Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book XXXV : Lu Xun Torches Liu Pei’s Grand Army

The great nobles of Wu assembled before Emperor Sun Quan’s court, and they were all convinced nothing could stop Liu Pei and the Shu invaders. Surely, the kingdom founded by Sun Ts’e was coming to an end. Surrender was not an option for Liu Pei wanted his head. Suddenly, Wu Tse came up with the suggestion that Lu Xun should be appointed as Grand General to stem off the Shu invasion. He even wagered his life and those of his family on Lu Xun’s appointment!!

Sun Quan pondered upon this issue. What did he have to lose? Did the previous Grand General Lu Meng not say that Lu Xun had everything except position and recognition? In dire times, maybe Lu Xun was worth a risk. Lu Xun needed recognition, so he said he would only accept the position and do his best if Sun Quan would bestow upon him the Imperial Sword of Sun Ts’e. Whosoever held the Imperial Sword was equivalent to the Emperor on the battlefield. If anyone should disobey him, Lu Xun could behead him instantly.

Lu Xun proceeded to take command of the entire army. His strategy was to wait for Liu Pei’s army to tire out and defend the fortress carefully. Chou Tai was enraged by this seemingly silly design of the former scholar. Seeing Lu Xun as no more than a pedant, he contested his command, but Lu Xun threatened to behead him with the Imperial Sword. Lu Xun even refused to help Prince Sun Lang, who was being besieged by Liu Pei. He said that Prince Sun Lang was a capable commander who could defend his own stronghold. This caused seething anger in his men, but they grudgingly obeyed him out of respect from the Emperor Sun Quan. Deep inside though, they detested and despised the new Grand General.

Meanwhile, Liu Pei’s men on the plains watched the Wu fortress on the hill. It was summer and very hot now, but Lu Xun would not come out to fight. Liu Pei ordered his men to curse the Wu soldiers as cowards, but they still refused to come out for combat. Meanwhile, Liu Pei’s men were dehydrated by the heat. Finally, he told his advisor Ma Liang that he would retreat to an area closer to the river.

Ma Liang countered, “Your Majesty must not do that. If we retreat now, Lu Xun would send his men after us. He is not one to look down on. It was his plans that killed Kuan Yu.”

Emperor Liu Pei was very angry when he learned of Lu Xun’s role in the death of his brother, but his wits were about him. In reply, he told Ma Liang, “No worries, I am not without battlefield experience. Order some old men to be left behind, and an ambush strike force about our line of retreat.” In this manner, the Shu army retreated to an area closer to the river. Ma Liang, not knowing what to do, went back to seek guidance from his master Kung Ming in faraway capital of Chengtu.

Impatient as ever, Chou Tai and the other generals wanted to attack Liu Pei, but Lu Xun stopped them. Chou Tai pointed out that it was best to attack a retreating army. However, Lu Xun observed that only old soldiers were left in the camp. He quickly realized that Liu Pei hath set up an ambush for them and ordered the Wu soldiers back to the fortress. Again, Chou Tai and the other generals were seething with impatience and ill will towards their seemingly coward commander.

However, after some time had past, Lu Xun could well see that Liu Pei’s men were getting sick from the heat. Their supply lines were stretched over long distances, and some were very close to the river. He ordered men to pile dry woods on their ship and prepare to torch Liu Pei’s camp near the river along with any ships. He also ordered the Wu troops to concentrate their men at key points and ambush Liu Pei. The main purpose was to capture the Emperor of Shu himself, for Liu Pei was the last true descendant of Han with any true significance.

The plan worked!! Liu Pei’s army, though more numerous and armed with greater warriors of caliber, was easily torched and defeated. They were ambushed in many key areas, and Liu Pei barely escaped with his life, using fire as an evasion tactic to get away from the battlefield.

Many days earlier, Ma Liang hath reached Kung Ming, who also saw through the troubles. He sent Marshal Chao Yun to rescue Liu Pei with some very specific directions. After Chao Yun rescued Liu Pei, he detoured to a mysterious labyrinth called I-puk-poh. Lu Xun was trapped in this labyrinth for some time until he was rescued by Kung Ming’s father-in-law. He then realized how dangerous and cunning Kung Ming truly was.

Wei and Wu had made a treaty with each other, since they joined forces against Kuan Yu in the Battle of Chingchou. The treaty was still valid, so Chou Tai and the other generals urged Lu Xun on, but Lu Xun realized in times of war, peace treaties meant little. Instead of pursuing Liu Pei, Lu Xun ordered his men back to Nanking.

And how lucky!! It was that Emperor Ts’ao Pi of Wei, seeing Wu and Shu, at war decided to send a massive army of close to one million men into Wu. Luckily, Lu Xun retreated in time to match the assault and save Wu from total destruction.

Lu Xun was truly a hero of Wu, and he would later rise to the exalted position of Minister of Wu, being second in importance only to Emperor Sun Quan himself. At a later stage, Lu Xun made some unfavorable comments about Sun Quan’s choice of heir, Sun Huan. He felt the Prince Sun Lang was older and more capable, but Sun Quan disregarded his choice and pretended not to listen to him. The Emperor himself would chose which of his nephew would succeed him. Seeing his importance declining, Lu Xun resigned. This was the story of the rise and fall (or rather just retirement) of one of the great men of Wu.

Rulers of Wu:  Grand Generals of Wu
Sun Jian (actually of Changsha) :
Sun Ts’e (founder of Wu):  Chou Yu (sworn brother of Sun Ts’e)
Sun Quan (Emperor):  Lu Ssu
Sun Huan : Lu Meng, Lu Xun

Book XXXIV : Liu Pei’s Great Invasion of Wu

After Liu Pei’s coronation, Kung Ming convinced him to put off the plans to invade Wu for the moment. The purpose was to focus on the usurper Ts’ao Pi of Wei, but an event changed all that. It was Chang Fei. He came forth and begged his brother to attack Wei, saying that Kung Ming and the generals knew nothing of their oath to Kuan Yu at the Peach Orchard. Liu Pei, seeing the needs of the country first, dismissed him.

