Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book XXXIX : Kung Ming Repels Ssuma I with a Lute

Despite the disastrous defeat at Jie Ting, the invading Shu forces were not without hope. Meng Da, a former Shu noble who now worked for Wei, was now Lord of Wan. He did not personally like the Emperor Ts’ao Rui and so decided to betray him. He secretly sent messages to Kung Ming, and the latter accepted him. Kung Ming ordered Meng Da to be very careful with their correspondences, but somehow, it still leaked to Ssuma I’s men.

Ssuma I then ordered his general Xi Liang to besige Wan, while he himself marched there. Wan was in between the Wei western capital of Chang’an and An Ding, now occupied by Kung Ming, so Ssuma I feared an enveloping movement. Luckily, Meng Da was a good archer. He shot and killed Xi Liang from the top of his battlement. Unfortunately for him, Ssuma I’s main army arrived and captured Wan. After this battle, Ssuma I ordered the traitor Meng Da beheaded in vengeance for loyal Xi Liang.

Despite the delay, Ssuma I now marched to besiege Kung Ming at An Ding. Kung Ming had very few men with him. In fact, they were all scholars in An Ding. Surely, the fate of Shu was sealed, but Kung Ming took an amazing gambit.

He ordered the gates of An Ding to be opened wide, while he himself serenely played the lute. Ssuma I was astounded. As he listened to the music, he could hear the serenity and calmness in the lute’s voice. Suddenly, he feared that Kung Ming had ambushed a force on him, for he knew Kung Ming to be the most meticulous planners of all times. Ssuma ordered a retreat!!

The gambit had worked, and Kung Ming retreated to Tian Shui, where he had more troops. Ssuma I’s son Ssuma Shi reprimanded his father for being overly cautious, and in this respect, he was right. They had missed their one chance to erase the fame of Kung Ming from the face of Earth.

While Ssuma I led a successful campaign against Kung Ming in the West, Emperor Ts’ao Rui led the Wei repulse of Sun Quan in the East. Because the young Emperor led the war himself, the morale was strong amongst the Wei navy, and they had a great victory. It was a day of greatness for Wei to be able to repulse the Wu-Shu invasions simultaneously. Ssuma I applauded the victory of his Emperor against Wu.

After capturing An Ding, Ssuma decided to advance upon Kung Ming at Tian Shui, but this campaign did not prove as easy. Kung Ming’s army successfully ambushed Ssuma I and forced him to retreat. In fact, they almost captured him. The Shu general Wei Yan pursued Ssuma I deep into the forest. As he approached a fork, he threw his cap to one side and fled there.

Wei Yan knew Ssuma I was tricky and surmised that he would throw it at one side and go the other direction. When he went down that path, however, he could not find Ssuma I, who escaped safely back to his own camp. Nevertheless, Kung Ming promoted Wei Yan to the rank of Marshal for “almost” capturing his arch-nemesis Ssuma I.

The wars between Ssuma I and Kung Ming never seemed to be over. It was said that Kung Ming led seven northern expeditions against Ssuma I.

In another one, his general Wu Pan was defeated by Ssuma I while crossing the river. Then, Ssuma I hired the northern charioteer tribesman of Qiang to attack Kung Ming after the Shu forces captured Xi Liang. The Qiang tribesmen were good warriors of Turkic origins, but Kung Ming tricked them into a trap with tacks.

Finally, Ssuma I cut Kung Ming’s momentum in one brilliant stroke of genius. At one point, Kung Ming’s army was so victorious that they besieged Chang’an, the western capital of Wei. The royal son-in-law Hsiahou Mao was captured and Prime Minister Ts’ao Fang, a well-respected rival of Ssuma I, was also defeated. Ts’ao Fang died soon after and was succeeded by his son Ts’ao Shaung as Prime Minister.

What Ssuma I did was to bribe an evil eunuch close to the Shu Emperor Liu Chan “A-tou”. The eunuch told Liu Chan that Kung Ming could be conspiring against him, and Liu Chan ordered him back. Kung Ming reluctantly retreated. Once at Chengtu, however, he beheaded the eunuch, reprimanded the Emperor Liu Chan for his lack of intelligence, and marched northwards again.

By then, Kung Ming’s health was very poor. In reality, Kung Ming was only 45 years old, but the once untiring genius had overworked himself. He was closer to death than he realized when he embarked on his seventh campaign against Ssuma I. One can not deny the greatness of Kung Ming, so don’t miss his end in our next episode Book XL The Last Days of Kung Ming

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