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Romance of the Three Kingdoms/chapter 86

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Chapter 86

Using Words, Qin Mi Overcomes Zhang Wen;
Setting Fire, Xu Sheng Defeats Cao Pi.

After his recent exploits, Lu Xun became the one hero of Wu. He was given the title General Who Upholds the State, was ennobled as Lord of Jiangling, and received the Governorship of Jingzhou. He became Supreme Commander of all the military forces.

Zhang Zhao and Gu Yong, thinking the moment opportune for enhancing their lord's dignity, sent in a memorial proposing that his rule should be designated by a distinctive style, and Sun Quan assumed "Yellow Might Era" as his reign style (AD 222).

Then arrived a messenger from Wei, and he was called in to an assembly and bidden to state his business.

The messenger said, "Recently Shu sent to Wei for help, and, the situation being misunderstood, the Ruler of Wei dispatched a force against Wu. Now this action is greatly regretted. In Wei it is thought desirable to set four armies in motion against Shu to capture it. Now if Wu will assist, and success crowns these efforts, Wei and Wu will share the conquered territory."

Sun Quan listened, but was not prepared to give a decided answer. He betook himself to his counselors, Zhang Zhao and Gu Yong.

They said, "Lu Xun is the man of profound knowledge. He should be consulted."

So Lu Xun was called, and his speech ran thus: "Cao Pi is too firmly established in the Middle Land to be upset now; and if this offer of his be refused, we shall provoke his enmity. Neither Wei nor Wu, so far as I see, has anyone fit to oppose Zhuge Liang. We must perforce consent and put our army in order. But we can wait till we see how the four armies speed. If Shu seems likely to fall and Zhuge Liang is outmaneuvered, then our army can be dispatched and we will take Capital Chengdu. If the four armies fail, we shall have to consider."

So Sun Quan said to the envoy of Wei, "We are not ready at the moment, so we will choose a day to start later."

And with this answer the envoy left.

Next they made careful inquiries about the success or failure of the four armies against Shu.

The spies reported: "The western Qiangs under King Kebineng have turned back when they saw Ma Chao in command at Xiping Pass. The Nanman led by Meng Huo have been perplexed at the tactics of Wei Yan and have retreated to their territories. The Shangyong leader, Meng Da, have set out, but half way have fallen ill and gone back. And Cao Zhen's army, while marching toward Yangping Pass, have been brought to a halt by the defensive preparations of Zhao Yun, who has garrisoned every pass and occupied every point of vantage; they have eventually retreated, after being camped in the Xie Valley for some time."

Knowing all this, Sun Quan said to his officials, "Lu Xun's words were indeed prophetic; he made most perfect deductions. Any rash action on my part would place me on bad terms with Shu."

Just then the coming of an envoy from Shu was announced.

Said Zhang Zhao, "This mission is also part of Zhuge Liang's scheme to divert danger from Shu. Deng Zhi has come as envoy."

"That being so, how should I reply?" asked Sun Quan.

"I will tell you. Set up a large cauldron and pour therein a quantity of oil. Light a fire beneath. When the oil is boiling, choose a goodly company of your tallest and brawniest fighting guards, arm them and draw them up in lines between the Palace gate and your throne room. Then summon Deng Zhi. But before he can say a word, forewarn him that he will have the same fate of being boiled in oil if being guilty of the same sort of treachery as Li Yiji[1] when he was a persuader to the state of Qi. Then see what Deng Zhi will say."

Sun Quan followed this advice, and prepared the cauldron of oil and had the strong guards ready. Then he bade them introduce the envoy.

Deng Zhi came, his ceremonial dress in perfect order, and advanced as far as the gate. Seeing the grim array of fighting men armed, some with gleaming swords, some with great axes, some with long spears, and some with short knives, he understood at once what was meant, but he never blenched. He advanced quite steadily and bravely till he reached the door of the hall. Even when he saw the boiling cauldron of oil and the savage executioners glaring at him, he only smiled.

He was led to the front of the curtain behind which sat the Prince of Wu, and he made the ordinary salutation of raising his extended arms, but he did not bow in obeisance.

The Prince bade his attendants roll up the curtain, and called out, "Why do you not make an obeisance?"

