Cao Shuang/Jiang Wei/Zhuge Ke

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Cao Shuang/Jiang Wei/Zhuge Ke

Unread postby Xiahou Ren » Mon Mar 09, 2015 9:44 am

Jiang Wei, Cao Shuang, Zhuge Ke.
Three peas in a pod?
Born 200-ish, died 250-ish. All were Regents, all did poorly, all met pitiful end?
Shame Jiang Wei was not hated (for some reason) and wasn't ousted out of power by domestic conflict; though he probably brought the most loss out of the three.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Antiochus » Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:00 pm

Honestly, I think Jiang Wei is under-appreciated.

Jiang Wan and Fei Yi's policies might have had some success with their somewhat more isolationist policy, but they failed to acknowledge the fact that, to survive, Shu had to expand. The kingdom, though well protected by its geography, was, compared to Wei, demographically and economically weak. Call it geographical determinism if you want, but I do believe that Shu, as it was after it lost Jing, was in an untenable position. It needed new lands and, new people, if only to survive against Wei who could (and would) eventually mount an offensive that they would not have been able to stop.

Then there is the matter of Shu's legitimacy. It was a kingdom founded on a matter of political expediency, as Liu Bei presented himself as the heir of an usurped dynasty after the usurpation of 220. As such, Shu's very purpose was to invade Wei and Wei would forever see Shu as an existential threat. It was more than a rivalry, as each kingdom's premise did not allow for the other's existence.

So, Jiang Wei might have not been the right guy for the job, but his reasoning, though flawed, was not inherently wrong. He might have wasted a lot of Shu's resources during his many failed invasions of Wei, but in a way, he was doing the only thing that might have, ultimately, allowed Shu to survive on the long run.

But then those three regents had a similar problem. In the paradigm of the Three Kingdoms, as three forces always keep each other in check, the defensive force is usually favored and will win in most cases. But, Wei could afford to lose more than both its rivals.

As for the other two... I would argue that Cao Shuang was the worst of the three, his defeat at Xingshi was one of the greatest blunders of the age, not to mention that he basically became powerful by accident, as some of the more likely regents, Cao Yu, Cao Zhao and Xiahou Xian, were passed over, some mainly because they were on bad terms with Cao Rui's attendants.

Zhuge Ke was a flawed figure, but the dysfunction of Wu after Sun Quan's death also has to be taken into consideration as an important factor in the kingdoms run of bad luck during that period.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Shen Ai » Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:14 pm

Zhuge Ke was reportedly brutal and a vicious man. I can't recall there being stories of Jiang Wei and Cao Shuang having such personal conduct issues as that, nor any signs of major cruelty. He was a reasonably skilled general and clearly an intelligent man, but he had terrible personality issues and in the end was outmatched by smarter (though no less vicious) political rivals.

At the same time, he had inherited a terrible political situation because of Sun Quan, so I would say he just ended up taking charge at a bad time. Had Sun Liang been older and more capable of being able to resist domination by powerful court officials, maybe things wouldn't have gotten so bad.

Jiang Wei ignored his court and was a major reason Shu fell. He deserves a large degree of the blame, and I'd never call him a good regent, not compared to far better men like Zhuge Liang, Fei Yi, and Jiang Wan. Still, it was Deng Zhi who caused most of the corruption issues, and Huang Hao continued that work. Jiang Wei was foolish to keep at his campaigns though, when Guo Huai, Deng Ai, Chen Tai, and Sima Fu so thoroughly bested him each and every time.

Cao Shuang at first did sorta well. He worked with Sima Yi and the Wei elites for a couple of years and Wei was in good shape. And Dong Zhou has told me Cao Shuang associated himself with the likes of He Yan, Xiahou Xuan, and Deng Yang, who were all very talented men and prominent scholars to be sure, and many of them were very forward thinking. Their Neo-Daoist leanings and rather liberal outlook and attempted reforms triggered the ire of the Confucian gentry, and Sima Yi took advantage of that. I wouldn't say it was because Cao Shuang and his cabal were inept (though they did seem to have a corrupting influence on Cao Fang as I recall).

And Xingshi wasn't that detrimental to Cao Wei either as I recall. Sure, they were beaten and they shouldn't have attacked at all, but the loses were not very big. 10,000 men as I recall? Which for the relative size of the armies in those days and relative to the size of the entire Wei force was a very small amount of soldiers.

I'd say Cao Shuang's downfall stemmed from the fact that his cabal was so radical in appearance and thought. He Yan wore make-up and used drugs. Wang Bi and He Yan an Xiahou Xuan all contributed to a linkage of Confucian and Daoist thought which was controversial, and the regime as a whole was somewhat forward thinking (at least from what I remember from some conversations here). The controversial actions and apperance of the faction isolated them from all but each other. Not to mention many Wei loyalists such as Sima Fu, Jiang Ji, and Chen Tai were all in strong support of the Cao family, they just didn't like the crowd Cao Shuang hung around. None of those men were in favour of the Sima supplanting of the Cao bloodline, and all of those men were very powerful and influential.

