Zhuge Liang (Kong Ming)
By M. E. Hom
The Original "Hidden Dragon"
In my previous articles on Sun Tzu, I focused on the basics of Sun Tzu strategic principles and "The Mindset of the Strategist." This article focuses on Zhuge Liang (Pinyin spelling, spelled Chu-ko Liang), a famous military advisor to Liu Bei, the founder of the Shu Han Dynasty (221-263/264 AD). Zhuge Liang (ZGL) was considered by historians to be the most accomplished (and feared) strategist in China's turbulent era of Three Kingdoms. He was also known as a contemporary of Guan Yu, the patron saint of martial arts.
Historically, Zhuge Liang was also known as Zhuge Kong Ming (ZKM). He was nicknamed "The Hidden Dragon" due to the fact that people around him underestimated his capacity to achieve great things. Other translations of his nickname were "Crouching Dragon" and "Sleeping Dragon."
In modern China, Zhuge Liang is considered to be the most popular statesman and strategic general in Chinese history. Most people learned of the historical achievements of Zhuge Liang through the many stories and plays written about him.
From Sun Tzu's classic The Art of War, leadership is one of five major attributes that determine the strategic success of a nation. Due to Zhuge Liang's emphasis on strategic leadership, Liu Bei's "Shu Han" state became one of the last three surviving kingdoms during that chronological period of the Three Kingdoms.
Zhuge Liang was born in 181 AD (the last years of East Han Dynasty), in the Yang-tu, Shantung province, China. Historically, he was known as a great statesman, an engineer, and a military strategist in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD). As mentioned earlier, he was also the hero of the novel San Guo Yan Yi (Popular Accounts of the Three Kingdoms, also commonly known as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms).
Stories say that Zhuge Liang's forefathers were prominent servants of the state, but he was orphaned early in his youth. As a child, he was forced to flee his home province of Shantung during the slaughter of 400,000 civilians by Cao Cao, the powerful warlord of the Wei state.
The origin of his knowledgebase in "science, statecraft, and art" is unknown to many. It has been said that much of his learning was through his own process of researching and self-teaching. Other stories have Zhuge Liang learning from Pang De Gong (a famous educator-thinker of that era).
For a while, he dwelled in a thatched cottage in Longzhong (a district in the Wo Long Gung ridge near a town called Xiang Yang), quietly choosing to farm his land in obscurity and making friends extensively with celebrities, while preparing for the time for displaying his strategic knowledge. Legend states that Liu Bei, then a distant descendent of a royal Han house of minor military distinction, heard of Zhuge Liang's great wisdom and came three times to his home, requesting that he become his military advisor.
After a long discussion, Zhuge Liang was touched by Liu Bei's sincerity as well as Liu Bei's adoption of his plan for setting up a kingdom in the west and allying with the state of East Wu at the same time. He immediately pledged his service to Liu Bei and left his home to join Liu Bei's army. This became a major turning point for Liu Bei. At that time, Zhuge Liang was 26 and Liu Bei was 47 years old. Together they later established the Shu Han kingdom in the province of Sichuan.
Throughout his life, Zhuge Liang vowed to resist the Wei (the kingdom founded by his antagonist Cao Cao) and maintain the independence of the Shu, though the state of Wei had several times more land and people than that of the Shu. He later served as prime minister of Shu Han for Emperor Liu Bei (161-230 AD) and his son Liu Chan (207-271 AD).
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