Liu Pei’s conquest of Shu caused a great deal of alarm for Ts’ao Ts’ao. Eager to stop the expansion of his archrival, Ts’ao Ts’ao marched upon Han Zhong, which was the gateway city of Shu. Han Zhong was ruled as a Taoist state by its ruler Chang Lu and was relatively prosperous.
The Wei army traveled a long distance, and their general Hsiahou Yuan, also a cousin of Ts’ao Ts’ao, and Chang He took their rest after a long march. Meanwhile, Ts’ao Ts’ao himself took the warrior Xu Zhu and decided to spy on Han Zhong from a mountaintop. The Han Zhong army ambushed both of them. Luckily, the pass was narrow, and none of them could defeat valiant Xu Zhu in the pass.
Hsiahou Yuan was defeated in the first battle, and Ts’ao Ts’ao considered punishing him. However, the nobles pleaded for his life, and Ts’ao Ts’ao relented. Eager to redeem themselves, Hsiahou Yuan and Chang He trained the Wei army with renewed vigor. As the fog had gathered that day, Chang Wei, a brother of Chang Lu and general of Han Chong, took advantage of this to invade the Wei camp.
But the men of Wei were prepared. Hsiahou Yuan captured Chang Wei’s camp while he was away. Then, Chang He joined forces with Hsiahou Yuan and defeated Chang Wei in a pincer movement. Chang He personally killed Chang Wei in combat. Now, Wei was ready to besiege Han Zhong itself.
It was at this time that the great warrior Pang Te presented himself. Pang Te was Ma Chao’s general who was left behind. He was mightier than any general they could find in Han Zhong, so Chang Lu had him lead the army against Ts’ao Ts’ao.
Ts’ao Ts’ao ordered his best generals, such as Xu Zhu, Hsiahou Yuan, and Chang He, to take turns in attacking Pang Te, but none of them could defeat him. Then, he ordered the Wei army to leave massive provisions in their fortress and retreat. Pang Te was a cautious general. He had seen Chang Wei defeated before and was worried that Ts’ao Ts’ao was preparing to capture his base behind his back, so he retreated.
Ts’ao Ts’ao then bribed the evil noble Wang Song to deceive Chang Lu. Listening to Wang Song’s poisonous words, Chang Lu believed that Pang Te was really colluding with Ts’ao Ts’ao and almost beheaded him, but Wang Song persuaded Chang Lu to give Pang Te one last time to prove himself true.
Ts’ao Ts’ao then personally lured Pang Te into a trap. Captured, Pang Te surrendered to Ts’ao Ts’ao and was very loyal.
Finally, Chang Lu led the army out to meet Ts’ao Ts’ao himself. He ordered the food supplies locked and protected but did not burn it, as the citizens had nothing to do with the war. He then entrusted the city to Wang Song in his absence, but Chang Lu was no match for Ts’ao Ts’ao’s massive army. Finally, he retreated to the city, but Wang Song hath already surrendered it to Wei.
After the conquest of Han Zhong, Ts’ao Ts’ao spared Chang Lu and reinstated him as governor of Han Zhong, because he was a good man, but he beheaded Wang Song for his treachery. Now, Ts’ao Ts’ao hath conquered the gateway to Shu. His confrontation with Liu Pei would once again begin.
Don’t miss the next confrontation between these two titans in the following episode: Book XXIX The Chicken Leg that Kills