Zhuge Liang: The Sleeping Dragon
China History

Research Report
Web Resources


Essentially, my objective is to research the Three Kingdoms Period of ancient China and to present an overview of the times from the perspective of Zhuge Liang, the military commander of the Shu kingdom.  Zhuge Liang is regarded as one of the foremost military thinkers in Chinese history because of his achievements during this period.  However, what were his reasons for choosing to be a military commander?  Did he want the power and prestige, or was he fighting for the good of China?  What were Zhuge Liang’s attitudes about China, about loyalty and about warfare in general?  This paper will endeavor to provide a biographical view of Master Zhuge’s accomplishments, thoughts on the three kingdoms, relationship to the people of China and his beliefs about how to efficiently war on an enemy. 
Historical Background

China’s Han dynasty, which lasted from roughly 206 B.C.E. to 184 A.D., was one of the highest points in Chinese history.  The Han dynasty saw the opening of the Silk Road with the Roman Empire, a revival of Confucianism, and almost 400 years of peace.   The man to start the Han, Liu Bang, (Gauzu) was a member of the work team completing the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the ruler of the Qin dynasty overthrown by Liu Bang.  During the reign of Liu Bang and his sons, China saw trade take off, a civil administration formed on Confucian principles, and education reformed and promoted.  However, the final years of the dynasty saw corruption of the Confucian ideals on which the empire was founded.  Officials were accepting bribes from peasants or buying their way into power.  Higher officials also took advantage of their status in order to put friends, not capable citizens, into positions of power. 

 In times of such turmoil, rebel groups arise.  In China, rebel groups associated themselves with a certain color or garment (scarves or turbans usually).  A rebel group known as the “Yellow Turbans” began to preach a new pagan faith to the people of China.  The leader of the rebels was a man named Zhang Jiao, and he, along with his two brothers Zhang Liang and Zhang Bao, made themselves gods in the eyes of the Chinese peasant.  A main tenant of their preaching was that the Han needed to be overthrown for the good of China.  After gathering and arming over 300,000 men, the three brothers began the attack against regent to the throne He Jin.  It took all of the remaining power of the Han to suppress the rebellion, and only then was it accomplished with the help of three powerful warlords with their own ambitions.  The first was Cao Cao, the most powerful of the three warlords and ruler of what would become the Wei kingdom.  The second was Sun Jian, leader of the Southlands, who was to rule the Wu kingdom.  The third and most important was Liu Bei, descendant of Liu Bang and founder of the Shu kingdom.  When the rebellion had officially been put down, the imperial palace (the eunuchs who really ruled at the end of the Han) bestowed many honors upon Cao Cao and Sun Jian, but not upon Liu Bei for he was a commoner. 

 It is at this point that Dong Zhou, commander of the imperial corps, decided to make an attempt to seize power.  He recruits more soldiers to his side and enlists the aid of Lu Bu, known to be the best warrior in China at the time.  Once again the three leaders were called upon to fight.  Dong Zhou was eventually slain, not by the armies against him, but by his own general Lu Bu who was upset about a mutual woman they were courting.  With Dong Zhou further bleeding the power of the Han, each of the three warlords began expeditions to conquer land and gain power. 

 Liu Bei was quick to realize that he and his sworn war-brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei could not contend with the power of Cao Cao or Sun Quan, the new leader of the South.    He went looking for allies and was staying with a relative.  However, after being betrayed, he escaped and stumbled upon a peasant farmer who recognized him and put him up for the night.  During the night, the man suggested that he knew of a man who would be perfect to join Liu Bei’s Shu kingdom.  The man was known as Kong Ming, “Sleeping Dragon” or Zhuge Liang.  He was a hermit who lived just a few miles away.  Liu Bei made three trips to the house of Zhuge Liang, the first two times arriving when he was away.  The third time he caught Zhuge and Liu Bei convinced him to join his quest to restore the Han. 

