Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conquest?

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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conquest?

Unread postby Zhilong » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:48 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:Think you mean Chen Zhi. Welcome back Zhilong


Thanks. I get that wrong every time and you need to correct me. :lol:
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Hei Bai Long » Wed Sep 27, 2017 3:17 pm

As much as I love Zhuge Liang, I feel like his northern campaigns were near hopeless. The state of Wei had a superfluous amount of troops and cities at their disposal, on top of the fact that Shu could only access Wei territory via mountain passes and valleys, which are easy to defend from any invading forces.
Just look at the terrain between what was Hanzhong and the northern Wei cities. Very rocky and mountainous. Had Shu maintained control of Jing, Wei would probably have ceased to exist.

In short, Zhuge Liang was gambling, and probably didn't think that a complete victory, or even a mostly complete victory would be possible. He probably only wanted the northwest territories so that a far easier and strategic path towards Luoyang and the central plains would be available, both by land and water.
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Jolt » Thu Sep 28, 2017 8:02 am

The main problem was that when Liu Bei took over Hanzhong, Cao Cao forcibly resettled nearly everyone in the neighbouring commandery under his control that had a minimally levelled geography capable of agriculture, which was Wudu, and afterwards Hanyang/Tianshui. This to make sure that the lands surrounding the mountain ranges didn't have enough population and base agricultural infrastructure to permanently support major armies or garrisons, whereby they could be conquered and held against counter-attack, and provide forward supply bases across the mountain range, which would allow Shu to make their initial supply depots further and further beyond the mountains and closer to the enemy.

As it stood, after Shu had two main alternatives, the Zhuge Liang and the Wei Yan alternatives.

1. The Zhuge Liang one involved attacking and conquering the commanderies that allowed for large armies to manuever across a wide space, and defeat the armies sent by Wei in pitched battles, whereby Shu would be unopposed in holding the lands they had previously occupied. Unfortunately this didn't work very well because the Wei armies seldom got themselves involved in pitched battles, and realized that the Shu supply situation was awful, in that the amount of men involved to commit to such military operations consumed far more resources than could be provided by the military logistics of the kingdom, meaning that their time on the field was usually quite limited, and since Cao Cao left those regions mostly devoid of people, there was never much a large amount of soldiers could forage. On the side of the Shu armies, they could probably stretch the duration of their campaign, but with no solid successes, there was little incentive in risking a collapse in the food situation, so Zhuge Liang always withdrew early to make sure the food stockpile always lasted throughout the withdrawal In such a situation. Ultimately this meant a Wei strategy of merely heavily garrisonning the cities that the Shu armies hadn't reached yet, making direct assaults untenable and waiting for the Shu soldiers to retreat, before launching the counter-attack. And even then, as we see in the caution of Sima Yi, they were usually very careful before pursuing for the counter-attack, lest a retreat is not actually due to low food stockpile, but a scheme designed to bring the Wei armies out for an ambush. Overall, this strategy's path was ultimately predictable: Going through the Wudu plateau, break North to Hanyang, and once the entire commandery is secured, attack Youfufeng and Chang'an. Alternatively, Shu armies would need to secure surrounding agricultural lands wherever they may lie, since few existed from Hanzhong onwards.

2. The Wei Yan strategy: Owing to the obvious routes of the Shu armies, and the obvious defensive strategy behind the Wei armies, one can imagine the exasperation of Wei Yan and the core of impulsive and eager generals, who realized that the main prize, Chang'an, lay beyond the mountain range to the North of the Han river and North of Hanzhong. To them, striking heading Northwest to Tianshui and then only turning East to Chang'an, giving Wei enough time to gather enough armies to saturate the region with troops, and rendering any surprise gains unfeasible, was like understandable but ultimately extremely timid, especially after having been tried a couple of times before, with very little success. They knew that the mountain range had several valleys, which connected the Han river basin, with that of the Yellow River, and allowed enough room to traverse, and to descend upon Chang'an with a total element of surprise, allowing the Shu armies to take advantage of the chaos and panic that such a move would ensue. They believed that such a bold move could eventually cause Chang'an to fall and what Zhuge Liang most desired: Forcing the Wei armies to commit to an actual, all-out pitched battle, where the Shu armies could eventually destroy the Wei armies, cause Chang'an to fall and then finally have a free hand to overrun the Northwest and anchor themselves on the Northwest.

In the last part of the several years-old post, I explain why I believe the plan was foolish. I don't entertain on that post, the idea of sending the entire Shu army through the valley, but I imagine it wouldn't increase their chances of success very much.
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Shao Shanshu » Fri Sep 29, 2017 8:24 am

Thank you for a great explanation, Jolt.

Would you say it was a planning blunder by prime minister Zhuge not to take more supplies for a campaign like that?
Or was it technically impossible?