That night, Chang Fei drank incredible amounts of wine and punished his generals for late work in painting Kuan Yu’s vengeance flag. Upon seeing him asleep, the two generals murdered Chang Fei, took his head to Wu, and submitted to Sun Quan. Now, Liu Pei had no other choice but to see Sun Quan as his sworn enemy. Disregarding the wisdom of Kung Ming, he marched with a great army of almost 700,000 men into Wu territory. Amongst the generals who accompanied him were the aged Huang Zhong, Kuan Xin (son of Kuan Yu), and Chang Pao (son of Chang Fei). Chao Yun was left behind with Kung Ming at the Shu capital of Chengtu.

First, Liu Pei wanted to deal with his foster son, Liu Han, and Meng Da, who he considered traitors against Kuan Yu. He ordered Liu Han to battle Meng Da, but Meng Da beat him back and submitted to Wei. When Liu Han reported to Chengtu, he was beheaded by Liu Pei. His last words were, “Please watch over my father.” When Liu Pei heard this, he wept.

Initially, Kuan Xin and Chang Pao fought for the role of lead general, but Liu Pei reconciled them. In an early campaign, Kuan Xin killed some of Kuan Yu’s murderers. Hoping to sue for peace, Sun Quan sent Pao Hsu Yin and Tiao Tud, who hath betrayed Kuan Yu, to Liu Pei, and Kuan Xin killed both of them.

The generals who betrayed Chang Fei were fearful of betrayal by their own soldiers, most of whom were former soldiers of Shu. They went back to Liu Pei, but the Emperor of Shu did not spare them. So they were also beheaded by Chang Pao. Now, Wu was in terror of the Shu advance. Much of Wu hath already fallen into the hands of a vengeful Liu Pei. Even though Sun Quan offered his sister (Lady Sun) back to Liu Pei, he refused!! All he wanted to revenge.

One day, Emperor Liu Pei praised Kuan Xin and Chang Pao’s bravery before the men, highlighting their youth. Huang Zhong, who was seventy, felt his honor tarnished. The great warrior attacked the Wu camp solo and was slain in the winter after causing great damage. Huang Zhong was a great warrior and one of the Five Tiger Generals. His loss was a great one for Shu, and Liu Pei wept bitterly for his careless words.

The Wu camp also suffered severe losses. While its general Chou Tai was being defeated by Emperor Liu Pei, his comrade Gan Ning wanted to help despite his poor health. Gan Ning was one of Wu’s greatest general. As fever struck him in the hot sun that summer, he fell ill, was struck by a stray Shu arrow, and was dying. His last words to a private by his side was “It is the end of Wu.” The words were prophetic in some senses, but the war didn’t end just then.

The loss of two heroes, Gan Ning of Wu and Huang Zhong of Shu, was monumental indeed. It signified the pain felt by the two tiger nations as they clashed. Would Emperor Liu Pei conquer Wu in his rage? Or was the tide to turn?

Don’t miss our next episode, one of my personal favorites: Book XXXV Lu Xun Torches Liu Pei’s Grand Army

Book XXXIII : Ts’ao Ts’ao’s Death and the Fall of the Han Dynasty

<p>In Wu, the death of Kuan Yu would bring fear to the hearts of men. Lu Meng hath taken Kuan Yu’s great horse, the Red Hare, but it would not eat any hay and eventually died. Lu Meng himself died shortly afterwards vomiting blood. It was said that the ghost of Kuan Yu haunted him.</p>

<p>In Wei, however, Ts’ao Ts’ao rejoiced, for he hath feared that Kuan Yu would invade his capital in Xu Chang. One day, he decided to build a new palace, and his nobles recommended cutting a great tree, but the woodcutters wouldn’t do it. There were afraid of the spirits. So Ts’ao Ts’ao went to the tree and said “Let the sin befall upon me.” With this, he slashed his great sword at the tree, and to everyone’s surprise, blood spewed from it!! After that, the tree was cut down and built into his grand new palace.</p>

<p>But Ts’ao Ts’ao did not rest easy. He was continuously haunted by dreams of people he hath killed in the past, such as the Empress Ho (whom he replaced with his own daughter Empress Ts’ao) and Kuan Yu. The famous doctor Hua Toh visited Ts’ao Ts’ao and said that he had brain cancer and needed to undergo surgery, but Ts’ao Ts’ao grew suspicious of him, believing that he hath come to avenge Kuan Yu and so imprisoned him. Soon Hua Toh was executed. Before he died, Hua Toh left his manual with the Warden Wu who took good care of him, but that guy’s wife burned the manual away for fear of Warden Wu’s own life. So the greatest know-how in China was destroyed in this manner.</p>

<p>The nobles of Wei urged Ts’ao Ts’ao to seize the throne, but at that time, he was both old (60) and sick. He replied, “I rose from the ranks of a mere soldier to Minister of Han. There is no more that  I can wish for in this life.” This is a marked difference from his earlier attempts to seize the throne at 40. I guess people just kinda lose their ambitions when they get older.</p>

<p>Shortly after this incident, the Lord of Wei died. Ts’ao Ts’ao is arguably the greatest leader in the Three Kingdoms. In the period of disunity and severe conflict, he would rule much of the empire. Ironically, it was his death that would spell the end of the Han dynasty.</p>

<p>Now, Ts’ao Ts’ao actually had five sons. His eldest son, Ts’ao Ang, was killed during the battle with Chang Siu, so Ts’ao Pi now became his eldest son instead. His second son, Ts’ao Zhang, was a great warrior, and his third son, Ts’ao Zhi, was the greatest poet of his time. His youngest son, Ts’ao Hin, was a weak imbecile.</p>

<p>Ts’ao Ts’ao’s will stipulated that Ts’ao Pi would be the heir, but Ts’ao Zhang marched into the palace with 300,000 soldiers to challenge him. The senior Wei noble Jia Xue reprimanded Ts’ao Zhang for trying to challenge his brother. Now, Ts’ao Zhang was not a particularly bright guy, so he changed his mind abruptly, handed over the troops to Ts’ao Pi, and said that he was only coming to his father’s funeral.</p>

