Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 109


A Ruse Of A Han General: Sima Zhao Is Surrounded;
Retribution For The House Of Wei: Cao Fang Is Dethroned.

It was the autumn of the sixteenth year of Long Enjoyment (AD 253), and Jiang Wei’s army of two hundred thousand was ready to march against the north. Liao Hua and Zhang Yi were Leaders of the Van; Xiahou Ba was Army Strategist; Zhang Ni was in command of the commissariat. The army marched out by the Yangping Pass.

Discussing the plan of campaign with Xiahou Ba, Jiang Wei said, “Our former attack on Yongzhou failed, so this time they will doubtless be even better prepared to resist. What do you suggest?”

Xiahou Ba replied, “Nanan is the only well-provided place in all Longshang. If we take that, it will serve as an excellent base. Our former ill-success was due to the non-arrival of the Qiangs. Let us therefore send early to tell them to assemble at Longyou, after which we will move out at Shiying and march to Nanan by way of Dongting.”

“You spoke well,” said Jiang Wei.

He at once sent Xi Zheng as his envoy, bearing gifts of gold and pearls and silk to win the help of the King of the Qiangs, whose name was Mi Dang. The mission was successful: King Mi Dang accepted the presents and sent fifty thousand troops to Nanan under the Qiang General Ehe Shaoge.

When Guo Huai heard of the threatened attack, he sent a hasty memorial to Capital Luoyang.

Sima Shi at once asked his leaders, “Who will go out to meet the army from the west?”

Xu Zi volunteered, and as Sima Shi had a high opinion of his capacity, he appointed Xu Zi as Leader of the Van. The brother of the Prime Minister, Sima Zhao, went as Commander-in-Chief.

The Wei army set out for West Valley Land, reached Dongting, and there fell in with Jiang Wei. When both sides were arrayed Xu Zi, who wielded a mighty splitter-of-mountains ax as his weapon, rode out and challenged. Liao Hua went forth to accept, but after a few bouts he took advantage of a feint and fled.

Then Zhang Yi set his spear and rode forth to continue the fight. He also soon fled and returned within his own ranks. Thereupon Xu Zi gave the signal to fall on in force, and the army of Shu lost the day. They retired ten miles, Sima Zhao also drew off his troops, and both sides encamped.

“Xu Zi is very formidable. How can we overcome him?” asked Jiang Wei.

“Tomorrow make pretense of defeat and so draw them into an ambush,” replied Xiahou Ba.

“But remember whose son this Sima Zhao is,” said Jiang Wei. “Sima Zhao cannot be a novice in war. If he sees a likely spot for an ambush, he will halt. Now the troops of Wei have cut our transportation many times. Let us do the same to them, and we may slay this Xu Zi.”

He called in Liao Hua and Zhang Yi and gave them secret orders, sending them in different directions. Then he laid iron thorns along all the approaches and planted thorny barriers as if making a permanent defense. When the troops of Wei came up and challenged, the troops of Shu refused battle.

The scouts reported to Sima Zhao: “The Shu supplies are coming up along the rear of Iron Cage Mountain, and they are using the wooden oxen and running horses as transport. The Shu army are building permanent defenses and are awaiting the arrival of their allies the Qiang tribes.”

Then said Sima Zhao to Xu Zi, “We formerly defeated the army of Shu by cutting off supplies, and we can do that again. Let five thousand troops go out tonight and occupy the road.”

About the middle of the first watch Xu Zi marched across the hills. When he came to the other side, he saw a couple of hundred soldiers driving a hundred or so heads of mechanical animals laden with grain and forage. His army rushed down upon them with shouts, and the troops of Shu, seeing that their road was impassable, abandoned their supplies and ran away. Xu Zi took possession of the supply train, which he sent back to his own camp under the escort of half his troops. With the other half he set out in pursuit.

About three miles away, the road was found blocked with carts set across the track. Some of his soldiers dismounted to clear the way. But as they did so, the brushwood on both sides burst into a blaze. Xu Zi at once drew off his force and turned to retire, but coming to a defile he found the road again blocked with wagons, and again the brushwood began to burn. He made a dash to escape, but before he could get clear a bomb roared, and he saw the troops of Shu coming down on him from two directions. Liao Hua and Zhang Yi from left and right fell on Xu Zi with great fury, and the troops of Wei were wholly defeated. Xu Zi himself got clear, but without any following.

