Monday, August 25, 2008

The Way of the General - Part VIII

Decadence in Generals

There are eight kinds of decadence in generalship:

First is to be insatiably greedy.
Second is to be jealous and envious of the wise and able.
Third is to believe slanders and make friends with the treacherous.
Fourth is to assess others without assessing oneself.
Fifth is to be hesitant and indecisive.
Sixth is to be heavily addicted to wine and sex.
Seventh is to be a malicious liar with a cowardly heart.
Eighth is to talk wildly, without courtesy.

According to legend, Zhang Fei together swore an oath of brotherhood with Liu Bei and Guan Yu, known as the Oath of the Peach Garden. His exploits indicate him to me a masterful general, rather than merely a valiant warrior. Yet, he too, had his faults. Often treating his superiors with respect, he showed little courtesy for his subordinates. All too often, he was warned by Liu Bei that his habit of over-punishing his own soldiers by lashing and sometimes killing them, would bring about his own disaster.

To Guard A City
Prior to the Battle of the Red Cliffs, rivals Liu Bei and Lu Bu struggled for supremacy in Central China. At one time, Liu Bei had to leave his base Xu Zhou and carry out the Imperial Command to capture Yuan Shu. Zhang Fei volunteered to undertake the task of guarding the city. This was what transpired.

‘You will fail,’ said Liu Bei. ‘After one of your drinking bouts, you will get savage and flog the soldiers. Beside you are rash and will not listen to anyone's advice. I shall be uneasy all the time.

‘Henceforth I drink no more wine. I will not beat the soldiers and I will always listen to advice,’ said Zhang Fei.

‘I fear the mouth does not correspond to the heart,’ said Mi Zhu, one of Liu Bei’s advisors.

‘I have followed my elder brother these many years and never broken faith. Why should you be contemptuous?’ said Zhang Fei.

Thus Liu Bei relented and left Zhang Fei in charge of the city of Xu Zhou.

Heavily Addicted to Wine, Talk Wildly without Courtesy
In Xuzhou, after Liu Bei had started on his expedition, Zhang Fei gave a banquet to all the military officers and said:

‘Before my brother left, he bade me keep clear of the wine cup for fear of accidents. Now, gentlemen, you may drink deep today. But from tomorrow wine is forbidden, for we must keep the city safe. So take your fill.’

And with this he and all his guests rose to drink together. The wine bearer came to Cao Bao who declined it, saying, ‘I never drink as I am forbidden of heaven.’

‘What! A fighting man does not drink wine!’ said the host. "I want you to take just one cup.’

Cao Bao was afraid to offend, so he drank.

Now Zhang Fei drank huge goblets with all his guests on every hand and so swallowed a huge quantity of liquor. He became quite intoxicated. Yet he would drink more and insisted on a cup with every guest. It came to the turn of Cao Bao who declined despite Zhang Fei’s persistence.

Then Zhang Fei in his drunken madness lost control of his temper and said, ‘If you disobey the orders of your general, you shall be beaten one hundred strokes.’

The guests interposed to beg him off, but their drunken host was obdurate, and the unhappy guest received fifty blows. Then at the earnest prayers of the others the remainder of the punishment was remitted.

The banquet came to an end, and the beaten Cao Bao went away burning with resentment. That night he sent a letter to Lu Bu in Xiaopei relating the insults he had received from Zhang Fei. The letter told Lu Bu of Liu Bei's absence and proposed that a sudden raid should be made that very night before Zhang Fei had recovered from his drunken fit.

Lu Bu got ready at once and soon arrived at Xu Zhou with five hundred cavalrymen. The guards on the wall were Cao Bao's people, and they opened the gates to let Lu Bu in. Zhang Fei was in his apartment sleeping off the fumes of wine. His servants hastened to arouse him and told him an enemy had got the gates open.

Zhang Fei savagely got into his armor and laid hold of his mighty serpent halberd. But as he was mounting his horse at the gate, the attacking soldiers came up. He rushed at them but being still half intoxicated, he made but a poor fight. Lu Bu knowing Zhang Fei's prowess did not press him hard, and Zhang Fei made his way, with eighteen leading Guards of Yan, to the east gate, and there went out, leaving Liu Bei's family to their fate.

Zhang Fei with his few followers went to his brother's camp at Xuyi and told his story of treachery and surprise. All were greatly distressed.

‘Success is not worth rejoicing over; failure is not worth grieving over.’ said Liu Bei with a sigh.

One should be wary of the eight kinds of decadence in one’s own character as well. Often it is easy to perceive the faults of others, yet difficult to realize the faults of one’s own.



hi avatar, this is a great post. indeed a general not in control of his own emotions will only meet with his own downfall. no matter how brilliant, the general cannot go very far.


Dear Falling Stones,

Thanks for dropping by and commenting :)

Indeed, you are right. It's disoncerting to note that both Guan Yu and Zhang Fei met sad ends.

And in part, these were largely due to their weaknesses.


Zhang Fei was a great general but unfortunately he was a rash man and was not courteous of his own man. His own hash attitude later caused his own soldier to betray him and kill him. Very sad indeed.


Dear Will Chua,

You're right. His harsh treatment of his subordinates was his downfall. That's a story for another time though.


Marketing Deviant

Making light of words made Zhang Fei arrogant and boastful. He took drinking too lightly which almost ruined Liu Bei's cause.


Dear Marketing Deviant,

As the proverb goes:

'There's many a slip twixt cup and lip'.

Zhang Fei was not guarded enough and his recklessness in this instance caused Liu Bei grave distress.


  © Blogger template 'Minimalist G' by 2008

Back to TOP