<p>The other sons did not come to the funeral, so Ts’ao Pi, now Minister of Wei, sent a Commissioner to demand their explanations. Ts’ao Hin was sick during the time of Ts’ao Ts’ao’s death and felt bad about his eldest brother’s suspicion, so he killed himself. This bought much grief to Wei.</p>

<p>When the Commissioner arrived at Ts’ao Zhi’s palace, he refused to apologize but drove the man away, rudely saying that Ts’ao Zhi was brighter than Ts’ao Pi and should rightly have been Minister of Wei. Ts’ao Pi was enraged!! He ordered Xu Zhu to arrest Ts’ao Zhi immediately, so Xu Zhu murdered the palace guards and bought Ts’ao Zhi before Ts’ao Pi at the capital city of Xu Chang.</p>

<p>Ts’ao Pi charged Ts’ao Zhi with treason and was about to execute him when their mother came to beg for Ts’ao Zhi’s life. Ts’ao Pi said he was only wanting to teach Ts’ao Zhi a lesson. He then said framed Ts’ao Zhi for lying to their father Ts’ao Ts’ao and copying poems from others by saying, “If you are really the poetic genius you claim, write a poem or verse in seven paces and let that picture be the topic. Use brotherhood as the theme.”</p>

<p>Now, Ts’ao Zhi was a truly talented poet. He may have learned strategy and cunning from Yang Xiu, but in poetry, even Yang Xiu was not his match. In less than seven paces and under immense pressure, Ts’ao Zhi replied, “Two rams (brothers) collided by the well. One bloodied, whilst the other fell.”</p>

<p>Ts’ao Pi then said, “Well done, but I think you walked too slowly. I demand you write another verse now with faster pace and you must not use the word brother anymore.”</p>

<p>Without even walking, the great poet Ts’ao Zhi replied,</p>

<p>“Using pod of peas to fuel the fire, To boil the same peas with fate so dire.”</p>

<p>Ts’ao Pi was not a fool. He understood the meaning of the poem. Ts’ao Zhi was the peas to be boiled by him (Ts’ao Pi), the pod. Yet, they were brothers from the same line of Ts’ao Ts’ao. Deeply touched, Ts’ao Pi made up his mind to let Ts’ao Zhi go but demoted him to a mere commoner.</p>

<p>Now, Ts’ao Pi’s ambitions knew no bounds. He thought he would complete that which his father Ts’ao Ts’ao hath not, which was to usurp the Han dynasty itself. The pressure on Emperor Hien-te mounted. Empress Ts’ao, who was Ts’ao Pi’s younger sister, suddenly left the Emperor. The Emperor offered his throne to Ts’ao Pi twice, but was rejected. </p>

<p>In the third instance of pressure, Ts’ao Pi accepted. Now, he was Emperor of Wei, while the former Emperor Hien-te was reduced to a mere village headman. The Han dynasty was officially at an end. Ts’ao Pi’s actions would have great repercussions on the Three Kingdoms.</p>

<p>With the collapse of Han, Liu Pei and Sun Quan no longer paid nominal loyalty to the powers of the capital Xuchang.</p>

<p>Soon, Sun Quan would proclaim himself Emperor of Wu. Liu Pei was sad for many days, for he lamented the fall of the Han dynasty as much as the death of his brother Kuan Yu. Finally, Kung Ming convinced him to stand firm against the tyranny of Ts’ao Pi. Convinced that he himself was most closely related to the Han line, Liu Pei agreed to proclaim himself Emperor of Shu (Han). Now, there were really three kingdoms fighting for supremacy in China.</p>

Book XXXII : Kuan Yu’s Last Stand

Lu Meng led the Wu forces to Lukow but did not march against Kuan Yu, who had set up formidable defenses at Chingchou. There were lighthouse towers across the outskirts of Chingchou. If a Wu army was spotted, they would simply alert the next tower until all of Chinghcou was up in arms. Not knowing how to attack, Lu Meng feigned sickness.

A minor (but brilliant) scholar of Wu called Lu Xun, however, visited him on Sun Quan’s behalf. Lu Xun told Lu Meng that he knew the cure. Lu Meng perked up and listened attentively. Lu Meng then went to Sun Quan and asked him to appoint Lu Xun as governor of Lukow, because he was in the best position to execute his own plan.

Lu Xun was seen as a weak scholar from a well-to-do family in Wu, not a hardy general as Lu Meng, so Kuan Yu kinda let down his guard on this guy. To make Kuan Yu underestimate him even further, Lu Xun sent complimentary notes to Kuan Yu with very submissive terms. Overconfident, Kuan Yu decided to march out against Wei but left some men under his generals to guard Chingchou.

Meanwhile, a small fleet of ships reached Chingchou by river during a stormy day and asked for safe harbor. The tower on the Chingchou outskirt was hesitant but saw that they were only merchants. The merchants offered the soldiers wine in return for their kindness.

As the soldiers at that tower grew drunk, the merchants revealed their true selves. They were really Wu soldiers in disguise, and there were led by Lu Meng himself! Lu Meng easily stormed the tower. He then captured the next tower easily, pretending he came from the first. In this manner, he captured all the alert towers of Chingchou. Lu Meng’s strong forces now besieged Chingchou, and Kuan Yu ordered for reinforcements.

But it was too late. Bi Hong and Pao Su Yun, who were guardians of Chingchou, submitted to Lu Meng. Kuan Yu’s trusty commander, Liao Hua, reached Liu Hong (Liu Pei’s adopted son) and Meng Da (a former general of Liu Zhang who hath submitted to Liu Pei). Meng Da advised Liu Hong against aiding Kuan Yu, saying that they had too few soldiers, so Liao Hua was forced to seek direct assistance from Liu Pei at Chengtu. It would take forever to travel to the Shu capital.

In the meantime, Kuan Yu lost Chingchou and was besieged by Lu Meng in Pek-Tae. He was also grossly outnumbered and had no chance of retaliating. To further tip the balance in his favor, Lu Meng had the men of Chingchou call out to their comrades to surrender, saying how generous Lu Meng was.

In fact, Lu Meng was an honorable general. He punished anyone who bullied people of Chingchou, even a man from his own village for simply stealing a straw hat from the villagers. He also paid the Chingchou families wages due to Kuan Yu’s men. His generosity and fairness became legendary. With little men left, Kuan Yu tried to flee from Pek-Tae but was captured. His faithful warrior, Chou Cang, committed suicide when he heard Kuan Yu had been defeated.

