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Xiahou Yuan

Xiahou Yuan
An illustration of Xiahou Yuan from a Qing dynasty edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms
General of Cao Cao
Born (Unknown)
Died 219
Traditional Chinese 夏侯淵
Simplified Chinese 夏侯渊
Pinyin Xiàhóu Yuān
Wade–Giles Hsia-hou Yüan
Courtesy name Miaocai (Chinese: 妙才; pinyin: Miàocái; Wade–Giles: Miao-ts'ai)
Posthumous name Marquis Min (Chinese: 愍侯; pinyin: Mǐn Hóu; Wade–Giles: Min Hou)

Xiahou Yuan (died 219),[1] courtesy name Miaocai, was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han dynasty. He is known for his exploits in northwestern China (areas in present-day Gansu, Ningxia and Shaanxi provinces) in the 210s, in which he defeated Cao Cao's rivals Ma Chao and Han Sui in Liang Province and the surrounding areas, and forced several Di and Qiang tribal peoples into submission through military force. He was killed in action at the Battle of Mount Dingjun while defending Hanzhong commandery from attacks by a rival warlord Liu Bei. Xiahou Yuan's death was highly dramatised in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which he was slain by Liu Bei's general Huang Zhong during a surprise raid.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Mid career 2
  • Campaigns in northwestern China 3
  • Battles around Hanzhong 4
  • Family 5
  • In fiction 6
  • Modern references 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10

Early life and career

Xiahou Yuan was from Qiao county (譙縣) in the Pei state (沛國), which is in present-day Bozhou, Anhui. He was a younger cousin of Xiahou Dun and a descendant of Xiahou Ying, who served under the Han dynasty's founding emperor, Liu Bang (Emperor Gao). Cao Cao once committed a serious offence and Xiahou Yuan helped him shoulder the blame. Cao Cao later saved him.[2] When a famine broke out in Yan and Yu provinces, Xiahou Yuan and his family were adversely affected, and he decided to abandon his youngest son in favour of his deceased younger brother's orphaned daughter.[3]

In 190, when Cao Cao was raising an army to join the campaign against Dong Zhuo, Xiahou Yuan joined Cao and became a Major of Separate Command (別部司馬) and Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉) under Cao. He was subsequently appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Chenliu (陳留; around present-day Kaifeng, Henan) and Yingchuan (潁川; in present-day central Henan) commanderies.[4]

Mid career

In 200, when Cao Cao clashed with his rival Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu, Xiahou Yuan took up the appointment of acting-"Colonel Who Inspects the Army" (督軍校尉). After Cao Cao's victory over Yuan Shao, Xiahou Yuan was put in charge of overseeing the transport of provisions from Yan, Yu and Xu provinces to Cao Cao's armies at the frontline in northern China. Cao Cao's forces was lacking food supplies at that time, but Xiahou Yuan was able to deliver the supplies in time and this helped to boost the army's morale.[5]

In 206, Chang Xi (昌狶) started a rebellion, so Cao Cao sent Yu Jin to lead an army to suppress the revolt. Yu Jin was unsuccessful, so Cao Cao ordered Xiahou Yuan to join Yu Jin in a second expedition against Chang Xi. They defeated the rebels this time and captured over 10 enemy garrisons while Chang Xi surrendered to Yu Jin. Xiahou Yuan was appointed as "Colonel Who Arranges the Army" (典軍校尉) after his success.[6] Xiahou Yuan was known for the swift movements of his units in battle, and he often took his enemies by surprise. There was a saying in Cao Cao's army to describe this: "Xiahou Yuan, the Colonel Who Arranges the Army, travels 500 li in three days and 1,000 li in six days."[7]

In 207, Yellow Turban rebels in Jinan (濟南; near present-day Zhangqiu, Shandong) and Le'an (樂安; in present-day Shandong), led by Xu He (徐和) and Sima Ju (司馬俱), attacked cities and killed officials. Xiahou Yuan led military forces from Taishan (泰山; near Mount Tai), Qi (齊; around present-day Zibo, Shandong) and Pingyuan (平原; around present-day Dezhou, Shandong) commanderies to attack the rebels. He defeated them, killed Xu He, and pacified the various counties in the region. He also collected the enemy's food supplies and had them distributed among his own troops.[8]

