Why so much hate on Zhuge Liang?

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Why so much hate on Zhuge Liang?

Unread postby Chan Zilong » Thu May 31, 2012 5:34 pm

hi all genius scholars,

this is actually my first post and hopefully i posted this in the right place.

i've always been a fan of rotk (the novel and the game series -both strategy and fighting and dynasty warriors) and just found some "hard" reality about some of the facts regarding certain events of especially zhuge liang

i've been reading quite alot of posts that i found alot of people hated zhuge liang and think that he was overly boosted in the novel by luo guanzhong (hopefully i spelled it correctly)

now there are a certain things that i wanted to ask and hopefully i can get clarification or discussion regarding this zhuge liang historically

alot of people said that zhuge liang is an excellent politician / admin etc but poor military commander and based on what was written by chen shou (who was formerly shu officer then become a jin historian)

now there are a few things which bothers me :
1. chen was born at what 233 ad? and zhuge liang died at 234 ad so he was only at max 2 years old and i'm not sure what age he would actually become a historian
2. he is believed to be chen shi's son whom was punished by zhuge liang at one point during his service
3. chen shou in the end was a jin historian

now based on the 1st point, there is no way that he could have known all that happened during northern campaigns
based on 2nd. he might be biased against zhuge liang
and based on 3rd. he works for the jin, of course he has to glorify jin founders (who happens to be sima yi and family)

can anyone helped me explain why he is hated so much by alot of people? is it because of what luo guanzhong did on his novel?
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby GuoBia » Thu May 31, 2012 6:08 pm

Hey! Welcome to SoSZ, glad to have you here! Hope to see you around too! : )

I think you're a bit confused on what a historian does.

For one thing, if a historian had to live during the period that he wrote about, Sima Qian would have to be over two hundred years old. Liu Zhiji would celebrating his 800th birthday, and my professor would be about four hundred years old (although I suspect he might be...)

Chen is such a great source for his period because he lived in the contemporary period, right after the period he was recording- it's the ideal time because it was just yesterday so it's fresh in everyone's mind and there's not that much time for historical distortion, but it's long enough so that everyone has a chance to gather their records, organize them, and put them up.

I don't get why you're concerned about the fact that Chen was a kid during Zhuge Liang's time. That's not how recording history works. It's not like Chen was supposed to be there sitting next to Zhuge Liang writing down everything he said, or like he was sitting on the decks of the fire ships furiously scribbling down observations for posterity during Red Cliff. And he certainly wasn't riding along with Zhuge Liang in the northern campaign and taking down notes.

Can you imagine a scholar trapezing around the battlefield taking down casualty records and stuff? No, he'd probably be sitting around after the end of the battle reading the records from both sides.

He takes the official papers, looks, "Oh, look, his guy suffered massive damage and lost his entire command of men. He's been doing this for over five years. He's probably not a great general..."

No historian does that. A historian looks at sources and compiles them, and makes a judgement as to the reliability of the source. As for your assertion that he didn't know what was going on in the Northern campaign- he certainly has a pretty good idea of what happened in the Northern campaigns, considering that he was sitting there reading the letters, the sources, the compilations, the official records of it. Saying that he can't possibly have an accurate idea of the campaigns is like saying that Ban Biao and Ban Zhao (oh, and Ban Gu but whatevs) couldn't have possibly had a good idea of Liu Bang's reign.

And people on the board hate him as a reflex push-back against the glorified ideal presented in Chinese culture, like how a lot of people like to go on about how Liu Bei was a ruthless back-stabbing boyfriend-stealing supply-jerking sod, which truthfully he was. I think we should balance it out more- Liu Bei certainly wasn't Mother Teresa, but he certainly wasn't Satan on a Stick either. He wasn't the humanitarian who wanted the best for all the little peasants in China, but he wasn't Team Rocket either.
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Chan Zilong » Thu May 31, 2012 6:33 pm

chen shou is indeed the best source of history regarding 3k however quoting from wikipedia it is said that

"But since the state of Shu lacked a history of its own, the data was composed by him according to what he could remember, as well as primary documents, such as the works of Zhuge Liang, which he had collected."