He struggled on till he and his steed were almost spent with fatigue. Presently he saw another company of the enemy in his way, and the leader was Jiang Wei. Before he could make any resistance, Jiang Wei’s spear thrust him down, and as Xu Zi lay on the ground he was cut to pieces.

Meanwhile those troops of Wei who had been sent to escort to camp the convoy of supplies which they had seized were captured by Xiahou Ba. They surrendered. Xiahou Ba then stripped them of their weapons and clothing and therein disguised some of his own soldiers. Holding aloft banners of Wei, these disguised soldiers made for the Wei camp. When they arrived, they were mistaken by those in the camp for comrades, and the gates were thrown open. They rushed in and began to slay. Taken wholly by surprise, Sima Zhao leaped upon his steed and fled. But Liao Hua met him and drove him back. Then appeared Jiang Wei in the path of retreat, so that no road lay open. Sima Zhao made off for the hills, hoping to be able to hold out on the Iron Cage Mountain.

Now there was only one road up the hill, which rose steeply on all sides. And the hill had but one small spring of water, enough to serve a hundred people or so, while Sima Zhao’s force numbered six thousand. Their enemies had blocked the only road of escape. This one fountain was unequal to supplying the needs of the beleaguered army, and soon they were tormented with thirst.

In despair, Sima Zhao looked up to heaven and sighed, saying, “Death will surely come to me here!”

[hip, hip, hip]
The host of Wei on Iron Cage Mountain
Were once fast held by Jiang Wei’s skill;
When Pang Juan first crossed the Maling Hills,
His strategy was reckoned fine
As Xiang Yu at the Nine Mountains;
Both bent opponents to their will.
[yip, yip, yip]

In this critical situation Secretary Wang Tao reminded his leader of what Geng Gong had done in ancient time, saying, “O General, why do you not imitate Geng Gong, who, being in great need, prostrated himself and prayed at a well, wherefrom he afterwards was supplied with sweet water?”

So the leader went to the summit of the hill and knelt beside the spring and grayed thus:

“The humble Sima Zhao received a command to repulse the army of Shu. If he is to die here, then may this spring cease its flow, when he will end his own life and let his soldiers yield to the enemy. But if his allotted span of life be not reached, then, O Blue Vault, increase the flow of water and save the lives of this multitude.”

Thus he prayed; and the waters gushed forth in plenty, so that they all quenched their thirst and lived.

Jiang Wei had surrounded the hill, holding the army thereon as in a prison.

He said to his officers, “I have always regretted that our great Prime Minister was unable to capture Sima Yi in the Gourd Valley, but now I think his son is doomed to fall into our hands!”

However, news of the dangerous position of Sima Zhao had come to Guo Huai, who set about a rescue.

Chen Tai said to him, “Jiang Wei has made a league with the Qiangs, and they have arrived to help him. If you go away to rescue Sima Zhao, the Qiangs will attack from the rear. Therefore I would propose to send someone to the tribespeople to try to create a diversion and get them to retire. If they are disposed of, you may go to the rescue of Sima Zhao.”

Guo Huai saw there was much reason in this, and told Chen Tai to take a force of five thousand troops and go to the camp of the King of the Qiangs. When Chen Tai reached the camp, he threw off his armor and entered weeping and crying that he was in danger of death.

He said, “Guo Huai sets himself up as superior to everyone and is trying to slay me. Therefore I have come to offer my services to you. I know all the secrets of the Wei army, and, if you will, this very night I can lead you to their camp. I have friends in the camp to help, and you can destroy it.”

King Mi Dang was taken with the scheme, and sent his General Ehe Shaoge to go with Chen Tai. The deserters from Wei were placed in the rear, but Chen Tai himself rode with the leading body of the Qiangs. They set out at the second watch and soon arrived. They found the gates open, and Chen Tai rode in boldly. But when Ehe Shaoge and his troops galloped in, there suddenly arose a great cry as soldiers and horses went tumbling into great pits. At the same time Chen Tai came round in the rear and attacked, while Guo Huai appeared on the flank. The Qiangs trampled each other down, and many were killed. Those who escaped death surrendered, and the leader, Ehe Shaoge, committed suicide in a pit.

