Borrowing arrows with straw boats (草船借箭)
Season Part 2, Episode 11
Zhuge-liang-studies-star chart-(rotk-1994-ep34)
Air date 1994
Written by Shu-Sheng Liu
Directed by Cai Xiaoqing
Episode guide
Episode 33
Episode 35

"Borrowing arrows with straw boats" (Cǎo chuán jiè jiàn 草船借箭) is the 34th episode of the 1994 historical fiction series A Romance of Three Kingdoms. The episode is the 11th episode of Part Two of the series and is directed by Cai Xiaoqing. In the episode, Zhuge Liang feigns an amphibious invasion against Cao Cao's navy, while also employing fog to give Cao's Admirals suspicion of a feigned retreat into an ambush should they attempt to rout and pursue Zhuge's fleet. Being thus disinclined to order their forces to leave dock, Cao's admirals order the firing of arrows at the invading ships. However, Zhuge's true intention was to capture the arrows in this manner of drawing enemy fire and then collecting the arrows as they land on the ships.


Zhou Yu reflects  triumphantly with Lu Su on Zhou Yu's recent success in leaking false intelligence to Cao Cao through Cao Cao's emissary Jiang Gan, causing Cao to execute two of his own most talented admirals, Cai Mao and Zhang Yun.  Lu Su points out that Cao Cao's navy will be ineffective now due to lack of experience in the admiralty, and so the threat posed by Cao Cao against Wu State is now greatly diminished.  Zhou Yu notes that while his own generals did not see through his deception of Cao Cao's emissary, he is concerned that his allied military strategist Zhuge Liang perceived the scheme, as Zhou Yu feels threatened by Zhuge's  military brilliance.  Zhou Yu sends Lu Su to pay a visit to Zhuge Liang so as to determine whether Zhuge Liang had been aware of Zhou Yu's scheme against Cao Cao's emissary.

In the cabin of a boat where Zhuge is temporarily residing within Wu State, Lu Su finds Zhuge studying astronomical charts and asks him for the reason behind his interest in this.  Zhuge tells Lu Su that a military commander's greatness is measured not only by his force strength but also by his wits and judgment in using his forces effectively.  The deceased heroes Yuan Shao and Lu Bu, he says, failed to attain this measure of greatness.  An effective general should also be knowledgeable in geography, weather patterns, and astronomical event calendars; and he marshals these forces to his advantage as though they were his own troops.  This, Zhuge tells Lu Su, is the reason why he studies the astronomical chart.  Zhuge states his belief that Zhou Yu — along with Sun Wu, Guan Le, and Cao Cao — understands these principles and is therefore one of very few great generals living. He congratulates Lu Su on his master Zhou Yu's success in having Cao Cao's experienced admirals eliminated.  Lu Su is surprised by Zhuge Liang's perceptiveness, and Zhuge says that Cao Cao too has probably discovered the plot by this time but won't admit the defeat to anybody.  Zhuge entreats Lu Su not to tell Zhou Yu of his knowledge of the scheme, since he's aware of Zhou Yu's jealousy of his strategic acumen and does not wish to stir animosity that might weaken the alliance.

Agreeing to keep Zhuge's secret, Lu Su nonetheless confides with Zhou Yu of Zhuge's knowledge of the scheme but argues for restraint in dealing with Zhuge Liang, saying that to simply execute Zhuge would jeopardize Sun Quan's alliance with Liu Bei.  Zhou Yu conceives a plan by which he intends to legally entrap Zhuge and have him executed in compliance with legal norms, such that Zhuge's execution would by all appearances have resulted from Zhuge's own actions rather than Zhou Yu's malice.  He sends Lu Su back to Zhuge to invite him to a military ceremony.

At the ceremony, Zhou Yu tells Zhuge Liang that a naval battle against Cao Cao is imminent and asks him which weapon will best be suited to the affair.  Zhuge says that arrows would be the best weapon, and Zhou Yu agrees but laments that his stock of arrows is inadequate for such an encounter.  As the need for arrows is critical, Zhou Yu orders Zhuge Liang to obtain 100,000 arrows within ten days or to face execution.  Zhuge says that the need is so urgent that ten days aren't enough and instead asks for a shorter deadline of three days.  Lu Su, who does not wish to see Zhuge harmed in this affair, is alarmed by this development.  Zhuge Liang not only accepts the order but requests to have it put in writing so that he may show his compliance by signing it.

Zhuge Liang privately requests of Lu Su 20 lightly crewed boats fitted with strawmen and musical instruments and again entreats him not to tell Zhou Yu of his request, to prevent meddling in his plan.  Lu Su is confused by this request but complies, and on the third day Zhuge Liang takes Lu Su with him as he disembarks across the river in his 20-boat fleet toward Cao Cao's encampment.  Lu Su is again alarmed, as he thinks that Zhuge's intent is to surrender to Cao Cao.

Zhuge's fleet approaches Cao Cao's naval encampment in the pre-dawn hours with the boats' small number of crewmen playing instruments.  Zhuge orders the fleet to come to a halt within sight of Cao Cao's naval encampment, as the music continues to broadcast the fleet's presence throughout Cao's camp.  The 20-boat fleet sits at the edge of a shroud of fog that prevents Cao's camp from seeing past Zhuge's fleet, making it impossible to know whether additional forces are accompanying the fleet.  Zhuge's boats appear fully crewed since Cao's forces cannot tell due to the fog that the decks are lined with strawmen, even though each boat carries only a light, skeleton crew.  This apparent invasion causes much alarm within Cao Cao's camp.  Cao Cao is woken up and from his bed he orders the navy to rout the invaders, but then rescinds the order when he considers that the enemy might have prepared an ambush hidden by the fog. In light of this circumstance, he orders the navy not to leave dock but instead to fire arrows. Zhuge orders all the boats to turn so that their sides are facing Cao's camp.  The boat decks and the sides facing Cao Cao's camp begin fill with arrows, and the sides become so heavily weighed with arrows that the boats start to tip.  Finally, Zhuge orders the boats to turn 180 degrees so that their opposite sides face Cao Cao's camp, and now these sides are assaulted with arrows, so that both sides become weighed down evenly with arrows.  As daylight breaks, Zhuge orders his fleet to return.

The arrows are counted, and it is determined that Zhuge fulfilled his order from Zhou Yu.  Zhou Yu is enraged by Zhuge's ingenuity and show of skill but hides his jealousy as he warmly congratulates Zhuge Liang on his success.  Zhuge asks Zhou Yu when he will go to war against Cao Cao.  Zhou Yu says that he would like to field Zhuge's input regarding his plan to attack Cao Cao.  Zhuge Liang suggests that before hearing Zhou Yu's plan, the two of them should each write his own plan on the palm of his hand, and then they will compare the plans  to see whether or not they agree.

At the end of the episode, Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang each writes his plan for attack against Cao Cao in the palm of his own hand.  They then show their palms to one another and see that each has written in his hand the same single character:  火 ('fire').

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