now the part that i questioned was what was remembered by him (this is why i mentioned that he was only about 2 after zhuge liang died), the history itself could be biased (not to mentioned that he works for the jin)

quoting "He takes the official papers, looks, "Oh, look, his guy suffered massive damage and lost his entire command of men. He's been doing this for over five years. He's probably not a great general..." "

this i can agree, however since he is a historian i don't think he is well versed in military strategy. my argument regarding this was that this campaign was done in foreign soil (who happened to be the most powerful at that time, with a huge huge supplies of food and weaponry) and if i remember correctly zhuge liang never lost more than 5%? of his soldiers and maybe i'm wrong on this, zhuge liang never lost an open battle or should i say battle in open field?

he did failed to capture chang an and lou yang in all of his campaigns but his failure was not because of his strategy, i think it is more on his judgement on people's talent (like battle of jieting, he gave an important task to his favourite ma su instead of giving it to a more capable general)

and regarding liu bei, i'm not 100% sure whether he infact wanted to resurrect the han dynasty/restoring it or take over the kingdom himself (if he did take over even if he abidcate the emperor it is still han dynasty) but i think that is for another topic

and thank you for the welcome, i feel like home already. hopefully i gain alot more knowledge on the actual history of 3k (which i'm sure i will)
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Elitemsh » Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:01 am

His failure in Jie Ting may not simply be the mistake in appointing Ma Su but could also be his lack of eagerness to truly lead the front himself. Given it was such an important battle, if he was a skilled, experienced commander then he shouldn't have it taken it upon himself. Instead he appointed someone who was even more green that Liang himself. Zhuge Liang was gifted but what experience of leading troops did he actually have prior to this battle? He played no part in Hanzhong and while he was involved to attacking Yi, you get the sense that his subordinates were doing the fighting. It was Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Huang Zhong and Wei Yan that were right up close with the enemy and were the ones winning the battles.

Zhuge Liang was left behind because he wasn't needed for the battle at Hanzhong despite Liu Bei mobilising all his men for this battle. IMO if Zhuge Liang was a very gifted general then he would have been brought along too because this battle was incredibly important. This may stand as evidence that Chen Shou's analysis of Zhuge Liang was fair and he was more of a brilliant politican than a general. That being said Zhuge Liang's rearguard actions were really impressive (at least to me) and that could be a specific skill that he had. However, he still does not come close to Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun who seemed like much better generals in my view.
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:16 am

Your most welcome Chan Zilong

now based on the 1st point, there is no way that he could have known all that happened during northern campaigns


True. However he would have known plenty of men who did like Liao Hua, Jiang Wei, the Zhang Yi's plus the records that would have been kept in Shu then later Jin. Yes Shu's history department sucked thus the shorter biographies but he doesn't seem to have gone to flesh it out with his own opinion to be fair to him, it is usually quite clear when Chen Shou is speaking as a person's view.

2. he is believed to be chen shi's son whom was punished by zhuge liang at one point during his service


Isn't that one of those things where we know Chen Shou's father got punished but we don't know who he was but somehow people decided it was Chen Shi?

3. chen shou in the end was a jin historian


Wouldn't A pro Jin history have meant not having Sima Yi performing so badly in comparison to Cao Zhen and making Zhuge Liang look far better a miliatry figure?

I think any bias is less likely to be a Jin one where he got sacked once and was involved in infighting, bar the obvious titles and not getting himself killed. Indeed he has gained a reputation for being fair and unbiased. If he is going to be biased, it would be the Qiao Zhou faction that he was a part of so perhaps his judgment there might be awry. I'm not sure though that he would lead to Chen Shou being anti-Zhuge.

can anyone helped me explain why he is hated so much by alot of people? is it because of what luo guanzhong did on his novel?


Pretty much.

You have this novel that tells us Liu Bei stops battles to help at the local orphanage, which Cao Cao is trying to destroy for his private pool, Zhuge Liang invents nuclear missiles and outwits Sima Yi using 5 men and a paperclip vs 100,000 men, Guan Yu and Ma Chao each take on a gazillion men at once.

