Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

With Contributor Notes
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(Original Online Novel)
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Attributed to
Luo Guanzhong
(Circa 1300–1400)
Translated by
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Edited by
Snow N. Snow

Chapter 53

Guan Yu Releases Huang Zhong
Sun Quan Fights With Zhang Liao

What Zhuge Liang required from Zhang Fei was a formal recognition of responsibility for success.

Said Zhuge Liang, “When Zhao Yun went on his expedition, he gave written guarantee of being responsible for success. You ought to do the same now that you are starting for Wuling. In that case you may have men and start.”

So Zhang Fei gave the required document and received joyfully the three thousand of soldiers he had demanded. He set out at once and traveled without rest till he reached Wuling.

When the Governor of Wuling, Jin Xuan by name, heard that an expedition against him was afoot, he mustered his officers and recruited brave soldiers and put his weapons in order ready for the struggle. And his army moved out of the city.

A certain secretary, Gong Zhi, remonstrated with his chief for opposing a scion of the imperial house, saying, “Liu Bei is of the Hans, and recognized as an uncle of the Emperor. All the world knows he is kindly and righteous. Added to that his brother Zhang Fei is extraordinarily bold. We cannot face them in battle with hope of success. Our best course is to give in.”

But his master angrily replied, “Do you want to play the traitor and take the side of the rebels and help them?”

Jin Xuan called in the lictors and told them to put Gong Zhi to death.

The other officers interceded for Gong Zhi, saying, “It augers ill to start an expedition by slaying your own officer.”

So the Governor merely sent Gong Zhi sway. He himself led the army out of the city. After marching seven miles, he met with Zhang Fei’s army.

Zhang Fei at once rode to the front, spear ready to thrust, and opened with a shout. Jin Xuan turned to his officers and asked who would go out to fight him, but no one replied. They were too afraid.

So the Governor himself galloped out, flourishing his sword. Seeing him advance, Zhang Fei shouted in a voice of thunder. Poor Jin Xuan was seized with panic, turned pale and could not go on. He turned his steed and fled. Then Zhang Fei and his army went in pursuit and smote the fugitives, chasing them to the city wall.

Here the fugitives were greeted by a flight of arrows from their own wall. Greatly frightened, Jin Xuan looked up to see what this meant, and there was Gong Zhi, who had opposed him, standing on the wall.

“You brought defeat upon yourself because you opposed the will of God,” cried the traitor. “The people and I are determined to yield to Liu Bei.”

Just as Gong Zhi finished speaking, an arrow wounded Jin Xuan in the face and he fell to the ground. Thereupon his own troops cut off his head, which they forthwith presented to Zhang Fei. Gong Zhi then went out and made formal submission, and Zhang Fei bade him take his letter and the seal to Guiyang to Liu Bei, who was pleased to hear of Zhang Fei’s success and gave the governorship to Gong Zhi. Soon after Liu Bei came to Wuling in person and soothed the people.

This done he wrote to Guan Yu telling him Zhao Yun and Zhang Fei had gained a territory each.

Guan Yu at once wrote back and said, “Changsha is yet to be taken. If I am not thought too feeble, I would like to be sent to attack it.”

Liu Bei agreed and sent Zhang Fei to relieved his brother, whom Liu Bei ordered to return and prepare for an expedition to Changsha. Guan Yu came and went in to see his elder brother and Zhuge Liang.

At this interview Zhuge Liang said, “Zhao Yun has taken Guiyang, and Zhang Fei Wuling. Both successful warriors have done their work with three thousand troops. The Governor of Changsha, Han Xuan, was not worth mentioning, but there was a certain general with him, named Huang Zhong, who had to be reckoned with.

Huang Zhong is a native of Nanyang. He used to be in the service of Liu Biao and was a colleague Liu Biao’s nephew, Liu Pan, when he was in command of Changsha. After Liu Biao’s death, he joined Han Xuan when he took command of the city. Now, although he is nearly sixty, he is a man to be feared and a warrior of a thousand. You ought to take a larger number of troops.”

