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CHAPTER 109. A Ruse Of A Han General: Sima Zhao Is Surrounded; Retribution For The House Of Wei: Cao Fang Is Dethroned.

| Articles of Ancient China, English Version - Romance of the Three Kingdoms Novel | March 7, 2011

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It was the autumn of the sixteenth year of Long
Enjoyment (AD 253), and Jiang Wei’s army of two
hundred thousand was ready to march against the
north. Liao Hua and Zhang Yi were Leaders of the
Van; Xiahou Ba was Army Strategist; Zhang Ni was
in command of the commissariat. The army marched
out by the Yangping Pass.
Discussing the plan of campaign with Xiahou Ba,
Jiang Wei said, “Our former attack on Yongzhou
failed, so this time they will doubtless be even better
prepared to resist. What do you suggest?”
Xiahou Ba replied, “Nanan is the only
well−provided place in all Longshang; if we take that,
it will serve as an excellent base. Our former
ill−success was due to the non−arrival of the Qiangs.
Let us therefore send early to tell them to assemble
at Longyou, after which we will move out at Shiying
and march to Nanan by way of Dongting.”
Three Kingdoms Romance
“You spoke well,” said Jiang Wei.
He at once sent Xi Zheng as his envoy, bearing
gifts of gold and pearls and silk to win the help of the
King of the Qiangs, whose name was Mi Dang. The
mission was successful; King Mi Dang accepted the
presents and sent fifty thousand troops to Nanan
under the Qiang General Ehe Shaoge.
When Guo Huai heard of the threatened attack,
he sent a hasty memorial to Luoyang.
Sima Shi at once asked his leaders, “Who will go
out to meet the army from the west?”
Xu Zhi volunteered, and as Sima Shi had a high
opinion of his capacity, he appointed Xu Zhi as
Leader of the Van. The brother of the Prime Minister,
Sima Zhao, went as Commander−in−Chief.
The Wei army set out for Xizhou, reached
Dongting and there fell in with Jiang Wei. When both
sides were arrayed Xu Zhi, who wielded a mighty
splitter−of−mountains ax as his weapon, rode out
and challenged. Liao Hua went forth to accept, but
after a few bouts he took advantage of a feint and
Then Zhang Yi set his spear and rode forth to
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continue the fight. He also soon fled and returned
within his own ranks. Thereupon Xu Zhi gave the
signal to fall on in force, and the army of Shu lost the
day. They retired ten miles, Sima Zhao also drew off
his troops, and both sides encamped.
“Xu Zhi is very formidable; how can we overcome
him?” asked Jiang Wei.
“Tomorrow make pretense of defeat and so draw
them into an ambush,” replied Xiahou Ba.
“But remember whose son this Sima Zhao is,”
said Jiang Wei. “Sima Zhao cannot be a novice in
war; and if he sees a likely spot for an ambush, he
will halt. Now the troops of Wei have cut our
transportation many times; let us do the same to
them, and we may slay this Xu Zhi.”
He called in Liao Hua and Zhang Yi and gave
them secret orders, sending them in different
directions. Then he laid iron thorns along all the
approaches and planted thorny barriers as if making
a permanent defense. When the troops of Wei came
up and challenged, the troops of Shu refused battle.
The scouts reported to Sima Zhao: “The Shu
supplies are coming up along the rear of Iron Cage
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Mountain, and they are using the wooden oxen and
running horses as transport.”
They also reported the look of permanency in the
defenses and said they were evidently awaiting the
arrival of their allies the Qiang tribes.
Then said Sima Zhao to Xu Zhi, “We formerly
defeated the army of Shu by cutting off supplies, and
we can do that again. Let five thousand troops go out
tonight and occupy the road.”
About the middle of the first watch Xu Zhi
marched across the hills; and when he came to the
other side, he saw a couple of hundred soldiers
driving a hundred or so heads of mechanical animals
laden with grain and forage. His army rushed down
upon them with shouts, and the troops of Shu,
seeing that their road was impassable, abandoned
their supplies and ran away. Xu Zhi took possession
of the supply train, which he sent back to his own
camp under the escort of half his troops. With the
other half he set out in pursuit.
About three miles away, the road was found
blocked with carts set across the track. Some of his
soldiers dismounted to clear the way; but as they did
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so, the brushwood on both sides burst into a blaze.
Xu Zhi at once drew off his force and turned to retire,
but coming to a defile he found the road again
blocked with wagons, and again the brushwood
began to burn. He made a dash to escape, but
before he could get clear a bomb roared, and he saw
the troops of Shu coming down on him from two
directions. Liao Hua and Zhang Yi from left and right
fell on Xu Zhi with great fury, and the troops of Wei
were wholly defeated. Xu Zhi himself got clear, but
without any following.
