Monday, July 7, 2008

The Way of the General – Part I

Knowing People

Due to the relative popularity of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms posts, I am starting another topic, based on the Zhuge Liang’s treatise “The Way of the General”. Whilst Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” may be familiar to many, most of you may not be acquainted to Zhuge Liang’s treatise. Click on the link above to read the complete book.

In each post, I will analyze some excerpts from his book, translated by Thomas Cleary. A review of the application of his essays will be looked at various periods, during the Romance of the Three Kingdoms era.

Knowing People

Nothing is harder to see into people’s natures. Though good and bad are different, their conditions and appearances are not always uniform.

1. There are some people who are nice enough but steal.
2. Some people are outwardly respectful while inwardly making fools of everyone.
3. Some people are brave on the outside yet cowardly on the inside.
4. Some people do their best but are not loyal.

Hard though it is, to know people, there are ways.

1. First is to question them concerning right and wrong, to observe their ideas.
2. Second is to exhaust all their arguments, to see how they change.
3. Third is to consult with them about strategy, to see how perceptive they are.
4. Fourth is to announce that there is trouble, to see how brave they are.
5. Fifth is to present them with the prospect of gain, to see how modest they are.
6. Sixth is to give them a task to do within a specific time, to see how trustworthy they are.


Let us return to view Dong Zhuo’s meteoric rise to power. His success in recruiting Lu Bu was the pillar of his success in seizing control over the remnants of the Han Empire. During his latter days, his hubris clouded his understanding Lu Bu’s psychology, ultimately contributing to his untimely death.

Ensnaring the Flying General
Following the death of Emperor Ling in 189 AD, Supreme General He Jin summoned Dong Zhuo to lead his troops into Luoyang and aid him in eliminating the powerful eunuch faction. Before Dong Zhuo arrived, however, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs and the capital fell into chaos. The eunuchs then kidnapped Emperor Shao
and headed out of the capital. They were intercepted by Dong Zhuo, who brought the Emperor back to the palace.

At this time, Dong Zhuo had intended to install his puppet, Prince Xian to the throne of the Han Empire. He was opposed vigorously by Ding Yuan, the Imperial Protector of Bingzhou, another warlord summoned by He Jin. Angered by Ding Yuan’s opposition, Dong Zhuo would have slain him. However, Ding Yuan was escorted by none other than his adopted son, the famous Flying General - Lu Bu.

Dong Zhuo, recognising Lu Bu’s prowess and skills as a warrior coveted to recruit him. However, would Lu Bu submit to Dong Zhuo and betray his adopted father? Or would be angered by such an attempt and exert all his efforts in destroying Dong Zhuo?

Present them with the prospect of gain, to see how modest they are.
Li Su, a subordinate of Dong Zhuo suggested the following:
“You have a fine horse, Red Hare, one of the best ever bred. I must have this steed, and gold and pearls to win his heart. Then will I go and persuade him. He will certainly abandon Ding Yuan's service for yours."

Some people do their best but are not loyal.
Li Su then secretly met Lu Bu and enticed him with the lavish gifts. Pondering long and in silence, he replied:
"I might slay Ding Yuan and bring over his soldiers to Dong Zhuo's side. What think you of that?"

That very night, Lu Bu entered, sword in hand, into his master's tent. He found Ding Yuan reading by the light of a solitary candle and slew him. Next day, with the head of the murdered man as his gift, Lu Bu betook himself to Li Su, who led him to Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo received him with a warm welcome and had wine set before him.

Thus, with Ding Yuan’s death and his army torn asunder, Dong Zhuo became the sole warlord in control of the Han Capital, Luo Yang. AD190 marked the beginning of Dong Zhuo’s reign of terror.

In life, it is important observe the person you are dealing with. If you are discerning enough, observe their deeds, demeanor and speech at all times. Whilst they may maintain a facade, it is impossible for continue doing so, at all times. Use Zhuge Liang’s advice to understand a person’s true nature.



Thanks Avatar for continuing on this series. Looks like the flying general's virtues hardly match his prowess as a highly skilled warrior. We see here that he can be so easily won over and corrupted by lavish gifts. Later we know that his loyalty will again be subject to the "Hall of Beauty" test.
Unfortunately,people of his ilk and kind are a dime aplenty even today. Talented but too full of themselves and therefore highly susceptible to temptations. After 2,000 plus years, it's sad to see that humility as a virtue is still often mistaken for stupidity.



I am a fan of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and an avid reader of The Art of War of Sun Tzu. This new book of Zhuge LIang is indeed a new foound treasure for me because I do have an organization and it involves dealing with people on a daily basis.

Thanks for this post! I am a fan of Lu Bei


Thanks for visiting my blog ( and for suggeting yours. A fan of Cao Cao, Zhuge Liang, Sun Bin, and the other heros of the Three Kingdoms, I'll come back for inspiration.

- Kaihan


Dear All,

Thank you all for your comments. Even though it's 2,000 years later, people are still people and we haven't changed or learnt much. :(

That's why it's important to learn from history. :)


Yes I do agree with that.. human instincts remain the same that is why the great philosophers writings are still very useful.



I couldn't agree with you more.

So don't be surprised if you see some posts on 'The Prince' by Niccolò Machiavelli in 2009 :)



Your six ways of knowing people is truly interesting!
I think these are very good guidelines for us to determine a person character.



Dear M.Boss,

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I wish they were my six ways of knowing people but due credit should be given to Zhuge Liang :)

Please do check out his book, the Way of the General or this series of posts as they have some other useful advice as well.


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