Battle at Red Cliffs


Caroline Young, artwork and text

From “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”

In 208 CE, the weakened Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE) was ruled by a puppet emperor, Xian.

The true power lay in the hands of Cao Cao, who declared himself prime minister of the kingdom.

In southern China, Liu Bei of Shu Han controlled the western region, while Sun Quan, King of Wu, ruled the eastern lands.

On the pretext of reuniting China, Cao Cao took an army of 800,000 soldiers to put down the “rebels”.

Liu and Sun formed an uneasy alliance to repel the northerners. Knowing they had less than one tenth of Cao Cao’s manpower, they decided to use their naval superiority and their knowledge of local winter storms to outwit the Han army.

With the shrewd leadership of Zhou Yu, the viceroy of Wu, and the brilliant strategies of the cunning Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei’s trusted advisor, the underdogs handed Cao Cao a decisive defeat at Red Cliffs.

Eastern Han fell not long after that, and China was plunged into decades of civil war, followed by short lived dynasties for the next few centuries. Not untill the Tang dynasty in the seventh century was there finally peace and a unified China.

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As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.