He struggled on till he and his steed were almost
spent with fatigue. Presently he saw another
company of the enemy in his way, and the leader
was Jiang Wei. Before he could make any
resistance, Jiang Wei’s spear thrust him down, and
as Xu Zhi lay on the ground he was cut to pieces.
Meanwhile those troops of Wei who had been
sent to escort to camp the convoy of supplies which
they had seized were captured by Xiahou Ba. They
surrendered. Xiahou Ba then stripped them of their
weapons and clothing and therein disguised some of
his own soldiers. Holding aloft banners of Wei, these
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disguised soldiers made for the Wei camp. When
they arrived, they were mistaken by those in the
camp for comrades, and the gates were thrown
open. They rushed in and began to slay. Taken
wholly by surprise, Sima Zhao leaped upon his steed
and fled. But Liao Hua met him and drove him back.
Then appeared Jiang Wei in the path of retreat, so
that no road lay open. Sima Zhao made off for the
hills, hoping to be able to hold out on the Iron Cage
Now there was only one road up the hill, which
rose steeply on all sides. And the hill had but one
small spring of water, enough to serve a hundred
people or so, while Sima Zhao’s force numbered six
thousand. Their enemies had blocked the only road
of escape. This one fountain was unequal to
supplying the needs of the beleaguered army, and
soon they were tormented with thirst.
In despair, Sima Zhao looked up to heaven and
sighed, saying, “Death will surely come to me here!”
The host of Wei on Iron Cage Mountain,
Were once fast held by Jiang Wei’s skill;
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When Pang Juan first crossed the Maling Hills,
His strategy was reckoned fine
As Xiang Yu at the Nine Mountains;
Both bent opponents to their will.
In this critical situation a certain civil officer, Wang
Tao by name, reminded his leader of what Geng
Gong had done in ancient time, saying, “O General,
why do you not imitate Geng Gong, who, being in
great need, prostrated himself and prayed at a well,
wherefrom he afterwards was supplied with sweet
So the leader went to the summit of the hill and
knelt beside the spring and grayed thus:
“The humble Sima Zhao received a command to
repulse the army of Shu. If he is to die here, then
may this spring cease its flow, when he will end his
own life and let his soldiers yield to the enemy. But if
his allotted span of life be not reached, then, O Blue
Vault, increase the flow of water and save the lives
of this multitude.”
Thus he prayed; and the waters gushed forth in
plenty, so that they all quenched their thirst and
Three Kingdoms Romance
Jiang Wei had surrounded the hill, holding the
army thereon as in a prison. He said to his officers, “I
have always regretted that our great Prime Minister
was unable to capture Sima Yi in the Gourd Valley,
but now I think his son is doomed to fall into our
However, news of the dangerous position of Sima
Zhao had come to Guo Huai, who set about a
Chen Tai said to him, “Jiang Wei has made a
league with the Qiangs, and they have arrived to
help him. If you go away to rescue Sima Zhao, the
Qiangs will attack from the rear. Therefore I would
propose to send some one to the tribespeople to try
to create a diversion and get them to retire. If they
are disposed of, you may go to the rescue of Sima
Guo Huai saw there was much reason in this, and
told Chen Tai to take a force of five thousand troops
and go to the camp of the King of the Qiangs. When
Chen Tai reached the camp, he threw off his armor
and entered weeping and crying that he was in
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danger of death.
He said, “Guo Huai sets himself up as superior to
everyone and is trying to slay me. Therefore I have
come to offer my services to you. I know all the
secrets of the Wei army, and, if you will, this very
night I can lead you to their camp. I have friends in
the camp to help, and you can destroy it.”
King Mi Dang was taken with the scheme, and
sent his General Ehe Shaoge to go with Chen Tai.
The deserters from Wei were placed in the rear, but
Chen Tai himself rode with the leading body of the
Qiangs. They set out at the second watch and soon
arrived. They found the gates open, and Chen Tai
rode in boldly. But when Ehe Shaoge and his troops
galloped in, there suddenly arose a great cry as
soldiers and horses went tumbling into great pits. At
the same time Chen Tai came round in the rear and
attacked, while Guo Huai appeared on the flank. The
Qiangs trampled each other down, and many were
killed. Those who escaped death surrendered, and
the leader, Ehe Shaoge, committed suicide in a pit.