Kuan Yu and his son Kuan Ping simply refused to surrender to Sun Quan, who really admired him. Chang Chiao advised Sun Quan to kill Kuan Yu saying that Ts’ao Ts’ao hath once let him go and later had to regret, almost fleeing from Xu Chang at Kuan Yu’s prowress in combat.

So sadly, Sun Quan beheaded Kuan Yu, but sent his head to Ts’ao Ts’ao to frame him. Ts’ao Ts’ao would honor Kuan Yu and appoint him post-mortem as Marquis of Chingchou. So this is how the life of the great warrior ends. After Kuan Yu’s death, he was worshipped as the God of Honesty and Courage by Chinese to this day.

Now, Chingchou fell into Wu hands after long last.

Book XXXI : Kuan Yu Floods the Wei Army

Before Kung Ming went to Shu to help Liu Pei against Liu Zhang, he entrusted Chingchou to Kuan Yu and asked Kuan Yu, “What will you do if Wei and Wu attack you at the same time?”

Kuan Yu: “I will fight unto death!”

Kung Ming frowned and reprimanded him, “A general must think not only of his only valour but the success of his country. If Wei and Wu threaten Chingchou at the same time, you must join forces with Wu against Wei.”

Kuan Yu pretended to take Kung Ming’s words to heart but continued in his own haughty ways.

At this time, Sun Quan blamed grand general Lu Ssu for his failure to retake Chingchou and his role in helping Liu Pei against Ts’ao Ts’ao during the hard times. Hard pressed, Lu Ssu sent Chuko Ching, Kung Ming’s elder brother, to Shu capital of Chengtu and told him to say that if Chingchou was not returned to Wu, Chuko Ching’s family would be killed.

Kung Ming saw through the ruse and pretended to cry before his brother and plead Liu Pei to return Chingchou to Sun Quan. Liu Pei drafted a letter to Kuan Yu for Chuko Ching to carry, but when they met, Kuan Yu refused to hand over the city to Chuko Ching, saying that “in the battlefield, the general is autonomous to his Lord.”

So Liu Pei drafted another letter ceding the outskirt cities of Chingchou to Wu, but when Sun Quan sent his govenors to those cities, they were driven off by Kuan Yu himself. Thinking that the problem was now Kuan Yu and not Liu Pei, he offered to arrange a marriage between his son to Kuan Yu’s daughter.

Kuan Yu, seeing through his ruse, called his bluff, and said “A frog (Sun Quan’s son) wants to eat the flesh of a swan (his daughter).” Sun Quan was furious!! Kuan Yu may be a hero and famous general, but he was not a Lord. Sun Quan was Marquis of Wu, and if their children hath been wedded, Kuan Yu’s daughter could have been Empress of Wu many years later. Now, Sun Quan’s heart was hardened against Kuan Yu.

Once again, he reprimanded the Grand General Lu Ssu, who then came up with another plan to take Chingchou from Kuan Yu. Lu Ssu then invited Kuan Yu to a river banquet. Against the advice of his lieutenants, Kuan Yu went without his army, accompanied only by Chou Cang and a ‘plan.’ While Lu Ssu talked about the return of Chingchou and Chou Cang interceded, Kuan Yu drove him away, but in reality, Chou Cang went out to wave the flag.

When Kuan Yu’s son Kuan Ping saw the flag, a small fleet of Shu ships arrived on Lukow where the banquet was held. Kuan Yu feigned drunkenness and dragged Lu Ssu with him to the riverside saying he needed the host to bring him to it, because he was drunk. Lu Ssu’s men did not dare to open fire on Kuan Yu, because they feared hurting their own general.

Finally, Kuan Yu escaped back to Chingchou unarmed. This caused great loss of face to Lu Ssu. Lu Ssu died shortly after and was succeeded by the general Lu Meng (no relation).

Because Kuan Yu hath spurned Sun Quan’s overtures of alliance, Wu joined forces with Wei against Shu just as Kung Ming had predicted. Ts’ao Ts’ao planned to send a vast army led by Pang Te to invade Chingchou, but the Wei nobles protested. They thought Pang Te was a turncoat who hath fought for Ma Chao and Chang Lu and was unworthy of command. After all, is Ma Chao even now not working for Shu?

So Pang Te was made second in command to Yue Jin, and the great army of Wei descended on Chingchou. In the first battle, Pang Te fought valiantly against Kuan Yu. He then pretended to flee, but when Kuan Yu followed him, he shot him with a poisoned arrow.

Luckily for Kuan Yu, the magical doctor Hua Toh was there. Hua Toh wanted to tie a ring around Kuan Yu before the operation, but Kuan Yu refused. Instead, he played chess with his son Kuan Ping while the doctor operated on his arm.

When the operation was done, Kuan Yu said, “You are a fine doctor.  The world has not known your equal.”

Hua Toh complimented him back, “You are a fine patient. I have never seen a man withstand such pain!”

Kuan Yu then broke the dam and flooded Chingchou. His men boarded ships and attacked the Wei army, which broke easily. Yue Jin was easily captured, but Pang Te resisted to the last. Finally, Pang Te fell into the water and was captured by Kuan Yu’s right hand man, Chou Chang, who was adept at swimming.

Yue Jin pleaded for his life, and Kuan Yu let him go, saying “It is not worth my blade killing a dog like you!”

Kuan Yu had great respect for Pang Te and tried to persuade him to submit, but Pang Te was totally loyal to Ts’ao Ts’ao and refused to do so. Finally, Kuan Yu beheaded Pang Te but had him buried with great honor.

Ts’ao Ts’ao wept when he heard of Pang Te’s loyalty and courage to the last. Kuan Yu’s army now swept northwards into Wei territory. Ts’ao Ts’ao was so fearful of his prowress that he thought of moving the capital away from Xu Chang, which was too close to Chingchou, but his advisor Ssuma I advised against it, “Kuan Yu only has a small army compared to us. What will your citizens think if you flee from him?”

