Sunday, February 19, 2012

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.

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