Guo Huai and Chen Tai then hastened back into
the camp of the Qiangs. Mi Dang, taken unprepared,
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rushed out of his tent to get to horse, but was made
prisoner. He was taken before Guo Huai, who hastily
dismounted, loosed the prisoner’s bonds, and
soothed him with kindly words.
“Our government has always regarded you as a
loyal and true friend,” said Guo Huai. “Why then are
you helping our enemies?”
Mi Dang sank to the ground in confusion, while
Guo Huai continued, “If you will now raise the siege
of Iron Cage Mountain and drive off the troops of
Shu, I will memorialize the Throne and obtain a
reward for you.”
Mi Dang agreed. He set out forthwith, his own
army leading and the army of Wei in the rear. At the
third watch he sent on a messenger to tell Jiang Wei
of his coming. And the Shu leader was glad. Mi Dang
was invited to enter.
On the march the soldiers of Wei had mingled
with the Qiangs, and many of them were in the
forefront of the army. Mi Dang went up toward the
gate with a small company, and Jiang Wei with
Xiahou Ba went to welcome him. Just as they met,
Three Kingdoms Romance
before Mi Dang could say a word, the Wei generals
dashed on past him and set on to slay. Jiang Wei
was taken aback, leaped on his steed and fled, while
the mixed force of troops of Wei and Qiangs drove
the camp defenders before them and sent them
When Jiang Wei leaped upon his steed at the
gate, he had no weapon in his hand, only his bow
and quiver hung at his shoulder. In his hasty flight
the arrows fell out and the quiver was empty, so
when he set off for the hills with Guo Huai in pursuit,
Jiang Wei had nothing to oppose to the spears of his
pursuers. As they came near he laid hands upon his
bow and made as if to shoot. The string twanged and
Guo Huai blenched. But as no arrow went flying by,
Guo Huai knew Jiang Wei had none to shoot. Guo
Huai therefore hung his spear, took his bow and
shot. Jiang Wei caught the arrow as it flew by and
fitted it to his bowstring. He waited till Guo Huai
came quite near, when he pulled the string with all
his force and sent the arrow flying straight at Guo
Huai’s face. Guo Huai fell even as the bowstring
Three Kingdoms Romance
Jiang Wei pulled up and turned to finish his fallen
enemy, but the soldiers of Wei were nearly upon
him, and he had only time to snatch up Guo Huai’s
spear and ride off. Now that Jiang Wei was armed
and their own leader wounded, the soldiers of Wei
had no more desire to fight. They picked up their
general and carried him to camp. There the
arrow−head was pulled out, but the flow of blood
could not be stanched, and Guo Huai died.
Sima Zhao descended from the hill as soon as
Jiang Wei moved away, and pursued some distance
before returning.
Xiahou Ba forced his way out and rejoined Jiang
Wei as soon as he could, and they marched away
together. The losses of Shu in this defeat were very
heavy. On the road they dared not halt to muster or
reform, but went helter−skelter into Hanzhong. In
that campaign, though the Shu army were defeated,
they had killed Xu Zhi and Guo Huai on the other
side and had damaged the prestige of Wei. Thus
Jiang Wei’s achievement made up for his offense.
After rewarding the Qiangs for their help, Sima
Zhao led his army back to Luoyang, where he joined
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his brother Sima Shi in administering the
government. They were too strong for any of the
officers to dare opposition, and they terrorized Cao
Fang, the Ruler of Wei, so that he shook with fright
whenever he saw Sima Shi at court, and felt as if
needles were being stuck into his back.
One day, when the Ruler of Wei was holding a
court, Sima Shi came into the hall wearing his sword.
Cao Fang hastily left his Dragon Throne to receive
“What does this mean? Is this the correct
etiquette for a prince when his minister approaches?”
said Sima Shi, smiling. “I pray Your Majesty
remember your dignity and listen while the ministers
address the Throne.”
Court business then proceeded. Sima Shi
decided every question without reference to the
Ruler of Wei; and when Sima Shi retired, he stalked
haughtily down the hall and went home, followed by
his escort, which numbered thousands of horse and
When the Ruler of Wei left the court, only three
followed him to the private apartments. They were
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Minister Xiahou Xuan, Secretary Li Feng, and High
Minister Zhang Qi. Zhang Qi was the father of his
consort, Empress Zhang. Sending away the
servants, Cao Fang and these three went into a
private chamber.
Seizing his father−in−law’s hand, Cao Fang
began to weep, saying, “That man Sima Shi treats
me as a child and regards the officers of state as if
they were so many straws. I am sure the throne will
be his one day.”
And he wept bitterly.
Said Li Feng, “Do not be so sad, Sire. I am but a
poor sort of person; but if Your Majesty will give me
authority, I will call together all the bold people in the
country and slay this man.”
