Alternativehistorychristos Wiki
Zhuge Liang
Some attributes
First Name: Zhuge Liang
Second Title: Chancellor
Third Nationality: Han Chinese
Other attributes
Fourth Allegiance: Shu Han
Fifth Birth: 181
Sixth Death: 234 (aged 53)

Zhuge Liang (181–234), courtesy name Kongming, was a chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. He is recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of his era, and has been compared to another great ancient Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu.

Often depicted wearing a robe and holding a hand fan made of crane feathers, Zhuge Liang was not only an important military strategist and statesman; he was also an accomplished scholar and inventor. His reputation as an intelligent and learned scholar grew even while he was living in relative seclusion, earning him the nickname "Wolong" or "Fulong" (both literally mean "Crouching Dragon").

Zhuge is an uncommon two-character Chinese compound family name. His name – even his surname alone – has become synonymous with intelligence and strategy in Chinese culture.

Early Life[]

Zhuge Liang was born in Yangdu, Langya Commandery (present-day Yinan County, Shandong). He was orphaned at a premature age, and was raised by his uncle, Zhuge Xuan. Later, he followed his uncle to live in Jing Province, which was governed by Liu Biao. After his uncle died, Zhuge Liang and his brothers settled in Wolonggang (in present-day Henan) for the next ten years or so, leading simple lives – farming by day and studying at night. Zhuge Liang's two elder sisters married members of influential clans with strong connections in the region. According to historical texts, Zhuge Liang was eight chi tall, roughly between 1.85 metres (6 feet and 1 inch) and 1.95 metres (6 feet and 4.75 inches).

Zhuge Liang enjoyed reciting Liangfu Yin (梁父吟), a folk song popular in Shandong, his birthplace. He also liked to compare himself to Guan Zhong and Yue Yi, two famous historical figures. He developed close friendships with members of the local literati, such as Xu Shu, Cui Zhouping, Meng Jian and Shi Tao. Zhuge Liang also maintained close relations with other well-known intellectuals such as Sima Hui, Pang Degong and Huang Chengyan.

Huang Chengyan once told Zhuge Liang, "I heard that you're seeking a spouse. I've an ugly daughter with a yellow face and dark complexion, but her talent matches yours." Zhuge Liang agreed and married Huang Chengyan's daughter. Shortly after their meeting, a light hearted proverb was spread among the townsfolk: "Do not follow the manner in which Zhuge Liang chose his wife. He ended up with Huang Chengyan's ugly daughter."

Service under Liu Bei[]

Three Visits[]

At that time, Liu Bei resided at Xinye while he was taking shelter under Jing Province's governor, Liu Biao. Liu Bei visited Sima Hui, who told him, "Confucian academics and common scholars, how much do they know about current affairs? Those who analyse current affairs well are elites. Crouching Dragon and Young Phoenix are the only ones in this region." Xu Shu later recommended Zhuge Liang to Liu Bei again, and Liu wanted to ask Xu to invite Zhuge to meet him. However, Xu Shu replied, "You must visit this man in person. He cannot be invited to meet you." Liu Bei succeeded in recruiting Zhuge Liang in 207 after paying three personal visits. Zhuge Liang presented the Longzhong Plan to Liu Bei and left his residence to follow Liu. Afterwards, Liu Bei became very close to Zhuge Liang and often had discussions with him. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were not pleased and complained. Liu Bei explained, "Now that I have Kongming (Zhuge Liang's style name), I am like a fish that has found water. I hope you'll stop making unpleasant remarks." Guan Yu and Zhang Fei then stopped complaining.

As a diplomat[]

In 208, Liu Biao died and was succeeded by his younger son, Liu Cong, who surrendered Jing Province to Cao Cao. When Liu Bei heard of Liu Cong's surrender, he led his followers (both troops and civilians) on an exodus southward to Xiakou, engaging Cao Cao's forces in a brief skirmish at the Battle of Changban along the way. While in Xiakou, Liu Bei sent Zhuge Liang to follow Lu Su to Jiangdong to discuss the formation of an alliance between him and Sun Quan.

