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K‘UNG-MING WEEPS, BUT PUTS MA SU TO DEATH: CHOU FANG CUTS OFF HIS HAIR AND BEGUILES Ts'Ao HSIU. The proposer of the great plan that was to reunite the empire was a President of a Board, named Sun Tză.
“Noble Sir, expound your excellent scheme," said King Jui of Wei.
And Sun Tzŭ said, “When your great progenitor, the Emperor Wu (Ts'ao Ts'ao), first got Chang Lu he was at a critical stage in his career, but thenceforward all went well. He used to say 'Nanchêng is really a natural hell. In the Hsieh Valley there are five hundred li of rocks and caves, so that it is an impossible country for an army. If the country be denuded of soldiers in order to conquer Shu, then for sure we shall be invaded by Wu on the east. My advice is to divide the army among the various generals and appoint each a place of strategic value to hold, and let them train their forces. In a few years the Central Land will be prosperous and wealthy, while the other two, Shu and Wu, will have been reduced by mutual quarrels and will fall an easy prey. I hope Your Majesty will consider whether this is not a superior plan."
“What does the great General think? said Ts'ao Jui to Ssŭma.
He replied, "President Sun says well."
So Jui bade Ssúma I draw up a scheme of defence and station the soldiers, leaving Kuo Huai and Chang Ho to guard Ch'angan. And having rewarded the army, he the returned to Loyang.
When K‘ung-ming got back to Hanchung and missed Chao Yün and Têng Chih, the only two captains who had not arrived, he was sad at heart and bade Kuan and Chang go back to afford them assistance. However, before the reinforcing parties could leave, the missing men arrived. Furthermore, they came with their men in excellent condition and not a man short, nor a horse nor any of their equipment. As they drew near, K‘ung-ming went out to welcome them. Thereupon Chao Yün hastily dismounted and bowed to the earth, saying, “The Prime Minister should not have come forth to welcome a defeated general."
But K‘ung-ming lifted him up and took his hand and said, "Mine was the fault, mine were the ignorance and unwisdom
that caused all this. But how is it that amid all the defeat and loss you have come through unscathed ?”
And Têng Chih replied, "It was because friend Chao sent me ahead, while he guarded the rear and warded off every attack. One leader he slew, and this frightened the others. Thus nothing was lost or left by the way."
“A really great captain!” said K‘ung-ming.
He sent Chao Yün a gift of much gold and many rolls of silk for his army. But these were returned, Chao Yün saying that the army deserved punishment rather than reward, since they had accomplished nothing, and the rules for reward and punishment must be strictly kept. He prayed that these things be kept in store till the winter, when they could be distributed among the men.”
"When His late Majesty lived he never tired of extolling Chao Yün's virtues; lo! he was perfectly right,” said K‘ungming.
And his respect for the veteran was doubled. Then came the turn of the four unfortunate leaders Ma, Wang, Wei and Kao to render account. Wang P‘ing was called to the general's tent and rebuked.
"I ordered you and Ma Su to guard Chieht‘ing; why did you not remonstrate with him and prevent this great loss ?”
“I did remonstrate many times. I wished to build a rampart down in the road and construct a solid camp, but the assistant general would not agree and showed ill temper. So I led half a legion and camped some ten li off, and when the men of Wei came in crowds and surrounded my colleague, I led my army to attack them a score of times. But I could not penetrate, and the catastrophe came quickly. Many of the men surrendered, and mine were too few to stand. Wherefore I went to friend Wei for help, but I was intercepted and imprisoned in a valley and only got out by fighting most desperately. I got back to my camp to find the enemy in possession, and so I set out for Liehliuch'êng. On the road I met Kao Hsiang, and we three tried to raid the enemy's camp, hoping to recover Chieht'ing, but as there was no one of our side there I grew suspicious. From a hill I saw my colleagues had been stopped by the men of Wei, so I went to rescue them. Thence we hastened to Yangpʻing Pass to try to prevent that from falling. It was not that I failed to remonstrate. And you, O Minister, can get confirmation of my words from any of the officers.”
K‘ung-ming bade him retire, and sent for Ma Su. He came, bound, and threw himself on the earth at the tent door.
“You have filled yourself with the study of the books on war ever since you were a boy; you know them thoroughly. I enjoined upon you that Chieht ́ing was most important, and you pledged yourself and all your family to do pour best in
the enterprise; yet you would not listen to Wang P‘ing, and thus you caused this misfortune. The army is defeated, generals have been slain and cities and territory lost, all through you. If I do not make you an example and vindicate the law, how shall I maintain a proper state of discipline? You have offended and you must pay the penalty. After your death the little ones of your family shall be my care, and I will see that they get a monthly allowance. Do not let their fate cause you anxiety." He told the executioners to take him away.
Ma Su wept bitterly, saying, “Pity me, o Minister, you have looked upon me as a son; I have looked up to you as a father. I know my fault is worthy of death, but I pray you to remember how Shun dealt with Kun, the father of Yu and with Yu himself. Though I die I will harbour no resentment down in the dark depths of the Nine Springs.'
K‘ung-ming brushed aside his tears and said, “We have been as brothers, and your children shall be as my own. It is useless to say more.'
They led the doomed man away. Without the main gate, just as they were going to deal the fatal blow, Chiang Yuan, an officer of rank, who had just arrived from the capital, was passing in. He bade the executioners wait a while, and he went in and interceded for Ma Su.
