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Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義)

by Luo Guanzhong (羅貫中) Translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor

Three Kingdoms

Chapter 17 : Yuan Shu Marches Out Seven Armies; Cao Cao And Three Generals Join Forces.

Chapter 17 : Yuan Shu Marches Out Seven Armies; Cao Cao And Three Generals Join Forces.

The south of River Huai was very fruitful, and Yuan Shu, as governor of such a large territory, was very influential. He was not a little puffed up. The possession of the Imperial Hereditary Seal, pledged by Sun Ce, added to his pride. And he seriously thought of assuming the full style.

As a preliminary he assembled all his officers and addressed them thus: “The Supreme Ancestor, the Founder of Han Dynasty, was only a very minor official, and yet he became ruler of the empire. The dynasty has endured four centuries, and its measure of fortune has run out. It no longer possesses authority; the cauldron is on the point of boiling over. My family has held the highest offices of state for four generations and is universally respected. Wherefore I wish, in response to the will of Heaven and the desire of the people, to assume the Imperial Dignity. What think ye of the proposal, my officers?”

Secretary Yan Xiang rose in opposition at once, saying, “You may not do this. King Wen, the Ancestor of the Zhou, was of distinguished virtue and held many offices. Till the last years of Shang Dynasty, he had two thirds of the empire. Still he served and was loyal to the ruling house. Your house is honorable, but it is not so glorious as that of Zhou. The Hans may be reduced, but they are not so abominably cruel as those of the Shang Dynasty that they are to be overthrown. Indeed this should not be done.”

Yuan Shu did not hear this with pleasure.

Said he, “We Yuans came from the Chen family, the same ancestry with King Shun. By the rule of interpreting the signs of fate, the day has come when earth (Chen) receives fire (Liu). Beside there is an oracle saying, ‘One who replaces the Hans must wade through deep mire.’ My name means ‘the high road.’ It fits exactly. Further than this, I possess the Imperial Hereditary Seal and must become lord of all, or I turn from Heaven’s own way. Finally, I have made up my mind, so if anyone says too much, that person will simply suffer death.”

Yuan Shu arrogated himself the insignia of royalty and assigned Second Glory the reign title. He set up officials with titles only given by an emperor, and rode in a chariot decorated with the dragon and phoenix, and offered sacrifices after the manner of an emperor in the north and south suburbs. Also he appointed the daughter of Feng Fang his Empress and his son Heir Apparent, and he pressed for the early wedding of Lu Bu’s daughter with his son so that the Palace entourage might be complete.

But when Yuan Shu heard of the fate of his marriage ambassador, Han Yin, who was sent to the capital and was executed, Yuan Shu was very angry and began at once to plan for revenge. He made Zhang Xun his Grand Commander and gave Zhang Xun the command of more than two hundred thousand soldiers with the instruction to invade Xuzhou. The army consisted of seven divisions under seven commanders: Zhang Xun led the Center Army; Qiao Rui, the First Left Army; Lei Bo, the Second Left Army; Han Xian, the Third Left Army; Chen Ji, First Right Army; Chen Lan, Second Right Army; and Yang Feng, the Third Right Army. Each commander was instructed to make a certain town his objective.

The Imperial Protector of Yangzhou, Jin Shang, was ordered to superintend the commissariat, but he declined the office. And so Yuan Shu put Jin Shang to death. Ji Ling was in command of the reserves to help wherever he was required. Yuan Shu led thirty thousand troops, and he appointed three generals, Li Deng, Liang Gang, and Yue Jiu, to go up and down and coordinate the grand march.

Lu Bu found out from his scouts that his own Xuzhou City was the objective of Zhang Xun; the other towns to be first attacked being Xiaopei, Yidu, Langye, Jieshi, Xiapi, and Junshan. The invading armies were marching twenty miles a day, and plundering the countryside as they advanced.

Lu Bu summoned his advisers to a council to which came Chen Gong, Chen Deng, and Chen Gui.

When all had assembled, Chen Gong said, “This misfortune that has come to us is due to the two Chens, who fawned upon the central government in order to obtain ranks and appointments. Now remove the evil by putting these two to death and sending their heads to Yuan Shu. Then he will retire and leave us in peace.”

Lu Bu acquiesced and had the two arrested.

But the son, Chen Deng, only laughed, saying, “What is this anxiety about? These seven armies are no more to me than so many heaps of rotting straw. They are not worth thinking about.”

“If you can show us how to overcome them, I will spare your life,” said Lu Bu.