Zhuge Liang met Sun Quan in Chaisang and proposed two solutions to Sun, "If you can use the forces of Wuyue to resist the central government, why not break ties (with Cao Cao) in advance? If you cannot oppose, why not demobilise the troops, discard your armour and surrender to the north?" After Sun Quan's viceroy, Zhou Yu, analysed the situation and pointed out weaknesses in Cao Cao's army, Sun finally agreed to ally with Liu Bei in resisting Cao. Zhuge Liang returned to Liu Bei's camp with Sun Quan's envoy, Lu Su, to make preparation for the upcoming war.

As a logistics officer[]

In late 208, the allied armies of Liu Bei and Sun Quan scored a decisive victory over Cao Cao's forces at the Battle of Red Cliffs. Cao Cao retreated to Ye, while Liu Bei proceeded to conquer territories in Jiangnan, covering most of southern Jing Province. Zhuge Liang was appointed "Military Advisor General of the Household" (軍師中郎將). He was put in charge of governing Lingling (present day Yongzhou, Hunan), Guiyang and Changsha commanderies and collecting taxes to fund the military.

In 211, Liu Zhang, governor of Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), requested aid from Liu Bei in attacking Zhang Lu of Hanzhong. Liu Bei left Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and others in charge of Jing Province while he led an army into Sichuan. Liu Bei promptly agreed to Liu Zhang's proposal, but secretly planned to take over Liu Zhang's land. The following year, Liu Zhang discovered Liu Bei's intention, and the two turned hostile and waged war on each other. Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun led separate forces to reinforce Liu Bei in the attack on Liu Zhang's capital, Chengdu, while Guan Yu stayed behind to guard Jing Province. In 214, Liu Zhang surrendered and Liu Bei took control of Yi Province.

Liu Bei appointed Zhuge Liang as "Military Advisor General" (軍師將軍) and let him administer affairs of his personal office (office of the General of the Left (左將軍)). Whenever Liu Bei embarked on military campaigns, Zhuge Liang remained to defend Chengdu and ensure a steady flow of supply of troops and provisions. In 221, in response to Cao Pi's usurping of Emperor Xian's throne, Liu Bei's subordinates advised him to declare himself emperor. After initially refusing, Liu Bei was eventually persuaded by Zhuge Liang to do so and became ruler of Shu Han. Liu Bei named Zhuge Liang his chancellor and put him in charge of the imperial agency where Zhuge assumed the functions of Imperial Secretariat. Zhuge Liang was appointed "Director of Retainers" (司隸校尉) after Zhang Fei's death.


n the spring of 222, Liu Bei retreated to Yong'an (present-day Fengjie County, Chongqing) after his defeat at the Battle of Xiaoting and became seriously ill. He summoned Zhuge Liang from Chengdu and said to him, "You're ten times more talented than Cao Pi, and capable of both securing the country and accomplishing our great mission. If my son can be assisted, then assist him. If he proves incompetent, then you may take over the throne." Zhuge Liang replied tearfully, "I'll do my utmost and serve with unwavering loyalty until death." Liu Bei then ordered his son, Liu Shan, to administer state affairs together with Zhuge Liang and regard Zhuge as his father.

After Liu Bei's death, Liu Shan ascended to the throne of Shu Han. He granted Zhuge Liang the title of "Marquis of Wu" (武鄉侯) and created an office for him. Not long later, Zhuge Liang was appointed governor of Yi Province and put in charge of all state affairs. At the same time, the commanderies in Nanzhong rebelled against Shu, but Zhuge Liang did not send troops to suppress the revolt as Liu Bei's death was still recent. He sent Deng Zhi and Chen Zhen to make peace with Eastern Wu and re-entered an alliance with Wu. Zhuge Liang would consistently send envoys to Wu to improve diplomatic relations between the two states.

