Heroic Tales of the Three Kingdoms Pt. 4
CAO CAO DECLARES HIMSELF PRINCE OF WEI
Liu Zhang, a distant relative to Liu Bei, governed Yizhou in the Shu Kingdom. However, he was an incompetent leader and his land was threatened by the recent changes to the east. Although he sought to protect his territory from Cao Cao, little did he know that Zhang Song and Fa Zheng, were conspiring to surrender the district to Liu Bei. Eventually, with the help of Pang Tong, Liu Bei was convinced that it was his destiny to rule Yizhou. Thus, he became Lord of the Shu Kingdom.
In his rise to power, Liu Bei had overcome many great warriors: Zhang Ren, a strong warrior who killed Pang Tong in an ambush; Huang Quan, who resisted him to the end; Liu Ba, who harbored deep hatred of him; and Fei Guan, Liu Zhang's strong-minded brother-in-law. These men presented the greatest barriers to his entry into Shu. Yet, when he overcame them, Liu Bei respected their fierce loyalty for their lords and treated them fairly. His gracious manner quickly made him popular among the people of Yizhou.
Nearby events soon stirred up the people's fears again. Cao Cao had attacked Zhang Lu in Hanzhong, northeast from Yizhou. Now he was in possession of Yangping Pass, the most navigable pass between Wei and Shu territory. In the incursion Cao Cao had tricked Zhang Lu by feigning defeat after a battle that lasted over fifty days. Zhang Lu's men let down their guard as they watched the retreat, but suddenly Cao Cao switched around and beat his way through the unsuspecting army. Zhang Lu was forced to flee and Cao Cao gained control of the pass as well as of Hanzhong.
Two advisors, Sima Yi and Liu Ye, pressed Cao Cao to follow through into Shu. However, Cao Cao wanted to give his soldiers a rest after conquering Hanzhong, and decided to hold back for a while. Leaving Xiahou Yuan in charge at Hanzhong, he returned to the north and declared himself Prince of the Wei Kingdom. His son Cao Pi was installed as Crown Prince.
Hanzhong and Yizhou were once firm allies, as close as lips are to teeth. But now that Cao Cao had control of Hanzhong, and Liu Bei was in Yizhou, hostile relations were inevitable. With Xiahou Yuan in Hanzhong, Cao Cao sent Zhang He to command the border. Zhang He paced the borderlands, taunting Liu Bei's men in Yizhou. Zhang Fei and Huang Zhong were the first to ride out to meet his challenge. They repelled the enemy with admirable force, yet the border disputes continued.
The threat of Cao Cao leading an incursion on Yizhou put the people in a constant state of terror. Liu Bei knew that he had to help the people through the crisis. Rather than focusing on domestic management, he felt he had to respond militarily. At long last, following Fa Zheng's firm suggestion, Liu Bei started up an offensive aimed for Hanzhong.
When Zhang He retreated, Cao Cao left the capital with an army of forty legions to counterattack at the border. He went straight to Cao Hong in Nancheng, where Zhang He cautioned him that Liu Bei had bold and clever tactics. Ignoring his advice, Cao Cao sent out an order to provoke battle right away. On Liu Bei's side, Huang Zhong and advisor Fa Zheng were camped at Dingjun Mountain, trying to spur Xiahou Yuan to fight. They had no success until Zhang He and Cao Hong, Cao Cao's reinforcements arrived for war.
The armies assailed each other for days, Huang Zhong cut down Xiahou Yuan with a mightly blow of his sword, and Nancheng fell to Liu Bei. While his foe celebrated victory, Cao Cao planned to avenge the lost of his mightiest warrior. This time, he led the vanguard, yet each time his men advanced they were beaten back. Liu Bei would not relinquish of his new territory. Finally, when Cao Cao rode out into combat, Liu Bei's men stole around and set fire his camp. As he raced back to defend his position, Cao Cao was hit in the face by an arrow. Wounded, he withdrew his troops and Liu Bei gained possession of Hanzhong.
With Jingzhou and Hanzhong as new strongholds, the possibilities opened up for Liu Bei to advance into central China. his men urged him to assume the title of Prince, now that he had Wei territory, but Liu Bei refused. Zhuge Liang reasoned that in view of his political success he deserved the title. After deep consideration, Liu Bei was persuaded, and he was named "Prince of Hanzhong." The event demonstrated Liu Bei's triumph over Cao Cao, the titular "Prince of Wei." Furthermore, it was in line with the rule of hereditary succession in the name of the founder of the Han Dynasty.
