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CHAPTER 48. Banquet On The Great River, Cao Cao Sings A Song; Battle On Open Water, The Northern Soldiers Fight With The Chained Ships.

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

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In the last chapter Pang Tong was brought up
with a sudden shock when some one seized him and
said of his scheme. Upon turning to look at the man,
Pang Tong saw it was Xu Shu, an old friend, and his
heart revived.
Looking around and seeing no one near, Pang
Tong said, “It would be a pity if you upset my plan;
the fate of the people of all the eighty−one southern
counties is in your hands.”
Xu Shu smiled, saying, “And what of the fate of
these eight hundred thirty thousand soldiers and
horse of the north?”
“Do you intend to wreck my scheme, Xu Shu?”
“I have never forgotten the kindness of Uncle Liu
Bei, nor my oath to avenge the death of my mother
at Cao Cao’s hands. I have said I would never think
out a plan for him. So am I likely to wreck yours now,
Brother? But I have followed Cao Cao’s army thus
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far; and after they shall have been defeated, good
and bad will suffer alike and how can I escape? Tell
me how I can secure safety, and I sew up my lips
and go away.”
Pang Tong smiled, “If you are as high−minded as
that, there is no great difficulty.”
“Still I wish you would instruct me.”
So Pang Tong whispered something in his ear,
which seemed to please Xu Shu greatly, for he
thanked him most cordially and took his leave. Then
Pang Tong betook himself to his boat and left for the
southern shore.
His friend gone, Xu Shu mischievously spread
certain rumors in the camp, and next day were to be
seen everywhere soldiers in small groups, some
talking, others listening, heads together and ears
stretched out, till the camps seemed to buzz.
Some of the officers went to Cao Cao and told
him, saying, “A rumor is running around the camps
that Han Sui and Ma Teng are marching from Xiliang
to attack the capital.”
This troubled Cao Cao, who called together his
advisers to council.
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Said he, “The only anxiety I have felt in this
expedition was about the possible doings of Han Sui
and Ma Teng. Now there is a rumor running among
the soldiers, and though I know not whether it be true
or false, it is necessary to be on one’s guard.”
At this point Xu Shu said, “You have been kind
enough to give me an office, Sir, and I have really
done nothing in return. If I may have three thousand
troops, I will march at once to San Pass and guard
this entrance. If there be any pressing matter, I will
report at once.”
“If you would do this, I should be quite at my
ease. There are already troops beyond the Pass,
who will be under your command, and now I will give
you three thousand of horse and foot, and Zang Ba
shall lead the van and march quickly.”
Xu Shu took leave of the Prime Minister and left
in company with Zang Ba. This was Pang Tong’s
scheme to secure the safety of Xu Shu.
A poem says:
Cao Cao marched south, but at his back
There rode the fear of rear attack.
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Pang Tong’s good counsel Xu Shu took,
And thus the fish escaped the hook.
Cao Cao’s anxiety diminished after he had thus
sent away Xu Shu. Then he rode round all the
camps, first the land forces and then the naval. He
boarded one of the large ships and thereon set up
his standard. The naval camps were arranged along
two lines, and every ship carried a thousand bows
and crossbows.
While Cao Cao remained with the fleet, it
occurred the full moon of the eleventh month of the
thirteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 208). The
sky was clear; there was no wind and the river lay
unruffled. He prepared a great banquet, with music,
and thereto invited all his leaders. As evening drew
on, the moon rose over the eastern hills in its
immaculate beauty, and beneath it lay the broad belt
of the river like a band of pure silk. It was a great
assembly, and all the guests were clad in gorgeous
silks and embroidered robes, and the arms of the
fighting soldiers glittered in the moonlight. The
officers, civil and military, were seated in their proper
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order of precedence.
The setting, too, was exquisite. The Nanping
Mountains were outlined as in a picture; the
boundaries of Chaisang lay in the east; the river
showed west as far as Xiakou; on the south lay the
Fan Mountains, on the north was the Black Forest.
The view stretched wide on every side.