Guo Huai and Chen Tai then hastened back into the camp of the Qiangs. Mi Dang, taken unprepared, rushed out of his tent to get to horse, but was made prisoner. He was taken before Guo Huai, who hastily dismounted, loosed the prisoner’s bonds, and soothed him with kindly words.

“Our government has always regarded you as a loyal and true friend,” said Guo Huai. “Why then are you helping our enemies?”

Mi Dang sank to the ground in confusion, while Guo Huai continued, “If you will now raise the siege of Iron Cage Mountain and drive off the troops of Shu, I will memorialize the Throne and obtain a substantial reward for you.”

Mi Dang agreed. He set out forthwith, his own army leading and the army of Wei in the rear. At the third watch he sent on a messenger to tell Jiang Wei of his coming. And the Shu leader was glad. Mi Dang was invited to come. On the march the soldiers of Wei had mingled with the Qiangs, and many of them were in the forefront of the army.

As they drew near the camp, Jiang Wei gave order: “The army are to camp outside. Only the King can enter the gate.”

Mi Dang went up toward the gate with a hundred or more followers, and Jiang Wei with Xiahou Ba went to welcome him. Just as they met, before Mi Dang could say a word, the Wei generals dashed on past him and set on to slay. Jiang Wei was taken aback, leaped on his steed and fled, while the mixed force of troops of Wei and Qiangs drove the camp defenders before them and sent them flying.

When Jiang Wei leaped upon his steed at the gate, he had no weapon in his hand, only his bow and quiver hung at his shoulder. In his hasty flight the arrows fell out and the quiver was empty, so when he set off for the hills with Guo Huai in pursuit, Jiang Wei had nothing to oppose to the spears of his pursuers. As they came near he laid hands upon his bow and made as if to shoot. The string twanged and Guo Huai blenched. But as no arrow went flying by, Guo Huai knew Jiang Wei had none to shoot. Guo Huai therefore hung his spear, took his bow and shot. Jiang Wei caught the arrow as it flew by and fitted it to his bowstring. He waited till Guo Huai came quite near, when he pulled the string with all his force and sent the arrow flying straight at Guo Huai’s face. Guo Huai fell even as the bowstring sang.

Jiang Wei pulled up and turned to finish his fallen enemy, but the soldiers of Wei were nearly upon him, and he had only time to snatch up Guo Huai’s spear and ride off. Now that Jiang Wei was armed and their own leader wounded, the soldiers of Wei had no more desire to fight. They picked up their general and carried him to camp. There the arrow-head was pulled out, but the flow of blood could not be stanched, and Guo Huai died.

Sima Zhao descended from the hill as soon as Jiang Wei moved away, and pursued some distance before returning.

Xiahou Ba forced his way out and rejoined Jiang Wei as soon as he could, and they marched away together. The losses of Shu in this defeat were very heavy. On the road they dared not halt to muster or reform, but went helter-skelter into Hanzhong. In that campaign, though the Shu army were defeated, they had killed Xu Zi and Guo Huai on the other side and had damaged the prestige of Wei. Thus Jiang Wei’s achievement made up for his offense.

After rewarding the Qiangs for their help, Sima Zhao led his army back to Capital Luoyang, where he joined his brother Sima Shi in administering the government. They were too strong for any of the officers to dare opposition, and they terrorized Cao Fang, the Ruler of Wei, so that he shook with fright whenever he saw Sima Shi at court, and felt as if needles were being stuck into his back.

One day, when the Ruler of Wei was holding a court, Sima Shi came into the hall wearing his sword. Cao Fang hastily left his Dragon Throne to receive him.

“What does this mean? Is this the correct etiquette for a prince when his minister approaches?” said Sima Shi, smiling. “I pray Your Majesty remember your dignity and listen while the ministers address the Throne.”

