Three Kingdoms - Read along (Vol III)

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Three Kingdoms - Read along (Vol III)

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maj 20, 2008, 5:06 pm

Three Kingdoms, Volume III (ch. 64-94) already - and Liu Bei is finally close to establishing his kingdom. See also Vol. I and Vol. II.

Spoiler alert: The chapter under discussion will be indicated, so don't read further if you like a spoiler-free world. Please also refrain from discussing events beyond the chapter, as I intend to keep my veil of ignorance regarding the plot and characters. Feel free however to enlighten me regarding Chinese customs, history etc.

Chapter 64 Liu Bei one city closer / Ma Chao sees red

Zhang Fei's turncoat is the key to the surrender of the remaining 45 strongholds on his way to Luoxian. He and his reinforcements arrive just in time to rescue Liu Bei from defeat at Luoxian. In hard fights, the enemy generals are defeated and captured one by one. Zhuge Liang sets up an ambush for Zhang Ren, the mastermind of the defense. Zhuge Liang plays the role of bait himself and tricks Zhang Ren into pursuing him. The trap is sprung and Zhang Ren captured as well. As he defied Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei's hatchet man, has him killed - Liu Bei sobs and provides for a nice grave near Gold Goose Bridge. Resistance in Luoxian breaks down when its commander (Liu's relative) is murdered. Luoxian taken, Liu Bei's forces pacify the countryside. Two strongholds to go, Chengdu to the South, Mianzhu to the North. Zhuge Liang fires off a letter to Chengdu, where Liu Zhang refuses to apply a (sensible) scorched earth strategy to ward off Liu Bei. Instead he calls his northern neighbor Zhang Lu for help. He hasn't learned anything from his previous call to Liu Bei, has he? Those outsiders have an unhealthy tendency to overstay their welcome.

Meanwhile, Ma Chao has eked out a small territory. We meet him as he executes a surrendering opponent but fails to wipe out the enemies completely. The murdered general's adviser called Yang Fu calls on his cousin Jiang Xu, bearer of the cool title General Who Protects Remote Peoples (with "protecting" in its Roman sense) to raise forces against Ma Chao, egged on by their war-crazy aunt. This triggers a horrible bloodletting. Ma Chao executes Zhao Ang's son. When Cao Cao's soldiers intervene, Ma Chao is forced to flee and witness the execution of his wife, his three sons and a number of kinsmen whose corpses (or pieces thereof, sic!) are tossed over the wall. Ma Chao retreats to Licheng where he massacred Yang Fu's aunt and family members. Fleeing again from Cao Cao's forces, Ma Chao wounds Yang Fu and kills his seven brothers in a duel. The wounded Yang Fu is taken in a wagon to Cao Cao who promotes him for his loyalty. Ma Chao flees to Zhang Lu who, having received Liu Zhang's call for help, assigns Ma Chao to a commando mission against Liu Bei ...

maj 25, 2008, 7:22 am

Chapter 65 The promised land

Huang Zhong and Wei Yan besiege the remaining fortress of Mianzhu, capture its champion and thus its surrender. The fall of Chengdu is near. Alas, Zhang Lu sends Ma Chao with 20.000 men against Liu Bei's rear. Zhuge Kiang plays one of his mind tricks on poor Zhang Fei before sending him against Ma Chao. Having defeated Ma Dai, Zhang Fei clashes with Ma Chao. In an epic fight which continues into a torch-lit night, the two warriors are unable to defeat the other. Quite a task for Zhang Fei who must be approaching the age of fifty. While the legwork is done by the horse, the upper body muscles necessary to wield weapons all day are considerable and the margin of error is very low. When I look at the declining bodies of yesterday's Charles Atlases (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris, Van Damme), I can only admire the 3K old heroes (while questioning its historical accuracy). Zhuge Liang appreciates Ma Chao's value. He resorts to a plot to entice him to Liu Bei's side.

Liu Bei's Sun Qian offers Zhang Lu a title of king of Hanning. While Zhang Lu is at first suspicious, he falls for it. Truly strange: First, Zhang Lu is considered to be little more than a bandit in the capital. Secondly, Liu Bei has little to no influence over the Emperor to grant such a title. The true motivation must lie elsewhere. Zhang Lu must have heard about the fall of Mianzhu and calculated that Chengdu is doomed. Thus, he aligns himself with Liu Bei - as he would be between a rock (Cao Cao) and a hard place (Liu Bei) anyway. Ma Chao in turn is now between two potentially and actually hostile forces. He submits to Liu Bei bringing the head of Zhang Lu's adviser Yang Bo as a present. Like a neglected dog, Zhao Zilong brings two heads to Liu Bei as well. The TV series inserts an emotional meeting between the new allies Zhang Fei and Ma Chao.

Ma Chao is charged with the non demanding taks of the surrender of Chengdu. Liu Zhang offers no resistance (all his man have died in vain), given the hardly fitting title of "General Who Exhibits Might" and is sent into exile to contested Jingzhou. Liu Bei enters Chengdu (no Moses, he). He installs his men in the Riverlands, handing out fancy titles. Lord Guan who guards important Jingzhou with only a small force is not forgotten. He receives presents as well: 500 catties of gold (250 kg!), 1.000 of silver (500 kg!), 50 million copper coins and 1.000 rolls of silk. The Riverlands obviously offer a lot of plunder! Zhuge Liang reorganizes civil affairs and the law, promoting a more rule-based system. Fa Zheng at first exploits his new powers but is nudged into compliance by Zhuge Liang. Lord Guan's adoptive son Ping delivers thanks and asks for permission for Lord Guan to duel Ma Chao as well. Zhuge Liang sends him a letter which strokes Lord Guan's ego and confirms the old pecking order among the Tiger Generals: 1. Lord Guan, 2. Zhang Fei/Ma Chao 3. Zhao Zilong and Huang Zhong I assume.

Sun Quan, hearing about Liu Bei's conquest of the Riverlands, is intent on Liu Bei returning Jingzhou, as promised in writing.

65 chapters in, after nearly 25 years of constant fighting all over China (except the South), Liu Bei and friends have established a small, secure base of 41 districts (by evicting his distant relatives Liu Biao and Liu Zhang, the first quasi legal with a little brutal help from Cao Cao, the second a clear usurpation).

maj 29, 2008, 6:56 pm

Chapter 66 Three Scoundrels

Liu Bei, Sun Quan and Cao Cao misbehave badly in this chapter: betrayal, an assassination attempt and a brutal murder. A fine set of fellows. Liu Bei really is no different from the others.

Sun Quan, intent on recovering Jingzhou, imprisons Zhuge Liang's brother's family and sends Zhuge Jin to plead for the return of the province (as promised in writing by Liu Bei). Zhuge Liang escorts his brother to Liu Bei who explodes in a fury (shout if you have nothing to say). Zhuge Liang intercedes on behalf of his brother; Liu Bei accepts to return three districts, fifty percent of what he owes Sun Quan. Zhuge Jin travels to Lord Guan to restore the three promised districts. Lord Guan simply refuses to comply. Poor Zhuge Jin returns to Liu Bei who declares himself powerless and asks Zhuge Jin to return south and wait. Liu Bei at his ugliest: Untruthful, unhelpful and mean (Zhuge Jin's family is at risk). Furthermore, the districts will be the main battleground between the three kingdoms (like Belgium and Northern Italy in Europe). The value of their possession is questionable.

Thwarted, Sun Quan asks Lu Su to resolve the matter. A better choice. Sun Quan should have sent Lu Su in the first place. Liu Bei has twice broken his promises to Lu Su. If he had shown up (backed with Liu Bei's letter), I do not think Liu Bei could have weaseled out again without a total loss of face. Instead, Lu Su is tasked with eliminating Lord Guan who is invited to a banquet where he again refuses to hand over the province. Lu Su then moves to assassinate Lord Guan, but chickens out when the latter threatens to kill him too. Lu Su has learned nothing from his master, Zhou Yu who bungled his assassination attempt out of the same reason. The southerners are too nice for the northern wolves. Lord Guan returns to safety.

Cao Cao meanwhile rests his forces and rebuilds the country. His followers want to award him the title of King of Wei. An opposing bureaucrat conveniently passes away but his death stirs enough troubles to have Cao Cao defer the project. The Empress, clearly more courageous than her wimpy man, plans a putsch against Cao Cao by sending messages to her family by an eunuch. Cao Cao discovers the plot and has the Empress beaten to death. Cao Cao is not a merciful man. Cao's daughter, hitherto a concubine, becomes the new Empress to the hapless Emperor.

A vignette presents the alienation of two friends. One, Hua Xin, becomes Cao Cao's henchman, the other, Guan Ning, retires into inner emigration by living only on upper floors, disconnecting him from the vile land of Wei.

After a strategy meeting, Cao Cao decides to move against Zhang Lu of Hangzhong. Will Liu Bei help the turncoat?

jun 1, 2008, 6:57 pm

Chapter 67 Cao Cao wins, Sun Quan loses

Cao Cao goes after Zhang Lu who neither asks nor receives help from Liu Bei. Maybe the Riverlanders were not so happy with the Imperial Uncle's presence and needed a bit of pacifying. From a balance of power point of view, not helping Zhang Lu is short-sighted. Zhang Lu protects the flank of the Riverlands and binds Cao Cao's forces. Anything that prolongs that fight, weakens Cao Cao. The British knew that lesson and supported weaker partners (Portugal, Prussia, Austria, Sweden) to contain their bigger enemies (Russia, France). Zhang Lu has to fend for himself, with the mountains as his only protection.

Zhang Lu's men defend their territory well. Cao Cao succeeds only after multiple efforts to dislodge them. He spots Pang De, a talented warrior and former colleague of Ma Chao. To acquire his services, he turns to bribing Yang Song, the same guy Liu Bei used to get Ma Chao. Pang De is literally caught in a trap and turned. Zhang Lu's resistance crumbles and he surrenders to Cao Cao in exchange for a nice surreal title "General who controls the South" (the area beyond Cao Cao's control) and keeping his post. Yang Song, no longer necessary, is executed (as in Schiller's Fiesco "Der Moor wird nicht länger gebraucht. Der Moor kann gehen."). Having conquered another territory, Cao Cao wisely rests his men (and refrains from attacking Liu Bei).

In the South, Sun Quan notices that Cao Cao is occupied elsewhere and attacks Hefei. As a sweetener, Liu Bei throws in the three districts he previously "offered" but did not hand over. After initial successes, Sun Quan's forces are defeated by a surprise attack of Cao Cao's local commanders and driven back across the river. Sun Quan calls for reinforcements, while Cao Cao hastens to the scene. Time for a big showdown between North and South?

jun 4, 2008, 5:44 pm

Chapter 68 Cao Cao visited by a Taoist Conjurer

The first half of the chapter follows the exploits of Sun Quan's men against the gathering hosts of Cao Cao. Gan Ning leads a hundred men on a night raid against Cao Cao's camp. Ling Tong battles Cao's champion. The Southerners attack Cao Cao's forces but are pushed back against the river. Zhou Tai rescues his master Sun Quan thrice in the heat of battle. Fortunately, timely reinforcements arrive from the South to prevent Cao Cao's victory (The number of 100.000 is highly doubtful, though. They would not have had a D-Day like logistical capacity to transfer such a large host across the river in such a short time.). Anyway, both sides accept a draw as Cao Cao only seeks to calm his southern front to concentrate on Liu Bei. Sun Quan agrees to pay annual tribute and to withdraw his forces.