No doubt, much of the negatives writings we hear of Cao Shuang and his people are slander (much like what Cao Pi has received - being accused of crimes he didn't commit) and mostly Sima clan propaganda, meant to build the legitimacy of their short lived dynasty. They can't just say they stole and usurped power, they had to make it seem like a righteous action. So vilifying Cao Shuang and his people would accomplish that.

So to say Cao Shuang was to blame for the downfall of the Cao family is harsh on the man in my view.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Antiochus » Mon Mar 09, 2015 7:46 pm

Shen Ai wrote:Zhuge Ke was reportedly brutal and a vicious man. I can't recall there being stories of Jiang Wei and Cao Shuang having such personal conduct issues as that, nor any signs of major cruelty. He was a reasonably skilled general and clearly an intelligent man, but he had terrible personality issues and in the end was outmatched by smarter (though no less vicious) political rivals.

At the same time, he had inherited a terrible political situation because of Sun Quan, so I would say he just ended up taking charge at a bad time. Had Sun Liang been older and more capable of being able to resist domination by powerful court officials, maybe things wouldn't have gotten so bad.

Jiang Wei ignored his court and was a major reason Shu fell. He deserves a large degree of the blame, and I'd never call him a good regent, not compared to far better men like Zhuge Liang, Fei Yi, and Jiang Wan. Still, it was Deng Zhi who caused most of the corruption issues, and Huang Hao continued that work. Jiang Wei was foolish to keep at his campaigns though, when Guo Huai, Deng Ai, Chen Tai, and Sima Fu so thoroughly bested him each and every time.


I tend to disagree with your analysis. Its a common problem when you have to work with sources like the Sanguozhi. It often follows what is often called by historians the "Great Man Theory" (or Great Man Fallacy, depending on which side of that particular debate you fall). What I mean by that is that it tends to focus almost exclusively on the agency of various figures instead of the structure (think of "context", but in a very broad sense).

As such, my argument is not that Jiang Wei was a good regent. Hell, I'm not even convinced he was truly gifted when it came to military affairs. What I do believe, however, is that what he is mostly blamed for, his aggressiveness towards Wei, made a lot more sense than it is generally understood and that the deck was really stacked against him.

Its one of the unfortunate truth about the Sanguozhi and the Sanguozhi Yanyi. The rise and fall of empires, the state of the economy and victory in battle is almost entirely explained by the virtues (or lack thereof) of the various political figures. While it is true that many battles where won or lost because of the varying skills of the commanders, at least as many were decided on matters that nothing to do with their commanders.

For exemple... Was Shu's demography competitive?
Not compared to its rivals.

Then, how could it compete militarly?
By having a highly militarized society.

If so many men, even in peace time, had to be soldiers, if only to protect the borders, how did Shu fare in term of agricultural yield?
Obviously poorly.

In a society where taxes where paid in bushels of rice, doesn't that mean that Shu was poorer?
Pretty much. It was actually made worse by the fact that the no one had any trust in the newly minted currency of the time. In fact, basic goods such as grain and silk replaced it as the currency, but since a fourth of the population was in the army, production was obviously not optimal. Add the fact that, because of the geography, supplying its armies was incredibly difficult, it was also very demanding for the Shu treasury, as maintaining the infrastructure that made it possible was immensely expensive.

Once you take all of this into consideration, there are only two options for Shu, reaching an agreement with Wei which would allow Shu to survive, or try to expand to gain the means to fight on an equal footing. But peace never was an option with Wei, the two states essentially existed in opposition to one another. The very existence of Shu was a challenge to Wei, since it was created as an extension of the then usurped Han dynasty. As such, Wei would always try to take over Shu. And, because of the balance of power, Wei could afford to lose battles, but Shu could not. Its defeat, if it did not expand, was essentially inevitable, but because of all of its disadvantages, its expansion would be very difficult. A catch 22 of the worst kind for the people in Cheng Du.

As such, I do not blame Jiang Wei as much as other people do. I agree that he was a mediocre commander, but he was also dealt a really bad hand from the get go.

And Xingshi wasn't that detrimental to Cao Wei either as I recall. Sure, they were beaten and they shouldn't have attacked at all, but the loses were not very big. 10,000 men as I recall? Which for the relative size of the armies in those days and relative to the size of the entire Wei force was a very small amount of soldiers.


My own sources would say otherwise, though they are limited (I do not speak chinese). Xingshi was a military catastrophe, mainly because most casulties for Wei occured before and after the battle, as Cao Shuang failed to build an effective supply line. For every soldier that was killed by Shu soldiers, many more died of thirst, hunger and sickness. Sources like Wikipedia (which I agree, must be taken with a massive grain of salt) go as far as to claim that a fift of the Wei forces would be lost during the campaign.

The lack of interest for the battle tend to be explained by the same problem I explained earlier; the Sanguozhi and the Sanguozhi Yanyi was very character driven, and this battle mostly involved secondary figures.

I do not deny personnal flaws, but I am think that a common mistake in the Three Kingdom popular historiography is to turn those into the deciding factor.