Court business then proceeded. Sima Shi decided every question without reference to the Ruler of Wei; and when Sima Shi retired, he stalked haughtily down the hall and went home, followed by his escort, which numbered thousands of horse and foot.

When the Ruler of Wei left the court, only three followed him to the private apartments. They were Minister Xiahou Xuan, Secretary Li Feng, and High Minister Zhang Qi. Zhang Qi was the father of his consort, Empress Zhang. Sending away the servants, Cao Fang and these three went into a private chamber.

Seizing his father-in-law’s hand, Cao Fang began to weep, saying, “That man Sima Shi treats me as a child and regards the officers of state as if they were so many straws. I am sure the throne will be his one day.”

And he wept bitterly.

Said Li Feng, “Do not be so sad, Sire. I am but a poor sort of person. But if Your Majesty will give me authority, I will call together all the bold people in the country and slay this man.”

“It was from fear of this man that my brother Xiahou Ba was forced to go over to Shu,” said Xiahou Xuan. “If Sima Shi were destroyed, my brother could return. I belong to a family related to the rulers of the state for many generations, and I cannot sit still while a wretch ruins the government. Put my name in the command as well, and we will work together to remove him.”

“But I am afraid we can not overcome him,” said Cao Fang.

They wept and said, “We pledge ourselves to work together for the destruction of the tyrant, and to show our gratitude to Your Majesty!”

Cao Fang them stripped himself of his innermost garment, gnawed his finger till the blood flowed, and with his finger-tip traced a command in blood.

He gave it to his father-in-law, Zhang Qi, saying, “My ancestor, Emperor Cao, put to death Dong Cheng for just such a matter as this, so you must be exceedingly careful and maintain the greatest secrecy.”

“Oh, why use such ill-omened words?” cried Li Feng. “We are not like Dong Cheng, and Sima Shi cannot compare to the Founder. Have no doubts.”

The three conspirators took leave and went out carrying the edict with them. Beside the Donghua Gate of the Palace, they saw Sima Shi coming to meet them wearing a sword. Following him were many armed guards. The three ministers took the side of the road to let the party go by.

“Why are you three so late in leaving the Palace?” asked Sima Shi.

“His Majesty was reading, and we stayed with him,” said Li Feng.

“What was he reading?”

“The histories of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.”

“What questions did the Emperor ask as he read those books?”

[e] Yi Yin was was helper and prime minister of King Tang, the founder of Shang Dynasty. After King Tang’s death, Yi Yin served his sons and grandson. Soon after Tai Jia, King Tang’s grandson, ascended the throne, he committed many faults, and Yi Yin, acting as regent, exiled Tai Jia to Tong Palace—the burial place of King Tang. After three years Yi Yin returned him the throne. Tai Jia eventually became an enlightened emperor. Shang Dynasty lasted for 650 years (BC 1700-1050). It was this act of Yi Yin rather than his services in building up an empire that has made him immortal. Whether he did right in temporarily dethroning the king was open to question, until a final verdict was rendered by Mencius who thought that his ends amply justified his means. This historical event attests the extent of the power exercised by a prime minister in those days. …..
[e] Duke of Zhou was brother of King Wu, who was the founder of Zhou Dynasty. After King Wu’s death, the Duke of Zhou served his young son as regent. The Duke of Zhou completely ended the Shang domination, and he helped establish the Zhou administrative framework, which served as a model for future Chinese dynasties. Zhou Dynasty lasted for 800 years (BC 1050-221). …..

“He asked about Yi Yin* and how he upheld the Shang; and the Duke of Zhou*, how he acted when he was regent. And we told His Majesty that you were both Yi Yin and the Duke Zhou to him.”

Sima Shi smiled grimly and said, “Why did you compare me with those two when in your hearts you think me a rebel like Wang Mang and Dong Zhuo?”

“How should we dare when we are your subordinates?” said the three ministers.

“You are a lot of flatterers,” said Sima Shi, angrily. “And what were you crying about in that private chamber with the Emperor?”

“We did no such thing.”

“Your eyes are still red: You cannot deny that.”