Cao Cao returns to the capital to be awarded the coveted title of King of Wei. Another objecting bureaucrat is murdered in prison on the way; Cao Cao reshuffles the position of his wives and, after some soul-searching, declares his eldest son Cao Pi to be his heir.

An old half-blind and half-lame Taoist priest called Zuo Ci spoils Cao Cao's good mood. Having displayed feats of wonder, he advises Cao Cao to retire and hand over his position to Liu Bei. Retiring, and thus relinquishing power, is already a tough assignment for a man like Cao Cao - handing over to (the not much younger) Liu Bei, his arch enemy and in his own eyes sole worthy competitor, is an insult he will not bear. Off with the priest to the dungeon and torture. Thanks to the priest's superpowers, the guards can do him no harm. The priest even appears at a banquet where he performs apparition tricks: He conjures up a dragon's liver, a peony (incidentally, I saw one from Yunnan just last Sunday in the Viennese Alpine Botanical Garden, although despite the promised late blooming period of end of May, it was still closed), perch fish, ginger and finally a copy of Cao Cao's own writings. Cao Cao declines a drink of eternal life (even though the priest swallows half of it, Cao Cao assumes correctly that the priest has a better stomach to absorb any kind of poison.). The priest then vanishes.

Cao Cao has sheep and hundreds of Zuo Ci look-alikes slaughtered Herodes-like. Out of the dead, Zuo Ci appears in the sky and announces Cao Cao's approaching death. The slaughtered look-alikes rise as zombies with their heads in their hands and march towards Cao Cao (while his shocked followers gasp) ...

These fantasy elements are not to my liking. Zhuge Liang conjuring up storms is testing the limits. Zuo Ci is way beyond. The Heavens do not like Cao Cao, I get the message.

jun 6, 2008, 4:07 am

It's an odd little interlude isn't it, JC? I wonder why it was inserted here? Was the author bored with the material and need ed to spice things up? Well, we are back together again. On to 69.

jun 8, 2008, 2:41 pm

Any idea what the difference between purple sprout ginger (紫芽姜) and regular ginger is? All the search hits seem to be literary, not botanical / culinary.

Redigerat: jun 8, 2008, 7:23 pm

Chapter 69 Fire in the city and plotters in the house

The last chapter ruined the special effects budget - with little left for the ending: Cao Cao simply passes out and the zombies disappear. Weak, weak, some braaains would not have cost a fortune (The TV series wisely cut this episode as well as the following plot, risings in the capital and show trials being not popular with China's current rulers). Cao Cao must have consumed some illegal substances. Rehab doesn't work; enter Guan Lo, a famous magician/healer, which opens a second fantasy intermission, like the cheap filler numbers in many a circus show. Guan Lo is an ugly fellow. Guan Lo later gives a curious self-description: "My forehead is misshapen; my eyes lack luster (malnutrition?); my nose has no bridge (a boxer?); my feet, no Achilles tendons (how does he walk?); the marks of long life are absent from my back and stomach." Do they ever break the cliché casting of handsome warriors and ugly wizards? His powers of prediction, location and cure are not bad, though. He cures by discovering and resolving karma imbalances (buried murder victims) and somehow divines the content of boxes and the location of missing animals. He predicts the impending death of a healthy youth and then "prolongs" his life. A strange snake-oil dealer.

Guan Lo is sent for an audience with Cao Cao. He dispels Zuo Ci's black magic and divines the state of the Empire: "Three and eight run crisscross; a yellow pig meets a tiger. South of the outpost, you will lose a limb." The second part seems easy. When he goes on a campaign, one of his major general's (Cao Ren?) will die. The first part is tricky. Why is the pig yellow and what does it mean? Meeting a tiger signals slaughter, a lost battle. Hmmm. As it says in hindsight, it will become clearer. Guan Lo also confirms Cao Cao's son's succession. He predicts a death in the South (quickly confirmed, exit Lu Su - I expected more of a tribute for this wronged man who helped Liu Bei multiple times.) and an attack by Liu Bei's forces. He counsels Cao Cao to keep his troops in the capital.

A wise decision, as another group of (rather inept) plotters tries to take control of the capital. First rule of coups (read the magnificent coup d'Etat): Capture/kill the old ruler. Instead, the plotters try to overwhelm the palace guard in the wake of a fire and then have the Emperor proclaim their leadership (as if power still rested with the Emperor! How many divisions does he have?). Apart from the fire, it goes horribly wrong and the plotters are quickly defeated in the chaos of fighting and fire. The captured conspirators proclaim their loyalty to the Emperor with their special deaths. One dies choking on a sword, the other - in the trusted method - bashes his head against the ground.

To deal with the larger crowd of traitors during the fire/coup, Cao Cao designs a self-accusatory loyalty test (in the best totalitarian tradition). Two flags, red and white. The red flag for the firefighters, the white flag for those who stayed home. It's quite ingenious: Staying home while Rome burns is cowardly - unless fire is the lesser evil and you fear to be killed by the conspirators. Thus, Cao Cao purges the red flag guys (the majority and most of the undecided) and promotes the white flag ones (his true loyalists). Cao Cao designs an elaborate ranking system of titles (further loosening the ties to the Emperor).

Meanwhile, Ma Chao protects Xiabian; Zhang Fei Baxi. Cao Hong's general Zhang He pledges to defeat Zhang Fei (no relation?).

jun 13, 2008, 9:20 am

No takers for the ginger question?

Chapter 70 Battle of the B teams

Cao Cao is busy in the capital, Liu Bei in Chengdu, with most of their paladins close by to pacify the population. only Zhang Fei besieges Zhang He at Wakou Pass in Langzhong.

Zhang Fei plays the drunk (a role he is so suited to that it troubles Liu Bei in Chengdu. Does Zhang Fei drink wine/sake or beer ("brew")? The English terminology implies beer. I have yet to taste Huangjiu which displaced beer after the Han dynasty, although its Wikipedia picture looks rather ghastly.) to entice Zhang He to attack him. The plot works, Zhang He sallies forth and kills a straw Zhang Fei in his tent. The real Zhang Fei meanwhile captures Zhang He's forts. After a few more clashes, Zhang Fei captures Wakou Pass. Zhang He's superior Cao Hong is furious but spares his life: "An army is easy to get, a general hard to find." Abraham Lincoln thought otherwise, saying that he can create generals with the stroke of a pen ...

Zhang He attacks Jiameng Pass with 5.000 fresh troops. Liu Bei sends the oldies Huang Zhong and Yan Yan. Again, Zhang He is trapped between the two and defeated again. Cao Hong sends another 5.000 with Han Hao who holds a personal grudge against the turncoat Huang Zhong. After a few clashes, Huang Zhong fakes defeat and withdraws, while Han Hao pursues him beyond the reach of supporting forces. Huang Zhong traps and destroys his force too. The two oldies even capture the main supply depot of Cao Cao's forces in the region.

To overcome the final obstacle to the conquest of Hanzhong, Dingjun Mountain, Liu Bei brings an army of 100.000 (AD 218). Huang Zhong insists to again lead the attack by highlighting the example of an old 80-year old general who supposedly ate 10 pounds of meat daily (about 5.000-15.000 calories depending on the type of meat, "supersize me" on steroids). Zhuge Liang manages to at least provide him with an adviser. Shu is on a roll of success.

Redigerat: jun 16, 2008, 3:01 am

Hey, jc--the Chinese always exaggerate the size of their armies, 10,000, 100,000. When Zhang He attacks Jiamen Pass with 5,000, what would you guess is the real number for such a sally? Love your sense of humor and that statement about armies easy to assemble but not a general made me wonder. I feel a bit guilty that you are doing the heavy lifting of summarizing the chapters, but I am already planning to read another classic with you after "Three Kingdoms."

jun 16, 2008, 5:31 am

All armies tend to exagerate their forces. If you are interested in the topic, read what the German historian Hans Delbruck has written about the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The armies of Xerxes or Dareios would have jammed the roads from Persia to Greece. Or a modern example: The Bush administration has killed multiples of the supposed total number of Iraqi insurgents ("the inexhaustible supply of senior Al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders").

Regarding Ancient China, a similar measure as the Japanese koku should allow for a fair calculation of the total numbers. I think army numbers around 5.000 to 50.000 sound plausible. I have more problems with the larger numbers (100.000-800.000), especially as the commanders make little use of their supposed total might.

jun 16, 2008, 1:35 pm

>7 MMcM: purple sprout ginger (紫芽姜) appears to be the sprouts from the ginger root, only available in the spring.

It's the difference between the roots and the sprouts, as opposed to old vs young roots, or a different variety of the plant. Interesing. I'll have to see if I can grow some.

jun 18, 2008, 6:41 pm

A little bit later than usual, as I wanted to see how the TV series treats Huang Zhong's ungentlemanly behavior (the Euro 2008 football tournament, soccer for Americans, is not helping either.).

Chapter 71 Murder and Victory

Zhuge Liang sends out Huang Zhong as his spearhead backed up by Zhao Zilong, sets up defensive positions and concentrates his troops for the conquest of Hangzhong. Cao Cao orders 400.000 soldiers to the front. Showdown! On the march, Cao Cao finds time to do some sightseeing, meet a poetess and solve a riddle.

Meanwhile, the forces of Huang Zhong and Zhang He clash. Lured into a trap, one of Huang's commanders, Chen Shi, is captured. Huang Zhong in turn captures Xiahou Shang. An exchange is arranged, when Huang Zhong commits a doubly heinous act: He kills the returning exchangee with a bow shot in the back.

Untrustworthy (He breaks the exchange arrangement.) and cowardly (He shoots an unarmed man in the back.). The TV series felt uncomfortable about the act too. They lessen the crime by showing the exchangee walk away with a slight wound and quickly move on. As with Liu Bei's refusal to return the province despite his own written obligation, this "might makes right" policy is not endearing.

The idea of fairness is a very English concept. The Golden Rule, however, is pretty universal, and its breach usually punished ("tit for tat" strategy in game theory) - but not here. Could this be because the Confucian concept of rights and duties does not extend to lateral relations? Might this also explain the continued existence of the rather tribal structures in China, because a person outside that protection (or that of the Emperor/state) cannot rely on fair treatment?

Anyway, the murder was unnecessary, as Huang Zhong's forces outflank their opponents. By a bold stroke, they capture the essential hilltop. Fa Zheng directs the masterful defense-attack with a pair of white and red flags. Huang Zhong chops up the enemy general. Zhao Zilong and co. complete the envelopment of the enemy forces. Total success - which resolves Guan Lu's prophecy - terribly lame compared to those by the masters of Delphi.

Huang Zhong and Zhao Zilong next attack Cao Cao's supply depots. Huang Zhong's night raid manages to burn Cao's depot but he is trapped by the relief forces. Zhao Zilong fights his way in and out again, Achilles-like leaving a trail of death behind and rescuing Huang Zhong. Cao Cao's forces pursue, but run into a crossbow ambush and are then vigorously counterattacked. Cao Cao's forces flee. Zhao "Steepleslope" Zilong gains a brand testimonial "valor through and through" and another moniker "General of Tiger Might". Roar!

