Battle of Changban

Battle of Changban
Battle of Changban
Part of the wars of the Three Kingdoms
The painting "Zhao Yun's Fight at Changban" inside the Long Corridor on the grounds of the Summer Palace in Beijing
Date October 208 CE
Location Changban, Dangyang, Jing Province
(south of present-day Duodao District, Jingmen, Hubei)
Result Cao Cao victory
Liu Bei evacuated to Xiakou
Cao Cao Liu Bei
Commanders and leaders
Cao Cao Liu Bei
5,000 elite cavalry advance guard 2,000-10,000 infantry
100,000 mostly unarmed civilians
Casualties and losses
Unknown, minimal Unknown
Battle of Changban
Traditional Chinese 長坂之戰
Simplified Chinese 长坂之战

The Battle of Changban was a battle fought between the warlords Cao Cao and Liu Bei in 208 during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The battle took place at Changban (south of present-day Duodao District, Jingmen, Hubei).[1]



After Cao Cao unified northern China in 207, he made arrangements for a southern campaign on Jing Province (荊州; covering present-day Hubei and Hunan), governed by Liu Biao at the time. Initial minor invasions led by Xiahou Dun were repelled by Liu Biao's vassal Liu Bei, whose forces were stationed at Xinye at the northern border of Jing Province. Following that, Cao Cao personally led his armies south to attack Jing province in the seventh lunar month of 208.

In the eighth month, when Cao Cao's forces had reached Wancheng (present-day Nanyang, Henan), Liu Biao died of illness and was succeeded by his younger son, Liu Cong. Liu Cong's advisers Kuai Yue and Fu Xun (傅巽) convinced Liu Cong that he could not resist Cao Cao even with Liu Bei's help, so Liu Cong agreed to surrender. Liu Bei, who was at Fancheng at the time, was not informed of Liu Cong's decision to surrender. When Liu Bei became suspicious, he sent an attendant to Xiangyang to question Liu Cong, and only then would Liu Cong pass the news to Liu Bei through his subordinate official Song Zhong (宋忠). Dismayed, Liu Bei drew his sword on Song Zhong, but did not kill him. Surrender was not an option to Liu Bei, since he had been involved in an assassination plot to remove Cao Cao when Liu was in the service of Cao roughly ten years ago and it was unlikely that Cao would forgive him.

Liu Bei then called for a council of his advisors. Zhuge Liang suggested that Liu Bei should attack Liu Cong to secure Jing Province and defend against Cao Cao there, but Liu Bei rejected this and said, "as Liu Jingzhou (Liu Biao) was dying, he entrusted his orphans to me. I cannot turn from this obligation and seek my own advantage. How am I to face Liu Jingzhou after I die?". Not willing to fall under the hands of Cao Cao, Liu Bei gathered his men and marched to the south. As he passed Xiangyang he called out to Liu Cong, but Liu Cong dared not see him and hid. Many officials and civilians of Xiangyang followed Liu Bei as he left, as he was greatly respected by the people.

In the ninth month, Liu Cong set out from Xiangyang towards Xinye to receive Cao Cao, surrendering Jing Province. Cao Cao took over the command of Jing Province's military, especially its naval fleet, a component which Cao Cao's forces lacked. Fearing that Liu Bei would take the southern base of Jiangling, Cao Cao swiftly gave chase to Liu Bei with 5,000 elite horsemen, leaving his baggage behind. As Liu Bei was bringing along more than 100,000 unarmed people and thousands of carts of luggage, his force could not move very quickly. Someone suggested to Liu Bei that he should abandon the people for his safety, but Liu Bei did not have the heart to desert them when the people risked their own lives to follow him. Instead, Liu Bei had Guan Yu sail ahead down the Han River with a detachment of several hundred ships and take a roundabout route to Jiangling, where they planned to rendezvous.

The battle

Map of the battle

Cao Cao's cavalry caught up to Liu Bei's congregation at Changban, Dangyang Commandery, and Liu Bei had to flee for his life, galloping away south with Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun and Zhuge Liang, while leaving his family and the populace behind. Cao Cao's forces captured all his army and his baggage. Xu Shu, a friend of Zhuge Liang who was also serving Liu Bei at the time, requested leave from Liu and left to serve Cao Cao after learning that his mother was captured by Cao's men. Liu Bei's two daughters were also captured by Cao Chun in the battle.

Zhang Fei commanded 20 horsemen as rearguard. He held the river and broke the bridges down; looking fierce and shaking his lance, he shouted, "I am Zhang Yide (using his own style name). Come and battle me to the death!" None of Cao Cao's men dared to go near him, buying time for Liu Bei to escape.

As Zhang Fei retreated with Liu Bei, Cao Cao ordered his men to built pontoon bridges and launch an assault, but a timely arrival of Guan Yu and his forces prevented Cao Cao from fully attaining victory.

In the chaos, Zhao Yun disappeared to the north, prompting suspicion that he had surrendered to Cao Cao. When someone reported that to Liu Bei, Liu angrily threw a handaxe and said "Zilong (Zhao Yun) would never desert me." Surely enough, Zhao Yun came back with Liu Bei's infant son Liu Shan in his arms along with Lady Gan. With this, Zhao Yun was promoted to General of the Standard (牙門將軍).

Turning east from Changban, Liu Bei and the remnants of his party had crossed the Han River to the east where Liu Qi, Liu Biao's elder son, still held control of Jiangxia Commandery (present-day Yunmeng County, Hubei). They met Guan Yu's fleet and over 10,000 men led by Liu Qi in Hanjin (漢津). Together, they sailed down the river to Xiakou.

