Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 99


Zhuge Liang Defeats The Wei Army;
Sima Yi Invades The West River Land.

The fourth month of Beginning Prosperity, seventh year (AD 229), found Zhuge Liang camped at Qishan in three camps, waiting to attack Wei.

When Sima Yi reached Changan, the officer in command, Zhang He, told him all that had happened. He gave Zhang He the post of Leader of the Van, with Dai Ling as his Assistant General and a hundred thousand troops, and then marched out toward the enemy, camping on River Wei’s south bank.

When the local commanders Guo Huai and Sun Li went to see the new Commander-in-Chief, he asked, “Have you fought any battle with Shu?”

“Not yet,” said they.

Sima Yi said, “The enemy had a long march; their chance lay in attacking quickly. As they have not attacked, they have some deep laid scheme to work out. What news have you from the counties of West Valley Land?”

Guo Huai replied, “The scouts say that the greatest care is being taken in every county. But there is no news from Wudu and Yinping.”

“I must send someone to fight a decisive battle with them there. You get away as quickly and privily as you can to the rescue of those two cities, and then attack the rear of the Shu army so as to throw them into disorder.”

They set out to obey these orders, and on the way they fell to discussing Sima Yi.

“How does Sima Yi compare with Zhuge Liang?” said Guo Huai.

“Zhuge Liang is by far the better,” replied Sun Li.

“Though Zhuge Liang may be the cleverer, yet this scheme of our leader’s shows him to be superior to most people. The enemy may have got those two cities. Yet when we unexpectedly fall upon their rear, they will certainly be disordered.”

Soon after this a scout came in to report: “Wang Ping has captured Yinping, and Wudu is in possession of Jiang Wei. Furthermore, the Shu army is not far in front.”

Said Sun Li, “There is some crafty scheme afoot. Why are they prepared for battle in the open when they hold two cities? We had better retire.”

Guo Huai agreed, and they issued orders to face about and retreat. Just then a bomb exploded, and, at the same time, there suddenly appeared from the cover of some hills a small body of troops. On the flag that came forward they read Han Prime Minister Zhuge Liang, and in the midst of the company they saw him, seated in a small chariot. On his left was Guan Xing, and on his right Zhang Bao.

They were quite taken aback.

Zhuge Liang laughed and said, “Do not run away! Did you think that your leader’s ruse would take me in? Sima Yi sent a challenge to fight every day, indeed, while you were to slip round behind my army and attack! I have the two cities—Wudu and Yinping. If you have not come to surrender, then hurry up and fight a battle with me.”

By now Guo Huai and Sun Li were really frightened. Then behind them there rose a shout as of battle, and Wang Ping and Jiang Wei began to smite them in the rear, while Guan Xing and Zhang Bao bore down upon them in front. They were soon utterly broken, and the two leaders escaped by scrambling up the hillside.

Zhang Bao saw them, and was urging his steed forward to catch them, when unhappily he and his horse went over together into a gully. When they picked him up, they found that he had been kicked in the head and was badly hurt.

Zhuge Liang sent him back to Chengdu.

It has been said that Guo Huai and Sun Li escaped. They got back to Sima Yi’s camp and said, “Wudu and Yinping were both in the enemy’s possession, and Zhuge Liang had prepared an ambush, so that we were attacked front and rear. We lost the day and only escaped on foot.”

“It is no fault of yours,” said Sima Yi. “The fact is he is sharper than I. Now go to defend Yongcheng and Meicheng and remain on the defensive. Do not go out to give battle. I have a plan to defeat them.”

These two having left, Sima Yi called in Zhang He and Dai Ling and said, “Zhuge Liang has captured Wudu and Yinping. He must restore order and confidence among the people of these places and so will be absent from his camp. You two will take ten thousand troops each, start tonight and make your way quietly to the rear of the Shu army. Then you will attack vigorously. When you have done that, I shall lead out the army in front of them and array ready for battle. While they are in disorder, I shall make my attack. Their camp ought to be captured. If I can win the advantage of these hills, their defeat will be easy.”

