches his bow;

How many arrows hang at his side!


He pulls his bow -- the left-hand target is pierced,

He shoots at the right and cuts it through.


Upwards his arrows seek the flying monkeys,

Downward they destroy another object.


His dexterity surpasses that of monkeys,

His courage that of leopard or dragon.


Alarms are heard from the frontier!

Northern tribesmen pour into the country in their thousands.


Letters are sent from the north, and

Reining his horse he clambers up the hill.


He charges Hun soldiers to the right;

Looking left he assaults the Xianbei.


He's staked himself on the edge of his sword;

How can he treasure his life?


Even his father and mother he puts at the back of his mind,

Let alone his children and wife.


If his name is to enter the roll of the heroes,

He can't be concerned about personal matters.


Giving up his life for the sake of his country,

He looks toward death as a journey home...


''Translation by Wu Fusheng and Gradham Hartill''

Ironically, Cao Zhi's most famous poem was found in the historical novel ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' by Luo Guanzhong. Often mistitled ''The Quatrain of Seven Steps'' after a real poem by Cao Zhi, it was presented without a title but with slight variations in the novel. Furthermore, Cao Zhi was said to have formulated the poem without having to think twice.

Cao Zhi in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'', a historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, was a romanticization of the events that occurred before and during the Three Kingdoms period. Exploiting the complicated relationship among the Cao Cao's sons, especially Cao Pi and Cao Zhi, Luo Guanzhong was able to create a palace scenario where the elder brother, having succeeded his father, tried to do away with his younger brother.

After the death of Cao Cao, Cao Zhi failed to turn up for the funeral. Men sent by Cao Pi found Cao Zhi drunk in his own house. Cao Zhi was then bound and brought to Cao Pi. When Empress Bian, their common birth mother, heard of this, she went to Cao Pi and pleaded for the life of her younger son. Cao Pi agreed.

However, Cao Pi's Chief Secretary Hua Xin then convinced him to put Cao Zhi's literary talent to a test. If Cao Zhi failed the test, it would be excuse enough to put him to death, Hua Xin suggested.

Cao Pi agreed and held audience with Cao Zhi, who in great trepidation bowed low and confessed his faults. On the wall there was a painting of two oxen fighting, one of which was falling into a well. Cao Pi told his brother to make a poem based on the painting after walking seven paces. However, the poem was not to contain explicit reference to the subjects of the drawing.

Cao Zhi took seven paces as instructed, and the poem was already formulated in his heart. He then recited:

Two butcher's victims lowing walked along,

Each head bore cuving bones, a sturdy pair.


They met just by a hillock, both were strong,

Each would avoid a pit newly-dug there.


They fought unequal battle, for at length

One lay below a gory mess, inert.


'Twas not that they were of unequal strength –

Though wrathful both, one did not strength exert.


''Translation by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor''

However, Cao Pi was not satisfied. He then bade Cao Zhi make another poem on the spot based on their fraternal relationship, without using the word "brother". Not taking a second to think, Cao Zhi recited:

They were boiling beans on a beanstalk fire,

Came a plaintive voice from the pot.


"O why, since we sprang from the selfsame root,

Should you kill me with anger hot?"


''Translation by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor''

Having heard this, Cao Pi was moved to tears. He then let his brother go after merely degrading the peerage of the latter as a punishment.

The Cao clan

:''For a complete list, see Cao Cao.''

Direct descendant

*Cao Zhi

Immediate family

*Cao Cao
**Cao Ang
**Cao Pi
***Cao Rui
****Cao Fang
*****Cao Mao
******Cao Huan
**Cao Zhang
**Cao Xiong
**Cao Chong

Extended family

*Cao Ren
*Cao Chun
*Cao Xiu
*Cao Zhen
**Cao Shuang

Modern references

In the 2002 TVB produced serial, Where the Legend Begins 洛神, Cao Zhi is portrayed as the protagonist and shown to be a man of high intelligence and compassion. Hong Kong actor Steven Ma acted out the role of Cao Zhi in the series.