 Zhuge Liang was only convinced to join because Liu Bei’s intentions were pure and he was a good man.  At first, when Liu Bei invited Zhuge to join him, he responded, “ Here I have long been content, with plow and mattock, and hesitate to respond to the demands of the world.  Forgive me if I am unable to accept such service” (Luo 146).  At this response Liu Bei began weeping and inquired how he could sit at home while Cao Cao who had named himself prime minister was forcing the Han to its knees.  Moved by the man’s humility, persistence and obvious love for the people of China, Zhuge Liang joined Liu Bei and began devising plans to further Shu’s ambitions.  He was only twenty-seven years of age. 

Research Report

Zhuge Laing was born in the present day province of Shangdong.  He was reputed to have ancestors that were revered servants of the Han state, but Zhuge was orphaned at a young age.  After being forced away from Shangdong, Zhuge shacked up in a tiny house near Longzhong province.  From here he learned the classics of Chinese antiquity and socialized with quite the exclusive crowd of thinkers and renowned men of the age (Hom).  Zhuge kept a close eye on the happenings of the land and was constantly mulling over plans to right the country where it had fallen into war.  It is at this point in Zhuge's life that Liu Bei makes his third visit requesting help. 

The main reason Zhuge Liang decided to help, deemed Liu Bei a man worthy to rule a kingdom.  Time and again Luo mentions that the people in the countryside had heard of the victories Liu Bei achieved in his battles.  It is also stated that the people under his domain were well fed and housed and were sufficiently protected.  Zhuge undoubtedly knew all of this, and could see these attributes during the short time spent with Liu Bei.  During his life in service of the Shu kingdom Zhuge Liang earned himself a revered place in history for his bravery, his cunning, and his ability to read others.

It is also obvious that Zhuge Liang joins the Shu kingdom because he wants peace.  The first advisory words Zhuge speaks to Liu Bei are a denouncement of Cao Cao and his grip on the emperor saying that it would only further tear apart China.  Cao Cao, when unable to get what he wanted by diplomacy, resorted to deceit and force.  In the end, he was a danger to China because he was ruthless in his search for power.  The Sun clan in the Southlands was no different, and they had an incredibly large navy in order to take whatever they needed.  Liu Bei was the only leader not looking to take over the country.  In fact, all he wanted to do was to restore the Han dynasty, the empire that his ancestor had founded…the empire that was ruled by an emperor to which he was an uncle.  Zhuge Liang understood that Liu Bei wanted a return to the ways of the first two centuries of the Han: a peaceful time with unity and prosperity (Luo 129-141).

 Zhuge Liang had some specific thoughts on loyalty and warfare.  The essential precept of being a good warrior was to obey your liege lord at all costs.  Zhuge Liang showed his veneration to this ideal by serving Liu Bei faithfully until his death and even then, Liu Bei asked Zhuge Liang to take control of the Shu kingdom.  While most of the reason Zhuge served Liu Bei was because he admired his sincerity, he did not necessarily want Shu to rule.  However, with Liu Bei’s death, Zhuge Liang redoubled his efforts to secure the place of the Shu kingdom fulfilling his dying lord’s final words.  Before initiating the final string of battles with Cao Cao, Zhuge Liang wrote a letter to Ah Dou, Liu Bei’s heir and the emperor of the Shu kingdom.  This letter shows the humble Zhuge as only a servant of the late emperor Liu Bei.  He intends to fulfill the task his deceased lord laid upon him from his own deathbed.  In addition, according to Liu Bei’s dying wishes, Zhuge Liang acts as a servant to Ah Dou even though he is a third of his age.  He respectfully asks to lead a campaign north against Cao Rui (Cao Cao’s second son and third emperor of the Wei kingdom) or to die in the attempt (Sui).  In some final words, Zhuge adds advice about how to handle the many different types of people under the Shu banner.  It would have been easy for Zhuge to elevate himself to emperor of the Shu kingdom, but he chose to remain loyal.  In fact, he died on just before his seventh incursion into Wei territory from exhaustion and old age.  Zhuge Liang was so faithful that he literally worked himself to death trying to finish Liu Bei’s dream.

