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CHAPTER 36. Shan Fu’s Strategy: Fankou Is Captured; Xu Shu’s Affection: Zhuge Liang Is Recommended.

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

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In hot anger, Cao Ren lost no time in marching
out to avenge the loss of so many of his army. He
hastily crossed the River Yu to attack Xinye and
trample it in the dust.
When San Fu got back into the city, he said to Liu
Bei, “When Cao Ren, now at Fankou, hears of his
losses, he will try to retrieve them and will come to
attack us.”
“What is the counter move?” asked Liu Bei.
“As he will come with all his force, his own city will
be left undefended; we will surprise it.”
“By what ruse?”
The adviser leaned over and whispered to his
chief. Whatever the plan was, it pleased Liu Bei, who
made arrangements. Soon the scouts reported Cao
Ren crossing the river with a mighty host.
“Just as I guessed,” said San Fu, hearing of it.
Then he suggested that Liu Bei should lead out
one army against the invaders. Liu Bei did so, and,
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when the formation was complete, Zhao Yun rode to
the front as champion and challenged the other side.
Li Dian rode out and engaged. At about the tenth
bout Li Dian found he was losing and retired toward
his own side. Zhao Yun pressed after him, but was
checked by a heavy discharge of arrows from the
wings. Then both sides stopped the battle and retired
to their camps.
Li Dian reported to his chief: “Our enemy are
brave, very full of spirit, and we will be hard to
overcome. We would better retreat to Fankou and
wait for reinforcements.”
Cao Ren angrily replied, “You damped the army’s
spirit before we started, and now you betray us. You
have been bought and you deserve death.”
Cao Ren called in the executioners, and they led
away their victim. But the other officers came to
intercede and Li Dian was spared. However, he was
transferred to the command of the rear, while Cao
Ren himself led the attack.
Next day the drums beat an advance and Cao
Ren, having drawn up his soldiers, sent a messenger
over to ask if Liu Bei recognized his plan of battle
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So San Fu went on a hill and looked over it. Then
he said to Liu Bei, “The arrangement is called ‘The
Eight Docked Gates,’ and the names of the gates are
Birth, Exit, Expanse, Wound, Fear, Annihilation,
Obstacle, and Death. If you enter by one of the three
Birth, Exit, or Expanse you succeed; if by one of the
gates Wound, Fear, or Annihilation, you sustain
injuries. The other two gates Obstacles and Death
will bring the end. Now, though the eight gates are all
there quite correct, the central key−post is lacking,
and the whole formation can be thrown into
confusion by entry from the southeast and exit due
Wherefore certain orders were issued and Zhao
Yun, leading five hundred troops, rode out on his
prancing steed to break the array. He burst in, as
directed, at the southeast and, with great clamor and
fighting, reached the center. Cao Ren made for the
north, but Zhao Yun, instead of following him, made
a dash westward and got through. Thence he turned
round to the southeast again and smote till Cao
Ren’s army was in disarray. Liu Bei gave a general
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advance signal, and the victory was complete. The
beaten enemy retired.
San Fu forbade pursuit, and they returned. The
loss of the battle convinced Cao Ren of the wisdom
of his colleague Li Dian, and he sent for Li Dian to
“They certainly have some very able person in Liu
Bei’s army since my formation was so quickly
broken,” said Cao Ren.
“My chief anxiety is about Fankou,” said Li Dian.
“I will raid their camp this night,” said Cao Ren. “If
I succeed, we will decide upon what should be done
next. If I fail, we will return to Fankou.”
“Their camp will be well prepared against such a
thing, and you will fail,” said Li Dian.
“How can you expect to fight successfully when
you are so full of doubts?” said Cao Ren, angrily.
He held no more converse with his cautious
colleague, but himself took command of the van and
set out. Li Dian was relegated to the rear. The attack
on the enemy’s camp was fixed for the second
Now as San Fu was discussing plans with his
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chief a whirlwind from the northeast went by, which
San Fu said, “There will be a raid on the camp
“How shall we meet it?” said Liu Bei.