So Ts’ao Ts’ao did not move from Xu Chang. Luckily for Ts’ao Ts’ao, the armies of Wu at Luk Cao was also mobilizing against Chingchou, it seems. Don’t miss the climax in Book XXXII Kuan Yu’s Last Stand.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book XXX : The Wei-Wu Wars

Even after the great victory at Han Zhong, Kung Ming realized that Shu did not have the resources to challenge Wei alone, so he decided to renew the alliance with Wu. In return for some outskirt cities of Chingchou, Sun Quan, Marquis of Wu, agreed to attack the Wei city of Hub Pa on Shu’s behalf. Thus began the Wei-Wu Wars.

The Wu general, Gan Ning, led the charge on the city, killed its general with an iron ball, and captured Hub Pa in a storm. He then marched on the next city, which was guarded by Chang Liao, but he was less fortunate this time. With the help of fellow Wei generals Chang He, he ambushed Gan Ning’s army as they crossed the river.

Sun Quan was almost killed in this second battle, but his young general Ling Tong told him to jump across the bridge with his horse. Sun Quan barely escaped. Meanwhile, his admiral Chen Wu was also killed in the tumultuous whirlpool at the river. The Wu casualties were truly great.

Chang Liao did not, however, follow up his victory by dividing his army and pursuing Sun Quan. Instead, he pretended that there was internal turmoil in the Wei fortress. Ling Tong decided to attack but was ambushed and almost killed by Chang Liao. Luckily, an arrow of Wu struck Chang Liao and forced him to retreat.

That night, Sun Quan arranged a dinner party to celebrate the minor victory. While Gan Ning was drunk and being honored by the Marquis Sun Quan, young Ling Tong wanted to kill him, for he remembered that Gan Ning used to be a Wei general many years back and hath murdered his father Ling Cao in a battle.

However, Sun Quan called him aside and asked, “Ling Tong, did you know who saved you from Chang Liao today?”

Ling Tong shook his head but replied, “I do not, Master, but if I did, I would honor him. Chang Liao was a great warrior, and had he not been injured by that arrow, my life would have been forfeit.”

At that, Sun Quan revealed that it was Gan Ning. The two generals of Wu were now reconciled. Sun Quan explained, “Gan Ning killed your father in service of Ts’ao Ts’ao, his Lord at the time, but he is one of us now. Let the experienced and young unite for the sake of Wu!”

Such was the charisma of Sun Quan. Though many would say that he was not in the same league as Liu Pei or Ts’ao Ts’ao, men of power in the Three Kingdoms period had certain good leadership qualities all along.

Ts’ao Ts’ao now led the reinforcements down to Hub Pa, but Sun Quan amassed great fortifications by the time Ts’ao Ts’ao’s grand army arrived. While waiting for the ultimate battle, Ts’ao Ts’ao fell asleep and saw two suns, but one grew bigger than the other and was immensely hot. An astrologer told him one sun was himself, but the other was Sun Quan, which hath grown to threaten him.

Although Wei had the bigger army, their exhaustion plus the lack of familiarity of the battlefield caused Ts’ao Ts’ao to be defeated by Wu. Finally, Ts’ao Ts’ao sued for peace, and Sun Quan agreed. In return, Wu returned Hub Pa to Wei, which retreated.

With the end of the Wei-Wu Wars, Ts’ao Ts’ao ordered Chang He to attack Shu again. In the first battle, Chang He was quickly defeated by Huang Zhong. He then took refuge with Hsiahou Yuan, who was quick tempered and did not listen to his warning. The Shu army led by Huang Zhong and advised by Huad Jeng took a higher ground and gave much frustration to Hsiahou Yuan, whose army was waiting hotly at the foot of the hill.

Unable to restrain himself, Hsiahou Yuan led his army in an attempt to capture the hill. Huang Zhong led the army down and easily killed Hsiahou Yuan. His son Hsiahou Ma would become a son-in-law of Ts’ao Ts’ao but never had the chance to avenge himself against the mighty Huang Zhong, who was sixty at the time of this success.

Another Wei army led by Ts’ao Ts’ao then threatened Huang Zhong’s position. Huang Zhong sought refuge with Chao Yun. Brave Chao Yun came up alone to protect the fortress, much to Ts’ao Ts’ao’s suspicion. When Ts’ao Ts’ao ordered the army to attack despite himself, a handful of archers showered arrows and killed many Wei soldiers. Finally, Ts’ao Ts’ao ordered a disorderly retreat.

Kung Ming sent reinforcements in, and once again, the Shu army was victorious over Wei. After the many defeats, Ts’ao Ts’ao retreated back to Xuchang, and there was peace in the Three Kingdoms for a short time. Ts’ao Ts’ao was resigned to the fact that it would not be easy to conquer either Wu or Shu easily.

Book XXIX : The Chicken Leg that Kills

From Han Zhong, Ts’ao Ts’ao planned to stage the invasion of Shu, but Kung Ming followed the dictum “the Best Defense is Offense”, so instead, he led the Shu forces in attacking Han Zhong.

In the Second Battle of Han Zhong, Kung Ming would apply the same tactic Alexander the Great did against the Persians many centuries before. He ordered his men to hit the drums and cymbals all night. This kept Ts’ao Ts’ao’s men on alert, but there was never an attack on the Wei camp. When the Wei soldiers were thoroughly exhausted from being alert all night, Kung Ming ordered the well-rested Shu army led by Chao Yun to attack. The exhausted Wei soldiers were easily exhausted and forced to retreat closer and closer to the main fortress of Han Zhong.

In one battle, Ts’ao Ts’ao barely escaped with his life. The Shu general Wei Yan shot an arrow at him. Luckily, the arrow only hit Ts’ao Ts’ao’s teeth and bloodied his mouth, but he escaped with his life.

In another battle, Wei reinforcements led by Xu Zhu arrived. Xu Zhu knew he was easily given over to alcohol and made the point of not drinking, but he hath traveled for so long he thought “One drink couldn’t hurt”, so he took a gulp, but one drink followed the other, and soon he was drunk. Chang Fei led the Shu army against him. Xu Zhu was an even match for Chang Fei in good times, but he was drunk that day and badly injured. He was almost killed and barely escaped with his life.

