Suffering Defeat, Gongsun Yuan Meets His Death In Xiangping;
Pretending Illness, Sima Yi Deceives Cao Shuang.
Then the Ruler of Wu, Sun Quan, anxious to secure Gongsun Yuan's support, sent two envoys, Zhang Mi and Xu Yan, with gifts of gold and gems and pearls and offered Gongsun Yuan the title of Prince of Yan. Fearing that the Middle Land would resent any dallying with Wu, Gongsun Yuan slew the Wu envoys and sent the heads to the Ruler of Wei. For this proof of fealty, Cao Rui gave him the title of Grand General and the Dukedom of Yuelang.
However, Gongsun Yuan was dissatisfied, and his thoughts turned toward independence. He took council with his officers and proposed to style himself Prince of Yan and to adopt a reign-title of Extending Han, the first year.
One general, Jia Fan, opposed this and said, "My lord, the central authorities have treated you well and honored you. I fear that Sima Yi is too skillful a leader for rebellion to succeed. You see even Zhuge Liang cannot defeat him; how much less can you?"
Gongsun Yuan's reply was to condemn Jia Fan to death. However, Adviser Lun Zhi ventured upon further remonstrance.
"Jia Fan spoke well. The Sacred One says that extraordinary phenomena presage the destruction of a state. Now this time portents are not wanting, and wonders have been seen. A dog, dressed in red and wearing a turban, went up to the roof and walking like a man. Moreover, while a certain person living in a village south of the city was cooking his food, he saw a child in the pan, boiled to death. A great cave opened near the market place and threw out a large, fleshy body completely human save that it lacked limbs. Swords could not cut it; arrows could not penetrate it. No one knew what to call it; and when they consulted the soothsayers, they obtained the reply, 'Incomplete shape, silent mouth: a state is near destruction.' These prodigies are all inauspicious. Flee from evil and strive to walk in fair fortune's way. Make no move without most careful thought."
This second remonstrance enraged Gongsun Yuan still more, and he sent Lun Zhi to death with Jia Fan. Both were executed in the public place.
Gongsun Yuan then prepared to make a bid for empire. He raised an army of one hundred fifty thousand, appointed Bei Yan as Commander, and Yang Zuo as Leader of the Van. This army set out for the Middle Land.
Ruler of Wei was alarmed at the report of this rising, and sent for Sima Yi.
Sima Yi was not greatly perturbed, and said, "My forty thousand troops will be equal to the task."
The Ruler of Wei replied, "The task is heavy, for your troops are few and the road is long."
"The strength of an army is not in numbers, but in strategy. Aided by Your Majesty's good fortune, I shall certainly be able to bring this fellow Gongsun Yuan a captive to your feet."
"What do you think will be the rebel's plan?" asked the Ruler of Wei.
"His high plan would be flight before our army can arrive; his middle plan would be defending his position in Liaodong; his low plan would be to try to hold Xiangping. In the last case I shall certainly capture him."
"How long will the expedition take?"
"We have to cover one thousand five hundred miles which will take a hundred days. Attack will consume another hundred. The return will need a hundred, and with sixty days to rest we shall take a year."
"Suppose during that year we are attacked by Wu or Shu."
"My plans provide for that; Your Majesty need have no anxiety."
The Ruler of Wei being thus reassured, formally ordered Sima Yi to undertake the expedition.
Hu Zun was appointed to lead the van. He went and camped in Liaodong. The scouts hastened to tell Gongsun Yuan, who sent Bei Yan and Yang Zuo to camp at Liaosui with eighty thousand troops. They surrounded their camp with a wall seven miles in circumference and placed thorny barriers outside the rampart. It seemed very secure.
Hu Zun saw these preparations and sent to tell his chief. Sima Yi smiled.
"So the rebel does not want to fight, but thinks to weary my soldiers," said Sima Yi. "Now I am disposed to think that most of his army is within that wall, so that his stronghold is empty and undefended. I will make a dash at Xiangping. He will have to go to its rescue, and I will smite him on the way. I should score a great success."
So Sima Yi hastened to Xiangping along unfrequented ways.
Meanwhile Bei Yan and Yang Zuo, the two generals within the walled camp, discussed their plans.