Cao Cao

Cáo Cāo was a regional warlord and the penultimate of the Eastern Han Dynasty who rose to great power during its final years in ancient China. As one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period, he laid the foundations for what was to become the Kingdom of Wei and was posthumously titled Emperor Wu of Wei . Although often portrayed as a cruel and merciless tyrant, Cao Cao has also been praised as a brilliant ruler and military genius who treated his officers like his family. He was also skilled in poetry and the martial arts, and wrote many war journals.


Early life

Cao Cao was born in the county of Qiao in 155. His father Cao Song was a foster son of Cao Teng, who in turn was one of the favorite eunuchs of . Some historical records, including ''Biography of Cao Man'', claim that Cao Song was originally surnamed Xiahou . In the fictionalized ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'', Cao Cao's father was originally a Xiahou and was adopted into the Cao family.

Cao Cao was known for his craftiness as a young man. According to the ''Biography of Cao Man'', Cao Cao's uncle often complained to Cao Song regarding Cao Cao's childhood indulgence in hunting and music with Yuan Shao. To counter this, Cao Cao one day feigned a fit before his uncle, who hurriedly informed Cao Song. Cao Song rushed out to see his son, who then acted normally. When asked, Cao Cao replied, "I have never had such illness, but I lost the love of my uncle, and therefore he had deceived you." Henceforth, Cao Song ceased to believe the words of his brother regarding Cao Cao, and thus Cao Cao became even more blatant in his wayward pursuits.

At that time, there was a man living in named Xu Shao who was famed for his ability to evaluate one's potentials and talents. Cao Cao paid him a visit in hopes of receiving the evaluation that will earn him some reputation politically. Originally Xu Shao pondered and refused to make a statement; however, under persistent questioning, he finally said, "You would be a capable minister in peaceful times and an unscrupulous hero in chaotic times." Cao Cao took this as a compliment and was very pleased as it was recorded that he "laughs and leaves" after receiving said comment. It is worth noting that there are two other versions of the comment in other unofficial historical records: "capable minister in peaceful times, righteous hero in chaotic times" and "sinister foe in peaceful times, great hero in chaotic times."

At twenty, Cao Cao was recommended to be a district captain of Luoyang. Upon taking up the post, Cao Cao placed rows of multicolored staffs outside his office and ordered his deputies to flog those who violated the law, regardless of their status. An uncle of Jian Shuo, one of the most powerful and influential eunuchs under , was once caught walking in the city beyond the evening curfew hour by Cao Cao and given his fair share of flogging. This prompted Jian Shuo and other higher authorities to "promote" Cao Cao to another position outside the imperial capital to remove his management.

When the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in 184 Cao Cao was recalled to Luoyang and promoted to a captain of the cavalry and sent to to put down the rebels there. He was successful in his military exploits and was further promoted to Governor of Dong Commandery .

Alliance against Dong Zhuo

In 189, Emperor Ling died and was succeeded by his eldest son, though it was the empress dowager and the eunuchs who held true power. The two most powerful generals of that time, He Jin and Yuan Shao, plotted to eliminate the clan of influential eunuchs. He Jin summoned Dong Zhuo, governor of , to lead his army into the capital Luoyang to lay pressure on the empress dowager, despite numerous objections on account of Dong Zhuo's reputation and personality. Before Dong Zhuo arrived, however, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs and Luoyang fell into chaos as the supporters of Yuan Shao battled the army of Eunuchs. Dong Zhuo's elite army, assigned to him due to the importance of his position as safeguard of the border, easily rid the palace grounds of opposition and deposed the emperor and placed in the throne the puppet . While Dong Zhuo did desire personal power with this opportunity, he did want to restore the Han Dynasty and resolve the political conflicts. From a previous encounter, he deemed that Emperor Xian was more capable than the original puppet Emperor.

After lying to Wang Yun and others about assassinating Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao left Luoyang for Chenliu , where he raised his own troops. The next year, regional warlords combined their forces under Yuan Shao against Dong Zhuo. Cao Cao joined their cause. China fell into civil war when Dong Zhuo's own foster son, Lü Bu, eventually killed him in 192.

Securing the emperor

Through short-term and regional-scale wars, Cao Cao continued to expand his power.

