Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Succeeding in the Info Economy by Understanding the Big Tangible Picture

(Updated on 04.11.15)

One of our associates has a small tendency of losing track of the Big Tangible Picture (BTP) whenever the stress becomes overwhelming.  In some occasions, So he takes a few days off and visits his favorite fishing hole. 

That fishing hole is a solitary locale that allows him to hear his thoughts and his own rants . There are usually no digital devices or any people near him. 

This setting of tranquility enables him to think through his many situations and an assortment of questions. 

Following is an abridged list of those questions:
  • What tangible bodies of water should he be fishing at?
  • What are the risk benefits, the risk challenges and the risk drawbacks for fishing at that specific body of water?
  • What types of fishes could/should he catch?
  • What are the risk benefits, the risk challenges and the risk drawbacks for catching that fish?
  • To lure a big fish, what type of bait does one needs?
  • Is his fishing line strong enough to hold the fish?
  • Does he need a team?
  • If so, what is the  common interest in attracting the right team?
  • How does he attract the right team?
At the end of the day, this associate re-reads Jiang Tai Gong's Six Secret Teachings.   

During the reading process, he makes the effort to compare the essence of that classic to Sunzi's Art of War.  (I presumed that some of you have already done that and will be publishing a book on that topic soon.)

The Compass Principle  
The quantity of relevant answers is proportional to the tangibility of The Big Tangible Picture (BTP).

The quality of the answers is always proportional to the probability of the fisherman's success.

The type of fishes that one pursues, is usually based on their feel for risk.

Side Note 
Fwiw, there are more questions to this list. We will elaborate on the other questions in a  future post. Some of these questions, could be found on somewhere in this blog. Good luck in finding them! 

Comments From The Compass Desk
Going to a quiet watering hole is the first phase of the process.   Once the relevant answers are known, the next step is assessing it in terms of strategic efficiency.  

Positioning ahead by developing the script. That is the next phase. 

Enjoy your day!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Succeeding in the Information Economy Through Scripting (Some Minor Notes From Our Scripting Book Project)

" ... By 1980, the script of Walsh’s opening plays had grown from five plays to twenty-five plays, allowing his team to visualize days before the game how they’d attack their opposition. By the time it matured in San Francisco, Walsh’s offense seemed to be a step or two ahead of its opposition, able to set the tone of the game, take full advantage of the liberalized passing rules and keep the defense off-balance. … ‘American’s Team’ was the most imitated club in football during the seventies. The Cowboys used computerized scouting, and the rest of the league eventually followed suit. The Cowboys used a multiple offense with lots of shifts. The Cowboys based much of their defensive philosophy on computerized tendencies identified from an opponent’s previous games; the rest of league based on computer-generated tendencies identified from an opponent’s previous games.

But Walsh’s twenty-five-plays script subverted all of that. You couldn’t plan for the 49ers because the 49ers didn’t have an identifiable sets of biases on first or second down and they possessed such versatile running backs that they were equally effective running or passing on third down.  .."

Source: More than a Game: The Glorious Present--and the Uncertain Future--of the NFL    By Brian Billick, Michael MacCambridge    Pg 125-126

Other Notes 
During our spare time, our associates are still focused on completing our Scripting Book project.

Following is an abridged listing of topics that the book will encompass:
  • the basics of our Assess, Position and Influence model.  
  • the conceptual bridge between our Assess, Position and Influence process model and the script;
  • the basics of a starter script;
  • the basics of a good scripted play;  
  • the art and science of "scenario planning and modeling"; and 
  • the technical differences between our Assess, Position and Influence (API) model and John Boyd's Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action (OODA) model.
More to come.

Side Notes    
We are currently still deciding on how to transpose the basics of the Sunzi's "Victory Temple" model into this book.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Competing in the Efficient Economy from the Daoist View

Strategic pragmatism is about concluding certain decisions from a viewpoint of immediate gains while staying mindful of the Bigger Tangible Picture (BTP). 

Retrospectively, one knows that everything around him and her is quite mundane and boring. The only things that count is his belief in himself.

This would make the strategist detached from the non-relevant influences.

Looking from the Topview
One looks at things in terms of analogies. My preference is to use the system and sub systems analogy while others used the perceptive of major pieces and minor pieces (pawns, etc.). 

By knowing how things work from the different levels or realms of life, one focuses their attention and their efforts on their own goals and objectives while  ignoring the non-relevant, nameless, faceless objects. 

While viewing the connectivity between the people, the events and the objects in terms of changes and coverage, without ever losing one's own virtue, the successful strategist stays ahead of the curve by always being two steps ahead of the curve. He anticipates the events and adjusts to it by seeing the Dao of a situation.

Using a billiard analogy, he is always looking for that third shot before taking the first shot (for the apparent reason of staying ahead of the competition.) 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another Historical View of Zhang Liang (Pt. 2)

Click here for part one.

The following writing on Zhang Liang is from China history forum.com 

I found more interesting info on Zhang Liang from the book 《千古良辅 - 张良》 (Qiān Gŭ Liáng Fú - Zhāng Liáng, translated to Zhāng Liáng, virtuous assistant of the ancient), from the illustrated series 中国百杰图传之智慧之星篇 (全套10册), published by 南方出版社. Illustrated by 李浩, written by Gan Yü and Li XiangTai, Chief editor 陈显泗.