These two left, Dai Ling marching on the left and Zhang He on the right. They took by-roads and got well to the rear of the Shu army. In the third watch they struck the high road and joined forces. Then they marched toward the enemy. After about ten miles there was a halt in front. The two leaders galloped up to see what had caused it, and found many straw-carts drawn across the road.

“The enemy has been prepared,” said Zhang He. “We should return.”

Just as they ordered the troops to turn about, torches broke into flame all over the hills, the drums rolled, trumpets blared, and soldiers sprang out on every side.

At the same time Zhuge Liang shouted from the hill-top, “Dai Ling and Zhang He, listen to my words! Your master reckoned that I should be busy restoring order in the two cities and so should not be in my camp. Wherefore he sent you to take the camp, and you have just fallen into my snare. As you are leaders of no great importance, I shall not harm you. Dismount and yield.”

Zhang He’s wrath blazed forth at this, and he pointed at Zhuge Liang, crying, “You peasant out of the woods, invader of our great country! How dare you use such words to me? Wait till I catch you: I will tear you to shreds!”

He galloped forward to ascend the hill, his spear ready for the thrust. But the arrows and stones pelted too quickly. Then he turned and dashed in among the Shu soldiers, scattering them right and left. He got clear, but he saw Dai Ling was not with him. At once he turned back, fought his way to his comrade and brought Dai Ling out safely.

Zhuge Liang on the hill-top watched this warrior and saw he was a right doughty fighting man.

“I have heard that soldiers stood aghast when Zhang Fei fought his great fight with Zhang He. Now I can judge Zhang He’s valor for myself. He will do harm to Shu one day if I spare him. He will have to be removed.”

Then Zhuge Liang returned to his camp.

By this time Sima Yi had completed his battle line and was waiting the moment of disorder in the Shu army to attack. Then he saw Zhang He and Dai Ling come limping back dejected and crestfallen.

They said, “Zhuge Liang forestalled us. He was well prepared, and so we were quite defeated.”

“He is more than human!” exclaimed Sima Yi. “We must retreat.”

So the whole army retired into the fortified camps and would not come out.

Thus a great victory fell to Shu, and their booty was immense: Weapons and horses innumerable. Zhuge Liang led his army back to camp. Thereafter he sent parties to offer a challenge at the gate of the Wei camp every day, but the soldiers remained obstinately behind their shelters and would not appear. When this had continued half a month Zhuge Liang grew sad.

Then came Fei Yi from Capital Chengdu with an edict of the Emperor. Fei Yi was received with all respect, and incense was burnt as propriety demanded. This done, the command was unsealed, and Zhuge Liang read:

“The failure at Jieting was really due to the fault of Ma Su. However, you held yourself responsible and blamed yourself very severely. It would have been a serious matter for me to have withstood your intentions, and so I did what you insisted on.

“However, that was a glorious exploit last year when Wang Shuang was slain. This year, Guo Huai has been driven back and the Qiangs have been reduced; the two counties of Wudu and Yinping have been captured; you have driven fear into the hearts of all evil doers and thus rendered magnificent services.

“But the world is in confusion, and the original evil has not been destroyed. You fill a great office, for you direct the affairs of the state. It is not well for you to remain under a cloud for any length of time and cloak your grand virtue, wherefore I restore you to the rank of Prime Minister and pray you not to decline the honor.”

Zhuge Liang heard the edict to the end and then said, “My task is not yet accomplished. How can I return to my duties as Prime Minister? I must really decline to accept this.”

Fei Yi said, “If you decline this, you flout the desires of the Emperor and also show contempt for the feelings of the army. At any rate accept for the moment.”

Then Zhuge Liang humbly bowed acquiescence.

Fei Yi took leave and returned.

Seeing that Sima Yi remained obstinately on the defensive, Zhuge Liang thought of a plan by which to draw him. He gave orders to break camp and retire.

When the scouts told Sima Yi, he said, “We may not move. Certainly there is some deep craftiness in this move.”

Zhang He said, “It must mean that their food is exhausted. Why not pursue?”

