Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 44


Zhuge Liang Stirs Zhou Yu To Actions;
Sun Quan Decides To Attack Cao Cao.

The dying message which Lady Wu recalled to Sun Quan’s memory was, “For internal matters consult Zhang Zhao; for external policy Zhou Yu.”

Wherefore Zhou Yu was summoned.

But Zhou Yu was already on the way. He had been training his naval forces on Poyang Lake when he heard of the approach of Cao Cao’s hosts and had started for Chaisang without loss of time. So, before the messenger ordered to call him could start, he had already arrived. As he and Lu Su were close friends, the latter went to welcome him and told him of all that had happened.

“Have no anxiety,” said Zhou Yu. “I shall be able to decide this. But go quickly and beg Zhuge Liang to come to see me.”

So Lu Su went to seek out Zhuge Liang.

Zhou Yu had many other visitors. First came Zhang Zhao, Zhang Hong, Gu Yong, and Bu Zhi to represent their faction to find out what might be afoot.

They were received, and after the exchange of the usual commonplaces, Zhang Zhao said, “Have you heard of our terrible danger?”

“I have heard nothing,” said Zhou Yu.

“Cao Cao and his hordes are encamped up the Han River. He has just sent letters asking our lord to hunt with him in Jiangxia. He may have a desire to absorb this country but, if so, the details of his designs are still secret. We prayed our master to give in his submission and so avoid the horrors of war, but now Lu Su has returned bringing with him the Directing Instructor of Liu Bei’s army, Zhuge Liang. Zhuge Liang, desiring to avenge himself for the recent defeat, has talked our lord into a mind for war, and Lu Su persists in supporting that policy. They only await your final decision.”

“Are you all unanimous in your opinions?”

“We are perfectly unanimous,” said Zhang Zhao.

Zhou Yu said, “The fact is I have also desired to submit for a long time. I beg you to leave me now, and tomorrow we will see our master, and I shall make up his mind for him.”

So they took their leave. Very soon came the military party led by Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, and Han Dang. They were admitted and duly inquired after their host’s health.

Then the leader Cheng Pu said, “Have you heard that our country is about to pass under another’s government?”

“No; I have heard nothing,” replied the host.

“We helped General Sun Quan to establish his authority here and carve out this kingdom, and to gain that end we fought many a battle before we conquered the country. Now our lord lends his ear to his civil officers and desires to submit himself to Cao Cao. This is a most shameful and pitiful course, and we would rather die than follow it. So we hope you will decide to fight, and you may depend upon our struggling to the last person.”

“And are you unanimous, Generals?” asked Zhou Yu.

Huang Gai suddenly started up and smote his forehead, saying, “They may take my head, but I swear never to surrender.”

“Not one of us is willing to surrender,” cried all the others.

“My desire also is to decide matters with Cao Cao on the battlefield. How could we think of submission? Now I pray you retire, Generals, and when I see our lord, I will settle his doubts.”

So the war party left. They were quickly succeeded by Zhuge Jin, Lu Fan, and their faction.

They were brought in and, after the usual courtesies, Zhuge Jin said, “My brother has come down the river saying that Liu Bei desires to ally himself with our lord against Cao Cao. The civil and military hold different opinions as to the course to be pursued. But as my brother is so deeply concerned, I am unwilling to say much on either side. We are awaiting your decision.”

“And what do you think about it?” asked Zhou Yu.

“Submission is an easy road to tranquillity, while the result of war is hard to foretell.”

Zhou Yu smiled, “I shall have my mind made up. Come tomorrow to the palace, and the decision shall be announced.”

The trimmers took their leave. But soon after came Lu Meng, Gan Ning, and their supporters, also desirous of discussing the same thing, and they told him that opinions differed greatly, some being for peace and others for war. One party constantly disputed with the other.

“I must not say much now,” replied Zhou Yu, “but you will see tomorrow in the palace, when the matter will be fully debated.”

They went away leaving Zhou Yu smiling cynically.

About eventide Lu Su and Zhuge Liang came, and Zhou Yu went out to the main gate to receive them.