 In matters of tactics, it is said that no one in history was better at being able to guess the enemy’s next move.  Numerous times Zhuge Liang divined where the enemy would attack and established an appropriate defense for it.  Even more times he was able to set up an ambush to scatter the enemy troops before they could set camp.  Zhuge Liang is also known for his use of unconventional warfare.  In his first battle with Shu, Liang used fire in order to defeat Wei forces and not a single Shu soldier perished.  Zhang Fei and Guan Yu were not convinced that Zhuge Liang, a country peasant not even of thirty years, was fit to advise military strategy to Lord Liu Bei.  This attack removed any doubt from their minds that Master Zhuge was unfit for the job as after the Wei troops were routed they ran to Master Zhuge and exclaimed, “He is a true hero, a champion!” (Luo 163)  In all of Shu’s battles proper deployment of the army was essential for victory since Shu had far fewer troops than Wei and Wu.  In nearly every victory Shu won they were outnumbered.  It was only Zhuge’s battle formations that led to such victories. 

 Zhuge Liang was also a master at diplomacy, especially with the southern Wu kingdom.  Cao Cao prepared a man-made lake in order to train his troops for a southern invasion.  Realizing that the extinction of Wu would leave Shu the sole enemy of Cao Cao, Zhuge went alone to the Wu kingdom and made a treaty with Sun Quan.  To seal the treaty, Master Zhuge needed to first convince Zhou Yu, Wu’s top military strategist to fight, not surrender.  To do so, he told Zhou Yu that Cao Cao’s underlying reason for invasion was in order to take Xiao and Da Qiao (renowned in China as the most beautiful women) back north with him as mistresses.  Zhou Yu, himself married to Xiao Qiao, was enraged and yelled, “Cao, old traitor, you and I cannot share foot on this earth!” deciding to attack immediately (Luo 214).  Zhuge Liang feigned ignorance and apologized for upsetting the man.  Played like a fiddle, Zhou Yu led the strike against Cao Cao.  When Cao Cao attacked, he thought he was dealing only with Wu, but Shu reinforcements outflanked Cao Cao’s forces.  Shu’s well-placed ambushes, combined with Wu’s fire attack that left most of Cao Cao’s navy destroyed, forced Wei to retreat back to secure lands north of the Yellow River.  This was a great victory for the Wu-Shu alliance, but it was short lived as Zhou Yu, realizing that Zhuge Liang was too dangerous if not an ally, ordered him murdered.  Zhuge was prepared, however, and made a grand escape from the South.

 It was also said that Zhuge Liang could tap into the occult arts to create unnatural winds and other forces of nature.  Just after it was decided to use fire on Cao Cao’s ships, Zhuge had an altar built on which he made ritual sacrifices and called up a northern wind (Luo 260-272).  The wind did not blow north in the part of the season they were in, but for three days a gale sprang up and proved to be the catalyst of Cao Cao’s most humiliating defeat.  Another instance in which Master Zhuge tapped the occult was on a retreat from the Wu army at Yi Ling.  As the Wu army pursued they happened upon a great stone maze with rocks piled in various positions.  A purplish haze hung above the maze and while inside of it no one could hear a thing.  Lu Xun, the military strategist who replaced Zhou Yu, entered the maze and was hopelessly lost.  In the end he made it back to the entrance, but the pursuit of Shu was effectively cut off (Luo 372).  Truly a man with such talents as Zhuge Liang had is revered for a reason.