Then the 3k western community starts to discover the SGZ. The characters of the novel are so inflated that when the truth emerges, they simply can't compare. Then there is one heck of a backlash. To borrow Guo Bia's example, suddenly Liu Bei went from virtoius Han lover to Team Rocket/Satan on a Stick, Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu and Ma Chao were all the worst generals in history. The backlash also turned Cao Cao into... saint wouldn't quite be right but misunderstood whose more dubious actions suddenly got whitewashed, Zhou Yu and Sima Yi's reputations rocketed for awhile since they were deemed to be shafted by the novel in Zhuge Liang's favor.

It was all of us learning that the demi-gods of the novel were not so great so most of us backlashed. Zhuge Liang did suffer a lot from this but like Liu Bei, I think time has helped. The works of the likes of Professor Rafe, time and us all being more experienced have allowed us to re-evaluate. I believe the hate for those two have gone and we have found a fairer balance of opinions towards them both. It is just that with acceptance and a general consensus, there aren't the arguments so wants stand out is the past hatred. I think now when someone reads the real Liang, older heads can help deal with the backlash, help explain that the real one was a great man in his own right. I also think the rapid backlashes/swings last less time now, Liu Shan went from joke to overly sympathetic but the balance has shifted towards a more center position, ditto He Jin and so on.

It is something we seem to do as humanity. Richard III has swung from villain to saint for example. As a football/soccer fan of Arsenal and England, I see it plenty of times. A new singing or a young player does well (this can mean scoring one goal) and suddenly they are going to be the greatest player ever, the commentators...cooing gets a little disturbing to be honest. Very disturbing. Soon a small section proudly proclaims that the player sucks as that section tries to show how clever they are and in a few years, that same player can get one heck of a backlash if he hasn't met the deluded expectations or has a drop in form.
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Chan Zilong » Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:18 pm

Elitemsh wrote:His failure in Jie Ting may not simply be the mistake in appointing Ma Su but could also be his lack of eagerness to truly lead the front himself. Given it was such an important battle, if he was a skilled, experienced commander then he shouldn't have it taken it upon himself. ...


did you mean zhuge should have lead the troop himself? also i'm not too familiar with the entire map but to my believe, jieting is behind of where the main camp was? i meant jieting is closer to to hanzhong and not the front line? and the front line is the most dangerous place to be and that is where zhuge is suppose to be at? please do correct me if i'm wrong

Elitemsh wrote:Zhuge Liang was left behind because he wasn't needed for the battle at Hanzhong despite Liu Bei mobilising all his men for this battle. IMO if Zhuge Liang was a very gifted general then he would have been brought along too because this battle was incredibly important. This may stand as evidence that Chen Shou's analysis of Zhuge Liang was fair and he was more of a brilliant politican than a general. That being said Zhuge Liang's rearguard actions were really impressive (at least to me) and that could be a specific skill that he had. However, he still does not come close to Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun who seemed like much better generals in my view.


and dong zhou> thank you for your explanation, it is very helpful. your argument is acceptable though i may disagree but it is always good to know what other opinion there is.

if someone hates zhuge liang due to the novel like you stated, shouldn't they know that it is the a novel, no novel though based on any history is 100% accurate like the actual history is, there is always a fabrication to please the reader and writer's point of view is usually added in it

and though zhuge liang considered failed at his northern campaigns (failed to capture chang an and lou yang) sima yi himself with superiror force and supplies were not able to rout zhuge liang and subdue shu, so this shows that zhuge himself is one of the best there is at their time

if one is overly rated, i would say that has to be jiang wei

and also this is out of topic but been bugging me for a long time, how come after the first generation (i meant dong zhuo era) there are no general that can be considered as powerful generals anymore?
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Elitemsh » Fri Jun 01, 2012 5:43 pm

Chan Zilong wrote:did you mean zhuge should have lead the troop himself? also i'm not too familiar with the entire map but to my believe, jieting is behind of where the main camp was? i meant jieting is closer to to hanzhong and not the front line? and the front line is the most dangerous place to be and that is where zhuge is suppose to be at? please do correct me if i'm wrong


Well i do question why he wasn't leading the battle. I question the need to appoint a subordinate to defend against Zhang He. Why not simply do it himself? That's the difference between him and Liu Bei.