When they had taken their proper seats, Lu Su spoke first, saying, “Cao Cao has come against the South Land with a huge army. Our master cannot decide whether to submit or give battle and waits for your decision. What is your opinion?”

Zhou Yu replied, “We may not oppose Cao Cao when he acts at the command of the Emperor. Moreover, he is very strong, and to attack him is to take serious risks. In my opinion, opposition would mean defeat and, since submission means peace, I have decided to advise our lord to write and offer surrender.”

“But you are wrong!” stammered Lu Su. “This country has been under the same rule for three generations and cannot be suddenly abandoned to some other. Our late lord Sun Ce said that you were to be consulted on matters beyond the border, and we depended upon you to keep the country as secure and solid as the Taishan Mountains. Now you adopt the view of the weaklings and propose to yield! I cannot believe you mean it.”

Replied Zhou Yu, “The six territories contain countless people. If I am the means of bringing upon them the misery of war, they will hate me. So I have decided to advise submission.”

“But do you not realize our lord’s might and the strength of our country? If Cao Cao does attack, it is very uncertain that he will realize his desire.”

The two wrangled for a long time, while Zhuge Liang sat smiling with folded arms.

Presently Zhou Yu asked, “Why do you smile thus, Master?”

And Zhuge Liang replied, “I am smiling at no other than your opponent Lu Su, who knows nothing of the affairs of the day.”

“Master,” said Lu Su, “what do you mean?”

“Why, this intention to submit is perfectly reasonable. It is the one proper thing.”

“There!” exclaimed Zhou Yu. “Zhuge Liang knows the times perfectly well, and he agrees with me.”

“But, both of you, why do you say this?” said Lu Su.

Said Zhuge Liang, “Cao Cao is an excellent commander, so good that no one dares oppose him. Only very few have ever attempted it, and they have been exterminated—the world knows them no more. The only exception is Liu Bei, who did not understand the conditions and vigorously contended against him, with the result that he is now at Jiangxia in a very parlous state. To submit is to secure the safety of wives and children, to be rich and honored. But the dignity of the country would be left to chance and fate—however, that is not worth consideration.”

Lu Su interrupted angrily, “Would you make our lord crook the knee to such a rebel as Cao Cao?”

“Well,” replied Zhuge Liang, “there is another way, and a cheaper. There would be no need to ‘lead the sheep and shoulder wine pots’ for presents, nor any need to yield territory and surrender seals of office. It would not even be necessary to cross the river yourselves. All you would require is a simple messenger and a little boat to ferry a couple of persons across the river. If Cao Cao only got these two under his hand, his hordes and legions would just drop their weapons, furl their banners, and silently vanish away.”

“What two persons could cause Cao Cao to go away as you say?” asked Zhou Yu.

“Two persons who could be easily spared from this populous country. They would not be missed any more than a leaf from a tree or a grain of millet from a granary. But if Cao Cao could only get them, would he not go away rejoicing?”

“But who are the two?” asked Zhou Yu again.

“When I was living in the country, they told me that Cao Cao was building a pavilion on the River Zhang. It was to be named the Bronze Bird Tower. It is an exceedingly handsome building, and he has sought throughout all the world for the most beautiful women to live in it. For Cao Cao really is a sensualist.

[e] Fan Li was adviser of Gou Jian, the king of Yue. Fan Li helped Gou Jian plot the “Beauty Ruse” in order to destroy Fu Zha, the king of Wu. After Yue triumphed over Wu, Fan Li resigned from politics. …..
[e] Xi Shi was a beautiful lady who helped King Gou Jian of Yue defeat the powerful kingdom of Wu in the Spring and Autumn period. Acting on Fan Li’s counsel, Xi Shi made Fu Zha, the king of Wu, fall madly in love with her and dismiss or kill his loyal ministers. After Wu had been thus weakened, Guo Jian attacked and conquered Wu. Fu Zha died in the fight. Legend has it that having completed her task, Xi Shi went away with Fan Li, and they became wealthy merchants and did a lot of charity works. Another story says that after Fu Zha died, Xi Shi discovered he truly loved her, and she committed suicide to be with him. …..