“General, if you will listen to poor me, the region will be perfectly safe.”

“Let us hear what you have to say.”

“Yuan Shu’s troops are numerous but they are only a flock of crows; they are not an army under a leader. There is no mutual confidence. I can keep them at bay with the ordinary guards of the place and could overcome them by some unsuspected stratagem. If I should fail, I have another plan by which I can not only protect the region but capture our enemy.”

“Let us have it.”

Chen Deng said, “Han Xian and Yang Feng, two of the leaders of our enemies, are old servants of the Han Dynasty who fled from fear of Cao Cao and, being homeless, sought refuge with Yuan Shu. He despises them, and they are dissatisfied with his service. A little letter from the court will secure their help as our allies, and with Liu Bei to help us on the outside, we can certainly overcome Yuan Shu.”

“You shall take the letters yourself,” said Lu Bu.

Chen Deng agreed, and a memorial detailing his intentions was sent to the capital, letters to Yuzhou to Liu Bei, and finally Chen Deng was sent, with a small escort, to wait for Han Xian on the road to Xiapi.

When Han Xian’s army had halted and pitched camp, Chen Deng went to see Han Xian who said, “What are you here for? You belong to Lu Bu.”

“I am an official of the court of the great Hans. Why do you call me a Lu Bu’s man? If you, General, hitherto a minister of state, now serve a traitor, you will nullify the grand services you rendered in protecting the Emperor in the flight from Changan. Beside, the suspicious Yuan Shu will assuredly do you some harm, and you will regret not having taken this opportunity to work against him.”

Han Xian sighed, saying, “I would return to my allegiance if there should be any opportunity.”

Thereupon Chen Deng gave him Lu Bu’s letter asking for cooperation.

Han Xian read it and said, “Yes, I know. You may return to your master and say General Yang Feng and I will turn our weapons and smite Yuan Shu. Look out for a signal flare, and let your master come to our aid.”

As soon as Chen Deng had got back and reported his success, Lu Bu divided his troops into five divisions, each of ten thousand, and sent them to five threatened towns to meet his enemies. Gao Shun led one army to Xiaopei against Qiao Rui; Chen Gong to Yidu against Chen Ji; Zhang Liao and Zang Ba to Langye against Lei Bo; Song Xian and Wei Xu to Jieshi against Chen Lan. Lu Bu himself led against the main body under Zhang Xun, leaving a small guard in Xuzhou City.

Lu Bu camped ten miles from the walls. When the enemy came up, Zhang Xun thought Lu Bu too strong to attack with the force he had, so he retired seven miles to await reinforcements.

That night, in the second watch, Han Xian and Yang Feng arrived, and soon the flare was lighted as arranged. Lu Bu’s troops were admitted to the camp and caused great confusion. Then Lu Bu gave a full attack, and Zhang Xun was routed and fled. Lu Bu pursued till daylight, when he fell in with one of the other bodies led by Ji Ling. Both sides faced each other; but at the very beginning of the engagement Yang Feng and Han Xian also attacked, and Ji Ling was forced to fly.

Lu Bu went in pursuit but soon another force came out from the rear of some hills. These looked very imposing. As the ranks opened Lu Bu saw a leader’s guard with flags bearing dragons and phoenixes and representations of the sun and moon, the stars in the four groups of the Great Bear Constellation, the five directions of the Earth, golden gourds, silver axes, yellow halberds, white yaks’ tails, all imperial emblems. And beneath a yellow silken parasol sat Yuan Shu on horseback, clad in silver mail with a sword handle showing at each wrist.

Standing out in front of the array, Yuan Shu railed at his opponent calling him traitor and bastard. Lu Bu said nothing but rode forward ready for battle, and Li Deng, one of Yuan Shu’s leaders, advanced to take the challenge. They met, but at the third bout, Li Deng was wounded in the hand, whereupon his spear fell to the ground, and he fled. Lu Bu waved on the advance, and his men prevailed. The other side fled, leaving much spoil, clothing, mail, and horses.

Yuan Shu’s defeated troops had not gone far when a strong army, led by Guan Yu, appeared barring his way.

“Traitor! Why have they not slain you?” cried Guan Yu.

Whereat Yuan Shu fled in great trepidation, and his army melted into fugitives in all directions. The new army fell upon them with great slaughter. Yuan Shu and the remnant of his army retreated into the below regions of River Huai.

