Highlights of Chinese Culture and History

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Kongming, the "Crouching Deagon"

The last few years of the Eastern Han Dynasty was a period of unbridled fighting among powerful military commanders and of widespread political corruption. It was in such turbulent times that Zhuge Liang was born. Hoping that he would be a bright child, his father gave him the literary name "Kongming," meaning in Chinese "intelligent." A few years later, his parents died successively, and Zhuge Liang, together with his sister and brother, had to depend on his uncle for support. Unfortunately, however, his uncle also died of illness shortly afterwards. Kongming, no more than seventeen at the time, began to wander about the country with his sister and brother until they found themselves in a place which was today's Xiangyang in Hubei Province. They found temporary shelter in the home of Liu Biao, a big landlord who was a friend of their uncle's. Faced with the social reality of ceaseless fighting with each other for power and the fatuous in competence of Liu Biao, Kongming made up his mind to have nothing to do with contemporary politics and live the life of a recluse.

In the company of his sister and brother, Kongming came to Longzhong, a place near Xiangyang in Hubei Province. They built a few straw huts and what time they could spare from farm work they spent reading. Later on, Kongming made the acquaintance of Pang Degong, a learned recluse of high reputation in the area, and studied under his guidance along with his nephew Pang Tong who soon became Kongming's intimate friend. Together they discussed current affairs and had free exchanges of their respective aspirations in life. Pang Degong was extremely gratified with this pair of modest and yet enterprising young men, and never failed to praise them before others for their courtesy and intelligence. He referred to Pang Tong as a "Fledgling Phoenix" and Zhuge Liang, a "Crouching Dragon."

Kongming made good use of his time and read intensively the works of various ancient philosophers. He studied descriptions of historical events and figures and analyzed social reality, probing into the causes that had led to the decline of the Eastern Han Dynasty. He was often so immersed in his studies as to forget his meals and rest, urging and reminding himself all the while to become a person useful to society.

Through laboring in the fields and studying, Kongming began to understand the sufferings of the peasants and gained an abundant knowledge of the situation in the world. He had many friends among learned, well-informed men. With his accumulated experience and growing competence, he developed many original and penetrating views on the contemporary military and political situation. Kongming had indeed cultivated himself into a veritable "Crouching Dragon."

At that time, Cao Cao was engaged in a war to unify north China, while Sun Quan had established his regime south of the Yangtze River. The ambitious Liu Bei, a remote descendant of the royal family of the Western Han Dynasty, was planning to expand his sphere of influence so as to restore the Han Dynasty and have the whole of China unified under him. But Liu Bei had only two brave generals, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei to help him. he needed an aide who had brains and a sense of strategy.

Just when Liu Bei was eagerly looking for such an aide, someone recommended to him Kongming. Greatly delighted, Liu Bei went twice in person with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei to call on Kongming at his straw hut in Longzhong, but Kongming deliberately shunned them. Piqued at this, the two generals Guan and Zhang considered Zhuge Liang a haughty person, and tried to dissuade Liu Bei from going again. But early on the morning of the third day, Liu Bei, braving icy wind and blinding snow, went once again to Longzhong. When he was told that Kongming was still in bed, Liu Bei stood patiently outside the door. At last, moved by Liu Bei's sincerity, Kongming invited him to come into his hut. Out of this story arose the Chinese proverb "call thrice at the thatched hut," meaning " to be modest and seek advice in person."

In his thatched hut, Kongming discussed freely with Liu Bei the contemporary political and economic situation and recent developments in the war. the strategies he proposed included immediate occupation of the strategic point of Jingzhou, strengthening internal rule and forging an alliance with Sun Quan in a joint effort to defeat Cao Cao. All these, Kongming said, would lead to the unification of the country. Liu Bei was deeply impressed by Kongming's foresight and brilliance, and said to Guan Yu and Zhang Fei with great satisfaction,"With the Honorable Kongming joining my staff, I feel like a fish let into the water."

After he assumed his post as advisor, Kongming went in person to Sun Quan and talked him into approving the strategy of forming an alliance with Liu Bei in a common fight against Cao Cao. In the month of October in A.D. 208, the fifty thousand allied troops of Sun Quan and Liu Bei engaged Cao Cao's mighty army of over a hundred thousand men at a place named Chibi (the Red Wall). Thanks to Kongming's stratagems  and maneuvers, they won a decisive victory over Cao Cao. Assisted by Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei established the Kingdom of Shu Han (present-day Sichuan), thus ushering in a new period in Chinese history, that of the Three Kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu involved in a three-power rivalry.

Zhuge Liang dedicated all his life and energy to the Kingdom of Shu. At the age of fifty-four, he once again led the army of Shu in a battle against Cao Cao and in the end died of overwork and fatigue at the front. In order to commemorate this outstanding statesman, military strategist and man of letters, our ancestors built in Chengdu of Sichuan Province the Wuhou Memorial Temple. In China, Zhuge Liang has always been regarded as the embodiment of intelligence and wisdom.


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