Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book XL : The Last Days of Kung Ming

After yet another initial victory against Ssuma I, Kung Ming ordered his men to help the Wei farmers plant rice. This reduced animosity between the invading Shu Han army and the peasants of Wei and helped secure his support and food supply in recently conquered areas. Ssuma I was too wise to provoke an immediate battle with Kung Ming, which he could potentially lose. Instead, he decided to bide his time.

Hoping to provoke Ssuma I into action, Kung Ming sent his envoy along with an actress clothing, saying to Ssuma I, “Perhaps, if you are such a coward and so shy of war, you should wear this.”

Ssuma I was initially angry but quickly worked to control himself. Instead, he pretended to accept the gift and asked the Shu envoy a crucial question, “So how is the health of Lord Kung Ming these days?”

Unfortunately, the Shu envoy was overzealous and replied with too much honesty, “Lord Kung Ming trains the army by day and inspects all aspects by night. He is overworked and eats too little.”

Upon which, Ssuma I smiled and replied, “Kung Ming’s health must be suffering. I wonder how long he has to live.”

Kung Ming asked the envoy regarding the details of the conversation. When he heard this, he said, “Ssuma I knows me better than myself.”

Kung Ming tried to do a ceremony to extend his own life. The ceremony was guarded by Jiang Wei but disturbed by Wei Yan. Kung Ming realized he would die soon but had put plans in place and entrusted Jiang Wei to carry it out. When Kung Ming died, the Shu camp did not show any funerals but kept quiet and prepared to retreat with his corpse back to Chengtu.

Ssuma I, correctly suspecting Kung Ming’s death, ordered the Wei army in pursuit, but then saw Kung Ming standing before the Shu army. Thinking that an ambush was prepared, he retreated. Only later did he learn from his younger son Ssuma Chao that it was only a wooden statue of Kung Ming used to scare him. Ssuma I, though angry, admired Kung Ming, saying, “You have tricked me in both life and death.”

Kung Ming was the greatest strategist of his time. Known by others  by his real name Chuko Liang, he was greatly admired as a general, advisor, and ruler. With his death, Ssuma I had no one to fear any longer. Soon, he would march against Shu and consolidate his power in Wei.

Meanwhile, Jiang Wei was in possession of the “plan” and Kung Ming’s war treatsies. The senior noble Jiang Ji was ordered to lead the retreat. Angered that he was not entrusted with leadership, the jealous Marshal Wei Yan decided to rebel. Ma Tai, younger brother of Ma Chao (one of the Five Tiger Generals in Liu Pei’s days), offered to join him.

When Wei Yan’s forces met with Jiang Ji, Wei Yan wanted to start a civil war with Shu and carve out a domain for himself. He decided to challenge brave Jiang Wei to a duel, but Ma Tai offered to take the challenge on his behalf. However, Ma Tai backstabbed Wei Yan and killed him. Wei Yan was a great warrior and leader of men. Kung Ming knew all along that he would betray Shu and so hath planted Ma Tai into his camp from the start. In this manner, Kung Ming averted the civil war that would have further weakened Shu.

When the army returned to Chengtu, the will of Kung Ming was opened before the Emperor Liu Chan. According to the will, Jiang Wei was appointed Prime Minister and Grand General with Wang Ping and Ma Tai as his deputies. Jiang Ji was so disappointed with his demotion that he died of grief.

…and so this was how the will of Kung Ming was settled.

It must be said that while these disturbing events between Wei and Shu went on, Wu itself was in turmoil as well, but an internal one at that.

Chuko Ching, Kung Ming’s elder brother, hath died, and was much loved by the previous Emperor Sun Quan. In the reign of Sun Huan, Chuko Ching’s son Chuko Ke would become Regent of Wu. Chuko Ke held ultimate power and ordered the invasion of Wu. Under his general Ding Feng, Wu was initially successful against Wei and captured Xuzhou. They could have captured other major cities if Regent Chuko Ke hath obeyed the aged general Ding Feng (who was injured and ill at the time), but the Regent was too full of himself.

He was tricked by a fake Wei defector who asked for a period of truce. During that period, Wei recovered its strengths and gained reinforcements. The Wei army was able to repulse the Regent of Wu.

Fearing retribution, Chuko Ke seized power from the Emperor of Wu and installed a puppet emperor in his place, but Ding Feng remained loyal. When Chuko Ke entered the palace, Ding Feng staged a coup and murdered Chuko Ke in the Imperial Palace of Nanking. After that, Ding Feng served as Grand Marshal of Wu. While the Chuko family served Shu well, they were a source of weakness of Wu. Such is the strange nature of fate in our world.

The Three Kingdoms Saga (Stock Monster Version) will end in only three more episodes. Witness the fall of the Shu Han Kingdom in our next episode.

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