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Romance of the Three Kingdoms
III. Stratagems

Another major content that penetrates this whole history novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is stratagem. There are excellent military stratagems told everywhere in the novel. Even in small battles, there are often very wise stratagems applied. The following are some examples of them.

Zhang Fei's Stratagems

Zhang Fei was a very strong martial general that is regarded as being worst in using stratagems. However, he also had successful cases of using stratagems.

When Liu Bei was driven by Cao Cao to Chang-ban Slope (Chang-ban-po), Zhang Fei led a cavalry group of twenty soldiers to block Cao Cao at the Changban bridge. Zhang Fei found at the east side of the bridge there were some woods. He got one stratagem in mind.

He told his cavalry to cut some tree branches, fasten them to horsetails, and run back and forth in the woods so that dust were risen up and it looked like there were a large number of army hiding there. At the same time, Zhang Fei himself riding horse, holding his spear horizontally stood on the bridge looking at the west.

After some time, Cao Cao's troops arrived. Several generals riding horses stood in one line at the west of the bridge. When seeing Zhang Fei alone on his horse and standing on bridge, and there were dust rising high in the woods behind him, Cao Cao's generals suspected that there was ambush and dared not march ahead because they have been trapped by Zhuge Liang's stratagem a few times.

Cao Cao's picture
Zhang Fei -

They reported the situation to Cao Cao. Cao Cao personally came up to the front to have a look. Cao remembered that Guan Yu told him that Zhang Fei could take off the enemy senior general's head from among a million soldiers like taking something out of one's pocket. Cao Cao was thinking of withdrawing. At this moment, Zhang Fei shouted out, "I am Zhang Yi-de from Yan. Who dare to come up and have a fight with me?" The shouting was so threatening that Cao Cao's general Xia-hou Jie got his liver and gall broken and dropped from horse back down to the ground. Seeing this, Cao Cao turn around his horse and ran towards the west. All generals and soldiers followed him to escape. The soldiers stepped on each other. Countless ones discarded their weapons and got their helmets dropped.

Stratagems of Vacant City

Zhuge Liang seldom fails or takes risk in his military planning. However, he had one big failure once.

Zhuge Liang told general Ma Su to set up stockade in middle of the road at Jie-ting to block the Sima Yi's troops. However, Ma Su did not set up the stockade according to what Zhuge Liang told him. Instead he set up his stockade up the hill away from the main road. Ma Su was surrounded by the enemy's troops and was defeated. Losing the crucial place Jieting caused Shu Kingdom lose the whole war.

Zhuge Liang had to arrange withdrawing. He dispatched all military generals out. There were only non-military officials and 2500 soldiers left in the castle. At this time, Sima YI's main army of 150,000 soldiers arrived outside the city. Zhuge Liang took a risk and played this famous stratagem of Vacant City.

Zhu-ge Liang's Stratagem of Vacant City
Zhu-ge Liang's Stratagem of Vacant City, which made Sima Yi's big army of 150,000 soldiers withdraw.

He told soldiers to lay down all flags and let soldiers guard all shops in the city to prevent anyone from going in or out or speaking loudly. He ordered to open the four gates of the city widely and dispatched 20 soldiers wearing ordinary clothes to sweep the street at each gate. Zhuge Liang himself went to play musical instrument on top of the front gate tower. He had incense burned. And two young kids were standing behind him.

When Sima Yi came and saw this peaceful open city, none of them dared to march ahead. They thought there must be some ambush. So they dared not stay any longer outside the city and withdrew the whole army quickly.

Borrowing Arrows Using Straw Boats

The Wu-Shu Alliance was not in total harmony. Before Chibi Battle, when they were preparing for resisting Cao Cao, Zhou Yu, one of the main generals of Wu Kingdom found Zhuge Liang was too smart. Zhou Yu felt very jealous of Zhuge Liang because Liang made more accurate prediction and more perfect plan in every single thing than he did. Zhou Yu tried to kill Liang. Once he designed a trap to put Liang to death officially. (Chapter 46)

Bows and arrows were major weapons used in warring on boats. Zhou Yu said they were in urgent need of 100,000 arrows to prepare the major battle against Cao Cao and it must be made ready in ten days. Zhou Yu asked Liang to look after this task of producing arrows. Liang said, "Cao Cao can come in any day. In ten days, it will delay vital things. I will hand over the arrows completely in three days." Zhou Yu said, "In military affairs, no joking is allowed." Liang said, "How dare I kid you? I would like to sign a warrant. If I fail to complete the task on time, I will accept any punishment."