Cao Cao’s heart was jubilant, and he harangued
the assembly, saying, “My one aim since I enlisted
my first small band of volunteers has been the
removal of evil from the state, and I have sworn to
cleanse the country and restore tranquillity. Now
there is only left this land of the south to withstand
me. I am at the head of a hundred legions. I depend
upon you, gentlemen, and have no doubt of my final
success. After I have subdued the South Land, there
will be no trouble in all the country. Then we shall
enjoy wealth and honor and revel in peace.”
They rose in a body and expressed their
appreciation, saying, “We trust that you may soon
report complete victory, and we shall all repose in
the shade of your good fortune.”
In his elation, Cao Cao bade the servants bring
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more wine and they drank till late at night.
Warmed and mellowed, the host pointed to the
south bank, saying, “Zhou Yu and Lu Su know not
the appointed time. Heaven is aiding me bringing
upon them the misfortune of the desertion of their
most trusted friends.”
“O Prime Minister, say nothing of these things lest
they become known to the enemy,” said Xun You.
But the Prime Minister only laughed.
“You are all my trusty friends,” said he, “both
officers and humble attendants. Why should I
Pointing to Xiakou, he continued, “You do not
reckon for much with your puny force, Liu Bei and
Zhuge Liang. How foolish of you to attempt to shake
the Taishan Mountains!”
Then turning to his officers, he said, “I am now
fifty−four and if I get the South Land, I shall have the
wherewithal to rejoice. In the days of long ago, the
Patriarch Duke Qiao in the south and I were great
friends, and we came to an agreement on certain
matters, for I knew his two daughters—Elder Qiao
and Younger Qiao—were lovely beyond words. Then
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by some means, they became wives to Sun Ce and
Zhou Yu. But now my palace of rest is built on the
River Zhang, and victory over the South Land will
mean that I marry these two fair women. I will put
them in the Bronze Bird Tower, and they shall rejoice
my declining years. My desires will then be
completely attained.”
He smiled at the anticipation.
Du Mu, a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, in
one poem says:
A broken halberd buried in the sand,
With deep rust eaten,
Loud tells of ancient battles on the strand,
When Cao Cao was beaten.
Had eastern winds Zhou Yu’s plan refused to aid
And fan the blaze,
the two fair Qiaos, in the Bronze Bird’s shade,
Would have been locked at spring age.
But suddenly amid the merriment was heard the
hoarse cry of a raven flying toward the south.
“Why does the raven thus cry in the night?” said
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Cao Cao to those about him.
“The moon is so bright that it thinks it is day,” said
they, “and so it leaves its tree.”
Cao Cao laughed; by this time he was quite
intoxicated. He set up his spear in the prow of the
ship and poured a libation into the river and then
drank three brimming goblets.
As he lowered the spear, he said, “This is the
spear that broke up the Yellow Scarves, captured Lu
Bu, destroyed Yuan Shao, and subdued Yuan Shu,
whose armies are now mine. In the north it reached
to Liaodong, and it stretched out over the whole
south. It has never failed in its task. The present
scene moves me to the depths, and I will sing a song
in which you shall accompany me.”
And so he sang:
“When goblets are brimming then sang is near
But life is full short and has few days of mirth,
Life goes as the dew drops fly swiftly away,
Beneath the glance of the glowing hot ruler of
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Human’s life may be spent in the noblest
But sorrowful thoughts in his heart oft arise.
Let us wash clean away the sad thoughts that
With bumpers of wine such as Du Kang once
Gone is my day of youthful fire
And still ungained is my desire.
The deer feed on the level plain
And joyful call, then feed again.
My noble guests are gathered round.
The air is trilled with joyful sound.
Bright my future lies before me.
As the moonlight on this plain;
But I strive in vain to reach it.
When shall I my wish attain?
None can answer; and so sadness
Grips my inmost heart again.
Far north and south,
Wide east and west,
We safety seek;
Vain is the quest.
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Human’s heart oft yearns
For converse sweet.
And my heart burns
When old friends greet.
The stars are paled by the full moon’s light,
The raven wings his southward flight.
And thrice he circles round a tree,
No place thereon to rest finds he.
They weary not the mountains of great height,
The waters deep of depth do not complain,
Duke Zhou 2 no leisure found by day or night
Stern toil is his who would the empire gain.”
The song made they sang it with him and were all
exceedingly merry; save one guest who suddenly
said, “When the great army is on the point of battle
and lives are about to be risked, why do you, O
Prime Minister, speak such ill words?”