Southern Campaign[]

During his reign as regent, Zhuge Liang set Shu's objective as the restoration of the Han dynasty, which, from Shu's point of view, had been usurped by Cao Wei. He felt that in order to attack Wei, a complete unification of Shu was first needed. Zhuge Liang was worried that the local clans would work with the Nanman tribes in Nanzhong to stage a revolution. Fearing the possibility that the peasants might rebel and press into areas surrounding the capital Chengdu while he was attacking Wei in the north, Zhuge Liang decided to pacify the southern tribes first.

In the spring of 225, Zhuge Liang personally led the Shu generals south from Chengdu to suppress the rebellion with full preparations. Wang Lian (王連) advised Zhuge Liang against personally participating in the campaign, but Zhuge was worried that his generals were not competent enough to deal with the rebels by themselves. Ma Su suggested to Zhuge Liang that the campaign should focus on psychological warfare rather than conventional warfare in order to ensure that the defeated rebels would not rebel again, a suggestion which Zhuge readily accepted.

Zhuge Liang's army entered Nanzhong via Yuesui (越巂). Along the way, Zhuge Liang advanced from Anshang, taking the water route and entering Yuexi. In order to meet him, Gaoding[yuan] and Yong Kai constructed several fortresses, at Maotou, Dingzuo, and Peishui. Zhuge Liang advanced to Peishui, where he hoped that the rebel forces would gather together and meet him in one battle. Things went better than Zhuge Liang planned. Faced with the Shu army, and murdered Yong Kai and many of his men, then defected to Shu. Zhuge Liang promptly executed him. Meng Huo took command of the rebel forces.

Meanwhile, Ma Zhong was sent to attack Zangke by marching southeast from Bodao (僰道), and Li Hui to attack Jianning from Pingyi (平夷) by marching southwest. Li Hui's army, however, became surrounded in Kunming by rebel forces twice his numbers, and he did not know of Zhuge Liang's whereabouts to ask for reinforcements. Hence, Li Hui pretended to join the rebels, saying his supplies had run out and could not return north, and therefore had no choice but to rebel. The Nanman believed him and lowered their guard, whereupon Li Hui struck and defeated the encirclement. He then led his men south to Panjiang (槃江) and joined Ma Zhong to the east, who had defeated Zhu Bao in Qielan (且蘭). Finally, the two divergent forces rejoined Zhuge Liang's main army.

Meng Huo incorporated the remnants of Yong Kai's forces and continued to resist the Shu attackers. Zhuge Liang, knowing Meng Huo was respected by the populace, wanted to capture and subdue him according to Ma Su's strategy. When Meng Huo was captured, Zhuge Liang showed him around the Shu camp, asking how he felt about the army. Meng Huo replied: "Before, we did not know the conditions of your army, so we were defeated. Now you have so graciously shown me your pavilions, I know your army is only as thus, we can win easily." Zhuge Liang smiled, and released him to fight again. After seven captures and releases, Meng Huo finally said, "You must be the valour of the heavens, the south will not rebel again." Zhuge Liang then marched towards Dian Lake in triumph.

Once Nanzhong had settled, Zhuge Liang split the four existing commanderies (Yi Province, Yongchang, Zangke, Yuesui) into six commanderies, adding Yunnan and Xinggu (興古) to better administer the region. He left the commanderies to be governed by the locals instead of Han Chinese officials, citing three difficulties if Han Chinese officials were installed:

1. If Han officials were installed, then soldiers must be stationed and food must be provided to them. (The Nanzhong terrain is difficult for transporting goods.)

2. The locals were recently defeated with their fathers and brothers killed, if foreigners were installed and no soldiers are stationed with them, chaos would follow. (The locals would seek revenge.)

3. The locals were guilty of their recent crimes and would not trust the Han Chinese to forgive them so easily. (There would be misunderstandings.)

Zhuge Liang then returned north, not stationing any soldiers, only requiring the locals to pay tribute. Wang Kang, Lü Kai and Li Hui were among those appointed as the administrators of the new governing regions. However, these new administrators were considerably different that other governors at the time in that they only act representatives of Shu Han, and the local populace were generally reigned by their chieftains who pay tribute to Shu Han. The tributes from Nanzhong included, but not limited to, gold, silver, oxen, and warhorses, which helped Shu Han prosper, preparing it for Zhuge Liang's upcoming Northern Expeditions.

