-His plans to attack Chang An directly during ZL's nothern campaign were terrible. He wasn't going to take the city with his 5000 troops.(An all out attack on the city would have been even sillier. The supply lines would have been a disaster, and Shu's army would have been very open to being outflanked.) The defenders could just have sat back in the heavily fortified city and waited for a real Wei army to come crush him. Additionally, even if by some miracle he did take Chang An(like maybe if the person defending it decided to be an idiot and open the gates or something), what then? He would basically be cut off from his allies and Chang An would be recaptured by Wei.
-He designed the defenses at Han Zhong. Well, they generally worked, so that is some credit to him. However, the geography of Han Zhong was what really made it so defensible. Certainly his strategy was solid, but defending a fortified city is not nearly as hard as taking one, and I don't see his defenses as a stroke of genius or anything. Indeed, even Jiang Wei's changing of the defenses had logic to it(I think the act itself is judged to harshly, but I do find the reasoning he gives for it, namely to allow for counterattacks, abhorrent.) Would Han Zhong have held if the original defenses were kept in the face of Zhong Hui's invasion? An interesting question upon which we can only speculate.
-He mounted an insurrection that got him killed. I know that in the novel, ZL had his number, but historically, he disobeyed orders(whether the orders were intelligent or not is debatable, but a military can only function when orders are followed. I can make an exception for a soldier refusing an order that is obviously morally abhorent[like some given in WWII], but refusing an order because you disagree with the strategic implications is not accpetable.) by refusing to assist in the retreat, and then attempted to impede the retreat of his allies by burning bridges. Finally, he attacked his allies. If we look at this from a moral/honor standpoint, clearly this was not the correct or appropriate way to express his disagreement with the orders of his superiors. Whether it was ambition, or hatred or Yang Yi that drove his actions, he clearly put his own agenda before loyalty to his country and comrades. If we look at his rebellion from a competence standpoint, he failed to achieve anything other than getting himself killed, so obviously his insurrection wasn't particularly ingenius.
Perhaps he had potential, but I don't see flashes of true brilliance, and he seems very self centered. I would rather take the likes of someone like Zhao Yun, capable and loyal, anyday.
Wei Yan's approach embodies a bold and risky approach which ppl often do not analyse and automatically advocate.
Certainly it was superior to Jiang Wei's approach. Although we can see some brainpower at work he weakens the defence of Hanzhong for the sake of the possibility of counter attack. Gambling the security of the state in such a fashion is not prudent - i think Jiang Wei only had one thing on his mind and it wasn't how best to preserve the state.
On the other hand Zhao Yun did not win any notable victories. Given the lack of personnel in Shu it is better for ZL to tolerate and make use of a wider pool of talent.
You could look at it that way. I personally would prefer to have people I could rely on to competently carry out orders as a commander, even if they were not brilliant or superbly adaptable. Had Wei Yan been spectacular then I would make an exception for him(or maybe not because I would be afraid of him?), but he wasn't, he was merely somewhat better than decent. Internal chaos in an army is very damaging and risky. An organized minority can defeat a disunified mass.
I was rather hoping to hear from some Wei Yan admirers though.
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