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CHAPTER 47. Kan Ze Presents The Treacherous Letter; Pang Tong Suggests Chaining The Ship Together.

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

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Kan Ze was from Shanyin, a son of a humble
family. He loved books, but as he was too poor to
buy, he used to borrow. He had a wonderfully
tenacious memory, was very eloquent and no
coward. Sun Quan had employed him among his
advisers, and he and Huang Gai were excellent
Now Huang Gai had thought of Kan Ze to present
the treacherous letter to Cao Cao, as Kan Ze’s gifts
made him most suitable. Kan Ze accepted with
enthusiasm, saying, “When you, my friend, have
suffered so much for our lord, could I spare myself?
No; while a person lives, he must go on fulfilling his
mission, or he is no better than the herbs that rot in
the field.”
Huang Gai slipped off the couch and came over
to salute him.
“However, this matter must speed;” continued
Kan Ze, “there is no time to lose.”
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“The letter is already written,” said Huang Gai.
Kan Ze received it and left. That night he
disguised himself as an old fisherman and started in
a small punt for the north shore, under the cold,
glittering light of the stars.
Soon he drew near the enemy’s camp and was
captured by the patrol. Without waiting for day, they
informed Cao Cao, who said at once, “Is he not just
a spy?”
“No,” said they, “he is alone, just an old
fisherman; and he says he is an adviser in the
service of the South Land named Kan Ze, and he
has come on secret business.”
“Bring him,” said Cao Cao, and Kan Ze was led
Cao Cao was seated in a brilliantly lighted tent.
He was leaning on a small table, and as soon as he
saw the prisoner, he said harshly, “You are an
adviser of East Wu; what then are you doing here?”
“People say that you greedily welcome people of
ability; I do not think your question a very proper one.
O Friend Huang Gai, you made a mistake,” said Kan
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“You know I am fighting against East Wu and you
come here privately. Why should I not question
“Huang Gai is an old servant of Wu, one who has
served three successive rulers. Now he has been
cruelly beaten, for no fault, before the face of all the
officers in Zhou Yu’s camp. He is grievously angry
about this and wishes to desert to your side that he
may be revenged. He discussed it with me, and as
we are inseparable, I have come to give you his
letter asking whether you would receive him.”
“Where is the letter? said Cao Cao.
The missive was produced and presented. Cao
Cao opened it and read:
“I, Huang Gai, have been generously treated by
t h e S u n f a m i l y a n d h a v e s e r v e d t h e m
single−heartedly. Lately they
have been discussing an attack with our forces on
the enormous army of the central government. Every
one knows our few are no match for such a
multitude, and every officer of the South Land, wise
or foolish, recognizes that quite well. However, Zhou
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Yu who, after all, is but a youth and a shallow
minded simpleton, maintains that success is possible
and rashly desires to smash stones with an egg.
Beside, he is arbitrary and tyrannical, punishing for
no crime, and leaving meritorious service
unrewarded. I am an old servant and for no reason
have been shamed in the sight of humans.
Wherefore I hate him in my heart.
“You, O Prime Minister, treat people with sincerity
and are ready to welcome ability and so I, and those
under my leadership, desire to enter your service
whereby to acquire reputation and remove the
shameful stigma. The commissariat, weapons, and
the supply ships that I am commanding will also
come over to you. In perfect sincerity I state these
matters; I pray you not to doubt me.”
Leaning there on the low table by his side, Cao
Cao turned this letter over and over and read it again
and again.
Then he smacked the table, opened his eyes
wide with anger, saying, “Huang Gai is trying to play
the personal injury trick on me, is he? And you are in
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it as the intermediary to present the letter. How dare
you come to sport with me?”
Cao Cao ordered the lictors to thrust forth the
messenger and take off his head. Kan Ze was
hustled out, his face untroubled. On the contrary, he
laughed aloud. At this Cao Cao told them to bring
him back and harshly said to him, “What do you find
to laugh at now that I have foiled you and your ruse
has failed?”
