Volume 1, Chapter 12: Chained Malicious Strategies

In the twelfth month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, the Southern Chu army was battling for Luocheng. At the same time, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, was battling for Jiameng Pass. Before long, there were rumors that Great Yong and the Kingdom of Shu intended to make peace. The Prince of De, Zhao Jue, became extremely uneasy. He asked Jiang Zhe for a strategy and secretly discussed the matter for some time. The next day, the Chu army assaulted the city with extreme urgency. On the nineteenth day of the twelfth month, General Wei Xian was killed in an ambush. At dawn the next day, the Chu army once again attacked the city. Long Bu listened to an erroneous intelligence report and sallied forth from the city to give chase and was lured into an encirclement. After battling for an entire day, men and horses tired, the Prince of De personally proceeded forward to request a surrender. Long Bu refused. In anger, he committed suicide. The Prince sighed in admiration. He personally collected Long Bu’s remains and buried them before Luocheng.

On the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, Jiameng Pass learned the news of Luocheng’s fall. The Shu army lost all desire for battle. On the twenty-eighth day of the twelfth month, Jiameng Pass fell. From then on, the Kingdom of Shu was defenseless. There were those who say that Jiang Zhe offered two stratagems—capturing the city or sowing discord. Then he had a chance encounter with Rong Yuan, a former retainer of the Prince of De, who inquired of this matter. Afterwards, Rong Yuan muttered to himself for some time. When later questioned, he refused to speak any of the particulars. Not long afterwards, Rong Yuan passed away. When others came to mourn, Rong Yuan’s son was said to speak on behalf of his deceased father that Jiang Suiyun was a genius, but unfortunately the Prince of De dared not use him.…

—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun

I set down my brush. Han Zhang left the room and opened the courtyard gate, seeing a general dressed in golden armor and a white cape. Behind him to the side stood a black-robed scholar. Behind them was a squadron of white-armored personal guards. Han Zhang had stayed within the Southern Chu army for almost a month now. How could he not know the identity of the person before him? Apprehensive, he stepped aside. Zhao Jue gave him a glance before entering the building. Rong Yuan made a gesture before following. The personal guards immediately surrounded Jiang Zhe’s study room.

I didn’t hear Han Zhang announce the visitor. Just as I was feeling strange, I saw Zhao Jue entered the room. According to propriety, I stood and bowed, saying, “For what reason has Your Highness come to my humble abode? Please excuse Suiyun for not coming out to welcome you. May Your Highness please forgive me.”

Zhao Jue first returned my greeting before apologizing, “Zhao Jue has been busy with military matters of late and has not had the opportunity to inquire after Jiang daren’s health. Please forgive me.”

I replied indifferently, “Your Highness holds a strong army within your grasp, having to deal with ten thousand matters on a daily basis. How do you have the free time to worry about this lowly official? May I ask what is the reason for Your Highness’s visit today?”

Zhao Jue glanced at Rong Yuan who hurriedly stepped forward and said with remorse, “Jiang daren, I have slighted you before, please forgive me.”

I naturally responded, “There is no need for Sir Rong to be so courteous. For the two gentlemen to have come personally, there must be a military matter of extreme importance. Please speak forthrightly.”

Rong Yuan gave an ashamed look before saying, “The Kingdom of Shu has dispatched an envoy to seek an audience with the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, to request to make peace. Li Zhi has not agreed, but also has not declined.”

As he spoke, he handed over a hefty pile of intelligence reports. They were extremely detailed, including the entire contents of the conversation between Li Zhi and Yang Can. After I read through them, I could not help but smile. This Yang Can was very similar to my first student, Lu Can. They had similar personalities, using both threats and enticements. But it was such a pity. I sighed heavily before speaking, “The Kingdom of Shu has many talented people and yet the King of Shu does not know how to use them. And yet, even though the kingdom was in peril, all of these individuals refused to abandon Shu. No wonder it is said that the people of Shu are loyal and righteous.”

