Book 18 Chapter 6 – Military Camp Learning
Yang Gongqing spread out the map on the table, showing the Luo River cutting across the middle. Above it, near the top of the map area, was the Yellow River, which flows parallel to the Luo River. The Eastern Capital Luoyang was represented by a black square dot, located at the western extremity of the Luo River. To the east of it were, subsequently, Yanshi, Luokou, Hulao, and Yingyang. The latter two were built by the Fan River and Suo River, respectively, where the Yellow River met with Luo, Fan and Suo, three rivers.
Standing around the table Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Wang Xuanshu, and Linglong Jiao, four people, were studying the map carefully.
Pressed for time, with the enemy’s troops might arrive any moment, no one dared to lower their guard.
Kou Zhong pointed to the fine marking that represented a city a bit north between the Eastern Capital and Yanshi, saying, “Li Mi’s army is concentrated here. Li Mi is certainly a wily old fox, because dispatching troops from Jinyong, either attacking the Eastern Capital or Yanshi, there is not much difference in term of route, so that it would be hard to pin down which target he is going to attack, or maybe he is going to split his troops to attack two targets at the same time.”
Wang Xuanshu said, “That was precisely the reason Die set up massive military force at Yanshi. If Li Mi has the impertinence to force his troops into the Eastern Capital, our force in Yanshi can then put him in the predicament of facing enemies in front and behind him, while at the same time we can threaten Hulao, Luokou’s safety in the east.”
Yang Gongqing said, “Therefore, if Yanshi fell, the Eastern Capital would also lose its stronghold on the east, and then Li Mi would not have any misgivings protecting his rear or any supply problem, he could focus all his strength in attacking the Eastern Capital. Therefore, whether we can defend Yanshi or not, it really is the crucial point of success or failure.”
Linglong Jiao raised the same concern as Kou Zhong’s speculation, “If he split his troops into two, combined with Dugu Clan’s forces from the inside, with Luoyang being the main target and besieging Yanshi as secondary target, how do we cope?”
Yang Gongqing asserted, “If Xuan Yong’s intelligence is correct, Li Mi has absolutely no ability to launch military offensive of this scale. Moreover, if the Dugu Clan and Yang Dong can defend the Imperial Palace for more than two days, it could already be considered not bad; if they wanted to coordinate outside and inside offensives, that would be ‘having the heart, not the strength’. Let alone all they are hoping for is Shangshu Daren and Li Mi would fight until both sides suffer; how could they be stupid enough to lead the wolf into the house? Therefore, I am not worried about the Eastern Capital at all.
Pointing to a mountain range extending about a hundred li across north of Jinyong city, Xu Ziling asked, “What mountain is this?”
“That is Mount Mang,” Yang Gongqing replied, “Ke Feng’s Laojun Guan is located on one of the summits called Cui Yun Peak.”
Kou Zhong said, “Li Mi is indeed cunning; Jinyong City’s back is leaning against Mount Mang, so he has no fears of trouble in the rear. If we march to Jinyong, he could hide ambushing troops in the mountain, which would be able to kill us before we even have time to think.”
Yang Gongqing said, “Not only that, if he must give up Jinyong, he could pass through Mount Mang, cross over to the great river, retreat and defend Hebei’s strategic town Heyang, which is also Li Mi’s front line force and supporting force’s supply line’s logistic base. Strategically, this arrangement is invulnerable. Therefore, supposing Li Mi does not take the initiative to attack, we practically have no way of getting to him. If we presumptuously attack Luokou, he could send troops from Jinyong to break through Yanshi, our expeditionary force will only end up in total defeat.”
This moment Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling already had thorough understanding of both sides’, theirs and the enemy’s, situation; they started to understand how geography and surroundings played a decisive role in the war.
Yang Gongqing sighed and said, “That was the reason I was in full support of Kou Xiongdi’s tactic of showing weakness to the enemy; otherwise, if we let Li Mi pushing toward the Eastern Capital along the west of the river, drawing our forces away from Yanshi, and then he immediately turn back to Jinyong, we could only return to Yanshi. And if this happens several times, we would be led by him by the nose, tired of constantly running for our lives, and it would be a marvel indeed if we don’t get beaten.”
Kou Zhong had known that Li Mi already planned this clever tactic, hence he came up with the ruse of showing weakness to the enemy. But even after considering a thousand times, ten thousand times, he had never considered that Wang Shichong nearly lose his life for real.
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “If we desperately defend Yanshi, with Li Mi’s current strength, will he have any way of breaking through the city?”