Although rebellions in the south still broke out after the Southern Campaign, they were comparatively minor, and Ma Zhong and Li Hui were quick to suppress them again and again. The Nanzhong region enjoyed relative stability under the reign of Shu Han afterwards, in contrast to during the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Northern Expeditions[]

Chu Shi Biao[]

In Zhuge Liang's much quoted memorial Chu Shi Biao of 227, he explained to Liu Bei's son and successor Liu Shan in highly ideological terms the reasoning for his departure from the capital Chengdu: "We should lead the three armies to secure the Central Plain in the north. Contributing my utmost, we shall exterminate the wicked, restore the house of Han and return to the old capital. Such is this subject's duty in repaying the Former Emperor and affirming allegiance to Your Majesty."


Zhuge Liang's plan called for a march north from Hanzhong, the main population center in northern Yi Province. In the third century, the region of Hanzhong was a sparsely populated area surrounded by wild virgin forest. Its importance lay in its strategic placement in a long and fertile plain along the Han River, between two massive mountain ranges, the Qin in the north and the Micang in the south. It was the major administrative center of the mountainous frontier district between the rich Red Basin (Sichuan Plain) in the south and the Wei River valley in the north. The area also afforded access to the dry northwest, and the Gansu panhandle.

Geographically, the rugged barrier of the Qin Mountains provided the greatest obstacle to Chang'an. The mountain range consists of a series of parallel ridges, all running slightly south of east, separated by a maze of ramifying valleys whose canyon walls often rise sheer above the valley streams. As a result of local dislocations from earthquakes, the topographical features are extremely complicated. Access from the south was limited to a few mountain routes called the gallery roads. These crossed major passes and were remarkable for their engineering skill and ingenuity. The oldest of these was to the northwest of Hanzhong, and which crossed the San Pass. The Lianyun "Linked Cloud" Road was constructed there to take carriage traffic during the Qin Dynasty in the third century BCE. Following the Jialing Valley, the route emerges in the north where the Wei River widens considerably, near the city of Chencang. Another important route was the Baoye route, which transverses the Yegu Pass and ends south of Mei. A few more minor and difficult routes lay to the east, notably the Ziwu, which leads directly to the south of Chang'an.

First expedition[]

At Hanzhong, Zhuge Liang held a war council on the method of realization of the tactical objective of capturing Chang'an. He proposed a wide left hook to seize the upper Wei River valley as a necessity to the capture of the city itself. General Wei Yan, however, objected to the plan and suggested a bold strike through a pass in the Qin Mountains with 10,000 elite troops to take Chang'an by surprise. He was confident that he could hold the city against Cao Wei until the main forces of Zhuge Liang arrived. Wei Yan's plan was rejected by Zhuge as being too ambitious; he preferred a more cautious approach.

In the spring of 228, two small forces were sent through Ji Gorge, one of which was commanded by the veteran general Zhao Yun, as decoys to give the appearance of threatening Mei. The real objective, however, was to seize the Longyou area far west of Chang'an: Tianshui, Anding, Nan'an commanderies and most of all of Mount Qi, the defensive bastion that screened the upper Wei valley.

Cao Rui, the Emperor of Cao Wei, himself moved to Chang'an to oversee the defense. General-in-chief Cao Zhen secured Mei against Zhao Yun whilst a combined cavalry-infantry force of 50,000 under Zhang He were sent west to oppose Zhuge's main army.

Sima Yi put down Meng Da's rebellion, which was co-ordinated with Zhuge Liang. Meng Da was taken by surprise as he had not expected Sima Yi to attack without seeking court approval.

