Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this. - Sun Tzu
In planning, never a useless move; in strategy, no step taken in vain. - Chen Hao
The main enemy of the Kingdom of Shu, in western China, was the Kingdom of Wei, in northern China. But the Mans tribe in the far south had rebelled, raiding into Shu territory, aided by three Shu leaders on the border who had revolted. K'ung-ming, commander of the armies of Shu, felt that Shu's southern border must be secure before he could turn his attention fully to attacking Wei.
Though much of his campaign against the Mans relied on their military naivete, and while the account is certainly fictionalized in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (particularly the repeated captures of the Mans king) the campaign is still a brilliant socio-military blueprint of how to conduct a successful anti-guerilla campaign in hostile territory. K'ung-ming aimed his entire strategy at the hearts of the Mans people and leader, inflicting defeats only as a means to that end.
K'ung-ming's problem was this: The country of the Mans was mountainous, malarial and the people hostile. Even if he could defeat them, they would just revolt again when he left. Or, if he left the country garrisoned, his men would be subject to the unhealthy climate, and controlling the land would become a constant drain on the resources of Shu.
As one advisor put it: "If you should overcome them today, tomorrow they would revolt. Even in arms it is best to attack hearts rather than cities; to fight with sentiment is better than to fight with weapons."
Crushing the Rebellion
K'ung-ming first dealt with the rebellious Shu leaders, sowing suspicion among the three rebel leaders, Kao Ting, Yung K'ai and Chu Pao. Though K'ung-ming's force numbered 50 legions, against just five legions for his foes, K'ung-ming barely made use of his army.
At the first encounter between the Shu loyalists and rebels, O Huan, a champion of the rebels, pursued a fleeing Shu soldier, fell into an ambush, and was captured.
K'ung-ming brought him into his tent, had his bonds removed, gave him a cup of wine and told him that his commander, Kao Ting, was loyal but had been led astray by Yung K'ai. He then set O Huan free, telling him to persuade Kao Ting to surrender.
On hearing the story, Kao Ting was touched that K'ung-ming thought highly of him, but Yung K'ai (correctly) said it was a trick to divide them.
After K'ung-ming attacked the rebel army, driving it back, Kao Ting and Yung K'ai attempted a night attack, attacking opposite sides of K'ung-ming's camp. But K'ung-ming anticipated the attack and the raiders fell into an ambush. Many were killed or captured.
The captured men belonging to Kao Ting were kept separate from those of Yung K'ai and K'ung-ming spread the rumor that while Kao Ting's troops would be allowed to live, Yung K'ai's troops would be executed.
Then K'ung-ming asked Yung K'ai's soldiers the name of their commander. Not wanting to be executed, they lied and said, "Kao Ting," at which K'ung-ming gave them food and wine and released them.
But to Kao Ting's men, he said he had just received a message from Yung K'ai saying he would surrender and bring the heads of the Kao Ting and Chu Pao as proof of his good faith.
However, K'ung-ming added, he would not receive Yung K'ai. And since the men he was addressing were Kao Ting's men, he told them they could go free, but that they must not attack his army again.
These men, of course, told Kao Ting that Yung K'ai planned to kill him. But Kao Ting didn't quite believe it and sent a spy to K'ung-ming's camp to find out for sure.
K'ung-ming captured Kao Ting's spy, but pretended the man was from Yung K'ai.
"Why has your leader failed to send me the heads of Kao (Ting) and Chu (Pao) as he promised?" K'ung-ming asked.
K'ung-ming then gave the spy food and wine, then handed him a note to take to Yung K'ai, knowing, of course, that the message would instead end up in Kao Ting's hands.
Reading the message supposedly meant for Yung K'ai, Kao Ting was furious with Yung K'ai. In a night attack on Yung K'ai's camp, Kao Ting killed Yung K'ai and took his head to K'ung-ming. This attack was made easier since both Kao Ting's men and Yung K'ai's men had a favorable impression of K'ung-ming. Therefore Kao Ting's soldiers were enthusiastic about attacking Yung K'ai, and Yung K'ai's men were disinclined to vigorously defend him.
But when Kao Ting appeared before K'ung-ming, K'ung-ming charged him with trickery, saying he had a letter offering to surrender from Chu Pao that also said Kao Ting and Yung K'ai were the best of friends. It was unbelievable, K'ung-ming said, that Kao Ting should now slay his best friend.
Kao Ting denied he and Yung K'ai were friends, but K'ung-ming said he could not believe it unless Kao Ting killed Chu Pao for him.
So Kao Ting killed Chu Pao, thereby ending the rebellion. For a reward K'ung-ming made him prefect of the territory.
Next, K'ung-ming turned his attention to the Mans, inflicting a series of seven defeats upon them, each followed by a reprieve for the Mans king. K'ung-ming's kindness in treating his captives well had a remarkable effect on the people, defusing hostility and winning allies in the very country he invaded.
The First Battle Against the Mans
Having captured several Mans who were willing to guide them, the Shu troops launched a surprise attack on the Mans camps that completely defeated them and captured several enemy chiefs, who were fed and released after being told not to attack the Shu army again.
