Xiahou Yuan 夏侯淵 was fearless when it came to battle and very successful in his military career. He liked to travel fast and hit the enemy hard, defeating them before they had a chance to prepare themselves.


Xiahou Yuan was the younger brother of Xiahou Dun 夏侯惇. When Cao Cao 曹操 was residing at home, there was some incident with the county government. Xiahou Yuan accepted the blame on his behalf, even though the crime was severe. Cao Cao rescued Yuan and they escaped.[n 1]

At this time, Yan and Yu provinces were in great disorder. Because of the famine food was scarce, and Xiahou Yuan chose to sacrifice his own son to save the only daughter of his deceased younger brother.[n 2]

Cao Cao was raising troops, so Xiahou Yuan joined him. He was made a Senior Major and also Commandant of Cavalry. Additionally, he was appointed as Grand Administrator of Chenliu (陳留) and Yingchuan (潁川). In 200 A.D., Xiahou Yuan followed Cao Cao to Guandu (官渡) to do battle with Yuan Shao 袁紹, and he was promoted to Colonel Who Supervises the Army. After Yuan Shao was defeated, Xiahou Yuan was made Commander of Yan, Yu and Xu provinces, with the responsibility of managing provisions to the army stationed there. At that time, army rations were thin. Xiahou Yuan ensured food was distributed the army and their morale was uplifted.

Just prior to the defeat of Yuan Shao, Chang Xi 昌狶 joined Liu Bei 劉備 in rebellion. Cao Cao dispatched Xiahou Yuan and Zhang Liao 張遼 to suppress him. The generals laid siege to Tan city in Donghai (東海) for several months but provisions started to run low. Many of the officers proposed they withdraw, but Zhang Liao suspected Chang Xi was indecisive and personally entered the city and convinced Chang Xi to surrender.[2] However, a few years later[n 3], Chang Xi rebelled again. Yu Jin 于禁 was sent to suppress him, but could not find success. Cao Cao then dispatched Xiahou Yuan to reinforce Yu Jin in the siege of Donghai. The pair stormed the enemy, capturing more than 10 of Chang Xi's camps. Knowing that he could not win, Chang Xi agreed to surrender to Yu Jin and was later executed.[3] Xiahou Yuan was promoted to Colonel Who Arranges the Army.

In Jinan (濟南) and Le'an (樂安), former Yellow Turbans Xu He (徐和), Sima Ju (司馬俱), and others, attacked a local city and killed the Chief Clerk. Xiahou Yuan collected soldiers from Taishan (泰山), Qi (齊) and Pingyuan (平原) and heavily defeated the bandits. Xu He was beheaded, the counties were pacified and the spoils were distributed to the army.

By 209 A.D., Xiahou Yuan had been promoted to General Who Commands the Army. Cao Cao had headed south to fight Sun Quan 孫權 and Xiahou Yuan was tasked with defeating the rebel Lei Xu (雷緒) in Lujiang. Lei Xu was defeated and Xiahou Yuan was promoted to Protector of the Army Who Subdues the West.

The following year, Shang Yao (商曜) and other bandits from Taiyuan (太原) rebelled and seized the city of Daling[4]. General Xu Huang 徐晃 was added to Xiahou Yuan's command and they were dispatched to deal with the bandits. They took more than 20 camps, beheaded the bandit chief and slaughtered his followers.[5]

Campaigns Against the Liang RebelsEdit

In Apr. 211 A.D., Cao Cao commenced his campaign to annex Hanzhong. Zhong Yao was dispatched and Xiahou Yuan and Xu Huang were ordered to rendezvous with him. As the Wei forces were heading west, Ma Chao 馬超, Han Sui 韓遂, Yang Qiu 楊秋 and the other warlords of Liang province rose in rebellion. The rebels occupied Tong Pass, but were forced to abandon it when Cao Cao bypassed the gate by crossing to the north of the Wei (渭) river and threatened to surround them. The rebels had withdrawn westwards to avoid encirclement so Cao Cao secretly built a pontoon bridge over the Wei[6]; Xiahou Yuan moved with the rest of the Wei forces and defeated Ma Chao south of the Wei.

General Zhu Ling 朱靈 was added to Xiahou Yuan's command. Xiahou Yuan and his forces pacified the Yumi and Qian (汧) tribes.

