Yu Jin 于禁 was a long-time vassal of Cao Cao's. He joined Cao Cao when Cao Cao was given Yan province and followed him until Cao Cao's death. While leading seven armies to relieve the siege of Fan by Guan Yu 關羽, Yu Jin's forces were wiped out by unfortunate flooding of the Han river and he was forced to surrender. He later was returned to Wei where Emperor Cao Pi 曹丕 humiliated him resulting in Yu Jin taking his own life.


With the Yellow Turbans revolting in China, Bao Xin 鮑信 started raising local forces in an effort to combat them and Yu Jin volunteered to join him. In time, Cao Cao was invited to take control of Yan province and so Yu Jin joined him, along with some of his fellow soldiers; Cao Cao made him a subordinate to General Wang Lang 王朗. Lang admired Jin's talent and so recommended to Cao Cao that Jin be promoted to general. Cao Cao summoned Jin so see for himself, he was suitably impressed so he promoted Jin to Major.

Yu Jin took an active part in Cao Cao's campaigns: he first attacked and seized Guangwei (廣威) in Xu province, and was further promoted to Commandant Who Breaks the Enemy Line; he then followed in the attack against Lü Bu 呂布 at Puyang (濮陽), and defeated two of Lü Bu's camps at Chengnan (城南); he defeated Gao Ya 高雅 at Xuchang (須昌); he followed in the seizure of Shouzhang (壽張), Dingtao (定陶) and Lihu (離狐); and the surrounding of Zhang Chao 張超 at Yongqiu (雍丘); wherever he went Yu Jin found victory.

In 195 A.D., Yellow Turban remnants Liu Pi 劉辟 and Huang Shao 黃邵 from Ru'nan (汝南) and Yingchuan (潁川) in great numbers. Yu Jin was at the time garrisoned at Banliang (版梁). At night, the Yellow Turbans attempted to raid Cao Cao's camp and Yu Jin lead hia subordinates in the defence, dealing them a great defeat. Shao and Pi were killed and the entirety of the Turban forces surrendered. Jin was promoted to Colonel Who Pacifies Caitiffs. He then followed in the attack on Qiao Rui 橋蕤 at Ku (苦), where he killed Rui and four of his generals.[1]

Battle of Wan CastleEdit

Cao Cao moved to attack Zhang Xiu 張繡 at Wan (宛) Castle, whom immediately surrendered. However, due to some impropriety on Cao Cao's behalf, Zhang Xiu turned on him and Cao Cao fled to Wuyin (舞陰). Xiu's surprise attack had left Cao Cao's army in complete disarray and many had fled alongside Cao Cao, Yu Jin alone kept his composure, he forced the several hundred soldiers under his command to remain in formation and fought against the enemy even as those around him were injured and killed. The enemy pulled back and Jin sounded the drums and his men began their orderly withdrawal.

As Yu Jin was marching back to Wuyin, he encountered a dozen people wounded and naked. Jin asked them what had happened, they said: "We have been mugged by Cao Cao's Qingzhou Troops."[n 1] Yu Jin was furious at their betray and said to his men: "The Qingzhou Troops accepted the kindness of Lord Cao, yet they return to banditry!" Thereupon, Yu Jin attacked the Qingzhou Troops as punishment for their crimes.

Yu Jin began establishing camp fortifications when he was informed that the defeated Qingzhou Troops had fled straight to Cao Cao, that they had slandered Yu Jin saying he had unjustly attacked them. Jin's men urged him to hurry to Cao Cao and present his side, yet Jin said to them: "The enemy are close behind us, and their pursuit will be here in no time. How can we deal with them if we make no preparations? And our lord is too intelligent to listen to slander and false accusation."[2] Yu Jin made sure the moat was deep and the fortifications secure before he himself headed off to see Cao Cao.

Yu Jin finally visited Cao Cao and explained his side of the story, Cao Cao :"In the misfortune at the Yu River, even I was helpless and confused. But you kept control in the confusion, you have punished cruel robbers, and you have strengthened our defences. You have consistently maintained honour and good conduct. Could any of the most famous generals in the past have done better?"[3] Thereupon, Cao Cao made record Yu Jin's exploits, past and present, and enfeoffed him as Marquis of Yishou (益壽) Village.

After that, Yu Jin followed in the second attack against Zhang Xiu at Rang (穰); the capture of Lü Bu at Xiapi (下邳); then went with Cao Ren 曹仁 and Shi Huan 史渙 to defeat, and behead, Sui Gu 眭固 at Shequan (射犬).

By 200 A.D., Cao Cao was coming to blows with Yuan Shao 袁紹. Despite the abundance of soldiers at Shao's disposal, Yu Jin volunteered to act as the vanguard; Cao Cao was impressed by Yu Jin's courage and selected 2,000 elite soldiers and dispatched him to guard Yan crossing (延津). Shao tried to attack Jin, but Jin put up a firm defence and refused to surrender the crossing.

