The Battle of Red Cliff, Ensuing Ruse: 苦肉計 Gain a rival’s trust through self-mutilation
Despite Zhuge Liang’s earlier success in obtaining 100,000 arrows, a direct encounter between the Alliace with Cao Cao’s gargantuan fleet would still result in certain defeat for the former. The only viable strategy that could decimate Cao Cao’s forces with minimal losses would be to use a fire attack. Further, they would need to convince Cao Cao to chain his ships together so that massive damage and casualties could be inflicted on Cao Cao’s fleet by fire. To succeed, Cao Cao has to be swayed into making several fatal strategic missteps. I shall refer to this overall strategy as the 連環計 Symphony of Stratagems.
The problem was simple: How could this be done? The first piece of the puzzle:
Stratagem: 苦肉計 Gain a rival’s trust through self-mutilation
The only possible course open to the Alliance would be to convince Cao Cao to accept a *traitor* from the Alliance. This *traitor* would pretend to defect during the decisive engagement between Cao Cao and the Alliance. At an opportune moment, the *traitor* would launch a fire attack on Cao Cao’s forces throwing them into disarray.
By this time, Cao Cao was already an experienced general, whose strategic and tactical prowess was unquestioned. To convince him to accept any defectors from the Alliance, would require a high degree of subterfuge and corroborating evidence. Thus, the commanding officer of the Alliance, Zhou Yu decided on the 苦肉計 stratagem.
Huang Gai, a trusted general of the Wu Kingdom valiantly accepted the role of the *traitor*. In order to successfully feign desertion, he openly voiced his dissent against opposing Cao Cao, during a meeting between the Alliance’s commanding officers. Zhou Yu pretended to be furious at his lack of loyalty to the Wu Kingdom and sentenced him to be whipped 50 times. After the punishment, Huang Gai was in a deplorable state. His back was cut in many places, and the blood was flowing in streams.
News of Zhou Yu’s treatment of Huang Gai filtered back to Cao Cao. Through the use of a messenger, Cao Cao received Huang Gai’s letter offering to defect during the forthcoming decisive naval encounter between the opposing forces. Cao Cao had doubts as to whether the defection was genuine. However, Zhou Yu’s ingenious use of the 苦肉計 stratagem allayed his fears and concerns.
The first part of the Symphony of Stratagems has been set. We shall look at how other pieces of this grand strategy were put in place. The success or failure this stratagem, would determine the outcome of this decisive battle.
To first convince a rival to accept a turncoat from your faction, physical or mental self mutilation of your subordinate, at your hands, is necessary. This should suffice to allay any doubts or concerns by your rival, as to whether the defection is bona fide or otherwise. Simlarly, you should always be wary of renegades from the opposing camp, even those that have suffered horrendous mutilations at the hands of your rival, lest you fall foul of the 苦肉計 stratagem.