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Zhuge Liang (also known as Kong Ming) wearing his trademark "Taoist Priest" outfit and carrying his trademark "White Fan" (known also a renaissance man who enjoyed playing the game of Go and the lute).

Military Achievements

One of his famous exploits was advising Liu Bei to ally himself with Sun Quan, allowing him to win the principal battle of Chibi. Together the armies of Liu Bei and Sun Quan dealt a lethal blow to Cao Cao's plan to conquer China. As part of the spoils of war, Liu Bei captured the territories of Jingzhou.

His military victories were vast and ingenious. Like all geniuses, Zhuge Liang faced a major setback at the hand of his arch nemesis, Sima Yi (senior military leader of the Wei state), when Sima Yi prevented Zhuge Liang from capturing Luoyang (an important area in China). This would have assisted Liu Bei's goal of restoring the Han Dynasty.

At his deathbed, Liu urged his son Liu Chan to depend on Zhuge Liang's advice and also urged his prime minister to ascend the throne himself if the prince was unable to rule.

After Liu Bei's death, Zhuge Liang assisted his successor in governing the country for the next four years. He roused himself for vigorous efforts to make the country prosperous and was strict and fair in meting out rewards and punishments. Under Zhuge Liang, the Shu Kingdom became more prosperous and militarily stronger. This was due to Zhuge Liang's defeat of the attacks of the seven armies that were initiated by Cao Pi. He also subdued the southern barbarian king Meng Huo and then led six expeditions against the state of Wei in an attempt to fulfill Liu Bei's wish of restoring the Han Dynasty.

At the age of 54, Zhuge Liang passed away on the plains of Wuzhangyuan during a military campaign (234 AD), while attempting to re-conquer the land that was occupied by the kingdom of Wei. Before he even began this northern expedition, Zhuge Liang was sick and exhausted from the stress and the overwork created by his rival, General Sima Yi, and the ineffective leadership of Liu Chan. By the time Zhuge Liang reached the battlefield he was dead. His death immediately marked the downfall of the Shu Kingdom.

He once remarked himself as "to bend myself to a task and exert the life to the utmost." Even his rivals could not help admiring his great talent and his devotion to the country.

Zhuge Liang's Achievements

Upon his death, much of his writings on building military organizations and strategies were supposedly stolen or destroyed. The Way of the General is one of the few writings survived to be read today.

It has been rumored that that Zhuge Liang created Eight Dispositions (Ba Xing), battle tactics for military strategic and tactical deployment. The Eight Dispositions battle tactics are army formations that are said to be based on his reading of the I-Ching (Book of Changes).

illustration of Ba Gua (eight trigrams)

The technical attribute of the Ba Gua (eight trigrams) is supposed to be the essence behind Zhuge Liang's Eight Dispositions (Ba Xing) Battle Tactics.

Other stories described him as a mathematical and mechanical genius, credited with the invention of a multi-firing crossbow and a mechanical wooden ox (a four-legged wheel barrow with a shell of an ox) for transporting grain.

Much of his exploits can be found in the San Kuo Chih Yen-i (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), the great 14th century historical novel, where Zhuge Liang is one of the principal characters. As mentioned earlier, some of those events can be found in popular Chinese operas and plays where he is usually described as a favored character that fought against evil.

Those same plays also portrayed him as a Taoist magician who possessed many supernatural powers, from controlling the wind to foretelling the future. Much of his ability was based on his vast but confidential knowledge of military strategy, mechanical engineering, mathematics, geology, meteorology, and behavior psychology.

After Zhuge Liang passed on, stories about his wisdom (for example, Review in Longzhong, Borrowing the Eastern Wind, and Strategy of the Vacant City) were played out as Chinese opera stories. These have also been used as a learning guide for budding professional strategists. To many past and present scholars of China's history, he is considered to be the quintessence of embodied wisdom and intelligence.

In part two of our article on Zhuge Liang (in the next issue), we will concentrate on the non-military achievements of Zhuge Liang.

Previous M.E.H. Writings on Strategy

Strategies of Zhuge Liang

Zhuge Liang  wearing his trademark
Tactical plans must always be kept a secret. When attacking an enemy, one must attack like the gale, and when curshing your enemy, one must be swift as the falcon tracking its prey. All battles must be completed swiftly like the raging river-current. Only through this could one defeat their foe with the least casualties.

Those who are apt at war are not influenced by emotion. Those who have composed an impeccable tactical plan have no reason to fear their enemy. Those who are wise consolidate their victory beforehand through impeccable planning. On the other hand, fools wage battle without planning, and make decisions in the heat of battle.