The defeat of the rebels at Tong Pass had caused them to flee northwest deeper into Liang province. In Nov., Xiahou Yuan reunited with Cao Cao's unit and headed northwest to Anding (安定) commandery to lay siege to Yang Qiu. The Wei forces surrounded Anding and Yang Qiu surrendered.

In 212 A.D., Cao Cao returned to Ye (鄴) city. Xiahou Yuan was promoted to General Who Protects the Army and stationed at Chang'an to oversee the west; Zhang He 張郃, Lu Zhao 路招 and others were added to his command. Xiahou Yuan and his forces destroyed the Nanshan (南山) bandit Liu Xiong (劉雄) and received the surrender of his forces. Xiahou Yuan was sent to hunt down the Liang rebels still at large in Fu (鄜) and Xiayang (夏陽). He then led his forces to Hu (鄠) where he surrounded another of the Liang rebels, Liang Xing 梁興, who had been plundering the area west of Chang'an. He then beheaded Xing and 3000 households surrendered[7]. Xiahou Yuan was ennobled as Bochang (博昌) Village Marquis.

The Liang rebels may have been largely destroyed, but Ma Chao managed to get the support of the Qiang and other non-Han people in Liang; most of the forces west of Mt. Long[n 4] joined with Ma Chao. Only Inspector of Liang province Wei Kang (韋康) refused to submit to Ma Chao, so Ma Chao brought his 10,000 soldiers to surround Ji (冀)[n 5]. Xiahou Yuan led his forces out to rescue Wei Kang, but because Ma Chao had stopped messengers from bringing news of the siege, Wei Kang was defeated before Xiahou Yuan could reach Ji. When Xiahou Yuan's forces were 200 li away, Ma Chao came out to meet him. They fought but neither side could gain any advantage. The Qian tribe had revolted again so Xiahou Yuan withdrew.

In 214 A.D., Zhao Qu 趙衢, Yin Feng 尹奉, et al. plotted punitive measures against Ma Chao. In Lucheng (鹵城), Jiang Xu 姜敘 and Yang Fu 楊阜 started raising soldiers to oppose Ma Chao's occupation and Yin Feng and Zhao Ang 趙昂, likewise, started raising forces at Mt. Qi (祁山). Zhao Qu and the other conspirators convinced Ma Chao that he should go punish Jiang Xu. And as soon as Ma Chao took his forces from the city, the conspirators sealed the gates and murdered Ma Chao's family. Ma Chao was suddenly isolated and he fled south to Hanzhong to seek refuge with Zhang Lu 張魯[8]. Ma Chao then returned to lay siege to Mt. Qi.

Jiang Xu sent urgent requests for help. Many officers wanted to get Cao Cao's permission to march, but Xiahou Yuan said: "Lord Cao is in Ye. To go there and back is a distance of 4000 li. By the time a response arrives, Jiang Xu will be defeated. We must attack with all haste." Xiahou Yuan assigned Zhang He to lead the vanguard and gave him 5,000 infantry and cavalry. The Wei forces headed south through the narrow valleys by Chencang (陳倉)[n 6], Xiahou Yuan commanded the rearguard and personally supervised the baggage train.

When Zhang He arrived he found Ma Chao had several 1000 men from the Di and Qiang tribes arrayed against him. Instead of fighting, Ma Chao fled. Zhang He advanced his forces and collected the scattered weaponry of Ma Chao's forces. By the time Xiahou Yuan had arrived, all the counties had already surrendered.

Xiahou Yuan heard that Han Sui had joined with Di Chieftain Qianwan (千萬) and was in Xianqin (顯親) and wanted to capture him, but Han Sui fled. Xiahou Yuan seized Han Sui's provisions and gave pursuit, chasing his army to Lueyang (略陽) city[n 7]. When they were only 20 li (10 km) away, several generals wanted to attack him, others wanted to attack his allies, the Xingguo (興國) tribe. However, Xiahou Yuan thought that Han Sui's soldier were still strong and the Xingguo city too well fortified to make attacking either a wise decision. Instead he decided they should attack the Qiang at Changli (長離). Han Sui's army was composed of many Qiang, they would certainly wish to protect their home. And if Han Sui should refuse to help, they would abandon him. Furthermore, it would force Han Sui to meet the Wei forces in open combat.