No doubt, much of the negatives writings we hear of Cao Shuang and his people are slander (much like what Cao Pi has received - being accused of crimes he didn't commit) and mostly Sima clan propaganda, meant to build the legitimacy of their short lived dynasty. They can't just say they stole and usurped power, they had to make it seem like a righteous action. So vilifying Cao Shuang and his people would accomplish that.

So to say Cao Shuang was to blame for the downfall of the Cao family is harsh on the man in my view.


This, I could agree to.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Shen Ai » Mon Mar 09, 2015 8:37 pm

Antiochus wrote:I tend to disagree with your analysis. Its a common problem when you have to work with sources like the Sanguozhi. It often follows what is often called by historians the "Great Man Theory" (or Great Man Fallacy, depending on which side of that particular debate you fall). What I mean by that is that it tends to focus almost exclusively on the agency of various figures instead of the structure (think of "context", but in a very broad sense).

As such, my argument is not that Jiang Wei was a good regent. Hell, I'm not even convinced he was truly gifted when it came to military affairs. What I do believe, however, is that what he is mostly blamed for, his aggressiveness towards Wei, made a lot more sense than it is generally understood and that the deck was really stacked against him.


I'm not sure what you're trying to tell me. I found Jiang Wei an appalling regent and a commander of poor skill, and a general of average ability. You seem to agree with me in that regard.

I don't blame him entirely for the Fall of Shu, but he does carry a portion of the blame, as he should. His aggression led to bankruptcy, death, continual defeats, and a drop of moral. I can't claim to know what would have happened had he stuck with governmental affairs, but totally abandoning that side of his duties was detrimental to the state.

I certainly don't think Shu had to continually attack Wei. They proved more than capable of repelling enemy attacks should they come at them (Xingshi). Even if you want to make the arguement Shu has to expand, there's a limit as to how far you should take it. Jiang Wei was defeated by everyone Wei through at him except for that guy at Didao. Guo Huai embarrassed him. Chen Tai and Sima Fu beat him continually, turning even his victories into defeats. Deng Ai ripped him apart.

The way Jiang Wei set about going forward with his expansion plan was terrible. And it cost Shu. Drained moral, allowed the court to fall into disrepair, cost supplies and manpower and finances... it wasn't a good thing in any manner.

Its one of the unfortunate truth about the Sanguozhi and the Sanguozhi Yanyi. The rise and fall of empires, the state of the economy and victory in battle is almost entirely explained by the virtues (or lack thereof) of the various political figures.


No not really. We take into account such things as environmental and climate factors, disease, political opinion, morality and custom, skill and experience... as many factors as you need to make an accurate assumption.

While it is true that many battles where won or lost because of the varying skills of the commanders, at least as many were decided on matters that nothing to do with their commanders.


Environment, political situations, and mentality/moral are often accounted for. Like Cao Cao at Chi Bi.


Then, how could it compete militarly?
By having a highly militarized society.


Correct answer is: Don't try and compete. Keep your head down and play it safe.

If so many men, even in peace time, had to be soldiers, if only to protect the borders, how did Shu fare in term of agricultural yield?
Obviously poorly.


Continual military campaigns didn't help much.

In a society where taxes where paid in bushels of rice, doesn't that mean that Shu was poorer?
Pretty much. It was actually made worse by the fact that the no one had any trust in the newly minted currency of the time. In fact, basic goods such as grain and silk replaced it as the currency, but since a fourth of the population was in the army, production was obviously not optimal. Add the fact that, because of the geography, supplying its armies was incredibly difficult, it was also very demanding for the Shu treasury, as maintaining the infrastructure that made it possible was immensely expensive.


Everything you're telling me is reminding me more and more of how bad of an idea Jiang Wei's campaigns ended up being after his first 2 failures and Fei Yi's failures.

Once you take all of this into consideration, there are only two options for Shu, reaching an agreement with Wei which would allow Shu to survive, or try to expand to gain the means to fight on an equal footing. But peace never was an option with Wei, the two states essentially existed in opposition to one another. The very existence of Shu was a challenge to Wei, since it was created as an extension of the then usurped Han dynasty. As such, Wei would always try to take over Shu. And, because of the balance of power, Wei could afford to lose battles, but Shu could not. Its defeat, if it did not expand, was essentially inevitable, but because of all of its disadvantages, its expansion would be very difficult. A catch 22 of the worst kind for the people in Cheng Du.


As I said before, I think this just reinforces how bad Jiang Wei was at his job. There's a point you quit at, and that point is when you get beaten over and over and over and over and over. Jiang Wei reached that point and kept fighting. All he did was hasten Shu's demise. Continual raids drew Wei's attention and made Shu a pest that had to be got rid of.

As such, I do not blame Jiang Wei as much as other people do. I agree that he was a mediocre commander, but he was also dealt a really bad hand from the get go.


His predecessors handled his job much better, he ignored half of his duties, he condemned thousands to die in campaigns he couldn't handle, and he was a pillar that broke --> Which cracked Shu in the end. I can't feel too badly for him. Wiser men maintained smarter, more rational policy before him, and he cocked it up.