Liang then asked a councilor of Wu Kingdom Lu Su to lend him twenty boats, every of which had thirty soldiers on it, more than a thousand straw bundles aligned on both sides, and covered with cloth. All these things were quickly prepared, but Zhu-ge Liang did nothing on the first day, neither on the second day. On the third day mid-night, Liang invited Lu Su into the boat. Lu Su asked, "Where are we going?" Liang answered, "To fetch the arrows." Then he did not allow Lu Su to ask further.

Zhuge Liang ordered to link the twenty boats with long chains and head for the north bank of the river, where Cao Cao's marine was staying. That night, it turned out to have very big fog. At about 4am, the boats were getting near to Cao Cao's marine stockade. Liang ordered the soldiers to align the boat along the direction of the river and then start beating drums and shouting out.

Lu Su asked, "How to do if Cao Cao's army hits out to attack us?" Liang answered, "Cao Cao definitely dare not come out in such heavy fog. We two only need to enjoy alcohol. We will get back as soon as the fog disperses."

Cao Cao on learning of the south army's emerging, said "Heavy fog misting the river, the enemies suddenly arrives, there must be ambush. You shall not hit out casually. You should shoot arrows at them instead." Ten thousand bow and arrow soldiers were dispatched to shoot arrows towards the boats. Arrows are shoot out like heavy rain. After some time, Zhuge Liang ordered the soldiers to turn around the direction of the boats in order to receive arrows via the other side of the boats.

When the sun rose high and fog dispersed, Zhuge ordered to quickly get all boats driven back to south bank. Both sides of the boats were full of arrows. When Cao Cao realized this, he regretted a lot. When the arrows were handed over to Zhou Yu, he said, "Zhuge Liang has a god's wisdom and does miraculous calculation. I am not able to do as well as he does."

Cementation on stratagems

The novel "Romance of The Three Kingdoms" is talking deeply about stratagems. However, the author's ultimate mind has gone beyond stratagems. You can feel the author's feeling from the poem at the very start of the novel, "All the right and wrong, successes and failures become vacant in a moment of turning the head."

Before concluding this page, I would like to emphasize one point that it is not very important or meaningful for one to be too smart at playing stratagems. Why? Because the path of human life and development of society is predestined. It is not decided by how smart you are, or how perfect your stratagems are. One's good luck and fortune comes from inborn elements and the blessing of gods instead of from one's smart stratagems.

If you can really read the novel thoroughly, you will draw this conclusion by yourself. All the three kings Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan are very smart and they all gathered a group of very smart and capable people to work for them. However, they all had things that they could not achieve at will.

Zhuge Liang was the very smartest person, but he also failed in helping Liu Bei and his son to unite China. In the book, you can see some supernormal stratagems made by Zhuge Liang. He could know in advance that three days later there would be heavy fog, so he promised to Zhou Yu that he could supply 100,000 arrows in three days. He could also borrow east wind from heaven, which was very crucial to make the fire attack successful in Chibi Battle.

Zhuge Liang also knew about his own unfavorable situation and failure. In the Chibi Battle, he accurately deployed troops all along Cao Cao's escaping route to waylay Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang did not make any single error in the location where waylaying troops were deployed. However, he knew that Cao Cao's predestined life did not reach the very end. At the very last step of the waylaying, he used up all other senior generals except Guan Yu. He knew that Cao Cao had treated Guan Yu very well when Guan Yu was in Cao Cao's camp. He also knew well about Guan Yu's character and Guan Yu would definitely release Cao Cao instead of capturing him. Yet he still assigned the task to Guan Yu. He said to Liu Bei, "Since Cao Cao's life does not doom to end, we can just offer this chance for Guan Yu to repay Cao Cao's past favor.

Actually Zhuge Liang was not ordinary person. He was a prophet and astrologer. He left in history a prophecy called "Ma Qian Ke" (ÂíÇ°¿Î,"The Auspicating In Front Of Horse"),which predicted the major development process of later dynasties of China. Those poems have proved to be very accurate.

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