Zhao Jue asked, “What is it? Has Suiyun already seen that Great Yong won’t accept the Kingdom of Shu’s peace offering?”

Smiling, I replied, “If the Prince of Yong were willing to agree to peace, he would have asked questions to ascertain the benefits. However, the Prince of Yong inquired after Sichuan’s talents. He clearly intends to win the support of these talents to govern Sichuan. Therefore, the Prince of Yong will not agree to peace.”

Furrowing his brows, Zhao Jue wondered, “But why would the Prince of Yong allow this information to spread? If our Southern Chu were to learn of this, it seems somewhat …”

In an detached voice, I explained, “The Prince of Yong is indeed capable. He deliberately allowed these rumors to be spread with the purpose of allowing our Southern Chu to learn of this. From what this lowly official knows, over the last few days, our Southern Chu has not earnestly attacked the city. I believe that Your Highness wishes that the Prince of Yong would fight a bloody battle to capture Jiameng Pass. At that point, the defenders of Luocheng will be affected and cannot be fully devoted to defending the city. When the time comes, we can easily take Luocheng.”

Zhao Jue and Rong Yuan exchanged a look. This was the strategy that they had adopted after secret discussions. They could not believe that I had seen through it so easily. The two did not say a word, but tacitly agreed. I continued, “I believe the Prince of Yong also is worried about his own losses, and has therefore used these rumors to force us to resolve this battle as soon as possible. Alas, the Prince of Yong is truly fearsome. Even if we are able to see through his intentions, what can we do? At worst, the Prince of Yong agrees to make peace with Shu, forcing us to directly face the entirety of Shu’s anger. Great Yong can tolerate Shu’s existence. As long as they control Yangping Pass, they can control the entire Hanzhong region. But to date, after bitter fighting, we have only gained control of the difficult and dangerous road into Sichuan. Our gains do not make up for our losses. We do not have the ability nor do we dare to drag this out. If Shu recovers, they will attack Southern Chu for our betrayal. At this time, this lowly official has three strategies—upper, middle, and low.”

Hearing my words, Zhao Jue became disconcerted. He asked, “What are the three strategies? Will daren please explain in detail?”

I straightforwardly clarified, “The low strategy would be to continue our current path. If Great Yong becomes impatient and first captures Jiameng Pass, then we will achieve our original aims. The only problem is if Great Yong in a fury changes its mind and decides to make peace with Shu. At that point, we will be completely defeated. With this strategy, victory and defeat are completely in the hands of the Prince of Yong.”

Zhao Jue sadly expressed, “If victory and defeat are completely in the hands of others, aren’t we completely at their mercy?1 What is the middle strategy?”

In a heavy tone, I continued, “The middle strategy would be to launch a concerted attack on Luocheng. As long as we are able to capture Luocheng, Great Yong will also forcibly attack Jiameng Pass. At that point, Shu will fall. We will attain more than we had planned, but will also lose far more than we had planned.”

Zhao Jue’s brow furrowed. He did not want to suffer too many casualties and thus had not made a concerted effort to attack Luocheng. In a heavy voice, he inquired, “Then what is the upper strategy?”

I smiled faintly as I analyzed, “We will use surprise to attack and capture the city. Our losses will not be too great. At that point, as long as we restrain ourselves during the division of spoils, we will have completely achieved our goals.”

Zhao Jue’s brow smoothed over, as he considered. “But how are we to use surprise to capture the city?”

