2 of 5 (of the Many) Badasseries of Zhuge Liang

Aside from the Chinese, a handful of scholars and curious souls, and Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms players, not a lot of people really know about the Sleeping (well, “Dead” by now, if anything … Too soon?) Dragon that is Zhuge Liang, widely recognized as the most badass strategist of his time.

Zhuge Liang, style name Kongming (孔明), lived from 181–234 AD, or in more general terms, near the end of the Han Dynasty towards the Three Kingdoms Era of Chinese History. After having proven himself, he goes on to serve Liu Bei of the Shu-Han Empire until his death.

Historically, he is credited with awesomeness. Fictionally, in Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Liang has so much awesomeness he practically owns more than half of the story.


The following anecdotes about Wolong’s—“Sleeping Dragon”—badassery come from the novel[NOTE1] and portray his genius-ness better… even if they are to some degree fictional.


NOTE1: Material from my printed copy of the novel will be indicated as such. The one I have is Volume I of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, given by le girlfriend [whose defunct blog can be accessed here]. Otherwise, it will be from the online copy, Third Edition, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor and edited by Snow N. Snow, found at threekingdoms.com.

DISCLAIMER: For material from Brewitt-Taylor’s print, I will substitute the names of characters and places using the old Yale name system with their respective modern Pinyin name system counterparts inside square brackets, most notably “Chuko Liang” to “[Zhuge Liang]” and “K’ung-ming” to “[Kongming].”

NOTE2: This was originally just one post; not possible, says foresight. It would be very long. To keep readers from having any sort of information overload, I thought it best to splice the post into 3, possibly 4 posts. Check out Number 3 here! Thanks for bearing with me.

OTHERS: Should Filipino readers get to read this: If you know a place where I can find and buy a copy of the Moss Roberts translation of the same novel, it would be very much appreciated if you write a store and the price in the comments section below. Thanks in advance!

5. Empty Fort Strategy (228 A.D.)

Nice picture from here. Reading it is a must.

For those unfamiliar with the whole concept, the empty fort strategy is listed as the 32nd stratagem of the Chinese essay “The 36 Stratagems,” enumerating ways one may be victorious in war, politics, or everyday life in general. Other translations label it as “The Strategy of Open City Gates” (particularly this one): “When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretence of military preparedness and act casually. Unless the enemy has an accurate description of your situation this unusual behavior will arouse suspicions. With luck he will be dissuaded from attacking.” An awesome example below.

Now, Kongming’s episode is completely fictional (still awesome though). It happens during the Northern Campaign, when the country was separated into three states (Three Kingdoms): Cao-Wei in the central and northern regions, Shu-Han in the south-western, and Eastern Wu of the, well, east.

Huh… The colors are not where I thought they’d be.

The main objective of the Northern Campaigns is to weaken and subjugate Cao-Wei and its territories. Hypothetically, if successful, Shu-Han would own more than half of China, and Eastern Wu would be either an inferior ally or an enemy that would either eventually be quelled or eventually succumb after the passing of its leader Sun Quan.

During the First Northern Campaign, Zhuge Liang eyes attacking and seizing the Longyou area, providing an opportunity to attack Chang’an (modern day Xi’an) from the west. Near that area is Jieting (present day Qin’an County, Gansu), which is in Shu-Han territory and guarded by Shu-Han generals Ma Su and Wang Ping. Before anything remarkable happens, though, Jieting is lost because of a military blunder by Ma Su, revealing Zhuge Liang’s position, Xicheng. Now, when you’ve got enemies heading toward your door, and you can’t possibly fight them and win, what’s the next logical thing to do? Stratagem 36: Retreat.

Of course, when retreating, it’s best to cover your tracks to avoid pursuit. And to make sure your army survives, you have to do it the smart way.

Very much unlike this one.

Zhuge Liang does not disappoint. The following is from Chapter 95 of the soft copy (by this time, he already ordered the retreat to commence):

No leader of rank was left to Zhuge Liang. He had only the civil officials and the five thousand soldiers, and as half this force had started to remove the stores, he had only two thousand five hundred left …. Zhuge Liang himself went up on the rampart to look around …. Then he gave orders: “All the banners are to be removed and concealed. If any officer in command of soldiers in the city moves or makes any noise, he will be instantly put to death.”

Next he threw open all the gates and set twenty soldiers dressed as ordinary people cleaning the streets at each gate. He told them not to react at the coming of the Wei army, as he had a plan ready for the city defense.

When all these preparations were complete, he donned the simple Taoist dress and, attended by a couple of lads, sat down on the wall by one of the towers with his lute before him and a stick of incense burning.

Holy shit. That’s like conspiring with every student in your class that no one but you is to show up.

When the Cao-Wei army is near the city gates comes the nice part:

Sima Yi hardly believed his eyes and thought this meant some peculiarly subtle ruse. So he went back to his armies, faced them about and moved toward the hills on the north.

“I am certain there are no soldiers behind this foolery,” said Sima Zhao. “What do you retire for, Father?”

Sima Yi replied, “Zhuge Liang is always most careful and runs no risks. Those open gates undoubtedly mean an ambush. If our force enter [sic] the city, they will fall victims to his guile. How can you know? No; our course is to retire.”

Thus were the two armies turned back from the city, much to the joy of Zhuge Liang, who laughed and clapped his hands as he saw them hastening away.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Continuing the analogy, you’re the only one who sits there, “oblivious” to your solitariness. And when the teacher comes in, he sees and realizes he has only one student to teach! He practically has no choice but to cancel.