I feel bad for him in that he never should have had this position. He's a follower, not a commander. He wasn't suited to his task at all.

My own sources would say otherwise, though they are limited (I do not speak chinese). Xingshi was a military catastrophe, mainly because most casulties for Wei occured before and after the battle, as Cao Shuang failed to build an effective supply line. For every soldier that was killed by Shu soldiers, many more died of thirst, hunger and sickness. Sources like Wikipedia (which I agree, must be taken with a massive grain of salt) go as far as to claim that a fift of the Wei forces would be lost during the campaign.


Yeah, completely ignore what Wikipedia tells you unless you want general information or results o who won what (and even then they make mistakes, like with Ruxu 213). The section on Xingshi doesn't even have citations or verifications for what it's saying.

Wei didn't lose anything close to such numbers. A fifth of the army? Nah. Possibly you mean a 5th of the invasion force, which is more accurate, and as I said, a very small and minor number relative to other loses experienced in battles and very small relative to the total size of the army.

Given that most of these invasion forces were made up of conscripted soldiers, possibly a portion of the army dropped back to their regular duties such as irrigation and farming, but they didn't die in battle. Cao Wei had a powerful presence in the west, evidenced by Guo Huai repeatedly thumping the Di and Qiang tribes in the region and Wei continually defeating Jiang Wei in battle.

Xingshi was in now way a disaster in terms of what resulted. It was terribly planned and a ridiculous thing to do, but the Wei retreat was quite orderly and effective.


I do not deny personnal flaws, but I am think that a common mistake in the Three Kingdom popular historiography is to turn those into the deciding factor.


That was the deciding factor. Military failure at Xingshi was nothing. It just reinforced Cao Shuang wasn't up to the task given to him but it certainly wasn't the reason he was tossed out. His personal flaws and the flaws and actions of his colleagues was the nail in the coffin, not one failed campaign. Reforms that could change the very way of life the traditionalists had maintained for generations? That brings up change. A single military loss wouldn't do that, not when so many men have failed in their campaigns and retained popular support.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby DragonAtma » Mon Mar 09, 2015 10:23 pm

Zhuge Ke was smart and competent... but not as smart or competent as he thought he was, so he fell to his own arrogance and overly high view of himself, just like Ma Su.

As for Shu, I'm not certain they needed to expand. Yes, they were definitely well behind Wei in land, but at the dsame time Hanzhong was very defensible land. Jiang Wei tried to not only win in 263, but cause a lot of wei casualties as the time. If he kept Wei Yan's defense, it's entirely possible Shu would survive, at least for one generation. So I imagine the chances of a Shu win-through-waiting would depend on two questions:

* If Shu was still there in 280, could Wei attack Wu successfully?
* If Shu was still there in 291, would Sima Yan still choose Sima Zhong as his heir?
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Antiochus » Mon Mar 09, 2015 10:46 pm

I don't want to scare away other members by making too much point by point answers, so I might just answer a few key elements. Please do not read this as me saying that the other points you bring have no value, I'm just trying to keep this (relatively) short.

Shen Ai wrote:I'm not sure what you're trying to tell me. I found Jiang Wei an appalling regent and a commander of poor skill, and a general of average ability. You seem to agree with me in that regard.

I don't blame him entirely for the Fall of Shu, but he does carry a portion of the blame, as he should. His aggression led to bankruptcy, death, continual defeats, and a drop of moral. I can't claim to know what would have happened had he stuck with governmental affairs, but totally abandoning that side of his duties was detrimental to the state.


I do agree with the assessment that Jiang Wei was neither a great commander nor a great administrator.

I do, however, make two points.

My first point is that we tend to only examine the fall of Shu by assessing the merits of the people, the political actors of their time, while neglecting structural factors that were very heavily set against them. This is a common feature of older historiography, as the modern scientific approach to history only developed after the 17th century (though one could argue that Ibn Khaldun was the first "modern" historian). The two most commonly cited sources about the Three Kingdoms tend to be the Sanguozhi (3rd century AD) and the Sanguoyanyi (14th century ad) and they seem to follow that pattern.

My second point is that, because of those structural problems, it was imperative for Shu to grow if it wanted to survive on the long run. Simply saving its strength and remaining in a mainly defensive posture was a good short term survival strategy, but only on the short term. Wei (and later Jin) could simply build up the means to invade and then bulldoze through the very moment their opponents had an internal problem (essentially what happened to Wu). This could have been avoided had Wu


No not really. We take into account such things as environmental and climate factors, disease, political opinion, morality and custom, skill and experience... as many factors as you need to make an accurate assumption.


My argument that the Sanguozhi and the Sanguo Yanyi focuses more on historical figures rather than larger structural factors is not so much my opinion as much as an assessment by two people I talked two. One of them was a history major with a keen interest in Chinese history, the other one was an actual History teacher in my own University. I mention them because I do not share their experience with historical methodology, being a post-graduate student in political science.