I was well-prepared2 and expounded, “Luocheng’s garrison is split in two with one army garrisoning the city and the other army encamped outside the city. The two forces are able to assist each other. If we want to win, we must destroy the city’s external help. I recommend that we urgently attack the city. The enemy forces camped outside of the city will see the flames of battle. The outside enemy forces will immediately believe that Luocheng is in danger and come to reinforce. We can set an ambush along their path and completely annihilate this army. With outside assistance eliminated, we can turn our attention to dealing with the city garrison. Afterwards, we will once again launch another attack against the city. We will then use soldiers dressed in Shu uniforms to feign an attack our supplies, allowing them to believe that there are still Shu soldiers outside to help. We will pretend that our supplies have been destroyed and hastily retreat, enticing the city garrison to sally forth and chase us. We can place an ambush to cut off their path of retreat, tempt, and then kill the enemy’s main commander. When the time comes, it won’t take long for Luocheng to fall.”

Listening to this point, Zhao Jue crushed the teacup in his hand. This strategy was maliciously detailed. He regarded me with a newfound expression. I couldn’t make heads or tails of his gaze. Zhao Jue finally confirmed that this cultured and refined young zhuangyuan was actually someone who was so profoundly scheming and capable of such guile. Zhao Jue couldn’t help but feel a chill. He was a straightforward and upright3 person. Although he had used stratagems before, he had never used such a treacherous chained stratagem that called for an ambush and a targeted killing of an enemy commander. He unnaturally bade farewell to Jiang Zhe and went to prepare for battle.

At dusk of the sixteenth day of the twelfth month, the Southern Chu army began to furiously attack Luocheng. Not long afterwards, a blaze was ignited. Wei Xian naturally and mistakenly believed that Luocheng was in danger. He hurriedly sped over. They were ambushed along the way by Southern Chu forces. Wei Xian fought to the bitter end and was personally killed by Zhao Jue. The Shu army scattered. The Chu army tightly controlled the roads, to prevent any information from reaching Luocheng.

At dawn of the seventeenth day of the twelfth month, the Southern Chu forces once again attacked. Grand General Long Bu commanded the garrison in beating off several attacks, suffering heavy casualties. Around 1 PM, the Southern Chu army was suddenly thrown into chaos before quickly assembling and retreating. Atop the battlements, Long Bu saw that the Southern Chu encampments at Fushui Pass were aflame. At this point, Zhao Jue dispatched one of his trusted aides, disguised as a Shu army scout, to report to Long Bu with the news that Wei Xian had destroyed Southern Chu’s supplies. Jubilant, Long Bu saw that the retreat was disorderly and personally led cavalry to pursue. Seemingly defeated, the Southern Chu army scattered. Long Bu gave chase for twenty li. His return route was cut off by a Southern Chu force hidden in the mountains. The Southern Chu army formed up and encircled Long Bu.4 Leading seven thousand elite horsemen, Long Bu charged at all sides. Battling all night, entirely soaked in blood, he was wounded over a dozen times. Finally, he could no longer continue. His bodyguards were all dead and he was completely surrounded with no hope of escape. The Prince of De personally came forward to try to persuade Long Bu to surrender. Long Bu laughed loudly and replied, “My Kingdom of Shu only has decapitated generals; how can there be any who bend their knees and surrender?” Finished, Long Bu slit his throat. Sighing with admiration, Zhao Jue ordered that he be buried with honor.

On the eighteenth day of the twelfth month, the Southern Chu forces retreated to Fushui Pass to reorganize. On the nineteenth day, they launched another attack against Luocheng. With their commander dead, the garrison was unable to properly defend the city and surrendered at dusk.

On the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, Jiameng Pass received news of the fall of Luocheng. Its garrison fell into complete chaos. Chengdu was now completely exposed to the Southern Chu forces. On the same day, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, launched a large-scale assault. The pass’s defenders had lost the will to fight. On the twenty-fifth day, Jiameng Pass fell. Prime Minister Shen Jun was captured. At this point, the Kingdom of Shu was defenseless.

When the King of Shu, Meng Jun, received the news, he fainted several times. Within the royal audience chambers, he tearfully sobbed, “Sixty years have passed since the ancestors founded this kingdom. Today, everything has vanished into thin air. Although we will die, I dare not face my ancestors.” He asked for the advice of the officials. Someone advised surrender. Thinking it over, Meng Jun returned back to the palace. The court officials could only look at one another before scattering.