Cao Cao has not tasted defeat enough. He sends another force across the river. The bridgehead looks like a death trap. Despite warnings, Cao's generals wait for Zhuge Liang's attack.

Redigerat: jun 20, 2008, 7:46 pm

Huang Zhong shoots Xiahou Shang in the back but the book does not indicate that Shang dies. I assumed he was merely wounded.

Are you serious? Of course, Liu Bei never intended to give back Jing Zhou to Sun Quan, just like the U.S. will never leave Iraq. If I were Liu Bei, I wouldn't either. Territory is never given up without a fight. The Art of Warfare is all about ruses, deceit. You and I must be from different planets, Jean-Claude. Never give up territory, and strategic one at that.

jun 21, 2008, 7:37 am

1. Huang Zhong is a master archer and his target unprotected and unsuspecting, thus I assume shot = kill. Even if he only wounds him, it is a cowardly act.

2. Strategically, if a weaker force holds on to a fixed object, it is doomed. Might be a good Kodak moment, though. Austria holding on to Belgium. France on to Canada, etc was a major blunder. Napoleon wisely sold Louisiana. European history has plenty of examples where territories are relinquished/returned/exchanged. Giving up territory is often a wise choice (in the face of stronger opponents). Guerrilla forces always give up territory.

An occupation also costs money, money, money. The US currently spends weekly in Iraq its annual development money for Africa. Its National Guard might be better employed taming the Mississippi than Iraqi desert. Some day, even US politicians will realize that improving US infrastructure, health care and schools is a better use of US tax dollars (not even touching the problem of moral bankruptcy and war crimes). I wonder how long the March of Folly continues.

Regarding Liu Bei. In his underdog position of 1:4 to Cao Cao, he needs the support of Wu to stay in the game. Wu and Wei have a relatively settled border. Only the former Yuan Shu territory or Jingzhou could entice Shu's full support. Jingzhou might serve the same purpose as Belgium did for England in the Spanish Succession War: It occupied French and Austrian attention and bled both dry. Meanwhile, Liu Bei could restore Ma Chao and mop up the West. As the smallest of the Three Kingdoms, holding on to easily accessible Jingzhou is a wrong move in my opinion. I wonder whether Lord Guan's troops occupying Jingzhou will be missed in the push against Cao Cao ...

Redigerat: jun 23, 2008, 2:19 pm

>15 jcbrunner: JC, you are at an disadvantage because you likely do not have a map of Three kingdoms. Keep reading. I won't spoil it for you. Just need to say that Jing Zhou is the portal to the Riverlands. And if you lose your exit and entry, you die in the Riverlands.

AND Liu Bei wants to resurrect the Han Dynasty as a member of the Liu. He will not be satisfied to squat in the Riverlands as the king of a regional power. He wants it ALL back.

Sure, it's expensive and hopefully there will be a draw down, but the US will maintain bases interminably, just as they have not abandoned bases Germany, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan. I am not talking about whether I support or do not support the Iraq War. I'd rather not be there at all. In war, all's fair. It's all about trickery and deception.

No, Huang Zhong should not have shot the freed hostage in the back. Very poor form, I'd say.

jun 23, 2008, 1:29 am

I'm having trouble with the geography, too. And some of the preface to the story. I've stopped reading and have been looking at maps and looking up what's with the Han dynasty. Easily distracted ...

jun 23, 2008, 5:55 pm

Geography first. In my limited understanding, Wei and Wu are based around the two respective rivers. Shu fills the Sichuan bowl with a Northern and Eastern exit. The Northern exit has the disadvantage of difficult mountain terrain. Once over the mountain, however, the troops can be supplied by river transport. The Eastern exit offers open terrain to Xuchang. It stretches the land based supply lines to the limit, witness how exhausted Cao Cao's troops arrived to the Red Cliff. I prefer the Northern exit, reconquering Ma Chao's lands to establish a second base.

Liu Bei's ambition. Ousting Cao Cao is a stretch goal. Reminds me of the famous oracle of Delphi: "If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire". Croesus imagined it to be Persia, however, it was to be his own, Lydia. Or La Fontaine's charming fable about the frog, wanting to be an ox, inhales until it bursts.

Many nations have gone through the painful process of losing their Grand Power status (Bohemia, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, Spain, France, Germany, Great Britain, ...). Often it required a stark defeat to accept realities. Liu Bei can only succeed by a lightning decapitation campaign.

It is possible, but only if he masters alliances. During the Hundred Years War, the Dukes of Burgundy nearly became French Kings by ganging up with England and Bretagne against the French King. The process of switching horses (defeating the French King, then turning against the King of England who liked to call himself King of France too) was too complicated - and then there was fickle Paris.

Which brings me to alliances: The non-ham and eggs kind require mutual trust. Sun Quan knows that Liu Bei breaks his promises and will be reluctant to join Liu Bei in his next adventure, just as the British will be not so eager to follow the American lead as blindly as before. Electing, for once, a decent president does not clear the slate. Deception is ok - but not towards your allies. You will get a credibility problem fast. As a notorious philosopher once said: Fool me once, ...

jun 23, 2008, 5:57 pm

Chapter 72 Zhuge - Cao 1:0

The last chapter ended with foolishly exposed Xu Huang on the west bank of the Han river. Huang Zhong and Zhao Zilong crush him in a pincer attack. Xu's adviser Wang Ping is so frustrated with his commander that he sets his camp on fire and defects to Liu Bei.

Cao Cao comes to the rescue with his army. Zhuge Liang cunningly robs the sleep of Cao Cao's army by having hidden forces under Zhao Zilong create nightly noise. After three sleepless nights, Cao Cao retires his forces beyond the reach of their noisy neighbors. Zhuge Liang has Liu Bei pitch his camp on the east bank (rather dangerously risking a revenge of Xu's defeat). Battle is arranged for the next day. The battle opens with a round of insults between Liu Bei and Cao Cao. Xu Huang defeats Liu Feng. Cao's forces attack. Liu Bei's forces flee without resistance. Suspecting a trap, Cao Cao halts the pursuit and retreats himself. Liu Bei counterattacks and defeats the disorganized forces of Cao Cao. Retreating, he learns that Zhang Fei and Wei Yan have outflanked him. Cao retreats to Yangping Pass. Liu Bei's forces assemble at Nanzheng. Zhuge Liang sends Zhang Fei against Cao's supply lines while Huang Zhong and Zhao Zilong create diversions in front.

Cao sends the trusted Xu Chu to protect his supplies. Having fortified himself with wine, he orders a moonlit night march for the supply train. Zhang Fei intercepts him and wounds him. His forces flee and Zhang Fei captures most supplies.

The angry Cao Cao moves again against Liu Bei. Repeat performance: A round of insults, a quick defeat of Liu Feng by Xu Huang, Cao's men pursue, retreat again and flee in self-caused confusion. Cao Cao gives up the pass. Attacked from three sides by Zhang Fei, Zhao Zilong and Huang Zhong, Cao Cao is crushed. At Ye Gorge, Cao Cao finally meets reinforcements led by his son Cao Zhang who is characterized as having more brawn than brain. Cao Cao calls him "yellowbeard" (blond hair or colored? quite strange considering the red-bearded Sun Quan). Cao Zhang has timely returned from putting down a revolt of the Wuhuan (repeating his father's successful performance).

Liu Feng and Cao Zhang clash - again Liu Feng is defeated and retires (a lover, not a fighter?). Fighting with Meng Da, Cao Zhang is attacked in the flank by Ma Chao. Cao Cao's forces regroup at the Gorge.

Cao Cao's meal leads to the countersign "chicken ribs" which is over-interpreted by adviser Yang Xiu into preparing a retreat. Yang's superior intelligence has long been the subject of much envy illustrated by a number of anecdotes. Now, Cao Cao turns him into a scapegoat and has him killed.

The next day, the forces of Cao Cao and Wei Yan clash. Ma Chao attacks from the rear. Wei Yan wounds Cao Cao with an arrow, Cao tumbles from his horse. Wei Yan goes in for the kill, but Pang De protects Cao Cao. Having lost two teeth to the arrow, Cao Cao resigns himself to retreat and redeems the murdered Yang Xiu. Cao Cao is not out of danger yet. On both sides of the Gorge, fires loom.

A strange decline in Cao Cao's generalship. Did Cao Cao really have superior numbers? Could Liu Bei's 100.000 defeat Cao's 400.000, as did Robert E Lee's aggressive 80.000 defeat McClellan's 150.000 in the Seven Days campaign? Cao's troops seem green, unable to perform an orderly retreat and badly led. His advisers defect or are killed. What a contrast to the young Cao who was a supreme judge of men and seeker of talent! Now, he seems to relish seeing his champions (and sons) fail. Reminds me of grouchy old Napoleon who went to Waterloo with his B team.

(Next installment in a week)

Redigerat: jun 23, 2008, 11:57 pm

>18 jcbrunner: JC said: "You will get a credibility problem fast. As a notorious philosopher once said: Fool me once, ..."

TRUE, but in politics, if it's convenient for former adversaries to be friends again, they will unite, break apart and unite.

Do you recall Zhang Xiu killed one of Cao Cao's son and a nephew? Zhang Xiu, led by Jia Xu, later came to kneel before Cao Cao and remained a counselor to Cao Cao for over 2 decades.

America fought N. Vietnam and China supported the latter. Once the war was over, China fought a war with Vietnam. 30 years later Vietnam is friendly with America. Even the torturer of McCain at the Hanoi Hilton said he'd vote for McCain if he were an American. Politics has short memory and only knows of gains. This is called, "gao san guo," or "playing the Three Kingdoms."

And who said the US fooled the Brits. The Brits need to tag along after the US to have reflected power. They knew exactly what they were getting into. No one does anyone a favor without calculating the gains.

jun 24, 2008, 5:03 am

You are right, politics sometimes creates strange bedfellows. Politicians also have to work together even if they don't like each other personally. The machine runs smoother, however, if they can trust each other and do not have to watch their backs all the time in a dog eats dog world.

A Machiavellian choice: Rule by love or fear (or soft and hard power). Cao Cao seems to have embraced the latter, killing of dissidents left and right ...

(As McCain endorses torture, now wonder torturers worldwide support him.)

jul 1, 2008, 7:02 pm

Chapter 73 New honours come upon him

As Cao Cao flees to Chang'an, Liu Bei is master of Hanzhong and assumes the kingship of it (why King of Hanzhong and not of Shu?), declining to declare himself Emperor (the actual Emperor, Cao Cao's puppet, is still pretty much alive). Liu Bei reiterates his position in an attack memorandum on Cao Cao, source of all evil. The enraged Cao Cao strikes back by allying himself with Sun Quan offering him Jingzhou and the Riverlands.

Sun Quan tries first to turn Lord Guan by an offer of marriage transmitted by Zhuge Jin, a rather strange choice given their past relations. Zhuge Jin fails and the alliance against Liu Bei comes into force. First step, is to entice Lord Guan into attacking Fan, thus denuding Jingzhou of troops. Liu Bei, reorganizing in Chengdu, promptly orders the capture of Fan. Lord Guan, despite being given precedence among the Tiger Generals, throws a tantrum due to the inclusion of the unworthy Huang Zhong but relents.

