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Liang Zhu-ge's Letter Written Before He Set Out on a Campaign II (November 228 CE)

Zhu-ge, Liang (181-234 CE)

Honorable king,

    The late king thought that the Kingdom of Shu-Han and its enemy should not coexist and that our goal should be more ambitious than simply retaining sovereignty over the single State of Yi. Consequently, he entrusted me with the mission of sending troops to eliminate our enemy. Given the late king's cleverness, he certainly understood that my talent was not sufficient to resist the strong enemy. However, we knew that if we did not attack our enemy, the enemy would attack us. We would rather fight than sit and wait for our demise. Therefore, the late king did not hesitate to entrust me with the mission.

    After I received the late king's order, I slept fitfully and ate food without knowing its taste. I thought that if our was to go on a northern expedition, it would be better to conquer the southern tribes first. Consequently, in May I led troops across the Lu River and went deep into the wilderness. One day's food supply had to last for two days. This was not because I did not know how to take care of myself; it was because I did not think the kingdom should be content to retain sovereignty at the capital of Shu-Han. Therefore, I took the risk to pursue the will of the late king. However, many court officials were skeptical about this strategy. Now our enemy is fatigued in the west 1 and is also engaging in a losing battle in the east 2. Military strategy and tactics tell us to seize the right moment. It is time for us to attack the enemy. In the following I will explain why we must do so:

    Emperor Gao-zu of the Han dynasty was as bright as the sun and the moon. The plans of his advisors were profound. However, he was still besieged in Rong-yang City. And carried an arrow wound to his chest 3. You are not as talented as Emperor Gao-zu and your advisor are not as good as Liang Chang and Ping Chen 4. However, you are trying to defeat the enemy with a long-term plan and trying to unify China by sitting and waiting for the enemy's demise. How can this plan be feasible? This is the first thing that I do not understand. You Liu 5 and Lang Wang 6 occupied large cities. Whenever they discussed security plans, they frequently quoted the maxims of sages. However, they failed to attack the enemy at an early stage and appeased them year after year. The appeasement allowed Ce Sun 7 to expand his military power and annex the area east of the Yangtze River. Why are we letting our golden opportunity slip away? This is the second thing that I do not understand. Cao Cao's cleverness and strategic ability were distinguished. The way he commanded troops was similar to the way Wu Sun and Qi Wu had done so 8. However he fought desperately at Nan-yang City 9, risked his life at Wu-chao City 10, encountered a crisis at Qi-lian City 11, was brought at bay and withdrew to Li-yang City 12, almost lost the battle at Bai-lang Mountain 13, and nearly died at Tong-guan City 14. Through all these crises and frustrations, he temporarily unified Northern China. Considering that I am not as talented as Cao Cao, how can we unify China without taking risks? This is the third thing that I do not understand. Cao Cao launched offensives against Ba Chang five times and could not conquer him 15. He ordered his troops to cross Lake Chao four different times, but he never succeeded 16. He appointed Fu Li, but Fu Li planned to assassinate him 17. He entrusted Yuan Xia-hou with the task of defending the State of "Han-zhong", but Xia-hou was defeated by King Bei Liu. Even though the late king often praised Cao Cao for his talent, he still suffered such tremendous losses. In addition, I am not as talented as Cao Cao. How can I be expected to win every battle? This is the fourth thing that I do not understand. In the year since I arrived in the State of Han-zhong, we lost Generals Yun Zhao, Qun Yang, Yu Ma, Zhi Yan, Li Ding, Shou Bo and Ge Liu, more than 70 captains and station officers, and more than 1,000 brave infantry and cavalry soldiers recruited from the tribes in States of Ba and Shu. These were crack troops gathered from all over China for several decades. They cannot be rebuilt from a single state. If we wait for several more years, we would lose two thirds of our original resources. On what could we rely to fight against our enemy? This is the fifth thing that I do not understand. Now our people are growing poor and our soldiers are exhausted. However, we should not stop pursuing unifying China. Given that we and our enemy cannot coexist and that the cost and manpower required for attack and defense are the same, we should attack our enemy early. Otherwise, with its large occupied region the enemy can grow strong quickly. Therefore, how can we defeat them by fighting a protracted war with the land of a single state? This is the sixth thing that I do not understand.

