Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book XLIII. Ssuma Yen Reunites the Three Kingdoms

One day, as the Prince of Chin was feasting, he mysteriously died. They believe he was poisoned by his son, Ssuma Yen, who succeeded him as Prince. Ssuma Yen was more ambitious than his father. He wanted to become Emperor himself and soon forced Emperor Ts’ao of Wei to abdicate in his favor. When one of the Wei nobles denounced him, he had the man executed and said, “Wei seized power from Han. What is wrong with Chin seizing power from Wei?” In this manner, the great kingdom founded by Ts’ao Ts’ao almost fifty years earlier fell.

Ssuma Yen ascended the throne as Emperor Chin Kuang Wu Ti, and his only rival in the land was now Emperor Sun Hao of Wu. But Sun Hao was not a great man. He kept hundreds of wives, listened to music all day, and did not work towards the greatness of his Kingdom. True to the words of his grandfather, the Emperor Ssuma Yen spent ten years improving the economy of Chin. He would sometime go down-to-earth and till the soil with common farmers. In this manner, he was well-loved by the common citizens of Chin, and Chin became a powerful empire.

He then sent the Chin army against Wu, but Wu was defended by the great Marshal Ding Feng. The Chin general and Ding Feng hath great respect for each other and was unsure if one could dispatch each other. Instead, they embarked on a war of delay, exchanging gifts such as ermine and winter hare with each other. When winter turned to summer, Ding Feng died of old age.

With Ding Feng’s death, Ssuma Yen felt it was high time to conquer Wu. To prevent any further delays, he personally led the armies of Chin himself. The Wu navy put a brave defense and had chains interlocked on the river Yangtze to block the Chin navy, but Ssuma Yen ordered those chains molten with fire ships.

After that, the Chin navy easily outnumbered and crushed the Wu navy. With no able general like Ding Feng to defend Wu, the Chin army marched upon its capital of Nanking itself. When Emperor Sun Hao knew he had no chance of beating Ssuma Yen, he had himself offered up in a coffin, as was the tradition of surrender in those days.

Emperor Ssuma Yen lifted Sun Hao from the coffin and embraced him as an adopted son. From that day onwards, Ssuma Yen demoted Sun Hao to Prince of Happiness, and Wu was conquered by Chin. In this manner, China was now reunified under Ssuma Yen, and the Age of the Three Kingdoms came to an End.

The period is known for great men of wisdom (Kung Ming and Chou Yu), bravery (Kuan Yu and Chao Yun), and charisma (Ts’ao Ts’ao and Liu Pei) more than any other period in Chinese history. In my view, Ssuma Yen was not the greatest man of his age, but his victory merely came because he was the last one standing. Kingdoms withered and fell like leaves in autumns. Anyway, hope you enjoyed all our 43 episodes.

Book XLII The Ssuma Family Seizes Power in Wei

While Deng Ai heroically conquered Shu for Wei, the Ssuma family was busy seizing power in Wei. Ts’ao Shaung, who was related to the royal family, gradually reduced the power of the Emperor and the Ssuma family. Eventually, Ssuma I was removed from command and went into retirement. Nevertheless, Ts’ao Shaung’s advisors did not trust the cunning Ssuma I, so he advised Ts’ao Shaung to test him.

When they visited Ssuma I, the latter pretended to listen to the wrong words, vomit and go to the bathroom too often, although Ssuma I was actually in good health. Because of this foolish report, Ts’ao Shaung let down his guard against Ssuma I, who was known as the Imperial Teacher, and thought him sick and near dying.

One day, as Ts’ao Shaung went out hunting with his brothers and closest advisors, Ssuma I seized power with the help of the royal family, who had been oppressed by Ts’ao Shaung in the past. Although Loyang was firmly in Ssuma hands, Ts’ao Shaung’s advisors told him to raise an army elsewhere and seize power from Ssuma I later.

The one problem, however, was that Ts’ao Shaung’s family remained in the capital, so foolish Ts’ao Shaung surrendered to Ssuma I in false hope that he would be spared. Now, Ssuma I was back as Prime Minister, and it was Ts’ao Shaung who was forced into retirement. For many years, Ssuma I allowed Ts’ao Shaung to live but after killing all his close associates and advisors, he executed Ts’ao Shaung himself.

Ssuma I was 71 when he died. He told his sons, “He who controls the heart of a few men can be a bandit leader. He who controls the Emperor can be a successful noble, but he who control the hearts of citizens will rule the land.”

After his death, his eldest son Ssuma Shi became Prime Minister, and his younger son Ssuma Chao became Prince of Chin and Minister of War. The Ts’ao royal family were now mere puppets of the Ssuma. In one instance, the Emperor Ts’ao sought to overthrow Ssuma Shi. Ssuma Shi whispered to one of his generals, “Kill him and you will be rewarded.”

The general charged forward and murdered the Emperor Ts’ao, but during the funeral, Ssuma Shi framed him and had the general slain to demonstrate his loyalty. Such was the cunning of Ssuma Shi. Not long after this incident, however, Ssuma Shi’s mole broke and he perished. Now, absolute power fell to the hands of his younger brother Ssuma Chao.