In 209, after Cao Cao returned from his defeat at the Battle of Red Cliffs against the allied forces of Sun Quan and Liu Bei, he ordered Xiahou Yuan to lead an assault on Lei Xu (雷緒), who had started a revolt in Lujiang commandery (廬江郡; in present-day Hefei, Anhui). After defeating Lei Xu, Xiahou Yuan was appointed as acting-"Protector of the Army Who Attacks the West" (征西護軍) and was sent with Xu Huang to attack rebels in Taiyuan commandery (太原郡; in present-day Shanxi). They conquered over 20 enemy camps, killed the rebel chief Shang Yao (商曜), and massacred the population in the rebel base.[9]

Campaigns in northwestern China

In 211, Xiahou Yuan participated in the Battle of Tong Pass on Cao Cao's side against a coalition of northwestern warlords led by Han Sui and Ma Chao, in which Cao emerged victorious against the coalition. He and Zhu Ling later led a separate force to pacify the Di tribes in Yumi (隃糜) and Qian (汧) counties. Following that, he rendezvoused with Cao Cao's main force in Anding commandery (安定郡; covering parts of present-day Ningxia and Gansu), where they forced Yang Qiu, an ally of Han Sui and Ma Chao, to surrender.[10]

In 212, Cao Cao returned to Ye (in present-day Handan, Hebei), leaving behind Xiahou Yuan, Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao (路招) to garrison in Chang'an. Xiahou Yuan held the appointment of acting-"General Who Protects the Army" (護軍將軍) at that time. He defeated a group of bandits led by Liu Xiong (劉雄) in Nanshan (南山) and forced them to surrender. He also besieged Liang Xing (an ally of Han Sui and Ma Chao) in Hu county (鄠縣) and defeated and killed Liang. He received the title "Marquis of Bochang Village" (博昌亭侯) from the Han imperial court in recognition of his contributions.[11]

In 213, Ma Chao besieged Wei Kang (韋康), the Inspector (刺史) of Liang Province (涼州) in Ji (兾; or Jicheng, in present-day Gangu County, Gansu). Xiahou Yuan wanted to lead reinforcements to help Wei Kang but arrived too late as Jicheng had already been conquered by Ma Chao. Xiahou Yuan and his army had travelled more than 200 li on their way to Jicheng when they fell into an ambush set up by Ma Chao near Jicheng. Xiahou Yuan was outmatched by the enemy in battle, and he eventually withdrew his army when he heard that the Di people in Qian county (汧縣) had rebelled.[12]

In 214, Zhao Qu (趙衢), Yin Feng (尹奉) and several others, who had been coerced to pledge allegiance to Ma Chao after he seized control of Liang Province, were starting to feel disgruntled so they plotted against him. Jiang Xu (姜叙) rebelled against Ma Chao in Lucheng (鹵城; in present-day Li County and Gangu County, Gansu) to lure Ma to attack him, while Zhao Qu and the others urged Ma to leave Jicheng to suppress Jiang's revolt. Ma Chao fell for the ruse as Zhao Qu and his allies turned against him after he left Jicheng. They killed his wife and son and drove him out of Liang Province after a few battles.[13]

Ma Chao fled to Hanzhong commandery, where he borrowed troops from Zhang Lu and returned to attack Jiang Xu and his allies at Mount Qi (祁山; the mountainous regions around present-day Li County, Gansu). Jiang Xu sent a messenger to Chang'an to request for reinforcements. Xiahou Yuan and the officers in Chang'an had a discussion on whether to help Jiang Xu and his allies or not, and many of the officers felt that they should wait for orders from Cao Cao before making any move. However, Xiahou Yuan had a different opinion as he said, "Our lord (Cao Cao) is 4,000 li away in Ye. By the time our report reaches him, Jiang Xu and his allies are done for, so it is imperative that we send reinforcements to them immediately." He appointed Zhang He to lead 5,000 infantry and cavalry troops as the vanguard and head towards Mount Qi via a narrow pass at Chencang (陳倉; present-day Chencang District, Baoji, Shaanxi), while he supervised the transportation of supplies and followed behind with another army. When Zhang He's army reached the Wei River, Ma Chao initially sent a few thousand Di and Qiang horsemen to resist the enemy but called for a retreat later before any engagement took place. Zhang He advanced further and seized the military equipment left behind by Ma Chao's forces. When Xiahou Yuan's army arrived, most the counties in the region had been pacified.[14]

