The Battle of the Red Wall is considered the climax of Three Kingdoms. This is how it began…
An aged general of Wu, Huang Gai, approached Chou Yu. He felt that it was vital for them to send someone to infiltrate Ts’ao Ts’ao’s camp. Chou Yu agreed, but how? Huang Gai volunteered himself, but Chou Yu quickly disagreed, “You have served Wu for three generations since the great warlords Sun Jian and Sun Ts’e and now Sun Quan. Surely, no one doubts your loyalty, and Ts’ao Ts’ao will know it is our ploy.”
Huang Gai then replied, “Not if you brutally punish me.”
Chou Yu could see the wisdom and sacrifice in Huang Gai’s statement. He bowed to Huang Gai and said, “Wu is forever indebted to you.” Then, the two of them proceeded to plan the deceit of Ts’ao Ts’ao.
The next morning, Huang Gai appeared before the military camp hosted by Chou Yu and said that Wu should surrender to Wei. Chou Yu was angry and denounced Huang Gai as a traitor, whereupon Huang Gai yelled, “Little Boy Chou Yu, best friend of Sun Ts’e, playing grand general!!?? Huh!! What do you know? I have served three generations of the Sun clan.”
Where upon Chou Yu ordered his men to seize Huang Gai and execute him for impunity. Yet, Huang Gai appeared unrepentant. The other generals pleaded for Huang Gai’s life, but Chou Yu could not simply let it go, so he ordered Huang Gai beaten one hundred times.
Huang Gai was badly injured. The wise man of Wu, Wu Tse, promptly visited him and revealed that he could see through Huang Gai’s plan, but was willing to help out. So it was Wu Tse who pretended to be Huang Gai’s messenger to the Wei court.
Ts’ao Ts’ao was first suspicious of Wu Tse and wanted to behead him, but Wu Tse merely laughed at him.
Ts’ao Ts’ao: “You are about to die! How dare you laugh at me?”
Wu Tse: “I laugh not at you but at Huang Gai. How foolish of him to think you any better than that pansy boy Chou Yu?!?”
Ts’ao Ts’ao: “What do you mean? Do you think I do not know that you come here as part of Chou Yu’s ploy? If you were sincere, where is your family and those of Huang Gai’s? I don’t believe you are really here to submit to me.”
Wu Tse: “What foolishness is this!! We are on the verge of betraying Wu, which is at war with you!! Do you think it is that easy to send over his family without raising Chou Yu’s suspicion?! Aiyaahh!! Huang Gai, my friend, what a fool you are to think of raising a new home at Wei?!”
Just then, messengers from two of Ts’ao Ts’ao’s fake defectors (nephews of Chua Mao and Chang Yun) to Wu collaborated Wu Tse’s story that the three-generation general Huang Gai had indeed been whipped a hundred times by the impudent boy general Chou Yu.
Upon hearing this, Ts’ao Ts’ao released Wu Tse, trusted him, and told him to seek out Huang Gai to accept his defection. After that, Xu Shu found Wu Tse and told him that he could see through the plan.
Wu Tse: “But you must not tell Ts’ao Ts’ao. If you do, our plan will fail.”
Xu Shu: “Of course not, Ts’ao Ts’ao’s trickery got my mother killed. I hate him. Rest assured your secret is safe with me.”
And thus, Wu Tse succeeded in deceiving Ts’ao Ts’ao into believing that Huang Gai would surrender, so he returned to see Chou Yu and Huang Gai in Nanking.
One day, Chou Yu pondered upon the upcoming battle. He hath placed a fake defector Huang Gai into Ts’ao Ts’ao’s confidence, stolen 100,000 arrows with the help of Kung Ming, and even slain the talented admiral Chua Mao of Chingchou by tricking Jiang Gan, but one thing still eluded him. If he attacked Ts’ao Ts’ao’s magnificent fleet with fire, the ships could still break up and largely escape. Hmmm….If only he could trick Ts’ao Ts’ao into tying the ships together. Just then, he got help from the “Fledgling Phoenix” Pang Tong, who was said to be as brilliant as Kung Ming himself.
Meanwhile, Jiang Gan hoped to redeem himself before Ts’ao Ts’ao’s eyes and volunteered to spy on Wu. Ts’ao Ts’ao really didn’t want to see him, but in the end, decided to give the fool his second chance. So Jiang Gan visited Chou Yu in Nanking again, much to Chou Yu’s delight.
Chou Yu feigned anger and said to Jiang Gan, “Last time, I treated you like a friend, but you made me lose my fearsome admiral Chua Mao. I trusted you, man. How could you betray me?!”
Before Jiang Gan could respond, Chou Yu ordered him escorted to a remote hill outside the city and even ended with the words, “If we were not childhood friends, I would have beheaded you for such treachery. Anyway, considering our friendship, I will just keep you out of my way, while I destroy Ts’ao Ts’ao’s fleet.”