Following his success at Yan crossing, Yu Jin was dispatched with Yue Jin 樂進 and 5,000 infantry and cavalry to follow the Yan river southwest and attack Yuan Shao's support camps. The attack was an overwhelming success, the pair arrived at Ji (汲) and Huojia (獲嘉) counties where they set fire to over 30 camps, captured or killed over 1,000 soldiers each, and received the surrender of over 20 of Yuan Shao's officers, including He Mao 何茂 and Wang Mo 王摩.

Cao Cao continued giving Yu Jin a separate command and sent him to camp at Yuanwu (原武) and assail Yuan Shao's support camps along the Dushi river (杜氏津), destroying them. Jin was promoted to Major-General and returned to reinforce Cao Cao at Guandu (官渡), who was locked in combat with Shao. Shao's great army raised mound of earth and erected towers; they fired arrows into Cao Cao's camp, killing and injuring many. Jin was tasked with overseeing the troops raising earthen ramparts in defence. Once Shao was defeated, Jin was promoted to Lieutenant-General.

Chang Xi 昌豨 once again rebelled in Donghai (東海)[n 2]; Yu Jin was dispatched to subdue him, but found no success. So Xiahou Yuan 夏侯淵 was sent to reinforce him. Jin and Yuan rapidly advanced, overrunning over 10 rebel camps.[4] Xi was an old acquaintance of Jin, so he surrendered to him. The various generals thought that since Xi had surrendered, he should be sent to Cao Cao for sentencing, but Jin said: "Do you gentlemen not know about Duke Cao's commands?! Those who surrender only after having been surrounded are not pardoned.[n 3] Despite Chang Xi being an old friend of mine, I cannot disobey orders for his sake!" With flowing tears, Jin ordered his friend's execution.[n 4]

Cao Cao was camped at Chunyu (淳于) at that time, when he heard of Yu Jin's actions, he sighed and said: "By surrendering to Yu Jin instead of surrendering to me, Chang Xi had sealed his own fate!" Cao Cao's respect for Jin increased. In 206 A.D., Cao Cao memorialised the Emperor regarding Yu Jin's accomplishments and he was promoted to Tiger General Who Inspires Awe.[5] Yu Jin was then stationed at Yingyin (潁陰) in order to protect the capital, Xu (許).[6]

Mei Cheng and Chen Lan incited the Di tribes of six counties to revolt; Cao Cao dispatched Yu Jin and Zang Ba to deal with Cheng, whilst Zhang Liao and Zhang He were sent to deal with Lan. Cheng quickly led 3,000 people in surrender to Jin, but he proved to be false as he quickly went to reinforce Lan. Zhang Liao had been locked in stalemate with Lan and his provisions were running out; Yu Jin transported provisions for the army and Liao was able to defeat Cheng and Lan. Yu Jin's fief was increased by 200 households to 1,200 households.

Cao Cao detested Zhu Ling and so wanted to seize his camp.[n 5] Of course, taking such actions could always instigate rebellion, so Cao Cao dispatched Yu Jin with several dozen cavalry and instructions to seize Ling's forces. When Jin made his purpose known, neither Ling nor his forces would dare act against Yu Jin, as his prestige was that well recognised. Ling was made a subordinate of Yu Jin's and his troops too. Jin was promoted to General of the Left, bestowed the Staff of Authority and Ceremonial Battle-Axe. Additionally, 500 households were split from his fief and given to his son along with the rank of Marquis.

In 219 A.D., Shu-Han General Guan Yu attacked Cao Ren at Fan (樊). Cao Cao dispatched Yu Jin to relieve the siege. In the autumn, the land suffered from torrential rainfall for more than 10 days and the Han (漢) river swelled up and its banks burst.[7] The ensuing flood waters were several zhang deep[n 6] and Jin's seven armies were obliterated[n 7]. Jin and remnants of his army scaled high hills in an attempt to avoid death, but trapped and isolated they could do nothing to stop Guan Yu's men sailing up in their boats.

Realising the hopelessness of the situation, Yu Jin ordered the surrender of his forces. Only General Pang De chose to stand and fight the enemy, he fought valiantly atop a hill but was inevitably captured and refusing to surrender, was executed.[8] When Cao Cao heard he said: "I knew Yu Jin for thirty years, and I never believed that when danger came he would show himself inferior to Pang De."[9] Yu Jin and his captured forces of 30,000 were then sent to Jiangling (江陵).[10][n 8]

Yu Jin and his forces didn't remain prisoners of Guan Yu for long, Wu general Lü Meng seized Jiangling in the following month and took possession of Jin in the process.

