History Lessons

Zhuge Liang

Straw Boat Borrows Arrows

Zhuge Liang

Zhuge Liang, the Chancellor of Shu during the Three Kingdoms period (221-280 AD), is a legendary figure in Chinese history. And one of the better-known stories of his military genius is known as ‘Straw Boat Borrows Arrows’.

At the time, Shu (in the west) and Wu (north) were two weaker kingdoms compared to Wei (south), which was controlled by Cao Cao (see WiC46). So Shu sent Zhuge to Wu in the hope of forming an alliance to jointly fight Cao. Zhuge, however, was resented by Wu’s head general Zhou Yu. To find a legitimate excuse to kill his nemesis, Zhou challenged Zhuge with the task of producing 100,000 arrows in 10 days or face execution.

To Zhou’s surprise, Zhuge accepted the mission and said he could do it in three days.

Zhuge borrowed 20 boats and filled each with human-like figures made of straw.

By the third day, Zhuge still had not produced a single arrow. At midnight, a big fog suddenly appeared. Zhuge set sail toward Cao’s territory. As his boats got closer, he beat war drums and shouted orders so as to imitate the noise of an attack.

Thinking it was an ambush, Cao ordered his archers to shoot. Unable to see through the thick fog, the Wei soldiers fired volleys of arrows at the sound of the drums. The straw figures were soon filled with 100,000 arrows, and Zhuge returned to Wu fulfilling his promise.

But why was Zhuge so confident? He later revealed that he had studied the weather patterns and had forecasted the fog.

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