Then Mênghuo, king of the Mans, came to attack. Noticing what appeared to be the disarray of the Shu troops, he attacked vigorously, pushing the men of Shu back about 20 li (6.2 miles). Then suddenly two Shu units appeared on either flank and attacked. The Mans were surrounded and Mênghuo just managed to escape, but fell into an ambush and was captured.
K'ung-ming, in a tent bedecked in imperial splendor, treated Mênghuo and the other captives well, telling Mênghuo's followers they had been misled by Mênghuo and that their families were anxiously waiting for them to return. Then he let them go.
Then he asked Mênghuo why he had rebelled. But Mênghuo replied that his people had lived there for ages and it was the Chinese who were in the wrong for invading his country.
When K'ung-ming offered to release him, Mênghuo said he would fight again, but agreed that if K'ung-ming could catch him again, he would submit permanently.
Confident of his ability to recapture Mênghuo, K'ung-ming released him.
The Second Battle
Mênghuo raised a second army, this time building a fortified camp on the south side of the Lu River, waiting while the hot, malarial weather took a toll on K'ung-ming's troops.
But K'ung-ming found a ford, marched a unit across and encamped it astride Mênghuo's supply line. Mênghuo tried to reopen the line by sending three companies to attack the camp, but they were repulsed. Mênghuo then sent another three companies in a second attack and at the same time guarded the ford to keep any more of K'ung-ming's troops from crossing.
But the commander of the second attack force had earlier been freed by K'ung-ming, and when he came near the Shu force, was reproached for his ingratitude. Ashamed, he turned away without attacking, but was beaten by Mênghuo for his refusal to obey.
Mênghuo's captains, however, had been well treated by K'ung-ming when they were first captured and resented the beating of a fellow officer, so they captured Mênghuo and took him to K'ung-ming.
Again K'ung-ming asked if Mênghuo would submit, but Mênghuo refused, saying the capture was his own men's doing, not K'ung-ming's. But, he said, if he was captured again, he would submit.
Already setting his next trap, K'ung-ming showed Mênghuo all his camp, - its disciplined men, plentiful supplies and weaponry - telling him he was foolish not to submit. But then he let him go again.
The Third Battle
Mênghuo, now knowing the layout of the Chinese camp from this guided tour, sent his brother with gifts to K'ung-ming, ostensibly to thank him for his kind treatment, but with the hidden intention of infiltrating his brother and his escort into the camp, then attacking the camp from the outside while his brother attacked from the inside.
Mênghuo's brother and the gifts were politely received in the Chinese camp. But when Mênghuo arrived with his raiding party, he found the Shu camp empty, except for his brother and his escort, who lay in a stupor in K'ung-ming's tent. K'ung-ming has pressed drugged wine upon them, ostensibly in thanks for the gifts.
Realizing he was the victim of a ruse, Mênghuo decided to quickly return to his main army, but immediately found himself attacked by Shu troops. He escaped along a path intentionally left open by K'ung-ming and made his way down to the river, where he saw a boat manned by what appeared to be his troops. But they were K'ung-ming's troops, and when he stepped aboard, he was captured.
Again Mênghuo refused to submit, again promised to do so if captured again, and again K'ung-ming released him.
The Fourth Battle
Raising another army, this time of 10 legions of Mans and Laos, Mênghuo approached the three Shu camps, now located on the south side of the Lu River, but connected to the north side by a floating bamboo bridge.
Noting the fierce anger of Mênghuo's troops, K'ung-ming would not allow his troops to leave their stockades.
After several days Mênghuo's men calmed down, becoming careless. At this point K'ung-ming retired to the north side of the river and cut the floating bridge free. He secretly floated it down river to a new location so two of his commanders could cross.
When the Mans discovered the Shu troops had left, they occupied the camp and found it disorganized, as if the Shu men had retreated quickly. But soon they saw the Shu forces in good order camped on the north side.
They began to make rafts to cross the river, suspecting that the kingdom of Wei or Wu had attacked Shu and that K'ung-ming had therefore been recalled. The camp on the north side, they thought, was just temporarily and intended to deceive them.
But far from retreating, the Shu army used its floating bridge to secretly recross the river, then, under cover of a storm, attacked the Mans/Laos occupying the old Shu camp on the south side of the river. In the confusion the Mans and Laos began fighting among themselves. Mênghuo fought his way back to his former camp, only to find it occupied by Shu troops. He turned away, forced by blocking Shu units into the one path K'ung-ming wished him to take. As he fled he came to a point where K'ung-ming awaited him. Seeing K'ung-ming, Mênghuo attacked in a rage, but as they charged forward he and his men fell into pits that had been dug for them.
Captured again, he again refused to submit and was again released.
The Fifth Battle
This time Mênghuo resolved to avoid battle and remain in an easily defended position in the mountains - a location that had only two approaches. One of these approaches could be easily blocked, and the other was blazing hot, along a dangerously steep path with poisonous springs, scorpions, snakes and malaria. Mênghuo thought his position unapproachable.
