Comprehensive Biography for Ma Su

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Comprehensive Biography for Ma Su

Unread postby DaoLunOfShiji » Mon Jun 11, 2018 6:54 am

Ma Su, style Youchang (190-228)

Ma Su was born in 190 in Nan commendary, Jingzhou.[1] He and his four other brothers were known as the "Five Constants", or "Changs" as their style names all contained "Chang".[2] Ma Su was the young brother of the famous Ma Liang who he followed into service under Liu Bei when he took command of Jingzhou in 209.[3] He was appointed Assistant Officer shortly after joining at the age of 19.[4]

When Liu Bei marched west into Yizhou against Liu Zhang, Ma Su would follow him along on this campaign as Jingzhou Adviser.[5] What Ma Su contributed on this campaign is not specified so we cannot gauge what he actively did during this time. As an adviser he would have been along side Fa Zheng and Pang Tong who are noted as being vital in this campaign, though Pang Tong would die during the siege of Luocheng.[6]

After Yizhou had been seized entirely by Liu Bei, Ma Su was assigned to be the Magistrate of Mianzhu and Chengdu, as well as the Administrator of Yuexi.[7] Given that Chengdu was the capital of the province and Liu Bei's new seat of power, there was a clear trust placed in Ma Su at this time. Zhuge Liang, who was close with Su's brother Liang, admired Ma Su greatly and praised him. Ma Su's ability is described as "surpassing others" and he was "good at discussing military strategy".[8] However this trust may not have been on Liu Bei's watch, but that of Zhuge Liang. When Liu Bei was on his death bed he spoke with Zhuge Liang, "Ma Su's speech exceed his actual ability. He cannot be employed in important positions. You sir must observe this"[9] Zhuge Liang did not agree however and after Liu Bei's death placed even more trust in Su, employing him as an intimate adviser. Their relationship was so close that they spent entire days and nights speaking with one another.[10]

Several years later Yong Kai, a chieftain in southern Yizhou, killed the Prefect Zheng Ang and offered his allegiance to Wu, effectively revolting against Shu.[11] Zhang Junsi was appointed to be the Grand Administrator and sent south to put down the rebellion, however he met with disastrous defeat and was captured. Yong Kai sent him as a captive to Sun Quan.[12] Sun Quan appointed Yong Kai as the Grand Administrator of Yongchang, however Lu Kai and Wang Kang of the Southlands refused to accept him and shut their borders.[13] Yong Kai sent Meng Huo to entice various tribes to revolt and join him, which he had done.[14] Zhu Bao and Gao Ding joined Yong Kai thus throwing all of southern Yizhou in chaos.[15]

Zhuge Liang, Prime Minister of the rebel state of Shu, shut the passes off from the tribes to keep the people safe. He focused entirily on agriculture to increase production and soothe the populace.[16] Zhuge Liang soon sent Deng Zhi to Sun Quan to sew for peace which they did. With domestic affairs settled, grain abundant, the populace soothed and Eastern Wu joined in Alliance Zhuge Liang could now focus on the southern menace.[17]

Several years later in 225 Zhuge Liang would lead the army south against Yong Kai. Ma Su would follow him for several miles to see him off on campaign. Before they departed one another Zhuge Liang spoke, "Though we have made plans together for many years, now I can again ask you a favor for a good plan." Ma Su replied "Nanzhong relies on its rugged terrain and distance, tomorrow they will again rebel and that is all. Now you lord are about to gather the whole state for a Northern Expedition to deal with powerful rebels (Imperial Wei), so the Nanzhong rebels will learn the governments authority is weak inside while you are away in the north, and their rebellions will also accelerate. If all their tribes and kinds are exterminated to remove future worry, that is not the way of the benevolent, and moreover could not be done quickly. In the way of using troops: attacking the heart is beast, attacking cities is worst; hearts battling is best, soldiers battling is worst. I hope you lord will focus on subduing their hearts and that is all." Zhuge Liang admired these words greatly and accepted the advice of Ma Su.[18]

The Shu army marched south, delivering a great defeat to Yong Kai, who was killed by Gaodingyuan, and soon after Meng Huo. Zhuge Liang recognized that Meng Huo was greatly respected by many of the men in the south and so to follow Ma Su's advice, he treated him exceptionally well and employed him, along with many natives as local officials in the recently pacified areas of the commanderies of Yizhou, Yongchang, Cangke and Yuexi.[19] These victories owe a lot to the participation of Li Hui and Ma Zhong as well.[20][21] While Ma Su does not appear to have participated in the campaign as the text suggests he and Zhuge Liang were separated from one another he was, Ma Su was the Administrator of Yuexi which was one of the areas that revolted. I find it likely that he may have played some role in this campaign if he still held this post, as well as his Adviser to the Army post Zhuge Liang pointed him to. Either way, his advice in treating the people well was heeded and worked, at least for the time being. I will note that Rafe de Crespigny describes Ma Su as being "successfully used" as an adviser during this campaign.[22]

