Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

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Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby CaTigeReptile » Fri May 25, 2018 1:06 pm

So as many things do these days, this is from a debate on Tumblr, this one between capnnerefir and me. An anonymous person asked why Sima Yi was chosen to succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He, and this was what was said:

CaTigeReptile wrote:My guess is because Sima Yi was one of Cao Rui’s regents. The CICs on all their fronts had always been related to or had been people considered as close as relatives to the Caos


capnnerefir wrote: Logistics, son.

Zhang He was an exceptional front-line general, but he didn’t have any experience on the back end of things. Organizing and coordinating between the many generals stationed in the west took an exceptional feat of logistics, given the difficulties in supply and communication in the region. While I’m sure Zhang He wasn’t inept in that regard, his skills were best used elsewhere.

Sima Yi served as a logistical officer under Cao Cao for several years - first as his registrar, then adjutant. He had the training and experience to get the job done. His skills were more suited to the position than Zhang He’s.

It’s not a slight against Zhang He, just a matter of whose set of skills was more appropriate.


CaTigeReptile wrote:I guess I could see that, given that Zhang He was usually at the shoulder of a CIC, though he was essentially granted co-equal command with Cao Zhen and Sima Yi during the three-pronged attack against Shu.

There’s more to being a CIC than being an adjutant, where Sima Yi didn’t have the experience comparatively was in strategy - of which if Zhang He didn’t directly control at, say, Hanzhong, was something he most certainly had been on the vicinity of decades.

Zhang He was specifically known for his expertise regarding logistics and terrain, and given how his advice that went unheeded by Sima Yi in the ZZTJ is presented as such that he was making the correct calls and Sima Yi should have listened, I think not taking into account the level of trust required for a CIC, it’s a valid question to ask - though the answer is it would probably have never happened, I believe it is because of other reasons.


capnnerefir wrote:Zhang He only ever handled logistics for his own army. He didn’t have the experience to manage an entire theatre of eat. He was great on the small scale, but he didn’t have the training for a bigger stage. And if you put Zhang He in that role, you lost him on the front lines, where he was most useful.

Sima Yi was better qualified. He first trained under Cao Cao, and he commanded all the armed forces of both Jing and Yu.

A better question would be why Cao Zhen was initially chosen instead of Zhang He. While Cao Zhen did an excellent job, Zhang He would have been the more standard choice.


CaTigeReptile wrote: Well, one of the bigger stories in his biography is actually that Zhang He successfully managed the Hanzhong theater in Xiahou Yuan’s stead for a few months and kept Liu Bei from actually being able to seize Hanzhong until Cao Cao had him withdraw, so he actually did have experience commanding a theater in a situation not all that dissimilar to the one they were currently in. Besides, he correctly predicted Zhuge Liang’s movements at Qishan based on logistics without even being there.

He was also with Sima Yi in Jingzhou. And Cao Zhen, Xiahou Yuan, Dun etc still led troops on the front line, it wasn’t an either/or situation.

Zhang He was with Sima Yi in co-command in Jing iirc, and I don’t get the impression that there was some kind of apprenticeship between Cao Cao and Sima Yi.

The reasoning, though, to choose Cao Zhen was because Cao Zhen was a regent. All previous CICs had been related to or as close as family of the Caos.


By CIC we're referring to Da Jiangjun at that point.

SoSZ is a much better forum for discussion, since Tumblr's format is just not conducive to it, especially for more than two people (the conversation got derailed, for instance), so I thought it'd be an interesting one to bring here. (I wouldn't be surprised if it has been discussed before.)

Any of you guys have any opinions on this topic as to why Sima Yi was chosen over Zhang He, or I think the underlying question of would Zhang He have done a better job, or was Sima Yi's defense peak success? (If the defense is successful, does it even matter how it's done?)
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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby wk123 » Sat May 26, 2018 3:20 pm

Love this topic! All 3 generals rock!

Re: the Cao Zhen vs Zhang He debate, if from an Advisors Alliance POV, a Cao or Xiahou should ALWAYS lead a Wei campaign.

Hard to say for Sima Yi vs Zhang He, consider logistics and also people management? How was Zhang He at holding council and managing different personalities?


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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby CaTigeReptile » Sat May 26, 2018 5:36 pm

wk123 wrote:Love this topic! All 3 generals rock!

Re: the Cao Zhen vs Zhang He debate, if from an Advisors Alliance POV, a Cao or Xiahou should ALWAYS lead a Wei campaign.

Hard to say for Sima Yi vs Zhang He, consider logistics and also people management? How was Zhang He at holding council and managing different personalities?


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In Guo Huai's bio there's a story from after Xiahou Yuan died of Zhang He holding council to choose strategy and that was successful, so he apparently could do that. All in all it does seem that he did the right things to hold the line as the impromptu commander of a theater that had been thrown into chaos by the death of its full commander. Liu Bei considered him a bigger threat than Xiahou Yuan, going so far as to say that killing Xiahou Yuan was useless since Zhang He was still alive. He also seemed to be quite popular.

I still do think it was mostly a court-related thing. Zhang He had worked for the Caos for 30 years and had a bit of political sway, but that would have been a step up in political power where you might start wondering about the rest of his family, especially when you have a perfectly competent regent/close friend. I also wonder if his age had anything to do with it, he would have probably been pushing 70, or at least well into his 60s.
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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby DaoLunOfShiji » Sat May 26, 2018 5:43 pm

Age could've really been a possible factor. If you recall I sent you the PM on tumblr about Cao Shuang moving Sima Yi from CiC to Grand Tutor specifically because all those formerly in the role died in office. Sima Yi would've been around 52 at the time he succeeded Cao Zhen, which means he would be over over 60, nearing 70 when Cao Shuang promoted him to Grand Tutor.
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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby wk123 » Sun May 27, 2018 6:27 am

Thank you both for the valid points! I was not aware of Zhang He's abilities outside the battlefield.

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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun May 27, 2018 4:00 pm

I hadn't realized how old Zhang He was so I can see that being an issue. It could be that Cao Rui and others thought Zhang He was an excellent deputy, they didn't quite feel he was someone who could be Cic. Or simply they thought he could but that Sima Yi 1) had more political connections which might prove useful in long term, 2) was a younger talent who could be a very good Cic in the future even if he takes a few knocks this time.
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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby Han » Tue May 29, 2018 8:03 pm

Zhang He previously surrendered from Cao Cao archrival, did not have any connections to the gentry or strong relationship to the imperial family.

Sima Yi was from a powerful gentry clan, and was assistant to Cao Cao and close friend to Cao Pi.
Liu Bei did nothing wrong.
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Re: Why did Sima Yi succeed Cao Zhen instead of Zhang He?

Unread postby Sun Fin » Thu May 31, 2018 10:11 am

Yeah my instinct is that it was down to court connections which Sima Yi had in abundance.
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