With supernatural help, K'ung-ming found a cure for the poisonous springs and a safeguard against malaria, and was able to approach Mênghuo without incident. With the Shu troops unexpectedly nearby, Mênghuo's subordinates lost heart, captured him and turned him over to K'ung-ming.
Again Mênghuo promised to submit the next time, and again K'ung-ming released him.
The Sixth Battle
Mênghuo then retreated to his palace fortress in a well-defended ravine in the mountains. It was a traditional stronghold of the Mans kings. Further, he was aided by a sorcerer who could call up wind and rain and command dangerous animals.
K'ung-ming's army approached but was was driven away by poisoned arrows from the well-defended fortress. But when K'ung-ming ordered his army to retreat 10 li (3.1 miles) the Mans mistakenly thought they had permanently driven away the Shu troops and became lax in watching their walls.
Then K'ung-ming ordered every man to fill a coat with earth and offered a reward to the first men to reach the fortress wall. So inspired, dirt and all, the Shu troops quickly reached the city wall. Upon arriving, they were ordered to pour out the dirt to make a ramp against the wall, then the men of Shu and their native allies used the ramp to mount the wall and capture the city.
Forced out of his palace fortress, Mênghuo's army retreated and the troops of Shu followed. But in an engagement, Mênghuo's wife, skilled at fighting, captured one of K'ung-ming's champions in single combat. But she, in turn, was captured when her next opponent feigned retreat and led her into an ambush. She was exchanged for K'ung-ming's champion.
Then the sorcerer arrived, and with his aid Mênghuo attacked the Shu army, which retreated into the city it had captured. But then K'ung-ming used his own magic to turn the sorcerer's magic back on his own army.
With this defeat Mênghuo was again turned over to K'ung-ming by his own people, again refused to submit, and again promised to submit the next time he was captured. Again K'ung-ming released him.
The Seventh Battle
In this final battle, Mênghuo called upon the Wuko people, who wore a special rattan armor that was virtually impervious to weapons.
To meet this new threat, K'ung-ming scouted the countryside and found a path that ran through a long, winding valley with sharp, bare hills on either side.
For half a month he prepared the valley, ordering 20 carts loaded with gunpowder into the gorge and preparing boulders and logs at the top of the slopes at the far end of the valley, ready to be pushed down to block the road.
With the Mans and Wuko approaching, K'ung-ming ordered his army to retreat whenever they were attacked during the next 15 days, each time moving toward a white flag that would be flown in the distance.
Mênghuo, by now extremely cautious of K'ung-ming, warned the Wuko king of K'ung-ming's preference for ambushes and urged him to be very careful.
The Wuko engaged the men of Shu and drove them off, but aware of the warning, were careful not to pursue.
Each day, after each engagement, the men of Shu retreated in disorder before the Wuko. After 15 such engagements the Wuko king decided K'ung-ming had exhausted his tricks and was almost done for.
On the sixteenth day the Wuko again attacked and pursued the Shu troops through the Coiled Serpent Valley. Seeing bare hills unable to provide cover for an ambush, the Wuko king did not fear to enter, and his soldiers mistook the gunpowder-filled carts they saw in the valley for abandoned supply wagons. Thinking the Chinese were even abandoning their supplies, they pressed on even more eagerly.
But as the Wuko troops approached the far end of the valley, great boulders and logs were suddenly pushed down into the valley, blocking their path, preventing them from pursuing the retreating Shu forces, and undoubtedly crowding the Wuko men as troops from behind continued to advance toward the blockade. The Wuko cleared away the obstacles and were about to resume the pursuit when they saw burning carts blocking the road ahead. The king stopped the advance and ordered his men to find a way around.
But suddenly torches were flung down the hill sides, where they touched fuses leading through bamboo tubes to the gunpowder mines. The ground shook with the explosions of buried mines, spaced about 30 paces apart. Those Wuko not killed directly by the explosions were killed when their highly flammable rattan armor caught fire.
Mênghuo, who had been waiting for news of victory, was approached by a group of Mans soldiers (actually Mans supporting K'ung-ming) who told him the Wuko were about to destroy K'ung-ming's army, but needed his help.
Mênghuo rode out to help, then saw the destruction in the valley, realized what happened and began to ride away, but was surrounded and captured by Shu troops.
Instead of receiving Mênghuo, this time K'ung-ming just sent an officer to release him, but instead Mênghuo wept and begged K'ung-ming's pardon and promised the Mans would offer no more opposition.
K'ung-ming treated Mênghuo to a banquet, confirmed him in his leadership of the Mans and restored everything he had captured.
When K'ung-ming's officials objected that after a long, arduous campaign he should appoint officials to rule the country, K'ung-ming replied that leaving Chinese rulers would mean leaving a guard for them, and that would require providing supplies for the guard.
Also, he said, the Mans were already suspicious of each other, and would be even more suspicious of foreigners.
This policy won the gratitude of the Mans, who honored K'ung-ming and presented him with gifts.
RTK, Vol. 2, pg. 276-321
© Copyright 2003, Brad Haugaard.
“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
– Proverbs 18:10