“It was from fear of this man that my brother
Xiahou Ba was forced to go over to Shu,” said
Xiahou Xuan. “If Sima Shi were destroyed, my
brother could return. I belong to a family related to
the rulers of the state for many generations, and I
cannot sit still while a wretch ruins the government.
Put my name in the command as well, and we will
work together to remove him.”
Three Kingdoms Romance
“But I am afraid we can not overcome him,” said
Cao Fang.
They wept and said, “We pledge ourselves to
work together for the destruction of the tyrant, and to
show our gratitude to Your Majesty.”
Cao Fang them stripped himself of his innermost
garment, gnawed his finger till the blood flowed, and
with his finger−tip traced a command in blood.
He gave it to his father−in−law, Zhang Qi, saying,
“My ancestor, the Emperor Cao, put to death Dong
Cheng for just such a matter as this, so you must be
exceedingly careful and maintain the greatest
“Oh, why use such ill−omened words?” cried Li
Feng. “We are not like Dong Cheng, and Sima Shi
cannot compare to the Founder. Have no doubts.”
The three conspirators took leave and went out
carrying the edict with them. Beside the Donghua
Gate of the palace, they saw Sima Shi coming to
meet them wearing a sword. Following him were
many armed guards. The three ministers took the
side of the road to let the party go by.
“Why are you three so late in leaving the Palace?”
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asked Sima Shi.
“His Majesty was reading, and we stayed with
him,” said Li Feng.
“What was he reading?”
“The histories of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou
“What questions did the Emperor ask as he read
those books?”
“He asked about Yi Yin and how he upheld the
Shang; and the Duke of Zhou, how he acted when
he was regent. And we told His Majesty that you
were both Yi Yin and Duke Zhou to him.”
Sima Shi smiled grimly and said, “Why did you
compare me with those two when in your hearts you
think me a rebel like Wang Mang and Dong Zhuo?”
“How should we dare when we are your
subordinates?” said the three ministers.
“You are a lot of flatterers,” said Sima Shi, angrily.
“And what were you crying about in that private
chamber with the Emperor?”
“We did no such thing.”
“Your eyes are still red; you cannot deny that.”
Xiahou Xuan then knew that the secrecy had
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been showed, so he broke out into a volley of abuse,
crying, “Well, we were crying because of your
conduct, because you terrorize over the Emperor
and are scheming to usurp the Throne.”
“Seize him!” roared Sima Shi.
Xiahou Xuan threw back his sleeves and struck at
Sima Shi with his fists, but the lictors pulled him
back. Then the three were searched, and on Zhang
Qi was found the blood−stained garment of the
Emperor. They handed it to their chief, who
recognized the object of his search, the secret edict.
It said:
“The two Sima brothers have stolen away all my
authority and are plotting to take the Throne. The
edicts I have
been forced to issue do not represent my wishes,
and hereby all officers, civil and military, may unite to
destroy these two and restore the authority of the
Throne. These ends achieved, I will reward those
who help to accomplish them.”
Sima Shi, more angry than ever, said, “So you
Three Kingdoms Romance
wish to destroy me and my brother. This is too
He ordered his followers to execute the three on
the public ground by waist−bisection and to destroy
their whole clans.
The three reviled without ceasing. On the way to
the place of execution, they ground their teeth with
rage, spitting out the pieces they broke off. They died
muttering curses.
Sima Shi then went to the rear apartments of the
palace, where he found the Emperor talking with his
Consort. Just as he entered, she was saying to the
Emperor, “The palace is full of spies, and if this
comes out, it will mean trouble for me.”
Sima Shi strode in, sword in hand.
“My father placed Your Majesty on the throne, a
service no less worthy than that of Duke Zhou; I
have served Your Majesty as Yi Yin served his
master. Now is kindness met by enmity and service
regarded as a fault. Your Majesty has plotted with
two or three insignificant officials to slay me and my
brother. Why is this?”
“I had no such intention,” said Cao Fang.
Three Kingdoms Romance
In reply Sima Shi drew the garment from his
sleeve and threw it on the ground.
“Who did this?”
Cao Fang was overwhelmed; his soul flew
beyond the skies, his spirit lied to the ninth heaven.
Shaking with fear, he said, “I was forced into it.
How could I think of such a thing?”
“To slander ministers by charging them with
rebellion is an aggravated crime,” said Sima Shi.
Cao Fang knelt at his feet, saying, “Yes; I am
guilty; forgive me.”
“I beg Your Majesty to rise; the laws must be
Pointing to Empress Zhang, Sima Shi said, “She
is of the Zhang house and must die.”
