The Red Cliff was a site on the Yangzi River in central south China famous for a famous battle which took place in the winter of the year 208. The northern warlord Cao Cao, bent on conquering the south, led a force of 200,000 marines - but he was defeated by a much smaller force when an attack with fireboats, devised by Zhuge Liang, destroyed his navy.
In 1082 and 1085, while disgraced and living in exile, the great Song literatus Su Shi visited the site of the Red Cliff by boat, once with friends and the second time alone. Memories of the great naval battle which had taken place eight centuries previously moved him to compose two of his most celebrated poems, known as the ‘Red Cliff Odes’. These melancholic verses are forever linked with his period in exile in the southern wilderness in the early 1080s.