Victory being now secure, Lu Bu, in company with Guan Yu, Yang Feng, and Han Xian returned to Xuzhou, where there were banquets and feasting and rewards for the soldiers and generals of five divisions. These over, Guan Yu took his leave and returned to Yuzhou, while Han Xian was appointed Governor of Yidu, and Yang Feng Governor of Langye.

There had been a question of keeping these two in Xuzhou City, but Chen Gui opposed it, saying, “Let them hold those places in Huashan Mountains, which will be all yours within a year.”

So Han Xian and Yang Feng were sent to these two cities in the meantime to await orders.

“Why not retain them here?” asked Chen Deng secretly of his father. “They would be a basis for our conspiracy against Lu Bu.”

“But if they helped him, on the other hand, we should lengthen the tiger’s claws and teeth,” said Chen Gui.

So Chen Deng could only approve of his father’s precautions.

Yuan Shu returned home burning to avenge his defeat, so he sent to the South Land to ask a loan of troops from Sun Ce.

But Sun Ce said, “On the strength of holding the State Seal, he secretly calls himself emperor and rebels against the Hans. I would rather punish such a renegade than help him.”

So Sun Ce rejected. The letter refusing help added to Yuan Shu’s anger.

“What next from this callow youth?” cried Yuan Shu. “I will smite him before I deal with the others.”

But his adviser, Yang Dajiang, dissuaded him from this course.

Having refused help to his powerful rival, Sun Ce thought it wise to take measures for his own safety. So he stationed an army at Jiangkou. Soon after came a messenger from Cao Cao bearing Sun Ce’s appointment as Governor of Kuaiji with orders to raise an army and reduce Yuan Shu.

Sun Ce was inclined to carry out these orders, but he called a council at which Zhang Zhao opposed this course.

Said he, “Although recently defeated, Yuan Shu has large army and ample supplies. He is not to be attacked lightly. You had better write to Cao Cao persuading him to attack the South of River Huai and we will be auxiliaries. Between the two armies, Yuan Shu must certainly be defeated. If by the remotest chance we lose, we have Cao Cao to come to our rescue.”

This plan was adopted, and a messenger was sent to lay it before Cao Cao. In the meantime, after the defeat at River Yu, Cao Cao had reached Xuchang where his first thought was to institute sacrifices to his beloved lost leader, Dian Wei. He conferred rank upon his son Dian Man and took him into his own palace to be cared for.

Presently arrived Sun Ce’s messenger with letters, and next came a report that Yuan Shu, being short of food, had made a raid on Chenliu. Cao Cao thought the moment opportune, so he issued orders for the south expedition, leaving Cao Ren to hold the capital. The army marched, horse and foot, one hundred seventy thousand, with commissariat wagons of food to the number of over a thousand. Messages were sent to summon Sun Ce, Liu Bei, and Lu Bu.

Liu Bei was the first to welcome the grand army at his Yuzhou borders, and he was called in to the Prime Minister’s tent. After the usual salutations, two human heads were produced by Liu Bei.

“Whose are these?” asked Cao Cao in surprise.

“The heads of Han Xian and Yang Feng.”

“Why did this happen?”

“They were sent to control Yidu and Langye, but they allowed their soldiers to plunder the people. Bitter complaints arose, so I invited them to a banquet and my brothers dispatched them when I gave the signal by dropping a cup. Their armies gave in at once. Now I have to apologize for my fault.”

“You have removed an evil, which is a grand service: Why talk of a fault?”

And Cao Cao praised Liu Bei’s action.

When the joint army reached Lu Bu’s Xuzhou borders, he came to meet it. Cao Cao spoke graciously to him and conferred upon him the title of General of the Left Army, promising him an official seal as soon as he returned to the capital. Lu Bu was very pleased.

Then the three armies were made into one force, Cao Cao being in the center, Lu Bu to the left wing, and Liu Bei to the right wing. Xiahou Dun and Yu Jin were Leaders of the Van.

On Yuan Shu’s side, General Qiao Rui with fifty thousand troops was appointed Van Leader. The armies met on the confines of the city of Shouchun. Qiao Rui and Xiahou Dun rode out and opened battle. But Qiao Rui fell in the third bout, and his troops fled into the city.

Then came news that Sun Ce’s fleet was near and would attack on the west. The other three land corps took each one face —-Cao Cao on the north, Lu Bu on the east, and Liu Bei on the south. The city of Shouchun was in a parlous state.

At this juncture Yuan Shu summoned his officers.

