In the research made by de Crespigny on The Battle of Bowang which is historically known as the Battle of the Bowang Slope, he shared that it was a collision between the forces of two the warlords- Cao Cao and Liu Bei in the 202 reported late in the Eastern Han Dynasty (56). Initially, one of the warlords, Liu Bei, sought protection under one of the Northern land’s warlords ,Yuan Shao, after being initially defeated by Cao Cao’s army in 200 in a battle located in Xu Province. However, Liu Bei later on abandoned Shao after he lost to a battle against Cao Cao during the battle at Guandu. In a desperate attempt to survive, Liu Bei fled to Jing Province to seek help from then governor, Liu Biao. He was initially welcomed by the governor and was even given the position to lead Xinye. But the Liu Biao soon had doubts about Liu Bei’s true intentions as he became more and more influential in the Jing Province.
de Crespigny further mentioned that during the onset of the battle between the two armies, a fire on Liu Bei’s camp erupted and it was learned that Liu Bei himself started the flames (68). He then retreated heading south. When the three general of Cao Cao learned about this, Xiahou Dun tried to chase him but was immediately warned by Li Dian. Li Dian shared that he believes that Liu Bei organized an ambush due to the fact that the bandits (how they referred to Liu Bei’s army) headed south for no apparent reason (de Crespigny, 69). Li Dian explained that the paths leading to the South were narrow accompanied by thick bushes and an ambush was most likely to happen. Despite the warning, Xiahou Dun did not listen to his co-general and decided to pursue the bandits’ army. He left Li Dian in the camp to serve as guard while he ordered the rest of his troops to hunt down Liu Bei’s retreating army.
As predicted by Li Dian, Xiahou Dun became a victim to the trap set up by Liu Bei’s ambush scheme. His army was soon defeated, but Li Dian together with the remaining troops came to their rescue and forced Liu Bei to retreat again seeing the reinforcements heading their way. During the same battle, Zhao Yun also captured Xiahou Lan who served as an enemy commander residing in the similar hometown as Zhao. Liu Bei got word from Zhao Yun to spare Xiahou Lan’s life and for him to serve as a military judge.
In line with Sun Tzu’s Art of War this specific episode demonstrated the importance of tactical movements when engaging in war. In his words, Sun Tzu shared that war is a vital importance to the state (6). Li –Shing discussed that the tactics that will be used in war will determine whether an army will survive or not (6). Liu Bei demonstrated his tactics by retreating to the Southern Area because he knew that his men were no match against the bigger army being led by Cao Cao’s three generals. Despite the warning of his co-general,, Xiahou Dun did not listen and acted impulsively and as a result it caused him the life of his men. Li-Shing in his article discussed that the morale of this specific episode is how important it is to act cautiously especially if the enemy is using the surroundings to their advantage (6). Liu Bei used the element of surprise in order to catch Xiahou Lan and his men unaware of their pending attack. According to the theory proposed by Sun Tzu a plan needs to be carefully analyzed and must undergo methodological studies before risking an army. One wrong move can cause death and defeat (p. 6). Liu Bei won this battle because he carefully studied his surroundings and took advantage of the readily available elements such as the thick bush and narrow pathways. Since they were ready, the army led by Xiahou Dun were no match to their ambush.
The Battle of Red Cliffs
Shang introduced The Battle of Red Cliffs which is also known as the Battle of Chibi as the battle fought during the closing part of the Han Dynasty which was more than two decades prior to the start of the Three Kingdoms era in the history of the Chinese (348). The battle occurred in the winter during 208 AD between the allied forces pertaining to the warlords Sun Quan and Liu Bei against the superior forces of Cao Cao from the Northern Region. The Battle of Chibi are further divided into three stages-
1st Stage: The first stage of this battle occurred after an earlier skirmish happened in Red Cliffs soon followed by a retreat to Wulin found in the north-western bank of the Yangtze area. What happened during this stage was that the combined forces of Sun and Liu travelled via boat to head towards either Xiakou or Fankou to reach Red Cliffs. Shang shared that as soon as they arrived in the Red Cliffs they were greeted by Cao Cao’s army (392). The army of Cao Cao could not gain advantage due to their low morale after being plagued by diseases. Due to his army loosing, Cao Cao retreated to the north of the Yangtze River which was also known as Wulin.
2nd Stage: The next stage of the Battle was a decisive naval engagement. In an attempt to reduce the seasickness of his naval forces, Cao Cao chained his naval ships stern to stern. Due to the observation that most his people were not used to living on ships, the divisional commander Huan Gai forwarded a letter to Cao Cao containing words of surrender. Fitzgerald added that the ships were then transformed into fire ships (1950). In order to do the transformation these ships were filled with bundles of kindling, fatty oil and dry reeds. As they were approaching the middle of the river, Gai’s transformed ships were set on fire prior to them taking small boards. The unmanned burning ships that were carried further by the south-eastern wind collided with Cao Cao’s ship and set it on fire. Sawyer added that the people and horses riding the fleet either drowned or burned during the tactical attack (583).
Shang added that in order to keep the momentum of their attack high, an army led by Zhou Yu further capitalized on the assault (578). The army of the North was thrown in a state of confusion and felt that they were already defeated. Cao Cao saw the hopeless situation that they were in and ordered his general to not only retreat but also destroys the remaining ships they had.
3rd Stage: The final division of the battle of Red Cliffs was characterized as Cao Cao’s disastrous attempt to flee. While they were retreating along the Huaron Road, many of the soldiers who survived the naval attack drowned in mud. Shang added that these soldiers had to survive the harsh condition of the strong rains despite being sick (495). Due to the vulnerable state of their enemies the armies of Yu and Bei pursued their enemies. Famine and plagues soon caused Cao Cao’s army to dwindle (379).
What can be learned from the three stages of the Battle of Red Cliff according to the theory of Sun Tzu. First the different stages exposed many of Cao Cao’s strategic errors and how effective his enemies were in terms of plotting their attacks and pursuance. The enemies of Cao Cao took advantage of their lack of experience on naval war. Bradford added that Cao Cao also thought that his strength in numbers was enough to make him victorious in the war (200). He also had no remorse towards his own men wherein despite knowing that they were already tried from battle he still ordered them to continue without giving them time to recuperate.
Important Characters in the Three Kingdom:
Cao Cao: He was a warlord and considered as one of most powerful figure during his time. Cao Cao led an enormous number of people. He is portrayed as cruel and merciless. He is considered as one of the integral characters in the formation of the Three Kingdom. Bradford shared that he was initially identified as a military genius and a true tactician before his harsh decision caused him his troops in the Battle of Red Cliff. He has an impulsive tendency to jump into war without further analyzing the opponent’s behaviour and strategy (199).
Liu Bei: was a warlord during the late onset of the Eastern Han Dynasty. He founded the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period he also served as its first ruler. Sawyer also mentioned that despite his earlier failures, Bei was able to redeem himself and lead an army of disheartened Han loyalists against a then powerful Cao Cao (684). He was able to rise from his earlier defeats and create a realm wherein he is superior. On the basis of Sun Zi’s theory, Bei is considered as a strategic leader who thinks carefully of his plots prior to executing them.
Lord Guan: he was a general serving under the leadership of Liu Bei. He played a vital role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han during the birth of the Three Kingdoms.
Zhuge Liang: de Crespigny identified him as a chancellor in the state of Shu Han during the period of the Three Kingdom (1723). He was identified as the most effective strategist of his era and was even compared to another great Chinese tactician, Sun Tzu. He was an important military strategist who earned himself the reputation of being intelligent as he lived in seclusion. Due to his brilliant mind he worked as a logistics officer for the kingdom.
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