3rd of 5 (of the Many) Badasseries of Zhuge Liang

BEFORE READING: I am putting off the Monday Meme for March 4, 2013, for this post. See how important this is? Well, for me anyway.

In the previous post, I showed two of what I think are Zhuge Liang’s most prominent badasseries, namely, the Empty Fort Strategy at Number 5 and the Southern Campaign, Number 4.

Now, let me continue the countdown. Stick around for Number 1!

NOTE: This was originally one post; not possible, says hindsight. 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. First post, 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!

3. Battle of Wuzhang Plains (234 A.D.)

What is up with strategists and fans?

The list started with the First Northern Campaign; this particular instance occurred during his last, the Fifth Northern Campaign. Place: Wuzhang Plains. Time: 234 A.D. Key players: Zhuge Liang on the left corner, Sima Yi, styled Zhongda (仲達), on the right (and for the four previous times).

For weeks on end, however, no major clash occurs. Just a few minor skirmishes (well, a semi-major skirmish where Sima Yi fell to a classic Wolong trap, but, well, divine intervention). Which is a big disadvantage for Wolong. Supplies are bound to run out; exhaustion will put his army into despair. If not energy then morale drop.

It is important to note that this is already the fifth (THE FIFTH!) expedition against Cao-Wei. On the first one, they capitalized on big blunder and forced Shu-Han out. The second saw a siege, but defense won the day, holding out to bide time for reinforcements. The third was a major disaster in the form of a defense-counter-campaign measure, which failed. The fourth campaign, a loss to both armies—for Shu-Han, another failed attempt, mainly because of the enemy’s numbers; for Cao-Wei, the loss of esteemed general Zhang He, where Sima Yi tried to take on Zhuge Liang, who was then retreating, thinking that the latter was vulnerable, and Zhang He gave chase… which cost him his life.

So much for “the beauty of battle.”

So the key to being victorious against this campaign, obviously, is by being defensive. Zhongda learns this the hard way, so he is set on waiting for an opportunity to strike. Keyword: wait. For a very long time.

Victory by attrition.

This goes on for a few hundred days, which would obviously piss off everyone—including Zhongda’s own officers, mitigated by the fact that Kongming, also frustrated at this tactic, actually sent women’s clothes along with a letter (well, in the novel, it was cut out due possibly to censorship) to Zhongda to insult him and to enrage him to come out and fight.

The letter reads as thus (also, just imagine that there is a phrase “women’s clothes” somewhere there. I myself don’t know where. But I swear the original Chinese text had “women’s clothes.”) (Chapter 103, Paragraph 102):

“Friend Sima Yi, although you are the Commander-in-Chief and lead the armies of the Middle Land, you seem but little disposed to display the firmness and valor that would render a contest decisive. Instead, you have prepared a comfortable lair where you are safe from the keen edge of the sword. Are you not very like a coward? Wherefore I send this letter, and you will humbly accept it and the humiliation, unless, indeed, you finally decide to come out and fight like a warrior. If you are not entirely indifferent to shame, if you retain any of the feelings of a leader, you will answer by giving battle.”

But no battle comes. And soon, Zhuge Liang falls ill (still Chapter 103):

… [H]e fell in a swoon. He recovered after a time, but he was broken.

He said, “My mind is all in confusion. This is a return of my old illness, and I am doomed.” … Zhuge Liang that night went forth from his tent to scan the heavens and study the stars. They filled him with fear.

He returned and said to Jiang Wei, “My life may end at any moment .… Just now in the Triumvirate constellation the Guest Star was twice as bright as usual, while the Host Star was darkened; the supporting stars were also obscure. With such an aspect I know my fate.”

With this knowledge, he prepares a ritual to prolong his life:

“You know about longevity rituals as well?” “Only a little.”
Kudos to Geekquality for the picture.

“… [P]repare me forty-nine guards and let each have a black flag. Dress them in black and place them outside my tent. Then will I from within my tent invoke the Seven Stars of the North. If my master-lamp remain alight for seven days, then is my life to be prolonged for twelve years. If the lamp goes out, then I am to die. Keep all idlers away from the tent, and let a couple of guards bring me what is necessary.”

Jiang Wei prepared as directed.

It was then the eighth month, mid-autumn, and the Milky Way was brilliant with scattered jade. The air was perfectly calm, and no sound was heard. The forty-nine men were brought up and spaced out to guard the tent, while within Zhuge Liang prepared incense and offerings. On the floor of the tent he arranged seven lamps, and, outside these, forty-nine smaller lamps. In the midst he placed the lamp of his own fate.

This done, he prayed:

“Zhuge Liang, born into an age of trouble, would willingly have grown old in retirement. But His Majesty, Liu Bei the Glorious Emperor, sought him thrice and confided to him the heavy responsibility of guarding his son. He dared not do less than spend himself to the utmost in such a task, and he pledged himself to destroy the rebels. Suddenly the star of his leadership has declined, and his life now nears its close. He has humbly indited a declaration on this silk piece to the Great Unknowable and now hopes that He will graciously listen and extend the number of his days that he may prove his gratitude to his prince and be the savior of the people, restore the old state of the empire and establish eternally the Han sacrifices. He dares not make a vain prayer: This is from his heart.”