Guan Yu replied, “Instructor, what makes you damp another man’s ardor to fight and do away with your own dignity? I do not think the old leader need be discussed, and I do not think I require three companies of soldiers. Give me my own five hundred of swordsmen, and I will have the heads of both Han Xuan and Huang Zhong to sacrifice to our standard.”

Liu Bei resisted this decision of Guan Yu, but Guan Yu would not give way. He just took his five hundred and set out.

“If he is not careful how he attacks Huang Zhong, there will be a mishap,” said Zhuge Liang. “You must go to support him.”

Liu Bei accordingly, at the head of another and larger party, set out toward Changsha.

Governor Han Xuan of Changsha was of hasty temperament with small compunction in matters of life and death and was universally hated. When he heard of the army coming against him, he called his veteran leader, Huang Zhong, to ask advice.

The latter said, “Do not be distressed. This sword of mine and my bow are equal to the slaughter of all who may come.”

Huang Zhong had been very strong and could bend the three-hundred-pound bow and was a most perfect archer.

When Huang Zhong referred to his prowess, a certain man spoke up and said, “Let not the Veteran General go out to battle. Trust to my right arm, and you shall have this Guan Yu a prisoner in your hands.”

The speaker was General Yang Lin. The Governor accepted his offer and told off a thousand troops to go with him, and they quickly rode out of the city. About fifteen miles from the city, they observed a great cloud of dust approaching and soon distinguished the invaders. Yang Lin set his spear and rode to the front to abuse and fight. Guan Yu made no reply to the abuse, but rode forward flourishing his sword. The warriors soon met, and in the third encounter Yang Lin was cut down. Guan Yu’s army dashed forward and pursued the defeated force to the city wall.

When the Governor heard of this reverse, he ordered the veteran Huang Zhong to go out while he went up on the city wall to watch the fight.

Huang Zhong took his sword and crossed the drawbridge of Changsha at the head of his force. Guan Yu, seeing an old leader riding out, knew it must be Huang Zhong. Guan Yu halted his troops and placed them in line with their swords at the point.

Then sitting there on horseback, he said, “He who comes is surely Huang Zhong, eh?”

“Since you know me, how dare you come within my boundaries?” replied the veteran.

“I have come expressly to get your head!”

Then the combat began. They fought a hundred and more bouts, and neither seemed nearer victory. At this point the Governor, fearing some mishap to his veteran general, beat the gong to retreat and the battle ceased, one side going into the city of Changsha and the other camping three miles away to the rear.

Guan Yu thought in his heart that the fame of the veteran opposed to him was well merited. He had fought a hundred bouts and discovered never a weak spot. He determined that in the next encounter he would use a “swinging-horse stab” and so overcome Huang Zhong.

Next day, the early meal eaten, Guan Yu came to the city wall and offered his challenge. The Governor seated himself on the city wall and bade his veteran warrior go out to accept it. At the head of a few horsemen, Huang Zhong dashed across the drawbridge. The two champions engaged, and at the end of half a hundred bouts neither had the advantage. On both sides the soldiers cheered lustily.

When the drums were beating most furiously, suddenly Guan Yu wheeled round his horse and fled. Of course Huang Zhong followed. Just as the moment for the feint arrived, Guan Yu heard behind him a tremendous crash and turned to see his pursuer lying prone upon the ground. Huang Zhong’s steed had stumbled and thrown him.

Guan Yu turned, raised his sword in both hands, and cried in a fierce tone, “I spare your life, but quick! Get another horse and come again to battle.”

Huang Zhong pulled his horse to its feet hastily, leapt upon its back, and went into the city at full speed. The Governor was astonished and asked for an account of the accident.

“The horse is too old,” replied Huang Zhong.

“Why did you not shoot since your aim is so perfect?” asked the Governor.

“I will try again tomorrow,” said Huang Zhong. “I will run away as if overcome, and so tempt him to the drawbridge and then shoot him.”

Han Xuan gave the veteran a gray horse that he usually rode himself. Huang Zhong thanked him and retired.