Yang Dajiang explained the case, “Shouchun has suffered from drought for several years, and the people are on the verge of famine. Sending an army would add to the distress and anger the people, and victory would be uncertain. I advise not to send any more soldiers there, but to hold on till the besiegers are conquered by lack of supplies. Meanwhile, Your Highness, with regiment of guards, will move over to the other side of River Huai, which is quite ready, and we shall also escape the enemy’s ferocity.”

So due arrangements was made. One hundred thousand troops under Li Deng, Yue Jiu, Liang Gang, and Chen Ji were appointed to guard Shouchun. Then a general move was made to the other side of the River Huai. Not only the remained army went over, but all the accumulated wealth of the Yuan family, gold and silver, jewels and precious stones, were moved also.

Cao Cao’s army of one hundred seventy thousand needed daily a considerable quantity of food; and as the country around had been famine-stricken for several years, nothing could be got there. So he tried to hasten the military operations and capture the city. On the other hand, the defenders knew the value of delay and simply held on. After a month’s vigorous siege, the fall of Shouchun seemed as far off as it was at first, and supplies were very short. Letters were sent to Sun Ce who sent a hundred thousand carts of grain. When the usual distribution became impossible, the Chief of the Commissariat, Ren Jun, and the Controller of the Granaries, Wang Hou, presented a statement asking what was to be done.

“Serve out with a smaller measure,” said Cao Cao. “That will save us for a time.”

“But if the soldiers murmur, what then?”

“I shall have another device.”

As ordered the controller issued grain in a short measure. Cao Cao sent secretly to find out how the army took this; and when he found that complaints were general and the soldiers were saying that the Prime Minister was fooling them, he sent a secret summons to the controller.

When Wang Hou came, Cao Cao said, “I want to ask you to lend me something to pacify the soldiers with. You must not refuse.”

“What does the Prime Minister wish?”

“I want the loan of your head to expose to the soldiery.”

“But I have done nothing wrong!” exclaimed the unhappy man.

“I know that, but if I do not put you to death, there will be a mutiny. After you are gone, your wife and children shall be my care. So you need not grieve on their account.”

Wang Hou was about to remonstrate further, but Cao Cao gave a signal. The executioners hustled Wang Hou out, and he was beheaded. His head was exposed on a tall pole, and a notice said:

“In accordance with military law, Wang Hou had been put to death for peculation and the use of a short measure in issuing grain.”

This appeased the discontent. Next followed a general order threatening death to all commanders if the city was not taken within three days. Cao Cao in person went up to the very walls to superintend the work of filling up the moat. The defenders kept up constant showers of stones and arrows. Two inferior officers, who left their stations in fear, were slain by Cao Cao himself. Thereafter he went on foot to work with his soldiers and to see that work went on continuously and no one dared be a laggard. Thus encouraged, the army became invincible, and no defense could withstand their onslaught. In a very short time the walls were scaled, the gates battered in, and the besiegers were in possession. The officers of the garrison —-Li Deng, Yue Jiu, Liang Gang, and Chen Ji —-were captured alive and were executed in the market place. All the paraphernalia of imperial state were burned, and the whole city wrecked.

When the question of crossing the river in pursuit of Yuan Shu came up, Xun Yu opposed it, saying, “The country has suffered from short crops for years, and we should be unable to get grain. An advance would weary the army, harm the people, and possibly end in disaster. I advise a return to the capital to wait there till the spring wheat shall have been harvested and we have plenty of food.”

Cao Cao hesitated.

Before he had made up his mind, there came an urgent message: “Zhang Xiu, with the support of Liu Biao, was ravaging the country all round. There were rebellions in Nanyang and Jiangling, and Cao Hong could not cope with it. Cao Hong had been worsted already in several engagements and was in sore straits.”

Cao Cao at once wrote to Sun Ce to command the Great River so as to prevent any move on the part of Liu Biao, while he prepared his army to go to deal with Zhang Xiu. Before marching Cao Cao directed Liu Bei to station at Xiaopei, as he and Lu Bu being as brothers might help each other.

When Lu Bu had left for Xuzhou, Cao Cao said secretly to Liu Bei, “I am leaving you at Xiaopei to dig a ‘pitfall for the tiger.’ You will only take advice from Chen Deng and Chen Gui, and there can be no mishap. You will find so-and-so your ally when needed.”