Xiahou Yuan left some men to defend the baggage train and marched a contingent of light-armoured soldiers against Changli. The Wei forces attacked and burned Qiang camps, beheading and capturing many people. Many of the Qiang in Han Sui's army fled back to their own villages and Han Sui turned his forces about to relieve Changli. When the Wei forces saw the 10,000 strong cavalry[9], they were scared, they wanted to set up defensive fortifications before commencing battle. However, Xiahou Yuan said: "We have marched and counter-marched a thousand li . If we now start building and digging, our soldiers will be exhausted and useless. Though the bandits come in great numbers, they can easily be deal with."

Thereupon, Xiahou Yuan had the drums beat and charged the enemy. Han Sui's army was utterly destroyed, his banners and standards captured; Han Sui fled to Xiping[10]. His attention then returned to Lueyang, where he besieged Xingguo. The Qianwan fled to Ma Chao, his forces surrendered. He then turned his attention to attack the Tuge (屠各)[n 8] at Gaoping (高平), they scattered and fled, and Xiahou Yuan seized their grain, horses and cattle. Xiahou Yuan was presented the Staff of Authority.

A long time earlier, Song Jian 宋建 had set up an independent state in Fuhan (枹罕)[n 9] during the chaos of the Liang province rebellions in 184 A.D. Song Jian had also chosen to name himself King of the Sources of the River Who Will Pacify Han. Cao Cao dispatched Xiahou Yuan to command several officer in a punitive expedition against Jian. Xiahou Yuan besieged Fuban for just over a month before it fell. He beheaded Jian and the Prime Minister he had installed years earlier. Xiahou Yuan then gave Zhang He a detachment and sent him to pacify Heguan (河關). Zhang He crossed into Xiaohuangzhong (小湟中) and received the surrender of all the Qiang west of the river, pacifying Longyou (隴右)[n 10]

Cao Cao was most pleased, he sent a order, saying: "Song Jian made chaos and rebellion for over 30 years. But in one fell swoop, Xiahou Yuan destroyed him. Like a tiger he crossed west of the passes, advancing on without match. Zhong Ni once said: 'I am not your equal'."

Campaigns in HanzhongEdit

In 216 A.D., Xiahou Yuan's fief was increased to 800 households. Xiahou Yuan attacked the Wudu tribe and Qiang to settle their fighting, he captured 10,000 hu of grain.

In Mar., Cao Cao resumed his campaign against Zhang Lu. Xiahou Yuan led the various officers, lords and tribe leaders to receive Cao Cao at Xiuting (休亭). All of the Qiang and Hu were in awe of Cao Cao because of Xiahou Yuan's reputation. Zhang Lu surrendered and Cao Cao annexed Hanzhong. Xiahou Yuan was promoted to General Chief Protector and General Who Subdues the West, with command over Zhang He, Xu Huang, Guo Huai 郭淮 and many others; and tasked to defend Hanzhong.

In 218 A.D., Liu Bei brought his forces to Yangping (陽平) Pass and Xiahou Yuan led all his forces out to resist him. They faced off against one another for a year. Liu Bei moved from the south of Yangping Pass across the Mian river and set up camp on Mt. Dingjun[11]; while Huang Zhong 黃忠 lured Xiahou Yuan's forces into Zouma Valley[12].

In Feb. 219 A.D. during the night, Liu Bei set fire to Xiahou Yuan's abatis and ordered his men to attack. Xiahou Yuan gave Zhang He command of the defence east of Mt. Dingjun while he commanded the forces to the south. Liu Bei led his 10,000 elite troops against Zhang He[13] and Zhang He was severely outmatched and struggling. Xiahou Yuan split his forces in two and sent half to reinforce Zhang He, while the others tried to extinguish the fires. With Xiahou Yuan's forces depleted and distracted, Huang Zhong brought his forces down upon Xiahou Yuan, killing him.

Xiahou Yuan's fifth son, Rong, aged 13 at the time, had to be restrained by his attendants when he heard of his father's death. He managed to break free of them and charged the enemy, sword in hand. He was killed in battle as well.

Xiahou Yuan's LegacyEdit

With Xiahou Yuan dead, the Wei forces were routed, many were uncertain about what to do next. Guo Huai, Xiahou Yuan's Major, rallied the men and nominated Zhang He as the one to lead the forces stationed around Hanzhong. Zhang He took command and collected the scattered remnants of the Wei army and set up a new line of defence against Liu Bei at the entrance of Xiegu Valley.[n 11]

In his career, Xiahou Yuan had often achieved great victories, however, Cao Cao had often warned him: "The commander of an army should sometimes be timid and weak; you cannot rely merely upon your courage. The commander takes courage as the basis, but he must always act wisely and with forethought. If he thinks only of physical bravery, a common fellow can match him."