“I was not laughing at you; I was laughing at my
friend’s simplicity.”
“What do you mean by his simplicity?”
“If you want to slay, slay; do not trouble me with a
multitude of questions.”
“I have read all the books on the art of war, and I
am well versed in all ways of misleading the enemy.
This ruse of yours might have succeeded with many,
but it will not do for me.”
“And so you say that the letter is a vicious trick?”
said Kan Ze.
“What I say is that your little slip has sent you to
the death you risked. If the thing was real and you
were sincere, why does not the letter name a time of
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coming over? What have you to say to that?”
Kan Ze waited to the end and then laughed
louder than ever, saying, “I am so glad you are not
frightened but can still boast of your knowledge of
the books of war. Now you will not lead away your
soldiers. If you fight, Zhou Yu will certainly capture
you. But how sad to think I die at the hand of such an
ignorant fellow!”
“What mean you? I, ignorant?”
“You are ignorant of any strategy and a victim of
unreason; is not that sufficient?”
“Well then, tell me where is any fault.”
“You treat wise people too badly for me to talk to
you. You can finish me and let there be an end of it.”
“If you can speak with any show of reason, I will treat
you differently.”
“Do you not know that when one is going to
desert one’s master and become a renegade, one
cannot say exactly when the chance will occur? If
one binds one’s self to a fixed moment and the thing
cannot be done just then, the secret will be
discovered. One must watch for an opportunity and
take it when it comes. Think: is it possible to know
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exactly when? But you know nothing of common
sense; all you know is how to put good humans to
death. So you really are an ignorant fellow!”
At this Cao Cao changed his manner, got up, and
came over to the prisoner bowing, “I did not see
clearly; that is quite true. I offended you, and I hope
you will forget it.”
“The fact is that Huang Gai and I are both inclined
to desert to you; we even yearn for it as a child
desires its parents. Is it possible that we should play
you false?”
“If you two could render me so great a service,
you shall certainly be richly rewarded.”
“We do not desire rank or riches; we come
because it is the will of Heaven and the plain way of
Then wine was set out, and Kan Ze was treated
as an honored guest. While they were drinking,
some one came in and whispered in Cao Cao’s ear.
He replied, “Let me see the letter.”
Whereupon the man pulled out and gave him a
letter, which evidently pleased him.
“That is from the two Cai brothers,” thought Kan
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Ze. “They are reporting the punishment of my friend,
and that will be a proof of the sincerity of his letter.”
Turning toward Kan Ze, Cao Cao said, “I must
ask you to return to settle the date with your friend;
as soon as I know, I will have a force waiting.”
“I cannot return; pray, Sir, send some other one
you can trust.”
“If some one else should go, the secret would be
Kan Ze refused again and again but at last gave
way, saying, “If I am to go, I must not wait here; I
must be off at once.”
Cao Cao offered him gold and silks, which were
refused. Kan Ze started, left the camp, and
reembarked for the south bank, where he related all
that had happened to Huang Gai.
“If it had not been for your persuasive tongue,
then had I undergone this suffering in vain,” said
Huang Gai.
“I will now go to get news of the two Cai brothers,”
said Kan Ze.
“Excellent,” said Huang Gai.
Kan Ze went to the camp commanded by Gan
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Ning; and when they were seated, Kan Ze said to his
host, “I was much distressed when I saw how
disgracefully you were treated for your intercession
on behalf of Huang Gai.”
Gan Ning smiled. Just then the two Cai brothers
came, and host and guest exchanged glances. Gan
Ning said, “The truth is Zhou Yu is over confident,
and he reckons us as nobody. We count for nothing.
Every one is talking of the way I was insulted.”
And he shouted and gritted his teeth and
smacked the table in his wrath.
Kan Ze leaned over toward his host and said
something in a very low voice, at which Gan Ning
bent his head and sighed.
Cai He and Cai Zhong gathered from this scene
that both Gan Ning and Kan Ze were ripe for
desertion and determined to probe them.
“Why, Sir, do you anger him? Why not be silent
about your injuries?” said they.