At Jieting, the strategic outpost crucial to future Shu supplies, Wei general Zhang He found a weakness of Shu's arrangement–the larger part of the advance guard of Shu was entrenched on a nearby mountain top. Thus, Zhang He forfeited access to water supplies, and Shu vanguard was easily defeated. The minor part of the vanguard stationed on the mountain road broke through Wei ranks and the remnants fled south, only escaping total annihilation due to Zhang He's fear of ambush. Meanwhile Zhao Yun's small intrusion against Mei met with stiff resistance and Zhuge Liang ordered a general withdrawal to Hanzhong at the prospect of an outflanking motion by Wei army. Following his defeat, Zhuge Liang had the vanguard leader, Ma Su, executed for the tactical blunder at Jieting, and a memorial published to Liu Shan, in which he chastised himself for the failure and requested demotion from Chancellor (宰相) to General of the Right (右将军), but Zhuge Liang would wield the same power even after demotion.

Second expedition[]

Not long after the end of the first expedition, Eastern Wu inflicted a defeat on Cao Wei at the Battle of Shiting, on the Hefei battlegrounds. Fearing a breakthrough in the Huai River valley, the Wei court decided to reinforce the east by transferring troops from the west. Sensing an opportunity, Zhuge Liang struck in December 228 through Qinling with the aim of capturing Chencang (陳倉), communication thoroughfare of the Wei River.

The walled city was held by Hao Zhao with an estimated 1000 or so soldiers who was warned by Cao Zhen after Zhuge Liang's first campaign to make defensive preparations.

Although hugely outnumbered by the 20,000 to 100,000 Shu troops, Hao Zhao refused requests to surrender. Soon Zhuge Liang brought to bear an array of siege equipment, including scaling ladders, battering rams and archery towers. Nevertheless, Chencang could not be broken and the Wei soldiers provided stubborn resistance with various incendiary devices.

After three weeks, Zhang He arrived with relief troops and food supplies. Zhuge Liang, himself short of grain, ordered a retreat to Hanzhong once more. One of Zhang He's subordinates, Wang Shuang, decided to pursue through the Qin Mountains and was killed by an ambush arranged by Zhuge Liang. This incident, with the victim as one of the champions personally accredited by the Wei emperor, was a shock reminder of the skills of Zhuge Liang as a master of ambuscades.

Third expedition[]

The spring of 229 saw Zhuge Liang make his third expedition. Setting the immediate goal as the capture of the commanderies of Wudu and Yinping, Zhuge Liang sent Chen Shi to storm the enemy territory before he ventured out. The area Chen Shi was asked to take seated on the western foothills of the Qin Mountains, and could potentially be used as a launch-pad for a further strike toward Tianshui Commandery.

The defending general, Guo Huai, had readied his troops to attack Chen Shui, but drew back as he received intelligence that Zhuge Liang was marching toward Jiawei, a northern county of Wudu Commandery. Although Guo Huai retreated, he secured a defense line to prevent any hostile advance to Tianshui. The Shu regent, in the mean time, was arriving Jianwei, where he would halt his army. After surveying the situation, Zhuge Liang chose to station his army at the relatively remote county, in anticipation of probable Wei reinforcement, which never came to rescue the two commanderies.

The victory, however, did not reap significant strategic benefits for Shu despite the regent's personal political gain; the livestock and tribesmen had already been transported out from the area by Cao Wei, and to station there would be a drain on manpower and rations. Zhuge Liang retreated back to Hanzhong, but in response to the acquisition of two commanderies, the Shu emperor Liu Shan issued an imperial edict and had Zhuge Liang reinstated as Chancellor.

Beginning in the winter of 229 and into the spring of 230, Hanzhong was again involved in new military developments; on knowledge of a Wei offensive, Zhuge Liang initiated extensive preparations, including two defensive barriers on the Hanzhong plain, running 200 kilometers with nearly 100,000 troops. The Wei court had decided to alter its defensive strategy and launched a three-pronged attack with the objective of seizing Hanzhong led by Sima Yi, Cao Zhen and Zhang He.