Xiahou Xuan then knew that the secrecy had been showed, so he broke out into a volley of abuse, crying, “Well, we were crying because of your conduct, because you terrorize over the Emperor and are scheming to usurp the Throne!”

“Seize him!” roared Sima Shi.

Xiahou Xuan threw back his sleeves and struck at Sima Shi with his fists, but the lictors pulled him back. Then the three were searched, and on Zhang Qi was found the blood-stained garment of the Emperor. They handed it to their chief, who recognized the object of his search, the secret edict. It said:

“The two Sima brothers have stolen away all my authority and are plotting to take the Throne. The edicts I have been forced to issue do not represent my wishes, and hereby all officers, civil and military, may unite to destroy these two and restore the authority of the Throne. These ends achieved, I will reward those who help to accomplish them.”

Sima Shi, more angry than ever, said, “So you wish to destroy me and my brother. This is too much!”

He ordered his followers to execute the three on the public ground by waist-bisection and to destroy their whole clans.

The three reviled without ceasing. On the way to the place of execution, they ground their teeth with rage, spitting out the pieces they broke off. They died muttering curses.

Sima Shi then went to the rear apartments of the Palace, where he found the Emperor talking with his Consort.

Just as he entered, she was saying to the Emperor, “The Palace is full of spies, and if this comes out, it will mean trouble for me.”

Sima Shi strode in, sword in hand.

“My father placed Your Majesty on the throne, a service no less worthy than that of Duke Zhou; I have served Your Majesty as Yi Yin served his master. Now is kindness met by enmity and service regarded as a fault. Your Majesty has plotted with two or three insignificant officials to slay me and my brother. Why is this?”

“I had no such intention,” said Cao Fang.

In reply Sima Shi drew the garment from his sleeve and threw it on the ground.

“Who did this?”

Cao Fang was overwhelmed: His soul flew beyond the skies, his spirit lied to the ninth heaven.

Shaking with fear, he said, “I was forced into it. How could I think of such a thing?”

“To slander ministers by charging them with rebellion is an aggravated crime,” said Sima Shi.

Cao Fang knelt at his feet, saying, “Yes; I am guilty. Forgive me.”

“I beg Your Majesty to rise: The laws must be respected!”

Pointing to Empress Zhang, Sima Shi said, “She is of the Zhang house and must die!”

“Spare her!” cried Cao Fang, weeping bitterly.

But Sima Shi was obdurate. He bade the lictors lead her away, and she was strangled with a white silk cord at a Palace gate.

[hip, hip, hip]
Now I recall another year; and lo!
An empress borne away to shameful death.
Barefooted, weeping bitterly she shrieks
“Farewell,” torn from her consort’s arms.
History repeats itself; time’s instrument,
Sima Shi avenges this on Cao Cao’s heirs.
[yip, yip, yip]

[e] Huo Guang (BC ?-68) a general and regent of Han. After Emperor Wu died, Huo Guang became regent to three successive emperors, and the second one had been the Prince of Changyi, who was on the throne for only twenty-seven days. Huo Guang had the Prince of Changyi declared unfit to rule and deposed him. Even though Huo Guang contributed much to the empire’s stabilization, after he died, he was distanced by the emperor and most of his family were executed for conspiracy charges. …..
[e] Yi Yin was was helper and prime minister of King Tang, the founder of Shang Dynasty. After King Tang’s death, Yi Yin served his sons and grandson. Soon after Tai Jia, King Tang’s grandson, ascended the throne, he committed many faults, and Yi Yin, acting as regent, exiled Tai Jia to Tong Palace—the burial place of King Tang. After three years Yi Yin returned him the throne. Tai Jia eventually became an enlightened emperor. Shang Dynasty lasted for 650 years (BC 1700-1050). It was this act of Yi Yin rather than his services in building up an empire that has made him immortal. Whether he did right in temporarily dethroning the king was open to question, until a final verdict was rendered by Mencius who thought that his ends amply justified his means. This historical event attests the extent of the power exercised by a prime minister in those days. …..

[e] Qi was an ancient state on the extreme eastern edge of the North China Plain in what is now Shandong and Hebei provinces. Became prominent under the leadership of Duke Huan and his adviser Guan Zhong during the Spring and Autumn period. It nearly won the empire in the Warring States period. …..