Deng Zhi replied, "The envoy of the superior state does not make an obeisance to the ruler of a smaller country."

"If you do not control that tongue of yours, but will let it wag, you will be like that fellow Li Yiji who went to talk to Qi. You will soon find yourself in the cauldron."

Then Deng Zhi laughed aloud, saying, "People say there are many sages in Wu. No one would believe that they would be frightened of a simple scholar."

This reply only increased Sun Quan's anger, and he said, "Who fears an unmerited fool like you?"

"If you fear not the envoy, why so anxious about what he may have to say?"

"Because you come here as spokesman of Zhuge Liang, and you want me to sever with Wei and turn to your country. Is not that your message?"

"I am a simple scholar of Shu, and I am come to explain matters to the state of Wu. But here I find armed guards and a boiling cauldron all prepared against an envoy. How can I form any other opinion than that you will not allow me to speak?"

As soon as Sun Quan heard these words, he bade the soldiers go, and called the envoy into the hall.

There he invited Deng Zhi to a seat and said, "What is the real matter between Wei and Wu? I desire that you would inform me."

Then Deng Zhi replied, "Do you, great Prince, desire to discuss peace with Wei or with Shu?"

"I really desire to discuss peace with the Ruler of Shu. But he is young and inexperienced and ignorant, and unable to carry a matter through."

"Prince, you are a valiant warrior, just as Zhuge Liang is a great minister. Now Shu has the strength of its mountainous geography just as Wu has the protection of its three rivers. If these two countries are at peace, they are mutually protective. They may swallow up the rest of the empire, or they may stand secure alone. If you send tribute to Wei and acknowledge yourself one of its ministers, you will be expected to attend at court, and your heir-apparent will become a servant in that court; and if you disobey, an army of Wei will be sent to attack you. Shu also will come down the river and invade your country. Then the South Land will be yours no longer. And if you listen not to these words of mine, and refuse my offer, I shall commit suicide before your face and so justify the post I have as an envoy."

As Deng Zhi spoke these last words, he gathered up his robes and marched down the hall as though he was just going to jump into the cauldron.

"Stop him!" cried Sun Quan, and they did so.

Then he requested Deng Zhi to go into an inner apartment, where he treated the envoy as a guest of the highest honor.

"O Master," said Sun Quan, "your words exactly express my thoughts, and I desire to make a league of peace with your country. Are you willing to be the intermediary?"

"Just now it was you, O Prince, who wished to boil this poor servant. Now it is also you who wishes to use him. How can such a doubtful person be trusted?"

"My mind is made up," replied Sun Quan. "Do not doubt me, Master."

Deng Zhi was detained, and a conclave of officers gathered.

Said Sun Quan to the assembly, "Under my hand are all eighty-one counties of the southeast, and I have the lands of Jingzhou to boot, yet I am not so well off as that little country of Shu, for Shu has Deng Zhi for an envoy, and he glorifies his lord. I have no one to send to declare my wishes to Shu."

Then one stepped forth and said he would go. The speaker was Zhang Wen of Wucheng, who held the office of Imperial Commander.

"Sir, I fear that when you reach Shu and are in the presence of Zhuge Liang, you will not explain my real sentiments," said Sun Quan.

Zhang Wen replied, "Think you that I shall fear him? He also is but a man."

Sun Quan conferred great gifts on Zhang Wen, and sent him on the return mission to Shu to negotiate the league of peace.

While Deng Zhi was absent, Zhuge Liang said to his lord, "This mission to Wu will succeed, and of the many wise people in the east one will come as return envoy. Your Majesty should treat him with courtesy, and let him return to Wu to complete the league. For if we have an alliance with Wu, Wei will not dare to send an army against us. And if we are safe from those quarters, I will lead an expedition to subdue the Nanman in the south country. After that we can deal with Wei. If Wei is reduced, Wu will not last long, and the whole empire will again be under one ruler."

Presently the report reached the capital that Deng Zhi and Zhang Wen, as envoy of Wu, would soon arrive. The Latter Ruler assembled the courtiers to receive them honorably. The envoy of Wu carried himself as one who had attained his desires, and advanced boldly. Having made his salute, the Latter Ruler gave him to sit on a brocaded stool on his left hand. A banquet followed at which Zhang Wen was treated with much honor. At the end of the banquet, the whole court escorted the envoy to the guest-house where he was to lodge.

