Dian Wei

Dian Wei
Dian Wei
Dian Wei Opera.jpg
Dian Wei wielding his dual halberds as depicted in Peking Opera Battle of Wan
General of Cao Cao
Born (Unknown)
Died 197
Simplified Chinese 典韦
Traditional Chinese 典韋
Pinyin Diǎn Wěi
Wade-Giles Tien Wei

Dian Wei (died 197)[1] was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. Famed for his enormous strength, Dian Wei excelled in wielding dual halberds, each of which was said to weigh 40 jin. He was killed in action at the Battle of Wancheng while covering Cao Cao's escape from enemies.



Early life

A local of Jiwu (己吾, present day Ningling County, Henan), Dian Wei's birth year is unknown. Chen Shou's Records of Three Kingdoms describes Dian as a stalwart man with superhuman strength.

When he was young, Dian Wei once agreed to kill a rival of his fellow townsman. Disguised as a noble, Dian Wei traveled to his enemy's house in Suiyang and entered the gates without challenge. He then slayed his enemy's entire family. As the victim lived near the market, news of his death soon spread and hundreds of men went on pursuit of the murderer. However, none of them dared to fight Dian Wei, who headed out of town with the pursuers at his heels. After walking four or five li, Dian Wei met his companions and escaped after a fight.

In 189, the regional warlord Zhang Miao was raising an army to join the coalition against Dong Zhuo, who was holding the Emperor Xian hostage in the imperial court. Dian Wei heeded the call. He greatly impressed his superiors when he managed to keep a huge banner swaying in strong wind upright with just one hand, while several other men with their combined efforts could not do so.

Service under Xiahou Dun

Dian Wei later served under Xiahou Dun, a general under Cao Cao. During the campaign against Lü Bu in Puyang, Cao Cao and his troops were caught amidst an onrush by the enemy. Dian Wei gathered scores of men around himself. All of them put on two layers of armor, discarded their shields, and charged towards the enemy holding spears and halberds. Another wave of enemy closing in from the west unleashed a barrage of arrows onto Dian Wei and his men. Oblivious to the missiles, Dian Wei told his comrade, "Tell me when the enemies are ten paces away." His comrade did so. Dian Wei said again, "Tell me when it's five paces." His comrade then cried with fear, "The enemies are upon us!"

Spinning around, Dian Wei flung the dozen javelins he was holding at his enemies. With each fling a man fell from his saddle and not a javelin missed its target. The enemies then retreated. Deeply impressed, Cao Cao promoted Dian Wei to the rank of colonel and made him his own personal bodyguard.

Bodyguard of Cao Cao

Henceafter, Dian Wei was always next to Cao Cao in every battle Cao participated in. He was also loyal and responsible. He stood guard outside Cao Cao's tent throughout the day and slept somewhere close during the night, and rarely returned to his own quarters. The capable warrior was also an extraordinary eater and drinker. He ate in huge mouthfuls and drank in long gulps. Because of his enormous appetite, several men were required to serve him whenever he sat down for meals.

In 197, Cao Cao waged a war against Zhang Xiu, the governor of Wancheng, who immediately surrendered to Cao Cao. Cao Cao was pleased and invited Zhang Xiu and his men to a banquet. During the banquet, Dian Wei stood behind Cao, holding a giant axe, the blade of which was one chi long. Zhang Xiu and his men dared not even look up at the pair whenever they toasted to Cao Cao.

Battle of Wancheng and death

During Cao Cao's stay at Wancheng, he forced Zhang Ji's widow to be a concubine of his, which angered Zhang Xiu. Cao Cao heard of Zhang Xiu's displeasure, and plotted to kill the latter. However, the plan was leaked and Zhang Xiu launched a surprise attack on Cao Cao, leading to the Battle of Wancheng. Cao Cao escaped on horseback. Dian Wei stood guard at the front gate of the camp ground, with a dozen men on his side, and fought fiercely using a long halberd. One swing of the halberd saw more than ten enemy spears broken. As the battle went on, Dian Wei's companions were killed one by one, while Dian was also wounded.

Dian Wei then grabbed two enemies and used them as weapons. No other enemy dared to approach him. Dian Wei rushed forward and killed a few more enemies before finally dying of blood loss. He was still staring and swearing as he took his last breath. Only after assuring that he was dead did the enemies dare to come forward and severed his head, which was passed around for all to see. When the word spread, all the enemies came to revere Dian Wei's body, not believing anyone could fight so ferociously.

When Cao Cao heard of Dian Wei's death, he broke down in tears. He then ordered his men to steal Dian Wei's corpse back so that the warrior could be buried in his hometown. Thereafter, whenever Cao Cao passed by the tomb, he would stop to mourn Dian Wei. Cao Cao also made Dian Wei's son, Dian Man, an officer, and kept him at his side.

Appointments and titles held

  • Major (司馬)
  • Commandant (都尉)
  • Colonel (校尉)

In fiction

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, was a romanticized version of the events that occurred during the Three Kingdoms era.

In the book, Dian Wei was introduced to Cao Cao by Xiahou Dun sometime in 193. According to Xiahou Dun, Dian Wei used to serve in Zhang Miao's camp. After killing dozens of comrades with his bare hands following a dispute, Dian Wei escaped to the hills. Xiahou Dun, while out hunting, found Dian Wei chasing a tiger across a stream and brought the man back to his camp.

Cao Cao then asked Dian Wei to demonstrate his martial skills. Carrying his halberds, each of which weighed 40 jin, Dian Wei vaulted himself onto a horse and galloped to and fro. Then he saw a huge banner about to topple in the strong wind. A crowd of soldiers were struggling vainly to hold it up. Dian Wei dismounted and held the banner perfectly steady with just one hand.

Seeing this, Cao Cao exclaimed, "This is E Lai [2] from the ancient times!" Thus this fictional nickname of Dian Wei stuck with him, and he was henceforth known as "E Lai" Dian Wei. In the novel after his death Cao Cao could not find his body and wept because of this, furthermore he expressed sorrow that Dian Wei who was talented died, while he couldn't feel as much sorrow for his son and nephew who also died in the battle.

Modern references

Dian Wei appears as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series.

See also


  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 138. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ According to the Records of the Grand Historian, E Lai (恶来) was a very strong man who served under King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty.


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