Cao Cao turned quickly toward the speaker, who
was Liu Fu, Imperial Protector of Yangzhou. This Liu
Fu sprang from Hefei. When first appointed to his
post, he had gathered in the terrified and frightened
people and restored order. He had founded schools
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and encouraged the people to till the land. He had
long served under Cao Cao and rendered valuable
When Liu Fu spoke, Cao Cao dropped his spear
to the level and said, “What ill−omened words did I
“You spoke of the moon paling the stars and the
raven flying southward without finding a resting
place. These are ill−omened words.”
“How dare you try to belittle my endeavor?” cried
Cao Cao, very wrathful; and with that he smote Liu
Fu with his spear and slew him.
The assembly broke up, and the guests dispersed
in fear and confusion. Next day, when Cao Cao had
recovered from his drunken bout, he was very
grieved at what he had done. When the murdered
man’s son, Liu Xi, came to crave the body of his
father for burial, Cao Cao wept and expressed his
“I am guilty of your father’s death; I was drunk
yesterday. I regret the deed exceedingly. Your father
shall be interred with the honors of a minister of the
highest rank.”
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Cao Cao sent an escort of soldiers to take the
body to the homeland for burial.
A few days after the two leaders of the naval
force, Mao Jie and Yu Jin, came to say the ships
were all connected together by chains as had been
ordered, and all was now ready. They asked for the
command to start.
Thereupon the leaders of both land and naval
forces were assembled on board a large ship in the
center of the squadron to receive orders. The various
armies and squadrons were distinguished by
different flags: Mao Jie and Yu Jin led the central
naval squadron with yellow flag; Zhang He, the
leading squadron, red flag; Lu Qian, the rear
squadron, black flag; Wen Ping, the left squadron,
blue flag; and Li Tong, the right squadron, white flag.
On shore Xu Huang commanded the horsemen with
red flag; Li Dian, the vanguard, black flag; Yue Jin,
the left wing, blue flag; and Xiahou Yuan, the right
wing, white flag. Xiahou Dun and Cao Hong were in
reserve, and the general staff was under the
leadership of Xu Chu and Zhang Liao. The other
leaders were ordered to remain in camps, but ready
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for action.
All being ready, the squadron drums beat the roll
thrice, and the ships sailed out under a strong
northwest wind on a trial cruise. When they got
among the waves, they were found to be as steady
and immovable as the dry land itself. The northern
soldiers showed their delight at the absence of
motion by capering and flourishing their weapons.
The ships moved on, the squadrons keeping quite
distinct. Fifty light cruisers sailed to and fro keeping
order and urging progress.
Cao Cao watched his navy from the General’s
Terrace and was delighted with their evolutions and
maneuvers. Surely this meant complete victory. He
ordered the recall and the squadrons returned in
perfect order to their base.
Then Cao Cao went to his tent and summoned
his advisers. He said, “If Heaven had not been on my
side, should I have got this excellent plan from the
Blooming−Phoenix? Now that the ships are attached
firmly to each other, one may traverse the river as
easily as walking on firm earth.”
“The ships are firmly attached to each other,” said
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Cheng Yu, “but you should be prepared for an attack
by fire so that they can scatter to avoid it.”
The General laughed.
“You look a long way ahead,” said he, “but you
see what cannot happen.”
“Cheng Yu speaks much to the point;” said Xun
You, “why do you laugh at him?”
Cao Cao said, “Any one using fire depends upon
the wind. This is now winter and only west winds
blow. You will get neither east nor south winds. I am
on the northwest, and the enemy is on the southeast
bank. If they use fire, they will destroy themselves. I
have nothing to fear. If it was the tenth moon, or
early spring, I would provide against fire.”
“The Prime Minister is indeed wise,” said the
others in chorus. “None can equal him.”
“With northern troops unused to shipboard, I
could never have crossed the river but for this
chaining plan,” said Cao Cao.
Then he saw two of the secondary leaders stand
up and they said, “We are from the north, but we are
also sailors. Pray give us a small squadron, and we
will seize some of the enemy’s flags and drums for
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you that we may prove ourselves adepts on the
The speakers were two men who had served
under Yuan Shao, named Jiao Chu and Zhang Nan.
