Battle of Red Cliffs | History, Facts

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One of the most well-known conflicts in the background of Ancient China is the Battle of Red Cliffs. One of the biggest naval engagements in history, so the saying goes. The Three Kingdoms era began after the war, which ultimately brought an end to the Han Dynasty.

When and where did the battle take place?

The conflict happened in the winter of 208 AD, close to the end of the Han Dynasty. Although historians are unsure of the exact location of the fight, they generally concur that it took place along the Yangtze River.

Who were the leaders?

The warlord Cao Cao of the north and the combined forces of the warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan of the south engaged in combat.

In order to create his own kingdom and unify all of China under his reign, Cao Cao had big plans. He gathered a vast army of between 220,000 and 800,000 men. The principal general leading his troops into combat was Cao Cao.

The generals Liu Bei, Cheng Pu, and Zhou Yu were in charge of Sun Quan and Liu Bei’s southern army. Zhuge Liang was another well-known military leader in the south. With only about 50,000 soldiers, the south was greatly outnumbered.

Leading up to the Battle

The Han Dynasty was in the process of disintegrating at the time. Warlords who fought one other frequently ruled various parts of the nation. A warlord by the name of Cao Cao gained authority in the north and finally seized control of the region north of the Yangtze River.

Cao Cao desired to create his own dynasty and unify China under his authority. He needed to conquer the warlords to the south and take over the Yangtze River in order to accomplish this. Between 220,000 and 800,000 soldiers made up his enormous force, which he then marched south.

The warlords of the south decided to band forces since they were aware that facing Cao Cao alone would be impossible. Sun Quan and Liu Bei teamed up to stop Cao Cao at the Yangtze. They still possessed a significantly diminished force, but they aimed to outwit Cao Cao.

The Conflict

A minor altercation between the two parties kicked off the conflict. The long march to the battle had worn out Cao Cao’s men, and they were unable to make progress. They hastily withdrew to the Yangtze River’s northern banks.

Thousands of ships made up Cao Cao’s vast navy. He intended to cross the Yangtze with his men using the ships. On the ships were many of his soldiers. The ships were tethered together to provide stability and prevent seasickness in the men.

The southern leaders devised a strategy as soon as they noticed that Cao Cao had bound his ships together. One of the generals expressed his desire to switch sides and submit to Cao Cao in a letter. When Cao Cao’s navy arrived, he sent his ships over to join it. Nevertheless, it was only a ruse. Instead of soldiers, the ships were stocked with oil and firewood. They were ships of fire! The opposing ships were set on fire as they drew near. They were carried right into Cao Cao’s fleet by the wind.

The northern armada caught fire when the ships struck it. Numerous soldiers perished or burnt when jumping from the ships. Soldiers from the south launched an assault at the bewildered northern force at the same moment. When Cao Cao realized his army had been routed, he gave the order for his troops to flee.

Cao Cao’s retreat didn’t make things any better. It started to rain as his army fled, which caused them to become mired in muck. The southern army persisted in their assault, and a sizable portion of Cao Cao’s army was decimated.


Cao Cao was prevented from unifying China by the victory of the southern warlords. Cao Cao built the Kingdom of Wei and continued to rule the north. Liu Bei established the Kingdom of Shu in the south, and Sun Quan established the Kingdom of Wu. The era of China’s Three Kingdoms is named after these kingdoms.

Informational nuggets regarding the Battle of Red Cliffs

In a letter, Cao Cao bragged that he had 800,000 warriors. General Zhou Yu of the south, on the other hand, thought he had less troops, perhaps closer to 230,000.

The conflict is the subject of the video game Dragon Throne: Battle of Red Cliffs.

Red Cliff, a movie about the conflict, set a new box office record in China in 2008.

The site of the battle is still unconfirmed by physical evidence, according to archaeologists.

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