But Huang Zhong could not forget Guan Yu’s generous conduct, nor could he understand it. He could not make up his mind to shoot the man who had spared his life. Yet if he did not shoot, he betrayed his duty as a soldier. It was very perplexing, and the whole night spent in thinking it over found him still undecided.

At daybreak a man came in saying that Guan Yu was near the wall and challenging them again. So Huang Zhong gave order to go out.

Now Guan Yu, having fought for two days and not having overcome Huang Zhong, was very ill at ease. So he called up all his dignity when he went forth to fight that day. When they had got to the thirtieth bout, Huang Zhong fled as if he was overcome. Guan Yu pursued.

As he rode away, Huang Zhong thought in his heart, “He spared me only yesterday, and I cannot bear to shoot him today.”

Putting up his sword, Huang Zhong took his bow and twanged the string only. No arrow flew. Guan Yu dodged, but seeing no arrow in the air, he retook the pursuit. Again Huang Zhong twanged an arrowless bowstring, and again Guan Yu dodged, but no arrow came.

Then Guan Yu said to himself, “He cannot shoot,” and pressed on in pursuit.

As they neared the city wall, the veteran stopped on the drawbridge, fitted an arrow, pulled the bow, and sent an arrow flying that just hit the base of the plume on Guan Yu’s helmet.

The soldiers shouted at the display of marksmanship. Guan Yu was taken aback and set off for camp with the arrow still sticking. Then he heard that Huang Zhong’s skill was said to be equal to piercing a willow leaf at a hundred paces, and Guan Yu understood that he owed this warning in the shape of an arrow in his plume to gratitude for sparing the veteran the preceding day.

Both withdrew. But when the veteran leader went up on the wall to see the Governor, he was at once seized.

“What have I done?” cried Huang Zhong.

“I have seen these last three days that you were fooling me. You were slack the day before yesterday, which proved you had some sinister intention. Yesterday, when your horse stumbled and he spared you, it showed that you were in league with him. And today you twice twanged a vain bowstring, while at the third shot you only hit your opponent’s helmet. Dare you say there is no secret understanding in all this? If I do not put you to death, it will assuredly redound to my own hurt.”

Han Xuan ordered Huang Zhong to be executed outside the city gate. Han Xuan also met the intercession of the officers by saying, “Anyone who pleads for the condemned shall be regarded as in the plot.”

The executioners had hustled the old man out of the city and the sword was in the air and on the point of descending, when a man suddenly dashed in, cut down the lictor, and rescued Huang Zhong.

Huang Zhong is our bulwark!” shouted he. “To destroy him is to destroy the Changsha people. This Governor is too fierce and cruel, too lightly values good people, and is too arrogant toward his officers. We ought rather to kill him, and those who will, let them follow me.”

All eyes turned toward this bold speaker, who was bronzed and had eyes like the Cowherd’s star. Some of them knew him as Wei Yan, a native of Yiyang. He would have followed Liu Bei from Xiangyang but, unable to come up with him, had gone into the service of Han Xuan. Han Xuan took exception to his arrogant carriage and lack of polish and neglected him. And so Wei Yan had remained in the city without office.

After the rescue of Huang Zhong, Wei Yan called upon the people to make an end of the Governor. He waved his arm and shouted to the people. Soon he had a following of several hundreds. Huang Zhong could not stop them. In a very short time, Wei Yan had dashed up on the wall, and Han Xuan lay dead. Taking his head, Wei Yan rode off out of the city to lay the bloodstained trophy at the feet of Guan Yu, who forthwith went into the city to restore confidence.

When the people were all quiet, Guan Yu sent to request Huang Zhong to come to see him, but the old general pleaded illness.

Next Guan Yu sent the good news to his brother and to Zhuge Liang and asked them to come.

Soon after Guan Yu had left to capture Changsha, Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang had followed him up with supports in case of need. While on the march, a black flag was furled backwards and a crow flew over from north to south croaking thrice as it passed.

“What good or evil things do these omens presage?” asked Liu Bei.