Though it might seem like a children's book, it actually contained quite a bit of information not found in others references I have read. It contained some rather blatantly obvious interpretations through the communist ideology.

Here's are some additional info that I gleaned from the book.

01. After deciding to avenge the demise of the State of Han, Zhang Liang travelled to HuáiYáng (淮阳), located in present day Henan Province, to study the Court protocols in the hope of getting close the Emperor Shi of Qin. Due to strict rules of the Qin court, it was the only way he thought he could get close to the closely-guarded Emperor. He eventually gave up on personally assassinating the ruler as he could not get near the emperor for a long time. However, he learned the importance of being informed of the movements of the opponent, which would serve him well in time to come.

02. After the failure of the assassination attempt at BoLangSha, Zhang Liang hid himself in XiaPi. He tried to go through the breathing exercises and meditations he learnt through Daoist texts in order to still his mind. But this time, he just could not focus, the disappointment of his failure being too bitter.

03. The book he obtained from Huang Shi Gong not only contained military treatise, but also strategies for empire building, governance and rulership. It highlighted the wise ways and the foolish ways of politics, military etc. The writer took the opportunity to briefly contrast the warfare of the CCP against that of the KMT during the Chinese civil war.

04. At the end of the treatise on political struggle, Zhang Liang was upset reading that the successful victor must eliminate potential threat from those who aided him in the struggle. This made a lasting impression on him, and thus, he was able to remain safe while aiding Liu Bang on the road to establishing a new empire. Among the three most invaluable pioneers of the Han Dynasty, Han Xin was executed and Xiao He was imprisoned once (I must find how more about this, anyone knows?)

05. During the uprising staged by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, Zhang Liang assembled more than a hundred youths in the vicinity of XiaPi and was about to go to join Chen Sheng when Chen Sheng was killed. Zhang Liang briefly considered raising the banner himself as a scion of the royal house of Han, but decided that he was more than capable as an assistant but unsuitable as a leader.

06. After joining Liu Bang, who in turned joined up with Xiang Liang, Zhang Liang suggested he go to the former territories of the State of Han in order to gain the following of the Han natives. This was accepted by Xiang Liang.

07. In YingChuan prefecture of Han, Zhang Liang raised a force of several hundred and began utilising the learnings from the book. He found a descendant of the last Han ruler (by the name of Cheng, known as Lord HengYang). Xiang Liang was happy to confer Lord HengYang as King of Han and Zhang Liang as the Premier.

08. The newly formed Han army gained several cities under Zhang Liang's direction. But they were soon badly defeated by the regular armies of Qin. Upon learning about it, Liu Bang sent encouragements to Zhang Liang.

09. Zhang Liang evaluated the situation and considered the defeats. He realised it was a mistake to pit Han's current strength against Qin's army. He came up with a new strategy and divided his forces into independently operating fighting units, with the aim of preserving their strengths while attacking the Qin only when conditions were favourable.

The unorthodox methods adopted by Zhang Liang's army proved more effective. They appeared and disappeared before the Qin's forces like will-o-wisps. They chose advantageous timing and terrain to launch surprise attacks on the Qin, and then withdrew quickly into the wilderness after damaging the Qin army and achieving their objectives. This took away the initiative from the Qin army and put them on the defensive. The writer described this as a forerunner of modern guerrila warfare.

10. In 208BC after Xiang Liang perished at the defeat in the battle of DingTao, King Huai of Chu ordered a two prong attack towards the capital Qin, led mainly by Xiang Yü and Liu Bang, and proclaimed whoever entered the Land within the Passes first would become the ruler there.

Zhang Liang was then still waging his guerrila warfare in the State of Han. He had also established an extensive network of informants and scouts to keep himself informed of developments in other parts. He decided to assist Liu Bang.

11. In the 3rd month of 207BC, Zhang Liang joined up with Liu Bang just as the latter was en route to Qin's capital and storming KaiFeng (开封) on the way (Da Liang 大梁, capital of the former State of Wèi 魏, in present day Henan province). Zhang Liang advised Liu Bang not to exhaust himself attacking the strongly guarded city but shift the battle to the former State of Han instead against the weaker Qin's positions. Liu Bang agreed with Zhang Liang's analysis and proposal, and made him in charge of all the military forces.

12. Zhang Liang adopted a flexible strategy of dividing and concentrating the military forces according to different situations, attacking only when confident of victory. This won them a series of battles which brought them much captured supplies, equipment, arms and armour, and at the same time elevated the fighting capacilities of their troops.

13. Enraged by Zhang Liang's picking on cities and towns weakly garrisoned, the Qin army despatched general Yang Xiong with the aim of engaging Zhang Liang's forces in a decisive battle.

Having monitored the Qin's army movements, Zhang Liang embarked on an attack at BaiMa (W Hua county in present day Henan province), the staging area for Qin's expeditionary force, before they could fully assemble. At the same time, he deployed light cavalry to launch 2-prong attack the rear of the Qin's forces.

The Qin army was dispersed by the attack, and the late-arriving units were ambushed by Zhang Liang. Zhang Liang explained to Liu Bang the essence of warfare on being decisive, taking the initiative and advanced planning rather than relying on boldness alone.

14. Zhang Liang won the respect of many commanders, but he cautiously remained humble and passed the credit to Liu Bang and the officers who trusted him and fought valiantly. Zhang Liang automatically returned military control to Liu Bang and concentrated on being advisor and strategist, all the while keeping track of enemy movements through spies and scouts.