On the second day there was a banquet at the Prime Minister's palace, and Zhuge Liang broached the real business.

He said, "Our First Ruler was not on friendly terms with Wu. But that is all changed, as is demonstrated by these banquets, and our present Emperor is disposed to be very friendly. It is hoped that the former enmity may be entirely forgotten and the two countries swear eternal friendship and alliance in their common end---the destruction of Wei. I look to you, Sir, to speak in favor of this league."

Zhang Wen said that he would support the plan. The wine went merrily round, and as the envoy became mellow, he laughed freely and swaggered and put on a proud demeanor.

Next day the Latter Ruler gave Zhang Wen rich presents of gold and studs and prepared a parting banquet for him in the south guest-chamber, and all the court assembled to take leave of him. The Prime Minister paid him assiduous attention and pressed him to drink. While this banquet was in progress, a man suddenly came in as if he were already drunk, made a proud sort of salutation to the company and at once took a seat.

His conduct seemed strange to Zhang Wen, who asked, "Who is the new comer, Sir Prime Minister?"

"He is a man named Qin Mi, a Doctorate Academician of Yizhou," replied Zhuge Liang.

"He may be that," said Zhang Wen with a laugh, "but I wonder if he has any learning at all inside him."

Qin Mi listened without changing countenance, and said, "Since our children are all learned, of course I am more so."

"What may have been your special studies, Sir?" said Zhang Wen.

"Many things: Astronomy on one hand, geography on the other, the three teachings and the nine systems, many philosophers, history all through, and many sacred books and traditions."

"Since you talk so big," said Zhang Wen, "I should like to ask you a few questions on celestial matters. Now has the sky a head?"

"Yes, it has a head."

"Where is it?"

"In the western quarter. The Odes say, 'God turns his head kindly toward the west,' and further it follows from this that the head is in the west."

"Well, has the sky ears?"

"Oh, yes. The sky is above and listens to all things below. The Odes say, 'The crane calls from the midst of the marsh, its cry is heard by the sky.' How could the sky hear without ears?"

"Has the sky feet?"

"It has. The Odes say, 'Heaven treads down difficulties.' If there were no feet, how could it tread?"

"Has heaven a name?"

"Why not?"

"Then what is it?"

"Liu."

"How do you know that?"

"Because the Emperor's family name is Liu, and he is the Son of Heaven. That is how I know."

"Does the sun spring from the east?"

"Though it does, yet it sets in the west."

All this time Qin Mi's repartees had flashed back clear and perfect. They came so naturally as to astonish all the guests. Zhang Wen had no word to reply to them.

Then it became Qin Mi's turn, "You are a famous scholar in your own land, Sir; and since you have asked so many questions about Heaven, I take it you are I well up in all celestial matters. When original chaos resolved into its two elements yin and yang, the lighter portion rose and became sky, and the grosser sank and solidified into earth. When Gong Gong's rebellion was crushed, his head struck the Imperfect Mountain, the pillar, which upholds heaven, was broken and the bonds of earth were destroyed. Heaven fell over to the northwest, and earth sank into the southeast. Since heaven was ethereal and had floated to the top, how could it fall over? Another thing I do not know is what is beyond the ether. I should be glad if you would explain, Master."

Zhang Wen had no reply ready, but he rose from his place and bowed his acknowledgment, saying, "I knew not that there was so much ability in this land. I am happy to have heard such a discourse. Now all obstructions have disappeared, and I see quite clearly."

But Zhuge Liang, fearing lest the guest should feel mortified, soothed him with fair words, saying, "This is all play upon words, the sort of puzzles one propounds at a merry feast. You, honored Sir, know that the tranquillity and safety of states are no matters to joke with."

The envoy bowed. Then Deng Zhi was ordered to return to Wu and thank its ruler for his courtesy, and he was to accompany Zhang Wen. So both, having taken leave of the Prime Minister, set out on their journey to the east.