Winners proceed the path without veering, but losers try to take the shortcut and get lost in the process. Fools take the opposite path.

An army functions at its best when commanders stand proud and soldiers man their respective stations. This is like casting rounded stones down an inclined plank--there are no edges to stop the flow. Such an army could defeat all in its path with invincable strength. Thus is the basis of all tactics.

The Secret of Military Instruction

When facing those apt in offense, the opponent does not know how to defend. Likewise, when facing those apt in defense, the opponent does not know how to attack. This is because those who are apt in offense do not rely on weapons, and those who are apt in defense do not rely on their fortifications. Thus, building high walls and deep moats does not equal an impenetrable defense. Likewise, wearing sturdy armor and wielding sharp weapons doesn't make an army strong.

What to do when an enemy has strong defenses?
Attack where they are lest protected.

What to do when an enemy dissolves their camp and starts marching?
Ambush them when least expected.

What to do when you and your enemy both start marching?
Choose an appropriate terrain and establish your formations.

What to do when you have started marching while your enemy remains silent?
Attack from both sides of the enemy.

What to do if your enemy is composed of many different factions?
First, attack their main force.

When one does not know the terrain, and does not have the correct timing, preparing for battle only leads to misallocation of troops.

The Good and Bad of Military Tactics

Military tactics could be separated into three different levels of execution.

1. The Best Application of Military Tactics--Prevent problems before it occurs, and resolve conlicts before it starts. Read the minds of your enemy and plan ahead of them. Even if there are strict rules within your military, act in advance to make sure none will break the military law. This is the best application of military tactics.

2. Moderate Application of Military Tactics--Set up your ranks agains your enemies and charge your cavalry. Then unleash your crossbows at your enemy and slowly approach your enemy. Fear will breed within the minds of your enemy, leading them to confusion. This is the moderate application of military tactics.

3. The Worst Application of Military Tactics--The leader sharges into the midst of the enemy and gets rained on with arrows, and is blinded by shirt term goals. Many soldiers die, freind and foe, but victory is not clear on both sides. This is clearly the worst application of military tactics.

The Military Leader

There are many different types of military leaders.

Those who could see the darkness within others and detect danger beforehand while managing his own soldiers adequately--such a man can be a leader of ten men.

Those who perform their duty from dawn until dusk while remaining courteous in speech--such a man can be a leader of a hundred men.

Those who have a distaste for trickery but are resourceful, and are brave and enthusiastic in battle--such a man can be a leader of a thousand men.

Those who are respectable in appearance, holding a warrior's spirit while having an understanding of the hardships of his men--such a man can be a leader of ten-thousand men.

Those who recruit men of skill while himself improving upon his skills, while being trustworthy and wide in perspective, unyielding to the temptations present within the confounded world of warfare--such a man can be a leader of a hundred-thousand men.

Those who shed lovingkindness to his subjects and defeats surrounding nations through trust and moral goodness, and is versed in astrology, geography, and human affairs while garnering respect from all citizens--such a man can be a leader of all under heaven.

The Fifteen Testaments of Military Leaders

The source of all defeat comes from underestimating your enemy. Thus, military leaders must keep the following fifteen testaments within their mind.

  • 1. Gathering Intelligence--Use spies to collect information.

  • 2. Information--Gather information about your enemy from various sources.

  • 3. Bravery--Do not show fear against even the toughest foe.

  • 4. Selflessness--Do not be moved by profit.

  • 5. Equality--Award and punish all equally.

  • 6. Patience--Withstand humiliation.

  • 7. Compassion--Be willing to forgive.

  • 8. Trust--Do not lie.

  • 9. Respect--Recruit those who have greater skills than yourself.

  • 10. Wisdom--Do not listen to ill-will.

  • 11. Humbleness--Act humbly.

  • 12. Lovingkindness--Treat your subjects with lovingkindness.

  • 13. Loyalty--Sacrifice yourself for the good of the country.

  • 14. Discrimination--Discriminate between what is possible and impossible.

  • 15. Strategy--Know yourself and your enemy.

    If these 15 testaments are forgotten, defeat will come swiftly as the winds of December.

    Characteristics that make one unfit as a Military Leader

    There are eight characteristics that makes one unfit as a military leader.

    • 1. Filled with greed and knows not when to repress his lust.

    • 2. Jealous against those with greater skill.

    • 3. Listens to ill-will against others and employs sweet-talkers.

    • 4. Knows one's enemies but does not know oneself.

    • 5. Indecisive and lacks the ability to judge.

    • 6. Indulges too much in drinks.

    • 7. Uses trickery on others and is a coward.

    • 8. Those whos words do not reflect their actions.

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