Yet, I did read the Sanguo Yanyi's translation (I actually got the whole thing in French) and enjoyed a few segments of the Sanguozhi whenever I found translated bits and pieces of it online, and I tend to agree with their assessment. The rise and fall of empire is largely explained through actors rather than structures, which are mentioned in passing (some times), but those tend to take a somewhat more minor role.

This is not to say that those sources are bad, just that caution should be used when reading them. I, for one, really enjoy those texts (I am, after-all, still a member of a forum such as SoSZ).


As I said before, I think this just reinforces how bad Jiang Wei was at his job. There's a point you quit at, and that point is when you get beaten over and over and over and over and over. Jiang Wei reached that point and kept fighting. All he did was hasten Shu's demise. Continual raids drew Wei's attention and made Shu a pest that had to be got rid of.


And this is where we will have to agree to disagree.

My point is that if Shu remained in a defensive position, it was bound to lose. Wei could invade it at its leisure, and, unlike Wei, Shu had basically no strategic dept (another element of geographical determinism, I know). Maintaining a largely defensive position was problematic, since it meant prolonging a situation where Wei had the upper hand. Even if Wei would lose more battles, it would be able to replenish its forces faster and more effectively.

As such, I understand the obsession that several figures within Shu-Han had with northern expansion; the idea of a paradigm shift brought by a few key victories, allowing Shu to gain one of the most strategically important region of the empire; the doorway very lucrative trade routes to the west and the ability to access its enemies heartland. Without it, Wei would just become stronger and stronger and eventually just steamroll its rivals, which is essentially what happened (though it was replaced by the Jin dynasty by then). Postponing the inevitable is, to my mind, not much more of a winning strategy than repeated failed attempts at breaking a disadvantageous stalemate.

Lets take another example and look at the fall of Wu. Wu was much less aggressive than Shu was and still ended up loosing to Jin. This can be explained by the respective valor of the two kingdom's officers, or by the fact that the balance of power was so disproportionately in Wei-Jin's favor that it was just a matter of time.

Yeah, completely ignore what Wikipedia tells you unless you want general information or results o who won what (and even then they make mistakes, like with Ruxu 213).

Wei didn't lose anything close to such numbers. A fifth of the army? Nah. Possibly you mean a 5th of the invasion force, which is more accurate, and as I said, a very small and minor number relative to other loses experienced in battles and very small relative to the total size of the army.

Xingshi was in now way a disaster in terms of what resulted. It was terribly planned and a ridiculous thing to do, but the Wei retreat was quite orderly and effective
.

Since few of my own sources are accessible online, I tried to look for other sources that could confirm what I was saying, using translation programs to see if a few Chinese sources I could find would similar numbers on other sites. In the end (searching sources in simplified Chinese is not that easy when you don't actually know the language) I did find similar numbers.

此战后,费祎因此胜获封成乡侯,留守汉中直至244年9月返回成都。相反,曹爽的威望和影响力骤跌,为他在和司马懿的权力争斗中最终倒台埋下伏笔。
兴势之战是三国时期最重要也最被低估的战役之一。诸葛亮、姜维等主要人物未参战使很多作家较少着墨此战,相比同时期的其他战役,甚至忽略了此战。事实上,由于魏军遭大损,此战将中国统一推迟了几十年,对历史造成了深远的影响:因农民被征为士兵,此次惨败使田里无人劳作。为耕作农田和帮助惨败造成的孤儿寡妇,十余万屯田兵还农,再未重回军伍,曹魏军队从80万锐减四分之一至60万,直至半个多世纪后晋朝的八王之乱时才恢复。

http://www.sanguogushi.com/jshi/171.html


The numbers seem to be the same, we are talking about about a fourth of the Wei forces that was lost during the campaign (not just the battle mind you). Wei was able to field 800 000 soldiers before the campaign, but the losses seem to have been so significant that this number was reduced to 600 000 afterwards. Though the rest of the article, like a few other sources, imply that most of Wei's loses were the result of hunger, thirst and sickness, rather than the battle itself. This was not uncommon in pre-modern warfare.

As for you other arguments, there are plenty of cases where a failed campaign doomed a career, especially if the battle had lasting consequences. I mean, I could ask what would King John of England reign been like had the French lost at Bouvines? Would there have been a barons revolt, a Magna Carta? Maybe not, but this is highly speculative. We get into "what-if" territory, which is quite fun, but far from scientific.

What matters with a war is rarely the effect it has on the commanders, but rather the one it has on the state: how it affected the structure of history rather than just its actors. What we should ask, in my opinion, is whether or not Shu had the means to survive on the long if it did not expand? I would argue it did not and you seem to disagree, which is perfectly fair.

So, in the end, I do not blame Jiang Wei for being very aggressive against Wei, since I'm not convinced Shu had other options. I do agree, however, that he was not a very gifted commander. I just think Shu would have fallen with or without him.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Shen Ai » Tue Mar 10, 2015 12:10 am

Antiochus wrote:I do agree with the assessment that Jiang Wei was neither a great commander nor a great administrator.

I do, however, make two points.

