Episode 40: The Red Cliffs of Chibi

This episode lovingly dedicated to my grandfather, Dr. Neill Goltz.  He will be missed, and will always be loved.

The warlord Cao Cao has crushed any rivals to his power in the North, and now turns South to reunify China under his new regime. South of the mighty Yangtze River, the rival lords of Jing Province and Wu Prefecture must put aside their differences and unite if they’re to have any hope of stopping the northern invasion at the river’s shores

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4 thoughts on “Episode 40: The Red Cliffs of Chibi

    1. Good question… simply put, the answer is simple population distribution. The Middle Yellow River Valley of Northern China was not only the heartland of the civilization, but also historically by leaps and bounds the most densely populated. Though the Pearl River and the Yangtze River Deltas have since become its rivals in terms of population – the Hebei region encompassing Beijing and Tianjin today is *still* the pulsing heart of China and where the most people live. It was all the more so during the 3 Kingdoms, when the YRD *was* China, and anything south of the Huai and/or Yangtze was considered little more than far-flung, underpopulated wildlands only nominally under imperial control.

      Chengdu, Sichuan – the seat of what would form into the Shu Han Kingdom – was a populous city, yes, but it sat at the figurative edge of the world, and was surrounded by inhospitable cliffs and mountains… good for defense, not so good for sustaining a large population.

      Meanwhile, Cao Cao – already armed with the vast majority of the imperial populace by sheer virtue of his geographic holdings – had further enriched his army through a policy of forcibly conscripting enemy soldiers when they were defeated, and had employed such tactics not only against his rival northern lords, but also against the barbarian tribes he’d conquered in (modern) Manchuria and Liaodong.

      It’s all very impressive to llok at, of course… but as events played out, Cao Cao found out at Red Cliff that sheer numbers can’t account for everything (a lesson he ought to have already learned), that one cannot overstate the effects of southern heat and disease, and that an army of conscripted enemies is unlikely to stick around after a massive defeat.

      1. Yeah, our good narrator pretty much explained it excellently🙂. Nowadays, China (at least the areas east of Xinjiang & Tibet) has a much more evenly distributed population, but during the 3 Kingdoms time, the areas around the Wei & Yellow Rivers were where the vast majority of Chinese people lived (Luoyang, Chang’an… that sort of area). Later, there would be periods which would see a mass internal migration of Chinese within China from north to south (such periods include the 16 Northern Wuhu Kingdoms, the Jurchen Jin toppling the Northern Song, the age of Western (& Japanese) Imperialism in China during the end of the Qing), but none of that had yet happened, & the Yellow River, at this point, was where the big cities & cultural centers of China were located. W/this in mind, you can see why The Battle of Guandu (covered in Ep 38) was so monumentally important (I’d go as far as saying, w/o any reservations, that it was the most important battle of this period): Once Cao Cao bested Yuan Shao & established control of the North China Plain & Yellow River Valley, there wasn’t much that could be done (not even Cao Cao suffering, what is perhaps, the largest naval defeat (in terms of troop casualties) in all of military history, at Red Cliffs) to prevent Cao Wei’s eventual conquering of all of China. Well, not unless it was brought down by someone from within their own ranks 😏…

  1. Man, I just love all the little tidbits & nuggets of info you include in these podcast episodes. Like the fact that many troops in Cao Cao’s retreating army were forced to haul & lay down grass over extremely waterlogged patches of ground in order to make it possible for their horses to tread upon. Minute little details that are truly interesting. Great stuff. 🙂 👍

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