The Fan campaign starts badly with an accidental torching of their own camp. Lord Guan wants to execute his two responsible commanders but commutes the sentence to corporal punishment and banishment. A bad dream offers good and bad interpretations (first Cao Cao, now Lord Guan: old men and sleep. Their bodies rebel against the strains of continued warfare.). Cao Ren considers a prudent defense but falls for a reckless attack. He is trapped and defeated by Lord Guan twice. Cao Cao sends reinforcements under a mystery commander ...

jul 6, 2008, 3:32 pm

Chapter 74 Drowning an army

Pang De is the mystery commander who is tasked to break Lord Guan. Pang De has quite a checkered past: He had an affair/raped his sister-in-law and then killed her (a tribal society lurking beneath the veneer of civilization). He broke with his lord, which casts him outside the traditional system. Cao Cao is his sole link. Why does Cao Cao rely on outsiders for this key mission? A question that comes to mind to Cao Cao's generals as well. Pang De gives a loyalty pledge and carries his own coffin along as a reminder of his duty.

Lord Guan is not amused by his opponent calling him a punk and a skunk. A strange translation choice, skunks are typical American creatures (apart from two stink badger genera on Java and the Philippines), Wikipedia confirms my notion. The TV series opted for the (rather generic and less stigmatized) rat. What animal is in the original text? Punk also sounds Dirty Harryish and unhistorical. Is it done because the two insults rhyme in the original?

After a clash with Guan jr., Pang De and Lord Guan battle for a hundred rounds, then retire for the night. The next day, after fifty rounds, Pang De wounds Lord Guan in the arm by a sneak bow shot. His own jealous sub-commanders call Pang De back, robbing him of the chance to kill Lord Guan. Fortunately, the wound heals fast and Guan jr. (a badly chosen actor in the TV series, much too young, with a tinge of Batman and Robin. Instead, he should be a man in his mid-twenties) manages to shield his stepfather from premature engagements. Yu Jin uses the time to select an unfortunate camp location. His army is washed away by flood and rain. Yu Jin surrenders to Lord Guan. Pang De fights like a berserker but is captured in the water as well (in the TV series, he is holding on to his floating coffin, well done!). Yu Jin is sent to prison, Pang De beheaded. Lord Guan marches on Fan, also troubled by the flood. Cao Ren, on advice, decides to stay.

Lord Guan first sends his second son to Chengdu for PR purposes. Then he divides his army in two, sending half to Jiaxia, half to Fan (bad move: Never divide your army in half. Good commanders use the Pythagorean relation to split their forces into a larger primary and a smaller secondary force.). Lord Guan arrives in front of Fan and insults its garrison - which answers with a crossbow volley. One bolt strikes Lord Guan's right arm (again!), and he topples from his horse. A Chinese Achilles? "Achilles and Lord Guan, a comparison of heroism and deification in Ancient Greece and China", a thesis which practically writes itself.

Alas, the TV series continues on directly with the next chapter. Bad choice, spoiling the moment for me.

jul 10, 2008, 2:18 am

Regarding army sizes, I found this in The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han, chapter 2:

A seventh-century army would not have exceeded 10,000 men, and even greatly expanded forces in the late sixth century consisted of no more than 50,000 soldiers. Warring States armies, on the other hand, may have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, with the largest force mentioned numbering 600,000. Even if most armies in the field had only about 100,000 ...

Warring States is ~ 500B.C.~200B.C., 3K is ~200A.D. so I don't know if those numbers actually mean anything in terms of 3K.

jul 13, 2008, 6:08 pm

Regarding ancient army sizes, see >11 jcbrunner:. I assume period records exist for raw numbers. These numbers can then be checked against thresholds of population, logistics and nutrition. One has also to distinguish between fighting and support troops.

The Chinese skunk question is still open. Brewitt-Taylor translates: "Does this fellow dare disdain me? Then he ordered Guan Ping to attack Fancheng while he went out to slay the impudent boaster who dared him." A skunk and a boaster are both obnoxious, one defensive, the other aggressive.

The first part of Red Cliff (Red Cliff minus the battle of Red Cliff) premiered on July 10th in Asia. The 8 minute trailer looks spectacular. I particularly like wild Zhang Fei. Lord Guan looks to much like a garden gnome. The battle scenes must look spectacular on the big screen - Europe will only get a condensed version of the two films some time next year. I am a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand, I fear they want to turn it into another "Crouching Tiger" with beautiful scenery and wild fights but missing in the story department. On the other hand, the pacing in many Asian films is rather slow for European tastes, so some cuts might be helpful.

Chapter 75 Indians show no pain

Lord Guan transforms the operation on his poisoned arm into a display of bravery and surgical skill. A hundred days' rest and the arm will be as good as new. His armies defeated, Cao Cao decides, after a moment of fear, not to move his capital (as Lincoln stayed in Washington despite all of Lee's battlefield successes). Instead, he offers the whole Southland to Sun Quan and sends 50.000 men under Xu Huang as reinforcements to Fan.

Sun Quan has two options: Attack Lord Guan or Cao Cao. Jingzhou is the more familiar, lower risk target. While a combined attack with Liu Bei might have offfered greater rewards, Sun Quan chooses the first option. The assigned commander Lü Meng shows nerves in view of Lord Guan's defenses and retires to the sick bed (again, Zhou Yu already showed a lack of stamina. These Southerners are sissies!). Fortunately, Lu Xun has a cunning plan (which also nets him a promotion). Lü Meng resigns and the young Lu Xun simulates inactivity to deceive Lord Guan. Lü Meng also makes sure that he is the sole commander (double leadership mostly leads to trouble). The aval commando attack succeeds brilliantly. Hidden troops overwhelm the station guards who in turn helped overcome the defense of Jiangling (netting Lord Guan's family). The occupied city is treated fairly and with exemplary justice. Sun Quan arrives with reinforcements. Gong'an surrenders as well, as it is commanded by a disgruntled general who ventures to entice Mi Fang in Nanjun to surrender too. In a nearly bloodless campaign, Sun Quan has taken nearly half the province (including its administrative center) from Lord Guan. Cao Ren in the back, Sun Quan in front - and Liu Bei nowhere in sight. It doesn't look good for Lord Guan.

jul 13, 2008, 10:03 pm

mvrdrk--thanks for the figures. Still the Warring States figure seems an exaggeration to me.

And I didn't realize there is a new Red Cliff film for the theater in parts. How many parts JC? I'm now reading chapter 75, so caught up with you.

Redigerat: jul 14, 2008, 3:42 am

I wasn't saying the army sizes weren't an exaggeration, I was just wondering if there was any historical basis for them being larger than one might expect them to be based on other parts of the world or history. Lewis' text claims support for numbers up to 600,000, during the warring states. I'm assuming that by the end of the Han, the numbers would have shrunk considerably, I just don't know by how much.

My modern dictionary provides:

punk, 豎子 - a boy, a youngster; a good-for-nothing

skunk, 匹夫 - an ordinary man; every man, everyone; an ignorant person

jul 15, 2008, 4:58 am

>26 belleyang:, Belle, it has two parts (the second of which they are still filming. There was a deadly stunt accident just a few days ago. It will be in cinemas next January). I am really looking forward to eventually seeing the film. You can listen to the saccharine title song by a Asian fusion singer (a Tibetan singing Mandarin? Chinese produced by a Japanese company).

>27 mvrdrk: Thanks, mvrdrk. So the translation is faithful to its meaning but breaks the period flair. Interesting that the stereotypes of loitering youngsters (James Dean) and ignorant Joe Public seem to exist in every culture.

jul 19, 2008, 10:34 am

Chapter 76 Sichelschnitt

The surrender domino continues. Fu Shiren slashes Lord Guan's messenger to induce Mi Fang to surrender. Fighting on is hardly an option. The situation does not look good for Lord Guan: Supply problems and squeezed by two armies.

Cao Cao sends Xu Huang to relieve Cao Ren at Fan. Guan Ping covers the besieging forces by a line of forts. After preliminary clashes, Xu Huang takes the line. Guan Ping flees home to Lord Guan. The recuperating old man has to the job himself. He mounts his horse and advances against Xu Huang and, after some chit-chat and reminiscences, battles for eighty bouts before he retires. The doctor did a good job! Alas, Cao Ren's men make a sortie and together with Xu Huang's rout Lord Guan's troops. Lord Guan leads his men in the direction of Gong'an - but hears about the surrender of that place. Shock! He passes out. Revived, he sends messages to Chengdu and marches on Jiangling.

Cao Cao celebrates and praises Xu Huang (and also Cao Ren, not enough in my opinion: The guy held the fort in difficult circumstances.). Cao Cao stations his army at Mopo in a holding position.

Meanwhile, Lord Guan sends a stern letter to Lü Meng who shows kindness to Guan's captured soldiers' families. Lord Guan's army melts away by desertion and skirmishes. Soon, he is left with only 300 followers. Rescued by Guan Ping, they barricade themselves within the town of Mai which is quickly besieged by Wu soldiers. The Alamo or Dunkirk?

Liao Hua escapes with a letter to Shangyong - which is held by Liu Feng who has an ax to grind with Lord Guan (the latter not supporting him for Liu Bei's succession). He declines to help Lord Guan (After all, his position at Shangyong is just as exposed. Not reinforcing failure is a sound strategic principle). Liao Hua continues on to Chengdu. Will the cavalry arrive in time?

Zhuge Jin is sent again to negotiate with Lord Guan to switch sides. Why Zhuge Jin? The chemistry between him and Lord Guan isn't and hasn't been working. Lord Guan refuses. At least, he prevents Guan Ping from killing poor Zhuge Jin who returns to Sun Quan from another failed diplomatic mission. Lü Meng has a plan to capture Lord Guan.

The situation looks hopeless for Lord Guan. The only chance is a Riverland rescue right under the noses of both Sun Quan and Cao Cao. Sun Quan has to think about how to absorb Jingzhou and reestablish relations with Liu Bei.

jul 24, 2008, 4:46 pm

Chapter 77 Losing an arm by a beheading

Lü Meng sets up multiple escape ambush traps for Lord Guan whose lack of supplies forces him out. Leaving 100 men behind under two stalwarts, he escapes together with 200 men and Guan Ping. They manage to escape from the first ambush, minus a lot of their retinue. The second ambush reduces them to Lord Guan, Guan Ping and a few men. The third ambush captures both men alive.

Lord Guan is brought before Sun Quan whom he quickly insults. Sun Quan still hopes to induce Lord Guan to switch sides, but, reminded of Cao Cao's failed attempt to gain Lord Guan's loyalty, he has Lord Guan and Guan Ping beheaded. Red Hare, his faithful steed, dies soon after.

