Zhuge Liang is often recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist during the Three Kingdoms period of China. Often depicted wearing a robe and holding a fan made of crane feathers, Zhuge was not only an important military strategist and statesman; he was also an accomplished scholar and inventor. His reputation as an intelligent and learned person grew even while he was living in relative seclusion, gaining him the nickname "Fulong" (alternatively translated as "Hidden Dragon"). Because he lived near to the Wolong border , he was also called Mr. Wolong, pronounced "Wolong-xiansheng"

Zhuge is an uncommon two-character compound family name. His name – even his surname alone – has become synonymous with intelligence and tactics in Chinese culture.

In the Battle of Red Cliffs of 208, the allied armies of Liu Bei and Sun Quan defeated Cao Cao, thus enabling Liu Bei to establish his own territories. The historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms described that Zhuge Liang called forth a southeastern wind to sweep Huang Gai's fire-attack throughout Cao Cao's ships. In reality, however, it was the Wu officer Zhou Yu who masterminded the fire attack. In folklore, the wind is attributed to either Zhuge Liang's magic or his ability to predict the weather.

The wisdom and achievements of Zhuge Liang were made popular by Romance of the Three Kingdoms attributed to Luo Guanzhong more than a millennium after the Three Kingdoms era ended. The novel incorporates many popular folklore, pseudohistories, and opera scripts into the character of Zhuge Liang, turning him into an embodiment of intelligence itself. Differences from historic accounts include:

Using straw boats to borrow arrows

Before the Battle of Red Cliffs, Zhuge Liang went to visit the Wu camp to assist Wu strategist Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu saw Zhuge Liang as a threat to Eastern Wu and was also jealous of Zhuge Liang's talent. Therefore, he assigned Zhuge Liang the task to make 100,000 arrows in ten days or face execution. Zhuge Liang, however, swore he would finish this seemingly impossible task in three days. He requested 20 large boats, each manned with many straw men and a few soldiers. Before dawn, Zhuge Liang ordered his soldiers to beat war drums and shout orders, to imitate the noise of an attack.

Zhuge Liang sat with Lu Su inside one of the boats drinking wine. The Wei soldiers, unable to see in the fog, fired many volleys of arrows at the sound of the drums. The straw men were soon filled with arrows, and Zhuge Liang returned to Wu having fulfilled his promise.

Hence, the Chinese expression "Straw boat borrows arrows" refers to the act of using someone's strength against him or her.

Stone Sentinel Maze

as Lu Xun pursued the fleeing Liu Bei after the Battle of Yiling, he felt a strong enemy presence near Baidicheng and cautioned his army for possible ambush. He sent scouts ahead, who reported that the area was empty except for some scattered piles of stones. Bewildered, he asked one of the locals, who answered that Qi started to emerge from the area after Zhuge Liang had arranged the stones there. Lu Xun himself then inspected the area, and determined that the array was only a petty display of deception. He led a few cavaliers into the array, and as he was about to come out, a strong gust blew. Soon, duststorms were shadowing the sky and the stones became swords, mountainous piles of dirt emerged while the waves of the Yangtze River sounded like swords and drums. Lu Xun exclaimed, "I fell into Zhuge's trap!" and attempted to exit to no avail.

Suddenly, Lu Xun saw an old man standing before his horse, who then asked if Lu needed assistance out of the array. Lu Xun followed the man and exited the maze unharmed. The old man revealed himself to be Zhuge Liang's father-in-law Huang Chengyan, and explained that the array is constructed using the ideas of the Bagua. Huang Chengyan said that Zhuge Liang had predicted that a Wu general would stumble across this maze as he constructed the structure, and asked Huang Chengyan not to lead the general out when that happens. Lu Xun immediately dismounted from his horse and thanked Huang Chengyan, and when he returned to his camp, he exclaimed that he could never top the genius of Zhuge Liang.

Empty Fort Strategy

During the first Northern Expedition, his efforts to capture Chang'an were undermined by the loss at the Battle of Jieting. With the loss of Jieting, Zhuge Liang's current location, Xicheng , was in great danger. With the army deployed elsewhere and left with only a handful of civil officers in the city, Zhuge Liang decided to use a ploy to ward off the advancing Wei army.

Zhuge Liang ordered all the gates to be opened and had civilians sweeping the roads while he sat high up on the gates calmly playing his zither with two children beside him. When the Cao Wei commander and strategist Sima Yi approached the fort with the Wei military, he was puzzled by the scene and ordered his troops to retreat.

Zhuge Liang later told the bewildered civil officers that the strategy only worked because Sima Yi was a man of suspicion, the latter having personally witnessed the success of Zhuge Liang's highly effective ambushing and misdirection tactics many times before. Furthermore, Zhuge Liang had a reputation as a keen but extremely careful military tactician who rarely took risks. Zhuge Liang's well-known carefulness, coupled with Sima Yi's own suspicious nature, led Sima Yi to the conclusion that entry into the apparently empty city would have drawn his troops into an ambush. It is unlikely the same strategy would have worked on someone else, and indeed Sima Yi's son Sima Zhao saw through the ruse immediately and counseled his father against retreat.

The wise man happens only when you are in the middle of the crisis. He cannot happen otherwise, at no other time. Not that the wise man is unavailable to you; the wise man is always available to you, but you can see the wise man, or there can be a dialogue or any relationship, only when you are in a crisis. Otherwise, who bothers? Who cares? One lives one's life perfectly satisfied, like a pig. When your problems become so acute, chronic, that there seems to be no solution coming from anywhere, that is the only point where the wise man can happen to you. But still you can miss.


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