In the meantime Sun Quan was beginning to feel perplexed at the long delay of his envoy. He had summoned a council to discuss this question, when the report came that his own envoy had returned, and Deng Zhi was with him. They were brought in forthwith. Zhang Wen, having made his obeisance, began to discourse upon the virtue of the Ruler of Shu and Zhuge Liang and to lay before his lord the proposal for a league of peace. Deng Zhi, the Chair of the Secretariat, was empowered to discuss this matter.

Turning to Deng Zhi, Sun Quan said, "Would it not be a happy result if tranquillity should be restored to the empire by the destruction of Wei, and Wu and Shu should share its administration?"

"The sky knows not two suns," replied Deng Zhi, "nor can the people recognize two kings. If Wei be destroyed, no one can say upon whom the divine command will devolve. But one who becomes an overlord must perfect his virtue, and those who become ministers must be wholly loyal. In this way strife will cease."

Sun Quan smiled, saying, "And your sincerity is beyond question."

Deng Zhi was dismissed with rich gifts, and after this Wu and Shu were good friends.

The negotiations between his two rivals were reported in Capital Luoyang without loss of time, and Cao Pi was very angry.

"If they have made an alliance, it can only mean that they cherish the intention of swallowing the Middle Land. My best move is to strike first."

He called a great council. This council lacked the presence of Regent Marshal Cao Ren and Grand Commander Jia Xu, who had both died.

In the council Counselor Xin Pi stepped forward and said, "The Middle Land is extensive, but the population so sparse that no successful army could be raised just now. My advice is to wait ten years, spending that period in forming an army and in cultivating the land till stores and weapons shall have been accumulated. Then both our rivals may be destroyed."

"This is only the distorted opinion of a perverted pedant. Having made this league, Shu and Wu may fall upon us at any moment. This matter cannot be postponed for ten years," said the Ruler of Wei.

An edict appeared commanding the enlistment of soldiers and the formation of an army to subdue Wu.

Sima Yi then said, "Battleships are necessary, as Wu is protected by the Great River. Your Majesty must lead small and big vessels. The navy can advance by way of River Huai, taking Shouchun. When you reach Guangling, the river is to be crossed and Nanxu is to be captured. Then Wu will be subdued."

This plan was accepted, and the construction of dragon ships was put in hand and went on day and night. Ten were built two hundred spans long to carry two thousand marines each. They also collected three thousand fighting ships.

In the autumn of the fifth year of Yellow Dawn (AD 224) the various generals assembled, and Cao Zhen was appointed leader of the first corps. Zhang Liao, Zhang He, Wen Ping, and Xu Huang were Chief Commanders; Xu Chu and Lü Qian were guards of the Center Army; and Cao Xiu commanded the rear guard; the strategists were Liu Ye and Jiang Ji. In all, land and marine forces numbered over three hundred thousand troops. When the starting day was decided upon, Sima Yi was made Chair of the Secretariat and left in the capital with the powers of Regent Marshal.

The spies told the Prince of Wu's attendants of the dangers, and the latter hastened to inform the Prince.

They said, "Cao Pi is leading the dragon fleet and commanding three hundred thousand marines and ground forces against the South Land, and the danger is very great."

When Sun Quan met his council, Gu Yong said, "My lord, you can call upon Shu for help according to the treaty. Write to Zhuge Liang and get him to send out an army through Hanzhong so as to divert part of Wei's army. Also you send an army to Nanxu to oppose them there."

"I shall have to recall Lu Xun," said the Prince. "He is the only man to undertake this great task."

"Do not move him if you can help it. He is necessary for the protection of Jingzhou."

"Yes, I know. But there is no other strong enough to help me."

At these words Xu Sheng advanced, saying, "I know I am not very able, but I desire to be given an army to meet this danger. If Cao Pi crosses the river in person, I will make him prisoner and present him at the gate of the Palace. If he does not come over here, I will slay so many of his soldiers that his army shall not dare even to look southward."

Sun Quan was pleased to find a willing volunteer, and replied, "Noble Sir, what anxiety need I feel if I have your protection?"

Xu Sheng was given the title of General Who Protects the East and made Chief Commander of all the forces in Nanxu and Jianye. As soon as he had received his orders, he retired. He gave command to gather enormous quantities of weapons, and had many flags and banners made for the protection of the river banks.