“Spare her,” cried Cao Fang, weeping bitterly.
But Sima Shi was obdurate. He bade the lictors
lead her away, and she was strangled with a white
silk cord at the palace gate.
Now I recall another year; and lo!
An empress borne away to shameful death.
Barefooted, weeping bitterly she shrieks
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“Farewell,” torn from her consort’s arms.
History repeats itself; time’s instrument,
Sima Shi avenges this on Cao Cao’s heirs.
The day after these events, Sima Shi assembled
all the officers and addressed them thus: “Our
present lord is profligate and devoid of principle;
familiar with the vile and friendly with the impure. He
lends a ready ear to slander and keeps good people
at a distance. His faults exceed those of Prince
Changyi of old, and he has proved himself unfit to
rule. Wherefore, following the precedents of Yi Yin
and Huo Guang, I have decided to put him aside and
to set up another, thereby to maintain the sanctity of
the ruler and ensure tranquillity. What think you,
They all agreed, saying, “General, you are right to
play the same part as Yi Yin and Huo Guang,
thereby acting in accordance with Heaven and
fulfilling the desire of humankind. Who dares dispute
Then Sima Shi, followed by the whole of the
officials, went to the Palace of Everlasting Peace and
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informed the Empress Dowager of his intention.
“Whom do you propose to place on the throne,
General?” she asked.
“I have observed that Cao Ju, Prince of
Pengcheng, is intelligent, benevolent, and filial; he is
fit to rule the empire.”
She replied, “He is my uncle, and it is not
convenient. However, there is Cao Mao, Duke of
Gaogui, and grandson of Emperor Pi. He is of mild
temperament, respectful, and deferential, and may
be set up. You, Sir, and the high officers of state
might favorably consider this.”
Then spoke one, saying, “Her Majesty speaks
well; Cao Mao should be raised to the throne.”
All eyes turned toward the speaker, who was
Sima Fu, uncle of Sima Shi.
The Duke of Gaogui was summoned to the
The Empress called Cao Fang into her presence
in the Hall of Principles and blamed him, saying,
“You are vicious beyond measure, a companion of
lewd men and a friend of vile women. You are
unfitted to rule. Therefore resign the imperial seal
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and revert to your status of Prince of Qi (an ancient
state). You are forbidden to present yourself at court
without special command.”
Cao Fang, weeping, threw himself at her feet. He
gave up the seal, got into his carriage and went
away. Only a few faithful ministers restrained their
tears and bade him farewell.
Cao Cao, the mighty minister of Han,
Oppressed the helpless; little then thought he
That only two score swiftly passing years
Would bring like fate to his posterity.
The Emperor−elect Cao Mao was the grandson of
Emperor Pi, and son of Cao Lin, Prince of Donghai.
When Cao Mao he was nearing the capital, all the
officers attended to receive him at the Nanye Gate,
where an imperial carriage awaited him. He hastily
returned their salutations.
“The ruler ought not to return these salutations,”
said Wang Su, one of the officers.
“I also am a minister and must respond,” replied
Three Kingdoms Romance
They conducted him to the carriage to ride into
the palace, but he refused to mount it, saying, “Her
Majesty has commanded my presence; I know not
for what reason. How dare I enter the Palace in such
a carriage?”
He went on foot to the Hall, where Sima Shi
awaited him. He prostrated himself before Sima Shi.
Sima Shi hastily raised him and led him into the
The Empress Dowager said, “In your youth I
noticed that you bore the impress of majesty. Now
you are to be the Ruler of the Empire. You must be
respectful and moderate, diffusing virtue and
benevolence. You must do honor to your
ancestors—the former emperors.”
Cao Mao modestly declined the proposed honor,
but he was compelled to accept it. He was led out of
the presence of the Empress Dowager and placed in
the seat of empire in the Hall of Principles.
The style of the reign was changed from
Domestic Calm, the sixth year, to Right Origin, the
first year (AD 254). An amnesty was granted. Honors
were heaped upon Sima Shi, who also received the
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golden axes, with the right to proceed leisurely within
the precincts, to address the Throne without using
his name, and to wear arms at court. Many other
officers also received promotions.
But in the spring of the second year of Right
Origin, it was reported at court that Guanqiu Jian,
General Who Guards the East, and Wen Qin,
Imperial Protector of Yangzhou, were raising armies
with the declared design of restoring the deposed
Sima Shi disconcerted.
If ministers of Han have always faithful been,
Wei leaders, too, prove their loyalty are keen.
How this new menace was met will appear in the
next chapter.
Three Kingdoms Romance

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