With hands hidden within his long sleeves, Zhuge Liang performed a rapid calculation on his fingers of the auspices and replied, “Changsha is taken and a great leader mastered. We shall know soon after noon.”

Sure enough a simple soldier presently came galloping along with the welcome tidings of the capture of the city, and saying that the two city warriors who had aided them were near waiting the arrival of Liu Bei. Soon after they arrived, Liu Bei entered the city, where he was escorted to the magistracy and heard the recital of Huang Zhong’s deeds.

Liu Bei went in person to Huang Zhong’s house and inquired for him, whereupon Huang Zhong came forth and yielded formally. Huang Zhong requested to be permitted to bury the remains of the late Governor on the east of the city.

Lofty as is heaven above earth was the spirit of the general,
Who, even in his old age, suffered sorrows in the south;
Cheerfully had he approached death, with no thought of resentment,
But, bowing before the conqueror, he hung his head and was ashamed.
Praise the sword, gleaming snow-white, and the glory of super-human bravery,
Consider the mail-clad steed snuffing the wind and rejoicing in the battle,
That warrior’s name shall stand high and its brightness be undiminished,
While the cold moon sheds her light on the waters of River Xiang.

Liu Bei was generous toward the veteran leader, who had come under his banner, and was grateful for the service of Wei Yan. He made both of them Van Leaders.

Having given in with good grace, Huang Zhong introduced a nephew of Liu Biao, named Liu Pan, then living in Yuxian near by. Liu Bei gave Liu Pan the governorship of Changsha.

All being tranquil at the four territories, Liu Bei and his army returned to Jingzhou City. The name of Youkou was changed to Gongan, and soon all was prosperous. Able people from all sides came to assist in the administration. Guards were placed at strategic points.

When Zhou Yu went to Chaisang to recover from his wound, he left Gan Ning in command at Baling and Ling Tong at Hanyang. The fleet was shared between these two places to be ready to move when required. The remainder of the force was under Cheng Pu, and he went to Hefei, where Sun Quan had been since the fight at the Red Cliffs. Sun Quan was still fighting the northern army, and in half a score encounters, small and great, neither had gained a decided advantage. Sun Quan could not approach the city but entrenched himself about fifteen miles away.

When Sun Quan heard of the coming of reinforcements of Cheng Pu, he was very pleased and went in person to meet and welcome the leaders. Lu Su was in advance of the main body, and Sun Quan dismounted and stood by the roadside to greet him. As soon as he saw this, Lu Su slid out of the saddle and made his obeisance.

But the officers were amazed at the attitude of Sun Quan, and still more so when Sun Quan asked Lu Su to remount and ride by his side.

Presently Sun Quan said secretly to Lu Su, “I, the Lone One, dismounted to greet you as you saw. Was that manifestation enough for you?”

“No,” replied Lu Su.

“Then what further can I do?”

“I want to see your authority and virtue spread over the four seas and enfold the nine regions, and you yourself playing your part as emperor. Then will my name be inscribed in the annals, and I shall indeed be known.”

Sun Quan clapped his hands and laughed gleefully.

When they reached the camp, a banquet was prepared and the services of the new arrivals were praised and glorified.

The destruction of Hefei was one day under discussion, when one came in to say that Zhang Liao had sent a written challenge to battle. Sun Quan tore open the cover, and what he read therein made him very wrath.

“This Zhang Liao has insulted me grossly,” said he. “He hears that Cheng Pu has arrived and sends a challenge. Tomorrow, O newly-come warriors, you shall see me fight with him. You shall have no share in the battle.”

Orders were given that next morning the army would move out of camp and advance on Hefei. Early in the morning, when they had advanced about halfway, they met the army of Cao Cao and prepared for battle. Sun Quan, with helmet of gold and breastplate of silver, rode to the front with Song Qian and Jia Hua, each armed with a halberd to support him and guard him one on each side.