The Wei offensive began in the fall of 230 with over 400,000 troops; in response Wei Yan and Wu Yi (吳懿) were sent north with a mixed cavalry-infantry force behind enemy lines to incite dissension amongst the various non-Han Chinese ethnic groups within the domain of Wei, while at the same time sell the famous Chengdu silk brocades in return for horses and weapons. Aiding Shu was the fact that Wei attack ran into problems from the beginning: heavy rain continued for more than thirty days and made narrow valleys impassable, while Zhang He in the west had to deal with the threat from rear. After nearly one and a half month of little progress, Wei terminated the disastrous campaign. Zhuge Liang made a daring march northwest in an attempt to relieve Wei Yan, who had been intercepted by Guo Huai on his return; but before Zhuge Liang's reinforcement reached its destination, Wei Yan had already managed to defeat Guo Huai. Thus Shu force was able to make a proud return to Hanzhong.

In many Chinese historical writings and novels, these two battles are classified as separate expeditions although the latter was actually a defensive maneuver and Zhuge Liang never left Shu.

Fourth expedition[]

Zhuge Liang's fourth Northern Expedition was launched in early 231. Envoys were sent out to rouse the Xianbei and Qiang people, urging them to create a disturbance within Wei's domain. In early summer Cao Zhen took ill and was replaced by Sima Yi, who at once ordered Dai Ling and Fei Yao to protect Shanggui with 4,000 troops, and set out with the main army at Chang'an to relieve Mount Qi. In response to Sima Yi's advance, Zhuge Liang left part of his army besieging Mount Qi and rushed to Shanggui before his nemesis could arrive.

Without a coordinated strategic effort, Zhuge's opponents played into his hands. Guo Huai had been ordered to join Sima Yi at Mount Qi but he took the initiative and together with Fei Yao, tried to catch Zhuge Liang in a front-rear pincer attack. Having left the defensive position, they were routed by the Shu forces. The Shu regent then went about harvesting the early spring wheat in the vicinity. Receiving the news Guo Huai was defeated, Sima Yi altered his destination and went to reinforce the loser. The Wei marshal occupied the hills east of Shanggui, but restrained from attacking. Zhuge Liang withdrew upon completion of harvest, but was caught up by Sima Yi at Hanyang, where the latter challenged Shu forces. After the vanguards briefly engaged, however, Zhuge Liang ordered a general retreat to Lucheng (鹵城), where he could set up a better defense. The Prime Minister sent his generals to station atop two mountains both north and south to his fortress, and set up "covering camps" near the riverbanks. Generals under Sima Yi requested the marshal for a showdown, which Sima was hesitant to do so. Faced with intensive criticism and incessant ridicule, the careful marshal eventually relented. In May, Sima Yi sent Zhang He to attack the southern mountain guarded by Wang Ping, while the Wei marshal marched Lucheng from the main road. Zhuge Liang ordered Wei Yan, Wu Ban, and Gao Xiang to stop Sima Yi outside the city wall, where the two forces clashed. Sima Yi suffered a heavy defeat and Zhang He could make no progress. Nevertheless, Sima Yi still possessed of a sizable army after such a defeat, and he would continue the war.

After the victory, Zhuge Liang did not capitalize with a major offensive due to a lack of food supply, while Sima Yi, having good rejuvenation, again mounted attacks on Shu, and conquered Zhuge Liang's outer camps. According to the Book of Jin, having lost his outer camps, Zhuge Liang retreated under the cover of night, but was caught up and dealt a serious blow. However the Book of Jin has been widely criticised for inaccuracies. In the Records of the Three Kingdoms, reports instead that Li Yan, who was responsible for maintaining ration supplies to the front, realizing rain had caused the breakdown of transport, lied to Zhuge Liang that Liu Shan had ordered a withdrawal.

Sima Yi, letting go of his usual cautiousness after his prior success, ordered Zhang He's cavalry to further pursue the enemy in an attempt to capitalize on their recent victory. Zhang He argued with his superior that additional risks should not be taken when they had already won, but Sima threw out his title on Zhang and forced the latter to carry out his will. Indeed, Zhang He was ambushed at Mumen, where Zhuge Liang ordered massed crossbowmen to hide at high grounds and fire at the approaching enemies when they entered a narrow defile. Zhang He was hit by a stray arrow on his right leg and died, and Sima Yi became the single most valued military authority of Cao Wei.