In 196, Cao Cao found Emperor Xian and convinced him to move the capital to Xuchang as per the suggestion from Xun Yu and other advisors , and he was proclaimed Chancellor. Cao Cao was then instated as the Great General and Marquis of Wuping , though both titles had little practical implication. While some viewed the Emperor as a puppet under Cao Cao's power, Cao Cao himself adhered to a strict personal rule to his death that he would not usurp the throne. Later in his life, when he was approached by his advisors to take over the Han Dynasty and start a new rule, he replied, "If heaven bestows such fate on me, let me be the King Wen of Zhou."

To maintain a good relationship with Yuan Shao, who had become the most powerful warlord in China when he united the northern four provinces, Cao Cao lobbied to have Yuan Shao named Chief Advisor . This however had the exact opposite effect, as Yuan Shao believed that Cao Cao was trying to humiliate him after having the Emperor's support, since Chief Advisor technically ranked lower than General-in-Chief, and thus Yuan Shao refused to accept the title. To pacify Yuan Shao, Cao Cao offered his own position, General-in-Chief, to Yuan Shao, while taking Chief Advisor role himself. While this temporarily resolved the conflict, it was nevertheless the catalyst for the Battle of Guandu later.

Uniting the North

In 200, Yuan Shao amassed more than 100,000 troops and marched southwards on Xuchang in the name of rescuing the emperor. Cao Cao gathered 20,000 men in , a strategic point on the shore of the Yellow River. The two armies come to a standstill as neither side was able to make much progress. Cao Cao's lack of men did not allow him to make significant attacks, and the pride of Yuan Shao forced him to target Cao Cao's force head-on. Despite Yuan Shao's overwhelming advantage in terms of manpower, Cao Cao's location and his own indecisive leadership made him unable to make full use of his resources.

Besides the middle battleground of Guandu, two lines of battle were present. The eastern line with Yuan Tan of Yuan Shao's army versus Xang Ba of Cao Cao's army was a one-sided battle in favor of Cao Cao, as Yuan Tan's own questionable leadership was no match for Xang Ba's local knowledge of the landscape and hit-and-run tactics. To the western side, Yuan Shao's cousin, Gao Gan, performed much better against Cao Cao's army and forced several reinforcements from Cao Cao's main camp to maintain the western battle. Liu Bei, who was at the time a guest in Yuan Shao's army, also suggested to induce uprising in the back of Cao Cao's lands as there were many connections to the Yuan family and their subordinates. The tactic was successful at first, but quickly countered by Man Chong's diplomatic skill. Man Chong had been placed as an official there for this specific reason, as Cao Cao had foreseen the situation prior to the battle.

Finally, with the help of a defector from Yuan Shao's army, Xu You, who informed Cao Cao of the location of Yuan Shao's army supply, Cao Cao broke the standstill and sent a special task force to burn all the supplies of Yuan Shao's army and won a decisive and seemingly impossible victory. Yuan Shao fell ill and died shortly after returning from the defeat, leaving his legacy to two of his sons – the eldest son, Yuan Tan and the youngest son, Yuan Shang . As he had designated the youngest son, Yuan Shang, as his successor, rather than the eldest as tradition dictated, the two brothers consistently feuded against each other, as they fought Cao Cao. Because of their internal divisions, Cao Cao was easily able to defeat them by using their differences to his advantage. Henceforth Cao Cao assumed effective rule over all of northern China. He sent armies further out and extended his control past the into northern Korea, and southward to the Han River.

However, Cao Cao's attempt to extend his domination south of the Yangtze River was unsuccessful. He received an initial great success when Liu Biao, ruler of Jing Zhou, died, and his successor, Liu Zong surrendered to Cao Cao without resistance. Delighted by this turn-out he pressed on and hoped the same would happen despite the objections by his military advisors. His forces were then defeated by the first coalition of his archrivals Liu Bei and Sun Quan at the in 208.

The three kingdoms

In 213, Cao Cao was titled Duke of Wei , given the nine bestowments and given a fief of ten cities under his domain, known as the State of Wei. In 216, Cao Cao was promoted to Prince/King of Wei . Over the years, Cao Cao, as well as Liu Bei and Sun Quan, continued to consolidate their power in their respective regions. Through many wars, China became divided into three powers – Wei, Shu and Wu, which fought sporadic battles among themselves without the balance tipping significantly in anyone's favor.