“The plans are quite ready,” was the reply.
San Fu whispered them to the chief. So at the
second watch, when the enemy arrived, they saw
fires on all sides; the stockades and huts burning.
Cao Ren understood at once that all hope of a
surprise was vain, and he turned to get away as
quickly as possible. This was the signal for Zhao Yun
to fall on, and that cut Cao Ren’s return road. He
hastened north toward the river, and reached the
bank, but, while waiting for boats to cross the
stream, up came Zhang Fei and attacked.
By dint of great efforts and with the support of Li
Dian, Cao Ren got into a boat, but most of the
soldiers were drowned in the stream. As soon as he
got to the farther shore, he bolted for Fankou. He
reached the wall and hailed the gate, but, instead of
a friendly welcome, he heard the rolling of drums,
which was soon followed by the appearance of a
body of troops. Guan Yu led them.
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“I took the city a long time ago!” shouted Guan
This was a severe shock to Cao Ren, who turned
to flee. As soon as he faced about, Guan Yu
attacked and killed many of his force. The remnant
hastened to Xuchang. On the road the beaten
general wondered who had advised his opponents
with such success, and he asked the natives for the
answer. While the defeated Cao Ren had to find his
way back to the capital, Liu Bei had scored a great
success. Afterwards he marched to Fankou, where
he was welcomed by Magistrate Liu Mi, himself a
scion of the ruling family, who had been born in
Changsha. He received Liu Bei as a guest in his own
house and gave banquets and treated him
exceedingly well.
In the train of the Magistrate, Liu Bei saw a very
handsome and distinguished−looking young man,
and asked who he was.
Liu Mi replied, “He is my nephew, Kou Feng, an
orphan, whom I am taking care of.”
Liu Bei had taken a great liking for the lad and
proposed to adopt him. His guardian was willing, and
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so the adoption was arranged. The young man’s
name was changed to Liu Feng. When Liu Bei left,
he took his adopted son with him. Liu Feng was then
made to bow before Guan Yu and Zhang Fei as
Guan Yu was doubtful of the wisdom of adopting
another son, saying, “You have a son; why do you
think it necessary to adopt another? It may cause
“How? I shall treat him as a father should, and he
will serve me as befits a son.”
Guan Yu was displeased. Then Liu Bei and San
Fu began further discussions of strategy, and they
decided to leave Zhao Yun with one thousand
soldiers to guard Fankou, and they returned to
In the meantime Cao Cao’s defeated generals
had gone back. When they saw the Prime Minister,
Cao Ren threw himself on the ground weeping and
acknowledging his faults. He told the tale of his
“The fortune of war,” said Cao Cao. “But I should
like to know who laid Liu Bei’s plans.”
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“That was San Fu,” said Cao Ren.
“Who is he?” asked Cao Cao.
Cheng Yu said, “The man is not San Fu. When
young this man was fond of fencing and used to take
up the quarrels of other men and avenge their
wrongs. At the end of Emperor Ling, he killed a man
to avenge his friend, and then he let down his hair,
muddled his face, and was trying to escape when a
lictor caught him and questioned him. He would not
reply. So they carted him through the streets beating
a drum and asking if any one recognized him.
Nobody dared own to knowing him, if they did so.
However, his comrades managed to release him
secretly, and he ran away under some other name.
Then he turned to study and wandered hither and
thither wherever scholars were to be found. He was
a regular disputant with Sima Hui. His real name is
Xu Shu and he comes from Yingchuan. San Fu is
merely an assumed name.”
“How does he compare with yourself’“ asked Cao
“Ten times cleverer.”
“It is a pity. If able people gather to Liu Bei, his
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wings will soon grow. What is to be done?”
“Xu Shu is there now; but if you wanted him, it
would not be difficult to call him,” replied Cheng Yu.
“How could I make him come?” said Cao Cao.