But another impetuous young leader was anxious to take more vigorous measures, and he stood forth, saying, "My lord has laid upon you, O General, a heavy responsibility. But if you really desire to destroy the invading force and capture Cao Pi, you should send an army to meet him on the north side in the South of River Huai. I fear failure if you wait till the northern troops have come this far."

The young man was Sun Shao, nephew of the Prince of Wu. Sun Shao was born to a Yu family, and he was adopted by Sun Ce and given the Sun family name. He had already the title of General Who Possesses Wide Prestige, and was in command at Guangling. Though young and impetuous, he was very valiant.

Said Xu Sheng, "Cao Pi's army is strong and its leaders famous. I hold that we may not cross the river to meet him, but wait the arrival of his ships on the other side. Then I shall carry out my plan."

"I have three thousand troops of my own, and I know the country about Guangling thoroughly. Let me go across the river and fight a battle. I will willingly undergo the penalty if I fail," said Sun Shao.

However, Xu Sheng refused, and all the pleadings of his impetuous general were vain.

And when Sun Shao still persisted, the Commander grew angry and said, "What control shall I have if you are allowed to disobey orders?"

Xu Sheng ordered the lictors to take Sun Shao out and put him to death.

They led him away, and forthwith the black flag was hoisted. But one of Sun Shao's generals went off in hot haste to tell Sun Quan, who came immediately to try to save his favorite. Happily the execution had not been accomplished when the Prince appeared on the scene, and he bade the executioners disperse. The youth was saved.

Sun Shao began to press his claim to the Prince, saying, "I have been at Guangling, and if we do not attack the enemy there, but let him get down to the river, there will be an end of Wu."

Sun Quan went into the camp, and Xu Sheng came to receive him.

When the Prince was seated in his tent, Xu Sheng said, "O Prince, you placed me in command of the force to repulse Wei. Now this general of mine, Sun Shao, is disobedient and should suffer death. I would ask why he should be pardoned."

"He is naturally hot and impetuous. He has been guilty of disobedience, but I hope you will overlook his fault."

"The law is none of my making, nor is it yours, O Prince. It is a state penalty, and if relationship is enough to evade it, where is discipline?"

"He has offended, and you have the right to judge and punish. But although his real name is Yu Shao, yet my brother Sun Ce loved him and gave him our family name. Further, Sun Shao has rendered me good service. If he should be put to death, I should fail in my fraternal duty."

"Since you have intervened, O Prince, I remit the death penalty."

Sun Quan bade his nephew thank his chief, but the youth would not make an obeisance. On the contrary, he loudly maintained the correctness of his view.

"Leading troops against Cao Pi is the only way," cried Sun Shao. "I cannot consent to your other plan even under the penalty of death!"

Xu Sheng's countenance changed. The recalcitrant young man was ordered to leave the tent by Sun Quan.

"He will not be any loss to us," said Sun Quan to Xu Sheng, "and I will not employ him again."

Then the Prince left and returned to his own place.

That night they reported to Xu Sheng that Sun Shao had gone secretly over the river with his own three thousand troops. Xu Sheng did not wish him to come to harm, as evidently that would displease the Prince. So Xu Sheng sent a force to support him. Ding Feng was chosen to command this reinforcement, and he was told what to do.

The Ruler of Wei, in his dragon ships, reached Guangling, and the van got to the river bank. He came to survey the position.

"How many soldiers are on the other bank?" asked Cao Pi.

Cao Zhen replied, "I have not seen a single one. Nor are there any flags or encampments."

"That is a ruse. I will go and find out."

So Cao Pi set out to cross the river in one of the dragon ships. He anchored under the bank. On his boat were displayed the imperial emblems of dragon, phoenix, sun, moon, and they shone out bravely. Seated in the ship, the Emperor looked up and down the south bank, but not a man was visible.

"Do you think we should cross?" asked the Emperor of his strategists.

Liu Ye replied, "If the rules of war mean anything, they ought to be prepared. We think Your Majesty should exercise caution. Wait a few days and watch. Then perhaps the van might be sent to make a reconnaissance."

"So I think," said the Ruler of Wei. "But as it is now late, we will pass the night on the river."