When the third roll of the drum ceased, the center of Cao Cao’s army opened to allow the exit of three warriors, all fully armed. They were Zhang Liao, supported by Li Dian and Yue Jin. Zhang Liao, the central figure, especially designated Sun Quan as the object of his challenge. Sun Quan took his spear and was about to accept the challenge, from when the ranks behind him came out Taishi Ci, who galloped forth with his spear ready to thrust. Zhang Liao whirled up his sword to strike the newcomer, and the two fought near a hundred bouts without a decisive blow.

Then said Li Dian to Yue Jin, “He there opposite us with the golden helm is Sun Quan. Could we but capture him, the loss of our eight hundred thirty thousand soldiers at the Red Cliffs would be amply avenged.”

So speaking Yue Jin rode out, alone, just one man and one sword, and went sidelong toward the two combatants. Then suddenly, swift as a flash of lightning, he ran forward and slashed at Sun Quan. But Sun Quan’s two guards were too quick for him. Up went the two halberds of Song Qian and Jia Hua guarding their lord’s head. The blow fell, but on the crossed halberds which were shorn through near the head, and in another moment they were hammering away on the head of Yue Jin’s steed with the shafts of their broken weapons and forcing it back.

Song Qian snatched a spear from a soldier near and went in pursuit of Yue Jin, but Li Dian, on the other side, fitted an arrow to his bow and aimed at Song Qian’s heart from behind. And Song Qian fell as the bowstring twanged.

Then Taishi Ci, seeing his colleague fell, left off the fight with Zhang Liao and returned to his own line. At this Zhang Liao fell on in a swift attack, and the army of Sun Quan, thrown into confusion, scattered and fled.

Zhang Liao, having distinguished Sun Quan in the distance, galloped in pursuit and had nearly come up with him, when Cheng Pu happily rushed in from one side of the line of fight, stayed the pursuit, and saved his master. Zhang Liao withdrew to Hefei. Sun Quan was escorted back to his main camp, where his beaten soldiers gradually rejoined him and their ranks were reformed.

When Sun Quan knew of the death of Song Qian, he was greatly pained and wept aloud.

But Adviser Zhang Hong reproached him, saying, “My lord, you relied too much upon your martial prowess and lightly engaged in battle with a formidable enemy. Every person in the army was chilled with fear, and you lost a general and some of your banners. It is not for you to exhibit prowess on the actual battlefield and encroach upon the duties of a general. Rather curb and repress such physical feats as those ancient Xia Yu and Meng Ben, and contemplate schemes of exercising princely virtues with the hegemony of all the feudal states. It is because of your ill-regulated action in engaging in battle that Song Qian perished at the hands of your enemies. Hereafter you should regard as most important your personal safety.”

“Yes, it is indeed a fault,” said Sun Quan. “I will reform.”

Soon after, Taishi Ci entered the tent and said, “In my command there is a certain Ge Ding, brother of a groom in the army of Zhang Liao. This servant is deeply resentful on account of a punishment inflicted upon him and is anxious to be revenged. He has sent over to say that he will show a signal tonight when he has assassinated Zhang Liao in revenge for the death of your late leader Song Qian. I wish to take some troops over to await this signal to attack.”

“Where is Ge Ding?” asked Sun Quan.

Ge Ding has mingled with the enemy and gone into the city. Let me have five thousand soldiers.”

Zhuge Jin said, “Zhang Liao is full of guile. I think you will find him prepared for your coming. Be careful.”

As Taishi Ci urged his chief to let him go, and Sun Quan was deeply hurt by the death of his leader, the permission was given and the force started.

Now here it must be said that Taishi Ci and this Ge Ding were natives of the same place. Ge Ding had made his way into the city without detection, found his brother, and the two had arranged their plot.

Ge Ding also told him, saying, “Taishi Ci will come over tonight to help us. What need to be done now?”

His brother, the groom, said, “As the troops of Sun Quan are far away, I fear they cannot be here tonight, so we will make a huge bonfire of straw and then you can rush out and cry treachery. That will throw all into confusion and will give a chance to kill Zhang Liao.”

“This is an excellent plan,” said Ge Ding.

Now after the victory, Zhang Liao returned to the city and rewarded his soldiers, but he issued orders that no one was to doff his armor or sleep.