My first point is that we tend to only examine the fall of Shu by assessing the merits of the people, the political actors of their time, while neglecting structural factors that were very heavily set against them. This is a common feature of older historiography, as the modern scientific approach to history only developed after the 17th century (though one could argue that Ibn Khaldun was the first "modern" historian). The two most commonly cited sources about the Three Kingdoms tend to be the Sanguozhi (3rd century AD) and the Sanguoyanyi (14th century ad) and they seem to follow that pattern.


I'm pretty sure everyone knows Shu was absolutely doomed to fail as soon as Jing was taken. It doesn't matter what they did, as soon as they were trapped in Yi they were finished. Doesn't matter who they had at the helm in their country, that was the end for them.

Jiang Wei, Liu Shan, Deng Zhi, Huang Hao, Zhuge Zhan, Liao Hua, Zhang Shao presided over an era where they hastened their own demise, but nothing they could have done would have changed anything.

My second point is that, because of those structural problems, it was imperative for Shu to grow if it wanted to survive on the long run. Simply saving its strength and remaining in a mainly defensive posture was a good short term survival strategy, but only on the short term. Wei (and later Jin) could simply build up the means to invade and then bulldoze through the very moment their opponents had an internal problem (essentially what happened to Wu). This could have been avoided had Wu


I agree Shu needed to expand, but Jiang Wei went about it the wrong way. His Northern Campaigns were disasters. He lost over and over. His expansion plan wasn't working and he did it anyways. That's why I blame him for being a contributor to Shu's fall, and that's why I'll never really praise him. Expansion is fine, but he just did a terrible job. The principle of expansion is all very well, but with Shu's resources and Jiang Wei at the helm they were never getting into Liang province.

He should have known better. He killed thousands upon thousands in his ignorance. At unlike other failed campaigns, he never had much of a chance.

My argument that the Sanguozhi and the Sanguo Yanyi focuses more on historical figures rather than larger structural factors is not so much my opinion as much as an assessment by two people I talked two. One of them was a history major with a keen interest in Chinese history, the other one was an actual History teacher in my own University. I mention them because I do not share their experience with historical methodology, being a post-graduate student in political science.

Yet, I did read the Sanguo Yanyi's translation (I actually got the whole thing in French) and enjoyed a few segments of the Sanguozhi whenever I found translated bits and pieces of it online, and I tend to agree with their assessment. The rise and fall of empire is largely explained through actors rather than structures, which are mentioned in passing (some times), but those tend to take a somewhat more minor role.

This is not to say that those sources are bad, just that caution should be used when reading them. I, for one, really enjoy those texts (I am, after-all, still a member of a forum such as SoSZ).


Again, not sure what you're trying to tell me. That SGZ isn't reliable because it focuses more on the people than the foundations of the events? People shape those structures, their decisions impact the fate of their nation. History is based around humanity.

I certainly hope you agree with SGZ, considering it's pretty much the absolute authority on Three Kingdoms given that it's the best known record to date (I include Pei's annotation with SGZ). You can't simply just disagree with it, unless you go further and look at the records of the time (Weilue, Weishu, Jinshu).

And this is where we will have to agree to disagree.

My point is that if Shu remained in a defensive position, it was bound to lose. Wei could invade it at its leisure, and, unlike Wei, Shu had basically no strategic dept (another element of geographical determinism, I know). Maintaining a largely defensive position was problematic, since it meant prolonging a situation where Wei had the upper hand. Even if Wei would lose more battles, it would be able to replenish its forces faster and more effectively.


Shu proved it could do a fine job defending in 217-219 and then again in Xingshi. Jiang Wei abandoned Wei Yan's defensive plans and that was one of the reasons the country was so easy to march into. Not to mention it was also hugely determined on Deng Ai's incredible tactical prowess.

Of course Shu would have been beaten. But they'd have been beaten a lot later if they saved their manpower, built their supply base, and didn't draw attention to themselves by continual raids.

Shu never had a chance of conquering the Three Kingdoms. I'm just saying Jiang Wei did an appalling job and deserves flak for it. Shu was going to fall at some point, but Jiang Wei did it no favours.

As such, I understand the obsession that several figures within Shu-Han had with northern expansion; the idea of a paradigm shift brought by a few key victories, allowing Shu to gain one of the most strategically important region of the empire; the doorway very lucrative trade routes to the west and the ability to access its enemies heartland. Without it, Wei would just become stronger and stronger and eventually just steamroll its rivals, which is essentially what happened (though it was replaced by the Jin dynasty by then). Postponing the inevitable is, to my mind, not much more of a winning strategy than repeated failed attempts at breaking a disadvantageous stalemate.


The theory was all very good and well, Jiang Wei just happened to be poor at his job and got thrashed over and over. And instead of learning, he did worse and worse.

Maybe you can argue the merits of the theory behind the attacks, but Jiang Wei not only did a poor job, he never learned either. He went about it completely wrong.

Lets take another example and look at the fall of Wu. Wu was much less aggressive than Shu was and still ended up loosing to Jin. This can be explained by the respective valor of the two kingdom's officers, or by the fact that the balance of power was so disproportionately in Wei-Jin's favor that it was just a matter of time.