The writer wrote that it was here Zhang Liang became aware Liu Bang could not be trusted in times of success in the future.

15. After the battle of BaiMa, Liu Bang went on to attack the city of NanYang in south HeNan. The unprepared Qin defenders fled to the city of Wan, allowing Liu Bang to take the NanYang easily. When Liu Bang perceived that Wan was stoutly defended, he was going to emulate Zhang Liang's actions at KaiFeng and ordered his troops to detour west from Wan.

Zhang Liang quickly went to stop Liu Bang. The mild mannered Zhang Liang could also show steely determination, and explained to Liu Bang the situation was very different from KaiFeng. Without taking down Wan, their army would suffer serious rear threat when they encounter strong Qin positions ahead. They returned quickly to surround Wan.

As Wan was a city of the former State of Han, Zhang Liang decided to send his trusted henchmen to infiltrate the city to persuade the former Han citizens to defect. Eventually, the garrison commander of Wan had to surrender.

16. In order to get to XianYang, Qin's capital, the most formidable challenge would be the strongly guarded HanGu Pass (函谷关) located on strategic terrains. Zhang Liang advised Liu Bang to avoid it and go for the Wu Pass (武关) which was generally overlooked.

Next, in the 12th month, they bribed the Jia Jian, commander of Yáo Pass (峣关/嶢关) and attacked the citadel while the guard was down.

Coincidentally, there was a coup in XianYang whereby the Qin Prince ZiYing killed the eunuch Zhao Gao who monopolised power. Liu Bang despatch a message calling for his surrender, and ZiYing, feeling there was no alternative, agreed.

17. After persuading Liu Bang not to enjoy the luxuries of the Qin palace, Zhang Liang also arranged for Liu Bang's army to withdraw and allow the Qin's garrisons to keep order in the Land within Passes. He was also responsible for abolishing the Qin's laws and replaced with three simple ones (约法三章).

The writer criticised the three laws as intending to protect the interest of property owners, but admit it had the effect of restoring stability.

18. At this time, Xiao He (萧何) took the opportunity to collect and study the records in the Qin Imperial Archives, with all the geographical and economical, military, terrains, demographic etc. information of the entire empire. This proved invaluable to future endeavours of Liu Bang in establishing the Han Dynasty.

19. When Xiang Yü was enraged by Liu Bang's ill-conceived stationing troops at HanGu Pass and easily broke through, threatening Liu Bang with a force 5 times larger, Zhang Liang was actually away from Liu Bang. Liu Bang had apparently rejected some of Zhang Liang's proposals and the proud scion of former State of Han went off with his followers numbering about one hundred. Nonetheless, when Xiang Bo came to warn Zhang Liang of the attack, Zhang Liang felt he could not abandon Liu Bang.

20. After the division of spoils by Xiang Yü, it was Zhang Liang who bribed Xiang Bo with lavish gifts to persuade Xiang Yü to add the territories from Ba, Shu and parts of HanZhong to Liu Bang's kingdom of Hàn (汉). This was even though Zhang Liang was returning to the State of Hán (韩) as premier.

21. To distract Xiang Yü from Liu Bang, Zhang Liang directed Xiang Yü's attention to the revived State of Qi whose leader Tian Rong was ambitious and chaffing under Xiang Yü's overlordship. While Xiang Yü was distracted in the east, Liu Bang was able to strengthen his forces and stole out of his fief to catch the watchdogs set on him by Xiang Yü by surprise.

22. Zhang Liang also persuaded Xiang Yü afterwards that Liu Bang was merely after the territories which was promised to whoever entered GuanZhong first.

23. After Xiang Yü killed King Cheng of Hán (韩), Zhang Liang fled to Liu Bang. He wrote a proclaimation listing Xiang Yü's crimes to alienate the other feudal lords from Xiang Yü and raised Liu Bang's prestige.

24. In spring of 205 BC, due to the proclaimation, many regional lords switched allegiance to Liu Bang, expanding his military strength to 500,000-600,000. Zhang Liang devised a plan to bring these lords into Liu Bang's encampment to "host" them but in effect, to detain them while seizing control over their armed forces.

25. After Liu Bang conquered Peng city (Xiang Yü's capital) while Xiang Yü was away campaigning, he fell back to his bad habits of greed and lust. Zhang Liang despised these behaviours but aware that he could not dissuade Liu Bang, Zhang Liang chose to retire into seclusion.

26. It did not take long for Liu Bang's errors to catch up with him. Xiang Yü rushed back with 30,000 crack troops and trounced the Hàn (汉) army. Liu Bang fled helter-skelter while Zhang Liang had long prepared for an orderly withdrawal through routes overlooked by the Chŭ army.

Zhang Liang was aware that Liu Bang would overlook him when successful, but would also humbly consult him when down, just like the occassion of Liu Bang's ill-conceived blocking of Xiang Yü at HanGu Pass.

This time was no different. Liu Bang restored his confidence after seeking guidance from Zhang Liang who analysed his loss was not the final defeat.

Zhang Liang had Liu Bang establish bases in YingYang and ChengGao as rallying points for anti-Xiang Yü elements. He also advised Liu Bang to parley and establish firm relationships with Peng Yue, Tian Rong and Ying Bu - the only lords who could credibly fight against Xiang Yü.

