Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

The Battle of Hefei was Sun Quan's attempt to capitalise on Cao Cao's campaign in Hanzhong by attacking the undermanned fortress at Hefei.


At the time of Sun Quan's invasion, Cao Cao had led his forces against Zhang Lu in Hanzhong and Liu Bei was in Yi province stabilising his authority.

With Cao Cao preoccupied, Sun Quan decided to make his first large campaign northwards, leading 100,000 men against the fortress at Hefei.

The Battle[]

At that time, Hefei only had 7,000 men garrisoned there under the command of Protector of the Army Xue Ti. Hearing of the enormous force approaching, the men were understandably concerned.

Before departing to attack Zhang Lu, Cao Cao left a letter giving instructions should Sun Quan attack Hefei. On the outside, read: "Should enemies approach, open this." So as Sun Quan approached, the letter was opened.

Cao Cao's letter read: "If Sun Quan comes, Generals Zhang and Li go out to fight, General Yue keeps guard, the Protector of the Army does not fight."

The generals were concerned about this advice, which was asking them to pit a fraction of their 7,000 forces and the 100,000 Sun Quan had brought, and questioned whether these instructions applied to their current predicament.

But General Zhang Liao discerned the truth behind these instructions. At the time, the bulk of Cao Cao's forces were in Hanzhong, as was Cao Cao himself, so reinforcements could not be expected. And the 7,000 at Hefei would in no way be able to withstand a prolonged siege from 100,000 aggressors. So Zhang Liao said: "The enemy arrive in great numbers and their morale is high at the moment. Our lord is on campaign far away, and by the time help comes the enemy will surely have destroyed us. This letter is to remind us that if we attack them before they have surrounded the city, we shall dampen their morale and raise the morale of our own troops. After which we can proceed to defend the city. Success or failure will depend on this battle alone."

General Li Dian had never been friendly with Zhang Liao, but hearing his enthusiasm, he agreed to lead men against the enemy.

That night, Zhang Liao put out a call for volunteers and 800 brave men volunteered to charge the enemy alongside Zhang Liao and Li Dian. They feasted in preparation for the operations the following day.

When day broke, Zhang Liao led the charge from the gates of Hefei slaying two officers and many of the rank and file. Zhang Liao's men charged through the enemy ranks, and screaming his name, Zhang Liao burst into Sun Quan's main camp.

Probably because Sun Quan had not expected any aggression from his numerically inferior enemy or because Sun Quan was an inept military commander and had arrayed his army formation poorly, but the Wu forces were unable to holdout against Zhang Liao and Sun Quan now found his main camp assailed and himself in imminent danger. Sun Quan panicked and fled for his life to a nearby hill. From his new vantage point, Sun Quan noticed how small the enemy forces was and composed himself. Sun Quan ordered his men to surround the small attacking force.

The tide turning, Zhang Liao's small force was quickly encircled by Wu soldiers. Zhang Liao burst through the enemy encirclement follow by a few score of his remaining men. However, Zhang Liao heard cries from within the Wu encirclement, "General, why are you abandoning me?" Zhang Liao realised these were the cries of his own men and turn his party back against the enemy breaking into the encirclement and rescuing those stranded.

The engagement ran till noon, where Zhang Liao withdrew back to the fortress and the Wu army regained their composure.

Having just arrived at Hefei, the Wu army had already suffered a devastating blow: their soldiers and forces had been scattered, many slain, their main camp assaulted and the commander forced to flee. Expecting an easy siege, the Wu soldiers were now entirely demoralised and forced to lick their wounds as morale within Hefei was soaring.

After a halfhearted siege that lasted only 10 days, Sun Quan thought to withdraw. However, Zhang Liao was watching for their retreat.

Battle at Xiaoyao Crossing[]

Sun Quan's forces were on the retreat when they were halted north of the Xiaoyao Crossing by Zhang Liao's pursuing forces. Sun Quan immediately wanted to recall the vanguard, but they had advanced too far and could not return in time. Gan Ning and Lü Meng were forced to fight desperately against the Wei forces.

Ling Tong led his own personal forces of 300 to break through Wei's encirclement of Sun Quan. Ling Tong and his men guarded Sun Quan with their lives, escorting him to the bridge over the crossing. However, having reached the bridge, they found it had been destroyed by the Wei forces. Sun Quan spurred his mount forward and leapt the crossing, a distance of over 10 metres.

Ling Tong led his men back against the Zhang Liao's forces to help ensure Sun Quan's escape. Ling Tong fought till all his men were dead and he himself was wounded. Guessing that Sun Quan had ample time to escape, Ling Tong withdrew. With the bridge destroyed, Ling Tong cast off his armour and waded into the river, where he was picked up by Wu boatmen.


Due to his exploits at Hefei, Zhang Liao gained great renown in both Wei and Wu, becoming known as the 'Hero of Hefei' and the 'Butcher of Hefei' in each respective territory.


As a side note, Gan Ning's bio makes reference to an illness in the army which may go to why Wu retreated from Hefei. However, none of Sun Quan's, Ling Tong's, Lü Meng's nor Jiang Qin's bio make reference to this. Whether this illness was serious or not is uncertain. In comparison, the Siege of Hefei in 253 A.D. both sides suffered serious illness resulting in heavy casualties.

Fact vs Fiction[]



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