Xiahou Yuan was posthumous title Martyred (愍) Marquis. When Xiahou Yuan became a general, he specialised in lightning-quick raids. His forces would cover vast distances quickly and often catch the enemy by surprise. Within the rank-and-file it was said: "Xiahou Yuan within 3 days can cover 500 li; within 6 days, 1000 li."



  • Lady Cao - Younger sister of Cao Cao.



  • Unknown name - Sacrificed by Xiahou Yuan in order to save his niece.
  • Xiahou Heng (夏侯衡) - Oldest son. Inherited Yuan's rank and made Marquis of Anning (安寧) Village. Married to Cao Cao's niece.
  • Xiahou Ba 夏侯霸 - Second son. Between 220-226 A.D. was ennobled.
  • Xiahou Wei (夏侯威) - Ba's younger brother; styled Jiquan (季權). Inspector of Jing and Yan provinces.
  • Xiahou Hui (夏侯惠) - Wei's younger brother; styled Zhiquan (稚權). Served as Cavalier Gentleman-in-Attendance of the Yellow Gate. Became Chancellor of Yan and Grand Administrator of Le'an (樂安). Died aged 37.
  • Xiahou He (夏侯和) - Hui's younger brother; styled Yiquan (義權). Served as Intendant of Henan (河南) and Minister of Ceremonies.
  • Xiahou Cheng (夏侯稱) - Xiahou Yuan's third son; styled Shuquan (叔權). Died aged 18.
  • Xiahou Rong (夏侯榮) - Xiahou Yuan's fifth son; styled Youquan (幼權). Died aged 13 fighting at Hanzhong.


  • Xiahou Ji (夏侯績) - Son of Xiahou Heng. Served as General of the Household Rapid as Tigers.
  • Xiahou Jun (夏侯駿) - Son of Xiahou Wei. Inspector of Bing province.
  • Xiahou Zhuang (夏侯莊) - Second son of Xiahou Wei. Grand Administrator of Huainan. Was married to the elder sister of the Empress of Jin, Jing Yang (景陽).


  • Xiahou Bao (夏侯褒) - Son of Xiahou Ji.
  • Xiahou Zhan (夏侯湛) - Son of Xiahou Zhuang; styled Xiaoruo (孝若). Chancellor of Nanyang and Cavalier Attendant-in-Ordinary


  1. The character is 免, which could mean avoided or absolved. Because the charge was serious, it seems unlikely it could be just dismissed. However, the event is not mentioned in Cao Cao's SGZ.
  2. There was severe famine in 194 A.D. when Cao Cao was facing off against Lü Bu. Considering the Yuan was made Administrator of Chenliu in the following sentence, and Zhang Miao (previous Administrator) was killed about that time. I suspect this event occurred then.
  3. Best date I have for this at the moment is from Zang Ba's SGZ. It occurs after Yuan Tan's defeat at Nanpi in 205 A.D. and before the attack on the Yellow Turbans.
  4. Area around the upper reaches of the Wei river.
  5. On the Wei river by Gangu in present-day southwest Gansu.
  6. Approx. 175 km west of Chang'an.
  7. Both Xianqin and Lueyang are in Hanyang commandery north of the Wei river. Lueyang was immediately east of Xianqin.
  8. Group of Xiongnu.
  9. Fuhan county is in Longxi commandery, and just south of the Yellow river.
  10. Region west of the Yellow river.
  11. Xiegu Valley exits at Mei, just west of Chang'an.

Fact vs. FictionEdit


  1. SGZ: Biography of Xiahou Yuan. Translation: [1]
  2. SGZ: Biography of Zhang Liao. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  3. SGZ: Biography of Yu Jin. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  4. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  5. SGZ: Biography of Xu Huang. Translation: Scholars of Shen Zhou
  6. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  7. SGZ: Biography of Xu Huang. Translation: Scholars of Shen Zhou
  8. SGZ: Biography of Ma Chao. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  9. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  10. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  11. SGZ: Biography of Liu Bei. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  12. SGZ: Biography of Huang Zhong. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  13. SGZ: Biography of Zhang He. Translation: Kongming's Archives


  • de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Vol. 1. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996. 2 vols.
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Vol. 2. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996. 2 vols.