Jieting is northwest of Hanzhong. The target of that first northern campaign was to take Chang'an, a very important city. Chang'an is situated northeast of Hanzhong. Now Zhuge Liang chose to take a roundabout and much longer route because he judged it safer. Zhuge Liang decided he would go northwest first take Jie Ting first, although he sent a decoy to attack via the more direct and blatantly obvious route.

Jieting is actually slightly northwest of Chang'an. I think Zhuge Liang’s plan was clever and you can see that if Shu attacked Chang’an from Jieting then they would be attacking southeast instead of northeast which is what it would have been of they had simply attacked via the fastest route from Hanzhong. It’s possible that attacking southeast would have given Zhuge Liang’s men some kind of advantage in terms of terrain but i’m just guessing. There isn’t enough information about the area to tell for sure.

The thing is that Zhuge Liang was actually leading the campaign himself until the time came when they had the face the enemy at Jieting. Zhuge Liang chose Ma Su as the vanguard to form a defence and gave him certain plans. Now Zhuge Liang would have been relatively nearby to Jieting. We know that Zhuge Liang took Tian Shui before sending Ma Su and Tian Shui is quite close to Jieting.

My point is that Zhuge Liang was fine taking territories that were undefended or lightly guarded but when the enemy came to resist, he sent another to deal with them instead of facing them himself. I am not sure what to think of that. If Zhuge Liang was a very good general then I don’t see the use in sending a subordinate. I mean it’s not like Ma Su was a warrior so the reason that he had send someone who could fight is not valid.
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Chan Zilong » Fri Jun 01, 2012 6:01 pm

Elitemsh wrote:Well i do question why he wasn't leading the battle. I question the need to appoint a subordinate to defend against Zhang He. Why not simply do it himself? That's the difference between him and Liu Bei.


there are a few reasons that i could think of (again just my opinion), he might be preparing tian shui or i forgot what the word is, he likes to inspect the city or location personally every time he conquers a city
another is that he might believe that ma su (out of anyone should've known better) will be able to do the job, the guy been following zhuge for a long time
and also i don't think he can risk himself since he was one of the 2 people whom liu bei entrusted liu shan to

and thank you for the explanation on the map, now i have a clearer idea on how the locations are.

one question, when you refer as general do you mean general that is martial like zhao yun, etc? if so then i agree with you, zhuge liang is definitely not any where near excellent but as a military strategist not much can be compared to him

one thing i don't like about zhuge liang is that he play favouritism heavily (zhao yun and ma su), in my opinion if he treated wei yan better, he might not betray shu (of course this is arguable). i mean after zhao yun's death who is the strongest general that shu has that is proven in battle and has a bold courage? not even zhang fei and guan yu's son can match him

and i believe he is stronger than any wei general that is alive at that time (with exception maybe zhang he) but then again you can't win with brute force :(
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Re: why so much hate on zhuge liang?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat Jun 02, 2012 10:36 am

Chan Zilong wrote:
if someone hates zhuge liang due to the novel like you stated, shouldn't they know that it is the a novel, no novel though based on any history is 100% accurate like the actual history is, there is always a fabrication to please the reader and writer's point of view is usually added in it


Probably. The difference should be more clearer then Empress Wu whose reputation has forever been tarnished by the forgeries of Backhouse.

Yet Shakespeare plays do, despite us all knowing them to be plays, shape how Britain sees certain characters. Richard III is a Prince murdering humpback, Henry V doing that speech and so on. King Arthur has a cultural shape too as does the likes of Lancelot. Historical fiction/legends can penetrate deep into a country's culture and it seems that, while LGZ was pushing on what was already there, people in China think of the RTK characters and not the real ones. Qiao Zhou is a surrender monkey, Liu Shan is the biggest idiot ever, Zhuge Liang is one of the greatest military minds of all time, Liu Bei is a saint, Guan Yu the red-faced bearded one. Which is great credit to LGZ's story telling ways.