“I reckon that Zhuge Liang laid up ample supplies last year. Now the wheat is ripe, and he has plenty of every sort. Transport might be difficult, but yet he could hold out half a year. Why should he run away? He sees that we resolutely refuse battle, and he is trying some ruse to inveigle us into fighting. Send out spies to a distance to see what is going on.”

They reconnoitered a long way round, and the scouts returned to say that a camp had been formed ten miles away.

“Ah, then he is not running away,” said Sima Yi. “Remain on the defensive still more strictly and do not advance.”

Ten days passed without further news; nor did the soldiers of Shu offer the usual challenge. Again spies were sent far afield, and they reported a further retreat of ten miles and a new encampment.

“Zhuge Liang is certainly working some scheme,” said Sima Yi. “Do not pursue.”

Another ten days passed and spies went out. The enemy had gone ten miles farther and encamped.

Zhang He said, “What makes you so over-suspicious? I can see that Zhuge Liang is retreating into Hanzhong, only he is doing it gradually and arousing our suspicion. Why not pursue before it is too late. Let me go and fight one battle.”

“No,” said Sima Yi. “A defeat would destroy the morale of our soldiers, and I will not risk it. Zhuge Liang’s vile tricks are innumerable.”

“If I go and get beaten, I will stand the full rigor of military punishment,” said Zhang He.

“Well, if you are set on going, we will divide the army. You take your wing and go, but you will have to fight your best. I will follow to help in case of need. Tomorrow you should march only halfway and rest your troops for the battle.”

So Zhang He got independent command of thirty thousand troops and took Dai Ling as his second in command, and he had a few score of generals as assistants. Halfway they camped. Then Sima Yi, leaving a substantial guard for his camp, set out along the same road with fifty thousand troops.

Zhuge Liang knew the movements of the army of Wei and when Zhang He’s army camped to rest. In the night he summoned his generals and told them.

“The enemy are coming in pursuit and will fight desperately. You will have to fight everyone of you like ten, but I will set an ambush to attack their rear. Only a wise and bold leader is fit for this task.”

Wang Ping stepped forth and said he was willing to go on this expedition.

“But if you fail, what then?” said Zhuge Liang.

“Then there is the military rule.”

Zhuge Liang sighed. “Wang Ping is most loyal. He is willing to risk wounds and death in his country’s service. However, the enemy are in two divisions, one coming in front, the other trying to get round to the rear. Wang Ping is crafty and bold, but he cannot be in two places at once, so I must have yet another general. Is it that among you there is no other willing to devote himself to death?”

He did not wait long for a reply. Zhang Yi stepped to the front.

“Zhang He is a most famous leader in Wei and valorous beyond all compare. You are not a match for him,” said Zhuge Liang.

“If I fail, may my head fall at the tent door,” said Zhang Yi.

“Since you wish to go, I accept you. Each of you shall have ten thousand veterans. You will hide in the valleys till the enemy come up, and you will let them pass. Then you will fall upon their rear. If Sima Yi comes, you must divide the army, Zhang Yi to hold the rear and Wang Ping to check the advance. But they will fight desperately, and I must find a way to aid you.”

When they had gone, Jiang Wei and Liao Hua were called, and Zhuge Liang said, “I am going to give you a silken bag. You are to proceed secretly into those mountains in front. When you see that Zhang Yi and Wang Ping are in great straits with the enemy, then open the bag and you will find a plan of escape.”

After this he gave secret instructions to four other generals—Hu Ban, Wu Yi, Ma Zheng, and Zhang Ni—to observe the enemy and, if the enemy seemed confident of victory, to retire, fighting at intervals, till they saw Guan Xing come up, when they could turn and fight their best.

Then calling Guan Xing, he said to them, “Hide in the valleys with five thousand troops till you see a red flag flutter out, and then fall on the enemy.”

Zhang He and Dai Ling hurried along like a rain squall till they were suddenly confronted by Ma Zheng, Zhang Ni, Wu Yi, and Hu Ban. Zhang He dashed toward his enemy, and then they retired, stopping at intervals to fight. The Wei army pursued for about seven miles.