“Now there are two very famous beauties in Wu, born of the Qiao family. So beautiful are they that birds alight and fishes drown, the moon hides her face and the flowers blush for shame at sight of them. Cao Cao has declared with an oath that he only wants two things in this world: The imperial throne in peace and the sight of those two women on the Bronze Bird Terraces. Given these two, he would go down to his grave without regret. This expedition of his, his huge army that threatens this country, has for its real aim these two women. Why do you not buy these two from their father, the State Patriarch Qiao, for any sum however large and send them over the river? The object of the army being attained, it will simply be marched away. This is the use that Fan Li* of Yue made to the king of Wu of the famous beauty Xi Shi*.”

“How do you know Cao Cao so greatly desires these two?” said Zhou Yu.

“Because his son Cao Zhi, who is an able writer, at the command of his father wrote a poem ‘An Ode to the Bronze Bird Terrace,’ theme only allowing allusions to the family fitness for the throne. He has sworn to possess these two women. I think I can remember the poem, if you wish to hear it. I admire it greatly.”

“Try,” said Zhou Yu.

So Zhuge Liang recited the poem:

[hip, hip, hip]
“Let me follow in the footsteps of the enlightened ruler that I may rejoice,
And ascend the storied terrace that I may gladden my heart,
That I may see the wide extent of the palace,
That I may gaze upon the plans of the virtuous one.
He has established the exalted gates high as the hills,
He has built the lofty towers piercing the blue vault,
He has set up the beautiful building in the midst of the heavens,
Whence the eye can range over the cities of the west.
On the banks of the rolling River Zhang he planned it,
Whence abundance of fruits could be looked for in his gardens.
The two towers rise, one on either flank,
This named Golden Phoenix, that Jade Dragon.
He would have the two Qiaos, these beautiful ladies of Wu,
That he might rejoice with them morning and evening.
Look down; there is the grand beauty of an imperial city,
And the rolling vapors lie floating beneath.
He will rejoice in the multitude of scholars that assemble,
Answering to the felicitous dream of King Wen.
Look up; and there is the gorgeous harmony of springtime,
And the singing of many birds delighting the ear;
The lofty sky stands over all.
The house desires success in its double undertaking,
That the humane influence may be poured out over all the world,
That the perfection of reverence may be offered to the Ruler.
Only the richly prosperous rule of Kings Wu and Huan
Could compare with that of the sacred understanding
That fortune! What beauty!
The gracious kindness spreads afar,
The imperial family is supported,
Peace reigns over all the empire,
Bounded only by the universe.
Bright as the glory of the sun and moon,
Ever honorable and ever enduring,
The Ruler shall live to the age of the eastern emperor,
The dragon banner shall wave to the farthest limit.
His glorious chariot shall be guided with perfect wisdom,
His thoughts shall reform all the world,
Felicitous produce shall be abundant,
And the people shall rest firm.
My desire is that these towers shall endure forever,
And that joy shall never cease through all the ages.
[yip, yip, yip]

Zhou Yu listened to the end but then suddenly jumped up in a tremendous rage.

Turning to the north and pointing with his finger, he cried, “You old rebel, this insult is too deep!”

Zhuge Liang hastily rose too and soothed him, saying, “But remember the Khan of the Xiongnu People. The Han emperor gave him a princess of the family to wife although he had made many incursions into our territory. That was the price of peace. You surely would not grudge two more women from among the common people.”

“You do not know, Sir,” replied Zhou Yu. “Of those two women of the Qiao family you mentioned, Elder Qiao is the widow of Sun Ce, our late ruler, and Younger Qiao is my wife!”

Zhuge Liang feigned the greatest astonishment and said, “No indeed: I did not know. I blundered—a deadly fault—a deadly fault!”

“One of us two has to go: Either the old rebel or I. We shall not both live. I swear that!” cried Zhou Yu.

“However, such a matter needs a good deal of thought,” replied Zhuge Liang. “We must not make any mistake.”