Lord Guan's head is then shown to the Mai garrison commanders who kill themselves too, faithful to their master. A hermit monk persuades Lord Guan's ghost to relent his headless anger- but first, he plays a few tricks. He possesses poor Lü Meng who knocks over Sun Quan, insults him and then collapses in a sea of blood. The dangerous head is sent as a "present" to Cao Cao (hoping to direct Liu Bei's anger towards Cao Cao too). Lord Guan's head plays a final trick on Cao Cao sending him into a shock, before he is properly buried with a wooden replacement torso (a low-tech Robocop).

Meanwhile, Liu Bei thinks of domestic matters, marrying a widow. Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang listen to the woes of Lord Guan battling in Jingzhou but do nothing. Even Guan's ghost asking for revenge does not provoke action. Zhuge Liang calms Liu Bei - until the death of Lord Guan is confirmed. Finally, Liao Hua (who had asked for help in vain) arrives. Why did it take so long? Why didn't he send an express rider or a pigeon ahead? Liu Bei collapses.

The TV series depicts Lord Guan's end similar to Jesus' calvary - a sick, depressed, old man hammered down again and again - until he is beheaded. I read the text rather differently. It shows a man in a hopeless struggle who fights on, persists and does not fear or expect death. More like William "Braveheart" Wallace. One of the weakest episodes (also without a video tribute to Lord Guan).

Cui bono? Who profits from Lord Guan's death? He was sacrificed for a hopeless cause. Holding on to Jingzhou was a quite a challenge against either Wu or Wei, probably even an impossible one. Resisting their two pronged attack alone was pure madness. Liu Bei lost both a brother-general and a province. If only Liu Bei had listened to me ...

I see Zhuge Liang as Iago sending Othello Guan on a doomed mission (ok - the analogy does not fully work ...). Zhuge Liang knew about the difficulty of defending Jingzhou and he did not send reinforcements. He should either have sent Ma Chao (who had fresh troops but was rather not on speaking terms with Lord Guan) or Zhao Zilong (who got along well but whose troops bore the brunt of fighting in the last campaign). When Stonewall Jackson performed a similar task in the Shenandoah Valley, Robert E Lee sent Ewell's division ...

While Lord Guan acted like a headless chicken after the collapse of Jingzhou's defenses (and let himself be bottled up in Mai) and is thus partially responsible for his own death, Zhuge Liang gains the most from his death: He is now Liu Bei's unchallenged Number one (even withholding information from Liu Bei). He no longer has to appease Lord Guan with letters or trick him into accepting orders. He is de facto in charge of Shu.

When Liu Bei re-awakes, it will be interesting how he manages to avoid a blood feud against Sun Quan without losing face. He cannot march against Sun Quan without endangering the Riverlands. On the other hand, letting Lord Guan's death go unpunished will diminish his appeal as a leader.

jul 27, 2008, 5:34 pm

I had a first look at Red Cliff which disappoints. Its spectacular scenery, mass scenes and beautiful costumes cannot hide major flaws as a drama. The film feels like a Disney park ride showing audiences scenes from the book (it even adds some more). The emphasis is on recognition not immersion. It is sad that the film will create little buzz for the novel.

Red Cliff follows the novel's multi-focus approach. While the book and the TV series have fifty episodes/chapters to set up the cast and their motivations, the film audience is thrown into battle cold turkey - a rush from Cao Cao to Zhao Zilong, a nod to Zhang Fei, Lord Guan and Liu Bei, on to Zhuge Liang, Zhou Yu and Sun Quan, ... a bewildering succession of clips and cameos. How familiar are Asian viewers with 3K and its major and minor characters? Are Zhang Fei's whiskers as familiar as Abraham Lincoln's beard? There is little character development, the film hardly stays for more than a few scenes with the same character. Character development may not be necessary in a video game or even a (bad) action film, it is bread and butter in a drama. John Woo, a director of action movies, was perhaps not the best choice for such a complex epic.

It will be interesting to see how the film is repackaged for Western audiences. It lacks a classic action film showdown, it is clearly no martial arts film, it is no biopic, it is also not an artsy film. Out of the 4,5 hours an artful cutter has to create a marketable film. Entourage's Medellin comes to mind ...

Chapter 78 No country for old men

The grieving Liu Bei collapses multiple times. Zhuge Liang counsels the vengeful Liu Bei to stay calm and wait.

Cao Cao is still haunted by Lord Guan's ghost. He flips back and forth from modern agnostic views back to being tormented by ghosts. He has a new building constructed to escape from bad karma - by attacking a holy tree intended for the spirit-free new building with a sword (a highly unsuitable tool for felling trees). Nature fights back and prevails.

Cao Cao hallucinates and has bad dreams. The wonder physician Hua Tuo (who had operated on Lord Guan) diagnoses a brain swelling and advises a skull puncture. Cao Cao is not happy with the idea of anyone getting so close to his grey matter, and has the good doctor tortured to death. On a more positive note, Cao Cao receives a letter of submission from Sun Quan. The two should be able to squash Liu Bei. Bad karma intervenes. Alas, he does not recover from his bad health. Interestingly, in his final hour, he declines Taoist rites. He dies just after declaring Cao Pi to be his legitimate successor. More valuable, Cao Pi gets the Emperor's confirmation.

His position is not yet secure, his younger brother Cao Zhang arrives with 100.000 soldiers to challenge the succession. Will Wei break in two?

Two chapters, two major characters perish. The one beheaded, the other died in his bed. Lord Guan was key to Liu Bei's survival, loyalty his chief attribute. Cao Cao unified the North into a single kingdom and crushed the Emperor as a political force. A mediocre tactical commander, he excelled in strategy and politics. In younger years, he was a good judge of men, in the later years, he feared challengers and was too quick to kill them.

Redigerat: aug 3, 2008, 4:47 am

JC--can you tell me the difference between a tactical command and strategy?

I enjoyed the lst chapter with its ghouls, but Cao Cao died so abruptly. I thought he would eke out a few more chapters. I miss him ;)

Sorry to hear The Three Kingdoms movie is not up to snuff. I had a feeling it's all show and no content, just as "The Curse of the Chrysanthemum" was. And China is one big, chaotic circus at the moment. Let's see what the Olympics will hold.

aug 3, 2008, 3:21 pm

>32 belleyang: Wikipedia answers: "In current military thought, tactics are the lowest level of planning, involving small units ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred men. Units are organized into formations, comprising a higher level of planning known as the operational use of forces. The third tier of military planning is strategic, which is concerned with the overall means and plan for achieving a long-term outcome." Lord Guan defending Mai was a tactical mistake, defending Jingzhou an operational mistake, fighting against Sun Quan a strategic mistake.

In my youth, I was subjected to a four-hour rendition of King Lear (empty stage, street wear for extra torture), giving me a lifetime supply of old man dying slowly. The TV episode dwelled too long on Cao Cao's death and decay (and chose a totally unsuitable crooked and branching tree. For building purposes, a straight one was needed.). Cao Cao's death removes the story's main villain. Will Cao Pi step in or will Sun Quan become the main villain?

I've seen the movie now a second time. It still puzzles me how the film assumes everybody to know the story and protagonists. A drama that neglects to present its protagonists. You are plunged into Liu Bei's forces' battling retreat but never offered any explanation why they are retreating and from where. It's just background to the circus show numbers of Zhao Zilong, Zhang Fei and the rather horizontally challenged Lord Guan. Tactical formations make no sense and forces appear out of nowhere. More video game than history lesson. Why wear armor if it protects neither against arrows, spears and swords? What about the goatees?

Chapter 79 Family Business

Cao Zhang is more kitten than lion. For a seat at the funeral, he is easily convinced into accepting Cao Pi and returns to the province. Brother number two hangs himself (bad communication skills). Brother number three, Cao Zhi, the drunken poet, has to be dragged to the throne. Cao Pi executes his literary friends, before posing him two death challenges of instant poem composition. Cao Zhi succeeds and is sent back to the province. No more challengers to Cao Pi's reign (but also not much help from the Cao brothers in keeping the kingdom under control).

Meanwhile, Liu Bei has unfinished family business himself with Liu Feng and Meng Da (who refused to relieve Lord Guan). Ma Chao discovers a traitor buddy of Meng Da who is allowed to commit suicide. Panicky Meng Da hands in a long mock-deferential letter of resignation and switches his allegiance to Wei. Zhuge Liang counsels to send Liu Feng to discipline Meng Da who in turn is tasked by Cao Pi in netting Liu Feng. Showdown. Liu Feng battles with Meng Da while Wei soldiers capture the remaining territory. Liu Feng flees back to Liu Bei who has him executed. Another dead Liu. The saintly Liu Bei feels quite remorseful after the deed.

August 220 AD is a biological wonder month with the appearance of a phoenix, a unicorn and a yellow dragon. The menagerie is said to point to the Emperor's abdication who is informed of this by a large delegation. Game over for the Han (after a grace period of 30 years)? Cao Pi obviously tries to remove all potential challengers.

aug 10, 2008, 6:14 pm

Chapter 80 Three Kingdoms, two Emperors

The bureaucracy mobs and bullies the Emperor into relinquishing his throne. There is no need to create such an open loss of face. The Emperor pushes back only meekly. If he had used the play-book better, he could at least have taken some of the bureaucracy down with him. Bureaucrats are not supposed to disobey direct imperial orders. It is interesting that the novel reverses the Empress' position. Historically she joins her Cao family's position. In the novel, she stands by her husband against Cao Pi. I expected the Caos to wait for her offspring to assume the throne. The Cao henchmen murder the keeper of the regalia to show the Emperor that they mean business. This act breaks his spirit.

Then an elaborate abdication dance starts in which Cao Pi must appear as reluctant claimant to the throne, rejecting the Emperor's letters. Finally, an altar is built and an abdication show performed. The old Emperor, no longer useful, manages to save his hide and retires. Bad weather spoils the party - bad omen for the Caos. Cao Pi moves the capital (again) to Luoyang.

News from Cao Pi's coronation soon reaches Liu Bei and causes another round of grief. Liu Bei vacillates (as ever). Zhuge Liang pressures him into accepting emperorship by faking illness. With his own altar spectacle, Liu Bei is proclaimed Emperor on the assumption that the old Emperor is dead (who is pretty much still alive albeit shuffled away, a case of frustration of contract?). As his first act, Liu Bei wants to mobilize against the South. Zhao Zilong objects ...

aug 14, 2008, 7:09 pm

Chapter 81 Changing of the Guard

Zhao Zilong urges Liu Bei to attack not Sun Quan but Cao Pi from the NW Wei River (A sound idea which would benefit from Ma Chao's local knowledge and connections.). Vengeful, Liu Bei ignores him. Zhuge Liang is against attacking Sun Quan first too, but is cancelled out by the impulsive hate of Zhang Fei. Liu Bei even threatens to behead one of his advisers. All is set for war.

Zhuge Liang and Ah Dou stay behind, Ma Chao and Wei Yan defend the North, Zhao Zilong coordinates supply (the naysayers staying behind). Huang Zhong is in the lead of a 750.000 man army (!) - a wide exaggeration for the Riverland manpower potential. The number seems even callous considered that Liu Bei didn't spare men to support Lord Guan.

Zhang Fei at Langzhong urges his men to a speedy start by lashing two of his generals. Go team! In the night, the two humiliated generals sneak into Zhang Fei's tent and murder him. They escape with his severed head to the South. His impulsiveness finally got him. Don't be cruel to your subordinates is one of the recurring ignored messages of the novel.

