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Xun Yu

Xun Yu
A Qing dynasty portrait of Xun Yu
Strategist of Cao Cao
Born 163[1]
Died 212 (aged 49)[1]
Traditional Chinese 荀彧
Simplified Chinese 荀彧
Pinyin Xún Yù
Wade–Giles Hsün Yü
Courtesy name Wenruo (Chinese: 文若; pinyin: Wénruò; Wade–Giles: Wen-jo)
Posthumous name Marquis Jing (Chinese: 敬侯; pinyin: Jìng Hóu; Wade–Giles: Ching Hou)

Xun Yu (163–212),[1][2] courtesy name Wenruo, was a strategist and statesman who served as an advisor to the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty.


  • Early life 1
  • Service under Cao Cao 2
  • Death 3
  • Family 4
  • Modern references 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7

Early life

Xun Yu was a native of Yingchuan (穎川; present-day Xuchang, Henan), and was born in a family of government officials. Chen Shou's Records of Three Kingdoms described him as a tall and handsome gentleman. Xun Yu's grandfather, Xun Shu, served as a local governor and Xun Shu's eight sons were called the "Eight Dragons of the Xun Family"; an uncle of Xun Yu, Xun Shuang, served as one of the Three Excellencies, while Xun Yu's father Xun Fan was the chancellor of the feudal principality of Jibei.

Xun Yu proved to be a talented youth, and was evaluated by the scholar He Yong as "someone capable of assisting kings" (王佐之才). In 189 he was nominated as a xiaolian (literally: "Fillial and Incorrupt"; a nominated civil service candidate), and began his career in the government. When Dong Zhuo seized control of the capital Luoyang, Xun Yu feared for his safety and resigned, returning to Ji Province (冀州; present day Hebei).

In the subsequent years, warlords quickly rose in each region; Xun Yu first served Yuan Shao, whose power base was in Ji Province, but later left him and went to serve Cao Cao in 191. Cao Cao recognized Xun Yu's talent and he exclaimed, "Here comes my Zifang[3]!" when Xun Yu arrived, and he appointed Xun as an army commandant.

Service under Cao Cao

Xun Yu's contributions to Cao Cao's forces and administration are immense. On one hand he recommended many other men of calibre to Cao Cao, including Xun You (his nephew), Chen Qun, Zhong Yao, Guo Jia and Sima Yi, creating a body of advisors around Cao; at the same time he participated in several battles and major events of the era, often giving timely advice to his master. Cao Cao, in turn, respected Xun Yu greatly and placed great store in his advice.

In 194, as Cao Cao led a campaign against Tao Qian in Xu Province, his home base at Yan Province was suddenly attacked by Lü Bu, and two of Cao's officials, Chen Gong and Zhang Miao, chose to defect to Lü. At that time Xun Yu was in charge of the defences of Juancheng (鄄城), and his firm actions saved the city from capture, allowing Cao Cao's armies to return and drive away Lü Bu. Subsequently, on the death of Tao Qian, Cao Cao was tempted to turn around and move on Xu Province before returning to deal with Lü Bu; it was Xun Yu who dissuaded him from this, reminding him that Yan Province was his heartland and power base and should be secured first before launching campaigns abroad.

It was also at Xun Yu's suggestion that Cao Cao chose to escort Emperor Xian of Han, who was then living in the ruins of Luoyang, to his own base at Xu (present-day Xuchang, Henan) in 196, taking on the role of protecting the emperor. Xun Yu's plan was to "control the rebellious in the name of the emperor" (奉天子以令不臣); Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms subtly distorts this to "hold the emperor hostage to control the warlords" (挟天子以令诸侯). In the long run this strategem would give Cao Cao a considerable political advantage over his rivals, allowing him to legitimise his actions by taking them in the name of the emperor.

In 200, Cao Cao was locked in a stalemate against Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu for months, eventually exhausting his food supply; while contemplating retreat he sent a letter to Xun Yu (who was then defending Xu) for advice. Xun Yu dissuaded Cao Cao with a letter, highlighting several advantages that his army held over Yuan Shao's forces and urging him to stand fast; the eventual result was a decisive victory for Cao Cao, which was crucial to his domination of northern China.


In 211, Dong Zhao and a group of Cao Cao loyalists submitted a memorial to Emperor Xian proposing that Cao should be granted the title of a duke. This proposal was significant as it would allow Cao Cao to set up a self-contained feudal state within the Han Dynasty. Up to this point, Cao Cao's political legitimacy was only underpinned by his position as the chancellor. Xun Yu, whose ideals were for Cao Cao to continue being the protector of the Han Dynasty, opposed Dong Zhao's proposal.