“He is noted for his affection for his mother. His
father died young, leaving his mother a widow with
one other son. Now that son is dead, and his mother,
Lady Xun, has no one to care for her. If you sent and
got his mother here and told her to write and
summon her son, he would surely come.”
Cao Cao sent without loss of time and had the old
lady brought to the capital, where he treated her
exceedingly well.
Presently he said, “I hear you have a very
talented son, who is now at Xinye helping on that
rebel Liu Bei against the government. There he is
like a jewel in a muck−heap; it is a pity. Supposing
you were to call him, I could speak of him before the
Emperor, and he might get an important office.”
Cao Cao bade his secretaries bring along the
“four precious things of the study,” with which Lady
Xun could write to her son.
“What sort of a man is Liu Bei?” asked she.
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Cao Cao replied, “A common sort of person from
Zhuo, irresponsible enough to style himself Imperial
Uncle, and so claiming some sort of connection with
the Hans. He is neither trustworthy nor virtuous.
People say he is a superior man as far as externals
go, but a mean man by nature.”
Lady Xun answered in a hard voice, “Why do you
malign him so bitterly? Every one knows he is a
descendant of one of the Han princes and so related
to the House. He has condescended to take a lowly
office and is respectful to all people. He has a
reputation for benevolence. Every one, young and
old, cowherds and firewood cutters, all know him by
name and know that he is the finest and noblest man
in the world. If my son is in his service, then has he
found a fitting master. You, under the name of a Han
minister, are really nothing but a Han rebel. Contrary
to all truth you tell me Liu Bei is a rebel, whereby you
try to induce me to make my son leave the light for
darkness. Are you devoid of all sense of shame?”
As Lady Xun finished speaking, she picked up the
inkstone to strike Cao Cao. This so enraged him that
he forgot himself and the need for caution and bade
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the executioners lead off the old woman and put her
to death.
Adviser Cheng Yu, however, stopped this act,
saying, “This old lady wished to die. But if you kill
her, your reputation will be damaged and hers
enhanced. Beside that will add a keen desire for
revenge to the motives which led Xu Shu to labor in
the interest of Liu Bei. You would better keep her
here so that Xu Shu’s body and his thoughts may be
in different places. He can not devote all his energies
to helping our enemy while his mother is here. If you
keep her, I think I can persuade the son to come and
help you.”
So the outspoken old lady was saved. She was
given quarters and cared for. Daily Cheng Yu went to
ask after her health, falsely claiming to being a sworn
brother of her son’s, and so entitled to serve her and
treat her as a filial son would have done. He often
sent her gifts and wrote letters to her so that she had
to write in reply. And thereby he learned her
handwriting so that he could forge a “home” letter.
When he could do this without fear of detection, he
wrote one and sent it by the hand of a trusty person
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to Xinye.
One day a man arrived inquiring for one San Fu;
he claimed to have a letter from home for him. The
soldiers led the man to San Fu. The man said he
was an official carrier of letters and had been told to
bring this one. San Fu quickly tore it open and read:
“On your brother’s death recently I was left alone;
no relative was near and I was lonely and sad. To
my regret, the
Prime Minister Cao Cao inveigled me into coming
to the capital, and now he says you are a rebel and
he has throw me into bonds. However, thanks to
Cheng Yu, my life has been spared so far, and, if
you would only come and submit too, I should be
quite safe. When this reaches you, remember how I
have toiled for you and come at once, that you may
prove yourself a filial son. We may together find
some way of escape to our own place and avoid the
dangers that threaten me. My life hangs by a thread
and I look to you to save me. You will not require a
second summon.”
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Tears gushed from Xu Shu’s eyes as he read,
and with the letter in his hand he went to seek his
chief, to whom he told the true story of his life.
“I heard that Liu Biao treated people well and
went to him. I happened to arrive at a time of
confusion. I saw he was of no use, so I left him very
soon. I arrived at the retreat of Sima Hui the
Water−Mirror late one night and told him, and he
blamed me for not knowing a master when I saw
one. Then he told me of you and I sang that wild
song in the streets to attract your attention. You took
me; you used me. But now my aged mother is the
victim of Cao Cao’s wiles. She is in prison, and he
threatens to do worse. She has written to call me,
and I must go. I hoped to be able to render you
faithful service, but, with my dear mother a captive, I
should be useless. Therefore I must leave you and
hope in the future to meet you again.”