During the siege of Han Zhong,  however, his second son, Ts’ao Chang, showed brilliance in battle and was able to combat both Chao Yun and Chang Fei. Ts’ao Ts’ao was very pleased with this son. He said, “My third son Ts’ao Zi was a renowned poet, and my second son Ts’ao Chang is a great warrior. I am certainly a blessed father.”

Nevertheless, it was quite clear that the Wei army was being decimated by the numerically inferior Shu troops. Without Xu Zhu’s reinforcements, Ts’ao Ts’ao seemed endangered. He pondered upon his retreat. One day, he was eating chicken leg and told the general Hsiahou Tun that the password for the army today would be “Chicken Leg”.

Now, in Ts’ao Ts’ao’s camp, there was a brilliant man called Yang Siu who has Ts’ao Zhi’s tutor. His brilliance was such that it made Ts’ao Ts’ao jealous and suspicious of him. One time, Ts’ao Ts’ao wished to test his sons to see who would be a better leader between his eldest son Ts’ao Pi (after the death of the really first one Ts’ao Ang in the battle against Chang Siu) and Ts’ao Zhi. The two sons were ordered to meet him, but when the guards said Ts’ao Ts’ao did not want to meet him, Ts’ao Pi turned back in sorrow.

At Yang Siu’s advice, Ts’ao Zhi did the unbelievable. He pretended to turn away and then took the guards by surprise, murdering both of them. In another instance, Yang Siu wrote a book and tutored Ts’ao Zhi on how to answer Ts’ao Ts’ao’s questions.

At first, Ts’ao Ts’ao was much impressed that Ts’ao Zhi could answer the questions so well, and was thinking of making him heir. However, Ssuma I, a brilliant scholar who hath become Ts’ao Pi’s tutor, discovered the existence of this book and revealed it to Ts’ao Ts’ao, making him even more suspicious of Yang Siu.

That day, Yang Siu told Hsiahou Tun that Ts’ao Ts’ao meant to retreat after hearing the “Chicken Leg” passcode. Once again, Ts’ao Ts’ao was angry that Yang Siu could read his mind. How did Yang Siu know? Well, the chicken leg is a delicious part, but you have to throw the bone away finally. In the same situation, Ts’ao Ts’ao wanted very much to hold on to Han Zhong, but his supplies were dwindling and the army’s morale hath suffered in the defeats by Kung Ming, so Yang Siu knew that Ts’ao Ts’ao was contemplating retreat, much as one would have to throw away the “Chicken Leg”.

When Ts’ao Ts’ao heard this, he accused Yang Siu of making false assumptions and beheaded him. He then ordered Hsiahou Tun to prepare for further war against Kung Ming, but the war went badly and he was eventually forced to retreat.

Once again, his choice to listen to Yang Siu backfired, but despite all his brilliance, Yang Siu was a man to die from a mere chicken leg. The incident was a disgraceful defeat for Wei at the hands of Shu. Kung Ming succeeded in capturing Han Zhong in less than a year after it fell to Wei. With this, Liu Pei proclaimed himself Marquis of Han Ning (Han Chong) and became archrival to Ts’ao Ts’ao in greatness.

Book XXVIII: Ts’ao Ts’ao Marches on Han Zhong

Liu Pei’s conquest of Shu caused a great deal of alarm for Ts’ao Ts’ao. Eager to stop the expansion of his archrival, Ts’ao Ts’ao marched upon Han Zhong, which was the gateway city of Shu. Han Zhong was ruled as a Taoist state by its ruler Chang Lu and was relatively prosperous.

The Wei army traveled a long distance, and their general Hsiahou Yuan, also a cousin of Ts’ao Ts’ao, and Chang He took their rest after a long march. Meanwhile, Ts’ao Ts’ao himself took the warrior Xu Zhu and decided to spy on Han Zhong from a mountaintop. The Han Zhong army ambushed both of them. Luckily, the pass was narrow, and none of them could defeat valiant Xu Zhu in the pass.

Hsiahou Yuan was defeated in the first battle, and Ts’ao Ts’ao considered punishing him. However, the nobles pleaded for his life, and Ts’ao Ts’ao relented. Eager to redeem themselves, Hsiahou Yuan and Chang He trained the Wei army with renewed vigor. As the fog had gathered that day, Chang Wei, a brother of Chang Lu and general of Han Chong, took advantage of this to invade the Wei camp.

But the men of Wei were prepared. Hsiahou Yuan captured Chang Wei’s camp while he was away. Then, Chang He joined forces with Hsiahou Yuan and defeated Chang Wei in a pincer movement. Chang He personally killed Chang Wei in combat. Now, Wei was ready to besiege Han Zhong itself.

It was at this time that the great warrior Pang Te presented himself. Pang Te was Ma Chao’s general who was left behind. He was mightier than any general they could find in Han Zhong, so Chang Lu had him lead the army against Ts’ao Ts’ao.

Ts’ao Ts’ao ordered his best generals, such as Xu Zhu, Hsiahou Yuan, and Chang He, to take turns in attacking Pang Te, but none of them could defeat him. Then, he ordered the Wei army to leave massive provisions in their fortress and retreat. Pang Te was a cautious general. He had seen Chang Wei defeated before and was worried that Ts’ao Ts’ao was preparing to capture his base behind his back, so he retreated.

Ts’ao Ts’ao then bribed the evil noble Wang Song to deceive Chang Lu. Listening to Wang Song’s poisonous words, Chang Lu believed that Pang Te was really colluding with Ts’ao Ts’ao and almost beheaded him, but Wang Song persuaded Chang Lu to give Pang Te one last time to prove himself true.

Ts’ao Ts’ao then personally lured Pang Te into a trap. Captured, Pang Te surrendered to Ts’ao Ts’ao and was very loyal.

Finally, Chang Lu led the army out to meet Ts’ao Ts’ao himself. He ordered the food supplies locked and protected but did not burn it, as the citizens had nothing to do with the war. He then entrusted the city to Wang Song in his absence, but Chang Lu was no match for Ts’ao Ts’ao’s massive army. Finally, he retreated to the city, but Wang Song hath already surrendered it to Wei.