“I do not think naval work would suit you two, born
and brought up in the north,” said Cao Cao. “The
southern soldiers are thoroughly accustomed to
ships. You should not regard your lives as a child’s
They cried, “If we fail, treat us according to army
laws!” “The fighting ships are all chained together,
there are only small, twenty−men boats free. They
are unsuitable for fighting.”
“If we took large ships, where would be the
wonderful in what we will do? No; give us a score of
the small ships, and we will take half each and go
straight to the enemy’s naval port. We will just seize
a flag, slay a leader, and come home.”
“I will let you have the twenty ships and five
hundred of good, vigorous troops with long spears
and stiff crossbows. Early tomorrow the main fleet
shall make a demonstration on the river, and I will
also tell Wen Ping to support you with thirty ships.”
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The two men retired greatly elated. Next morning,
very early, food was prepared, and at the fifth watch
all was ready for a start. Then from the naval camp
rolled out the drums and the gongs clanged, as the
ships moved out and took up their positions, the
various flags fluttering in the morning breeze. And
the two intrepid leaders with their squadron of small
scouting boats went down the lines and out into the
Now a few days before the sound of Cao Cao’s
drums had been heard on the southern bank, Zhou
Yu had watched the maneuvers of the northern fleet
on the open river from the top of a hill till the fleet
had gone in again. So when the sound of drums was
again heard, all the southern army went up the hills
to watch the northern fleet. All they saw was a
squadron of small ships bounding over the waves.
As the northern fleet came nearer, the news was
taken to Zhou Yu who called for volunteers to go out
against them. Han Dang and Zhou Tai offered
themselves. They were accepted and orders were
issued to the camps to remain ready for action but
not to move till told.
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Han Dang and Zhou Tai sailed out each with a
small squadron of five ships in line.
The two braggarts from the north, Jiao Chu and
Zhang Nan, really only trusted to their boldness and
luck. Their ships came down under the powerful
strokes of the oars; and as they neared, the two
leaders put on their heart−protectors, gripped their
spears, and each took his station in the prow of the
leading ship of his division. Jiao Chu’s ship led and
as soon as he came near enough, his troops began
to shoot at Han Dang, who fended off the arrows
with his buckler; Jiao Chu twirled his long spear as
he engaged his opponent. But, at the first thrust, he
was killed.
His comrade Zhang Nan with the other ships was
coming up with great shouts when Zhou Tai sailed
up at an angle and these two squadrons began
shooting arrows at each other in clouds. Zhou Tai
fended off the arrows with his shield and stood
gripping his sword firmly till his ships came within a
few spans of the enemy’s ships, when he leaped
across and cut down Zhang Nan. Zhang Nan’s dead
body fell into the water. Then the battle became
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confused, and the attacking ships rowed hard to get
away. The southerners pursued but soon came in
sight of Wen Ping’s supporting fleet. Once more the
ships engaged and the forces fought with each other.
Zhou Yu with his officers stood on the summit of a
mountain and watched his own and the enemy ships
out on the river. The flags and the ensigns were all in
perfect order. Then he saw Wen Ping and his own
fleets engaged in battle, and soon it was evident that
the former was not a match for his own sailors. Wen
Ping turned about to retire, Han Dang and Zhou Tai
pursued. Zhou Yu fearing lest his sailors should go
too far, then hoisted the white flag of recall.
To his officers Zhou Yu said, “The masts of the
northern ships stand thick as reeds; Cao Cao himself
is full of wiles; how can we destroy him?” No one
replied, for just then the great yellow flag that flapped
in the breeze in the middle of Cao Cao’s fleet
suddenly fell over into the river.
Zhou Yu laughed.
“That is a bad omen,” said he.
Then an extra violent blast of wind came by, and
the waves rose high and beat upon the bank. A
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corner of his own flag flicked Zhou Yu on the cheek,
and suddenly a thought flashed through his mind.
Zhou Yu uttered a loud cry, staggered, and fell
backward. They picked him up; there was blood
upon his lips, and he was unconscious. Presently,
however, he revived.
And once he laughed, then gave a cry,
This is hard to ensure a victory.
Zhou Yu’s fate will appear as the story unfolds.
Three Kingdoms Romance

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