Hearing the news, Liu Bei collapses again. He is the sole survivor of the old guard. His time will be up soon ... The next generation of his brothers is there to serve Liu Bei (but are they ready?): Zhang Bao and Guan Xing. The two battle for eminence by a show of shooting and nearly clash in a duel. Liu Bei steps in and awards the elder Zhang Bao with the lead, but places them under the command of a more experienced general. As a further warning, a 300-year-old hermit draws a negative picture of the future for Liu Bei. He ignores him as well. The army advances.

In the South, the approaching army is noticed. Zuge Yin is sent again on a diplomatic mission to stop Liu Bei. Will this Charlie Brown of diplomacy score for once?

aug 17, 2008, 4:40 pm

Chapter 82 Attack of the Clones

Liu Bei and his army arrive at the Wu border at Baidi - quite a distance from Chengdu. Zhuge Jin tries to spin Lord Guan's death on (conveniently dead) Lü Meng and offers the return of Lady Sun and Jingzhou (does he really have a mandate for the last two agenda items?). Liu Bei turns him down angrily. Bribery not working, enter pragmatism: Zhuge Jin explains the benefits on a attack on Wei. Liu Bei is not open to rational arguments: "Nothing - save my death - will stop this troops." Alea iacta est (I assume that the subordinate clause will take hold soon, though.). Zhuge Jin preserves his negative diplomacy record. Perfect fail.

Sun Quan is not happy with the huge army looming on his border. His adviser Zhao Zi suggests submitting to Cao Pi and teaming up against Liu Bei. Zhao Zi is dispatched to Xuchang. Zhao Zi offers a sonogram about the wise, good and tough Sun Quan to Cao Pi, explaining that they are to submit but not to be conquered. Cao Pi makes Sun Quan King of the South and invests him with the "Nine Dignities". An adivser to Cao Pi tries to convince him to immediately backstab his new ally (which might work but would send out wrong signals). Cao Pi declines and prefers to watch the show of his competitors fighting (He should have sent an army against Ma Chao).

After some protocol tantrums, Sun Quan accepts the Kingship. As a first defensive measure, he sends out an eager adopted nephew Sun Huan, supported by an older Tiger general (Tiger General not being a trademark?) and 50.000 men. Sun Huan places 25.000 men in a defensive position at Yidu which is discovered by Liu Bei's vanguard led by Wu Ban. The other side's Young Turks, Guan Xing and Zhang Bao, speed to Yidu too. After a round of insults, Zhang Bao clashes with Sun Huan's sidekicks but has to withdraw and dismount when his horse is wounded. Guan Xing saves his life by cutting down his opponent. The first round goes to the Junior Tiger Team.

The next day, Guan Xing clashes with Sun Huan, defeats him and conquers his camp. Zhang Bao spears the second sidekick and kills the archer who shot his horse - offering his drained blood in sacrifice to his horse. The Riverlanders set up an ambush to destroy both the naval and land forces of Sun Huan. The plan succeeds but the fleet manages to escape. It allows Sun Huan to reach the relative safety of Yiling where he is bottled up by Wei Ban. An (expected, given the size differential) win for Liu Bei.

By Zhang Zhao's advice, Sun Quan prepares a 100.000 army and sends everybody's favorite pirate, Gan Ning, although dysentry-stricken, along.

Liu Bei's huge army is spread along the river in forty camps from Wu Gorge to Yiling (Risking defeat in detail due to the 70 li distance, meaning five days march between the right and left wing of the army. Napoleon kept his corps usually at two days distance at the most.). When Liu Bei hears about the approach of the new army, he is informed that snubbed Huang Zhong has set out with only a few men to redeem the image of old men. Liu Bei sends the two boy generals after him.

aug 24, 2008, 3:05 pm

Chapter 83 Time is running out

The Tiger Generals are dropping like flies. Oldtimer Huang Zhong seeks death in battle to prove Liu Bei's unkind words about old soldiers wrong. Wounded by an arrow, Huang Zhong is rescued by Guan Xing and Zhang Bao but dies from his wounds. Only two tigers, Zhao Zilong and Ma Chao, remain -and both are not present.

Liu Bei's eight armies advance like an unstoppable flood. The two tiger cubs Guan Xing and Zhang Bao prove their worth by killing Wu champions. The sick pirate Gan Ning's head is pierced by an arrow of Sha Moke, allied leader of the Miao from Guizhou. Gan Ning rides on, sits down beside a tree and expires. He should have kept to the waves.

Meanwhile, Guan Xing is lost and stays at a villager's home who worships his father, Lord Guan. His opponent Pan Zhang has the bad idea to stay at the same location and is swiftly cut down by Guan Xing (not without a quick appearance of Lord Guan's ghost). Guan Xing recovers his father's moon blade and returns with Pan's head to camp. The traitors Mi Fang and Fu Shiren try to switch sides again by bringing a head to Liu Bei, who instead leaves them to be sliced up by Guan Xing.

zhang Bao gets his revenge in turn, as the South returns his father's head and the two killers (to be swiftly sliced up too). Sun Quan again offers the return of Lady Sun and Jingzhou. Liu Bei declines again. War, it is.

Sun Quan lies the hope of Wu in boy general Lu Xun (who has devised the plan to conquer Jingzhou). At first, he has to establish his cred among the older Southern generals who test his mettle. Only under the threat of death, do they start to comply with Lu Xun's order to stay defensive.

Old Liu Bei disdains his youthful opponent and orders his army to advance quickly. Summer supply problems cause Liu Bei to camp on the hill side, deferring the attack on the defensive lines to autumn. Only a small group of inferior soldiers guards against surprise. Adviser Ma Liang tries to convince Liu Bei to reconsider this dangerous position. He is brushed off and parts to seek Zhuge Liang's opinion on this flawed disposition (when it will be too late). Liu Bei - his limbs cut off, his brain left behind ... The chapter started with the foolish charge of a stubborn old man. It ends with one foolishly resting his army ...

aug 30, 2008, 8:34 am

Chapter 84 Burn, baby, burn

Lu Xun's army stays on defense, letting Liu Bei's forces exhaust their supplies. Cao Pi makes a major strategic mistake - He sends his forces to attack Wu (instead of Shu). A better strategy would have been to capture the exhausted Riverlands. Cao Ren, Cao Xiu and Cao Zhen set out to attack Sun Quan's rear.

The novel now offers Zhuge Liang a scene to escape the blame for the impending catastrophe: Ma Liang shows Liu Bei's faulty dispositions to the shocked Zhuge Liang. Zhuge Liang prepares Liu Bei's upcoming rescue.

Lu Xun sends a commando raid into one of Liu Bei's camps. He then sets up a plan to burn Liu Bei out. These Southerners surely love to use fire as a weapon! Liu Bei is unaware, sending Guan Xing north and Zhang Bao south of the river to reconnoiter. The next day, the Southerners attack behind a wall of fire and rout the Riverlanders. In utter confusion, Liu Bei flees - shielded by Zhang Bao and Guan Xing (who are both wounded) - but is trapped. Brave Zhao Zilong once again emerges to rescue Liu Bei.

His army crushed, Liu Bei escapes back to Baidi. A number of vignettes about Shu champions dying bravely follow. Liu Bei's estranged wife Lady Sun throws herself into the river too. I am a bit surprised that, she being a sporty one, she could not swim. I suspect in reality she was killed by her own folks to purge the stain of that alliance (see the sort of the poor King of Rome after Napoleon's fall).

The chapter ends with Lu Xun stopped by a strange supernatural interlocking moving stone wall defense called the Eightfold Maze set up by Zhuge Liang. In reality, what cooled Lu Xun's attack was Cao Pi's armies emerging in his rear. Lu Xun orders his armies to turn around.

sep 6, 2008, 8:39 am

Chapter 85 The end of Liu Bei, the rise of Zhuge Liang

Liu Bei laments his losses and defeat, while Cao Pi hears about his failed southern campaign. His three armies are easily repulsed by the Southerners. The South defeated both the Western and Northern invaders on home ground.

In Baidi, Liu Bei is dying. He also arranges his succession. Zhuge Liang will continue as prime minister and de facto dictator with 17-year-old Liu Shan (A Douh) as a figurehead emperor (Liu Bei has not much hope in him, calling him a weakling. Like father, like son ... Liu Bei even offers the throne to Zhuge Liang which he declines - an unrealistic proposal anyway as the Shu title was based on the Liu family connection.). Liu Bei also charges faithful Zhao Zilong with the mission to protect the heir. Dead Liu Bei was transported back to Chengdu where the coffin was received by Liu Shan. Liu Bei is buried at Huiling, a suburb of Chengdu. Liu Shan is enthroned as Emperor. The novel states that Liu Shan marries the daughter of Zhang Fei. Wikipedia says that the marriage took place two years earlier, which makes more sense - as the marriage offers no diplomatic potential (Zhang Fei being dead and young Zhang Bao firmly in the Shu camp).

Cao Pi tries to profit from the incertitude of succession and arranges for five allied armies attack on the Riverlands: The first army of allied Qiang is set to attack Xiping Pass, the second army of allied Man (barbarians) are set to attack the southern districts, the third army from Wu, the fourth army of turncoat Meng Da, and finally a Wei army. A curious composition where the sidekicks are charged with the heavy-lifting. The stupid southern campaign might have blunted the Wei forces, but they should have been able to field more than one army.

The attack allows Zhuge Liang to demonstrate the new pecking order. He bottles himself up in his palace and does not accept the Emperor's envoys. The Emperor has to go personally to him. Hints of Canossa. Zhuge Liang works his magic. Ma Chao (who is half-Qiang himself) stops the first army, the second one's advance is stopped by Wei Yan taking up a flanking position. Tje third under Meng Da is inactive thanks to a forged letter (not that it takes much effort to convince Meng Da to sit this attack out). Zhao Zilong blocks the fourth army of Wei. Only the southern army is unanswered for. Zhuge Liang sends Deng Zhi to mend fences with Sun Quan and convince him that an attack is not in his own best interest (as he did advise Liu Bei before the latter's foolish attack).

With all the paladins dead, this might have been a suitable ending of the tale of Liu Bei. Instead, the novel shifts hero Zhuge Liang into the first line. Quiet, submissive Liu Bei has finally found peace - having tasted defeat once more. Starting out from practically nothing (sandal-weaver), he managed to carve out a kingdom in the chaos of civil war. If he had been a better general or diplomat, he might even have toppled Cao Cao. As it is, his son has much worse cards against Cao Pi and Sun Quan.

sep 9, 2008, 1:59 am

Okay, this is a test,JC--Why do you think Zhuge Liang broke out in a sweat when the dying Liu Bei asked him to support Liu Shan if the young man were smart and capable, and if not, take power for himself?

sep 9, 2008, 5:17 am

Oh, a test. I like tests - even those I am bound to fail, as thinking like a Chinese is more difficult than walking like an Egyptian. Let's see, there are two, one logical (Zhuge the roboter), the other political (Zhuge the pretender):

1. Logical Dilemma: Sweat is a stress signal, caused here by cognitive dissonance: Zhuge Liang knows that Liu jr. is not capable, so, according to Liu Bei's rule, Zhuge Liang must declare himself emperor. He doesn't - out of loyalty. His inaction, however, is an implicit endorsement that Liu Shan is capable (which he isn't). Whatever Zhuge Liang does (chosing loyalty over honesty), he breaks one of Liu Bei's rules, which causes his distress.