The ritual continues for a couple more days. However, as Sima Yi has learned of Zhuge Liang’s looming end, he decides to attack. On the sixth night, Wei Yan arrives at the tent to tell news of the Cao-Wei army’s offensive and “[i]n his haste … knock[s] over and extinguishe[s] the Lamp of Fate.”

Zhuge Liang is fated by the Heavens to die.

Well, I don’t know about the Heavens, but I’m pretty certain Wei Yan did… accidentally.

So he prepares a mass retreat. His death meant the end of the Fifth Campaign (which is why it is his last, sadly), and Jiang Wei was too inexperienced to deal with Zhongda, so Wolong devises a very clever plan that gives birth to the expression “A dead Zhuge scares away a living Zhongda.”

The following is taken from Chapter 104:

Sima Yi watched the skies. One night a large red star with bright rays passed from the northeast to the southwest and dropped over the camps of Shu. It dipped thrice and rose again. Sima Yi heard also a low rumbling in the distance.

He was pleased and excited, and said to those about him, “Zhuge Liang is dead!”

At once he ordered pursuit with a strong force. But just as he passed his camp gates, doubts filled his mind and he gave up the plan.

“Zhuge Liang is a master of mysteries: He can get aids from the Deities of the Six Layers. It may be that this is but a ruse to get us to take the field. We may fall victims to his guile.”

So he halted.

After much deliberation, however, he pressed on.

So Sima Yi and his two sons hastened to the Wuzhang Hills. With shouts and waving flags, they rushed into the camps, only to find them quite deserted.

Sima Yi said to his sons, “You are to bring up the remaining force with all speed, whereas I will lead the vanguard.”

Sima Yi hastened in the wake of the retreating army. Coming to some hills, he saw them in the distance and pressed on still harder. Then suddenly a bomb exploded, a great shout broke the stillness, and the retiring army turned about and came toward him, ready for battle. In their midst fluttered a great banner bearing the words … Zhuge Liang.

Sima Yi stopped, pale with fear. Then out from the army came some score of generals of rank, and they were escorting a small carriage, in which sat Zhuge Liang as he had always appeared, in his hand the feather fan.

“Then Zhuge Liang is still alive!” gasped Sima Yi. “And I have rashly placed myself in his power.”

And he flees, uttering these epic words when he is safely behind his walls: “Have I still a head?”

After the shock, he asks the natives and confirms Kongming’s death. The figure he saw on the carriage? A wooden statue. And while he wanted to pursue, the Shu-Han army is now too far away and are eventually successful in their retreat.

Pure epic-ness.

Using his own death as a ploy for retreat. Of all the things he could do before he died, he prepared for his army’s retreat. Most commanders would’ve just turned tail and opted to live out their last days in their own land, but not him. Well, clearly he wasn’t given the option. So why didn’t he just flee at the first chance? I could give my theory.

Majorly, I’m afraid to say, pride. It was his FIFTH CAMPAIGN (I swear that’s the last time I emphasize that. Ha!). If he retreated now, then: 1) he would go home and answer questions about how another campaign failed; and, even before reaching home, 2) he would give away his position and his actions to Zhongda, to whom he sent women’s clothes, for Pete’s sake!

Think of it. One campaign is a huge thing, costing a lot of resources. And for five to actually fail? Besides, a hasty retreat would be quite fatal as well, at least for Zhuge Liang’s physical well-being. He maybe wouldn’t even reach Shu-Han territory! Plus, Sima Yi would have pursued. With morale down, the Zhuge Liang’s army would be decimated.

So he died providing his soldiers protection. What more could a soldier want from a commander?

Still deviant as fuck though.

If I didn’t know better, this is another case of an empty fort strategy. And in reason, it is. Once again, Zhuge Liang’s reputation as a master ambush-layer—and as a tactician, in general—prevents his army from being obliterated in the foreign lands of Cao-Wei. Only this time, Zhuge Liang has died (and not sitting on top of a city wall and playing his lute). Still, his name is enough of a weapon to make sure Shu-Han lives to fight another day.

Think of it as Houdini’s final act of escape—his escape from death. Lots still wait for him to unlock his chain… from… beyond…

Wait. WAY too different. Never mind.

Just to get this in: in all honesty, I so desperately wanted this to be Number 1 (you’ll see why in the latter posts… and the reason why this particular one is two stories behind), seeing as, come on, he was already dead and he STILL managed to fool his archrival, who was still living, by the way! Again, “A dead Zhuge scares off a living Zhongda.”

Now, when people hundreds of generations later your time still recite a saying in which a dead you can scare off a living enemy, then you’re hardass as… well… I already used that joke above, so never mind. Ghosts and paranormal activity not included in this context.

So then, what could the other two stories about Zhuge Liang be? Why are those numbers 2 and 1? The next posts will tell us why.


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