Fifth expedition[]

In the following two years both sides developed agriculture and prepared for another inevitable campaign in Longyou. Sima Yi, for his part rehabilitated the Zhengguo Canal in 234, increasing the potential to withstand a protracted war in Longyou.

In the spring of 234, 100,000 Shu soldiers advanced through the Qin Mountains by way of Baoye toward the broad plain of Wuzhang Plains, in what would become Zhuge Liang's fifth and last Northern Expedition. Sima Yi, well prepared for such a move with a 200,000-strong army, built a fortified position on the southern bank of the Wei River. The veteran of the Zhuge Liang's incursions, Guo Huai, suggested that the Shu forces were not planning an immediate attack on Chang'an itself but were planning to consolidate their position on the Wuzhang Plains for a takeover of Longyou, which had always been Zhuge Liang's immediate goal. Already, he pointed out, there were reports of Shu forces crossing the Wei River upstream and constructing lines of communications. Concerned about the threat of being cut off on the south bank, Sima Yi asked for an additional planned reinforcement of several hundred thousand troops for the communication center of Beiyuan. Such a move was none too soon, for Zhuge Liang was already on the verge of wiping out the Wei garrison after encroaching on the Wei positions in the north. After two months of manuevring north of the Wei River, the additional Wei reinforcement successfully foiled Zhuge Liang's attempt and he settled down to a stalemate on the Wuzhang Plain. The Shu army anticipated a long protracted struggle and used the tuntian system pioneered by Cao Cao, as they awaited an agreed offensive by Eastern Wu.

Sun Quan's armies in the Huai River region, however, was defeated and his offensive broke down due to the spread of endemic disease. The frustration of this last hope to break the stalemate no doubt increased the rapid deterioration of Zhuge Liang's health and depressed mental condition. By late summer, he started giving instructions to his close subordinate officers on the future of Shu. In the early autumn of 234, Zhuge Liang died at the age of 54.

Sima Yi, convinced that Zhuge Liang had died despite the fact that Zhuge's death was kept a secret by Shu, gave chase to the retreating Shu forces. Zhuge Liang's successor, Yang Yi, then turned around, pretending to strike in full scale by devastating the vanguard of Wei. Learning the news of the defeat, Sima Yi feared that Zhuge Liang only pretended he was dead to lure him out for a full scale war that favored Shu force, and immediately ordered a general retreat. Common folklore tells of a double, or a wooden statue, that was dressed as Zhuge Liang, driving Sima Yi away in this incident. In any case, word that Sima Yi fled from the already dead Zhuge Liang spread, spawning a popular saying, "A dead Zhuge scares away a living Zhongda (Sima Yi's courtesy name)" (死諸葛嚇走活仲達). Sima Yi's answered such ridicule by claiming that he, like most of the time, could predict the intention of living Zhuge Liang, but not a ghost.

News of Zhuge Liang's death was withheld until the army had reached the safety of the Baoye valley to return to Hanzhong. Sima Yi, still fearful that the announcement was false and merely another opportunity for Zhuge to demonstrate his talent for ambuscade, hesitated to pursue. Only after his inspection of the empty Shu encampment did he resolve that pursuit was appropriate, but after reaching Baoye and deciding the advance could not be supported with supplies, the Wei army returned to the Wei River. The death of Zhuge Liang ended a huge strategic threat to Wei and the Wei court soon began development of ambitious public works.


It is surprising that although, of the three states, Shu was the weakest in terms of land size and resources, in its early years it carried out a vigorous offensive military policy. If Zhuge Liang had not died in 234, he may well have continued this policy. However, the constant expeditions took a heavy toll on Shu's limited resources and this was worsened by Jiang Wei's Northern Expeditions after the death of Zhuge Liang. Resources wise, Shu was far inferior to the vast state of Wei, as reflected in the obvious numerical difference: with the exception of the second expedition, Shu force committed never exceeded 50% of the Wei force it faced during each campaign, and it was only Zhuge Liang's ingenuity that forced Wei to be on the defensive all the time.