After the victory, Xiahou Yuan prepared for an offensive against Ma Chao's ally Han Sui, who retreated when he heard of Xiahou's approach. Xiahou Yuan captured Han Sui's food supplies and pursued Han to Lueyang (略陽; present-day Lueyang County, Hanzhong, Shaanxi). Han Sui was located some 20 li away, so Xiahou Yuan's subordinates urged their superior to either launch an assault on Han or attack the Di tribes in Xingguo (興國; northeast of present-day Qin'an County, Gansu). Xiahou Yuan disagreed as he felt that Han Sui's troops were well-prepared for battle and that Xingguo's fortifications were strong, and he planned to attack the Qiang tribes in Changli (長離; along the Hulu River, Gansu) instead. He reasoned that many of Han Sui's soldiers were Qiang tribesmen from Changli, so they would return to save their home if they heard that Changli was under attack. In this way, if Han Sui's troops decided to remain in their current position, they would be isolated, and if they came to Changli's rescue, Xiahou Yuan's forces would be able to engage them in battle. Xiahou Yuan then ordered his subordinates to guard their supplies and heavy equipment while he led a lightly armed infantry and cavalry unit to raid Changli, burning down many Qiang camps and killing several people. As Xiahou Yuan predicted, the Qiang tribesmen in Han Sui's army returned to Changli and encountered Xiahou's army. Xiahou Yuan's men were apprehensive when they saw Han Sui's larger army, so they proposed setting up camps and defensive structures before fighting the enemy. However, Xiahou Yuan said, "We've been fighting over long distances. If we erect these fortifications, our troops will be worn out and will not be able to hold on for long. The enemy may have superiority in numbers but they are easy to deal with." He then launched an attack on Han Sui's forces and scored a major victory over the enemy, capturing the enemy's flags and banners. After that, he returned to Lueyang and laid siege on Xingguo. The Di chieftains in Xingguo fled to join Ma Chao while the others surrendered. Xiahou Yuan also attacked some Xiongnu encampments at Gaoping (高平; in present-day Guyuan, Ningxia), driving the Xiongnu away and capturing their supplies and livestock. He was granted authority by the Han imperial court to oversee the affairs in the region.[15]

During the Liang Province Rebellion in the 180s, a rebel chief Song Jian (宋建) declared himself "King of the River Source Who Pacifies Han" (河首平漢王) in Fuhan (枹罕; around present-day Linxia City, Gansu). After Xiahou Yuan had pacified Liang Province, Cao Cao ordered him to attack Song Jian. Xiahou Yuan besieged Fuhan and conquered the city within months, after which he executed Song and all his subjects. He also sent Zhang He to force the other Qiang tribes in the region into submission. By 215, most of northwestern China had been pacified and had come under Cao Cao's control. Cao Cao wrote an order to praise Xiahou Yuan: "Song Jian had been causing trouble for over 30 years. Xiahou Yuan eliminated him in one movement and made an unprecedented achievement. Confucius once said, 'I cannot do as well as you.'"[16]

Battles around Hanzhong

In 216, the Han imperial court awarded Xiahou Yuan with an additional 300 taxable households in his marquisate, bringing the total number to 800. Subsequently, Xiahou Yuan led an attack on the Di and Qiang tribes of Wudu (武都; in present-day Longnan, Gansu) at Xiabian (下辯), capturing over 100,000 hu (斛; a large unit of measurement) of grain. When Cao Cao led an expedition against Zhang Lu in Hanzhong, Xiahou Yuan led all the military officers and nobles in Liang Province to meet Cao at Xiu Village (休亭). The Qiang and tribal chieftains were fearful of Xiahou Yuan whenever they attended meetings with Cao Cao.[17]

Zhang Lu surrendered Hanzhong to Cao Cao after his defeat at the Battle of Yangping. Xiahou Yuan was appointed as acting-"Protector General" (都護將軍) and was ordered to pacify Ba commandery (巴郡; covering parts of present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) with Zhang He and Xu Huang. Cao Cao later returned to Ye (in present-day Handan, Hebei) and left Xiahou Yuan and others behind to defend Hanzhong. Xiahou Yuan was commissioned as "General Who Attacks the West" (征西將軍).[18]

In 217, Cao Cao's rival Liu Bei, who had taken over Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) in 215, launched a campaign to wrestle control of Hanzhong from Cao Cao. When Liu Bei's forces reached Yangping Pass (陽平關; in present-day Ningqiang County, Hanzhong, Shaanxi), Xiahou Yuan led his men to resist the enemy and both sides were locked in a stalemate for nearly a year. One night in the first lunar month of 218, Liu Bei set fire to the barbed fences around Xiahou Yuan's camp, so Xiahou sent Zhang He to defend the eastern part of the camp while he personally led a lightly armed force to guard the south. Zhang He attacked Liu Bei when the latter taunted him but he failed to overcome the enemy. Xiahou Yuan then despatched a fraction of his own troops to help Zhang He. Liu Bei's general Huang Zhong launched a fierce assault on Xiahou Yuan even though his men were less experienced in battle than Xiahou's troops. Xiahou Yuan was killed in action.[19][20]

