The "Father of Hong Kong cinema", Lai Man-Wai, played Cao Cao in The Witty Sorcerer, a 1931 comedy film based on the story of Zuo Ci playing tricks on Cao Cao. In the Shaw Brothers film The Weird Man, Cao Cao was seen in the beginning of the film with Zuo Ci. Zuo Ci was playing tricks on him by giving him a tangerine with no fruit inside. This was later referenced in another film titled Five Element Ninjas.
After the Communists won the Chinese Civil War in 1949, many people in China began to believe that there were many similarities between Cao Cao and Mao Zedong. Because of this perceived similarity, propagandists began a long-term, sustained effort to improve the image of Cao Cao in Chinese popular culture. In 1959, Peng Dehuai wrote a letter to Mao, in which he compared himself to Zhang Fei: because of Mao's popular association with Cao, Peng's comparison implied that he had an intuitively confrontational relationship with Mao. Mao had the letter widely circulated in order to make Peng's attitude clear to other Party members, and proceeded to purge Peng, eventually ending Peng's career.
On 27 December 2009, the Henan Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau reported the discovery of Cao Cao's tomb in Xigaoxue Village, Anyang County, Henan. The tomb, covering an area of 740 square metres, was discovered in December 2008 when workers at a nearby kiln were digging for mud to make bricks. Its discovery was not reported and the local authorities knew of it only when they seized a stone tablet carrying the inscription 'King Wu of Wei' — Cao Cao's posthumous title — from grave Robbers who claimed to have stolen it from the tomb. Over the following year, archaeologists recovered more than 250 relics from the tomb. The remains of three persons — a man in his 60s, a woman in her 50s and another woman in her 20s — were also unearthed and are believed to be those of Cao Cao, one of his wives, and a servant.
In 2010, the tomb became part of the fifth batch of Major Historical and Cultural Sites Protected at the National Level in China. As of December 2011, it has been announced that the local government in Anyang is constructing a museum on the original site of the tomb which will be named 'Cao Cao Mausoleum Museum' (曹操高陵博物馆).
While waging military campaigns against his enemies, Cao Cao did not forget the bases of society – agriculture and education.
Media reports from 2018 describe the tomb complex as having an outer rammed earth foundation, a spirit way, and structures on the east and south sides. Archaeologists have also noted that the tomb's exterior and perimeter appear to be deliberately left unmarked; there are neither structures above the ground around the tomb nor massive piles of debris in the vicinity. This indirectly confirms historical records that Cao Pi had ordered the monuments on the surface to be systematically dismantled to honour his father's wishes to be buried in a simple manner in a concealed location, as well as to prevent tomb Robbers from finding and looting the tomb.
By 211, the situation in the south had stabilized and Cao Cao decided to crush his remaining enemies in the north. In Hanzhong commander, in the north of Yi province, Zhang Lu lived in revolt against the Han, running his own theocratic state. Cao Cao sent Zhong Yao with an army to force Zhang Lu’s surrender. A number of Warlords in Liang however united under Han Sui and Ma Chao to oppose Cao Cao, believing that his maneuvers against Zhang Lu were actually directed at them. Cao Cao personally led the army against this alliance. In the Battle of Tong Pass Cao Cao outmaneuvered the rebel army at every turn. The alliance shattered and many of the Leaders were killed. Cao Cao spent the next month or two hunting down some of the Leaders, many of whom surrendered to him. He then returned home and left Xiahou Yuan to clear up affairs in the region.