(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cao Zhi (TSAH-oh jee) was a son of Cao Cao, king of the Wei at the time of the Three Kingdoms. Once considered the preferred candidate for the Wei throne, Cao Zhi ultimately lost the position to his elder brother, Cao Pei. After Cao Pei became king of the Wei (and later emperor of the Wei Dynasty), Cao Zhi was regarded as a threat to Cao Pei’s throne and was deprived of virtually all political involvement. Disappointed at the failure of his political career, Cao Zhi died at the age of forty.

Although Cao Zhi was not a successful politician, he achieved great success in literature, especially in poetry. According to the legend, Cao Pei once demanded that Cao Zhi compose a poem on the theme of their fraternal relationship within the time of seven paces. Cao Zhi met the demand by composing the famous “seven-pace poem” immediately. The poem is as follows: “They were boiling beans on a beanstalk fire. Beans cried out in the pot: We [beans and beanstalk] have the same root. Why hurry to burn each other?’ ”


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cao Zhi’s achievement in poetry was second to none of his time. He is regarded as a major figure in the literary movement of the Jian’an period.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Chen, Shou. Empresses and Consorts. Translated by Robert Joe Cutter and William Gordon Crowell. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Dunn, Hugh. Cao Zhi. Beijing: New World Press, 1983.