2. Political neck on the line: A more prosaic reason may be that outing Zhuge Liang as a contender for the throne makes him a prime target for elimination (see Cao Pi's treatment of his brothers) - prevented only the general turmoil, his lack of a political base and Shu Lian's weakness. Shu Lian's weakness is both the origin of Zhuge Liang's contention and the cause of his survival.

sep 12, 2008, 7:44 pm

I was kidding about it being a test.

My interpretation Liu Bei TESTING of Zhuge Liang.
If the latter showed any sign that he would, indeed, covet the throne--any hint that he would takeover if Liu Shan showed incompetence, then off with Zhege Liang's head. This was a deathbed test of his minister.

Liu Bei, a man who had fought hard to bring All Under Heaven under the Han/Liu again would hardly relinquish power so easily to a Zhuge and not the Lius.

Zhu Geliang prostrated himself in a sweat, because he was feeling the cold steal's edge on his neck. One bad move and he is gone.

sep 13, 2008, 9:03 am

It only proves that Zhuge Liang is a good actor ... If Liu Bei had had any intention of killing Zhuge Liang, the sick old man would have "expired" in a heartbeat. Keeping Zhuge Liang (Cardinal Mazarin) around, is the only chance of protecting the dauphin from other warlords.

Chapter 86 Watch your back before you attack

While not yet assuming an emperorship himself, Sun Quan nevertheless declares his own reign, troubling recordkeepers everywhere with three close but unequal reference points. He assigns his successful general Lu Xun to govern the focal province Jingzhou. Having accepted Cao Pi's overlordship, Sun Quan is bound to send military support against Shu (as part of the five armies attack, see the last chapter). His army advances cautiously. As his army is the only one left (all the others having been stopped by Zhuge Liang's schemes), he prepares to meet Zhuge's envoy Deng Zhi threatening to boil him alive. Deng Zhi calls his bluff and elaborates that an alliance between Shu and Wu is in their interest. Deng Zhi returns to Zhuge Liang with a Wu envoy in tow to negotiate an agreement.

During an elaborate wine-and-dine, a Shu scholar explains the blessing of Shu and the anthropomorphic physiognomy of heaven according to the book of Odes. It is interesting how at this stage of scholastic development sources count for more than actual evidence. The banquet goes well, and the two envoys return to Sun Quan to repeat the process. Shu and Wu are allies again.

Cao Pi is not happy about it (having attacked them both, he is to blame for the outcome.). He mounts a grand expedition against the South in the East from Guanling to Nanxu (controlling the mouth of the Yangtze - incidentally, I've just seen a good documentary about the economic and lifestyle changes caused by the Three Gorges Dam project, Up the Yangtze). Sun Quan asks Zhuge Liang for a diversionary attack in Hanzhong and sends Xu Sheng to protect the east. First, he has to deal with a troublesome Sun relative. Xu Sheng unwisely asks for the death penalty which Sun Quan for family reasons cannot grant and lets his relative Sun Shao off. He promptly punishes his benefactor by charging with 3.000 men across the river. Xu Sheng sends reinforcements after him to lessen the impending disaster and prepares a defensive line on the river bluffing the Northerners with straw men.

Xu Sheng is a lucky man. Cao Pi is hit with the news that Zhao Zilong advances on the capital and then a storm devastates his fleet. Shocked, Sun Shao's impetuous attack arrives in the right moment. Cao Pi's army routs and, like Cao Cao, Cao Pi has to abandon his Southern campaign. Fortunately for Cao Pi, Zhao Zilong is recalled, as the Man plunder in the South. Zhao Zilong covers Chengdu, so that Zhuge Liang can advance against the Man. Both campaigns thwarted by a sneaky attack in the back.

Redigerat: sep 21, 2008, 8:59 am

Chapter 87 Hearts and Minds

Good times in the Riverlands: no invasions and good harvests, even "compulsory labor was eagerly undertaken" (putting the joy into chore). For balance, large areas of Wei and Wu have been invasion-free for decades now. Strangely, in this good time, a rebellion starts in the South - both Chinese and Man. Why the rebellion and why now? Considering the good harvests and the relative quiet, it is not a fortunate time to rebel.

Zhuge Liang (with Lord Guan's third son Guan Suo) first deals with the Chinese rebels led by three governors. He first captures and releases one of their champions E Huan (nine spans tall). Zhuge Liang then captures and releases a large number of enemy prisoners, always favoring one of the rebel governors called Gao Ding, and sows dissent among the rebel governors. Gao Ding kills one of his fellow governors and tries to surrender to Zhuge Liang. He declines to accept it before the other governor is killed too. Gao Ding is pardoned and is given charge of the region. Zhuge Liang then visits a faithful town where he picks up a valuable map of the region. On to the second rebellion.

Meng Huo, king of Man, attacks with three armies of 50.000 each. Zhuge Liang sends Wang Ping against the left, Ma Zhong against the right and Zhang Ni and Zhang Yi in the center, keeping Zhao Zilong and Wei Yan in reserve. The two do not accept to play second fiddle and set out on their own.They raid the first army camp and kill its general. They split raiding each one army camp. As Zhuge Liang's two regular armies join the battle, the Man are squeezed from two sides and flee. Given the difficult terrain, Zhuge Liang's men will never catch them - but Zhuge Liang has forseen this. The two Zhangs ambush and cpature the fleeing Man generals. Zhuge Liang pardons them as well. Only Meng Huo remains.

The next day, Meng Huo attacks. Zhuge Liang's forces stage a fake retreat and capture Meng Huo as well. Zhuge Liang offers the barbarians a splendid show, pardoning first the Man soldiers, then the king himself, despite the later's open and clear statement to continue the war. Meng Huo rides away. This affair is not over yet.

Pardoning Gao Ding was a shrewd act, as well as keeping good relations with the common Man. Pardoning the hostile king, however, does not look like a good idea. Is the Man king some sort of Tenno whose killing would destroy future relations? If so, Zhuge Liang could have looked for a scapegoat to create an "accident".

sep 21, 2008, 9:01 am

Chapter 88 Whack a mole!

Bad Boy Meng Huo is free again. Perhaps Zhuge Liang wants to fight against a known, incompetent leader (Killing insurgent leaders weeds out the incompetent, making the survivors deadlier opponents.). Meng Huo takes up a defensive line on the south bank of the River Lu, a tributary to the Yangtze. Zhuge Liang tries to lure him into an ambush on the north bank by repeating Cao Pi's camp arrangement. He also sends Ma Dai with 3.000 fresh crack troops against Meng Huo's supply lines.

After some initial problems in crossing the river (poisonous vapors), Ma Dai cuts Meng Huo's supply line. Ma Dai routs the first force sent against him. Meng Huo next sends his champions Dongtuna and Ahuinan. Dongtuna is a bad choice, as he feels obligated to Zhuge Liang for sparing his life. He withdraws and is subsequently punished by Meng Huo with 100 strokes (Always a bad punishment: either kill the offender or let him off the hook. This intermediate punishment only results in bad blood.). Dongtuna promptly rebels and sends Meng Huo across the river - as a parcel. Zhuge Liang asks the question of any occupier: "I have won every battle I have engaged in; every attack has yielded victory - why not submit?" Meng Huo remains silent (he could hardly answer because you are a foreign devil.). Zhuge Liang releases him again - double-crossing Dongtuna and Ahuinan who are promptly executed by Meng Huo. I have trouble understanding why Zhuge Liang prefers Meng Huo to the manageable Dongtuna.

To gain time, Meng Huo sends his brother across the river bearing gifts. His retinue consists of rather peculiar guys: "Tall, strong men with blue-green eyes and a swarthy complexion, yellowish hair and purplish beards." Early Scandinavian tourists? Some Indo-Germans who picked a wrong turn? Or even part of the Sino-Roman connection (the Romans being more fair-haired than the current Italians)? With the "Greeks bearing gifts" inside, Meng Huo prepares to fire-ambush Zhuge Liang's camps. The camps are - deserted by all but Meng You and his drunken Swedes. Fooled again! Meng Huo is ambushed in turn by Zhuge Liang's men. The Man and Meng Huo are captured again, paroled again. Zhuge Liang does not follow through with his threat when Meng Huo again breaks his promise. On his way back, Meng Huo in a Petrus-like walk of shame is admonished by Ma Dai, Zhao Zilong and Wei Yan who have captured his camp, his hills and base. Meng Huo reassembles an army out of hill tribes and southern allies. Meng Huo will have mobilized total Man manpower, a recruitment drive for Zhuge Liang's future Man army (only lacking in the fighting punch department).

sep 30, 2008, 8:54 am

Chapter 89 Catch and release

Zhuge Liang crosses to the south shore and sets up three camps. Meng Huo in a sporty rhino-hide dress, red headgear and riding a red ox (a strange choice of mount - slow and inflexible) offers a challenge. Zhuge Liang (like Caesar confronting the barbarians) keeps his troops in check in their camps. Zhuge Liang sets up another trap for Meng Huo faking a withdrawal to the northern shore. Meng Huo, not the brightest bulb, falls again for it, storms into the empty camp while Zhuge's troops capture his base and his forces. For comical relief, Meng Huo and his remaining faithful charge right into a ditch to be picked up. Another round of general pardoning follows. Zhuge Liang first admonishes Meng You, then Meng Huo and releases them again. Battling the Man is like a Shu training exercise.

Meng Huo joins a native king at Bald Dragon Hollow, relying on its natural defenses: It can only be approached by two roads (one easily blocked, the other sealed by nature). Zhuge Liang has to overcome the magical challenge of a waterless road with poisonous sources (spring of the Mute, spring of Death, black spring, spring of Languor).

Seeing his men struggle with the springs, Zhuge Liang offers prayer at a shrine and is given spirtual guidance by a ghost in the form of an old man to go to a stream of Eternal Peace and find special herbs. The keeper of the stream turns out to be the older brother of Meng Huo who sides with Zhuge Liang (payback time!).

Digging fresh wells, the Riverlanders overcome all obstacles. Shocked, some tribesmen capture Meng Huo themselves and deliver him to Zhuge Liang - who promptly releases him again. Doesn't Zhuge Liang have better things to do?

sep 30, 2008, 4:29 pm

I'm reading right along with you. In the middle of Chapter 89. Since the crisis, I've been reading mostly economics. It's been light-hearted fun read of the "catch and release."

okt 11, 2008, 7:01 am

Chapter 90 Zhuge Liang vs Tarzan

Another groundhog day in the Middle Kingdom, or more exactly at the fringe of civilization where they practice free love and boil their elephant meat. Meng Huo convinces a tribal king called Mulu to support him with his animal army. Mulu can "use the elephant as his mount, summon wind and rain, and command the obedience of tiger, leopard and wolf, scorpion and venomous snake."

