Liang Zhu-ge's Letter Written Before He Set Out on a Campaign
II (November 228 CE)
Zhu-ge, Liang (181-234 CE)
The late king thought that the Kingdom of Shu-Han and its enemy should not
coexist and that our goal should be more ambitious than simply retaining
sovereignty over the single State of Yi. Consequently, he entrusted me with the
mission of sending troops to eliminate our enemy. Given the late king's
cleverness, he certainly understood that my talent was not sufficient to resist
the strong enemy. However, we knew that if we did not attack our enemy, the
enemy would attack us. We would rather fight than sit and wait for our demise.
Therefore, the late king did not hesitate to entrust me with the mission.
After I received the late king's order, I slept fitfully and ate food without
knowing its taste. I thought that if our was to go on a northern expedition, it
would be better to conquer the southern tribes first. Consequently, in May I led
troops across the Lu River and went deep into the wilderness. One day's food
supply had to last for two days. This was not because I did not know how to take
care of myself; it was because I did not think the kingdom should be content to
retain sovereignty at the capital of Shu-Han. Therefore, I took the risk to
pursue the will of the late king. However, many court officials were skeptical
about this strategy. Now our enemy is fatigued in the west 1 and is
also engaging in a losing battle in the east 2. Military strategy and
tactics tell us to seize the right moment. It is time for us to attack the
enemy. In the following I will explain why we must do so:
Emperor Gao-zu of the Han dynasty was as bright as the sun and the moon. The
plans of his advisors were profound. However, he was still besieged in Rong-yang
City. And carried an arrow wound to his chest 3. You are not as
talented as Emperor Gao-zu and your advisor are not as good as Liang Chang and
Ping Chen 4. However, you are trying to defeat the enemy with a
long-term plan and trying to unify China by sitting and waiting for the enemy's
demise. How can this plan be feasible? This is the first thing that I do not
understand. You Liu 5 and Lang Wang
6 occupied large
cities. Whenever they discussed security plans, they frequently quoted the
maxims of sages. However, they failed to attack the enemy at an early stage and
appeased them year after year. The appeasement allowed Ce Sun
expand his military power and annex the area east of the Yangtze River. Why are
we letting our golden opportunity slip away? This is the second thing that I do
not understand. Cao Cao's cleverness and strategic ability were distinguished.
The way he commanded troops was similar to the way Wu Sun and Qi Wu had done so
8. However he fought desperately at Nan-yang City
risked his life at Wu-chao City 10, encountered a crisis at Qi-lian
City 11, was brought at bay and withdrew to Li-yang City
almost lost the battle at Bai-lang Mountain 13, and nearly died at
Tong-guan City 14. Through all these crises and frustrations, he
temporarily unified Northern China. Considering that I am not as talented as Cao
Cao, how can we unify China without taking risks? This is the third thing that I
do not understand. Cao Cao launched offensives against Ba Chang five times and
could not conquer him 15. He ordered his troops to cross Lake Chao
four different times, but he never succeeded 16. He appointed Fu Li,
but Fu Li planned to assassinate him 17. He entrusted
with the task of defending the State of "Han-zhong", but Xia-hou was defeated by
King Bei Liu. Even though the late king often praised Cao Cao for his talent, he
still suffered such tremendous losses. In addition, I am not as talented as Cao
Cao. How can I be expected to win every battle? This is the fourth thing that I
do not understand. In the year since I arrived in the State of Han-zhong, we
lost Generals Yun Zhao, Qun Yang, Yu Ma, Zhi Yan, Li Ding, Shou Bo and Ge Liu,
more than 70 captains and station officers, and more than 1,000 brave infantry
and cavalry soldiers recruited from the tribes in States of Ba and Shu. These
were crack troops gathered from all over China for several decades. They cannot
be rebuilt from a single state. If we wait for several more years, we would lose
two thirds of our original resources. On what could we rely to fight against our
enemy? This is the fifth thing that I do not understand. Now our people are
growing poor and our soldiers are exhausted. However, we should not stop
pursuing unifying China. Given that we and our enemy cannot coexist and that the
cost and manpower required for attack and defense are the same, we should attack
our enemy early. Otherwise, with its large occupied region the enemy can grow
strong quickly. Therefore, how can we defeat them by fighting a protracted war
with the land of a single state? This is the sixth thing that I do not
The most difficult thing to predict is victory. When the late king was
defeated by Cao Cao in the State of Chu 18, Cao Cao expressed his joy
by clapping hands and proclaimed that he had conquered China. Then the late king
allied with the Kingdom of Wu in the east, captured the States of Ba and Shu in
the west, and led troops on a northern expedition. Hou-yuan Xia, the commander
of Wei's troops was killed. Because of this miscalculation of Cao Cao, we were
about to achieve our goal. Unexpectedly, the Kingdom of Wu violated the treaty
of alliance and launched a surprise attack on Jing-zhou City. Our general, Yu
Guan 19, was killed. Because he was deeply affected by his friendís
death, the late king rashly attacked the Kingdom of Wu in revenge for Guan.