    The most difficult thing to predict is victory. When the late king was defeated by Cao Cao in the State of Chu 18, Cao Cao expressed his joy by clapping hands and proclaimed that he had conquered China. Then the late king allied with the Kingdom of Wu in the east, captured the States of Ba and Shu in the west, and led troops on a northern expedition. Hou-yuan Xia, the commander of Wei's troops was killed. Because of this miscalculation of Cao Cao, we were about to achieve our goal. Unexpectedly, the Kingdom of Wu violated the treaty of alliance and launched a surprise attack on Jing-zhou City. Our general, Yu Guan 19, was killed. Because he was deeply affected by his friendís death, the late king rashly attacked the Kingdom of Wu in revenge for Guan. Sadly, he was defeated by Sun Lu, Wu's general, at Zi-gui City. Then Pei Cao 20 declared himself emperor. It was difficult to foresee that things would happen this way. All I can do is exert myself to the utmost until my death. Whether I can succeed or whether my effort will improve or worsen our circumstance is beyond my prediction.

Respectfully yours,

Liang Zhu-ge




1 In 227 CE, Liang Zhu-ge attacked Qi-shan County, Nan-an County, and An-ding County. They all defected from the Kingdom of Wei and pledged allegiance to the Kingdom of Shu-Han. The entire State of Guan-zhong (present day Shaanxi Province) responded to the call of Liang Zhu-ge.

2 Xiu Cao of Wei and Sun Lu fought at Shi-ting City. Xiu Cao suffered a catastrophic defeat.

3 "An arrow wound to his chest" refers to a wound incurred when Yu Xiang shot Emperor Gao-zuís chest from a hidden location.

4 Both Liang Chang and Ping Chen were Emperor Gao-zu's advisors.

5 Zheng-li was You Liu's other first name. He was a native of Mou-ping City in the Kingdom of Wu during the Three Kingdoms Period. During the Xing-ping Period of the Eastern Han dynasty, he was appointed to be the Mayor of Yang-zhou City. However, Shu Yuan occupied the area south of the Huai River. Liu did not dare go there and assume his office. Jing Wu and Bi Sun invited him to Qu-a City. When Ce Sun crossed the Yangtze River and reached its east side, Liu was stationed at Peng-ze City to protect Yu-zhang County. Soon after he died from illness.

6 Jing-xing was Lang Wangís other first name. He was a native of Tan City in the Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdom Period. During Emperor Wen's reign in the Wei dynasty, he was appointed to be an official in charge of civil engineering, was made Duke of Le-ping-xiang, and was given a posthumous name, cheng (success), by the emperor. He was originally the assistant of Qian Tao, the Mayor of Xu City. Because he persuaded Qian to assist the emperor in times of crisis, the emperor appointed him Mayor of Kuai-ji City. Later, he was defeated by Ce Sun.

7 Ce Sun was Chuan Sun's elder brother. Bo-fu was Ce Sun's other first name.

8 Both Wu Sun of the Spring-fall Period and Qi Wu of the Warring States Period mastered in military strategy and tactics.

9 This refers to the time when Cao Cao fought against Xiu Zhang at Wan-cheng City. Cao Cao was wounded by a stray arrow.

10 This refers to the time when Cao Cao attacked Qiong Chun-yu, a general of Shao Yuan.

11 This refers to the time when Cao Cao besieged Shang Yuan at Qi-lian City.

12 This refers to the time when Cao Cao attacked Tan Yuan and his brother.

13 "Bai-lang" means white wolf. The crisis refers to the time when Cao Cao fought against Huan Wu at Bai-lang Mountain.

14 This refers to the time when Cao Cao attacked Chao Ma and Sui Han at Tong-guan City. Chao Ma led 10,000 infantry and cavalry troops to meet head-on with Cao Cao's army. The arrows fell as densely as heavy rain.

15 This refers to the time when Ba Chang of East Sea rebelled and Cao Cao responded by sending Dai Liu and Zhong Wang to crush him five times.

16 This refers to the battles in which Cao Cao engaged to attack Chuan Sun, the King of Kingdom Wu.

17 Some people think that Fu Li refers to Fu Wang. He conspired with Cheng Dong to assassinate Cao Cao.

18 "In the State of Chu" refers to a general area. The specific place where Cao Cao defeated the late king was Chang-ban Slope at Dang-yang City.

19 Yun-chang was Yu Guan's other first name. He was given a posthumous title, Zhuang-mu (strong with depth) Duke. Here the statement says that Yu Guan was killed at Jing-zhou City.

20 Pei Cao was the eldest son of Cao Cao. He demoted Emperor Xian of the Eastern Han dynasty to the position of Duke of Shan-yang and declared himself emperor.