The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Way of the General

Over at the Dao of Strategy blog, there was a translation of the introduction of a book about Zhuge Liang, one of the most famous strategists in history and one of the main characters in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Below is an excerpt. The original post may be read here.

The Way of the General

Translator’s Introduction
Authored by Zhuge Liang (Kongming)
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Translator’s Introduction
Zhuge Liang, commonly known by his style, Kongming, was born around the year 180, the son of a provincial official in the later days of the Han dynasty. At that time, the dynasty was thoroughly decrepit, nearly four hundred years old and on the verge of collapse. For most of his adult life, Zhuge Liang was to play a major role in the power struggles and civil wars that followed the demise of the ancient Han.
Orphaned at an early age, he and his younger brother were taken in by an uncle, a local governor in southern China. When this uncle was replaced with another officer, he and his charges went to join an old family friend, a member of the powerful Liu clan who was currently a governor in central China. The imperial house of Han was a branch of the greater Liu clan, which as a whole retained considerable wealth, prestige, and influence even after the passing of the Han dynasty itself.
Zhuge Liang’s uncle died during his sojourn in central China. Then in his twenties, Zhuge stayed there, supporting himself by farming. According to Record of the Three Kingdoms, at this early age Zhuge Liang was aware of his own genius, but few took him seriously; he was, after all, an orphan and subsistence farmer. His fortunes took a turn, however, when the great warrior Liu Bei, founder of the kingdom of Shu in western China, garrisoned in the area where Zhuge Liang was living.
A member of the influential Xu clan, which produced many outstanding Taoists of the early churches, recommended Zhuge to the warrior chief. According to Record of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge’s friend said to Liu Bei, “Zhuge Kongming is a dragon in repose - would you want to meet him?”
Liu Bei said, “You come with him.”
The friend said, “It is possible to go see this man, but you cannot make him come to you. You, General, should go out of your way to look in on him.”
The record states that Liu Bei finally went to see Zhuge Liang, adding that he had to go no fewer than three times before the young genius agreed to meet the warrior chieftain. When at length they were together, the record continues, Liu Bei dismissed everyone else so that he could be alone with Zhuge Liang. Then he said, “The house of Han is collapsing; treacherous officials are usurping authority; the emperor is blinded by the dust.” The warrior lord went on to solicit Zhuge’s advice.
Zhuge Liang told Liu Bei: “Ever since the beginning of the current power struggle for what is left of the Han empire, many prefectures and districts have been taken over by such men. If you compare current contenders for national power, one of them - the notorious Cao Cao - was once an unknown with a small force, yet he was able to overcome another warlord with a much large following. The reason the weaker was able to prevail over the stronger is not simply a matter of celestial timing, but also of human planning. Cao Cao now has a million followers; he controls the emperor and gives orders to the lords - he can not really be opposed.”
“Another warlord, in control of the area east of the river, is already the third generation hegemon there. The territory is rugged and the people are loyal to him; the intelligent and capable serve in his employ. He would be a suitable ally, but he cannot be counted on”
“Here there is ease of communications and transport. It is a land suitable for military operations. If its ruler cannot keep it this would seem to be a boon to a general. Do you have any interest in it? To the southwest are precipitous natural barriers beyond which lie vast fertile plains. That land is called the heavenly precinct, and it is where the Han dynasty really began.”
“Now the governor of that region is ignorant and weak. To the north is the stronghold of the independent Taoist cult of Celestial Masters. The people are robust and the land is rich, but they do not know how to take care of it. Men of knowledge and ability want to find an enlightened leader.”
“General, you are a descendant of the imperial family, and are known everywhere for integrity and justice. You gather heroic men and eagerly seek the wise. If you occupy this whole region, guard the crags and defiles, establish good relations with the foreign tribes to the west and south, make friends with the warlord east of the river, and work to perfect internal organization, then when there is a upheaval in the total political situation and you mobilize your armies, the common people will surely welcome you with food and drink. If you can really do this, hegemony can be established, and the house of Han can be revived.”
Liu Bei agreed, and it turned out as planned.
Zhuge became one of his top strategists since then.

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