In 220, Cao Cao died in Luoyang at the age of 65, failing to unify China under his rule. His will instructed that he be buried in everyday clothes and without burial artifacts, and that his subjects on duty at the frontier were to stay in their posts and not attend the funeral as, in his own words, "the country is still unstable".

His eldest surviving son Cao Pi succeeded him. Within a year, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate and proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Kingdom of Wei. Cao Cao was then posthumously titled .

Major battles

Battle of Guandu

In the spring of 200, Yuan Shao , the most powerful warlord of the north, amassed more than 100,000 troops and marched from on Xuchang. To defend against the invasion, Cao Cao placed 20,000 men at Guandu , a strategic landing point on the shore of the Yellow River which Yuan Shao's troops had to secure en route Xuchang .

With a few diversionary tactics, Cao Cao managed to disorient Yuan Shao's troops as well as kill two of Yuan Shao's most capable generals, Yan Liang and Wen Chou. The morale of Yuan Shao's troops suffered a further blow when Cao Cao launched a stealth attack on the former's food store, Wuchao. Many more of Yuan Shao's men surrendered or deserted than were killed during the ensuing battle. When Yuan Shao eventually retreated back to Ye in the winter of 201, he did so with little more than 800 light cavalry.

The Battle of Guandu shifted the balance of power in northern China. Yuan Shao died shortly after his retreat and his two sons were soon defeated by Cao Cao further in the northern regions of Liaodong . Since then, Cao Cao's dominance in the entirety of northern China was never seriously challenged. The battle has also been studied by military strategists ever since as a classic example of winning against an enemy with far superior numbers.

Battle of Red Cliffs

The Battle of Chibi was another classic battle where the vastly outnumbered emerged as victor through strategy. In this battle, however, Cao Cao was on the losing end.

In the winter of 208, Liu Bei and Sun Quan – two warlords who later founded the kingdoms of and respectively – formed their first coalition against the southward expansion of Cao Cao. The two sides confronted at the Red Cliffs . Cao Cao boasted 830,000 men , while the Liu-Sun coalition at best had 50,000 troops.

However, Cao Cao's men, mostly from the north, were ill-suited to the southern climate and naval warfare, and thus entered the battle with a disadvantage. Furthermore, a plague that broke out undermined the strength of Cao Cao's army. The decision by Zhou Yu, military advisor to Sun Quan, to use fire also worked effectively against Cao Cao's vessels, which were chained together and thus allowed the fires to quickly spread. A majority of Cao Cao's troops were either burnt to death or drowned. Those who tried to retreat to the near bank were ambushed and annihilated by enemy skirmishers. Cao Cao himself barely escaped the encounter.

Other contributions

Agriculture and education

While waging military campaigns against his enemies, Cao Cao did not forget the basis of society – agriculture and education.

In 194, a locust plague caused a major famine across China. According to the ''Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms'', the people ate each other out of desperation. Without food, many armies were defeated even without fighting. From this experience, Cao Cao saw the importance of an ample food supply in building a strong military. He began a series of agricultural programs in cities such as Xuchang and Chenliu. Refugees were recruited and given wastelands to cultivate. Later, encampments not faced with imminent danger of war were also made to farm. This system was continued and spread to all regions under Cao Cao as his realm expanded. Although Cao Cao's primary intention was to build a powerful army, the agricultural program also improved the living standards of the people, especially war refugees.

By 203, Cao Cao had eliminated most of Yuan Shao's force. This afforded him more attention on the constructional works within his realm. In autumn of that year, Cao Cao passed an order decreeing the promotion of education throughout the counties and cities within his jurisdiction. An official in charge of education matters was assigned to each county with at least 500 households. Youngsters with potential and talents were selected to undergo schooling. This prevented a lapse in the output of intellectuals in those warring years and, in Cao Cao's words, would benefit the people.


Cao Cao was also an established poet. Although few of his works remain today, his verses, unpretentious yet profound, contributed to reshaping the poetry style of his time. Together with his sons Cao Pi and Cao Zhi, they are collectively known as the "Three Cao" in poetry. Along with several other poets of the time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the ''jian'an'' style .