Sadly, he was defeated by Sun Lu, Wu's general, at Zi-gui City. Then Pei Cao
20 declared himself emperor. It was difficult to foresee that things
would happen this way. All I can do is exert myself to the utmost until my
death. Whether I can succeed or whether my effort will improve or worsen our
circumstance is beyond my prediction.
1 In 227 CE, Liang Zhu-ge attacked Qi-shan County, Nan-an County, and
An-ding County. They all defected from the Kingdom of Wei and pledged allegiance
to the Kingdom of Shu-Han. The entire State of Guan-zhong (present day Shaanxi
Province) responded to the call of Liang Zhu-ge.
Xiu Cao of Wei and Sun Lu fought at Shi-ting City. Xiu Cao suffered a
3 "An arrow wound to his chest" refers to a wound incurred when Yu Xiang shot
Emperor Gao-zuís chest from a hidden location.
Both Liang Chang and Ping Chen were Emperor Gao-zu's advisors.
Zheng-li was You Liu's other first name. He was a native of Mou-ping City
in the Kingdom of Wu during the Three Kingdoms Period. During the Xing-ping
Period of the Eastern Han dynasty, he was appointed to be the Mayor of Yang-zhou
City. However, Shu Yuan occupied the area south of the Huai River. Liu did not
dare go there and assume his office. Jing Wu and Bi Sun invited him to Qu-a
City. When Ce Sun crossed the Yangtze River and reached its east side, Liu was
stationed at Peng-ze City to protect Yu-zhang County. Soon after he died from
Jing-xing was Lang Wangís other first name. He was a native of Tan City in
the Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdom Period. During Emperor Wen's reign
in the Wei dynasty, he was appointed to be an official in charge of civil
engineering, was made Duke of Le-ping-xiang, and was given a posthumous name,
cheng (success), by the emperor. He was originally the assistant of Qian Tao,
the Mayor of Xu City. Because he persuaded Qian to assist the emperor in times
of crisis, the emperor appointed him Mayor of Kuai-ji City. Later, he was
defeated by Ce Sun.
Ce Sun was Chuan Sun's elder brother. Bo-fu was Ce Sun's other first name.
Both Wu Sun of the Spring-fall Period and Qi Wu of the Warring States
Period mastered in military strategy and tactics.
This refers to the time when Cao Cao fought against Xiu Zhang at Wan-cheng
City. Cao Cao was wounded by a stray arrow.
This refers to the time when Cao Cao attacked Qiong Chun-yu, a general of
This refers to the time when Cao Cao besieged Shang Yuan at Qi-lian City.
This refers to the time when Cao Cao attacked Tan Yuan and his brother.
13 "Bai-lang" means white wolf. The crisis refers to the time when Cao Cao
fought against Huan Wu at Bai-lang Mountain.
This refers to the time when Cao Cao attacked Chao Ma and Sui Han at
Tong-guan City. Chao Ma led 10,000 infantry and cavalry troops to meet head-on
with Cao Cao's army. The arrows fell as densely as heavy rain.
This refers to the time when Ba Chang of East Sea rebelled and Cao Cao
responded by sending Dai Liu and Zhong Wang to crush him five times.
This refers to the battles in which Cao Cao engaged to attack Chuan Sun,
the King of Kingdom Wu.
Some people think that Fu Li refers to Fu Wang. He conspired with Cheng
Dong to assassinate Cao Cao.
18 "In the State of Chu" refers to a general area. The specific place where Cao Cao defeated the late king was Chang-ban Slope at Dang-yang City.
Yun-chang was Yu Guan's other first name. He was given a posthumous title,
Zhuang-mu (strong with depth) Duke. Here the statement says that Yu Guan was
killed at Jing-zhou City.
Pei Cao was the eldest son of Cao Cao. He demoted Emperor Xian of the
Eastern Han dynasty to the position of Duke of Shan-yang and declared himself