Indeed. It was always just a matter of time. Wei was too big, too populated, and full of too many talents to be beaten. Wu you'll not, lated almost 20 years longer and even seize Jiao Province in that time. They were defeated because Sun Hao was a horrible leader who executed key commanders and influential military officials, and because the entire Wu army collapsed. Not a single person managed to do well in that campaign other than Zhuge Jing maybe.

Since few of my own sources are accessible online, I tried to look for other sources that could confirm what I was saying, using translation programs to see if a few Chinese sources I could find would similar numbers on other sites. In the end (searching sources in simplified Chinese is not that easy when you don't actually know the language) I did find similar numbers.

此战后,费祎因此胜获封成乡侯,留守汉中直至244年9月返回成都。相反,曹爽的威望和影响力骤跌,为他在和司马懿的权力争斗中最终倒台埋下伏笔。
兴势之战是三国时期最重要也最被低估的战役之一。诸葛亮、姜维等主要人物未参战使很多作家较少着墨此战,相比同时期的其他战役,甚至忽略了此战。事实上,由于魏军遭大损,此战将中国统一推迟了几十年,对历史造成了深远的影响:因农民被征为士兵,此次惨败使田里无人劳作。为耕作农田和帮助惨败造成的孤儿寡妇,十余万屯田兵还农,再未重回军伍,曹魏军队从80万锐减四分之一至60万,直至半个多世纪后晋朝的八王之乱时才恢复。

http://www.sanguogushi.com/jshi/171.html


The numbers seem to be the same, we are talking about about a fourth of the Wei forces that was lost during the campaign (not just the battle mind you). Wei was able to field 800 000 soldiers before the campaign, but the losses seem to have been so significant that this number was reduced to 600 000 afterwards. Though the rest of the article, like a few other sources, imply that most of Wei's loses were the result of hunger, thirst and sickness, rather than the battle itself. This was not uncommon in pre-modern warfare.


I'm not gonna take online resources without citations seriously, even if they happen to be in Chinese. SGZ doesn't say that's the case, nor does Professor Rafe. Xingshi was not hailed as a disaster in the result, it was a disaster of planning.

The numbers and the biographical date we have indicates the Wei army had a very successful retreat, nor does it imply anywhere near the manpower you're bringing up. 200,000 soldiers lost in a single campaign? I wouldn't even believe 100,000. It's a farce. Those figures are the exact same as the Wikipedia page, which again has 0 citations and a bunch logical flaws (Wei lost it's power in the west? Really? How was Guo Huai and Deng Ai and Chen Tai and Sima Fu able to handle the tribes in the area and Shu as well?) I'd need a credible source to think otherwise.

As for you other arguments, there are plenty of cases where a failed campaign doomed a career, especially if the battle had lasting consequences. I mean, I could ask what would King John of England reign been like had the French lost at Bouvines? Would there have been a barons revolt, a Magna Carta? Maybe not, but this is highly speculative. We get into "what-if" territory, which is quite fun, but far from scientific.


All those examples are of men not from China or from this period of time. It's hardly relevant. It took a full 5 years until Sima Yi seized power at Xingshi, it wasn't the defeat that did it, it was Cao Shuang and his followers being radicals. The defeat was a contributor, certainly.

What matters with a war is rarely the effect it has on the commanders, but rather the one it has on the state: how it affected the structure of history rather than just its actors. What we should ask, in my opinion, is whether or not Shu had the means to survive on the long if it did not expand? I would argue it did not and you seem to disagree, which is perfectly fair.


Oh I don't argue that Shu was going to fall if it played defensively. I just think expanding was impossible as well. It was like a rat trying to chew through a steel cage. Couldn't get out no matter how hard he tried and the idiot kept trying and trying and losing and losing. He was a fool and wholly unsuited for his job.

I'm simply arguing they would have lasted longer and kept the state in good shape if they hadn't tried to charge their way into Liang, which was always a disaster. Better men than Jiang Wei tried and failed.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Antiochus » Tue Mar 10, 2015 2:42 am

Shen Ai wrote:
I'm pretty sure everyone knows Shu was absolutely doomed to fail as soon as Jing was taken. It doesn't matter what they did, as soon as they were trapped in Yi they were finished. Doesn't matter who they had at the helm in their country, that was the end for them.

Jiang Wei, Liu Shan, Deng Zhi, Huang Hao, Zhuge Zhan, Liao Hua, Zhang Shao presided over an era where they hastened their own demise, but nothing they could have done would have changed anything.


This argument is... flawed...

Had someone claimed in 208 that Liu Bei would rule over Jing, Yi and Han Zhong a decade later, no one would have believed them.

But, stranger things have happened.

Shu was looking for a paradigm shift, and there are plenty of examples in history to say that while it was a long-shot, it was not impossible. And, as you acknowledged, Shu, in its current state, was pretty much doomed unless it managed to alter the balance of power back in its favor.

As such, I can't help but think attacking Wei made sense, even if it ultimately failed. If the downside was that it might make the inevitable happen earlier... well, its not much of a loss. When you got nothing to lose, edging one's bets is not as insane as it sounds...