So Jiang Gan was unable to leave the hill for fear of Chou Yu’s men. He was disappointed that he could not contribute anything to Wei in the war, but one day, he heard sounds of a man reading a book. He walked up to the ugly man by the hut and apologized for interrupting, “My, my…you are a man of learning indeed from these myriad books you read. I must apologize for entering, but what is your name, Master?”
“Not at all”, the man replied. “You are most polite, and it is lonely up here. My name is Pang Tong. I stay in this remote hill, because I think Chou Yu is a useless bum….so arrogant, man!”
“Pang Tong!!”, exclaimed Jiang Gan. “I did not know the wise master Fledgling Pheonix was here in person. Please excuse my stupidity!! Chou Yu does not know a genius from a normal scholar. Please come and serve my Lord Ts’ao Ts’ao. Wei will provide you with everything you need.”
In reality, Pang Tong hated Wei, for his house hath been burned down by Wei soldiers during the Battle of Lum Yong, in which Yuan Shao was vanquished, but he pretended to go along. Jiang Gan was much too happy. Now, he had something worth more than Chua Mao’s head. To have Pang Tong on the side of Wei could not be underestimated. The two of them escaped back to Wei in a small ship.
When Pang Tong arrived at the Wei naval base, he was much honored by Ts’ao Ts’ao who admired his wisdom. Ts’ao Ts’ao threw a great feast and let the navy demonstrate for Pang Tong before asking his opinion, whereupon Pang Tong replied, “The fleet’s size is impressive, but I note that your men are land armies. They perform poorly in naval maneuvers. Many soldiers were vomiting and clumsy. Even with greater strength, there’s a risk that Chou Yu would get the better of them.”
“How do I resolve this then?”, Ts’ao Ts’ao asked.
Pang Tong then advised Ts’ao Ts’ao to use planks, chains, and nails to link the ships together. Once linked, the entire fleet seem like land, and the land soldiers had no problem practicing on it. No one was vomiting and clumsy anymore. Then, Pang Tong took his leave, saying he would recruit more able defectors from Wu to join Wei in the attack. Ts’ao Ts’ao was much impressed.
Chou Yu now had one last problem. The wind currently blowing was the northwestern wind. Even if he laid fire on Ts’ao Ts’ao’s fleet, the wind would blow the fire back to him. He needed the southeastern wind that would blow from Wu to Wei, but who could command the gods? Pondering over this, Chou Yu fell sick, and Kung Ming told Lu Ssu he’d pay the Grand General a visit.
Kung Ming: “I have a medicine for your Excellency. I know what you need is the southeastern wind.”
Chou Yu was very excited. He would offer Kung Ming anything in return for the southeastern wind, so Kung Ming asked for an altar upon which he could pray for the southeastern wind. Chou Yu was skeptical but wished Kung Ming would succeed. In reality, Kung Ming could predict the winds and weather as he did earlier when he stole Ts’ao Ts’ao’s arrows in the fog.
He hath predicted that the southeastern wind would come, but did the pretension of asking for the winds from Heaven. When the southeastern wind came, Kung Ming fled by small boat manned by the famed warrior Chao Yun. The Wu fleet tried to follow, but Chao Yun simply shot down their sail. In the end, Chou Yu could not capture Kung Ming, who fled back to Hankow successfully.
Now, Chou Yu and Huang Gai planned the final attack on Ts’ao Ts’ao’s fleet. Huang Gai loaded his ships with firewood and oil and sailed forth to the Wei naval base in accordance with his feigned defection. Ts’ao Ts’ao was very pleased until one of his advisors Jia Xue observed, “Your Excellency, look. The ships are sailing light. It seems they are not loaded with food supplies but with firewood!!”
Suddenly, Ts’ao Ts’ao realized he was tricked. He ordered Huang Gai to back off. When that failed, he ordered men to shoot Huang Gai, who was injured but nevertheless survived. It was too late. Huang Gai’s ships fired up and crashed head on into the Wei fleet. If the Wei fleet had been of separate ships, they may have been able to flee, but they were all chained together, as Ts’ao Ts’ao hath listened to Pang Tong’s counsel. Now, Ts’ao Ts’ao’s massive fleet with close to a million soldiers was a ball of fire!! He was being attacked by Chou Yu’s fleet from the south as well. Unable to fight against the inferno, Ts’ao Ts’ao disembarked to the northern bank and fled.
Meanwhile, in the military camp at Hankow, Kung Ming ordered Chao Yun and Chang Fei to position their forces at different points to ambush Ts’ao Ts’ao. Kuan Yu knew he was being missed out and so demanded why Kung Ming hath singled him out.
To this, Kung Ming replied, “Kuan Yu, you have received much kindness from Ts’ao Ts’ao in the past. I’m afraid that you will repay him by letting him go. I can not afford not to capture or kill the Minister of Wei.”
But Kuan Yu angrily retorted, “It is true that Ts’ao Ts’ao hath offered me many kindness in the past, but I never asked for it and have repaid him by killing Yuan Shao’s two generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou as well. There is nothing left between us.”