When Emperor Cao Pi took the imperial throne, Sun Quan pledged his loyalty to him.[n 9] As a sign of good faith, Sun Quan released Yu Jin and sent him back to Wei. When Jin presented himself before the Emperor, his hair was white and his features haggard, and he wept as he made obeisance. The Emperor consoled Jin and compared him to Xun Linfu[n 10] and Meng Mingshi[n 11], and appointed him General Who Gives Tranquility Afar.


Emperor Cao Pi wanted to dispatch Yu Jin back to Wu as an envoy, but suggested that he first head north to Gaoling (高陵) and visit the late Cao Cao's mausoleum. Jin arrived at the tomb and was shocked by what he found. The Emperor had painted the walls to depict the events at Fan: Guan Yu's triumphant victory, Pang De's defiant last stand in the face of death, and Yu Jin's submission. Humiliated and ashamed, Yu Jin then took his own life in Sept. 221 A.D. Posthumously Yu Jin was canonised as "Austere" (厲) Lord of Yishou.[n 12]

Yu Jin had fought alongside Cao Cao in every campaign. Whenever Cao Cao attacked, Yu Jin would participate in the vanguard; and whenever Cao Cao retreated, Yu Jin would participate in the rearguard. He was also disciplined and rigid about military laws; whenever enemy valuables were seized, he would hoard none of it for himself, he would turn it all over to Cao Cao, and so he was well rewarded. However, his rigidity when it came to law did mean he did not win the hearts of the men fighting under his command.

Yu Jin performed great service for Cao Cao yet met an ignoble end because of Emperor Cao Pi. Sima Guang commented: "Now that Yu Jin returned, Emperor Wen[n 13] might have dismissed him or might have killed him. Instead, he had pictures painted on the walls of the mausoleum and insulted him; his act was not worthy of a sovereign."[11] As also observed by Sima Yi and Jiang Ji just after his defeat: "Yu Jin and his comrades were destroyed by the floods, they were not lost in war."[12][13] Yu Jin's defeat was due to the elements not him. His army had been destroyed and he could either surrender and save his men, or resist and certainly be destroyed.[n 14]



  • Yu Gui (于圭)


  1. The Qingzhou Troops were former Yellow Turbans who invaded Qing province in 192 A.D. and were defeated by Cao Cao. Cao Cao took those who surrendered and used them to augment his own numbers, which at that time only amounted to a 1,000 or so.
  2. 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 prior to 208 A.D.
  3. Probably more specifically, those that surrender as a last resort, after all options have been exhausted and they have been defeated.
  4. It's not impossible that Chang Xi was executed only because he surrendered once he had lost, but considering that he had already revolted once before and been forgiven, execution was always going to be the likely outcome. Pei Songzhi's commentary notes that sending Chang Xi to Cao Cao would not have been considered a violation of orders, but he probably felt the need to execute him as Chang Xi was an old friend and no semblance of impropriety could be shown.
  5. Not too sure what the problem was, nothing about it in Cao Cao or Zhu Ling's SGZ. As Zhu Ling performed good service it was probably more a clash of personalities.
  6. 1 zhang (丈) = 10 chi = 2.3 m
  7. Seven generals each with an army under the command of Yu Jin.
  8. Lü Meng's SGZ also says several tens of thousands. This number seems suspiciously high, it doesn't seem feasible that such a number could be transported then kept prisoner, so this may be an exaggeration, or alternately the size of Yu Jin's army prior to the flood.
  9. Due to the fact he feared a joint attack from Liu Bei and Wei resulting from the death of Guan Yu.
  10. Served the state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn period. He was defeated at Bi by the Chu army and he offered his life as compensation. Duke Jing declined his offer and let him live. Linfu later went on lead the Jin army to victory against the Di tribes at Quliang.
  11. Meng Mingshi served the state of Qin. He attacked the state of Jin and was captured. Duke Mu of Qin spread rumours that he planned to boil Mingshi alive for his failure, so the Duke of Jin sent them back. However, Duke Mu accepted culpability for the loss himself as he ignored advice against the attack and forced the army to march. As a result Mingshi was pardoned.
  12. Not sure when this occurred, but presumably happened after Cao Pi died.
  13. Cao Pi
  14. Even Pang De was forced to abandon his position as the water level continued to rise, which resulted in his capture.

Fact vs. FictionEdit


  1. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao.
  2. de Crespigny. Chapter 62 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Jian'an 2, section D
  3. de Crespigny. Chapter 62 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Jian'an 2, section D
  4. SGZ: Biography of Xiahou Yuan.
  5. SGZ: Biography of Cao Cao.
  6. SGZ: Biography of Zhao Yan.
  7. SGZ: Biography of Pang De.
  8. SGZ: Biography of Guan Yu.
  9. de Crespigny. Chapter 68 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 24, section O
  10. SGZ: Biography of Sun Quan.
  11. Fang. Chapter 2 in The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms
  12. de Crespigny. Chapter 68 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 24, section U
  13. SGZ: Biography of Jiang Ji.