The twentieth year of Xiande, the eighth year of the sixty-year cycle, during the first month of the new year, the courts of Great Yong and Southern Chu celebrated the victory. In contrast, everyone in Shu was gloomy, waiting for the Great Yong and Southern Chu forces to reorganize and rendezvous before Chengdu.

Everyone in the army was celebrating. I drank a couple of cups of wine in the marshal’s tent before departing, returning to my tent. Lying down on the bed, I somewhat confusedly thought over the future. The strategy that I had proposed was only known by Zhao Jue. I had asked that my participation not be revealed. He agreed, probably because he viewed my proposed strategy as too vicious. What he didn’t know was that I had already planned to leave Southern Chu. If anyone were to find out that I was the strategist behind the victory at Luocheng, I probably would never be able to live peacefully. Victory did not bring much joy. I knew that Han Zhang wept bitterly last night, even though he made sure he wasn’t too loud and deliberately avoided his wife.

In reality, compared to my strategy, that employed by the Prince of De was the one that was vicious, forcing others to be his catspaw.5 At the time, I left out one detail. The Prince of Yong had another motive. He would use the opportunity to collect details on Southern Chu’s intelligence network, identifying those individuals who were working for Southern Chu. When the time came, he could easily eliminate these individuals. Ah … what kind of scheming was this? I didn’t deliberately leave out this detail when I advised the Prince of De. If he could not understand this simple fact, then his thinking was too sluggish. Furthermore, I did not want to offend Great Yong. Alongside Zhao Jue’s fear and exclusion, I lost any intention of serving him.

Alas, I had hoped that Southern Chu would have someone capable of restoring the dynasty, but unfortunately, Zhao Jue was no Guan Zhong6 or Yue Yi.7 He seemed to be a bit like Bao Shuya,8 too clearly differentiating between black and white, good and evil. He did not understand the need to mask one’s brilliance and be one with the dust of the earth.9

There was really no hope for Southern Chu, I thought with bitter anguish.

In the first month of the twentieth year of Xiande, the two armies did not rush to advance, instead taking the time to reorganize themselves, consolidating control over the captured territories and waiting for spring. To the Kingdom of Shu, this was their final winter. While the Kingdom of Shu had lost almost all of its military power, the situation was difficult to appraise. I had long borne witness to the conceit and stubbornness of the people of Sichuan. In just a month, there were seven rebellions and twenty-three assassination attempts. Of course, I was not targeted, as I was not famous. The majority of Sichuan’s famed scholars refused to yield. They could not resist, but they could still silently reject. The situation was quite dangerous, causing Zhao Jue’s hair to whiten. We had won, and yet the situation was challenging. Finally, we reached a unified opinion. If the King of Shu surrendered, everything would be for the best. After discussions, both Great Yong and Southern Chu agreed to advance together upon Chengdu upon the first day of the second month.

Before we departed, Zhao Jue met with me. He liked to meet with me in private, disliking publicly seeking my advice. It was probably because my stratagems were often too vicious. But I was quite fond of this kind of meeting. This method was particularly safe, as no one would notice me. Let alone the fact that I thought up numerous strategies, all of them somewhat vicious. I, therefore, had allowed Han Zhang to leave. It was too dangerous to leave a citizen of Shu by my side. If he felt that killing me was worth losing his entire family, it would become disastrous for me.