Liu Bei broke into loud moans when he heard that
his adviser was to leave.
“The bond between mother and son is divine,”
said Liu Bei, “and I do not need to be reminded
where your duty lies. When you have seen your
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venerable mother, perhaps I may have again the
happiness of receiving your instruction.”
Having said farewell, Xu Shu prepared to leave at
once. However, at Liu Bei’s wish, he consented to
stay over the night.
Then Sun Qian said privately to his master, “Xu
Shu is indeed a genius, but he has been here long
enough to know all our secrets. If you let him go over
to Cao Cao, he will be in his confidence and that will
be to our detriment. You ought to keep him at all
costs and not let him go. When Cao Cao sees Xu
Shu does not come, he will put the mother to death,
and that will make Xu Shu the more zealous in your
service, for he will burn to avenge his mother’s
“I cannot do that. It would be very cruel and vile to
procure the death of his mother that I might retain
the son’s services. If I kept him, it would lead to a
rupture of the parental lien, and that would be a sin I
would rather die than commit.”
Both were grieved and sighed. Liu Bei asked the
parting guest to a banquet, but he declined, saying,
“With my mother a prisoner I can swallow nothing,
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nay, though it were brewed from gold or distilled from
“Alas! Your departure is as if I lost both my
hands,” said Liu Bei. “Even the liver of a dragon or
the marrow of a phoenix would be bitter in my
They looked into each other’s eyes and wept.
They sat silent till dawn. When all was ready for the
journey, the two rode out of the city side by side. At
Daisy Pavilion they dismounted to drink the stirrup
Liu Bei lifted the goblet and said, “It is my mean
fortune that separates me from you, but I hope that
you may serve well your new lord and become
Xu Shu wept as he replied, “I am but a poor
ignorant person whom you have kindly employed.
Unhappily I have to break our intercourse in the
middle, but my venerable mother is the real cause.
Though Cao Cao use all manner of means to coerce
me, yet will I never plan for him.”
“After you are gone, I shall only bury myself in the
hills and hide in the forests,” said Liu Bei.
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Xu Shu said, “I had in my heart for you the
position of leader of the chieftains, but my plans
have been altogether upset by my mother. I have
been of no advantage to you nor should I do any
good by remaining. But you ought to seek some
person of lofty wisdom to help you in your great
enterprise. It is unseemly to be downcast.”
“I shall find none to help better than you, my
“How can I permit such extravagant praise?” said
Xu Shu. “I am only a useless blockhead.”
As he moved off, he said to the followers,
“Officers, I hope you will render the Princely One
good service, whereby to write his name large in the
country’s annals and cause his fame to glow in the
pages of history. Do not be like me, a person who
has left his work half done.”
They were all deeply affected. Liu Bei could not
bring himself to part from his friend. He escorted him
a little further, and yet a little further, till Xu Shu said,
“I will not trouble you, O Princely One, to come
further. Let us say our farewell here.”
Liu Bei dismounted, took Xu Shu by the hands,
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and said, “Alas! We part. Each goes his way and
who knows if we shall meet again?”
His tears fell like rain and Xu Shu wept also. But
the last goodbyes were said; and when the traveler
had gone, Liu Bei stood gazing after the little party
and watched it slowly disappear. At the last glimpse
he broke into lamentation.
“He is gone! What shall I do?”
One of the trees shut out the traveler from his
sight, and Liu Bei pointed at it, saying, “Wish that I
could cut down every tree in the countryside!”
“Why?” said his officers.
“Because they hinder my sight of Xu Shu.”
Suddenly they saw Xu Shu galloping back.
Said Liu Bei, “He is returning; can it he that he is
going to stay?”