“What know you of our bitterness?” said Kan Ze.
“We think you seem much inclined to go over to
Cao Cao,” said they.
Kan Ze at this lost color; Gan Ning started up and
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drew his sword, crying, “They have found out; they
must die to keep their mouths shut.”
“No, no,” cried the two in a flurry. “Let us tell you
something quite secret.”
“Quick, then,” cried Gan Ning.
So Cai He said, “The truth is that we are only
pretended deserters, and if you two gentlemen are of
our way of thinking, we can manage things for you.”
“But are you speaking the truth?” said Gan Ning.
“Is it likely we should say such a thing if it were
untrue?” cried both at the same moment.
Gan Ning put on a pleased look and said, “Then
this is the very heaven−given chance.”
“You know we have already told Cao Cao of the
Huang Gai affair and how you were insulted.”
“The fact is I have given the Prime Minister a
letter on behalf of Huang Gai, and he sent me back
again to settle the date of Huang Gai’s desertion,”
said Kan Ze.
“When an honest person happens upon an
enlightened master, his heart will always be drawn
toward him,” said Gan Ning.
The four then drank together and opened their
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hearts to each other. The two Cai Zhong and Cai He
wrote a private letter to their master saying Gan Ning
has agreed to join in our plot and play the traitor, and
Kan Ze also wrote and they sent the letters secretly
to Cao Cao.
Kan Ze’s letter said:
“Huang Gai has found no opportunity so far.
However, when he comes, his boat can be
recognized by a black,
indented flag. That shall mean he is on board.”
However, when Cao Cao got these two letters, he
was still doubtful and called together his advisers to
talk over the matter.
Said he, “On the other side Gan Ning has been
put to shame by the Commander−in−Chief whom he
is prepared to betray for the sake of revenge. Huang
Gai has been punished and sent Kan Ze to propose
that he should come over to our side. Only I still
distrust the whole thing. Who will go over to the
camp to find out the real truth?”
Then Jiang Gan spoke up, saying, “I failed in my
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mission the other day and am greatly mortified. I will
risk my life again and, this time, I shall surely bring
good news.”
Cao Cao approved of him as messenger and
bade him start. Jiang Gan set out in a small craft and
speedily arrived in the Three Gorges, landing near
the naval camp. Then he sent to inform Zhou Yu,
who hearing who it was chuckled, saying, “Success
depends upon this man.”
Then Zhou Yu called Lu Su and told him to call
Pang Tong to come and do certain things for him.
This Pang Tong was from Xiangyang. And he had
gone to the east of the river to get away from the
strife. Lu Su had recommended him to Zhou Yu, but
he had not yet presented himself. When Zhou Yu
sent Lu Su to ask what scheme of attack he would
recommend against Cao Cao, Pang Tong had said
to Lu Su, “You must use fire against him. But the
river is wide and if one ship is set on fire, the others
will scatter unless they are fastened together so that
they must remain in one place. That is the one road
to success.”
Lu Su took this message to the General, who
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pondered over it and then said, “The only person
who can manage this is Pang Tong himself.”
“Cao Cao is very wily;” said Lu Su, “how can
Pang Tong go?”
So Zhou Yu was sad and undecided. He could
think of no method till suddenly the means presented
itself in the arrival of Jiang Gan.
Zhou Yu at once sent instructions to Pang Tong
how to act and then sat himself in his tent to await
his visitor Jiang Gan.
But the visitor became ill at ease and suspicious
when he saw that his old student friend did not come
to welcome him, and he took the precaution of
sending his boat into a retired spot to be made fast
before he went to the General’s tent.
When Zhou Yu saw Jiang Gan, Zhou Yu put on
an angry face and said, “My friend, why did you treat
me so badly?”
Jiang Gan laughed and said, “I remembered the
old days when we were as brothers, and I came
expressly to pour out my heart to you. Why do you
say I treated you badly?”
“You came to persuade me to betray my master,
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which I would never do unless the sea dried up and
the rocks perished. Remembering the old times, I
filled you with wine and kept you to sleep with me.