27. Zhang Liang was quick to note Liu Bang's poor treatment of Sui He, Liu Bang's follower who served successfully as an envoy to Ying Bu to ally with Liu Bang. Together with Xiao He, Zhang Liang corrected Liu Bang's behaviour.

28. When YingYang was besieged by Chŭ's army, Zhang Liang managed to persuade Liu Bang of the wisdom of himself breaking out and raise an army elsewhere. Liu Bang had been hesitant, fearing his departure would cost him all he had built up, and was not confident of breaking through either. To allay Liu Bang's fears of the latter, Zhang Liang had Chen Ping to come up with a decoy to trick the besiegers.

29. After Liu Bang successfully escaped and raised another army in GuanZhong, he wanted to rush to YingYang's rescue. Zhang Liang dissuaded him and advised him to follow another strategist (Yuan Sheng) to lure Xiang Yü's army from YingYang by announcing his target was the city of Wan. The ruse worked and Xiang Yü moved his forces to Wan, withdrawing the siege from YingYang.

30. Zhang Liang had no intention of allowing Xiang Yü to engage them in a decisive battle. Once the Chŭ army was on the move, he messaged Peng Yue to attack Xiang Yü's rear. Fearing the loss of his capital, Xiang Yü was forced to turn back. Thus, Zhang Liang was able to control the movements of the enemy and the flow of the battles.

31. During the stand-off between Liu Bang's army and Xiang Yü's at GuangWu mountain, Xiang Yü came forth and demanded loudly he meet Liu Bang face to face.

Zhang Liang persuaded fearful Liu Bang to go forth, noting the terrain made it impossible for them to come into direct contact, and that Xiang Yü had no bow. This was something Liu Bang had to do or cause his army to be demoralised.

Liu Bang only with Zhang Liang's accompaniment, and bolstered by Zhang Liang's calm demeanour.

During the meeting, Zhang Liang taught Liu Bang the words to use to list Xiang Yü's crimes. As he predicted, the proud Xiang Yü could make no answer to the charges.

When a sniper from the Chŭ army hit Liu Bang's chest with a crossbow shot, the quick-thinking Liu Bang yelled he was hit on the toe and maintained his composure and posture returning to the camp. The Hàn camp was in the dark about the serious injury and instead was full of praises for Liu Bang for going up to meet Xiang Yü.

32. Zhang Liang went in person to confer Liu Bang's assigning Han Xin as King of Qi - to assure Han Xin of the sincerity.

33. After signing the peace treaty with Xiang Yü, Zhang Liang decided they should break the treaty and take Xiang Yü unawares. To persuade Liu Bang, Zhang Liang roped in Chen Ping who was full of tricks. This was a difficult proposition to make to Liu Bang because he always lost in battle against Xiang Yü.

Though the battle was indeed lost, Zhang Liang was confident that Liu Bang's defeats were merely temporary while every victory scored by Xiang Yü was phyrric. As it turned out, he was right.

The defeated Liu Bang did not lose the alliance of his allies, while Xiang Yü's forces were suffering casualties, exhaustion and growing isolation. Zhang Liang's suggestion of confirming the territories of Han Xin and Peng Yue was crucial in enlisting the critical reinforcements to turn the tide of the battle against Xiang Yü.

34. Zhang Liang composed the Chŭ song to be sung to demoralised Xiang Yü's army during the final confrontation. 

Other Notes

With regards to why Ying Bu would defect to support Liu Bang, there's several causes.

To begin with, Xiang Yü was not that popular head among rebel leaders. In Han Xin's analysis of competitive strengths and weaknesses between Liu Bang and Xiang Yü, Han Xin pointed out that Xiang Yü was generous with empty praise but miserly with giving out rewards of significant worth.

At first, Ying Bu had a close relationship with Xiang Yü. He was Xiang Yü's hatchet-man to murder King Huai of Chu (楚怀王). Xiang Yü had his nominal overlord titled as Emperor Yi (义帝) and moved to ChangSha (长沙), and Ying Bu was secretly ordered to set an ambush along the way.

Ying Bu’s first discord with Xiang Yü had nothing to do with Liu Bang.

In 207 BC, King Tian Rong of Qi 齐王(田荣) rebelled against Xiang Yü. Xiang Yü summoned Ying Bu to contribute troops to suppress the rebellion, but Ying Bu, on the pretext of illness, only sent his subordinates with a few thousand troops to aid Xiang Yü.

After Liu Bang successfully attacked Xiang Yü's base in Peng (彭城), Ying Bu again declined to go to Xiang Yü's aid.

Upset, Xiang Yü summoned Ying Bu to appear in person, which the latter was understandably worried and refused. Nonetheless, to avoid having too many enemies to deal with, and considering Ying Bu as a valiant general, Xiang Yü took no action against him.

In 208 BC, after being defeated by Xiang Yü, Liu Bang despatched an envoy by the name of Sui He (隋何) to persuade Ying Bu to switch allegiance.

Initially, Ying Bu refused to meet Sui He, until Sui He communicated that it was because Chu was strong compared to Han.

When Ying Bu met Sui He, Sui He persuasively pointed out that there was little to be gained supporting Xiang Yü while there was much to look forward to with Liu Bang. Furthermore, Ying Bu's failure to support Xiang Yü twice would be a black mark against him in Xiang Yü's books.