It was a dark night, and the ships was brilliantly lighted up; it seemed like day on board. But all along the south bank there appeared no glimmer of light.

"What do you think it means?" said Cao Pi.

The courtiers replied, "They heard that Your Majesty's heavenly army was coming, and ran away like so many rats."

The Ruler of Wei laughed to himself. When daylight came there came with it a thick fog, so that nothing on the bank could be seen. After a time, a breeze blew off the fog, and then, to their immense surprise, they found that the whole length of the South of the Great River as far as they could see was one battlement, with towers at intervals, while spears and swords glittered in the sun and flags and pennons fluttered in the breeze.

In just a short time several reports came: "A long wall by the Great River has grown up in a night and stood there with carts and masts of ships lying along it, stretching some one hundred miles from Shidou to Nanxu."

The fact was that the wall was an imitation, and the warriors that manned it were bundles of reeds dressed in soldiers' uniforms. And this was Xu Sheng's tactic. But the sight chilled the ardor of the invaders.

"My hosts of troops are no use against such warriors. We can do nothing against those talents of the South Land," said Cao Pi.

He thought over this sadly enough. But now the wind had increased in force, and white combers began to heave up in the river, and waters broke over his boat, drenching the dragon robes. The ship seemed as if it would roll right over. So Cao Zhen sent out small boats to rescue his master and his people. But they were too affrighted to move. Wherefore Wen Ping, who was in charge, leaped on board and helped the Emperor down into one of the smaller craft, which then flew away before the wind and got safely into a creek.

Soon came a hasty messenger to report: "Zhao Yun is marching out through Yangping Pass and threatening Chang'an."

This frightened Cao Pi so badly that he decided to retreat, and gave orders to retire. The whole army were in a mood to run away, and moved off toward the north, pursued by the troops of Wu. To hasten the march, the Ruler of Wei bade his soldiers abandon all the imperial paraphernalia and impediments. The dragon ships withdrew into River Huai one by one.

As they moved in disorder, suddenly arose the sounds of an enemy force, shouts and the rolling of drums and the blaring of trumpets, and a cohort marched down obliquely on to their line. And at the head was Sun Shao.

The troops of Wei could make no effective stand, and many were slain, while large numbers were driven into the river and drowned. By dint of great efforts, the Emperor was saved and got away up the river. But when they had sailed about ten miles, they saw ahead a tract of blazing reeds. The enemy had poured fish oil over the dry reeds and set them afire. The wind was spreading the flames down river toward the fleet of Wei, and the heat was intense. The dragon ships had to stop.

Cao Pi was put into a smaller craft and taken on shore. His larger ships were presently set on fire and destroyed. They mounted the Emperor on a horse and moved along the bank, but soon they fell in with another body of troops. This time it was the supports under Ding Feng.

Zhang Liao rode ahead to engage the leader, but was soon wounded by an arrow of Ding Feng in the loins. However, he was helped away by Xu Huang, and the Ruler of Wei was gotten safely out of the turmoil. The loss of soldiers was heavy, and a huge booty of horses, carts, ships, and weapons fell to the victors.

So the Wei armies went away north thoroughly beaten, while Xu Sheng had scored a great success. Sun Quan richly rewarded him.

Zhang Liao got to Xuchang, but only to die from the effects of his wound. He was honorably buried by the Ruler of Wei.

It has been said that Zhao Yun was threatening Chang'an. But soon after he went through Yangping Pass, the Prime Minister of Shu sent a dispatch to recall him because General Yong Kai in Yizhou had joined himself with the Nanman and invaded the four southern territories. So Zhao Yun returned. Meanwhile Ma Chao was ordered to take command of Yangping Pass. The Prime Minister was about to go to subdue the nations along the south border. He was then preparing at Chengdu for this expedition.

First Wu met Wei and drove them north,
Then Shu against the Nanman went south.

The story of this campaign will follow in the next chapters.

NotesEdit

  1. Li Yiji was diplomat and adviser of Liu Bang. Li Yiji went on mission to discuss peace between Liu Bang and King Tian Guang of Qi. Li Yiji demanded a ceasefire as condition for talk. Tian Guang complied. While the discussion was going on, Liu Bang attacked. Tian Guang enraged and threw Li Yiji into boiling oil.

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