After the conquest of Han Zhong, Ts’ao Ts’ao spared Chang Lu and reinstated him as governor of Han Zhong, because he was a good man, but he beheaded Wang Song for his treachery. Now, Ts’ao Ts’ao hath conquered the gateway to Shu. His confrontation with Liu Pei would once again begin.

Don’t miss the next confrontation between these two titans in the following episode: Book XXIX The Chicken Leg that Kills

Book XXVII The Conquest of Shu

Southwestern China in those days was known as Shu or Sichuan, which means “the Land of Four Rivers.” Shu was surrounded by mountains on four sides and had four rivers cutting through it. It was abundant and well-protected. This was the massive province that Kung Ming wanted Liu Pei to seize as his home domain. But how could one attack such a well-protected place?

It turns out that Liu Zhang, the ruler of Shu, was weak and incompetent. He was afraid that Chang Lu, the Taoist warlord of Han Zhong, would attack him. This was preposterous, because Han Zhong was a much smaller neighbor but Liu Zhang was a fool so he greatly feared Chang Lu.

At that time, one of his noble, Chang Song, was tired of Liu Zhang and wanted a better master. He looked towards Ts’ao Ts’ao for leadership. After all, Ts’ao Ts’ao was now the most powerful man in China. So he lied to Liu Zhang that he would seek Ts’ao Ts’ao’s help against Chang Lu. In the meantime, he prepared a detailed map of Shu.

When Chang Song arrived in Wei, however, he would be greatly disappointed. They made him wait several days before getting an audience with Ts’ao Ts’ao, and when he did, it was not without a bribe. Ts’ao Ts’ao was not impressed by Chang Song, who was ugly, so he scolded him about the tribute from Shu being too small. In retaliation, Chang Song tried to belittle Ts’ao Ts’ao and was angrily dismissed.

The literary genius Yang Siu was annoyed by Chang Song’s lack of manners and wanted to subdue him intellectually, showing him Ts’ao Ts’ao’s famous war treatise Meng Te’s Art of War, but Chang Song was able to recite entire chapters of the book and even mocked Wei, saying that Ts’ao Ts’ao had merely copied it from other philosophers. Upon seeing his ruse was discovered, Ts’ao Ts’ao angrily burned the book. He tried to humiliate Chang Song a couple more times, but when he failed, he ordered the poor envoy beaten. Now, Chang Song hated Ts’ao Ts’ao. He no longer wanted to betray Shu to Wei but was wondering what he should do next.

Meanwhile, Kung Ming’s spies were active in Xuchang, learning of all these going ons in the Wei capital and readying his plans as Chang Song made his way back to Shu via Chingchou.

When Chang Song reached Chingchou, he was treated like a guest of honor by dignitaries such as Chao Yun, Kuan Yu, Kung Ming, and even Liu Pei himself. Deeply touched, he stayed in Chingchou for a few weeks before giving Liu Pei the map of Shu and then asking Liu Pei to plan to conquest of Shu and promising to help him from within.

Returning to Shu, Chang Song tried to convince Liu Zhang to ask for Liu Pei’s help rather than Ts’ao Ts’ao. Liu Zhang was a foolish man. He believed that Liu Pei had really come to his aid, because Liu Pei was the Imperial Uncle and a fellow descendant of the Han dynasty like himself. Not listening to his more loyal nobles, he followed Chang Song out to meet with Liu Pei.

In this mission, Kung Ming and Kuan Yu stayed on in Chingchou, while Pang Tong and the general Wei Yan accompanied Liu Pei to Shu. Pang Tong advised Liu Pei to capture Liu Zhang at the reception and proclaim himself Lord of Shu, but Liu Pei refused to do that.

During the reception, Pang Tong secretly ordered Wei Yan to “accidentally” kill Liu Zhang in a sword dance, but Chang Ren, who was a loyal general of Shu, parried with him, pretending to be his dance partner. Finally, other generals joined in until Liu Zhang and Liu Pei forced both of them down. Liu Pei also reprimanded Pang Tong harshly for his plans.

Not long after that, Chang Lu’s forces marched upon the borders of Shu, and Liu Pei went forth to blockade the Han Chong troops. When he requested supplies from Liu Zhang, however, the latter refused to send it over, so Liu Pei got angry and said that he would march back in Chingchou. Secretly, Pang Tong knew the march back was to conquer Shu itself.

While Liu Pei was marching back, Chang Song’s identity was broken in a druken stupor with his brother, who betrayed him to Liu Zhang. Liu Zhang beheaded Chang Song and now prepared to defend himself against the Imperial Uncle, who was clearly invading Shu.

At the first pass, some of the Shu generals pretended to invite Liu Pei to a party, planning to murder him with hidden knives while he drank, but Pang Tong saw through this easy trick and had Wei Yan murder them instead. Now, Shu and Chingchou were openly at war. Liu Pei was almost defeated in a castle siege, when Kung Ming sent Chao Yun to aid him.

Kung Ming sent a message asking Liu Pei to be cautious. Liu Pei pondered upon waiting for Kung Ming, and this created jealousy for Pang Tong. Pang Tong felt himself an equal of Kung Ming, and in his arrogance, advised Liu Pei to continue to invasion of Shu. At one mountain pass, Pang Tong, at the head of the front army, learned that the area was known as the Land of Falling Pheonix, and because his title was the Fledgling Pheonix, he suddenly felt fear and superstition. Just then, Chang Ren ambushed and murdered Pang Tong at the pass. The Chingchou troops were not only outnumbered by Shu, but they were also fighting from a lower, unfavorable terrain. Liu Pei, Wei Yan, and Chao Yun barely escaped.

Now that Pang Tong hath died, Kung Ming put Kuan Yu in charge of Chingchou and hurried to aid Liu Pei in the conquest of Shu. He also took Chang Fei along with him, and they attacked Shu via two routes. In the northern route, Chang Fei met fierce resistance from the aged general Yan Yan. Chang Fei pretended to open a way through the forest to avoid him, but when Yan Yan followed him, he was captured by Chang Fei. Though uncharacteristic of him, Chang Fei managed to use honorable words to recruit Yan Yan.