… Don’t do that.

It should be duly noted here that Zhuge Liang has made a name for himself by now as being a cautious and rather ambush-y tactician. Hell, right after the empty fort strategy, he instructed six of his best generals to ambush the goddamn enemy just to make sure no one would chase them (story found here)! Or maybe just to fuck with them. No one will ever know.

Devious as fuck.

This is the main reason Zhuge Liang was able to pull this stunt off: Sima Yi, knowing the former’s aptitude for ambushes, didn’t dare risk getting himself in one, especially right after Cao-Wei just succeeded in getting Jieting. That would have sent the morale of the troops plummeting—something an army commandant does not want. Plus, another bragging right for Zhuge Liang.

And this is why he is so badass. Enemies are so cautious of your actions that even with you not doing anything, ostensibly or not, they doubt their next action. Sima Yi certainly did. If Kongming’s bluffing a whole army with just his reputation doesn’t make him a badass, then I don’t know what will.

4. Southern Campaign (222 A.D.)

Remember this guy.

Before Zhuge Liang launched the Northern Campaigns, he had the (just one this time) Southern Campaign, otherwise known as the Pacification of Nanzhong. As its name suggests, this campaign is to pacify the uprising by the Nanzhong tribes of the south after the death of Liu Bei. This may sound easy for Wolong. And it very well may have been! Not long after he reaches the south does he put his plans into motion, pacifying the first wave of the rebels. When the King of Nanzhong, Meng Huo (that person above), readies for a physical battle, Wolong fights back with his intellect.

The overview of the campaign is thus (and the badassery is, thus, thus): Wolong seeks not to kill the rebels of the south, for doing so would only foster more bloodshed vis-à-vis an attack from the south at a disadvantageous time; what he does is pacify them—thus the name “Pacification,” which is taken quite seriously here—and their hearts and make them swear allegiance to Shu-Han. He does this through a web of strategies that will make even the most douchebag of douchebags dare not douche-ify any longer. Get ready for this.

Wolong captures Meng Huo not just once, not just twice, but seven times!

Another badassery, right?

The first capture happens when Meng Huo charges brazenly at the Shu-Han army. He falls to an ambush shortly thereafter, and as he retreats, more ambushes all laid out by Wolong sees him seized by Wei Yan. He is released soon after.

The second capture… Well, here’s what happened to the second capture: after the first defeat, Meng Huo decides to wait out and see if the Shu-Han army will attack his position. However, turncoats—who were brought before Zhuge Liang during the first battle, treated with utter kindness, and subsequently let go unharmed as well—bind and hand him over to Wolong, who releases again him after a tour of the latter’s encampment.

With renewed (or new) confidence, he starts to employ his own tactics: an attack from within. However, his entry force fails to Wolong’s trap, and soon, so does the Nanzhong King. A series of ambushes and trickery sees his capture for the third time, very much like the first one. He is, once again, released (I hope you’re getting the trend now).

Feeling pretty pissed off right now (who wouldn’t?), he gathers an army 100,000 strong and charges the Shu-Han main camp again. He meets a defensive Wolong this time, and after days, finds the stronghold abandoned. Thinking a pursuit is better, he gives chase, only to meet a fire attack by none other than Wolong during a reprieve. He scrambles to retreat, yet each direction he faces, he is met by Shu-Han generals and their regimens and, eventually, Wolong himself, unguarded and ripe for the picking. He presses on to attack but is ensnared (again) when he falls on pitfalls (boy, what an apt name) set up by Wolong. This is Meng Huo’s fourth capture.

The Nanman king thinks to use his “wait” tactics again, this time with the aid of poison marshes he is sure the Shu-Han army will never expect. True enough, the marshes present problems to Wolong. Only when he meets an old man—well, two old men, but one is a technically a spirit so he doesn’t count—who tells him the secret to basically nullify the spring, is Wolong saved. Shu-Han marches onward. Meng Huo, on the other hand, adds to his army Yang Fang’s… who turns him over to Wolong bound—the fifth capture.

As he reaches home, Meng Huo summons his family members and asks for advice—one is given in the form of Mu Lu, a beastmaster if anything. With him is his army of beasts, who fall prey to Wolong’s own: Juggernauts (his own invention!) who could breathe fire. Mu Lu is killed, and for the sixth time, Meng Huo is captured.

As usual, the seventh and last capture would prove to be the relatively hardest. Meng Huo then scurries off to seek aid from Wutu Gu, whose armies wore rattan armor, impenetrable by sword and spear. After chain tactics by Wolong, Wutu Gu finds himself surrounded by flames, his army basically human torches (because of the flammable rattan), and the king himself dies (in the novel, Zhuge Liang’s remorse for using a fire attack is shown). Meng Huo is captured one last time, and from henceforth, vows never to revolt again.

This campaign manages to do what Zhuge Liang had set out to do: win the hearts of the people through benevolence and kindness, and no other person feels it than Meng Huo himself. Shamed (seven times!), battered (seven times!), and defeated (seven goddamn times!), the King of Nanzhong never dared to disturb the peace (possibly out of sheer respect for his seven-time captor), and Shu-Han was able to focus on the Cao-Wei Empire for the Northern Campaigns.

Who’s the man?

Kudos to ~Ahyicodae of deviantart.com for the awesome portrait!

What other badasseries does Zhuge Liang have in store for us? Check the third here!


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