And you, you plundered my private letters and stole
away with never a word of farewell. You betrayed me
to Cao Cao and caused the death of my two friends
on the other side and so caused all my plans to
miscarry. Now what have you come for? Certainly, it
is not out of kindness to me. I would cut you in two,
but I still care for our old friendship. I would send you
back again, but within a day or two I shall attack that
rebel; and if I let you stay in my camp, my plans will
leak out. So I am going to tell my attendants to
conduct you to a certain retired hut in the Western
Hills, and keep you there till I shall have won the
victory. Then I will send you back again.”
Jiang Gan tried to say something, but Zhou Yu
would not listen. He turned his back and went into
the recesses of his tent. The attendants led the
visitor off, set him on a horse, and took him away
over the hills to the small hut, leaving two soldiers to
look after him.
When Jiang Gan found himself in the lonely hut,
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he was very depressed and had no desire to eat or
sleep. But one night, when the stars were very
brilliant, he strolled out to enjoy them. Presently he
came to the rear of his lonely habitation and heard,
near by, some one crooning over a book.
Approaching with stealthy steps, he saw a tiny cabin
half hidden in a cliff whence a slender beam or two
of light stole out between the rafters. He went nearer
and peeping in, saw a man reading by the light of a
lamp near which hung a sword. And the book was
Sun Zi’s classic “The Art of War.”
“This is no common person,” thought Jiang Gan,
and so he knocked at the door.
The door was opened by the reader, who bade
him welcome with cultivated and refined ceremony.
Jiang Gan inquired his name.
The host replied, “I am Pang Tong.”
“Then you are surely the Master known as
Blooming−Phoenix, are you not?”
“Yes; I am he.”
“How often have I heard you talked about! You
are famous. But why are you hidden away in this
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“That fellow Zhou Yu is too conceited to allow that
any one else has any talent, and so I live here
quietly. But who are you, Sir?”
“I am Jiang Gan.”
Then Pang Tong made him welcome and led him
in and the two sat down to talk.
“With your gifts, you would succeed anywhere,”
said Jiang Gan. “If you would enter Cao Cao’s
service, I would recommend you to him.”
“I have long desired to get away from here; and if
you, Sir, will present me, there is no time like the
present. If Zhou Yu heard of my wish, he would kill
me, I am sure.”
So without more ado, they made their way down
the hill to the water’s edge to seek the boat in which
Jiang Gan had come. They embarked and, rowing
swiftly; they soon reached the northern shore. At the
central camp, Jiang Gan landed and went to seek
Cao Cao to whom he related the story of the
discovery of his new acquaintance.
When Cao Cao heard that the newcomer was
Master Blooming−Phoenix, Cao Cao went to meet
him personally, made him very welcome, and soon
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they sat down to talk on friendly terms.
Cao Cao said, “And so Zhou Yu in his youth is
conceited and annoys his officers and rejects all their
advice; I know that. But your fame has been long
known to me, and now that you have been gracious
enough to turn my way, I pray you not to be thrifty of
your advice.” “I, too, know well that you are a model
of military strategy,” said Pang Tong, “but I should
like to have one look at your disposition.”
So horses were brought, and the two rode out to
the lines, host and visitor on equal terms, side by
side. They ascended a hill whence they had a wide
view of the land base.
After looking all round Pang Tong remarked, “Wu
Qi the Great General, came to life again, could not
do better, nor Sun Zi the Famed Strategist if he
reappeared! All accords with the precepts. The camp
is beside the hills and is flanked by a forest. The
front and rear are within sight of each other. Gates of
egress and ingress are provided, and the roads of
advance and retirement are bent and broken.”
“Master, I entreat you not to overpraise me, but to
advise me where I can make further improvements,”
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said Cao Cao.
Then the two men rode down to the naval camp,
where twenty four gates were arranged facing south.
The cruisers and the battleships were all lined up so
as to protect the lighter crafts which lay inside. There
were channels to pass to and fro and fixed
anchorages and stations.