In order to protect me, Xiaoshunzi racked his brains. From within the Southern Chu prisons, he found a good candidate. This man was named Chen Zhen. He was a Shu secret agent and assassin. He was captured after Luocheng fell. As we discovered that he had attempted to assassinate our officers, he was to be executed. This person was especially cruel, of a naturally cold disposition. He was someone who cared for nothing except himself. If it weren’t for the fact that Luocheng fell so suddenly, he would have fled long ago. Xiaoshunzi settled on him because of his naturally frigid nature. He had me ask Zhao Jue to save him. Feeling that he had not rewarded me for my service, Zhao Jue agreed. Xiaoshunzi used a secret method to leave marks upon him. I was still worried and had Xiaoshunzi feed him a slow acting poison that I had concocted. Chen Zhen was also informed that the antidote was in Xiaoshunzi’s hands. In this way, I had a bodyguard. According to Xiaoshunzi, this man would not choose honor over life10 and kill me. Someone who cherished his life and having taken measures to prevent betrayal was the best guard.

Zhao Jue sat down and hesitatingly said, “We are about to attack Chengdu. When the time comes, without the buffer that is the Kingdom of Shu, how can we face Great Yong? The King has issued a secret edict, ordering us to not offend Great Yong.”

I had already prepared a mental outline and detailed, “This lowly official believes that the biggest issue will be in Chengdu. Whoever takes the King of Shu captive will be the biggest beneficiary. We should not contest this point with Great Yong. There is no point. This lowly official has an idea to ensure that the King of Shu does not fall into the hands of Great Yong. This idea will be sufficient. In addition, I have heard the reason that the King of Shu has distanced himself from talented persons and become intimate with vile characters is because he doted on one of his concubines, Lady Golden Lotus, and the eunuch, Zhang Quan. I have heard that Lady Golden Lotus is a great beauty. We should allow the entirety of Shu’s officialdom and harem to be taken by Great Yong. If the Prince of Yong were to bring them to Chang’an, then Lady Golden Lotus’s beauty will surely gain the Yong Emperor’s favor. Through this, we will have laid a spark in the Great Yong imperial harem. If the Prince of Yong were to kill these individuals, although the loss would be regrettable, their deaths will surely infuriate the Yong Emperor. Older individuals love beauty, especially this Yong Emperor, who isn’t a particularly wise and capable sovereign. Regardless of success, we will have driven a wedge between the Yong Emperor and his son.”

I continued, “Of course, there are things that we must acquire. Immediately after we have entered the city, Your Highness must dispatch someone to the Ministry of Revenue11 and gather all of the available records, including census data, maps, and books. They will be of particular help in our governance of Sichuan. Of course, we must also plunder gold, silver, and jewels. On the one hand, plundering these treasures will serve to help conceal our seizure of important revenue and census records. On the other, we can use these treasures to properly reward the army and provide kickbacks to the King. Aside from these, we shouldn’t worry about anything else. Allow Great Yong to deal with those official residences of Shu officials.”

Zhao Jue nodded his head at my words. “Jiang daren mentioned driving a wedge between the Yong Emperor and his son. Can you explain in further detail?”

Since I was going to leave Southern Chu, I didn’t conceal or hide anything. I therefore explained, “Everyone knows that the Prince of Yong and the Crown Prince, Li An, are battling over being named the heir apparent. As Great Yong relies upon martial might and merit as its foundation, Li An is in an awkward position. The Prince of Yong’s successful invasion of Shu will surely garner great merit. Li An will undoubtedly be so resentful and hateful that he will gnash his teeth. We can use this opportunity to dispatch agents into Great Yong to spread rumors that the Prince of Yong will use the Hanzhong region to declare independence.”

Having spoken this much, Zhao Jue already understood, and he looked at me deeply, filled with fear. He profoundly and respectfully said, “Jiang daren’s good idea can ensure decades of peace for Southern Chu. Does daren require anything? Zhao Jue will definitely help you to the best of my abilities.”

Thinking it over, Zhao Jue was likely offering me a path to promotion. I replied, indifferently, “This lowly official is travel-worn and has acquired a lasting ailment. I wish to be able to return home and resign from my position. If I can acquire the approval of Your Highness and offer a suggestion to the King, then I cannot be thankful enough.”