In another battle, Kung Ming exposed himself to the threat of getting captured by Chang Ren, but when Chang Ren pursued him, he was captured by Chao Yun. Chang Ren refused to surrender to Kung Ming and was eventually beheaded. Nevertheless, Kung Ming honored Chang Ren in death. In truth, Chang Ren was the greatest general of Shu, and it was he who hath vanquished the Fledgling Pheonix Pang Tong.

At this time, Liu Zhang was now more afraid of Liu Pei than Chang Lu, so he offered half of Shu to Chang Lu in return for military aid. At that time, Ma Chao of Xi Liang, who hath been defeated by Ts’ao Ts’ao, resided with Chang Lu, so he volunteered to lead the Han Chong army against Liu Pei.

Ma Chao was a great warrior, and Chang Fei could not defeat him in combat. Kung Ming admired him greatly, so he decided to use trickery. He sent his men to bribe the evil noble Wang Song of Han Chong. Now, Wang Song was close to Chang Lu, and he tricked Chang Lu into believing that Ma Chao was secretly plotting against him. So now, Chang Lu decided to turn against Ma Chao, demanding a speedy victory.

Ma Chao could not dislodge Chang Fei and Kung Ming from their stronghold and even considered suicide. However, Kung Ming sent his cunning diplomat Ma Liang to convince him. Ma Liang told Ma Chao of how the Imperial Uncle Liu Pei respected great men such as himself and told of the friendship between Liu Pei and Ma Teng (Ma Chao’s father) in the past. Finally, Ma Chao decided to give himself up to Liu Pei.

Now, Liu Pei appointed Kuan Yu as the Leader of the Five Tiger Generals. The other Tiger Generals would include his youngest brother Chang Fei, the invincible Chao Yun, the brave Ma Chao, and the aged Huang Zhong.

Now, Chang Lu was convinced Ma Chao hath betrayed him. No more help would come to Shu from Han Zhong. Liu Zhang was truly hopeless, and Liu Pei ordered Ma Chao to go before the palace of Liu Zhang and demand his surrender. The imbecile Liu Zhang, not knowing how to fight the valiant warriors before him, surrendered before General Ma Chao, and now, Shu was conquered by Liu Pei!!

Now, the age of the Three Kingdoms would surely begin, for Liu Pei was firmly esconced in Shu and ready to fight his rivals: Sun Quan of Wu and Ts’ao Ts’ao of Wei.

Book XXVI : The Little Pheonix Pang Tong

When Kung Ming heard that Chou Yu hath died, he quickly went to the funeral escorted only by his loyal general Chao Yun. Some of Wu’s older generals like Huang Gai and Zhou Tai still held a grudge against Kung Ming, considering him the cause of Chou Yu’s death and would have attacked him if Grand General Lu Ssu hath not forbidden them from doing so.

Kung Ming put up quite a show of grief to convince the generals of Wu that he was sincere. He wept and sang praises to Chou Yu, “Brave Chou Yu, Brilliant general of Wu. It was you who won the heart of beautiful maiden Xiao Qiao, rode with the winds between gallant Sun Ts’e, and advised me in the Battle of the Red Wall. I, Kung Ming, who am foolish ape beside your brilliance do grief for you. Why have you left us so soon?”

Kung Ming even made the point of banging his head against the casket until Lu Ssu came to comfort him, and the other generals of Wu let down their guard. But when he was about to return, a mad man shouted, “Kung Ming, you liar! Do not think you can deceive me. It was you who led to Chou Yu’s death.” He ran to Kung Ming with a stick but was stopped by Lu Ssu.

Thereupon, the mad man revealed himself, and he was no mad man at all. He was Pang Tong, the Little Pheonix. Upon seeing this, the two of them laughed. Kung Ming wrote a recommendation letter for Pang Tong and asked him to go serve Liu Pei.

Meanwhile, Lu Ssu presented Pang Tong before Sun Quan, the Marquis of Wu, himself. During the interview, Sun Quan was not impressed. Pang Tong was certainly not a good-looking guy. In fact, he was downright ugly and poorly dressed. Sun Quan asked him, “How does your wisdom compare with that of Chou Yu?”

To which Pang Tong arrogantly replied, “Like ceramic and diamond.”

Sun Quan appeared angry, for he thought Pang Tong was now belittling his memory of the great Chou Yu. “Who is the ceramic? Who is the diamond.”

Pang Tong: “I’m sure you can make that judgment youself.”

Upon hearing this, Sun Quan flew into a rage and dismissed Pang Tong, reprimanding Lu Ssu for bringing the ugly and arrogant fool before him.

And so, this was the way one of China’s most brilliant men failed his job interview with Sun Quan.

Not thinking Sun Quan to be worth his dime, Pang Tong went to Chingchou and applied for a job with Liu Pei, but he did not show Kung Ming’s recommendation letter. Liu Pei was sort of busy and unimpressed at the moment, so he made Pang Tong a mere district governor.

Pang Tong neglected his duties as a district governor, and soon the lawsuits and cases were piling up at his court. Chang Fei was appointed as Commissioner to check on this lazy man. When he arrived, he quickly woke Pang Tong, who was sleeping at noon, but Pang Tong merely retorted, “Haha, they are all such easy cases I could deal with them in a single day. Why would I rush to do it?”

Chang Fei got angry and said if he didn’t get it settled by tomorrow, he would not only fire him but also beat him up for his laziness. The next day, Pang Tong woke up before dawn, went to Court, and cleared every single lawsuit in a single day with complete justice. Chang Fei was amazed by his brilliance and promised to commend him to Liu Pei.

Just then, Kung Ming arrived, and he laughed when Liu Pei appointed the genius Pang Tong as a mere district governor. He told Pang Tong he should have given Liu Pei the recommendation letter, but I guess Pang Tong did not want to be beholden to Kung Ming. After that, Pang Tong was made Deputy Advisor. Now, both the Sleeping Dragon Kung Ming and the Fledgling Pheonix Pang Tong worked for Liu Pei. They were two of the ablest strategists in China.

Perhaps, it was time for Liu Pei to expand his domain yet again. Don’t miss our next episode…the Conquest of Shu (Book XXVI).

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