It was the sixth moon and very hot, so that soldiers and horses sweated profusely. When they had gone ten miles farther, the soldiers and horses were panting and nearly spent. Then Zhuge Liang, who had watched the fighting from a hill, gave the signal for Guan Xing to emerge and join battle. Ma Zheng, Zhang Ni, Hu Ban, and Wu Yi all led on their troops. Zhang He and Dai Ling fought well, but they could not extricate themselves and retire.

Presently, with a roll of drums, Wang Ping and Zhang Yi came out and made for the rear to cut the retreat.

“Why do you not fight to death?” shouted Zhang He to his generals when he saw the new dangers.

The soldiers of Wei dashed this way and that, but were stayed at every attempt. Then there was heard another roll of drums, and Sima Yi came up in the rear. He at once signaled to his generals to surround Wang Ping and Zhang Yi.

“Our minister is truly wonderful. The battle goes just as he foretold,” cried Zhang Yi. “He will surely send help now, and we will fight to the death.”

Thereupon the Shu force were divided into two parties. Wang Ping led one army to hold up Zhang He and Dai Ling; Zhang Yi led the other division to oppose Sima Yi. On both sides the fighting was keen and continued all the day.

From their station on a hill, Jiang Wei and Liao Hua watched the battle. They saw that the Wei force was very strong and their side was in danger and slowly giving way.

“Now surely is the moment to open the bag,” said Jiang Wei.

So the bag was opened, and they read the letter. It said:

“If Sima Yi comes and Wang Ping and Zhang Yi seem hard pressed, you are to divide forces and go off to attack Sima Yi’s camp, which will cause him to retire, and then you can attack him as his army is in disorder. The actual capture of the camp is not of great moment.”

So Jiang Wei and Liao Hua divided the force and started for the enemy’s camp.

Now Sima Yi had really feared that he would fall victim to some ruse of Zhuge Liang, so he had arranged for messengers and news to meet him at intervals along the road.

Sima Yi was pressing his troops to fight when a messenger galloped up to report: “The soldiers of Shu are making for the main camp by two directions.”

Sima Yi was frightened and changed color. He turned on his generals, saying, “I knew Zhuge Liang would plan some trick, but you did not believe me. You forced me to pursue, and now the whole scheme has gone astray.”

Thereupon he gathered in his army and turned to retire. The troops went hurriedly and got into disorder. Zhang Yi came up behind, causing huge damage to the Wei army. Zhang He and Dai Ling, having but few troops left, sought refuge among the hills. The victory was to Shu, and Guan Xing came up helping in the rout wherever there appeared a chance to strike.

Sima Yi, defeated, hurried to the camp. But when he reached it, the army of Shu had already left. He gathered in his broken army and abused his generals as the cause of his failure.

“You are all ignorant of the proper way to wage war, and think it simply a matter of valor and rude strength. This is the result of your unbridled desire to go out and give battle. For the future no one of you will move without definite orders, and I will apply strict military law to any who disobey.”

They were all greatly ashamed and retired to their quarters. In this fight the losses of Wei were very heavy, not only in soldiers, but in horses and weapons.

Zhuge Liang led his victorious army to their camp. He intended to advance again, when a messenger arrived from Capital Chengdu with the sad news that Zhang Bao had died. When they told Zhuge Liang he uttered a great cry, blood gushed from his mouth and he fell in a swoon. He was raised and taken to his tent, but he was too ill to march and had to keep his bed. His generals were much grieved.

A later poet sang:

[hip, hip, hip]
Fierce and valiant was Zhang Bao,
Striving hard to make a name;
Sad the gods should interfere
And withhold a hero’s fame!
Zhuge Liang wept his end
In the western winds blowing.
For he knew the warrior gone,
This grieving is beyond knowing.
[yip, yip, yip]

Zhuge Liang’s illness continued. Ten days later he summoned to his tent Dong Jue and Fan Jian, and said, “I feel void and am too ill to carry on, and the best thing for me is to return into Hanzhong and get well. You are to keep my absence perfectly secret, for Sima Yi will certainly attack if he hears.”