"Formerly the King of Ch'u put his minister to death and Duke Wên rejoiced. There is great confusion in the land, and yet you would slay a man of admitted ability. Can you not spare him?"
K‘ung-ming's tears fell, but he said, “Sun and Wu maintain that the one way to obtain success is to make the law supreme. Now confusion and actual war are in every quarter, and if the law be not observed, how may rebels be made away with? He must die."
Soon after they bore in the head as proof, and K‘ung-ming wailed for the victim.
"Why do you weep for him now that he has met the just penalty for his fault?” said Chiang.
"I was not weeping then because of Ma Su, but because I remembered the words of our late Emperor. When in great stress at Paitch'êng, he said that Ma Su's words exceeded the truth, and he was incapable of great deeds. It has come true, and I greatly regret my want of insight. That is why I weep."
Every officer wept. Ma Su was but thirty-nine, and he met his end in the fifth month of the sixth year of Chien-Hsing. A poet wrote about him thus:
'Twas pitiful that he who talked so glib
The head of the victim was paraded round the camps. Then it was sewn again to the body and buried with it. Kung-ming conducted the sacrifices for the dead and read the oration. A monthly allowance was made for the family and they were consoled as much as possible. Next K‘ung-ming made his memorial to the Throne and bade Chiang Wan bear it to the king. Therein he proposed his own degradation from his high office.
“Naturally a man of mediocre abilities, I have enjoyed your confidence undeservedly. Having led out an expedition, I have proved my inability to perform the high office of leader. Over solicitude was my undoing. Hence happened disobedience at Chieht‘ing and the failure to guard Chiku. The fault is mine in that I erred in the use of men. In my anxiety I was too secretive. The 'Spring and Autumn' has pronounced such as I am to be blameworthy, and whither may I flee from my fault? I pray that I may be degraded three degrees as punishment. I cannot express my mortification. I humbly await your command.”
“Why does the Prime Minister speak thus ?" said the king. "It is but the ordinary fortune of war."
The courtier Fei I said, “The Ruler must enhance the majesty of the law, for without law how can men support him? It is right that the minister should be degraded in rank.”
Thereupon an edict was issued reducing Kʻung-ming to the rank of a Chiang-chün, Generalissimo, but retaining him in the same position in the direction of state affairs and command of the military forces. Fei I was directed to communicate the decision.
Fei bore the edict into Hanchung and gave it to K'ung-ming, who bowed to the decree. The envoy thought K‘ung-ming might be mortified, so he ventured to felicitate him in other matters.
"It was a great joy to the people when the four districts were captured," said he.
“What sort of language is this?” said K‘ung-ming, annoyed. “Success followed by failure is no success. It shames me indeed to hear such a compliment.
"His Majesty will be very pleased to hear of the acquisition of Chiang Wei.”
This remark also angered K‘ung-ming, who replied, “It is my fault that a defeated army has returned without any gain of territory. What injury to the enemy was the loss of this man?”
Fei I tried again. “But with an army of ten legions of bold men you can attack Wei again.”
“When we were at Ch‘ishan and Chi Valley we outnumbered the enemy, but we could not conquer them. On the contrary, they beat us. The defect was not in the number of soldiers, but in the leadership. Now we must reduce the army, discover our faults, reflect on our errors and mend our ways against the future. Unless this is so, what is the use of a numerous army? Hereafter every man will have to look to the future of his country. But most diligently we must fight against our shortcomings and blame our inefficiencies; then we may succeed. Rebellion can be exterminated and merit can be set up.”
Fei I and the officers acknowledged the aptness of these remarks. Fei went back to the capital, leaving Kʻung-ming in Hanchung resting his soldiers and doing what he could for the people, training and heartening his men and turning special attention to the construction of apparatus for assaults on cities and crossing rivers. He also collected grain and fodder and built battle rafts, all for future use.
The spies of Wei got to know of these doings, and the king called Ssúma I to council and asked how Shu might be annexed.
"Shu cannot be attacked," was the reply. "In this present hot weather they will not come out, but, if we invade, they will only garrison and defend their strategic points, which we should find it hard to overcome.”
“What shall we do if they invade us again ?”
"I have prepared for that. Just now Chuko Liang is imitating Han Hsin when he secretly crossed the river into Ch'ênts'ang. I can recommend a man to guard the place by building a rampart there and rendering it absolutely secure. He is a tall man, round shouldered and powerful, a good archer and prudent strategist. He would be quite equal to dealing with an invasion. His name is Hao Chao, and he is in command at Hohsi."
The king accepted the recommendation, and an edict went forth promoting this man and sending him to command in the Ch'ênts ang district.
Soon after this edict was issued, a memorial was received from Ts'ao Hsiu, Minister of War and Commandant of Yangchou, saying that Chou Fang, Prefect of Yehyang, wished to tender his submission and transfer his allegiance, and had sent a man to present a memorandum under seven headings showing how the power of East Wu could be broken and to ask that an army be despatched soon. Ts'ao Jui spread the document out on the couch that he and Ssúma might read it.
"It seems very reasonable,” said Ssŭma. “Wu could be quite destroyed. Let me go with an army to help Ts'ao Hsiu."
But from among the courtiers stepped out Chia K'uei, who said, "What this man of Wu says may be understood in two ways; do not trust it. Chou Fang is a wise and crafty man and very unlikely to desert. In this is some ruse to decoy our soldiers into danger."