Pang Tong surveying all this smiled, saying, “Sir
Prime Minister, if this is your method of warfare, you
enjoy no empty reputation.”
Then pointing to the southern shore, he went on,
“Zhou Yu! Zhou Yu! You are finished; you will have
to die.”
Cao Cao was mightily pleased. They rode back to
the chief tent and wine was brought. They discussed
military matters, and Pang Tong held forth at length.
Remarks and comments flowed freely between the
two, and Cao Cao formed an exalted opinion of his
new adherent’s abilities and treated him with the
greatest honor.
By and bye the guest seemed to have
succumbed to the influence of many cups and said,
“Have you any capable medical people in your
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“What are they for, Master?” said Cao Cao.
“There is a lot of illness among the marines, and
you ought to find some remedy.”
The fact was that at this time Cao Cao’s men
were suffering from the climate; many were vomiting
and not a few had died. It was a source of great
anxiety to him, and when the newcomer suddenly
mentioned it, of course he had to ask advice.
Pang Tong said, “Your marine force is excellent,
but there is just one defect; it is not quite perfect.”
Cao Cao pressed him to say where the
imperfection lay.
“I have a plan to overcome the ailment of the
soldiers so that no one shall be sick and all fit for
“What is this excellent scheme?” said Cao Cao.
“The river is wide, and the tides ebb and flow. The
winds and waves are never at rest. Your troops from
the north are unused to ships, and the motion makes
them ill. If your ships, large and small, were classed
and divided into thirties, or fifties, and joined up stem
to stem by iron chains and boards spread across
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them, to say nothing of soldiers being able to pass
from one to the next, even horses could move about
on them. If this were done, then there would be no
fear of the wind and the waves and the rising and
falling tides.”
Coming down from his seat, Cao Cao thanked his
guest, saying, “I could never defeat the land of the
south without this scheme of yours.”
“That is my idea;” said Pang Tong, “it is for you to
decide about it.”
Orders were then issued to call up all the
blacksmiths and set them to work, night and day,
forging iron chains and great bolts to lock together
the ships. And the soldiers rejoiced when they heard
of the plan.
In the Red Cliffs’ fight they used the flame,
The weapon here will be the same.
By Pang Tong’s advice the ships were chained,
Else Zhou Yu had not that battle gained.
Pang Tong further told Cao Cao, saying, “I know
many bold humans on the other side who hate Zhou
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Yu. If I may use my little tongue in your service, I can
induce them to come over to you; and if Zhou Yu be
left alone, you can certainly take him captive. And
Liu Bei is of no account.”
“Certainly if you could render me so great a
service, I would memorialize the Throne and obtain
for you one of the highest offices,” said Cao Cao.
“I am not doing this for the sake of wealth or
honors, but from a desire to succor humankind. If
you cross the river, I pray you be merciful.”
“I am Heaven’s means of doing right and could
not bear to slay the people.”
Pang Tong thanked him and begged for a
document that would protect his own family. Cao
Cao asked, “Where do they live?”
“All are near the river bank.”
And Cao Cao ordered a protection declaration to
be prepared. Having sealed it, he gave it to Pang
Tong, who said, “You should attack as soon as I
have gone, but do not let Zhou Yu doubt anything.”
Cao Cao promised secrecy, and the wily traitor
took his leave. Just as he was about to embark, he
met a man in a Taoist robe, with a bamboo comb in
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his hair, who stopped him, saying, “You are very
bold. Huang Gai is planning to use the ‘personal
injury ruse’, and Kan Ze has presented the letter of
pretended desertion. You have proffered the fatal
scheme of chaining the ships together lest the
flames may not completely destroy them. This sort of
mischievous work may have been enough to blind
Cao Cao, but I saw it all.”
Pang Tong become helpless with fear, his viscera
flown away, his spirit scattered.
By guileful means one may succeed,
The victims too find friends in need.
The next chapter will tell who the stranger was.
Three Kingdoms Romance

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