The first Shu advance against their defenses is blocked by poisonous arrows. Zhuge Liang overcomes the defenses by having his soldiers fill a rampart in a surprise attack, killing a tribal king. Meng Huo is frightened - but not his wife, a true Amazon who ventures out to do battle, defeats and captures two of Zhuge Liang's commanders (who are lucky not to be executed). Zhao Zilong, Wei Yan and Ma Dai trick and capture her in turn. She is released again in exchange for the two commanders.

Then King Mulu, the Chinese Tarzan, and his animals rout the Riverlanders. Zhuge Liang responds with fireworks which frighten the animals away. Next, Meng Huo attempts an assassination by a fake surrender. Leniently, Zhuge Liang releases him again, after having captured him easily.

Meng Huo still does not submit, seeking out the help of a 12 span snake-eating chief called Wutugu and the Black Lances (clad in impenetrable rattan). Zhuge Liang's forces are unable to overcome the Black Lances, so Zhuge Liang lures them into a narrow valley, bottles it up and sets it on fire. All Black Lances perish in a holocaust, for which Zhuge Liang feels remorse. Meng Huo is also captured again.

Seven times captured, seven times released, Meng Huo finally submits. Zhuge Liang awards him the conquered territories and withdraws: "First, if outsiders stay behind, troops must stay with them. But how are we to feed those troops? Second, the defeated Man have suffered grievously, losing fathers and brothers. To leave outsiders here without troops is bound to lead to trouble. And third, the Man nations have always been so politically unstable that they will never trust outsiders. If we leave no one and ship no grain, we will find ourselves at peace with them for want of any cause of trouble." Wise words indeed for any occupier. The army returns home.

Did Zhuge Liang really win or did he simply declare victory and march home? As Roberts' note mentions the evidence is inconclusive. The aspects of the story point to a successful if costly resistance against the Chinese invaders. Anyway, despite the silver and Man manpower, Zhuge Liang should not have wasted so much time in a secondary campaign theater.

okt 20, 2008, 7:23 am

Wow, having just spent the last four chapters in the escapist pacification of the South, one single chapter has to absorb huge changes and events in Wei and Shu.

Chapter 91 Northward bound

Before Zhuge Liang can lead his army back to Chengdu and cross the river Lu, he has to pacify the disturbed souls of his slain - MIA on foreign soil (another Vietnam parallel). Meng Huo advises human sacrifices (logically, this should just create a new cohort of disturbed souls); Zhuge Liang tricks the souls with head-like dough buns stuffed with beef and lamb. The path is clear to return home. Reaching Chengdu, Zhuge Liang manages not to upstage the waiting Emperor while still assuming equal station on their joint reentry into the city. The soldiers are glad to be home again.

Meanwhile, Cao Pi used the time to switch wives. Lady Zhen is condemned to death, Lady Guo assumes her place. On a hunting trip, after Cao Pi has killed the mother, his son Cao Rui spares Bambi. Cao Pi calls this behavior virtuous - others might call it weak. His strength will be tested earlier than thought: Cao Pi dies, trusting his fifteen year old son into the protection of four men: Cao Zhen (regent-marshal), Chen Qun (minister of works), Sima Yi (cavalry general) and Cao Xiu (grand marshal). Sima Yi is given two provinces.

The Riverlanders are afraid of Sima Yi and start rumours about him by distributing fake proclamations. Wouldn't it be better to work with Sima Yi against Cao Rui? Eliminating one of Cao Rui's potential competitors does not strike me as a good idea. With a show of power, Cao Rui manages to dissolve the non-rebellion. Sima Yi is stripped of office and sent home. And then they were three (but Sima Yi is out but not dead, as Zhuge Liang predicted.).

Zhuge Liang prepares to go on the warpath again. This time against Wei. The Emperor and his Grand Historian consider it a hasty action. Zhuge Liang goes anyway. Zhuge Liang lists his commanders: forward Wei Yan, rear Li Hui, left and supply Ma Dai, right Ma Zhong, center/cavalry Liu Yan, guards Guan Xing, Zhang Bao, plus a host of inspectors, senior advisers, personnel officers, military counselors, secretaries, clerks (showing the complexity and professionalization of a Han army). Conspicuously missing is - Zhao Zilong, who after some sulking is assigned to the van (teamed up with youngster Deng Zhi). We also learn that Ma Chao died in the mean time (the author never showed much love for him). The army moves to its starting position at Hanzhong.

Why does Zhuge Liang think that his forces are sufficient to defeat Wei? He is in desperate need of allies. Sun Quan has shown a reluctance to invade northern territories (besides having already submitted to Wei). Somebody in the East or West of Wei should have been enticed to rebellion. Otherwise, the expedition is doomed from the start (as expressed by both the Emperor and the court historian).

Cao Rui is surprised. As a stop-gap measure, he sends out untested Xiahou Mao with 200.000 against Zhuge Liang's 300.000. Not only is he on home ground, he can easily replace armies. Will we see Zhuge Liang's High Water Mark (Gettysburg) soon?

nov 4, 2008, 10:02 am

Chapter 92 Banzai

Zhuge Liang honors Ma Chao with a visit to his tomb then continues with his campaign planning. Wei Yan proposes a Blitzkrieg. Zhuge Liang instead selects a less risky, methodical advance. To counter Zhuge, Xiahou Mao sends an army of Qiang allies against Zhuge Liang. Why does Wei rely so much on allied forces? At Phoenix Call Mountain, the Qiang under Han De and his four sons meet the Riverlanders and their champion Zhao Zilong who kills two sons, wounds the third and captures the fourth. Not bad for the old man! The Qiang flee.

Xiahou Mao in person shows up at Phoenix Call Mountain, only to see Han De die as did his sons a day ago. Xiahou Mao retires and sets up an ambush for Zhao Zilong. The plan seems to succeed, Zhao Zilong charges into the ambush and is soon surrounded on a hill, preparing to sell his life dearly. Fortunately for him, Zhuge Liang has sent relief: Zhang Bao and Guan Xing flank and rout Xiahou Mao in turn. He flees and is bottled up in the city of Nan'an.

Zhuge Liang arrives at Nan'an and engineers an indirect downfall of the city by first capturing its neighbor city of Anding, then inducing its governor to convince Xiahou Mao to surrender. The later tries to trick Zhuge Liang into a fake surrender. Alas, the deceivers are deceived themselves: Guan Xing and Zhang Bao enter the city as part of a delegation, overpower their guards and open the gates for reinforcements. Xiahou Mao is captured. The governor of Tianshui is nearly tricked as well but listening to sage advice, does not venture out.

Zhuge Liang has established a strong position on the river, dominating the West. He is vulnerable to a counterstroke against Hanzhong, thus needs to eliminate the resistance at Tianshui quickly.

nov 9, 2008, 1:23 pm

Semi final chapter of the third volume! From the lush jungle of the South, we turn to arid plains of the North.

Chapter 93 And I will strike down

Jiang Wei advises Ma Zun on an active defense, placing 3.000 men into an ambush while luring Zhuge Liang onto the city. Zhao Zilong is trapped in front of the city, but manages to escape. Next, it is Zhuge Liang's turn to be ambushed. Clearly, Jiang Wei is a talented general (why is he languishing in the province instead of leading Wei armies?).

Zhuge Liang turns to the trick that always works in turning Chinese generals: Go after their mothers. Zuge Liang sends one force to Jiang Wei's mother, another against their grain supply (cutting off spiritual and cereal support). Jiang Wei is removed from play by his defense of his mother's town.

Meanwhile, Zhuge Liang releases his incompetent captive Xiaohou Mao (hopefully not to be repeated six times) and tricks him into believing that Jiang Wei has switched sides. Having lost control over his city, Jiang Wei flees back to Tianshui - only to be called a traitor and driven into the arms of Zhuge Liang who declares him his apprentice. The Padawan as a first deed delivers the city of Tianshui, which in turn triggers the fall of Shanggui. Zhuge Liang now occupies a strong position on the Wei river, which provides flanking protection to Hangzhong.

Cao Rui finally recovers and starts mobilizing a real army of 200.000 under Cao Zhen and advisers Guo Huai and 75-year-old Wang Lang. The Wei and Shu armies face off. Wang Lang and Zhuge Liang, the TV series sitting in his sports buggy, start a battle of words - Zhuge Liang's harangue is too much for the old man: Wang Lang dies of a heart attack.

The Wei generals expect Zhuge Liang to stage a surprise attack during Wang Lang's funeral and prepare an ambush. Zhuge Liang in turn anticipates this and tricks them into slaughtering one another. Zhuge Liang's winning streak continues. To reverse this trend, the surviving Wei adviser Guo Huai offers a plan.

nov 14, 2008, 3:35 pm

Hi, JC--I'm am still with you. Now, ready to begin Volume 4, Chapter 94.
Somewhere above, you said it was wrong for Zhuge Liang to pacify the Mang people before hitting the Wei, but I imagine, the Shu-Han subdued the Mang to access grain and other resources for the fight North. What do you think?

nov 16, 2008, 3:32 pm

I think supply and plunder was but a small motivation. I'd argue that the prime reason was that such a large army was only sustainable in enemy or allied territory (where the peasants can't revolt). Zhuge Liang's vanity certainly played its part as well: You can almost feel the pain he endures when forced to deal with the teen-emperor, and the joy when he acts in the field as a prima donna quasi emperor (more MacArthur and Patton than Eisenhower and Marshall).

The Southern campaign at least prevented him from Robert E. Lee's big mistake: Embarking on his boldest campaign, the raid into Pennsylvania, with a bunch of untested corps commanders - who promptly failed him. Sparring with Meng Huo helped the generals both to accept the direct command of Zhuge Liang (no longer via Liu Bei) and bond among themselves. The Southern campaign created a cohesive army.

Zhuge Liang is still limited in his actions (like Rober E. Lee): He cannot afford to lose this army, which curtails his options and sets a time and attrition limit. If cannot achieve victory quickly, he is bound to lose.

On to the final chapter of vol. III.

Chapter 94 Setting the stage

Another diversion of Zhuge Liang. Wei sends in another Qiang army, this time supported by war wagons (like the Hussites). Zhuge Liang sends out Guan Xing, Zhang Bao and Ma Dai who are crushed by the advancing war wagons. Guan Xing barely manages to escape thanks to a surprise appearance of his ghost father (deus ex machina).

Zhuge Liang (assisted by Jiang Wei) waits for winter in the mountains. The Qiang seem not to have read the instruction manual to the war wagons: These are suitable only for the plains (creating an artificial stronghold in places where nature offers none). Their war wagons fail them in their attack on Zhuge Liang's mountain position. The Qiang flee and with a diplomatic farewell, their commander departs as well.

Meanwhile, the main Wei army remains out of luck. Wei Yan and Zhao Zilong dispatch two of its commanders. Cao Zhen asks for reinforcements. Cao Rui recalls Sima Yi - now both kingdoms are to be led by warlords with weak emperors waiting in the shadows.

Turncoat Meng Da with a fine nose for political change intends to switch sides once again. The arrival of Sima Yi spoils Meng Da's transition. Despite Zhuge Liang's warnings, Meng Da is trapped by the fast moving Sima Yi. Off with the traitor's head. Having Wei's southern flank secured, Sima Yi advances against Zhuge Liang. Showdown - in the next volume.

What happened to the third kingdom?