The story is filled with so many things that do not make sense.

Liu Bei is on the run from Cao Cao.

Somehow, he managed to persuade 100k civilians to follow him. What is going on here? Is this a scorched earth policy where Liu Bei burn the town and forced civilians to follow him?

The wikipedia says that 100k people follow Liu Bei because Liu Bei is popular. Well, as a civilian, I wouldn't follow a fleeing general just because he is popular. I mean, what am I getting? War loots.

The 100k civilians know they are following Liu Bei and is being chased by Cao Cao. Surely they bring some weapons? No. They are unarmed.

What? A typical family there don't have sword? With proper arm, Liu Bei will easily have 100k armed infantry. That's far more than enough to deal with measly 5k Cao Cao's cavalry.

Then, Cao Cao caught up with Liu Bei. Liu Bei abandoned the 100k men and move somewhere else.

So what happened to the 100 k unarmed men? Did Cao Cao slaughter them all? Did they return to their initial city? Did they follow Liu Bei and sail east?

What happened?

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    We are talking about ancient history, with myths and folk tales mixing with real events. It is quite possible that some part of population fled before invading army, but they were not soldiers and didn't want to fight. 100 000 is nicely rounded, it probably means "huge group" and not exact figure. – rs.29 Aug 14 '18 at 19:50
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    During wartime, the fittest men will have been conscripted already. The 100,000 civilians will include women, children, elderly and infirm. They don't stand a chance against 5,000 battle-hardened elite cavalry. – congusbongus Aug 15 '18 at 5:05

This blog post says that they were captured by Cao Cao and escorted back to his territories like Xiangyang and Nanyang, but doesn't give a source. Killing them is unlikely - Cao Cao was too busy fighting and such an event would have been recorded - and following Liu Bei even less so, since this contradicts official history, which says they were "captured".


Cao Cao captured Liu Bei's civilians and supplies.

(Records of the Three Kingdoms)

Civilians have strategic value; when put to productive use, they can pay taxes and grow food. During the Late Han and Three Kingdoms era, there were multiple instances of relocation of civilians for this purpose: both Cao Cao and Sun Quan relocated civilians north of the Yangtze to avoid being captured by the other, Zhuge Liang also did this during his Northern Expeditions.

As for why 100,000 civilians would follow Liu Bei, apart from coercion, they could also be fleeing war, or that they genuinely wanted to follow Liu Bei. During his time at Xinye, Liu Bei was a capable administrator and gained many followers from Jingzhou:


For the record, the "100,000" figure is most likely approximate but unlikely to be an exaggeration. It comes from Records of the Three Kingdoms, the best source we have for the period and it isn't known for exaggeration:


Many of Liu Cong and Jingzhou's people followed Liu Bei. At Dangyang, there was a crowd of more than 100,000, supplies of thousands of carts(?); they travelled more than 10 li a day; Guan Yu was ordered to travel a different route with hundreds of ships, and to meet at Jiangling.

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