With the west, sometimes people don't realize it is fake. I have seen one debate get sidetracked due to need to explain the term Romance, another Legend, in the context of certain tales. The 70/30 quote, which is completely taken out of context and misunderstood, is or was used a lot so people seem to go "yeah it is exaggerated" but believe the majority parts are true: that Liu Bei was a saint on legs, Liang a military genius, Zhou Yu jealous and so on.

Also it fixes an image in the head so even if you know it isn't true, the backlash still exists.

and though zhuge liang considered failed at his northern campaigns (failed to capture chang an and lou yang) sima yi himself with superiror force and supplies were not able to rout zhuge liang and subdue shu, so this shows that zhuge himself is one of the best there is at their time


I disagree. I think it shows that Sima Yi was a bad appointment and did badly, particularly in comparison to Cao Zhen. It will long be wondered why Zhang He didn't get command instead

if one is overly rated, i would say that has to be jiang wei


Don't worry, I have been a lead part in the "Jiang Wei sucks" brigade :P

and also this is out of topic but been bugging me for a long time, how come after the first generation (i meant dong zhuo era) there are no general that can be considered as powerful generals anymore?


What do you mean by powerful general exactly?

one thing i don't like about zhuge liang is that he play favouritism heavily (zhao yun and ma su), in my opinion if he treated wei yan better, he might not betray shu (of course this is arguable). i mean after zhao yun's death who is the strongest general that shu has that is proven in battle and has a bold courage? not even zhang fei and guan yu's son can match him

and i believe he is stronger than any wei general that is alive at that time (with exception maybe zhang he) but then again you can't win with brute force


Now Wei Yan is one of those that greatly benefits from the Zhuge Liang backlash.

While there are one or two points where Liang could have handled things better, overall I thought Zhuge Liang mollycoddled Wei Yan and even sacked people for Wei Yan. Also that Wei Yan was an egotist whose arrogance overrode both his morale sense and intellectual judgement, without a restraining hand he would get an army killed. If your willing to endanger 100,000 men for your own ego, your a liability.
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Re: Why so much hate on Zhuge Liang?

Unread postby Zyzyfer » Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:00 am

The backlash for me is mainly because many of his novel accolades historically were performed by others. The empty fort strategy, the arrow collecting prior to Chibi, the success of the Battle of Bowang, the amount of his direct involvement against Meng Huo's forces. Now, these changes do make for good story-telling (nobody wants to read about a guy who's average at war taking on the big enchilada with indecisive results, it's not suspenseful), but it's done at the expense of others in order to create a legend.

On his military exploits, I feel that Zhuge Liang was a good military commander (with the exception of the Ma Su glitch), who knew how to efficiently use the talented officers at his disposal and stage grand campaigns. He was a master of the ambush as well, which is why Sima Yi generally avoided engaging him head on after their disastrous first encounter. But his strategies, in my opinion, were fairly conventional. After the first campaign, his enemies started reading him like a book. Hao Zhao had his number during the siege of Chencang. He was generally unable to make any real progress, and I don't think having additional supplies to draw out his campaigns would have changed much. So to say that his military ability was unmatched in Wei...well, I have to disagree with that. He did well as a commander against your average Joe (i.e. Meng Huo, an unsuspecting Sima Yi), but anyone with any sense of craft, or caution of their own, could read his strategies well enough to repel him.*

Even those who dislike him strongly due to the warped novel interpretation, however, acknowledge his administrative capabilities. The guy basically ran Shu and possibly drove himself to an early grave because of it. That's extremely commendable on its own, and I don't think his mediocre military career should be viewed as such a blemish on him that a backlash to the backlash is required. Like Dong Zhou said earlier in this thread, after the initial backlash, a correction took place and more balanced views are generally held about those whose reputations and deeds were greatly altered by the novel.

*(As an aside, I hold this same view of Sun Ce, he ate the crapsters in Yang for breakfast but didn't do all that hot against then-Wei's Chen Deng, for instance)
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