So Cao Cao marched to Xuchang where he heard that Duan Wei had slain Li Jue and Wu Xi killed Guo Si, and they presented the heads of these two. Beside the whole clan of Li Jue, more than two hundred, had been arrested and brought to the capital. They were all put to death at various gates and their heads exposed as warning. The people cheered the end of those two rebels.

In the Emperor’s palace a large number of officials were assembled at a peace banquet. The Emperor rewarded the two successful leaders, Duan Wei with the title of General Who Destroys Rebellion and Wu Xi General Who Wrecks Villainy, and sent to guard Changan. They came to audience to express their gratitude and marched away.

Then Cao Cao sent in a memorial that Zhang Xiu was in rebellion, and an army must be sent against him. The Emperor in person arranged the chariot and escorted Cao Cao out of the city when he went to take command of the expedition. It was the summer, the fourth month of the third year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 198). Xun Yu was in chief military command in Xuchang.

The army marched away. In the course of the march they passed through a wheat region, and the grain was ready for harvesting but the peasants had fled for fear, and the corn was uncut. Cao Cao sent proclamations to all villages and towns:

“I am sent on the expedition by command of the Emperor to capture a rebel and save the people. I cannot avoid moving in the harvest season; but if anyone trample down the corn, he shall be put to death. Military law is strict without exception, and the people need fear no damage.”

The people were very pleased and lined the road, wishing success to the expedition. When the soldiers passed wheat fields, they dismounted and pushed aside the stalks so that none were trampled down.

One day, when Cao Cao was riding through the fields, a dove suddenly got up, startling the horse so that it swerved into the standing grain, and a large patch was trampled down. Cao Cao at once called the Provost Marshal and bade him decree the sentence for the crime of trampling down corn.

“How can I deal with your crime?” asked the Provost Marshal.

“I made the rule, and I have broken it. Can I otherwise satisfy public opinion?”

Cao Cao laid hold of the sword by his side and made to take his own life. All hastened to prevent him.

Guo Jia said, “In ancient days, the days of the Spring and Autumn history, the laws were not applied to those of the most important. You are the supreme leader of a mighty army and must not wound yourself.”

Cao Cao pondered for a long time. At last he said, “Since there exists the reason just quoted, I may perhaps escape the death penalty.”

Then with his sword he cut off his hair and threw it on the ground, saying, “I cut off the hair as touching the head.”

Then he sent messengers to exhibit the hair throughout the whole army, saying, “The Prime Minister, having trodden down some corn, ought to have lost his head by the terms of the order; now here is his hair cut off as an attack on the head.”

This deed was a stimulus to discipline all through the army so that not a person dared be disobedient. A poet wrote:

A myriad soldiers march along and all are brave and bold,

And their myriad inclinations by one leader are controlled.

That crafty leader shore his locks when forfeit was his head,

O full of guile were thou, Cao Cao, as everyone has said.

On the first news of the approach of Cao Cao with an army, Zhang Xiu wrote to Liu Biao for help. Then Zhang Xiu led out his troops, with his two generals, Lei Xu and Zhang Xian.

When the array was complete Zhang Xiu took his station in front and pointing at Cao Cao railed at him, saying, “O false and pretended supporter of benevolence and justice! O shameless one! You are just a beast of the forest, and absolutely devoid of humanity.”

This annoyed Cao Cao who sent out Xu Chu against the insulter. Zhang Xian came to meet him and fell in the third bout. Thence Zhang Xiu’s troops fled and were pursued to the very walls of Nanyang, only managing to get within just before the pursuit came up. The city was then closely besieged.

Seeing the moat was so wide and deep that approach to the wall would be difficult, Cao Cao’s commanders began to fill up the ditch with earth. Then with sand bags, brushwood, and bundles of grass they built a great mound near the wall and on this erected steps so that they could look over into the city.

Cao Cao rode round the city closely inspecting the defenses. Three days later he issued an order to make a mound of earth and brushwood at the northwest corner, as he would mount the walls at that point. He was observed from within the city by Jia Xu.

Jia Xu went to Zhang Xiu and said, “I know what Cao Cao intends, and I can defeat him by a countermove.”

Even amongst the very foremost

There is one who leads the way;

Someone sees through your devices,

Be as crafty as ye may.

What the counter-move was will be told in the next chapter.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 17 : Yuan Shu Marches Out Seven Armies; Cao Cao And Three Generals Join Forces.
Chapter 17 : Yuan Shu Marches Out Seven Armies; Cao Cao And Three Generals Join Forces.
Yuan Shu Marches Out Seven Armies; Cao Cao And Three Generals Join Forces.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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