During the tenure of Ssuma Chao or the Prince of Chin, the Wei army conquered Shu, and Chong Hui’s rebellion hath been put down as described in the previous episode. However, Ssuma Chao was a cautious man, and he chose not to usurp the Wei throne. That would be left to the time of his son, as we shall see in the final episode.

Book XLI Deng Ai’s Heroic Capture of Chengtu

Jiang Wei was relentless in his mission to invade Wei as his mentor Kung Ming had been in the past. While Kung Ming led seven expeditions against Wei, Jiang Wei led nine! As Kung Ming had a great protégé in Jiang Wei, so Ssuma I had a similar one in Deng Ai. As such, the Wei general Deng Ai repulsed Jiang Wei nine times.

The two men were an equal match. In one battle, Jiang Wei used Kung Ming’s mechanical cows to store grain in his army, Deng Ai captured these and remodified them into Wei ones, but Jiang Wei immobilized them with an unknown button. In another battle, Jiang Wei used ballistas against the Wei army at the narrow pass with great effect.

In another famous battle, Deng Ai defeated Jiang Wei and ordered one of his generals in pursuit. The general shot an arrow at Jiang Wei, who caught it but pretended to be hit. When that general reached him, Jiang Wei threw the same arrow into his eye, instantly killing him. After that, Jiang Wei defeated Deng Ai at Jieting and threatened Wei’s western capital, Chang’an.

Unable to turn this invasion in his favor, Deng Ai bribed the evil eunuch to recall Jiang Wei. Returning to Chengtu, Jiang Wei was unable to punish the same eunuch for he did not have the charisma of Kung Ming and because Emperor Liu Chan was becoming a greater fool everyday.

Nevertheless, Jiang Wei’s men put up a good defense, and the Wei army led by another young general Chong Hui was unable to penetrate. Meanwhile, Deng Ai knew of a narrow pass through which they could invade Shu. In truth, this pass was manned by 100 of Kung Ming’s men, and it was so narrow that no great army could move through it safely, but Emperor Liu Chan of Shu was a great fool who had removed those men completely.

With 100,000 Wei soldiers, Deng Ai marched to this route, scaled it with great difficulties, and had to use makeshift parachutes to get through. Even without any resistance, he only made it through with half of his army. If Kung Ming’s men hath not been removed, it would have been virtually impossible for them to invade Shu.

Even with only half his men, Deng Ai marched heroically upon the Shu capital of Chengtu. Kung Ming’s sons put up a great defense, but were all slain by Deng Ai, who honored them in their death. Finally, the Wei army surrounded Chengtu, and Emperor Liu Chan surrendered along with massive tributes to Wei. Deng Ai had conquered the once mighty kingdom of Shu in one stroke of genius and bravery.

…But Jiang Wei did not give up easily. At first, he broke his sword on a rock in desperation upon hearing Liu Chan’s surrender. He then pretended to surrender to General Chong Hui of Wei in order to use the latter against Deng Ai. He then swore brotherhood to Chong Hui and the two marched upon Chengtu, whereupon they captured and executed Deng Ai as a traitor.

Jiang Wei then urged Chong Hui to rebel against Wei and reclaim the mantle of leadership from Emperor Liu Pei, but the then Wei Prime Minister Ssuma Chao found out about this, because one of the loyal Wei nobles left the party to tell him. He sent men to besiege Chong Hui and Jiang Wei in Chengtu. After a great bloodbath, Chong Hui’s rebellion was put down. Jiang Wei died in the process and was much honored by Ssuma Chao for his bravery and cunning. With Jiang Wei’s death, no real resistance would come from Shu any longer.

It was said that once Ssuma Chao wished to test former Emperor Liu Chan, so he set up a party. Liu Chan was a man without conscience. His son, the heroic Crown Prince, had committed suicide and slain his entire family to protest the Wei conquest of Shu, but Liu Chan went on enjoying himself in Loyang, the capital of Wei, as a guest of Ssuma Chao.

One day, Ssuma Chao set up a party with Wei ladies dancing. This, Liu Chan enjoyed. Then, he ordered Shu-style dancing. Upon seeing this, the former nobles wept, but Liu Chan remained oblivious of this. One of the Shu nobles pulled him aside and asked him to beg Ssuma Chao to be returned to Chengtu, where they could rebuilt Shu.

So Liu Chan feigned crying, and when Ssuma Chao asked him of the cause, he replied, “Seeing the Shu dance makes me think of home. I beg the Prince of Chin allow me to return to Shu.”

But Ssuma Chao was wise, so he answered, “It does not sound like you speaking, Liu Chan, but your nobles.”

With that, Liu Chan chuckled and said, “Yes, yes, my nobles told me to do this. You are so wise, my Lord Prince!”

Seeing Liu Chan’s stupidity, Ssuma Chao did not think much of him, saying that Shu was lost under such leader. Even if Kung Ming was alive, no one could really save Shu. After that, he allowed Liu Chan to live in his court, for he was no harm to Wei or Ssuma Chao’s own ambitions, as we shall see later.