Don't get me wrong, I agree that Jiang Wei was really not that great at his job. But that being said, I can't help but to think that at least he was trying to alter a doomed scenario. That is as far as I can go in terms of praise, but I guess its more than most.

Again, not sure what you're trying to tell me. That SGZ isn't reliable because it focuses more on the people than the foundations of the events? People shape those structures, their decisions impact the fate of their nation. History is based around humanity.

I certainly hope you agree with SGZ, considering it's pretty much the absolute authority on Three Kingdoms given that it's the best known record to date (I include Pei's annotation with SGZ). You can't simply just disagree with it, unless you go further and look at the records of the time (Weilue, Weishu, Jinshu).


Actually, I can disagree with methodology.

Its not that the text itself is bad. Quite the opposite in fact. The Sanguozhi is a classic and one of the oldest work of historical research in the world, comparable to Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War. Yet, just like this magnificent historical account, the Sanguozhi was written at a time before historical methodology was properly developed, which is why modern historians tend to take the information of such text with a grain of salt. They are invaluable, as the text itself is something of an historical artifact and it was probably more faithful to the actual history of the period than many later works that were made during later centuries, but it is by no mean an ideal source by modern standard (Strong tendency toward dramatization, it had to follow certain guidelines and could not contest the political order that came out of the conflict).

As for history being about humanity, I don't think that its the point. Humans do act upon the structure they inhabit, but the opposite is equally true. Since the development of sociology, there has been a pretty big debate regarding the importance of the ways the structure affects the person throughout history. Which one is dominant varies on the school of thought, but the Theories that placed the actions of the "actor" as the sole catalyst for action and change is pretty much discredited today.

The theory was all very good and well, Jiang Wei just happened to be poor at his job and got thrashed over and over. And instead of learning, he did worse and worse.

Maybe you can argue the merits of the theory behind the attacks, but Jiang Wei not only did a poor job, he never learned either. He went about it completely wrong.


I never claimed he was successful.

I'm not gonna take online resources without citations seriously, even if they happen to be in Chinese. SGZ doesn't say that's the case, nor does Professor Rafe. Xingshi was not hailed as a disaster in the result, it was a disaster of planning.

The numbers and the biographical date we have indicates the Wei army had a very successful retreat, nor does it imply anywhere near the manpower you're bringing up. 200,000 soldiers lost in a single campaign? I wouldn't even believe 100,000. It's a farce. Those figures are the exact same as the Wikipedia page, which again has 0 citations and a bunch logical flaws (Wei lost it's power in the west? Really? How was Guo Huai and Deng Ai and Chen Tai and Sima Fu able to handle the tribes in the area and Shu as well?) I'd need a credible source to think otherwise.


Here is the thing; that is actually not what the article says. It never claims that 200 000 soldiers died, but that as a result of the campaign, Wei's operational capacity was significantly reduced to the point that they were no longer able to field a total of 800 000 soldiers, having to aim for 600 000 instead. Which makes more sense than you give it credit for. This was a time before there was such a thing as a professional military, so every casualty was a loss on the labor force. The death of a high number of soldiers that essentially worked part time in the fields meant that, to restore production to comparable levels, the army would have to demobilize troops, especially if you consider the sheer loss of resources.

Also, I did read Rafe de Crespigny's work and checked them for numbers, but beyond the fact that the campaign was unsuccessful, he does not really give a clear idea about the scale of the loss, or even the invasion itself. If you have a source that would paint a clearer picture, I would be very thankful. I do not discount the possibility that I could be completely wrong about Xingshi.
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Re: I'm Sorry if This is Super Late, I Just Realized It

Unread postby Qu Hui » Tue Mar 10, 2015 4:02 am

Antiochus, I'm not quite sure where you're getting your numbers from. Both Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms and Wang Ping's Sanguozhi give the power of Cao Shuang's forces at around 100,000, while an alternate account in the SGZ estimates 60,000-70,000. Either way, far from 200,000. As for Wei being able to deploy 800,000 troops, that's not likely. It was probably closer to 400,000, given Wei's population. Even Cao Cao's invasion force at Chibi was only around 200,000 strong, with only 150,000 of those troops actually being his (the rest were Liu Biao's soldiers), according to Zhou Yu's estimates in the Zhizhi Tongjian. Also Shen Ai is correct when he says that only a fifth of the fighting force at Xingshi was lost, not a fifth of Wei's entire army.

Antiochus wrote:Lets take another example and look at the fall of Wu. Wu was much less aggressive than Shu was and still ended up loosing to Jin. This can be explained by the respective valor of the two kingdom's officers, or by the fact that the balance of power was so disproportionately in Wei-Jin's favor that it was just a matter of time.

Actually I'd say Wu was far more aggressive than Shu in their invasions. They probably invaded Wei 20-30 times between 221 and 265. Also, Wu was kind of decaying from the inside out due to Sun Hao's abyssal rule when it fell, and it still took 15 years of Sun Hao's rule for the right opportunity to invade Wu to present itself to Jin.
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