Xiahou Yuan was granted the posthumous title "Marquis Min" (愍侯), which literally means "sympathetic marquis".[21][notes 1]

Cao Cao once gave the following piece of advice to Xiahou Yuan when the latter was scoring a series of victories, "A general should consider his weaknesses, be prepared for situations in which he cannot win, and not rely solely on sheer bravery. Courage is a base instinct he should possess, but he should also use wisdom and strategy when he makes moves. One who knows only bravery is no more than an ordinary man who can fight enemies."[22]


Xiahou Yuan's spouse was a younger sister of one of Cao Cao's wives.[23]

Xiahou Yuan's eldest son, Xiahou Heng (夏侯衡), married the daughter of Cao Cao's younger brother, the Marquis Ai of Haiyang (海陽哀侯). Xiahou Heng was favoured by Cao Cao, and he inherited his father's title "Marquis of Bochang Village" (博昌亭侯). His marquis title was later changed to "Marquis of Anning Village" (安寧亭侯).[24]

Xiahou Yuan's second son, Xiahou Ba, served as a military general in the state of Cao Wei. He defected to Wei's rival state Shu Han after Cao Shuang was massacred by Sima Yi and his family, who had usurped the imperial authority in Wei.[25]

Xiahou Yuan had five other sons who were younger than Xiahou Ba: Xiahou Cheng (夏侯稱),[26] Xiahou Wei, Xiahou Rong (夏侯榮),[26] Xiahou Hui, and Xiahou He.[27]

Xiahou Yuan also had a niece, who was about 12 or 13 years old in 200 CE. She was out gathering firewood when she was taken by Zhang Fei. She became Zhang Fei's wife and bore him a daughter, who later married Liu Shan and became Empress Jing'ai of the state of Shu Han.[28]

In fiction

Xiahou Yuan is featured as a character in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which romanticises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. He made several appearances in the novel, but the most significant one was his death at the Battle of Mount Dingjun in 219. See Battle of Mount Dingjun#In fiction for details.

Modern references

Xiahou Yuan is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series. In the games, he is Xiahou Dun's brother, and is portrayed as being a bit hapless, but powerful and loyal nonetheless. He also appears in all 12 instalments of the strategy game series Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the real-time wargame Kessen II, all of which were also produced by Koei.

See also


  1. ^ According to the "Rules of assigning posthumous names" chapter in the Yizhoushu, an official would receive the posthumous name "Min" for either one of the following criteria: being killed while serving the country; letting civilians be harmed; being belittled (or sick) for a long time; being involved in a coup d'etat (or rebellion). In Xiahou Yuan's case, he was killed in battle. Another of Cao Cao's generals, Li Dian, also shared the same posthumous name. Quote from Yizhoushu vol. 6. ch. 54: (在國逢難曰愍。使民折傷曰愍。在國連憂曰愍。禍亂方作曰愍。)


