History Lessons

Wait for the third drum roll

Cao Gui, master of momentum

The Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) of Chinese history is named after the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the State of Lu. At the time, Zhou dynasty kings held only nominal power; the empire was divided between twelve feudal princes.

In 684 BC, the State of Qi went into battle with the State of Lu in Changshao. As the two forces confronted one other on the battlefield, Qi drummers goaded the Lu army to fight.

But as the Lu ruler Duke Zhuang was about to give the order to attack, his counsellor Cao Gui stopped him and said: “Not yet.”

The Duke was perplexed by the advice, but decided to heed it anyway.

It wasn’t until the third drum roll that Cao cried, “Now is the time to beat ours.” And on the third drum roll, the Lu army launched their attack and defeated Qi.

After the battle, the Lu ruler asked Cao Gui why he had delayed. Cao Gui answered: “Fighting requires spirit. The enemy force had a great momentum at the first round of drum beating, had a weaker momentum by the second beating, and was exhausted by the third. We attacked when their spirits were exhausted. That’s why we won.”

Cao’s patience carried the day. The story inspired the idiom yi gu zuo qi, which describes a situation in which something is completed in a sustained and concentrated effort.


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