Also, could Shu survive if prime minister Zhuge and his successor hadn't exhausted its resources in so many fruitless expeditions? Was it possible just to lock the mountain passes properly to make the kingdom impenetrable for Sima and his generals?
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Sun Fin » Fri Sep 29, 2017 8:39 am

Shao Shanshu wrote:Also, could Shu survive if prime minister Zhuge and his successor hadn't exhausted its resources in so many fruitless expeditions? Was it possible just to lock the mountain passes properly to make the kingdom impenetrable for Sima and his generals?


My understanding is that Zhuge Liang's campaigns were well spaced out and weren't draining on the economy. In fact by keeping pressure on Wei they probably prevented themselves from attack. The best form of defence is attack and all that. It was only under Jiang Wei where the campaigns became constant and he let the civil side fall under the sway of Huang Huo that it become a major issue.

I've read others argue that if Wei Yan's Hanzhong plan had been left in place Shu was pretty much unconquerable. The problem was Jiang Wei knew that Wei wouldn't face his army in a pitched battle when he was invading. So he tried to lure Wei deeper in to Shu, past his defences so he could ambush them and launch a crushing victory rather than repel them rather bloodlessly. Therefore he hoped Wei would leave themselves open to a counter attack. Clearly this didn't work out well for him.
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Shao Shanshu » Fri Sep 29, 2017 12:21 pm

Sun Fin wrote:My understanding is that Zhuge Liang's campaigns were well spaced out and weren't draining on the economy.


Well, he undertook five expeditions in six years.
The first one started in spring, 228, the second in December same year. Then the third one started in spring, 229 (I guess no much economy recovery was possible during the winter), and ended in autumn, 230. The fourth one started early 231. Then a two-year pause (here both he and Wei tried to rebuild resources, but, well, hadn't Shu's resources been undermined more?) and a final one in 234.
Last edited by Shao Shanshu on Fri Sep 29, 2017 4:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Sep 29, 2017 3:48 pm

Welcome Hei Bai Long

I feel Zhuge Liang's first NC was the one real oppertunity for Shu to make a big punch through against Wei becuase Wei had been cuaght with their pants down. After that, Wei is so well dug in and prepared that it needs some moment of brilliance to do more then limited gains

Had Shu maintained control of Jing, Wei would probably have ceased to exist.


Disagree. Maybe they would have but Wei would still have had a lot of advantages

Shao Shanshu wrote:Thank you for a great explanation, Jolt.

Would you say it was a planning blunder by prime minister Zhuge not to take more supplies for a campaign like that?
Or was it technically impossible?

Also, could Shu survive if prime minister Zhuge and his successor hadn't exhausted its resources in so many fruitless expeditions? Was it possible just to lock the mountain passes properly to make the kingdom impenetrable for Sima and his generals?


I don't think Shu could take that many supplies to leave them in field without needing supplies being transported through Hanzhong which was tricky, the roads and terrain were dreadful while any bad weather led to problems.

There is no sense of the state being exhausted by Zhuge Liang (or Jiang Wan then Fei Yi or adopted a more defensive stance). Liang rarely (first and last NC) raised a full NC, he ensured the state was well run before he left, Shu was known as prosperous and he was popular in his own time.

Going more defensive basically frees Wei army to turn on Wu (which might annoy Wu) and relies on Shu running better then Wei and Wu for longer then the larger kingdoms. Shu only really hit a decline once the Jiang Wei/Chen Zhi/Huang Hao alliance took hold
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Shao Shanshu » Fri Sep 29, 2017 4:19 pm

Well, I've read an opinion by a real Zhuge Liang hater who claims he absolutely botched all of his campaigns by poor planning and his less than mediocre military skills, which lead to unnecessary death of many thousands of Shu soldiers and (if I remember correct) left the economy strained.

Not that I am on the same page with that person, but the opinion is that the image of Zhuge Liang as an adored, benevolent and skilful statesman was promoted and stayed due to popular ignorance and state propaganda.
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat Sep 30, 2017 12:04 pm

He took casualties in the first NC which he took a token demotion for becuase there was flak and probably 2nd NC due to siege but that one wasn't a full 100,000 army anyway.

Zhuge Liang certainly benefited into a bigger then life figure in the centuries that followed but Wei and Wu make no accusations that Shu was exhausted or in chaos (unlike Jiang Wei's time) or dispute Shu; had a successful regime, we have Zhong Hui's reaction on finding his temple and if I recall rightly, Liu Shan was a little uneasy at the popular demand for a Zhuge Liang temple after Liang's death. The records we have from Shu are by Chen Shou who some historians deem did not get on with the Zhuge family yet Chen Shou praised him heavily
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Re: Why Zhuge liang's Shu couldnt succeed in Northern conque

Unread postby greencactaur » Sun Oct 01, 2017 3:17 am

@dong Zhou Could you elaborate on Zhong Hui finding a temple? I do not know the story of this.
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