Yang Zuo said, "When the Wei army comes near, we will not fight. They will have come a long march and their supplies will be short, so that they cannot hold out long. When they retreat, we shall find our opportunity. These were the tactics Sima Yi used against Zhuge Liang on River Wei, and Zhuge Liang died before the end of the expedition. We will try similar means."
Presently the scouts reported that the Wei army had marched south. Bei Yan at once saw the danger and said, "They are going to attack Xiangping, which they know has few troops. If that base be lost, this position is useless."
So they broke up their camp and followed the enemy.
When Sima Yi heard it, he rejoiced, saying, "Now they will fall into the snare I have laid for them."
Sima Yi sent Xiahou Ba and Xiahou Wei to take up position on the River Ji. They were to attack if the army of Liaodong came near them. They had not long to wait. As soon as Bei Yan and his army approached, Xiahou Ba and Xiahou Wei exploded a bomb, beat the drums, waved their flags, and came out, one force on each side. Bei Yan and Yang Zuo made a fight but soon fled to Shoushan Mountain, where they fell in with Gongsun Yuan and joined the main army. Then they turned to give battle to the Wei army.
Bei Yan rode to the front and reviled the enemy, taunted them with trickery and challenged to a fight in the open.
Xiahou Ba rode out to accept the challenge, and after a few bouts Bei Yan fell. In the confusion caused by the death of their leader, Xiahou Ba urged on his troops and drove Gongsun Yuan back to Xiangping, and Gongsun Yuan took refuge in the city.
The city was surrounded. It was autumn, and the rain fell day after day without ceasing. At the end of the month, the plain was under three feet of water, so that the grain boats sailed straight from River Ji to the city walls. The besiegers suffered much from the floods.
Pei Jing, Commander of the Left, went to Sima Yi and asked that the army might be moved to camp on the higher ground, out of the mud and water. But Sima Yi flouted the suggestion.
"How can the army move away just when success is in sight? The rebels will be conquered now any day; and if any other speaks about drawing off, he will be put to death."
Pei Jing agreed and went away.
Soon after, Chou Lian, Commander of the Right, came to see his chief and repeated the suggestion, saying, "The soldiers are suffering from the rains. O Commander, let them camp on the hills."
Sima Yi got angry and said, "I have sent the command, and you are against it."
And he ordered Chou Lian to be executed. His head was suspended at the camp gate as a warning to others. The soldiers dared to complain any more.
Then Sima Yi ordered the south camp to be abandoned, and the army marched seven miles south, thus allowing the soldiers and people in the city to come out to gather fuel and pasture their cattle.
The attacking army could not understand this move, and Chen Qun spoke about it.
"When you besieged Shangyong, O Regent Marshal, you attacked all round at eight points, and the city fell in eight days. Meng Da was taken, and you won a great success. Now your forty thousand troops have borne their armors many days over long marches and you do not press the attack, but keep the them in the mud and mire and let the enemy gather supplies and feed their cattle. I do not know what your intention may be."
"Sir," replied the Commander-in-Chief, "I see you are ignorant of war after all. You do not understand the different conditions. Meng Da then had ample supplies and few troops; we were under exactly opposite conditions, and so we had to attack vigorously and at once. The suddenness of the attack defeated the enemy. But look at present conditions. The Liaodong troops are many and we few; they are on the verge of starvation, and we are full fed. Why should we force the attack? Our line is to let the soldiers desert and capture the city. Therefore I leave a gate open and the road free that they may run away."
Chen Qun then understood and acknowledged the correctness of the strategy. Sima Yi sent to Luoyang to hasten supplies, that there should be no shortage.
However, the war was not supported in the capital, for when the messenger arrived and the Ruler of Wei summoned his courtiers, they said, "In Liaodong the rain has been continuous for a month, and the soldiers are in misery. Sima Yi ought to be recalled, and the war renewed at a more convenient season."
The Ruler of Wei replied, "The leader of our army is most capable and best able to decide upon what should be done. He understands the conditions and is teeming with magnificent plans. He will certainly succeed. Wherefore, Noble Sirs, wait a few days and let us not be anxious about the result."
