Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book XXXVI : Kung Ming Subdues Meng Huo Seven Times

After the disastrous defeat by Wu, Emperor Liu Pei grieved for the great men lost and was soon dying. At his deathbed, he appointed Kung Ming as Prime Minister of Shu and Chao Yun, the last remaining of the “Five Tiger Generals”, as Grand Marshal. He told Kung Ming that if his son, Crown Prince Liu Chan or “A-tou”, failed to perform his duties, then Kung Ming should take the throne for himself. However, the Emperor realized that both Kung Ming and Chao Yun were loyal to the Han line.

Before he died, Liu Pei asked Kung Ming, “What do you think of Ma Xu?”

Ma Xu was a general of Shu and younger brother of Ma Liang, who served Kung Ming. To this, Kung Ming replied, “Your Majesty, I think he is the ablest of men.”

But Liu Pei chuckled, for he was a good judge of men, “I think Ma Xu is only a talker. He pretends to know many things but can not accomplish big things.”

After saying these last words, Liu Pei passed away. The Emperor Liu Pei was a great man who hath stepped up from a mere shoemaker to a ruler of one of the Three Kingdoms. It was he who faced Ts’ao Ts’ao in battle many times and recruited great men such as Kung Ming and Pang Tong and hold sway over the Five Tiger Generals. In truth, there was no man of greater charisma than him in those days.

Kung Ming was now fully in charge of the Shu Kingdom. Before he embarked on the northern campaign against Wei (having renewed peaceful alliance with Emperor Sun Quan of Wu), he decided to face the southern barbarian tribes of Nanman. These tribes were Tai in origin. They ruled over Yunnan and were led by a leader called Meng Huo, who was most stubborn. Meng Huo had invaded several of Shu’s territories in the deep south.

In the first battlewith Meng Huo, Kung Mung set up a successful trap and captured him. Meng Huo refused to submit, saying that Kung Ming defeated him by guile and not through courageous combat. In the second battle, Meng Huo was defeated by the Marshal Chao Yun and again captured. Presented before Kung Ming for the second time, he asked for another chance to fight Shu. Once again, Kung Ming released him.

The third battle may have been the first victory for the Nanman side. Meng Huo’s wife led this battle. Lady Meng Huo pretended to flee from Marshal Chao Yun but set a trap for him. Meng Huo allowed Chao Yun to be freed, since Kung Ming had already freed him twice. After returning the favor, Lady Meng Huo led a second raid on the Shu camp. This time, Kung Ming came out in a wheelchair and sped away when Lady Meng Huo pursued him. Following him, she was trapped, but Kung Ming released her too. This was Meng Huo’s third defeat.

Meng Huo now retreated south in search of finding allies amongst the other Nanman tribes. Although he was supreme leader, Meng Huo had only nominal control over the allied tribes. One of them invited him to a feast and suddenly arrested him and bought him before Kung Ming. It turned out that his allies had earlier been defeated, captured, and released by the Shu Prime Minister. Unlike Meng Huo, they were grateful to him and had joined Shu.

However, Meng Huo, even in this fourth humiliating defeat, remained stubborn, saying that “I was betrayed by my own Nanman allies, not defeated by you this time. Why should I surrender?”

So despite himself, Kung Ming released Meng Huo again. He realized that the key to pacifying the southern borders of Shu was not expending massive troops to control the Nanman tribesmen, which would hinder his invasion of Wei, but to win their hearts and mind.

Meng Huo crossed further south. When some of the Shu soldiers pursued him, they were killed in a poisonous river. Suddenly, a mysterious man appeared and revealed that he was Meng Huo’s younger brother. He revealed the secret that the poisonous sulfur actually came from dead remains of animals in the river when heated by sunlight. By crossing at night, the Shu army could go through safely. He personally felt that Meng Huo’s resistance and wars against Shu were detrimental to Nanman tribe in general and only done to satisfy Meng Huo’s personal ambitions.

Kung Ming promptly led the Shu army through at night and captured Meng Huo the fifth time. Note that it was not difficult as Shu was much stronger than Nanman. Once again, Meng Huo claimed that it was his brother’s treachery and asked for one more time, so for the fifth time, Kung Ming released him.

In the sixth battle, Meng Huo tried to bribe some of the Shu generals to kidnap Kung Ming. They pretended to take his bribe but then turned on him and brought him to Kung Ming instead. Kung Ming jokingly asked him, “Meng Huo, I thought you said you were not capable of treachery, so what’s this all about?”

Once again, Meng Huo asked to be given another chance and Kung Ming let him go. Meng Huo now retreated to the deepest south, which is close to present-day Myanmar border. There, he allied himself with another tribal leader Wutugo, who had many beasts including tigers and elephants, and who believed he could use them to defeat Shu.

However, Wutugo was lured into a narrow pass. The Shu army covered it with boulder and used explosives to kill Wutugo and his beasts. Once again, Meng Huo was captured and bought before Kung Ming. Kung Ming was prepared to release Meng Huo even after this seventh defeat, but this time, shame got the better of him.

Meng Huo bowed before Kung Ming and paid fealty to him, “My Lord, the Heavens smile upon you, and I  am not your match. Let me and my descendants humbly accept your leadership and serve you till the end of our days.”

And so, in this manner, the Nanman tribes submitted to the authority of Shu, and in fact all of the following Chinese emperors, until the time of the T’ang dynasty many centuries later. It was the work of Kung Ming, the Shu Prime Minister revered as the wisest of the Chinese.

On the way back to the Shu capital of Chengtu accompanied by Meng Huo, Kung Ming passed a narrow pass. Meng Huo offered to kill some of his own men and toss their heads down to the river gods in an exchange for Kung Ming’s safe passage, but Kung Ming knew this was foolish waste of lives. So instead, he ordered steamed buns tossed instead, claiming that these buns were equivalent to heads of the Nanman tribesmen. These buns are today called “Man Tho”, which means Head of the Nanman tribesman. In this manner, Kung Ming also invented a very popular bun for China, and this is why Man Tho originated from Szechuan. More than a strategist, he was also a master chef. I love eating those buns with the red pork called Char Siew. Haha…

Anyway, Kung Ming’s campaigns in the south went very smoothly. Now, he would have to venture north against his most fearsome enemy—Wei. Don’t miss the next thrilling episode. Book XXXVII Kung Ming Gains a Disciple

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