Monday, June 16, 2008

Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Part VI


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.



The other question is:Can Cao Cao be so beguiled by Pang Tong, a defector he just met? What about the opinions of his other loyal lieutenants? If Cao Cao submits to the plan (and I don't remember now and will await the next instalment eagerly), then it just goes to show that bodeking to high heaven works then and works now to gain a person's trust!This guy, Pang Tong must have been one heck of a bigtime bodek kaki in those times.



Dear Paladin,

How perceptive of you!

Ahem, I must admit Pang Tong was skillful in the arts of flattery and beguiling with words.

Here's the relevant extract that will provide the missing link to your question:

When Cao Cao heard that the newcomer was Master Young Phoenix, Cao Cao went to meet him personally, made him very welcome, and soon they sat down to talk on friendly terms.

Cao Cao said, "And so Zhou Yu in his youth is conceited and annoys his officers and rejects all their advice: I know that. But your fame has been long known to me, and now that you have been gracious enough to turn my way, I pray you not to be thrifty of your advice."

"I, too, know well that you are a model of military strategy," said Pang Tong, "but I should like to have one look at your disposition."

So horses were brought, and the two rode out to the lines, host and visitor on equal terms, side by side. They ascended a hill whence they had a wide view of the land base.

After looking all round Pang Tong remarked, "Wu Qi the Great General*, came to life again, could not do better, nor Sun Zi the Famed Strategist* if he reappeared! All accords with the precepts. The camp is beside the hills and is flanked by a forest. The front and rear are within sight of each other. Gates of egress and ingress are provided, and the roads of advance and retirement are bent and broken."

"Master, I entreat you not to overpraise me, but to advise me where I can make further improvements," said Cao Cao.

Then the two men rode down to the naval camp, where twenty four gates were arranged facing south. The cruisers and the battleships were all lined up so as to protect the lighter crafts which lay inside. There were channels to pass to and fro and fixed anchorages and stations.

Pang Tong surveying all this smiled, saying, "Sir Prime Minister, if this is your method of warfare, you enjoy no empty reputation."

Then pointing to the southern shore, he went on, "Zhou Yu! Zhou Yu! You are finished. You will have to die."

Cao Cao was mightily pleased. They rode back to the chief tent and wine was brought. 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.


Even great Rulers are susceptible to flattery and praise, so don't look down on such skills! :)


There were only a few first class advisors able to see through the stratagems set up by the Alliance.

However, none of them were around.
Cao Cao's most able advisor, Guo Jia has passed away earlier and he had yet to find a suitable replacement.

The other Generals did not have the foresight and were of same opinion as Cao Cao - namely that a fire attack was not possible.

This was because the wind was blowing on a southern direction, consistently, since they established their naval base.

The Alliance, having thorough knowledge of the local conditions, realized that the wind direction would soon change to a northern direction. They took advantage of the lack of knowlege on Cao Cao's part, into goading him into chaining his ships.


Interesting insight to the postings. Cao Cao is badly let down by his advisors or intelligence work, more so his judgement of character have failed him in this case. As a leader, a good judgement of character is prerequisite. As always, looking forward to your next posting.
Time to burn the boats!


Dear Anonymous,

Cao Cao rarely made major blunders. Still, no one is perfect and he made several missteps this time.

My posts in R03K are scheduled every Monday, so do drop by on Mondays :)

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