Zhuge Liang issued orders to break up the camp that night, and the army retired into Hanzhong forthwith. Sima Yi only heard of it five days later, and he knew that again he had been outwitted.

“The man appears like a god and disappears like a demon. He is too much for me,” sighed Sima Yi.

Sima Yi set certain generals over the camp and placed others to guard the commanding positions, and he also marched homeward.

As soon as the Shu army was settled in Hanzhong, Zhuge Liang went to Chengdu for treatment. The officials of all ranks came to greet him and escort him to his palace. The Latter Ruler also came to inquire after his condition and sent his own physicians to treat him. So gradually he recovered.

In Beginning Prosperity, eighth year and seventh month (AD 230), Cao Zhen, the Grand Commander in Wei, had recovered, and he sent a memorial to his master, saying,

“Shu has invaded more than once and threatened Changan. If this state be not destroyed, it will ultimately be our ruin. The autumn coolness is now here. The army is in good form, and it is the time most favorable for an attack on Shu. I desire to take Sima Yi as colleague and march into Hanzhong to exterminate this wretched horde and free the borders from trouble.”

Personally, the Ruler of Wei approved, but he consulted Liu Ye, saying, “Cao Zhen proposes an attack on Shu. How about that?”

Liu Ye replied, “The Grand Commander speaks well. If that state be not destroyed, it will be to our hurt. Your Majesty should give effect to his desire.”

The Ruler of Wei nodded.

When Liu Ye went home, a crowd of officers flocked to inquire, saying, “We heard the Emperor has consulted you about an expedition against Shu: What think you?”

“No such thing,” said Liu Ye. “Shu is too difficult a country to invade. It would be a mere waste of humans and weapons.”

They left him. Then Yang Jin went into the Emperor and said, “It is said that yesterday Liu Ye advised Your Majesty to fall upon Shu. Today when we talked with him, he said Shu could not be attacked. This is treating Your Majesty with indignity, and you should issue a command to punish him.”

Wherefore Cao Rui called in Liu Ye and asked him to explain.

Liu Ye replied, “I have studied the details. Shu cannot be attacked.”

Cao Rui laughed.

In a short time Yang Jin left.

Then Liu Ye said, “Yesterday I advised Your Majesty to attack Shu. That being a matter of state policy should be divulged to no person. The essential of a military move is secrecy.”

Then Cao Rui understood, and thereafter Liu Ye was held in greater consideration.

Ten days later Sima Yi came to court, and Cao Zhen’s memorial was shown him.

Sima Yi replied, “The moment is opportune. I do not think there is any danger from Wu.”

Cao Zhen was created Minister of War, General Who Conquers the West, and Commander-in-Chief of the Western Expedition; Sima Yi was made Grand Commander, General Who Conquers the West, and was second in command; and Liu Ye was made Instructor of the Army. These three then left the court, and the army of four hundred thousand troops marched to Changan, intending to dash to Saber Pass and attack Hanzhong. The army was joined by Guo Huai and Sun Li.

The defenders of Hanzhong brought the news to Zhuge Liang, then quite recovered and engaged in training his army and elaborating the “Eight Arrays”. All was in an efficient state and ready for an attack on Changan.

When Zhuge Liang heard of the intended attack, he called up Zhang Ni and Wang Ping and gave orders: “You are to lead one thousand troops to Chencang and garrison that road so as to check the Wei army.”

The two replied, “It is said the Wei army numbers four hundred thousand, though they pretend to have eight hundred thousand. But they are very numerous, and a thousand troops is a very small force to meet them.”

Zhuge Liang replied, “I would give you more, but I fear to make it hard for the soldiers. If there be a failure, I shall not hold you responsible. I send you thus; you may be sure there is a meaning in it. I observed the stars yesterday, and I see there will be a tremendous rain this month. The army of Wei may consist of any number of legions, but they will be unable to penetrate into a mountainous country. So there is no need to send a large force. You will come to no harm, and I shall lead the main body into Hanzhong and rest for a month while the enemy retreats. Then I shall smite them. My strong army needs only one hundred thousand to defeat their worn four hundred thousand. Do not say any more, but get off quickly.”