Zhao Jue knitted his brows, thinking. Jiang Zhe was such a deep schemer. It was a good thing if he was disinterested in power, but if he were to leave and end up joining another country, then he would be a danger to Southern Chu. As a result, Zhao Jue categorically objected, “Jiang daren’s words are mistaken. Sir’s ability and wisdom are outstanding. Zhao Jue is about to rely on you, so how can you leave and go into seclusion? If Jiang daren does not like the complicated government affairs, this Prince will report to the King and support you in Hanlin Academy. If there are no other matters, then you will not be troubled.”

What? My eyes widened and my mouth opened. How did things turn out contrary to my wishes? That night, I vented my grievances to Xiaoshunzi. Xiaoshunzi slapped his forehead and replied, “Heavens! Daren, how do you not understand the intentions of this royal? You are such a talented individual, even if they would dare to let you go, they fear that you would join Great Yong or Northern Han. Who told you to reveal your talents? It looks like that you can’t resign. From now on, you will most likely have to make sure to hide your abilities and bide your time. When the right opportunity comes, you will have the chance to abandon your post.”

Blushing, I shot an expression of shame and respect at Xiaoshunzi.

On the fifteenth day of the second month, Southern Chu and Great Yong rendezvoused at Chengdu. The two armies besieged Chengdu. The Prince of De went forth to meet with the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi. I could not hold back my curiosity and was interested in meeting this heroic individual. I followed Zhao Jue along. Arriving before the main encampment, I looked carefully at the foreboding terrain12 and the hidden killing intent of the camp, which I met with approval. The Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, welcomed us at the entrance to his camp. From afar, I already noticed that he was standing at the entrance. He was wearing the attire of an imperial prince, and seemed to be naturally poised and noble. Although he was only standing there, doing nothing, it felt like the entire imperious and powerful aura of the Great Yong camp was gathered on this single person. One hundred paces from the camp entrance, the Prince of De dismounted from his horse and proceeded on foot. I followed his example. Nearing the camp, I saw the Prince of Yong smile faintly and come forward to welcome us. At this time, I finally discovered a shocking fact that left me inconsolable. I actually recognized the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi.

Footnotes:

人为刀俎,我为鱼肉, renweidaozu, woweiyurou – idiom, lit. to be the meat on somebody’s chopping block; fig. to be at somebody’s mercy
胸有成竹, xiongyouchengzhu – idiom, lit. to plan in advance; having a card up one’s sleeve; forewarned is forearmed
光明磊落, guangmingleiluo – idiom, lit. open and candid; straightforward and upright
十面埋伏, shimianmaifu – lit. ambushed from ten sides; this is a famous piece for the pipa; being ambushed and surrounded on all sides
火中取栗, houzhongquli – idiom, lit. to pull chestnuts out of the fire; to be somebody’s catspaw
管仲, Guan Zhong was a chancellor of the state of Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period. Through his reforms and skillful diplomacy, Qi became the most powerful state in China.
乐毅, Yue Yi was a general of the state of Yan during the Warring States Period. Forging an alliance between the states of Zhao, Wei, Chu, Han, and Qin, he almost completely conquered the state of Qi (except for two cities).
鲍叔牙, Bao Shuya was a famous official of the state of Qi. A capable administrator, Bao Shuya recommended his good friend, Guan Zhong, to Duke Huan of Qi, convincing him to put aside personal enmities for the common good.
和光同尘, heguangtongchen – comes from the fifty-six chapter of the Dao De Jing; to mask one’s brilliance and be one with the dust of the earth
舍生取义, sheshengquyi – idiom, lit. to give up life for righteousness; to choose honor over life; would rather sacrifice one’s life than one’s principles
户部, hubu – the Ministry of Revenue was in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues
虎踞龙盘, hujulongpan – idiom, lit. where tigers crouch and dragons coil; fig. forbidding terrain

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