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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
.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
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.
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
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).
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.
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。
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.
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.
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).
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'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.
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.
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