So Cao Rui heeded not the voice of the dissentients, but took care that provisions were sent.
After a few days the rain ceased, and fine, clear weather followed. That night Sima Yi went out of his tent that he might study the sky. Suddenly he saw a very large and bright star start from a point over Shoushan Mountain and travel over toward Xiangping, where it fell. The soldiers were rather frightened at this apparition, but the leader rejoiced.
"Five days from now Gongsun Yuan will be slain where that star fell," said he. "Therefore attack with vigor."
They opened the attack the next morning at dawn, throwing up banks and sapping the walls, setting up stone-throwing machines and rearing ladders. When night came the attack did not cease. Arrows fell in the city like pelting rain.
Within the city, grain began to run short, and soon there was none. They slaughtered bullocks and horses for food. The soldiers began to be mutinous and no longer fought with any spirit. There was talk of slaying Gongsun Yuan and yielding the city.
Gongsun Yuan was disheartened and frightened, and decided to sue for peace. He sent his Prime Minister Wang Jian and Imperial Censor Liu Fu out of the city to beg Sima Yi to allow him to submit. These two had to be let down from the walls by ropes, as no other means of exit were possible.
Wang Jian and Liu Fu found their way to Sima Yi and said, "We pray you, O Regent Marshal, retire seven miles and allow the officers to come forth and surrender."
"Why did not Gongsun Yuan himself come?" said Sima Yi. "He is rude."
He put the two envoys to death and sent their heads back into the city.
Gongsun Yuan was still more alarmed, but he resolved to make one more attempt. This time he sent High Counselor Wey Yan as his envoy. Sima Yi received this messenger sitting in state in his tent with his officers standing right and left. Wey Yan approached on his knees, and when he reached the door of the tent recited his petition.
"I pray you, O Regent Marshal, turn your thunderous wrath from us; we will send the son of our leader, Gongsun Xiu, the Heir Apparent, as hostage and all the officers shall appear before you bound with cords."
Sima Yi replied, "There are five possible operations for any army. If you can fight, fight; if you cannot fight, defend; if you cannot defend, flee; if you cannot flee, surrender; if you cannot surrender, die. These five courses are open to you, and a hostage would be useless. Now return and tell your master."
Wey Yan put his hands over his head and fled like a rat. He went into the city and related what had happened to him.
The Gongsuns, father and son, resolved to flee. They chose a thousand of mounted troops, and in the dead of night opened the south gate and got out. They took the road to the east and were rejoiced to find it clear.
All went well for a distance of three miles, when a bomb exploded. This was followed by a roll of drums and the blare of trumpets; and a cohort stood in the way. The leader was Sima Yi, supported by his two sons---Sima Shi and Sima Zhao.
"Stop, O rebel!" cried the sons.
But Gongsun Yuan lashed his steed to a gallop. Then Hu Zun, Xiahou Ba, Xiahou Wei, Zhang Hu, and Yue Chen, with their troops, came up and quickly surrounded them so that they were helpless. Gongsun Yuan saw that escape was impossible, so he came with his son, dismounted, and offered surrender.
Sima Yi hardly looked at the two men, but he turned to his officers and said, "That night the star fell to this land, and today, five days later, the omen becomes true."
They all felicitated him, saying, "The Regent Marshal is superhuman!"
Gongsun Yuan and Gongsun Xiu were slain where they stood. Then Sima Yi turned to resume the siege of Xiangping; but before he had reached the walls, Hu Zun' army had entered. Sima Yi went in and was received with great respect, the people burning incense as he passed. He went to the residence, and then the whole of the Gongsun Yuan's clan, and all who had assisted in his rising, were beheaded. They counted heads to the number of seventy.
The city taken and the rebels destroyed, Sima Yi issued a proclamation in order to restore confidence among the people.
Certain persons told him, "Jia Fan and Lun Zhi had been against the revolt and had therefore suffered death."
So Sima Yi honored their tombs and conferred ranks upon their children. The contents of the treasury were distributed among the soldiers as rewards, and then the army marched back to Luoyang.
One night the Ruler of Wei was suddenly awakened by a chill blast that extinguished all the lights, but he saw the form of the late Empress Mao, with a score or two of other palace attendants, coming toward the bed whereon he lay, and as they approached they demanded his life. He was very frightened and fell ill so that he was like to die.