LIU BEI ENTRUSTS SHU TO ZHUGE LIANG
During the time when the three kingdoms stood in opposition, territorial disputes were common. For example, Liu Bei and Sun Quan had to combine forces to defend from Cao Cao's relentless attacks. Although Liu Bei had promised to turn Jingzhou over to Zhou Yu after the Battle at Red Wall, he put Guan Yu in charge. Sun Quan and Zhou Yu conspired to take over the land. However, they could not match Zhuge Liang's tactics. As a result, Zhou Yu died amidst the struggle against Zhuge Liang.
Sun Quan tried to help Liu Bei push back Cao Cao, but he was worried about taking control of Jingzhou land he had benn promised. He finally resorted to emotional tactics, and sent Zhuge Liang's brother Zhuge Jin to Liu Bei to beg for the territory, or the Zhuge family would perish. Liu Bei agreed to turn over half of the district to spare Liang's family and ordered Guan Yu to yield the land to Sun Quan. However, Guan Yu refused on the basis of his pledge to fight for the sake of Han. Sun Quan grew wary that his and Liu Bei's aims had fallen out of harmony, and this was soon evidenced when Guan Yu pressed his army northward. Consequently, Sun Quan allied with Cao Cao, and they formed a pincer operation to block Guan Yu's movement.
Despite his mighty strength, Guan Yu could not stand up to his foes. Out of desperation he fled - straight into Pan Zhang's ambush. Captured at last, Guan Yu was brought forth to Sun Quan. He was given the opportunity to surrender, but he stubbornly refused. In the end, he honored the peach garden oath, but it could not save him from his fate, Sun Quan had him executed.
When Liu Bei heard of his brother's death, he swore to get revenge on Sun Quan. He sent out Zhang Fei to lead a counterattack and regain Jingzhou. Yet Zhang Fei was rough on his officers and two of them lived in constant fear of his outbursts. Slinking into his quarters late one night, they waited until they were sure he was sound asleep. Silently they sneaked up to Zhang Fei and stabbed him to death. When Sun Quan received his head, he heaved a sigh of relief to know that Liu Bei's second brother was no longer a threat.
Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Wei, Cao Cao died of an illness of the brain, and his son Cao Pi succeeded him as Prince of Wei. Cao Pi soon developed a reputation for being even more ruthless than his father. Sun Quan submitted to Wei, and Cao Pi bestowed upon him the title "Prince of Wu". Thus, the three kingdoms were clearly defined. But in Shu, Liu Bei was boiling with revenge for the deaths of his sworn brothers. When he renewed his attack on Sun Quan, Cao Pi held back reinforcements, smugly waiting for his opponents to weaken themselves.
Sun Quan offered to restore Jingzhou to Liu Bei to establish a peaceful settlements, but he was flatly refused. There was no other course but to go to battle. The battle between the Wu and Shu took place at Yiling. Lu Xun led the Wu forces and quietly examined Liu Bei's approach. Being a student of strategy, his men thought his inactivity was a sign of incompetence. However, Lu Xun had definite plans. He waited for Liu Bei to position his troops in the open plains where he wanted him, then led a full-force attack down on the helpless enemy. Liu Bei's men were utterly defeated by this clever strategy.
Devastated over his loss at Yiling, Liu Bei retreated his army and went alone to the Palace of Eternal Peace. He succumbed to fatigue, and his condition worsened each day. He was troubled by memories of his two lost brothers and the binding oath they made under the blossoming peach trees. Sensing that he was soon to join them in another world, he called for his son Liu Shan and created his will. He named Liu Shan as heir and asked Zhuge Liang to oversee his reign.
Despite his affection for his son, Liu Bei doubted that he would be a valiant leader. Therefore he entrusted Zhuge Liang with the Shu Kingdom. "You are many times more clever than Cao Pi. You will be able to accomplish our noble task. If Liu Shan exhibits qualities befitting a leader please assist him. However, if he lacks the talent to fulfill his position, take the throne yourself".
In essence, Liu Bei entrusted the Shu Kingdom to Zhuge Liang before he died. Zhuge Liang had promised lifetime loyalty and service to Liu Bei and his kingdom of Shu. As was foreseen, Liu Shan was an incapable leader and Zhuge Liang soon stepped up to the throne to handle all the affairs as Prime Minister of Shu.
With Shu in its weakened state, the leaders of Wu and Wei eyed its borders. It was not long before the Wei Kingdom divided its army into five divisions and assailed into Shu. In the south, Yang Kai and Meng Huo stirred up a fierce rebellion. The kingdom was in an uproar, barely able to withstand an attack, and Zhuge Liang worried that Shu would lost to the enemy. For the second time, he established a tactical alliance with Wu to rebuff Wei. Then he pacified the southern regions, and waited for the opportunity to assail northward into the kingdom of Wei.