The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the ''jian'an'' poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, which frequently lament over the ephemerality of life. In the history of Chinese literature, the ''jian'an'' poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

One of Cao Cao's most celebrated poems, written in the late years of his life, is ''Though the Tortoise Lives Long'' .

Cao Cao in ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms''

The ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'', a historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, was a romanticization of the events that occurred during the Three Kingdoms period. While staying true to history most of the time, the ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' inevitably gave Cao Cao a certain degree of dramatic make-up, in such a tone so as to suggest him as a cruel and suspicious character. On several occasions, Luo Guanzhong even made up fictional or semi-fictional events involving Cao Cao. These include:

Escape from Dong Zhuo

While in reality Cao Cao did leave Dong Zhuo , the tyrannical warlord who held the hostage in 190 to form his own army, the ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' went a step further to describe Cao Cao's attempted assassination of the latter:

Since Dong Zhuo deposed the eldest son of the late and placed in the throne , his tyrannical behavior had angered many court officials. One of the officials, Wang Yun , held a banquet one night. Halfway through the banquet, Wang Yun began to cry at the cruel deeds of Dong Zhuo. His colleagues, feeling the same anguish, joined him.

Cao Cao, however, laughed and said, "All the officials of the court – crying from dusk till dawn and dawn till dusk – could you cry Dong Zhuo to his death?" He then borrowed from Wang Yun the Seven Gem Sword with the promise that he would personally assassinate Dong Zhuo.

The next day, Cao Cao brought the precious sword along to see Dong Zhuo. Having much trust in Cao Cao, Dong Zhuo received the guest in his bedroom. Lü Bu, Dong Zhuo's foster son, left the room for the stable to select a fast horse for Cao Cao, who complained about his slow ride.

When Dong Zhuo faced away, Cao Cao prepared to unsheathe the sword. However, Dong Zhuo saw the movement in the mirror and hastily turned to question Cao Cao's intention. At this time, Lü Bu had also returned. In his desperation, Cao Cao knelt and pretended that he wanted to present the sword to Dong Zhuo. He then rode away with the excuse of trying out the new horse, and headed straight out of the capital before Dong Zhuo, who grew heavily suspicious, could capture him.

Following the escape from Dong Zhuo is a legendary episode aimed at illustrating Cao Cao's near-Machiavellian tendencies for later characterizations of him as a villain. Though never exactly proven, it is said that Cao Cao escaped with one retainer, Chen Gong to the home of an old friend of his, perhaps his father's sworn brother, from whom he was able to beg shelter. He promised to protect him, and then set out to gather materials for an evening feast. Cao Cao and Chen Gong hid themselves in a back room, where they chanced to overhear a discussion by some servants involving some sort of murder plot. Assuming that his father's sworn brother had deceived him and intended to hand his corpse to Dong Zhuo for a reward, Cao Cao and Chen Gong burst in on the servants and proceeded to massacre the entire household, including the wife and children of his friend, whereupon he discovered that the "murder" he overheard pertained not to him, but to a pig intended as the centerpiece of the feast.

Cao Cao and Chen Gong immediately fled but encountered his father's sworn brother returning from his errand at the house's front gate. When questioned, Cao Cao gave him the excuse of fear of having been followed as the reason for his abrupt departure, and when he turned to continue toward the house, Cao Cao again unsheathed his sword and stabbed him through the back. When questioned by Chen Gong as to the reason for such a horrible action, Cao Cao explained that if he had returned to the house and see what had been done, he would have immediately run to the authorities desiring vengeance for his family, and their plight would be even more precarious than it already was. Cao Cao then lifted high his bloody sword and made the quote that would forever secure his place as the foremost villain in Chinese popular literature: ''Ningjiao wo fu tianxia ren, xiujiao tianxia ren fu wo'' , meaning "Better that I should wrong the world than that the world should wrong me."

Escape through Huarong Trail

After the fire started burning at the , Cao Cao gathered all the men he could and escaped towards Jiangling, taking the shortcut through Huarong Trail. On top of the huge defeat and humiliation Cao Cao suffered, Luo Guanzhong decided to add one more pinch of salt to the getaway:

During his perilous escape back to Jiangling, Cao Cao came to a fork in the road. Columns of smoke were seen rising from the narrower path. Cao Cao judged that the smoke was a trick by the enemy to divert him to the main road, where an ambush must have been laid. He then led his men towards the narrow path – the Huarong Trail.