  1. ^  
  2. ^ (夏侯淵字妙才,惇族弟也。太祖居家,曾有縣官事,淵代引重罪,太祖營救之,得免。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  3. ^ (魏略曰:時兖、豫大亂,淵以饑乏,棄其幼子,而活亡弟孤女。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  4. ^ (太祖起兵,以別部司馬、騎都尉從,遷陳留、潁川太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  5. ^ (及與袁紹戰於官渡,行督軍校尉。紹破,使督兖、豫、徐州軍糧;時軍食少,淵傳饋相繼,軍以復振。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  6. ^ (昌狶反,遣于禁擊之,未拔,復遣淵與禁并力,遂擊狶,降其十餘屯,狶詣禁降。淵還,拜典軍校尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  7. ^ (魏書曰:淵為將,赴急疾,常出敵之不意,故軍中為之語曰:「典軍校尉夏侯淵,三日五百,六日一千。」) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  8. ^ (濟南、樂安黃巾徐和、司馬俱等攻城,殺長吏,淵將泰山、齊、平原郡兵擊,大破之,斬和,平諸縣,收其糧穀以給軍士。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  9. ^ (十四年,以淵為行領軍。太祖征孫權還,使淵督諸將擊廬江叛者雷緒,緒破,又行征西護軍,督徐晃擊太原賊,攻下二十餘屯,斬賊帥商曜,屠其城。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  10. ^ (從征韓遂等,戰於渭南。又督朱靈平隃糜、汧氐。與太祖會安定,降楊秋。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  11. ^ (十七年,太祖乃還鄴,以淵行護軍將軍,督朱靈、路招等屯長安,擊破南山賊劉雄,降其衆。圍遂、超餘黨梁興於鄠,拔之,斬興,封博昌亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  12. ^ (馬超圍涼州刺史韋康於兾,淵救康,未到,康敗。去兾二百餘里,超來逆戰,軍不利。汧氐反,淵引軍還。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  13. ^ (十九年,趙衢、尹奉等謀討超,姜叙起兵鹵城以應之。衢等譎說超,使出擊叙,於後盡殺超妻子。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  14. ^ (超奔漢中,還圍祁山。叙等急求救,諸將議者欲須太祖節度。淵曰:「公在鄴,反覆四千里,比報,叙等必敗,非救急也。」遂行,使張郃督步騎五千在前,從陳倉狹道入,淵自督糧在後。郃至渭水上,超將氐羌數千逆郃。未戰,超走,郃進軍收超軍器械。淵到,諸縣皆已降。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  15. ^ (韓遂在顯親,淵欲襲取之,遂走。淵收遂軍糧,追至略陽城,去遂二十餘里,諸將欲攻之,或言當攻興國氐。淵以為遂兵精,興國城固,攻不可卒拔,不如擊長離諸羌。長離諸羌多在遂軍,必歸救其家。若捨羌獨守則孤,救長離則官兵得與野戰,可必虜也。淵乃留督將守輜重,輕兵步騎到長離,攻燒羌屯,斬獲甚衆。諸羌在遂軍者,各還種落。遂果救長離,與淵軍對陣。諸將見遂衆,惡之,欲結營作塹乃與戰。淵曰:「我轉鬬千里,今復作營塹,則士衆罷弊,不可乆。賊雖衆,易與耳。」乃鼔之,大破遂軍,得其旌麾,還略陽,進軍圍興國。氐王千萬逃奔馬超,餘衆降。轉擊高平屠各,皆散走,收其糧穀牛馬。乃假淵節。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  16. ^ (初,枹罕宋建因涼州亂,自號河首平漢王。太祖使淵帥諸將討建。淵至,圍枹罕,月餘拔之,斬建及所置丞相已下。淵別遣張郃等平河關,渡河入小湟中,河西諸羌盡降,隴右平。太祖下令曰:「宋建造為亂逆三十餘年,淵一舉滅之,虎步關右,所向無前。仲尼有言:『吾與爾不如也。』」) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  17. ^ (二十一年,增封三百戶,并前八百戶。還擊武都氐羌下辯,收氐穀十餘萬斛。太祖西征張魯,淵等將涼州諸將侯王已下,與太祖會休亭。太祖每引見羌、胡,以淵畏之。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  18. ^ (會魯降,漢中平,以淵行都護將軍,督張郃、徐晃等平巴郡。太祖還鄴,留淵守漢中,即拜淵征西將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  19. ^ (二十三年,劉備軍陽平關,淵率諸將拒之,相守連年。二十四年正月,備夜燒圍鹿角。淵使張郃護東圍,自將輕兵護南圍。備挑郃戰,郃軍不利。淵分所將兵半助郃,為備所襲,淵遂戰死。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  20. ^ (建安二十四年,於漢中定軍山擊夏侯淵。淵衆甚精,忠推鋒必進,勸率士卒,金鼓振天,歡聲動谷,一戰斬淵,淵軍大敗。) Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  21. ^ (謚曰愍侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  22. ^ (初,淵雖數戰勝,太祖常戒曰:「為將當有怯弱時,不可但恃勇也。將當以勇為本,行之以智計;但知任勇,一匹夫敵耳。」) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  23. ^ (淵妻,太祖內妹。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  24. ^ (長子衡,尚太祖弟海陽哀侯女,恩寵特隆。衡襲爵,轉封安寧亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  25. ^ (黃初中,賜中子霸,太和中,賜霸四弟爵皆關內侯。霸,正始中為討蜀護軍右將軍,進封愽昌亭侯,素為曹爽所厚。聞爽誅,自疑,亡入蜀。以淵舊勳赦霸子,徙樂浪郡。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  26. ^ a b (世語曰: ... 淵弟三子稱,弟五子榮。) Shiyu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  27. ^ (霸弟威,官至兖州刺史。 ... 威弟惠,樂安太守。 ... 惠弟和,河南尹。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  28. ^ (初,建安五年,時霸從妹年十三四,在本郡,出行樵採,為張飛所得。飛知其良家女,遂以為妻,產息女,為劉禪皇后。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.

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