So the two officers, Liu Fang and Sun Zi, were set over the privy council, and he summoned his brother Cao Yu, the Prince of Yan, to the capital to make him Grand Commander and Regent Marshal to assist the Heir Apparent, Cao Fang. However, Cao Yu being modest and retiring by nature, declined these high offices and their responsibilities.
The Ruler of Wei then turned to his two confidants, Liu Fang and Sun Zi, inquired of them, saying, "Who of the family is a suitable person to support the Heir Apparent?"
As Liu Fang and Sun Zi had both received many favors from Cao Zhen, they replied, "None is so fit as Cao Shuang, the son of Cao Zhen."
The Ruler of Wei approved their choice, and thus Cao Shuang became a great person.
Then Liu Fang and Sun Zi memorialized, saying, "As Cao Shuang has been chosen, Cao Yu, the Prince of Yan, should be ordered to leave the capital and return to Yan, his own place."
The Ruler of Wei consented and issued an edict, which these two bore to Cao Yu, saying, "The edict in the Emperor's own hand bids you return to your own domain at once, and you are not to return to court without a special command."
Cao Yu wept, but he left forthwith. Thereupon Cao Shuang was created Grand Commander and Regent Marshal, and administered the government.
But the Ruler of Wei's illness advanced rapidly, and he sent messenger with authority flag to call Sima Yi into the palace. As soon as he arrived, he was led to the Emperor's chamber.
"I feared lest I should not see you again;" said the Ruler of Wei, "but now I can die content."
The general bowed and said, "On the road they told me the sacred person was not perfectly well; I grieved that I had not wings to hasten hither. But I am happy in that I now behold the dragon countenance."
The heir, Cao Fang, was summoned to the Emperor's bedside and also Cao Shuang, Liu Fang, Sun Zi, and certain others.
Taking Sima Yi by the hand, the dying Emperor said, "When Liu Bei lay dying at Baidicheng, he confided his son, so soon to be an orphan, to the care of Zhuge Liang, who labored in this task to the very end and whose devotion only ceased with death. If such conduct is possible in the mere remnant of a dying dynasty continued in a small state, how much more may I hope for it in a great country! My son is only eight years of age, and incapable of sustaining the burden of rulership. Happily for him he has ample merit and experience around him in the persons of yourself and his relatives. He will never lack friends for my sake."
Turning to the young prince, he continued, "My friend Sima Yi is as myself, and you are to treat him with the same respect and deference."
Cao Rui bade Sima Yi lead the young prince forward. The boy threw his arms around Sima Yi's neck and clung to him.
"Never forget the affection he has just shown," said Cao Rui, weeping. And Sima Yi wept also.
The dying man swooned; although he could not speak, his hand still pointed to his son, and soon after he died. Cao Rui had reigned thirteen years and was thirty-six years of age. His death took place in the first month of the third year of Spectacular Beginning (AD 239).
No time was lost in enthroning the new Emperor, the supporters being Sima Yi and Cao Shuang. The new ruler's name was Cao Fang. However, he was Cao Rui's son only by adoption. He had been brought up in the palace secretly, and no one knew his real origin.
The posthumous title of Emperor Rui the Knowledgeable was conferred upon the late ruler, and he was buried in the Gaoping Tombs. Empress Guo was given the title of Empress Dowager.
The new reign was styled Right Beginning, the first year. Sima Yi and Cao Shuang conducted the government, and in all matters Cao Shuang treated Sima Yi with deference and took no steps without his knowledge.
Cao Shuang was no stranger at court. Cao Rui had respected him for his diligence and care and had been very fond of him, He had had the freedom of the palace all his life. He had a host of five hundred clients and retainers. Among them were five wholly light and foppish. Their names were He Yan, Deng Yang, Li Sheng, Ding Mi, and Bi Gui. Beside these five there was another named Huan Fan, Minister of Agriculture, a man of good parts, who had the sobriquet of "Bag of Wisdom". These six were Cao Shuang's most trusted companions and confidants.
One day He Yan said, "My lord, you should not let your great powers slip into the hands of any other, or you will repent it."