 According to Luo, Master Zhuge had a “sixth sense” in his ability to read other people’s intentions.  A perfect example of this is his realization that Wei Yan, a great Shu general who joined early in the forging of the empire, would defect.  At his death, he left instructions for his son and for Liu Bei’s heir on how to deal with this and when the defection did take place there was no trouble at all dealing with it (Mystique Graphics).  Another example of Master Zhuge’s perception of others can be seen in his dealings with Guan Yu.  Predicting where Cao Cao would retreat after the battle at Chi Bi, Zhuge assigned every commander with orders except for Guan Yu.  Insulted, he demanded to know why he was given no task.  Master Zhuge, fully realizing that Guan Yu was a man of the utmost honor, explained that he was uncertain in using him in this battle because Cao Cao was so generous to him once long ago.  He feared that Guan Yu would allow Cao Cao to escape.  Enraged Guan Yu said that was unfounded and forced Master Zhuge to give him chance saying, “I, Guam, have followed in elder brother’s wake through long years of war, and have never been left behind.  Today we close with a great enemy, but the director has given me no assignment!” (Luo 268)  Appeased by Guan’s signing of a legal document accepting full military punishment (death) if he should allow Cao Cao to pass, Zhuge ordered him to guard the most crucial pass on the path of Cao Cao’s retreat.  Sure enough, when Cao Cao was retreating and encountered Guan Yu, he was allowed to pass after little smooth talking. 

Historical Significance

Perhaps the greatest significance Zhuge Liang has on the world was that he lived and acted in a time of chivalry and romance.  Stories of Diao Chan, the woman who was the center of the quarrel between Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu are still told to children today.  The feudal sense of chivalry and honor and single combat are also inherent to this era, a time that parallels the European Middle Ages.  Numerous books and video games have surfaced (specifically in the last decade) that are based on this period.  If any period in Chinese history has contributed to romantic notions of courtly love and honorable warfare in modern day China, it is certainly this one. 

 Zhuge also composed a series of books on warfare, only one of which still exists today.  The existing book is an elaboration on Sun Tsu’s The Art of War, written during a similar period of strife (The Warring Kingdoms Period) during the fall of the Zhou dynasty.  The other writings were either destroyed or lost. 

 This period also shows the inherent ebb and flow of Confucianism throughout Chinese history.  During times of peace, Confucianism reigns supreme.  During times of war it is thrown into the background to resurface when peace is established.  The Three Kingdoms Period also shows how the Confucian institution became corrupted.  The transition from the Han to the Three Kingdoms is a perfect example of the dynastic change accompanied by the rise and fall of Confucianism was a hallmark of Chinese history.


Guanzhong, Luo.  Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel.  Beijing: Foreign Languages Press,  1999

H.K. Productions.  Three Kingdoms World.  3Kingdom; 2001.  7 Nov 2002.  <http://3kingdoms.tripod.com/main.html>

Hom, M.E.  Zhuge Liang (Kong Ming) The Original "Hidden Dragon."  Jade Dragon Magazine Online; 1997-2002.  2 Nov 2002.  <http://www.jadedragon.com/archives/history/liang1.html>

Sui, Nancy, Zho Haozhong, Yuan, Jack.  Imperial China; a Legacy.  Team Drageonix.  2 Nov 2002.  <http://www.mystique-graphics.com/china/>

Wu, Jonathan.  Three Kingdoms: A Novel and History.  Kongming's Archives; 2002.  15 Nov 2002.  <http://www.kongming.net/novel/kma/zhuge_liang.html>

Web Resources

http://www.afn.org/~afn20372/pol/ex59.html - Poetry about Zhuge Liang by Du Fu, a great poet of the Tang Dynasty. 

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/history/three_kingdoms/zhugeliang.htm - A picture of a giant stone statue of Zhuge Liang with a little historical background

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/1156/three.html - Games, Art and profiles of every member of the period.

http://www.abc-chinese.com/vc00thre.html - An ABC television series based on the Three Kingdoms Period and focusing on ZHuge Liang's hardships.

http://ps2.ign.com/articles/363/363480p1.html - A look at one of the best video games based on the Three Kingdoms Period.

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