So Kung Ming asked if Kuan Yu was willing to sign a contract. If Kuan Yu spared Ts’ao Ts’ao’s life, he would have to meet capital punishment. To this, Kuan Yu signed without hesitation and was given the most important ambush position along Ts’ao Ts’ao’s escape route.
After Kuan Yu departed, Liu Pei asked Kung Ming, “Do you really think he will capture Ts’ao Ts’ao for us?”
Kung Ming understood noble warriors just as Liu Pei did, but he laughed and replied, “My Lord, Ts’ao Ts’ao’s destiny has not ended yet. It is best for us to give Kuan Yu a final chance to repay Ts’ao Ts’ao’s kindness for the sake of his peace of mind.”
This greatly amazed Liu Pei, “Ah!! Your wisdom is that of the Heavens, Master Sleeping Dragon!”
Meanwhile, in the northern banks of the Red Wall, Ts’ao Ts’ao fled an ambush by Chou Yu just barely. He reached a grove where he laughed. The troops asked why he was laughing, and Ts’ao Ts’ao replied, “They say Chou Yu and Kung Ming are brilliant, but look at them. If they had ambushed here, what would we do?”
Jus then, a small army of Hankow troops led by Chao Yun appeared, the fierce general shouting, “Ts’ao Ts’ao, give me your head!!” Upon seeing this, some of Ts’ao Ts’ao’s generals risked their lives to block Chao Yun, whereupon Ts’ao Ts’ao fled.
Much as his life was on a thread, Ts’ao Ts’ao managed to make it through to the outskirts of Lum Yong. Though it was sad to lose such an epic battle, the Minister of Wei managed to let out a bittersweet laugh. His advisor Jia Xue asked him why he laughed after barely escaping alive.
Ts’ao Ts’ao replied, “Kung Ming has the wisdom of Heavens. If he hath but ambushed us here, we would be dead. I’m starting to see loopholes in his thought process. There will be many battles with that boy yet.”
Just then, another Hankow army emerged led by Chang Fei, who shouted, “Criminal Ts’ao Ts’ao, today is your last!!”
Many generals went forth to fight against the valiant Chang Fei and died at his spear, but Ts’ao Ts’ao barely got away. In the end, he reached a dead end ridge with very few men, whom he had to force a march on pain of death. Just then, he laughed again.
Jia Xue was irritated and asked, “Your Highness, the last two times you laughed, we were in deep trouble. Let us not underestimate the enemy.”
Ts’ao Ts’ao then replied jovially, “Sweet Jia Xue, you must forgive me, but can you not see the irony? This ridge is a dead end. If Kung Ming hath ambushed us here, we would be dead.”
Suddenly, Kuan Yu rode the Red Hare before him with a mighty army from Hankow. It was obvious that Ts’ao Ts’ao’s men were too weak to fight now. Ts’ao Ts’ao was thinking of a brave last stand, but Jia Xue thought otherwise and said, “Your Highness, we can not fight Kuan Yu like this. We will all be dead. Kuan Yu is too noble to kill a benefactor like him. All you have to do is ask for mercy.”
So Ts’ao Ts’ao pleaded with Kuan Yu for mercy, but noble Kuan Yu replied, “I’ve repaid your kindness with the deaths of Yuan Shao’s generals, Wen Chou and Yan Liang. This time, I must capture you, Ts’ao Ts’ao.”
Ts’ao Ts’ao: “When you slew my six wardens at the Five Passes, I never held bitter feelings for you. I have always admired you, Kuan Yu, and it is not your loyalty that I can hope for, but all is ask is that you spare my life once if you can find it in your heart. I have nothing now.”
Kuan Yu was too noble to kill Ts’ao Ts’ao and so let him go. The battle was won, but Kuan Yu went before Kung Ming with downtrodden face.
Kung Ming: “Is the victorious general unhappy that I did not go forth to greet you outside the camp? Forgive me, General Kuan Yu. Come, I will drink on your behalf.”
But Kuan Yu replied, “It is not that, Master Kung Ming. I am here to take my punishment.”
Kung Ming: “Did Ts’ao Ts’ao not pass that place I sent you to ambush? In that case, the fault is mine, not yours.”
Kuan Yu shook his head, “No, Ts’ao Ts’ao was at that exact location, but I let him go, not being able to forget his kindness.”
Kung Ming was then angry, “Kuan Yu, I warned you this would happen. Now, you will be executed to preserve the sanctity of military conduct.”
Kuan Yu was willing to be executed, but Liu Pei intervened on his behalf, “Please spare the life of my brother, Master Kung Ming. We were sworn to die together. If Kuan Yu dies, so must I.”
Kung Ming was displeased, “I can not kill my own Lord. Since Lord Liu Pei wills it, I will spare you once, Kuan Yu. In the future, you will know my wrath if you ever spare Ts’ao Ts’ao again.”
And this was how the famous Battle of the Red Wall ended. The mighty army of Ts’ao Ts’ao fell before the allies, and from the ashes, Liu Pei’s tiny force at Hankow would rise under the leadership of Kung Ming. But can the allies remain on good terms? To find out, don’t miss our next episode “Kung Ming Angers Chou Yu Thrice”