In the year 228 Zhuge Liang, with the Shu army at his back, marched north with the intention of attacking Imperial Wei in a grand bid for hegemony over the central plains. Rather than employing someone like Wei Yan, Wang Ping or Wu Yi, as they all suggested, Ma Su was appointed to command the vanguard of the Shu army.[23] Zhuge Liang ordered Ma Su to sieze the city of Jieting, however Ma Su felt this was a bad idea. He decided to disobey orders and instead of taking the city, he marched into the mountains.[24] Wang Ping, serving as part of the vanguard and a subordinate to Ma Su, attempted to dissuade him of this. He cited that they were abandoning a water source and thus inviting themselves to be starved and dehydrated if an enemy came, as well as surrounded. Ma Su did not listen but Wang Ping continued to insist they seize the city.[25] The Imperial general Zhang He came with a grand army and cut off the supply of water to the mountain, surrounding the rebel army. When they were severely weakened he struck, delivering a decisive defeat to the Shu army, scattering them.[26] Wang Ping and a handful of soldiers did their best to keep the retreat organized.[27] Zhang He believed this to possibly be a sign of an ambush, so he did not pursue.[28] Zhuge Liang came in an attempt to defeat Zhang He and aid the Shu army, however he could not take up a position so the Shu army retreated to Hanzhong.[29]

Ma Su, for disobeying orders, was arrested and imprisoned in Hanzhong. He was to be executed but before this happened he wrote a letter to Zhuge Liang, "You wise lord regarded me like a song, and I regarded you wise lord as a father. I hope deeply that this is the righteousness of the execution of Gun leading to the rise of Yu. May our whole life's relationship not be reduced by this. Though I died I have no resentments against the yellow earth."[30] The whole army wept greatly for Ma Su, including Zhuge Liang. He was then put to death at the age of 39 years old.[31] Jiang Wan spoke with Zhuge Liang on this matter "Anciently Chu killed Dechen; the joy of Duke Wen of Jin can be understood. Now, the Empire has not yet been conquered, yet you put a man of wise counsel to death. Is it not regretful?" Zhuge Liang, in tears, responded "The reason Sun Wu was able to win victory through the empire was that he was clear in application of laws. it is thus that when Yang Gan had brought confusion to laws, Wei Jiang put his charioteer to death. Now, the 'four seas' are divided and split, and war has just begun. If we put laws in disuse, by what means shall we quell the rebels?"[32] Li Sheng and Zhang Xiu were put to death with Ma Su, but Wang Ping, due to his efforts in minimizing casualties and trying to dissuade Ma Su, was promoted to General Who Punishes Bandits.[33] Zhuge Liang sent a memorial to the rebel Emperor Liu Shan, requesting to be demoted, which he was though he retained all of his power.[34] Ma Su faced his death with dignity and held no anger to Zhuge Liang. His family were all spared and treated generously by the state and Zhuge Liang personally. Liang also offered a sacrifice to his grave.[35]

And thus ends the story of Ma Su. He was a talented man, though one who should not have been given the position he was later in life. It is clear that he fits better in an advisory role. While Liu Bei did not seem to trust Ma Su, and he was right in that judgement, Zhuge Liang did see something in him. He made great use out of him when it came to the Southern Campaigns, however he appears to have given into nepotism when he allowed his personal bias to put Ma Su in a leading military role. However this isn't to take the blame off of Ma Su. He ignored the advice of Wang Ping and threw away thousands of lives when he disobeyed orders. Had it not been for Wang Ping countless more could've died that day at the hands of Zhang He. Ma Su was executed for his crimes to the tears of thousands and the protest of Jiang Wan. Though he made a grave mistake, no pun intended, he was respected and loved by many. He may not have been one of the greatest talents of the age but he is one that certainly deserves more respect than he is given. I would like to argue in favor of Ma Su, that even if he had held Jieting failure still would have been met. Zhang He was truly above his ability, and even if Wu Yi or Wei Yan had replaced him I do not see them escaping disaster either. The situation was a lose-lose situation for the Shu army. He should not be judge harshly when any other candidate would have still met with failure, though not of the same magnitude. Much like Yu Jin and Cao Xiu, Ma Su is remembered only for his final defeat and not for what put him in that position. He was loved by many, including Zhuge Liang. In the end I echo Xi Zuochi's disbelief at the situation. The state of Shu was weak and talent was few, so one kills Ma Su who was a gifted individual? Lesser men lost more lives and were not met with this same punishment.

[1] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[2] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[3] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[4] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms - Age Nineteen comes from simply adding his birthdate and 209.
[5] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[6] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Pang Tong's Sanguozhi biography
[7] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[8] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[9] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[10] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[11] Chen Shou, Zhang Yi's Sanguozhi biography
[12] Chen Shou, Zhang Yi's Sanguozhi biography
[13] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[14] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[15] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[16] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[17] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[18] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography - Sima Guang, or perhaps Achilles Fang omits the last portion of this text which Pei Songzhi annotated to Ma Su's biography. It states that Zhuge Liang pardoned Meng Huo and there was not another rebellion until Zhuge Liang died.
[19] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[20] Chen Shou, Li Hui's Sanguozhi biography
[21] Chen Shou, Ma Zhong's Sanguozhi biography
[22] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[23] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[24] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[25] Chen Shou, Wang Ping's Sanguozhi biography
[26] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[27] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[28] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[29] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[30] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[31] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[32] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
[33] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[34] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian
[35] Xuesanguo, Chen Shou, Ma Su's sub-biography in Ma Liang's Sanguozhi biography
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