At first, Ying Bu persuaded but not prepared to go public with siding with Liu Bang. Sui He forced Ying Bu's hand by appearing in the presence of Xiang Yü's messenger.

Xiang Yü launched an attack and defeated Ying Bu, who fled to Liu Bang. He felt honoured when he noted Liu Bang provided him the same level of accomodation etc. which Liu Bang enjoyed. Ying Bu learned from his agents that his family had been killed by Xiang Yü. He returned to JiuJiang to rally remnants of his followers, and joined Liu Bang with several thousand troops.

It was thought by some historians that Xiang Yü character - his lack of respect for others - alienated many of his followers. Some of Liu Bang's most significant helpers like Chen Ping were formerly serving Xiang Yü.

Source : http://www.unitedcn....w_page_2250.htm 

  • Source: http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/topic/1568-zhang-liang/

Side Note
We will re-edit the content of these Zhang Liang's notes and re-publish it sometime in the future.

# # # 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Succeeding in the Info. Economy Through the Practice of "Preparation Precedes Performance"

# # #

One general principle of strategy is to become flexible in regards to one's own objectives and strategic approaches when operating within an uncertain setting.  It is also important to center oneself on becoming self-efficient until the direction and the momentum of the Big Tangible Picture is established. 

During the preparation stage of the situation, one centers on the act of staging proper logistics and procedures to meet the opportunity from a top-down view.

Whereas, most people preferred to plan and prepare at the wrong stage of the cycle. For whatever reason, they somehow find the act of operating from the seat of their pants to be e
motionally enjoyable.

"A team that is unable to discern good fortune and misfortune in the as-yet-uninformed does not understand preparations." 
- Military Methods, 22 (A minor revision on a concept from Sun Bin)

Minor Jottings
In chaotic times, some companies have a tendency to take a risk without the understanding the secular effect within the Big Tangible Picture (BTP). 

Simultaneously, some Chief Decision Makers possessed the tendency of not knowing whether their project operation team project have the logistics and the economics to meet the criteria of the Big Tangible Picture. 

... Some people might know the general objectives and the approach for achieving a grand goal. It is quite rare that proper planning and preparation processes are ever implemented promptly. When a major negative circumstance forces them to do so, it is usually too late to execute that grand process.  Better yet, the implementation of the assessment step barely existed.

... Our research and our experience have revealed to us that most organizations do not have a strategic process that enables their decision makers to read and recognize the circumstances that lead to predictable and unpredictable settings.


Source: Dao of Strategy


Click here for more posts on the subject of Preparation Precedes Performance.

"Amat Victoria Curam" - Latin quote   

The translation is "victory loves preparation."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Another Historical View of Zhang Liang, The Complete Strategist (Pt. 1)

(Updated on 03.28.15)

The history of Zhang Liang, has always fascinated many budding strategists and military historians. Beside being known as the adviser for Liu Bang, the founder of Han Dynasty, he was also acknowledged as a strategist who "strategized" deeply and completely.

Despite his efforts and achievements, Zhang Liang did not participated in the governing of this new dynasty.  It was rumored that he left the court for an altruistic reason. 

We will elaborate on the possible reason in a later post.

# # # 

The following information on Zhang Liang was taken from China history forum.com 

Zhang Liang (張良) was crucial to Liu Bang's (劉邦) success to become emperor. He continued to be trusted by Liu Bang and the Empress Lü (呂后) after the establishment of the Han Dynasty.

When he retired from active service soon after, his counsel continued to be sought by others, including the empress when Liu Bang was considering replacing the Crown Prince (who was born by the empress) with another son born by another woman. In his retirement, Zhang Liang practiced Daoism, sought to become a mystic. He gradually reduce his food intake, believing that as he advanced in his mysticism, he would be able to survive on air alone. Concerned, the empress tried to have him force-fed, but his body rejected the sudden influx of food. It was believed he finally starved to death.

One of the reasons of this was he displayed no personal ambition. Though he was considered as one of the top three key figures in founding the dynasty, the others being the general Han Xin (韓信) and the advisor Xiao He (蕭何), he only requested the minor fief of Liu (留, present day city of Peng 彭) and the title of a marquis (侯).

He descended from a family of courtiers in the State of Han (韓). According to some historical sources, he was from a branch of the Ji (姬) clan - a royal/noble clan with many branches all over China in various states. When his State was conquered by Qin (秦), Zhang Liang was young and escaped notice as he had yet to serve in the royal court of Han. Zhang Liang came from a rich family which employed more than 300 servants, but it was said he left his own younger brother who died unburied and expended the family wealth procuring men of exceptional abilities to assassinate the king of Qin, the most famous incident being at Bo Lang Sha where the king travelled with similar carriages to confuse any enemies.

The assassin of the attempt had hurled a heavy mace weighing 200 Chinese catties from a distance, was captured and killed. Before he died though, he let slip a clue that his employer was a scion of a noble house of a vanquished state. As the courts of various states had kept careful records, investigation soon brought suspicions to Zhang Liang who had to flee and change his name.

Legend had it that he was accosted by an old man, but upon displaying proper respect repeatedly, he was given a manual of military strategies written by Tai Gong (太公兵法), and the old man was a famous strategist named Huang Shi Gong (黄石公).

Zhang Liang studied that manual for years before ever making his move.