Knowing that Dong Zhao was probably a conduit for Cao Cao, when approached by the former for his support, Xun Yu told Dong that Cao's personal mission was one of restoring the Han Dynasty and would not approve of such a move — thus possibly hinting to Cao that he should abandon the idea. According to volume 10 of Chen Shou's Records of Three Kingdoms, Xun Yu's remarks were said to have greatly displeased Cao Cao.

Following this, Xun Yu was sent to Qiao to reward the soldiers who took part in a military campaign against Sun Quan. While there, Xun Yu was said to have fallen sick and brought to Shouchun (寿春; present-day Shou County, Anhui) for treatment and recuperation. He died in the following year in 212. The circumstances of his death aroused great suspicion and is a matter of debate as it came closely after his opposition towards Cao Cao's ascension to duke.


  • Grandfather: Xun Shu (荀淑), served as Prefect of Langling
  • Father: Xun Gun (緄), served as Chancellor of Jinan
  • Uncles:
    • Xun Jian (荀儉)
    • Xun Jing (荀靖)
    • Xun Dao (荀燾)
    • Xun Wang (荀汪)
    • Xun Shuang (荀爽), served as Chancellor of Pingyuan, Minister of the Household, and Excellency of Works
    • Xun Su (荀肅)
    • Xun Fu (荀旉)
  • Spouse: Lady Tang (唐氏), daughter of Tang Heng (唐衡)
  • Sons:
    • Xun Yun (荀惲), served as Rapid as Tigers General of the Household, married Cao Cao's daughter Princess Anyang, died at a young age
    • Xun Yu (荀俁), served as Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk
    • Xun Shen (荀詵), served as General-in-Chief's Assistant Officer, died at a young age
    • Xun Yi (荀顗), served as Imperial Secretary, later served as Grand Commandant during the Jin Dynasty, granted title of Duke of Linhuaikang
    • Xun Can (荀粲), married Cao Hong's daughter, died at the age of 29
  • Nephew: Xun You, one of Cao Cao's advisors
  • Grandsons:
    • Xun Han (荀甝), oldest son of Xun Yun, granted title of Marquis of Guangyangxiang, died at the age of 30
    • Xun Yi (荀霬), second son of Xun Yun, married Sima Yi's daughter, served as a general, posthumously granted title of Marquis of Zhen
    • Xun Yu (荀寓), son of Xun Yu (荀俁), served as Imperial Secretary during the Jin Dynasty
  • Great grandsons:
    • Xun Jun (荀頵), son of Xun Han, served as Right Inspector of the Feathered Forest Imperial Guard, died at a young age
    • Xun Dan (荀憺), oldest son of Xun Yi (荀霬), served as Minister Steward
    • Xun Kai (荀愷), second son of Xun Yi (荀霬), served as General Who Conquers the West during the Jin Dynasty
    • Xun Kui (荀悝), third son of Xun Yi (荀霬), served as Protector General of the Army, posthumously appointed General of Chariots and Cavalry
    • Xun Yu (荀羽), son of Xun Yu (荀寓), served as Imperial Secretary
  • Descendants:
    • Xun Song (荀崧), son of Xun Jun, served as Household Counsellor
      • Xun Guan (荀灌), daughter of Xun Song
      • Xun Xian (荀羨), son of Xun Song, served as North General of the Household, and Governor of Xu and Yan provinces
        • Xun Bozi (荀伯子), grandson of Xun Xian, served as Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk during the Liu Song Dynasty, author of the Xun Family Records (荀氏家傳)

Modern references

In Koei's video game Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires, fans voted in the Facebook and Twitter poll for one of the new edit officers to have the name Xun Yu. Xun Yu became a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires.

In Koei's video game Kessen II, Xun plays a prominent role, although the character is portrayed as a woman who harbours a requited love for Cao Cao. In the visual novel and anime series Koihime Musō, Jun'iku (Xun Yu's Japanese name) also serves as a strategist to Sōsō (Cao Cao) and has a huge crush on her.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Xun Yu's biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms stated that he died at the age of 50 (by East Asian age reckoning) in the 17th year of the Jian'an era (196-220) in the reign of Emperor Xian of Han. (十七年, ... 以憂薨,時年五十。) By calculation, his birth year should be around 163.
  2. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 928.  
  3. ^ "Zifang" was the courtesy name of Zhang Liang, a prominent advisor to Emperor Gaozu of Han. Zhang Liang contributed greatly to the founding of the Han Dynasty.

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