Yang Gongqing unyieldingly said, “How much would Li Mi’s injured and weary troops be able to accomplish? As long as we have enough rations and fodder inside the city, I can guarantee that we will be able to hold on and will not let a bunch of Wagang thieves to prevail.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Great General’s remark has immediately inspire Xiaodi to come up with a plan, which is the wonderful move of burning their grains.”
Wang Xuanshu had a flash of understanding, “That is superior to the tactic of luring the enemy. We could have fake army provisions transported to the army camp by the pontoon bridge on the southern bank, acting as if we are about to march toward Luokou soon. If the enemy believes that they are successful in burning our rations and fodder, they might immediately send their troops to the south. Is that what you think?”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “Er Gongzi is still missing something; we want them to burn the real army provisions. As long as we have provisions remaining for ten days, that should be enough.”
Other than Xu Ziling, the three people were looking at each other in astonishment.
Having a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, “Only by letting them burn the real army provisions would we be able to deceive Li Mi and Shen Luoyan. This is the ‘sinking the boat by a hatchet, fighting the city from its back’ tactic, let the lower-ranked people lose their hearts, only then will we obtain the rivers and mountains in one battle.”
Yang Gongqing sucked in a deep breath of air, “Isn’t it too risky?” he asked.
Full of heroic air, Kou Zhong puffed out his breast and said, “Without the risky move, how are we going to defeat the Duke of Pushan Li Mi, who always emerge victorious from every battle? It is precisely because no one would guess that we are so audacious that they will fall into our trap. As long as we can defeat Li Mi’s main force going down south, Shan Xiongxin’s bunch of old and weak, remnant soldiers, what can they possibly achieve? At that time we will split our force into two, one taking Jinyong, the other pressing on to Luokou, the army provision can be sent from its source at the Eastern Capital, without any worry that someone would cut our supply line!”
Yang Gongqing’s countenance alternated between bright and dark; it was obvious that he was hesitating and could not make up his mind.
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Right now the Eastern Capital is too busy to look after itself; if Li Mi employs cutting-off tactic, we will be left alone; sooner or later, because our provisions will be finished, we will fall. Since that is the case, why not trying to lure Li Mi into coming into battle sooner? Then we will at least have a chance to win.”
All blood drained from his face, Wang Xuanshu reminded everybody, “But it’s just a chance.”
Yang Gongqing raised his eyes to look at the beam of the building; it was quite a while later that he opened his mouth, “During the old dynasty, every time Shangshu Daren engaged in battle against Li Mi, he lost not because of military power at all, but because of strategy. This time our military power cannot match the opponent’s, the only way to victory is to rely on strategy. Very well! I’ll bet my money on Kou Zhong against Li Mi, let’s see Laotian [lit. old heaven, God] actually stands on which side.”
Wang Xuanshu took a couple of rapid breathing to calm his nervous mind; he asked Kou Zhong, “Xuanshu is in charge of protecting the provision and the storehouse; how exactly am I supposed to proceed in this matter? An intentional publicity will be …”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “When singing, one must sing the entire song, when dancing, one must perform the entire dance; only then will the audience you are not taking unfair advantage of them. Right?”
The last sentence was addressed to Linglong Jiao, who was staring at him, watching him talking; the latter’s pretty face blushed slightly, and she hung her head down.
Ever since expressing her feeling that she liked Kou Zhong a little bit, it was suddenly so easy for her to have red clouds appeared on her jade cheeks because of Kou Zhong.
Wang Xuanshu nodded and said, “Xuanshu understood. Ay! If this scheme did not come from Junshi’s mouth, Xuanshu would definitely oppose it strongly.”
Xu Ziling said, “Not only this matter has to be kept in strict confidence, it also has to be carried out in strict confidence; military order for city defense must be strictly enforced inside the city, no one will be allowed to get in and out of the city gate. Unless with the Great General’s approval, all officers and soldiers must stay inside the camp, waiting for orders; night time must be especially strict.”
Yang Gongqing nodded and said, “That should be so. After the foodstuff is removed out of the storehouse, it has to be promptly replaced by counterfeit goods to make up the number. I will redeploy twenty-thousand troops in rotation to the wooden stronghold in Henan, to make it appear that we are going to attack Luokou.”
Kou Zhong added, “We’ll also have to station archers on the city walls on sentry duty; any carrier pigeon or other birds that look like they are going to fly out of the city must be shot down. Also, we must guard the irrigation ditch leading out of the city to prevent anybody sending out information. Only by doing this will we make people believe.”