Acquiring the Tai Gong's Strategy Essay From Huang  Shigong
It is said that Zhang Liang was on the street one day, when he saw an elderly man sitting on the side of a bridge. The old man was wearing only one shoe. The curious Zhang Liang went over to ask him if he needed help. The old man (Huang Shigong) pointed at a shoe below the bridge (I can't remember if it was in the water or not.). Zhang Liang retrieved the shoe for him as an act of kindness. However, instead of thanking him, the old man gestured at the shoe and then at his bare foot. He wanted Zhang to wear the shoe for him as well.

Zhang Liang wasn't very pleased at first, but he felt that since he had already helped the poor old man, he might as well continue giving him a hand. So, he helped him wear his shoe. Satisfied, the old man told Zhang that he would be rewarded for his kindness. He told him to meet him at the bridge two days later (could be three, I can't recall clearly), and reminded him not to be late.

Two days later, Zhang Liang hurried to the bridge. The elder was already waiting for him. Zhang apologised for being late, but the old man was still very displeased. He told Zhang to meet him there again two more days later.

Afraid of being late again, Zhang went to the meeting place at dawn. To his surprise, the old man was already waiting there. The latter was extremely angry. Zhang apologized profusely, so the old man decided to give him one last chance. They were to meet again two days later.

Zhang Liang had learnt his lesson. On the day before the meeting, he went to the bridge to wait for the elder. He stood there waiting for his arrival throughout the night. Then, at around midnight, he saw a familiar figure appear. Yes, it was Huang Shigong. Zhang hurried forward to greet him. Huang was pleased to see him there already. He took out an old manuscript and handed it over to Zhang Liang.

Zhang found out that he had received a treasure when he went home. The book was the lost Tai Gong's Art of War (The Six Secret Teachings). His knowledge increased tremendously after studying the book. Eventually, with his knowledge on the art of war, Zhang Liang was able to aid Liu Bang in his conquest against Xiang Yu and the unification of China. 

The account of Zhang Liang and the old man at the bridge was recorded in Shi Ji, in the Accounts of the clan of the Marquis of Liu, 《史记·留侯世家》.

It was said that the old man had told Zhang Liang to visit him at his yellow rock grave 13 years later in Ji Bei (济北), at the feet of the mountain of Gu Cheng (谷城). This was fulfilled 13 years later. Zhang Liang placed the manual as an offering on the grave, and at his death, he was buried on the same site.

The meeting with the old man took place in a small town of Xia Pi (下邳) where Zhang Liang was in hiding. Another fugitive by the name of Xiang Bo (项伯)subsequently sought refuge there as well. The two men struck a friendship which would prove crucial in later years.

Zhang Liang Meets Liu Bang
Ten years on, after the death of Qin Shi Huang, a peasant rebellion broke out, led by Chen Sheng (陈胜) and Wu Guang (吴广). It was one of the first to broke the control of the Qin dynasty over the empire, though that particular uprising failed.

Zhang Liang also assembled more than a hundred youths in revolt. He was planning to join the banner of the Jing Ju (景驹), the self-proclaimed acting King of Chu (楚假王), who was based in the city of Liu (留).

En route, he parleyed with the forces of Liu Bang who rose up in revolt in in Pei (沛), and joined him instead. After seizing Xia Pi, Liu Bang made Zhang Liang one of his commanders.

Zhang Liang explained what he learned from the manual to Liu Bang. Impressed, Liu Bang adopted the strategems proposed. In contrast, when Zhang Liang tried to explain the ideas to others, none were receptive. It was then that Zhang Liang thought Liu Bang as the master worthy of his service.

Liu Bang joined the banner of Xiang Liang (项梁) who backed a scion of the former royal family of Chu as King Huai of Chu (楚怀王).

Han Xin took the opportunity to get Xiang Liang to appoint another scion of the former royal family of Han, Han Cheng (韩成), whose title was Lord Heng Yang (横阳君) as the King of Han. Zhang Liang was appointed as an equivalent of a premier (司徒) to the revived State of Han, and set forth with the his new king and more than 1,000 troops to fight for Yin Chuan (颍川) in present day Yu Zhou of He Nan (河南禹州, 治阳翟).

Subsequently, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu (项羽) were ordered by King Huai of Chu to invade Qin. Zhang Liang reunited with Liu Bang (who set off from Luo Yang) during the march towards the Qin heartlands. On the way, they conquered more than ten cities formerly belonging to the State of Han, defeating the enemy general by the name of Yang Xiong (杨熊).

Liu Bang ordered King Cheng of Han to remain and defend the city of Yang Zhai (阳翟), while he and Zhang Liang went on to take the city of Wan (宛), present day Nan Yang (南阳) in He Nan (河南).

After entering the Wu Pass (武关) to the west, Liu Bang was planning to assault the Qin army in the Yáo (峣/嶢) Pass, present day NW of Shang county in ShaanXi (陕西省商县西北) with 20,000 troops.

Zhang Liang offered an alternative strategy, analysing that the Qin garrison was still a formidable force, but its commander was a coarse uncouth son of a butcher who could be exploited through his greed. He adviced Liu Bang to stand fast, prepare provisions for 50,000 troops, plant numerous banners on various hills around the area to make his numbers greater, and despatch the witty Yi LiShi (郦食其) with rich gifts to bribe the garrison commander.

