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A study of strategic games among Three Kingdoms

ZHANG GONG | 2022-12-22 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

The Military Geography and Offensive and Defensive Strategies of Three Kingdoms

It is generally recognized among academics that the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 established the foundation for the confrontation of the Three Kingdoms [the tripartite division of China among the dynastic states of Cao Wei, Eastern Wu, and Shu Han, 220–280]. However, progression from foundation to formation and maintenance of the conflict was the result of complex strategic games between the three military blocs. This issue has not been well examined, or even ignored in existing research. 

The Military Geography and Offensive and Defensive Strategies of Three Kingdoms, by Song Jie, a professor from the School of History at Capital Normal University, attempts to systematically reveal the process of strategic games. It consists of six special topics: Cao Cao’s strategic defense and deployment after the Battle of Red Cliffs; the evolution of the highest military and political institutions in early Shu Han; Wudu Prefecture [in present-day Longnan, Gansu Province] in the wars between Cao Wei and Shu Han; the process and strategy of Sun Ce’s capture of Jiangdong [south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River]; the evolution of Wu’s military defense strategies during Sun Quan’s reign; and Lukou and Puqi [both in present-day Chibi, Hubei Province] in wars among the three regimes. 

It is the traditional academic view that after the Battle of Red Cliffs, Cao Cao abandoned the great unification goal and turned to shortening battle lines, developing the economy, and expanding national strength. However, the realization of these goals was dependent on the effective defense against the blocs of Sun Quan and Liu Bei. After annihilating the Han Sui and Ma Chao military groups in Guanxi [west of Hangu Pass in Sanmenxia, Henan Province], Cao Cao assigned generals to the eastern, southern, and western conquests, who took charge of the defense of Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province, Jingzhou in Hubei Province, and Guanxi. The author elaborates upon the arrangement and selection of chief commanders, related military activities, and their relationship with local garrisons, highlighting their positions in strategic defense. 

Cao Cao once strategically relocated civilians in the southern border areas inward. The book delineates the historical fact that Cao Cao used migrants to weaken his opponents in long-term battles. Beyond the traditional view of “competing for labor force,” the book proposes the strategic value of creating “abandoned land” in consolidating national defense and weakening enemy forces. While the borderline of Cao Wei with Eastern Wu and Shu Han stretched thousands of miles, Cao Cao chose Hefei in Anhui Province, Xiangyang in Hubei Province, Qishan in Gansu Province, and Chencang in Shaanxi Province as key defense areas. The stability of these strategic defense zones was ensured by combining centralized armed forces with border garrisons and flexibly integrating proactive attack and stationary defense. 

Zhang Gong is a professor from the School of Law at Hubei University of Economics.