Cao Shuang replied, "Sima Yi as well as I received the late Emperor's sacred trust, and I mean to be true."
He Yan said, "When your father and this Sima Yi were winning their victories in the west, your father suffered much from this man's temper, which ultimately brought about his death. Why do you not look into that?"
Cao Shuang seemed suddenly to wake up.
Having entered into an intrigue with the majority of the officers about the court, then one day he presented to the Ruler of Wei a memorial, saying, "Sima Yi should be promoted to the rank of Guardian of the Throne for his great merits and services."
The promotion was made, and consequently Sima Yi, now a civil officer, let the whole military authority fall into the hands of Cao Shuang.
Having thus far succeeded, Cao Shuang next appointed his brothers to high military posts: Cao Xi as Commander of the Center Army; Cao Xun, Commander of the Imperial Guard; Cao Yan, Commander of the Cavalry. Each commanded three thousand of the palace guards, with right to go in and out of the palace at will. Moreover, three of his friends---He Yan, Deng Yang, and Ding Mi---were created Chairs of three Boards; Bi Gui, Commander of Capital District; and Li Sheng, Governor of Henan. These five and their patron were close associates in all concerns of state.
Cao Shuang gathered about him larger and still larger numbers of supporters, till Sima Yi gave out that he was ill and remained in seclusion. His two sons also resigned their offices.
Cao Shuang and his friends now gave themselves up to dissipation, spending days and nights in drinking and music. In their dress and the furniture of their table they copied the palace patterns. Tribute in the shape of jewels and curios went to the residence of Cao Shuang before it entered the Emperor Palace, and his courts swarmed with beautiful damsels.
Minister Zhang Dang of the Palace Bureau toadied to Cao Shuang so far as to select eighteen of the late Emperor's handmaids and send them to the now powerful minister. Cao Shuang also chose for him a chorus of two score well-born ladies who were skilled in music and dancing. Cao Shuang also built for himself beautiful towers and pavilions and made to himself vessels of gold and silver, the work of the most expert craftspeople, whom he kept constantly employed.
Now He Yan heard of Guan Lu's great skill in divination and sent to Pingyuan to invite him to discuss about the Book of Changes. When the soothsayer arrived, Deng Yang was of the company to meet him, and he said to Guan Lu, "You call yourself a skillful diviner, but your speech does not resemble the language of the Book of Changes. How is that?"
Guan Lu replied, "An interpreter does not use the language of the original."
He Yan laughed, saying, "Certainly good words are not wearisome. But cast a lot for me, and tell me whether I shall ever arrive at the highest office or not, for I have dreamed repeatedly that many blue flies settled on my nose."
Guan Lu replied, "Gao Kai and Gao Yuan aided King Shun; Duke Zhou assisted the young Emperor Cheng of Zhou Dynasty; all these were kindly and modest and enjoyed great happiness. You, Sir, have come to high honors and wield great powers, but those who esteem you are few and those who fear you, many. You are not careful to walk in the way of good fortune. Now the nose is an eminence. If an eminence retains its characteristic, thereby it remains in honor; But is it not that blue flies gather to foul objects and the lofty fears a fall? I would wish you to give of your abundance for the good of the poor and avoid walking in the wrong road. Then indeed may you reach the highest dignity, and the blue flies will disperse."
"This is mere senile gossip," said Deng Yang.
"The gift of age is to see that which is yet to come; the gift of gossip is to perceive what is not said," replied Guan Lu. Thereupon he shook out his sleeves and went away.
"He is very mad, really," said his two hosts.
Guan Lu went home. When he saw his uncle, Guan Lu gave him an account of the interview. His uncle was alarmed at the probable consequences, and said, "Why did you anger them? They are too powerful for you to offend."
"What is there to fear? I have keen talking to two dead men."
"What do you mean?"
"Deng Yang's gait is that of one whose sinews are loosed from his bones, and his pulse is unsteady. When he would stand, he totters as a man without limbs. This is the aspect of a disembodied soul. He Yan looks as if his soul was about to quit its habitation. He is bloodless, and what should be solid in him is mere vapor. He looks like rotten wood. This is the aspect of a soul even now in the dark valley. Both these men will certainly soon die a violent death, and none need fear them."