Sima Yi was arguably one of the best tacticians that Wei had at that period. Even so, after initial defeats against Zhuge Liang, he was forced to change his tactics in the later expeditions. He was on the defensive for long periods of time with strong fortifications to deter Shu. His aim was to create a deadlock in which was to wait for Shu's supplies to run out and to force them to retreat without a fight. In the last expedition's deadlock on the Wuzhang Plains, Sima Yi's reluctance to engage in battle prompted Zhuge Liang to send him a woman's dress in one occasion to mock his tactics. Even so, Sima Yi refused to rise to the bait, much to the displeasure of his officers.

The diplomatic success in restoring the alliance with Sun Quan prior to the Northern Expeditions has been dismissed as useless because it brought little strategic dividend: each side had different political agendas which precluded close military coordination. Once the first Northern Expedition was turned back, the Wei state was capable of handling the two-front threat without much difficulty.

Arguments revolving around Wei Yan's plan for a surprise assault on Chang'an have never been stopped. Whether his plan could have succeeded, Zhuge Liang had rejected it, believing the plan was far too ambitious. In Zhuge's view, Chang'an, being one of Wei's most prosperous cities, would probably have been well fortified, in contrast to the intelligence from Wei Yan. Furthermore, there is little chance that the people of the city, who enjoyed peace and prosperity under the rule of Wei, would side with the Shu-Han forces. However, it may be more possible that Zhuge's military objective was to cut the connection between Longyou and Luoyang to force the surrender of the western wing of Wei, instead of attacking the heartland of Wei to "restore the Han Dynasty".



Zhuge Liang was believed to be the inventor of mantou, the landmine and a mysterious but efficient automatic transportation device (initially used for grain) referred to as the "wooden ox and flowing horse" (木牛流馬), which is sometimes identified with the wheelbarrow.

Although he is often credited with the invention of the repeating crossbow that is named after him and called "Zhuge Crossbow", this type of semi-automatic crossbow is an improved version of a model that first appeared during the Warring States period (though there is debate whether the original Warring States Period bow was semi-automatic, or rather shot multiple bolts at once). Nevertheless, Zhuge Liang's version could shoot farther and faster.

Zhuge Liang is also credited with constructing the Stone Sentinel Maze, an array of stone piles that is said to produce supernatural phenomenon, located near Baidicheng.

An early type of hot air balloon used for military signalling, known as the Kongming lantern, is also named after him. It was said to be invented by Zhuge Liang when he was trapped by Sima Yi in Pingyang. Friendly forces nearby saw the message on the lantern paper covering and came to Zhuge Liang's aid. Another belief is that the lantern resembled Zhuge Liang's headdress, so it was named after him.

Literary works[]

Some books popularly attributed to Zhuge Liang can be found today. For example, the Thirty-Six Stratagems, and Mastering the Art of War (not to be confused with Sun Tzu's The Art of War) are two of Zhuge Liang's works that are generally available. Supposedly, his mastery of infantry and cavalry formation tactics, based on the Taoist classic I Ching, were unrivalled. His memorial, the Chu Shi Biao, written prior to the Northern Expeditions, provided a salutary reflection of his unwavering loyalty to the state of Shu. The memorial moved readers to tears.

In fiction[]

The wisdom of Zhuge Liang was popularised by the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong during the Ming dynasty. In it, Zhuge Liang is described to be able to perform fantastical achievements such as summoning advantageous winds and devising magical stone mazes.

There is great confusion on whether the stories are historical or fictional. At least, the Empty Fort Strategy is based on historical records, albeit not attributed to Zhuge Liang historically. For Chinese people, the question is largely irrelevant, as the Zhuge Liang of lore is regardless seen as a mastermind, whose examples continue to influence many layers of Chinese society. They are also argued, together with Sun Tzu's The Art of War, to still greatly influence the modern Chinese strategical, military and everyday thinking.