Yang Gongqing laughed and said, “You are not afraid the real information will be cut off?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong replied, “I am afraid that even our surplus grain will be burned by Li Mi; that would be exceedingly bad!”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling removed their masks back to their original appearance. They urged their horses out of the city, and then slowly rode along the Luo River in the direction of the pontoon bridge.
The sun was setting in the west, on the camp on the opposite bank dots of lights started to appear, smoke from the stoves sprang up everywhere. Although on the surface it looked like a picture of peace and tranquility, in the inside it was actually full of impenetrable, depressing feeling like the stuffy atmosphere on the mountain just before the rain came down.
Talking and laughing, Kou Zhong said, “Yin Gui Pai seems to be suddenly disappear from the surface of the earth; I wonder if they are sitting on the mountain and watching the tigers fight?”
Xu Ziling took a deep breath, sucking in the fresh and clean smell of the river water, while lifting up his eyes to look at the layer upon layer of verdant and luxuriant forest beyond the opposite bank, extending as far as the eye could see into bluish-green lofty mountain range and hills.
The section of Luo River after Yanshi was winding and twisting downstream, in between rolling green hills, with deep forests filled with blossoming wild flowers adorning both sides of the river. The more than thirty warships moored along the bank looked like decorative objects in a landscape painting.
Kou Zhong spoke again, “I haven’t heard any news about Qin Shubao for a long time [see Book 3 Chapter 2]; I wonder if he is still working for Li Mi. I don’t want to kill him by mistake.”
Finally Xu Ziling produced a response, “Shen Luoyan is very clear what kind of man Qin Shubao is, and she is well aware of his relationship with us; therefore, she will never let him participate in this battle. Zhong Shao, you may set your heart at ease.”
Reaching the pontoon bridge, the two boys reined their horses to stop, to let a team of about fifty mule carts crossed over the bridge.
Chapter 6 - Part 2
Jaya, Xiaohu, Lao Qianbei, you are welcome. Chua, some days I have more time, some days I have less, but so far I manage to even it up for regular updates. Sky, speak for yourself ... there are a lot of people who think my speed is not fast enough. Hungry, not yet ...
Due to the load capacity on the pontoon bridge, only one mule cart was able to cross at one time.
Watchtowers, reaching ten zhang in height, were built on either side of the bridge, with archers serving on sentry duty, to guard and monitor the crossing.
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, “If Li Mi holds back his troops without moving, and does not send his men to burn our granary, we might as well retain only five thousand men at Yanshi, and send out the rest via land water, two routes, to attack Luokou, taking advantage while Luokou’s military force is weak, using the before-the-thunderbolt-reaches-the-ears method we seize the city; and then calmly return to Yanshi, holding Li Mi’s hind legs. If Li Mi retreated, we then strongly defend our position at Luokou. This was precisely the method with which Li Mi defeated Yuwen Huagu last time.”
At that time Yuwen Huaji, using military supply wagon, slipped away again from Huatai, leading his troops north to attack Liyang. Xu Shiji gave up Liyang and went west to defend Cangcheng [lit. storehouse city], while Li Mi’s twenty thousand strong cavalry was stationed at Qingqi. After occupying Liyang, Yuwen Huaji sent part of his troops to besiege Cangcheng. Xu Shiji and Li Mi communicated over the distance, and agreed to build deep ditch and high rampart, but did not go out to battle. However, if Yuwen Huaji attacked Cangcheng, Li Mi would send his troops from Qingqi to attack his rear, so that Yuwen Huaji would face the battle in two fronts. Lasting until Yuwen Huaji was out of provisions, employing a feigned-attack-first-and-then-strike-from-behind strategy, they defeated Yuwen Huaji at Tong Hill.
Kou Zhong’s strategy would not work the same way; it would require two things to be accomplished: first of all was to wipe out Yang Dong’s imperial guards, so that the Eastern Capital would be stabilized, and then he must cut off the supply line between Jinyong and Heyang. From these two, the latter was more difficult to accomplish; at best they would be engaged in open confrontation. But if they waited until Li Mi recovered his strength, the situation would be considerably worse.
How could Xu Ziling not understand Kou Zhong’s frame of mind, which was loaded with gains and losses? “Don’t worry!” he said resolutely, “Li Mi will come. And a lot quicker than you expected. Because he thinks he really inflicted serious damage on Wang Shichong, and that the Eastern Capital is in such a great mess. If he did not come now, then when?”
Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and said, “No one knows my mind better than you. Our military service at Jingling was merely due to us were there at the right time; during the battle we practically did not have time to think. But this time we make plans first and act later, moving the vehicles and dispatching generals on the battleground to face off against our adversary. If we lose, even if we are lucky enough to keep our little lives, our confidence will suffer big blow, then in the future we don’t have to bother our coming out again. ‘Victory or defeat is commonplace in military operations’ is just pleasant to hear, but for most armies, once defeated, it would be very difficult to rebound, so this time we really cannot afford to lose. If Li Mi won, the world will become the battlefield of two Li’s; other people could only stand on the sideline and watch.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Worrying is just as useful as his mother’s fart. Originally we have nothing, at worst we will be beaten back to our original shape. Just like the Old Yang said, ‘planning is with man, accomplishing with heaven’ [idiom: man proposes, God disposes]. For example, if there was a sudden thunderstorm, perhaps it would complete change the terrain. There are too many factors on the battlefields that are beyond human’s control.”
Kou Zhong was silent for a moment. Seeing the mule train has safely crossed the river, together with Xu Ziling they urged their mounts to climb onto the bridge. “What do you think of that beauty Shang Xiufang?” he suddenly asked.
Xu Ziling was stunned, “In time like this you still have time to think about women?” he asked.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “This is called finding balance. Actually, during the banquet she asked me privately to come see her; who would have thought that Wang Shichong was wounded in the assassination attempt that I was so busy that during the dark sky and black earth [idiom: troubled times] unexpectedly I forgot about her.”
Xu Ziling appeared as if he wanted to express his feelings; he said, “It would be best to just forget about her. The moment she boarded the boat and started to leave Luoyang, she ought to cast all people and matters that happened in Luoyang to the back of her mind, and became very remote and obscure things. During the time when the battle is imminent, I dare not even think of Su Jie. Ay! How are we going to resolve this problem anyway?”
Reaching the end of the pontoon bridge, the two boys galloped toward the main gate of the wooden stronghold; both sides of the road were jam-packed with soldiers, vehicles and horses. However, under the heavy pressure of the war, not only there was no clamor of people chatting and laughing, they rarely saw smiling face either.
Kou Zhong asked softly, “Even Shi Feixuan is cast away to the back of your mind?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Shi Feixuan is indeed an amazing woman that is hard to forget; however, other than trying to forget her, what else can I do?”
Kou Zhong was astonished, “Ling Ye rarely spoke so forthrightly. I nearly forget to tell you, she called on me yesterday, advising me to withdraw from the power struggle, and then when my mind was in chaos, she simply left. Ay! She is indeed capable to bewitch any man to his death, but is also an unattainable beauty, making Xiaodi also suffer from the same lonesomeness. This is called misfortune we bear together!”
Xu Ziling burst out laughing, “Go to your Niang!” he swore.
Kou Zhong blurted out, “Isn’t my Niang the same as yours?”
In the meantime, two boys have entered the fort. The security at the gate was very tight, vehicles were not allowed to enter without thorough inspection. When the guards saw the two, they all showed deferential manners, a clear proof of their lofty status in the eyes of these soldiers.
In the camp, they were met by Yang Gongqing and Wang Xuanshu, since Linglong Jiao was out on intelligence gathering assignment.
During dinner, Kou Zhong took the opportunity to quiz Yang Gongqing about all kinds of military issues.
Out of curiosity, Xu Ziling asked, “When we were in the south, we witnessed Du Fuwei recruited village peasants into his army by force; it was extremely inhuman. How did the Eastern Capital army come about?”
Sipping his hot tea, Yang Gongqing said, “Since the beginning of Qin dynasty [221-207BC] up to the Northern and Southern dynasties [420-589AD], conscription has been the main method of army recruitment, with mercenary system as secondary. The so-called conscription means all adult males were required to enlist; when nothing happened, they were to serve for a number of years, but during the war, they stayed for the duration of the war. However, since the beginning of Western Wei [535-557AD], the government implemented military system in which in peacetime, when home manufacturing and farming were not busy, citizens went into military training. They have to serve one month of every year, either in the capital or borderland garrison. In wartime, they went to the battlefield; the war ended, they returned home. Weapons, equipment, and provision would have to be self-provided.”