His uncle left, cursing him for a madman.
Cao Shuang and his five friends were devoted to hunting and were often out of the city. Cao Xi, a brother of Cao Shuang, remonstrated with him about this and pointed out the dangers of such frequent absence on these excursions.
"You are in an exalted position and yet you are constantly being out hunting. If anyone took advantage of this to work you evil, you might have to be exceedingly regretful."
Cao Shuang only showed anger and replied, "The whole military authority is in my hands and what is there to fear?"
Huan Fan, Minister of Agriculture, also reasoned with him, but Cao Shuang would not listen.
About this time the style of the reign was changed from Right Beginning, the tenth year, to Domestic Calm, the first year (AD 249).
Now ever since Cao Shuang had enjoyed the monopoly of military authority, he had never heard the truth about the state of health of the man he had maneuvered out of power. But when the Ruler of Wei appointed Li Sheng to the governorship of Qingzhou, Cao Shuang bade Li Sheng go to take leave of Sima Yi, at the same time to find out the true state of his health.
So Li Sheng proceeded to the residence of the High Minister and was announced.
Sima Yi saw through the device at once and told his sons, saying, "This is Cao Shuang's wish to find out my real condition."
And he bade them play their parts in the scene he arranged, before the visitor was admitted.
Sima Yi threw aside his head-dress, so letting his hair fall in disorder, stretched himself upon his couch, tumbled the bed ding into confusion, got a couple of servant girls to support him, and then told his servants to lead in the visitor.
Li Sheng came in and went up to the sick man, saying, "It is a long time since I have seen you, and I did not know you were so seriously ill. His Majesty is sending me to Qingzhou, and I have come to pay my respects to you and bid you farewell."
"Ah; Bingzhou is in the north; you will have to be very careful there," said Sima Yi feigning that he had not heard.
"I am going as Governor of Qingzhou, not Bingzhou," said Li Sheng.
"Oh, you have just come from Bingzhou."
"Qingzhou, in Huashang Mountains."
"Just back from Qingzhou, eh?" said Sima Yi, smiling.
"How very ill the Imperial Guardian is!" said Li Sheng to the servants.
"The Minister is deaf," said they.
"Give me paper and a pen," said Li Sheng.
Writing materials were brought, when Li Sheng wrote what he wished to say and put it before his host.
"My illness has made me very deaf; take care of yourself on the way," said Sima Yi.
Looking up, he pointed to his mouth. One of the girls brought some broth and held the cup for him to drink. He put his lips to the cup, but spilled the broth all over his dress.
"I am very weak and ill," said he, "and may die at any moment. My sons are but poor things, but you will instruct them; and when you see the Regent Marshal, you will ask him to take care of them for me, will you not?"
At this point Sima Yi fell back on the couch, panting, and Li Sheng took his leave. He told Cao Shuang what he had seen, and Cao Shuang rejoiced, thinking his rival could not last long.
"If the old man died, I should not be the one to grieve," said Cao Shuang.
But no sooner had Cao Shuang gone than Sima Yi rose from his couch and said to his sons, "Li Sheng will take a full account of this to Cao Shuang, who will not fear me any more. But wait till Cao Shuang goes on his next hunting trip, and we will see what can be done."
Soon after this, Cao Shuang proposed to the Ruler of Wei, Cao Fang, to visit the Gaoping Tombs where his father lay and perform the filial sacrifices in person. So they went, a goodly company of officers in the train of the imperial chariot, and Cao Shuang with all his brothers and his friends went with the guards.
Huan Fan, Minister of Agriculture, entreated him to remain in the city for fear of plots and risings.
"Your Lordship are in charge of the capital security, and you and your brothers should not leave the city together. Suppose there were a revolt, what then?"
But Cao Shuang asked angrily and rudely, "Who would dare make trouble? Hold your wild tongue."
And he went with the Emperor.
His departure rejoiced the heart of Sima Yi, who at once began quietly to muster his trusty friends and henchmen and put the finishing touches to the plot for the overthrow of his rival.
Now terminates his forced inaction,
Cao Shuang's fate will appear in the next chapter.
He must destroy the hostile faction.