Cao Cao did not follow up in immediate pursuit. The main objective of his drive to the south had been the base at Jiangling, and he pressed on south to secure that base first.


After the Battle of Changban, the land of Jing Province west of the Han River became territories of Cao Cao. Cao Cao entered Jiangling and pacified the officials and peasants there. Cao Cao's advisor Jia Xu suggested that Cao should make full use of the resources in Jing Province to settle his troops before further territorial expansions, but Cao Cao preferred to use the momentum from his victories to attack Jiangdong next.

Lu Su, a statesman under the Jiangdong warlord Sun Quan, was originally on a mission to offer condolences for Liu Biao's death. By the time he reached Jing Province, however, Liu Cong had already surrendered and Liu Bei had fled south. Lu Su went to see Liu Bei at Changban and, after Liu's defeat, followed him to Xiakou. There he asked where Liu Bei was heading after, and Liu replied that he plans to take refuge under Wu Ju (吳巨), an old friend, in the distant Cangwu Commandery (蒼梧; eastern portion of present-day Guangxi). To this, Lu Su dissuaded Liu Bei from joining Wu Ju, saying Wu was only an ordinary fellow who would not be independent for long; and persuaded Liu Bei to form an alliance with his lord Sun Quan against Cao Cao. Liu Bei was pleased at this suggestion, and sent Zhuge Liang to follow Lu Su back to meet Sun Quan and secure the alliance.

The successful formation of the Sun-Liu alliance led to the Battle of Red Cliffs shortly after in the same year, where the allied forces defeated Cao Cao's overwhelming fleets, driving him back north and forming the basis of the Three Kingdoms.

In fiction

In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the battle was romanticized into a showcase of the power and bravery of Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun.

Liu Bei was leading thousands of civilians with him when Cao Cao's 5,000 cavalry caught up with them at Changban, Dangyang, where Liu was defeated and he escaped under Zhang Fei's cover. He was separated from his wife Lady Mi and infant son A'dou during the chaos. Zhao Yun charged through enemy lines in search of Liu Bei's family and eventually found Lady Mi and A'dou beside a well. Lady Mi was happy to see Zhao Yun and she entrusted A'dou to him, after which she committed suicide by throwing herself into a well, not wanting to be a burden to them. Zhao Yun attempted to stop her but was too late, so he knocked down a nearby wall to conceal the well and prevent enemy soldiers from finding her body. He then strapped A'dou to his chest and covered him with a piece of armour.

During the escape, Zhao Yun encountered the enemy general Xiahou En, who was bearing Cao Cao's prized Qinggang Sword (青釭劍), and swiftly slew him and gained the sword. Cao Cao was impressed by Zhao Yun's bravery and gave orders to only capture Zhao alive, in hope of turning Zhao to his side. As Zhao Yun was fighting his way out, he encountered many enemy generals who attempted to capture him. After escaping from an encirclement by four generals, another unit led by Zhang He blocked his path, so Zhao Yun engaged Zhang in a duel. After fighting for more than ten rounds, Zhao Yun feared that prolonging the battle might hurt Liu Bei's son, so he broke off the contest and fled, but his horse fell into a ditch. Just as Zhang He was approaching for the kill, a beam of red light formed an arc over the ditch, causing Zhang He to fall back. Zhao Yun's steed leapt out and sped off.

Cao Cao's troops pursued Zhao Yun all the way to Changban Bridge, where they encountered Zhang Fei standing guard alone on the bridge. Zhang Fei yelled, "I'm Zhang Yide of Yan. Who dares to fight with me?" Cao Cao's men saw that Zhang Fei was so fierce and resolute so they were afraid to advance. They also noticed clouds of dust in the woods behind Zhang Fei and thought there was an ambush. Zhang Fei then shouted, "What mean you? You neither fight nor run away!" It was then Xiahou Jie (夏侯傑), a general under Cao Cao, was so frightened of Zhang Fei that he died of shock. Cao Cao recalled Guan Yu's comment on Zhang Fei's bravado and ordered his men to retreat and take a detour. After the enemy left, Zhang Fei destroyed the bridge and regrouped with Liu Bei and his surviving men.

Zhao Yun had slain 54 of Cao Cao's generals and charged in and out of enemy lines a total of seven times. However, many argued that the "generals" slain by Zhao Yun were mostly insignificant, and were probably minor mounted officers. By then, Zhao Yun had returned to Liu Bei's side safely, bringing along with him A'dou. When Zhao Yun presented A'dou to Liu Bei, Liu threw his son to the ground, saying that his son had almost cost him one of his best generals. Zhao Yun caught A'dou in time and reaffirmed his allegiance to his lord, pledging to serve Liu Bei with his life. In the context of that era, Liu Bei's action was not considered in a negative light, since a brave and mighty warrior like Zhao Yun was more useful to Liu Bei than an infant son. Modern detractors of Liu Bei suggest that this incident caused A'dou to suffer from brain damage and grow up to become an incompetent heir to the state of Shu Han established by his father. However, there is little truth that can be attributed to these claims, since the account of Liu Bei throwing his son to the ground is fictional.

Modern references

The Battle of Changban is the highlight of Zhao Yun's story mode in Koei's video game series Dynasty Warriors.

The battle is also featured in John Woo's 2008 film Red Cliff.


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