Zhou Yu replied, “I hold a sacred trust from my late lord, Sun Ce. I would not bow the knee to any such as Cao Cao. What I said just now was to see how you stood. I left Poyang Lake with the intention of attacking the north, and nothing can change that intention, not even the sword at my breast or the ax on my neck. But I trust you will lend an arm, and we will smite Cao Cao together.”

“Should I be happy enough not to be rejected, I would render such humble service as I could. Perhaps presently I might be able to offer a plan to oppose him.”

“I am going to see my lord tomorrow to discuss this matter,” said Zhou Yu.

Zhuge Liang and Lu Su then left.

Next day at dawn Sun Quan went to the council chamber, where his officials, civil and military, were already assembled. They numbered about sixty in all. The civil, with Zhang Zhao at their head, were on the right; the military, with Cheng Pu as their leader, were ranged on the left. All were in full ceremonial dress, and the swords of the soldiers clanked on the pavement.

Soon Zhou Yu entered.

When Sun Quan had finished the usual gracious remarks, Zhou Yu said, “I hear that Cao Cao is encamped on the river and has sent a dispatch to you, my lord. I would ask what your opinion is.”

Thereupon the dispatch was produced and handed to Zhou Yu.

After reading it through he said, smiling, “The old thief thinks there are no people in this land that he writes in this contemptuous strain.”

“What do you think, Sir?” asked Sun Quan.

“Have you discussed this with the officials?” asked Zhou Yu.

“We have been discussing this for days. Some counsel surrender and some advise fight. I am undecided, and therefore I have asked you to come and decide the point.”

“Who advise surrender?” asked Zhou Yu.

“Zhang Zhao and his party are firmly set in this opinion.”

Zhou Yu then turned to Zhang Zhao and said, “I should be pleased to hear why you are for surrender, Master.”

Then Zhang Zhao replied, “Cao Cao has been attacking all opponents in the name of the Emperor, who is entirely in his hands. He does everything in the name of the government. Lately he has taken Jingzhou and thereby increased his prestige. Our defense against him was the Great River, but now he also has a large fleet and can attack by water. How can we withstand him? Wherefore I counsel submission till some chance shall offer.”

“This is but the opinion of an ill-advised student,” said Zhou Yu. “How can you think of abandoning this country that we have held for three generations?”

“That being so,” said Sun Quan, “where is a plan to come from?”

“Though Cao Cao assumes the name of the Prime Minister of the empire, he is at heart a rebel. You, O General, are able in war and brave. You are the heir to your father and brother. You command brave and tried soldiers, and you have plentiful supplies. You are able to overrun the whole country and rid it of every evil. There is no reason why you should surrender to a rebel.

“Moreover, Cao Cao has undertaken this expedition in defiance of all the rules of war. The north is unsubdued. Ma Teng and Han Sui threaten his rear, and yet he persists in his southern march. This is the first point against Cao Cao. The northern soldiers are unused to fighting on the water. Cao Cao is relinquishing his well-tried cavalry and trusting to ships. That is the second point against him. Again, we are now in full winter and the weather is at its coldest so there is no food for the horses. That is the third point against. Soldiers from the central state marching in a wet country among lakes and rivers will find themselves in an unaccustomed climate and suffer from malaria. That is the fourth point against. Now when Cao Cao’s armies have all these points against them, defeat is certain, however numerous they may be, and you can take Cao Cao captive just as soon as you wish. Give me a few legions of veterans, and I will go and destroy him.”

Sun Quan started up from his place, saying, “The rebellious old rascal has been wanting to overthrow the Hans and set up himself for years. He has rid himself of all those he feared, save only myself, and I swear that one of us two shall go now. Both of us cannot live. What you say, noble friend, is just what I think, and Heaven has certainly sent you to my assistance.”

“Thy servant will fight a decisive battle,” said Zhou Yu, “and shrink not from any sacrifice. Only, General, do not hesitate.”

Sun Quan drew the sword that hung at his side and slashed off a corner of the table in front of him, exclaiming, “Let any other person mention surrender, and he shall be served as I have served this table!”