The day after these events, Sima Shi assembled all the officers and addressed them thus: “Our present lord is profligate and devoid of principle; familiar with the vile and friendly with the impure. He lends a ready ear to slander and keeps good people at a distance. His faults exceed those of the Prince of Changyi* of old, and he has proved himself unfit to rule. Wherefore, following the precedents of Yi Yin* and Huo Guang*, I have decided to put him aside and to set up another, thereby to maintain the sanctity of the ruler and ensure tranquillity. What think you, Sirs?”

They all agreed, saying, “General, you are right to play the same part as Yi Yin and Huo Guang, thereby acting in accordance with Heaven and fulfilling the desire of humankind. Who dares dispute it?”

Then Sima Shi, followed by the whole of the officials, went to the Palace of Everlasting Peace and informed the Empress Dowager of his intention.

“Whom do you propose to place on the throne, General?” she asked.

“I have observed that Cao Ju, Prince of Pengcheng, is intelligent, benevolent, and filial. He is fit to rule the empire.”

She replied, “He is my uncle, and it is not convenient. However, there is Cao Mao, Duke of Gaogui, and grandson of Emperor Pi. He is of mild temperament, respectful, and deferential, and may be set up. You, Sir, and the high officers of state might favorably consider this.”

Then spoke one, saying, “Her Majesty speaks well: Cao Mao should be raised to the throne.”

All eyes turned toward the speaker, who was Sima Fu, uncle of Sima Shi.

The Duke of Gaogui was summoned to the capital.

The Empress called Cao Fang into her presence in the Hall of Principles and blamed him, saying, “You are vicious beyond measure, a companion of lewd men and a friend of vile women. You are unfitted to rule. Therefore resign the imperial seal and revert to your status of Prince of Qi*. You are forbidden to present yourself at court without special command.”

Cao Fang, weeping, threw himself at her feet. He gave up the seal, got into his carriage and went away. Only a few faithful ministers restrained their tears and bade him farewell.

[hip, hip, hip]
Cao Cao, the mighty minister of Han,
Oppressed the helpless; little then thought he
That only two score swiftly passing years
Would bring like fate to his posterity.
[yip, yip, yip]

The Emperor-elect Cao Mao was the grandson of Emperor Pi, and son of Cao Lin, Prince of Donghai. When Cao Mao was nearing the capital, all the officers attended to receive him at the Nanye Gate, where an imperial carriage awaited him. He hastily returned their salutations.

“The ruler ought not to return these salutations,” said Grand Commander Wang Su.

“I also am a minister and must respond,” replied he.

They conducted him to the carriage to ride into the Palace, but he refused to mount it, saying, “Her Majesty has commanded my presence; I know not for what reason. How dare I enter the Palace in such a carriage?”

He went on foot to the Hall, where Sima Shi awaited him. He prostrated himself before Sima Shi. Sima Shi hastily raised him and led him into the presence.

The Empress Dowager said, “In your youth I noticed that you bore the impress of majesty. Now you are to be the Ruler of the Empire. You must be respectful and moderate, diffusing virtue and benevolence. You must do honor to your ancestors—the former emperors.”

Cao Mao modestly declined the proposed honor, but he was compelled to accept it. He was led out of the presence of the Empress Dowager and placed in the seat of empire in the Hall of Principles.

The style of the reign was changed from Domestic Calm, the sixth year, to Right Origin, the first year (AD 254). An amnesty was granted. Honors were heaped upon Sima Shi, who also received the golden axes, with the right to proceed leisurely within the precincts, to address the Throne without using his name, and to wear arms at court. Many other officers also received promotions.

But in the spring of the second year of Right Origin, it was reported at court that Guanqiu Jian, General Who Guards the East, and Wen Qin, Imperial Protector of Yangzhou, were raising armies with the declared design of restoring the deposed emperor.

Sima Shi disconcerted.

[hip, hip, hip]
If ministers of Han have always faithful been,
Wei leaders, too, prove their loyalty are keen.
[yip, yip, yip]

How this new menace was met will appear in the next chapter.

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