The smoke was indeed a trick by Zhuge Liang, military advisor to Liu Bei. Grasping Cao Cao's psychology exactly, however, Zhuge Liang actually meant to direct him to Huarong Trail, where Guan Yu with 500 troops sat waiting. Upon being cut off, Cao Cao rode forward and pled to Guan Yu to remember kindness of the former days. Seeing the plight of the defeated men and recalling the former favors he received from Cao Cao, Guan Yu then allowed the enemy to pass through without challenge, risking his own life for disobeying military orders.

However, in the official history, Cao Cao escaped through a muddy road, with a lot of shrubs around. Shortly after he escaped, Liu Bei's troops then came to the road and set fire to it. Cao Cao therefore teased him as "clever, but a little slow".

Strict disciplinarian

Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Cao Cao stating that he was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in accordance with his own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemned himself to death for having allowed his horse to stray into a field of corn. However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice by cutting off his hair. "When you lay down a law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed, the offender must be put to death."

Death of Cao Cao and Hua Tuo

In 220, Cao Cao died in Luoyang due to an unrecorded illness. Legends had many explanations for the cause of his death, most of which were wrought with superstitions. The ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' included some of these legends, as well as Luo Guanzhong's own story about the involvement of Hua Tuo, a renowned Chinese physician.

When Cao Cao started complaining about splitting headaches during the last days of his life, his subjects recommended Hua Tuo, a physician whose skills were said to parallel the deities. Upon examination, Hua Tuo diagnosed Cao Cao's illness to be a type of rheumatism within the skull. He suggested giving Cao Cao a dose of hashish and then splitting open his skull with a sharp axe to extract the pus within.

However, due to an earlier incident with another physician who attempted to take Cao Cao's life, Cao Cao grew very suspicious of any physician, as Cao Cao was the target of many plots against his life, including one by Dong Cheng, a relative of the Emperor. Cao Cao believed Hua Tuo intended to kill him to avenge the death of Guan Yu. He then threw Hua Tuo into jail, where the renowned physician died a few days later. Without proper treatment, Cao Cao soon died as well. Some believe to be the doings of a curse.

Cultural references

While historical records indicate Cao Cao as a brilliant ruler, he was represented as a cunning and deceitful man in Chinese opera, where the character of Cao Cao is given a white facial makeup to reflect his treacherous personality. When writing the ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'', Luo Guanzhong took much of his inspiration from the opera. As a result, such unscrupulous depiction of Cao Cao had become much more popular among the common people than the real Cao Cao himself.

As the ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' has been adapted to modern forms of entertainment, so has its portrayal of Cao Cao. Given the source material these adaptations are founded on, Cao Cao continues to be characterised as a prominent villain.

Through to modern times, the equivalent of the idiom "speak of the Devil" is "說曹操,曹操到" , which means "Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives."

Video games have had a powerful impact on modern perception of Cao Cao as an individual, politician and warlord, providing many outside of Asia with their first introduction to Cao Cao and his milieu. In particular, video game developer Koei has capitalised on Three Kingdoms-related media, having produced many titles prominently featuring Cao Cao.

Two of Koei's most popular releases featuring Cao Cao are the '''' strategy series and the best selling ''Dynasty Warriors'' tactical-action series. ''Warriors Orochi'', a spin-off title based within the ''Dynasty Warriors'' and ''Samurai Warriors'' universes, also features Cao Cao. In it, Wei believes he is dead, until he is later discovered only to join the coalition army led by Cao Pi. He is also the main villain in the game Kessen 2, but later in the game, he turns out good.

Singaporean pop musician JJ Lin released an album entitled '''' in 2006. The speaks of Cao Cao's life.

Cao Cao was played by Zhang Fengyi in the 2008 movie ''Red Cliff'', directed by John Woo.

