Monday, June 2, 2008

Romance of the Three Kingdoms – Part IV


The Battle of Red Cliffs, First Strike: 無中生有 Weaving Reality from Illusion

The Alliance of Sun Quan and Liu Bei were on perilous ground as they attempted to oppose the mighty hordes of Cao Cao. An analysis of Cao Cao’s army revealed that they were composed mainly of infantry and cavalry, with minimal experience in naval warfare. If the Alliance were to stand any chance of defending their homeland, they had to prevent Cao Cao’s army from crossing the Yangtze River. A decisive naval battle would have to be fought to determine the fate of China.

Although the Alliance’s 50,000 marines were highly experienced in naval warfare, the speed of Cao Cao’s southern campaign had taken them by surprise. In a naval battle, arrows were the most effective weapons. The Alliance would be able to decimate the hordes of Cao Cao without suffering any significant casualties in turn. However, they faced a significant problem.

Sun Quan and Liu Bei did not have sufficient arrows in their armories to supply the marines for such a decisive naval campaign. Without these armaments, no effective defense could be mounted against Cao Cao and eventual defeat was certain.

How many arrows would be required by the Alliance to supply their armies? 100,000 arrows!

How soon would they require them? 3 days!

Zhuge Liang was assigned this Herculean task to complete. Even though he was a master strategist, even he may have stretched himself too far. It would be impossible for the Alliance’s armories to build such a large number of arrows in such a short period. These arrows must obviously have to be already in existence. To borrow or obtain arrows from other neighboring states would take longer than three days.

There was only one source of arrows available –
from Cao Cao himself!

Stratagem: 無中生有 Weaving Reality from Illusion

In order to convince Cao Cao to *donate* arrows to the Alliance, Zhuge Liang had weave reality from illusion. How could he possibly do this?

The Illusion
He fashioned the illusion of a vast naval army by using twenty vessels each manned by thirty people. On each boat, he had cotton screens and bundles of straw lashed on the sides of the boats. Zhuge Liang waited until a night where it was very foggy and the river was dense with mist until one person could scarcely see one another.

As Cao Cao’s naval army was inexperienced and in a hostile environment, Zhuge Liang was certain that Cao Cao would not venture out of his camp at night to meet the Alliance’s naval army under such foggy and misty conditions. Knowing this, he instructed his vessels to form a straight line facing Cao Cao’s naval camp. Zhuge Liang’s marines then made a brouhaha that misled Cao Cao into thinking that the Alliance army had prepared an ambush and was goading them into attacking.

The Reality
Cao Cao then dispatched thousands of archers and crossbowmen lined up at the edge of his naval base to shoot at the bank to prevent any landings by the Alliance’s Navy. Arrows landed like rains that night hitting Zhuge Liang’s vessels until dawn. By then, the fog had dispersed and the twenty vessels commandeered by Zhuge Liang were bristling with arrows on both sides, sailing away too fast for Cao Cao's navy to give chase.

Using a cunning ruse, Zhuge Liang profited by 100,000 arrows whilst simultaneously depleting Cao Cao’s armories. Zhuge Liang deceived Cao Cao into surmising that the Alliance’s Navy was attacking his Cao Cao, when in reality – there was nothing there!


Harry C

Dear Avatar,

Just curious, which English translation of ROTK are you using?

In your articles, 無中生有 is translated as Weaving Reality from Illision and 美人計 as No Man May Pass the Hall of Beauties, which seemed to me as unnecessarily complicated!

Wikipedia's article on The Thirty-Six Stratagems (三十六計) translated these as Create Something from Nothing and The Beauty (or Honey) Trap; simple, direct and at the same time, indicative of their meaning.


Dear harry c,

Thanks for commenting :)

The English translations are my own. My interpretations are a bit vague but perhaps more intriguing, no?

In any case, the chinese characters are posted to avoid any misinterpretation.

I believe that understanding the meaning and how to defend against the use of such stratagems by your enemy may be more crucial. Hopefully, you find it useful.



Dear Avatar,

Keep to your style, i prefer the more flowery translation, it adds a bit more flare to the storey. Keep also the chinese characters.

Many thanks.

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