His attendants said, “You have gained a great victory today, and the enemy are far away. You might doff your armor and get some repose.”

But Zhang Liao replied, “That is not the way of a leader. A victory is no reason for rejoicing, nor should a defeat cause sadness. If those of the South Land suspect that I am unprepared, they will attack. And we must be ready to repel them. Be ready tonight and be doubly careful.”

Scarcely had he said this than a fire started and cries of “Treachery!” arose. Many rushed to tell the leader, who went out and called together his guard of about half a score. They took up a commanding position in the way.

Those about him said, “The shouts are insistent. You ought to go and see what it means.”

“A whole city cannot be traitors,” said Zhang Liao. “Some discontented person has frightened the soldiers. If I see anyone doing so, I will slay him.”

Soon after this Li Dian dragged up Ge Ding and his fellow traitor. After a few brief questions, they were beheaded.

Then arose a great noise, shouting and the rolling of drums was heard outside the gate.

“That means the troops of South Land are there to help,” said Zhang Liao. “But we will destroy them by a simple ruse.”

He bade them light torches and yell “Treachery! Rebellion!” and throw open the city gates and let down the drawbridge.

When Taishi Ci saw the gates swing open, he thought his scheme was going well and in full confidence rode in at the gate. But just at the entrance a signal bomb suddenly exploded, and the enemy arrows came down on him like pelting rain. Then he knew he had fallen into a snare and turned to ride out. But he was wounded in many places. And in the pursuit that followed, more than half the troops under Taishi Ci were cut off. As he drew near his own lines, a rescue force led by Lu Xun and Dong Xi came to his aid, and the Cao Cao’s soldiers ceased from pursuit.

Sun Quan was exceedingly sad when he learned that his faithful general had been grievously wounded. Then Zhang Zhao prayed him to cease from war, and Sun Quan was content. They gathered in their soldiers to their ships and sailed to Nanxu and Runzhou where they camped.

Meanwhile Taishi Ci was dying.

When his lord went to ask how he fared, he cried, “When a worthy person is born into a turbulent world, he has to be a soldier and gird on a three-span sword to step on the mountains to mend the sky. I have not rendered great service. Why must I die before I have attained my desire?”

These were his last words. He was forty-one years of age.

Single minded and perfectly loyal,
Such was Taishi Ci, in Donglai,
Far distant frontiers rang with his exploits,
Riding or archery, all humans he excelled,
One in Bohai who admired his valor,
Cared for his mother while he was fighting,
How he roared in the battle at Shenting!
Dying, he spoke as a hero;
All through the ages people sigh for his fate.

Sun Quan was exceedingly grieved when this second of his leaders died. He gave orders to bury his remains most honorably outside the north wall of Nanxu on Beigu Hill and took his son, Taishi Xiang, into his own palace to be brought up.

In Jingzhou, when Liu Bei heard of the series of misfortunes that had befallen Sun Quan and of his retirement to Nanxu, he and Zhuge Liang discussed their plans.

Said Zhuge Liang, “I was studying the sky and saw a falling star in the northwest. The imperial family is to suffer a loss.”

Zhuge Liang had scarcely said this when they brought news of the death of Liu Qi, son of Liu Biao.

Liu Bei at once began to wail bitterly.

But his adviser said to him, “Life and death are beyond our control, wherefore weep not, my lord, for grief harms the body. Rather consider what is necessary to be done. Send someone to assume control and make arrangements for the interment.”

“Who can go?” asked Liu Bei.

“No other than Guan Yu.”

So they sent Guan Yu to guard the city of Xiangyang.

Liu Bei at once began to feel troubled about his promise to surrender Jingzhou on the death of Liu Qi. Zhuge Liang did not consider this a matter of moment.

Zhuge Liang said, “I will have somewhat to say to anyone who comes to ask fulfillment of the promise.”

In half a month it was announced that Lu Su would come to mourn at the funeral.

To claim the promise one will come,
But they will send him empty home.

What reply Zhuge Liang made may be read in the next chapter.