This satisfied Wang Ping and Zhang Ni, and they left, while Zhuge Liang led the main body out toward Hanzhong. Moreover, every station was ordered to lay in a stock of wood and straw and grain enough for a whole month’s use, ready against the autumn rains. A month’s holiday was given, and food and clothing were issued in advance. The expedition was postponed for the present.

When Cao Zhen and Sima Yi approached Chencang and entered the city, they could not find a single house.

They questioned some of the people near, who said, “Zhuge Liang had burned everything before he left.”

Then Cao Zhen proposed to advance along the road, but Sima Yi opposed, saying that the stars foretold much rain.

“I have watched the Heaven, and the stars’ movement signals long rains. If we get deep in a difficult country and are always victorious, it is all very well. But if we lose, we shall not get out again. Better remain in this city and build what shelter we can against the rains.”

Cao Zhen followed his advice. In the middle of the month the rain began, and came down in a deluge so that the surrounding country was three feet under water. The equipment of the soldiers was soaked, and the soldiers themselves could get no place to sleep. For a whole month the rain continued. The horses could not be fed, and the soldiers grumbled incessantly. They sent to Luoyang, and the Ruler of Wei himself ceremonially prayed for fine weather, but with no effect.

Minister Wang Su sent up a memorial:

“The histories say that when supplies have to be conveyed a long distance, the soldiers are starved; if they have to gather brushwood before they can cook, then the army is not full fed. This applies to ordinary expeditions in an ordinary country. If, in addition, the army has to march through a difficult country and roads have to be cut, the labor is doubled. Now this expedition is hindered by rain and steep and slippery hills; movement is cramped and supplies can only be maintained with difficulty. All is most unpropitious to the army.

“Cao Zhen has been gone over a month and has only got half through the valley. Road making is monopolizing all energies, and the fighting soldiers have to work on them. The state of affairs is the opposite to ideal, and the fighting soldiers dislike it.

[e] King Wu, aka the Martial King, founded the Zhou Dynasty, with the help of the Duke of Zhou, who was his brother. …..

“I may quote certain parallels. King Wu of Zhou attacked the last king of Shang Dynasty; he went through the pass, but returned. In recent times Emperors Cao and Pi, attacking Sun Quan, reached the river, and went no farther. Did they not recognize limitations and act accordingly? I pray Your Majesty remember the grave difficulties caused by the rain and put an end to this expedition. By and by another occasion will arise for using force, and in the joy of overcoming difficulties the people will forget death.”

The Ruler of Wei could not make up his mind, but two other memorials by Yang Fu and Hua Xin followed, and then he issued the command to return, which was sent to Cao Zhen and Sima Yi.

Cao Zhen and Sima Yi had already discussed the abandonment of the expedition.

Cao Zhen had said, “We have had rain for a whole month, and the soldiers are downhearted and think only of getting home again. How can we stop them?”

Sima Yi replied, “Return is best.”

“If Zhuge Liang pursue, how shall we repulse him?”

“We can leave an ambush.”

While they were discussing this matter, the Emperor’s command arrived. Whereupon they faced about and marched homeward.

Now Zhuge Liang had reckoned upon this month of rain and so had had his troops camped in a safe place. Then he ordered the main army to assemble at Red Slope and camp there.

He summoned his officers to his tent and said, “In my opinion the enemy must retire, for the Ruler of Wei will issue such an order. To retreat needs preparation, and if we pursue, we will fall in their trap. So we will let them retire without molestation. Some other plan must be evolved.”

So when Wang Ping sent news of the retreat of the enemy, the messenger carried back the order not to pursue.

[hip, hip, hip]
It is only lost labor to cover retreat
When your enemy does not pursue.
[yip, yip, yip]

By what means Zhuge Liang intended to defeat Wei will be told in the next chapter.

Previous articleRomance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 60
Next articleRomance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 98
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