Sure enough, the garrison commander agreed and was prepared to join forces with Liu Bang to attack Xian Yang (咸阳), the capital of Qin. However, Zhang Liang advised him saying it was only the commander who agreed to defect, but not the rest of the garrison who may not similarly willing. Such unreliable troops would be a threat to their forces. Instead, they should take advantage of the relaxed guard of the garrison and launch a surprise attack. Adopting this strategy, the Qin garrison were caught unawares, defeated and fled, pursued to Lan Tian (蓝田) where they were defeated and scattered.

The way to Xian Yang was now clear, and the Qin monarch ZiYing (子婴) surrendered to Liu Bang.

The Xian Yang Trap
Liu Bang's triumphal entry into Xian Yang almost caused his downfall.

The sight of the grand palace, riches from the Treasury, the fine horses and hounds, the beautiful palace maids and harem, tempted him to relapse into his old fondness of women and wine.

His general Fan Kuai (樊哙) remonstrated him to no avail, until Zhang Liang warned him he was going to become like the tyrannical Qin, giving rise to the idioms assisting Zhou in tyranny (助桀为虐), wise words do not sound attractive just as effective medicine taste bitter to the mouth (忠言逆耳利于行,毒药苦口利于病).

Heeding their advice, Liu Bang ordered the Treasury sealed, the palace secured and then withdrew to Ba Shang (霸上). He won support from the populace for abolishing the harsh laws of Qin, refusing to receive gifts from them and treated them kindly.

Meanwhile, Xiang Yu's advance was delayed because he was busy fighting the Qin general Zhang Han (章邯) at the Battle of JuLu (巨鹿). By the time he vanquished the enemy forces, news was received that Liu Bang had secured the HanGu Pass (函谷关).

Xiang Yu was enraged and despatched his generals, including Ying Bu (英布), to take the Pass. They broke through the Pass and advanced till XiXi (戏西), east of present day LinTong county in ShaanXi (今陕西临潼县东).

Cao WuShang (曹无伤), a general who served under and later betrayed Liu Bang, reported that Liu Bang was planning to make himself King of Guan Zhong (关中), appointing the deposed Qin ruler ZiYing as premier and keep the all the loot for himself. Xiang Yu got angrier and ordered his army to prepare for total assault on Liu Bang the following day.

It was at this time that the Left Minister of Chu (楚左尹), Xiang Bo, made a secret visit at night to Liu Bang's camp to persuade Zhang Liang to flee. Xiang Bo wanted to repay for his debt to Zhang Liang.

Zhang Liang felt it was unseemly for him to desert Liu Bang in his hour of trouble, and brought Xiang Bo to Liu Bang to warn him of the impending doom.

Liu Bang was alarmed and sought Zhang Liang's counsel.

Zhang Liang asked him,"Do you really want to turn against Xiang Yu?"

Liu Bang said,"It was an ill-conceived advice from Yu Lou (愚陋) that I accepted the suggestion to secure Han Gu Pass against other warlords in order become King of Guan Zhong."

Zhang Liang asked him again,"How do you estimate your strength against Xiang Yu?"

Liu Bang thought a long while before answering,"It was incomparable to begin with."

Zhang Liang estimated that Xiang Yu had a force of 400,000 against Liu Bang's mere 100,000, and decided eating the humble pie was the only solution.

Zhang Liang said,"Let me tell Xiang Bo that you were thought of turning against Xiang Yu."

Xiang Bo was invited into the meeting, and Liu Bang treated him respectfully as an elder brother, toasting him wine and even proposed marriage alliance.

The securing of Han Gu Pass was explained as preventing other looters from entry, not meant to defy Xiang Yu. Xiang Bo instructed Liu Bang to come personally to Xiang Yu's camp the next day to apologise.

The meeting that followed on the next day was immortalised in the Chinese phrase Hong Men Yan (鸿门宴), or Banquet at the Swan Gate.

The Banquet 
Liu Bang's humbling submission of himself pacified Xiang Yu's anger. He further explained that ZiYing, the Treasury and Palace were all secured and awaited Xiang Yu's pleasure. In contrast to Liu Bang, Xiang Yu had Zi Ying killed, looted the treasury and burned the Palace. His conduct was a great contrast to Liu Bang.

During the banquet, Xiang Yu's general Fan Zeng (范增) felt Liu Bang was too dangerous and tried to kill him while performing a sword dance. Liu Bang's life was spared only when Xiang Bo interposed himself into the dance, using his body to shield Liu Bang.

In 206BC, Xiang Yu divided Qin's empire and enfeoffed various commanders. Liu Bang was conferred as King of Han (汉王), with territories in Ba (巴), Shu (蜀) and Han Zhong (汉中).

Zhang Liang was rewarded with a hundred taels of gold and two pecks of pearls, which he presented to Xiang Bo.

Before Liu Bang departed for his new territories, Zhang Liang advised him to destroy the road of Zhan Dao (栈道) behind him in order to allay suspicion that Liu Bang had eastward ambitions. It also prevented any enemies from pursuing from his rear.

Zhang Liang returned to the State of Han, but his master King Cheng of Han was ordered to follow Xiang Yu to the east instead of being allowed to return to Han. Xiang Yu was concerned because King Cheng of Han had fought alongside Liu Bang earlier.

Zhang Liang warned Xiang Yu of treachery from the Tian Rong (田荣), the King of Qi (齐王). This occupied Xiang Yu's attention for a northern punitive expedition, distracting him from caution against Liu Bang in the west.