So he hastened forward to meet Xu Shu, and
when they got near enough, he cried, “This return is
surely for no slight reason.”
Checking his horse, Xu Shu said, “In the turmoil
of my feelings I forgot to say one word. There is a
person of wonderful skill living about seven miles
from the city of Xiangyang; why not seek him?”
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“Can I trouble you to ask him to visit me?”
“He will not condescend to visit you; you must go
to him. But if he consents, you will be as fortunate as
the Zhou when they got the aid of Lu Wang, or the
Han when Zhang Liang came to help.”
“How does the unknown compare with yourself?”
“With me? Compared with him I am as a
worn−out carthorse to a palomino, an old crow to a
phoenix. This man often compares himself with the
ancient sages Guan Zhong and Yue Yi but, in my
opinion, he is far their superior. He has the talent to
measure the heavens and mete the earth; he is a
man who overshadows every other in the world.”
“I would know his name.”
“He belongs to Langye; and his name is Zhuge
Liang. He is of the family of the former General
Zhuge Feng. His father, Zhuge Gui, was the
Governor Deputy of Taishan but died young, and the
young fellow went with his uncle Zhuge Xuan to
Jingzhou. Imperial Protector Liu Biao was an old
friend of his uncle, and Zhuge Liang became settled
in Xiangyang. Then his uncle died, and he and his
younger brother, Zhuge Jun, returned to their farm in
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Nanyang and worked as farmers. They used to
amuse themselves with the composition of songs in
the Liangfu style.
“On their land was a ridge of hills called the
Sleeping Dragon, and the elder of the brothers took it
a s a n a m e a n d c a l l e d h i m s e l f M a s t e r
Sleeping−Dragon. This is your man; he is a veritable
genius. You ought really to visit him; and if he will
help you, you need feel no more anxiety about peace
in the empire.”
“Water−Mirror spoke that time of two persons,
Sleeping−Dragon and Blooming−Phoenix, and said if
only one of them could be got to help me all would
be well. Surely he, whom you speak of, is one of
“Blooming−Phoenix is Pang Tong of Xiangyang,
and Sleeping−Dragon is Zhuge Liang.”
Liu Bei jumped with delight, “Now at last I know
who the mysterious ones are. How I wish they were
here! But for you I should have still been like a blind
man,” said he.
Some one has celebrated in verse this interview
where Xu Shu from horseback recommended Zhuge
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Liu Bei heard that his able friend
Must leave him, with saddened heart,
For each to the other had grown very dear,
Both wept when it came to part.
But the parting guest then mentioned a name
That echoed both loud and deep,
Like a thunder clap in a spring−time sky,
And there wakened a dragon from sleep.
Thus was Zhuge Liang recommended to Liu Bei,
and Xu Shu rode away.
Now Liu Bei understood the speech of the hermit
Water−Mirror, and he woke as one from a drunken
sleep. At the head of his officers, he retook the road
to the city and having prepared rich gifts set out, with
his brothers, for Nanyang.
Under the influence of his emotions at parting, Xu
Shu had mentioned the name and betrayed the
retreat of his friend. Now he thought of the possibility
that Zhuge Liang would be unwilling to play the part
of helper in Liu Bei’s scheme, so Xu Shu determined
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to go to visit him. He therefore took his way to
Sleeping Dragon Ridge and dismounted at the
Asked why he had come, he replied, “I wished to
serve Liu Bei of Yuzhou, but my mother has been
imprisoned by Cao Cao, and has sent to call me.
Therefore I have had to leave him. At the moment of
parting I commended you to him. You may expect
him speedily and I hope, Sir, you will not refuse your
aid but will consent to use your great talents to help
Zhuge Liang showed annoyance and said, “And
so you have made me the victim of the world
So saying, Zhuge Liang shook out his sleeves
and left the room. The guest shamefacedly retired,
mounted his horse, and hastened on his way to the
capital to see his mother.
To help the lord he loved right well,
He summoned the aid of another
When he took the distant homeward way
At the call of a loving mother.
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What was the sequel will appear in the following
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