The Battle of Red Cliff, Successive Subterfuge: 借刀殺人 Yin overwhelms Yang
The Alliance had successfully deployed the 苦肉計 earlier. The time had come for the Alliance to now to chain this to the 借刀殺人 stratagem. A literal translation of this ruse is Kill with a borrowed knife. In my opinion, this stratagem is better described as the Yin overwhelms Yang ruse. When the situation is not favorable, one should not meet the enemy head on. Instead, one should seek to use the strength of another, or even the enemy’s own strength, against him.
With Cao Cao’s naval base established, daily drills were carried out to convert his vast infantry and cavalry, into a marine corps. It would only be matter of time before this vast army was ready to meet the Alliance in a decisive naval battle.
How could the Alliance defeat Cao Cao’s army? A successful defense would require an ingenious use of the 借刀殺人 stratagem, using Cao Cao’s own strength against him. Clearly, the strength of Cao Cao’s army lied with their extensive experience in land warfare. Their weakness was equally apparent; the alien surroundings, unfamiliarity with naval warfare and seasickness suffered by his troops.
If Cao Cao were presented with a plan that would eliminate his army’s seasickness and play to his strengths, could he refuse? With such a plan and his overwhelming numerical superiority, his army’s strength would be irresistible!
A person of immense intellect and cunning would have to be sent to convince Cao Cao fall prey to this stratagem employed by the Alliance. Young Phoenix: Pang Tong, currently serving the warlord Sun Quan, was sent to achieve this difficult task.
Through an intermediary, Pang Tong agreed to defect from the Alliance and was formally introduced to Cao Cao. They discussed military matters, and Pang Tong held forth at length. Remarks and comments flowed freely between the two, and Cao Cao formed an exalted opinion of his new adherent's abilities and treated him with the greatest honor.
Pang Tong then suggested the following to Cao Cao to rid his men of seasickness during the upcoming decisive naval encounter with the Alliance:
"The river is wide, and the tides ebb and flow. The winds and waves are never at rest. Your troops from the north are unused to ships, and the motion makes them ill. If your ships, large and small, were classed and divided into thirties, or fifties, and joined up stem to stem by iron chains and boards spread across them, to say nothing of soldiers being able to pass from one to the next, even horses could move about on them. If this were done, then there would be no fear of the wind and the waves and the rising and falling tides."
How could Cao Cao resist this alluring plan? 借刀殺人 stratagem was employed by Pang Tong to perfection. Ostensibly, this plan would play to Cao Cao strengths and allow him to defeat the Alliance. Yet, this scheme would also render Cao Cao’s naval army to be dreadfully susceptible to a fire attack. Cao Cao was so enamored by the allure of removing the seasickness from his army that he threw caution to the wind and embraced Pang Tong’s plan.
The Alliance has successfully chained the 苦肉計 stratagem to the 借刀殺人 ruse. If the final stratagem was successfully employed, the stage would be set for an overwhelming victory for an Alliance. Would Cao Cao fall under the spell of the Symphony of Stratagems strung by Maestro Zhou Yu? We shall see.