Unfortunately for Liu Pei, Ts’ao Ts’ao was not a man who would easily give up. Liu Biao was dying, and he offered the mighty city of Chingchou. The benevolent Liu Pei, however, declined, saying that Liu Hsun was the rightful heir and should inherit it despite his sickness.
Liu Pei’s rejection created a power vacuum in Chingchou when Liu Biao died, and Ts’ao Ts’ao decided to attack the prosperous stronghold that once held out Sun Jian the Bold. Chingchou had infinite amount of food supplies and could probably have held out indefinitely, but there was an internal power struggle.
At the behest of Lady Chua, her brother Admiral Chua Mao, the most talented but treacherous naval commander of the south, staged a coup to install his nephew as ruler of Chingchou. The conspirators chose to submit to the power of Ts’ao Ts’ao, while Liu Pei, Liu Hsun (the eldest son of Liu Biao), and Liu Pei’s men fled to Hankow, the only place where they could hope to contest Ts’ao Ts’ao.
However, Ts’ao Ts’ao was eager to stop them before they reached Hankow. The two forces would meet at the Chang-pa’an Slope. With several hundred thousand men under Ts’ao Ts’ao, it did not seem like much of a fight, but Liu Pei still managed to pull out a miracle. Against the counsel of Kung Ming, he chose to take along families who feared Ts’ao Ts’ao. This greatly slowed down their migration.
Liu Pei realized that his two wives and infant son A-tou, later known as Liu Chan, was trapped in the city but chose not to save them. However, his brave general Chao Yun thought otherwise. Chao Yun was the greatest warrior in China after Lu Pu.
Chao Yun tried to rescue Liu Pei’s family, but one of his wife hath already been slain. The other one, Lady Bee, was carrying Liu Pei’s only son, A-tou. Chao Yun insisted on rescuing them both, but Lady Bee threw herself into a well after handing A-tou to Chao Yun. Many of Ts’ao Ts’ao’s men tried to destroy Chao Yun, but they were no match for him.
Ts’ao Ts’ao saw greatness in Chao Yun and wanted to recruit him and so ordered his men to take him alive. None of the Wei soldiers dared to fire arrows on him, but Chao Yun was such a great warrior that catching him alive would be virtually impossible. Finally, the hero made away with A-tou and met with Liu Pei at the main camp.
When Chao Yun handed A-tou over to Liu Pei, Liu Pei threw down his own son, saying “Lousy kid, because of you, I lost my wife, and now, I almost lost a brother and great general!!”
Whereupon, Chao Yun, deeply touched, handed A-tou back to Liu Pei saying it was his destiny to fight and die for his master. After this incident, the heroism of Chao Yun became legendary. The battle with Ts’ao Ts’ao was not over. Meeting at the Chang-pa’an Slopes, Ts’ao Ts’ao denounced Liu Pei as a traitor against the Han court, which he represented, but Liu Pei pointed out that as Imperial Uncle, he was more loyal than any of them and that it was Ts’ao Ts’ao who sought to usurp the throne.
So the conflict between the two sides continued. Liu Pei was defeated, but Chang Fei managed to hold the bridge against Ts’ao Ts’ao by feigning heroism and courage. In the background, Chang Fei’s horses connected to palm branches and cooked up a lot of dust, deceiving Ts’ao Ts’ao into believing that a massive army remained behind.
When Ts’ao Ts’ao did not attack, Chang Fei destroyed the bridge and joined up with Liu Pei’s main force, which was still fleeing, but Kung Ming reprimanded him for destroying the bridge, “Ts’ao Ts’ao is an experienced general. If you had left the bridge intact, he would suspect that you had a great ambush on the other side. Now knowing that you fear him, he will surely cross. With his vast army, building a bridge is as simple as clicking a finger.”
So Ts’ao Ts’ao rebuilt the bridge and followed him. By then, however, the valiant Kuan Yu had gathered up a large force from Hankow with the help of Liu Hsun and ambushed Ts’ao Ts’ao’s forces. Though the Wei outnumbered Kuan Yu by a great deal, they were shocked by the ambush and Kuan Yu’s famous heroism and fled before him. Once again, Liu Pei was saved. Thereupon, he fled to Hankow to reposition his forces for Ts’ao Ts’ao’s next invasion.
…But the conflict between Liu Pei and Ts’ao Ts’ao was only started. The duel of wits and wisdom would reach new highs in our next episode Book XIX Kung Ming Borrows Ts’ao Ts’ao’s Arrows