THE END OF THE THREE KINGDOMS
After Liu Bei's death, Zhuge Liang had to guide the people out of crisis by directing the political and military affairs of Shu. He structured domestic affairs by appointing wise men to govern beneath him, meanwhile he relied on Deng Zhi to restore an alliance with Wu.
The future of Shu depended on cooperation from the southern regions. First, in the face of an impending attack from the north, Shu needed protection in the rear. Second, products from the south were a great source of revenue. Third, domestic support boosted the spirits of the newly formed armies. Furthermore, the country would be stronger when the people were at peace.
The northern frontier was determined as the next conquest. Zhuge Liang trained the soldiers in his methods, in preparation to conquer new territory. Liu Shan accepted a position beneath him, but kept his title, Latter Ruler of Han (following Liu Bei the First Ruler). Zhuge Liang took the title "Prime Minister", and led his men into Wei. There, in the capital, Cao Pi died and was succeeded by his son Cao Rui.
Zhuge Liang dispatched Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi into the Hsieh Valley to draw the Wei army forth and clear out a path into Hanzhong. A battle ensued and the Shu army was victorious. Xiahou Mao, at the head of the Wei army, was beaten back and besieged at Anding in the north. With Nanan already surrounded, Zhuge Liang began a siege of the other two, and successfully captured all three cities.
However, an unfortunate turn in events thwarted the Shu advance. Zhuge Liang held secret communication with Meng Da of the Wei army. Formerly of Shu, Meng Da had been forced to desert to Wei under extreme circumstances, but still professed his loyalty to Shu. Now, he promised to help bring about the fall of Wei by attacking Luoyang while Zhuge Liang bombarded Changan. Yet, the plan leaked out and Sima Yi intercepted Meng Da before he could reach Luoyang. Zhuge Liang was greatly distressed because now it was up to him alone to defeat his greatest foe - Sima Yi.
As time passed, things began to look worse for the Shu army. Sima Yi was building up defenses within Luoyang and Changan. The most important land for the Shu army to control was Jieting. Zhuge Liang put Ma Su in charge of the main road through Jieting to Changan. He swore to protect the area with his life, yet upon his arrival he arranged his troops in an arbitrary order. Thus when Zhang He attacked, Ma Su was beaten back with ease, and Zhuge Liang's carefully planned strategy was shattered.
In the end, the only thing gained in that first campaign on the north was a Wei general, Jiang Wei. He surrendered to Zhuge Liang at the time when the Shu army overtook the three cities of Anding, Nanan and Tianshui. Following a series of losses, Zhuge Liang had no choice but to retreat his forces to Hanzhong. In a gesture to prove that he took responsibility for the Shu losses, Zhuge Liang degraded his own rank to commanding general and had Ma Su executed.
In the following period, Zhuge Liang made frequent attacks on the north. But the route from Shu into Wei traversed steep territory, and the Shu army had trouble in its weakened state. They were forced to scrounge for supplies, and endure repeated attacks and counterattacks. They made little progress forward into Wei.
Over time, the army built up its strength and national resources were replenished. Zhuge Liang dispatched the entire army to renew their conquest, and the Wei and Shu armies met on the Wuchang Plain. The two great commanders each positioned their armies. Zhuge Liang leading his men from Shu, Sima Yi leading his men from Wei. Sima Yi persisted in the strategy he had employed in their previous encounter. In order to avoid bloodshed, he stalled to starve out the Shu army and bring them to their own destruction.
With every challenge refused, Zhuge Liang never got the chance to fight a decisive battle. Therefore, neither starvation nor direct fighting brought about their eventual defeat. The hopelessness of his position worried him until he fell ill. He knew that his army stood a chance in battle, but not in a stalemate. In a desperate plan, Zhuge Liang sent a messenger to Sima Yi throwing insults at him, and hoping to stimulate a war. Through the messenger Sima Yi learned, to his advantage, that Zhuge Liang was restless and eating very little. Then one night, as Sima Yi was studying the stars, he noticed a shift that signaled the end of the leader. "Zhuge Liang is ill and not long for this world," he remarked. As foreseen, Zhuge Liang overwhelmed by fatigue, died soon after at the age of fifty-four. Without their commander, the Shu army immediately began to retreat. Observing their camp all the while, Sima Yi realized that his rival was gone. Zhuge Liang had been his most cunning challenger. Out of respect he uttered, "Truly he was a genius in our midst."
Roughly thirty years after the death of Zhuge Liang, the kingdom of Shu ultimately fell to ruin. Sima Yi's grandson Sima Yan usurped power and established the Jin Dynasty. The Jin empire eventually conquered Shu, and within a period of sixty years all states were unified as one country, China.