Wang Xuanshu sighed and said, “Yang Guang sent out military expeditions over many years, making the soldiers stayed at faraway garrisons over a long period of time, which was hard to endure, so either they deserted and became fugitive, or rising in rebellion against him. Therefore, Die adopted the mercenary system. Under current situation, as long as we have adequate army provisions, those with courage and strength can throw their lives in for us. It is far superior to the conscription system. Especially the bodyguard unit; they must regard this as a lifelong career, and willing to live as professional military personnel with high salary, generous remuneration. Otherwise we would be thrown into a ‘many-generals-with-no-accomplishment’ or ‘large-tail-obstructing-action’ [i.e. rendered ineffective by subordinates] situation.”
Kou Zhong was puzzled, “With Eastern Capital’s financial resources, why is the number of army recruits less than Li Mi’s ‘many men, great force’? If we recruit talents that Yang Guang left behind, shouldn’t we be able to summon a large number of men and horses?”
Yang Gongqing laughed and said, “Haven’t you heard ‘all troops engaged in fine matters are not engaged in many matters’? Li Mi’s several hundred thousand main forces full of crafty plots and machinations, plus Yuwen Huaji’s lack of food supplies, still ended up in tragic victory. From this you know the importance of elite troops. Ancient sage once said, ‘the higher the number of troops, the weaker the army is; the higher the soldier’s pay, the poorer the country is’. Shangshu Daren is well aware of this principle, if he did not stop the recruitment process, it will only result in superfluous soldiers in crowded situation, which only bring out waste and dire poverty.”
After a short pause, he continued, “Too many men are useless, it will depend on whether the equipment and army provisions can match it. The recruits must undergo strict selection process, to eliminate redundancies and increase quality. The reason Li Shimin prevails in every battle lies in the team of thousand-plus elite troops through rigorous selection and training to form the ‘Black Armor’ cavalry, waiting for an opportunity and attacking suddenly, which repeatedly rendering amazing meritorious service, but also receiving extravagant reward. Although the number is small, they do not fear the enemy’s magnificent army with thousands of men and horses; as soon as the enemy’s disposition is thrown into chaos, his main force would immediately seize the opportunity to launch violent attack, inside and outside working together, the enemy could only nurse a grievance on the battlefield.”
Listening to him, Kou Zhong was radiant with delight; only then did he realize the importance of the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’. No wonder Wang Shichong’s twenty thousand men ‘small army’ was able to make Li Mi so afraid.
This was definitely the case of ‘listening to the words of a wise man can be superior to studying ten years of books’ [Chinese proverb].
Noticing that Yang Gongqing’s excitement, he asked about the organization within the military.
Although Lu Miaozi’s book on military strategy contained exquisite principles, it lacked Yang Gongqing’s personal hands-on, practical experience in managing the army.
Twisting his moustache, Yang Gongqing smiled and said, “How can an army of numerous men and horses, at least several tens of thousands, at most several hundreds of thousands, be formed into elite squads that can be used in battle? There is only one rule: ‘managing the many just like managing a few’. Namely, use a squad of five soldiers [orig. wu]. Two squads become fireteam [orig. huo, classifier for military units (old)], five fireteams become a squad [orig. dui] , two squad are Guan [platoon?], two Guans are Qu [regiment?], two Qus are Bu [division], two Bus become Xiao [brigade?], two Xiaos become Pi [corps?], and two Pis are the army [jun]. Whether it is ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, each unit must have control, one line of communication, and one way to string these units together, as if millions and millions of silk become one thread, crooked strands are pulled together into straight line, none does as he wants, there is no single stray strand. This is a whole and cohesive army, with the great general giving the guiding principle, attaining an effective control and simplifying the complex. In the entire army, from the generals to the soldiers, each person must understand his own responsibility and his relationship with superior, subordinate, and peers, left and right. The formulation is not random. Only then there will be ‘managing the many just like managing a few’ result.”
Kou Zhong praised, “No wonder just now there were so many people on the road, but there was no chaotic situation at all.”
Yang Gongqing said, “Whether it is a wu, a huo, a dui, a guan, a qu, a bu, a jiao, a pi, a jun, or perhaps wu, dui, qi [lit. banner], shao [sentry], si [department], ying [camp/battalion], shi [army division] are only different names, but all use either ten or five as the base, as its principle. Other commissions include heralds, drummers, flag bearers, physicians, groomsmen, signalmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, and other choice of persons, each department with its own duty, constituting a sophisticated combat system, which is qualified to decide superiority on the battlefield against the enemy.”
Kou Zhong was about to speak, suddenly there was shouting outside. While everybody’s countenance was changing, a bodyguard burst into the tent; flustered and exasperated he said, “Reporting to Commander Yang, things look bad.”
The four men were shocked; could it be that Li Mi’s wonder troops have arrived at Yanshi?