The Cao clan

Direct male descendants

With Princess Bian

*Cao Pi ?
**Cao Rui
***Cao Fang
****Cao Mao
*****Cao Huan
*Cao Zhang
**Cao Kai
*Cao Zhi
*Cao Xiong
**Cao Bin

With Lady Liu

*Cao Ang
**Cao Wan
***Cao Lian
*Cao Shuo
**Cao Qian
***Cao Yan

With Lady Huan

*Cao Chong
**Cao Cong
*Cao Ju
*Cao Yu

With Lady Du

*Cao Lin
**Cao Wei
*Cao Gun
**Cao Fu

With Lady Qin

*Cao Xuan
**Cao Heng
*Cao Jun
**Cao Ao

With Lady Yin

*Cao Ju
**Cao Min
***Cao Kun

With other consorts

*Cao Gan
*Cao Shang
*Cao Biao
**Cao Jia
*Cao Qin
*Cao Cheng
*Cao Zheng
**Cao Fan
**Cao Chan
*Cao Jing
*Cao Jun
**Cao Kang
***Cao Chen
*Cao Ji
*Cao Hui
**Cao Xi
*Cao Mao

Extended family

*Cao Ren Younger cousin
*Cao Tai
*Cao Chu
*Cao Kai
*Cao Fan
*Cao Chun Younger cousin
*Cao Yan
*Cao Liang
**Cao Hong Younger cousin
**Cao Xiu Distant nephew
*Cao Zhao
**Cao Zhen Distant nephew
**Cao Shuang
*Cao Xi
*Cao Xun
*Cao Ze
*Cao Yan
*Xiahou Dun cousin
*Cao Ai Distant nephew
**Cao Anmin Nephew
*Xiahou Yuan cousin

Cai Wenji

Cai Wenji , also known as Cai Yan, was a Han Dynasty poet and composer. She was the daughter of Cai Yong, also a musician. Her courtesy name was originally Zhaoji, but it was changed to Wenji during the to avoid a with Sima Zhao.

She spent part of her life as a prisoner of the Xiongnu tribe, until Cao Cao paid a heavy sum to redeem her in 207.


Cai Wenji was born shortly before 178 in Yu Perfecture , Chenliu Commandery , in what is now Qi County, Kaifeng, Henan. Cai Wenji was married at the age of fifteen to a Wei Zhongdao in 192, who died shortly after without any offspring. In 195, the chaos after Dong Zhuo's death brought Xiongnu nomads into the Chinese capital and Cai Wenji was taken as prisoner to the northerlands. During her captivity, she became the wife of the Xiongnu chieftain Liu Bao , and bore him two sons. It was not until twelve years later that Cao Cao, the new , ransomed her in the name of her father. When Cai Wenji returned to her homeland, she left her children behind in the frontier.

She married again, this time to a government official named Dong Si . However, Dong Si committed a crime sentencable to death, and Cai Wenji went to Cao Cao to plea for her husband's acquittal. At the time, Cao Cao was having a banquet to entertain guests, who were stirred by Cai Wenji's distressed appearance and behaviour. Touched by such an emotional plea, Cao Cao pardoned Dong Si.

Cai Wenji's father Cai Yong was an established writer, but his works were lost in the ravages of war. At Cao Cao's request, Cai Wenji was able to recite from memory up to four hundred out of four thousand of her father's lost works.
Later in her life, she wrote two poems describing her turbulent years. Her year of death is unknown.


Cai Wenji, like her father, was an established calligrapher of her time, and her works were often praised along with her father's. Her poems were noted for their sorrowful tone, parallel to her hard life. The famous guqin piece ''Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute'' is traditionally attributed to her, although the authorship is a perennial issue for scholarly debate. The other two poems, both named "Poem of Sorrow and Anger" , were known to be by her own hand.

Below is an excerpt of the "Poem of Sorrow and Anger" in five-character form :


The stories of Cai Wenji reverberates primarily with the feeling of sorrow, and inspires later artists to keep portraying her past. Her return was the subject of the painting ''Cai Wenji Returns to Her Homeland'' by Zhang Yu, which is now stored in the Long Corridor in the Old Summer Palace. Modern Chinese writer Guo Moruo wrote a play on her life, and there also exists a Beijing opera rendition. Also, a crater on Venus was named CaiWenji, after her name.

Below is a series of eighteen images of Cai Wenji through the eyes of the contemporary artist Wang Miaoqing :