Then he handed the sword to Zhou Yu, at the same time giving him a commission as Commander-in-Chief and Supreme Admiral, Cheng Pu being Vice-Admiral. Lu Su was also nominated as Assistant Commander.

In conclusion Sun Quan said, “With this sword you will slay any officer who may disobey your commands.”

Zhou Yu took the sword and turning to the assembly said, “You have heard our lord’s charge to me to lead you to destroy Cao Cao. You will all assemble tomorrow at the riverside camp to receive my orders. Should any be late or fail, then the full rigor of military law—the seven prohibitions and the fifty-four capital penalties—there provided, will be enforced.”

Zhou Yu took leave of Sun Quan and left the chamber. The various officers also went their several ways.

When Zhou Yu reached his own place, he sent for Zhuge Liang to consult over the business in hand. He told Zhuge Liang of the decision that had been taken and asked for a plan of campaign.

“But your master has not yet made up his mind,” said Zhuge Liang. “Till he has, no plan can be decided upon.”

“What do you mean?”

“In his heart, Sun Quan is still fearful of Cao Cao’s numbers and frets over the inequality of the two armies. You will have to explain away those numbers and bring him to a final decision before anything can be effected.”

“What you say is excellent,” said Zhou Yu, and he went to the palace that night to see his master.

Sun Quan said, “You must have something of real importance to say if you come like this at night.”

Zhou Yu said, “I am making my dispositions tomorrow. You have quite made up your mind?”

“The fact is,” said Sun Quan, “I still feel nervous about the disparity of numbers. Surely we are too few. That is really all I feel doubtful about.”

“It is precisely because you have this one remaining doubt that I am come. And I will explain. Cao Cao’s letter speaks of a million of marines, and so you feel doubts and fears and do not wait to consider the real truth. Let us examine the case thoroughly. We find that he has of central regions’ soldiers, say, some one hundred fifty thousand troops, and many of them are sick. He only got seventy or eighty thousand northern soldiers from Yuan Shao, and many of those are of doubtful loyalty. Now these sick men and these men of doubtful loyalty seem a great many, but they are not at all fearsome. I could smash them with fifty thousand soldiers. You, my lord, have no further anxiety.”

Sun Quan patted his general on the back, saying, “You have explained my difficulty and relieved my doubts. Zhang Zhao is a fool who constantly bars my expeditions. Only you and Lu Su have any real understanding of my heart. Tomorrow you and Lu Su and Cheng Pu will start, and I shall have a strong reserve ready with plentiful supplies to support you. If difficulties arise, you can at once send for me, and I will engage with my own army.”

Zhou Yu left. But in his innermost heart, he said to himself, “If that Zhuge Liang can gauge my master’s thoughts so very accurately, he is too clever for me and will be a danger. He will have to be put out of the way.”

Zhou Yu sent a messenger over to Lu Su to talk over this last scheme. When he had laid it bare, Lu Su did not favor it.

“No, no,” said Lu Su, “it is self-destruction to make away with your ablest officer before Cao Cao shall have been destroyed.”

“But Zhuge Liang will certainly help Liu Bei to our disadvantage.”

“Try what his brother Zhuge Jin can do to persuade him. It would be an excellent thing to have these two in our service.”

“Yes, indeed,” replied Zhou Yu.

Next morning at dawn, Zhou Yu went to his camp and took his seat in the council tent. The armed guards took up their stations right and left, and the officers ranged themselves in lines to listen to the orders.

Now Cheng Pu, who was older than Zhou Yu but was made second in command, was very angry at being passed over, so he made a pretense of indisposition and stayed away from this assembly. But he sent his eldest son, Cheng Zi, to represent him.

Zhou Yu addressed the gathering, saying, “The law knows no partiality, and you will all have to attend to your several duties. Cao Cao is now more absolute than ever was Dong Zhuo, and the Emperor is really a prisoner in Xuchang, guarded by the most cruel soldiers. We have a command to destroy Cao Cao, and with your willing help we shall advance. The army must cause no hardship to the people anywhere. Rewards for good service and punishments for faults shall be given impartially.”

Having delivered this charge, Zhou Yu told off Han Dang and Huang Gai as Leaders of the Van, and ordered the ships under their own command to get under way and go to the Three Gorges. They would get orders by and bye. Then he appointed four armies with two leaders over each: The first body was under Jiang Qin and Zhou Tai; the second, Pan Zhang and Ling Tong; the third, Taishi Ci and Lu Meng; the fourth, Lu Xun and Dong Xi. Lu Fan and Zhu Zhi were appointed inspectors, to move from place to place and keep the various units up to their work and acting with due regard to the general plan. Land and marine forces were to move simultaneously. The expedition would soon start.

Having received their orders, each returned to his command and busied himself in preparation. Cheng Zi, the son of Cheng Pu, returned and told his father what arrangements had been made, and Cheng Pu was amazed at Zhou Yu’s skill.

Said he, “I have always despised Zhou Yu as a mere student who would never be a general, but this shows that he has a leader’s talent. I must support him.”

So Cheng Pu went over to the quarters of the Commander-in-Chief and confessed his fault. He was received kindly and all was over.

Next Zhou Yu sent for Zhuge Jin and said to him, “Evidently your brother is a genius, a man born to be a king’s counselor. Why then does he serve Liu Bei? Now that he is here, I wish you to use every effort to persuade him to stay with us. Thus our lord would gain able support and you two brothers would be together, which would be pleasant for you both. I wish you success.”

Zhuge Jin replied, “I am ashamed of the little service I have rendered since I came here, and I can do no other than obey your command to the best of my ability.”

Thereupon he went away to his brother, whom he found in the guest-house. The younger brother received him; and when he had reached the inner rooms, Zhuge Liang bowed respectfully and, weeping, told his experiences since they parted and his sorrow at their separation.

[e] Bo Yi and Shu Qi were two sons of the lord of Guzhu. Their father wished to establish [the younger son] Shu Qi as his heir. Upon their father’s death, Shu Qi abdicated in favor of Bo Yi. But Bo Yi said: “It is our father’s will [that you should rule].” Then he ran away. Shu Qi was not willing to reign either, and ran away. The people of the state named a middle son as heir. …..

Then Zhuge Jin, weeping also, said, “Brother, do you remember the story of Bo Yi and Shu Qi*, the brothers who would not be separated?”

“Ah, Zhou Yu has sent him to talk me over,” thought Zhuge Liang. So he replied, “They were two of the noble people of old days. Yes, I know.”

“Those two, although they perished of hunger near the Shouyang Hills, yet never separated. You and I, born of the same mother and suckled at the same breast, yet serve different masters and never meet. Are you not ashamed when you think of such examples as Bo Yi and Shu Qi?”

Zhuge Liang replied, “You are talking now of love, but what I stand for is duty. We are both men of Han, and Liu Bei is of the family. If you, brother, could leave the South Land and join me in serving the rightful branch, then on the one side we should be honored as Ministers of Han, and on the other we should be together as people of the same flesh and blood should be. Thus love and duty would both receive their proper meed. What do you think of it, my brother?”

“I came to persuade him and lo! It is I who is being talked over,” thought Zhuge Jin.

He had no fitting reply to make, so he rose and took his leave. Returning to Zhou Yu, he related the story of the interview.

“What do you think?” asked Zhou Yu.

“General Sun Quan has treated me with great kindness, and I could not turn my back on him,” replied Zhuge Jin.

“Since you decide to remain loyal, there is no need to say much. I think I have a plan to win over your brother.”

[hip, hip, hip]
The wisest people see eye to eye,
For each but sees the right;
But should their several interests clash,
They all the fiercer fight.
[yip, yip, yip]

The means by which Zhou Yu tried to get the support of Zhuge Liang will be described in the next chapter.

Previous articleRomance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 45
Next articleRomance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 43
Discover the wonders of China through studying abroad - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand your horizons, immerse yourself in a rich and diverse culture, and gain a world-class education.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here