Openly Repair the Gallery roads, 

but Sneak through the Passage of Chencang 
Xiang Yu's expedition against the State of Qi gave Liu Bang the opportunity to move eastwards.

Xiang Yu had originally taken the precaution of stationing three vassals, Zhang Han (章邯), Sima Xin (司马欣) and Dong Yi (董翳) in various parts of the former Qin territories against Liu Bang.

As the main road had been burned, the three generals relaxed their guards. When Liu Bang sent a small workforce to restore it, they did not take note because it was thought the work would take too long to be of concern.

But the repair work was just a ruse, Liu Bang actually led his forces in secret by alternative routes and attacked the three vassals. By the time Liu Bang's general Han Xin (韩信) successfully subdued the three vassals, Xiang Yu had demoted the King of Han to a marquis, and eventually had him killed in the city of Peng (彭).

 /// Side note: Click here on more information relating to this stratagem 

Zhang Liang escaped and joined Liu Bang, who conferred upon him the title of Marquis of Cheng Xin (成信侯). Their eastwards march was trounced by Xiang Yu at the battle of Peng.

Retreating to Xia Yi (下邑), present day An Hui (安徽砀山县), Liu Bang considered offering the territories east of Han Gu Pass to seek allies who would support his quest for dominance.

Zhang Liang advised him that King Qiong Bu of Jiu Jiang (九江王黥布), the notorious general of Chu, have disagreements with Xiang Yu. Peng Yue (彭越) and the King of Qi also oppose Xiang Yu. We should exploit them instead. Your general Han Xin is capable of taking the field by himself. Together with these three, we can defeat Xiang Yu.

Liu Bang accepted the advice. Sui He (隋何) was sent to ally with Ying Bu (英布),and another to ally with Peng Yue. When King Bao of Wei (魏王豹) turned against Liu Bang, Han Xin was despatched to bring him down, and at the same time, seized the lands of Yan (燕), Fa (代), Qi (齐) and Zhao (赵).

Thus, Ying Bu, Peng Yue and Han Xin were instrumental in Liu Bang's final victory over Xiang Yu. But there were still more wars in between and Liu Bang was on the verge of total defeat more than once.

204 BC, Liu Bang was besieged by Xiang Yu's forces in the city of Ying Yang (荥阳) in present day He Nan (河南). He conferred with his advisor Yi LiQi (郦食其) on ways to weaken Xiang Yu's Kingdom of Chu.

Yi LiQi pointed out to the examples of King Tang (汤) who after deposing the tyrannical King Jie (桀) of Xia (夏) dynasty, established the Shang (商) dynasty but at the same time confer the descendants of the Xia dynasty a fief in Qi (杞), and also the example of King Wu of Zhou (周武王) who overthrew the despotic King Zhou (纣) of Shang (商) and confered the descendants of Shang the fief of Song (宋).

Yi LiQi proposed that since the descendants of the Six States conquered by Qin had become stateless, Liu Bang should revive the Six States, conferring the scions royal seals and thus gain the backings of the former subjects and populace of the Six States. With their support, Xiang Yu's Kingdom of Chu will have no choice but to submit.

Liu Bang was very excited and ordered him to make and deliver the seals.

Shortly afterwards, before Yi LiQi could set off, Zhang Liang arrived to visit Liu Bang. Liu Bang was happily having a meal and told Zhang Liang that all his problems were solved and all that Yi LiQi had proposed.

Zhang Liang was astounded and asked who gave him the idea that would spell his own doom.

Liu Bang anxiously asked what was the problem.

Zhang Liang analysed carefully the difference between Liu Bang's current situation and the situations of King Tang of Shang and King Wu of Zhou when they "killed off" the  other lords.

King Tang and King Wu had already achieved victories over their respective foes, and were in the position to bring death to King Jie and King Zhou.

King Wu had suffered physical humiliation when he submitted earlier to King Zhou of Shang, and was thus identified with Bi Gan (比干), a well loved minister of Shang. He already established his reputation.

Those Kings had already established deeds by various undertakings which reflected their merits and their trustworthiness. The populace in their own home states displayed a high degree of civility which was admired by other states.

Another critical issue was if the Six States were to be revived, then all their former lands and subjects would revert to the Six States, including many of Liu Bang's current troops and officers. There would be no place in the realms left for Liu Bang's Kingdom of Han. At the present, Xiang Yu's Kingdom of Chu was strong, and it was unlikely the revival of the Six States would elevate Liu Bang to be the hegemonist.

Upon hearing Zhang Liang's analysis, Liu Bang spat the food out of his mouth and swore at the pedant whose idea nearly finished him off for good. The newly carved royal seals were destroyed immediately.

203 BC, Liu Bang's general Han Xin subdued the State of Qi. He wrote to Liu Bang, citing the uncertainty of the populace not to turn against their new master and the proximity to the Kingdom of Chu to the south, and suggested that it would be better for Liu Bang to appoint him (Han Xin) as the acting King (viceroy) of the state in order to stabilise the situation.

When Liu Bang received the message, he was still besieged by Xiang Yu's forces in the city of Ying Yang. Upon reading the message, he swore out loud,"Damned it, I have been waiting for you to come and relieve the siege here and there you are dreaming about becoming a King!"

Zhang Liang and Chen Ping (陈平) discretely stepped on Liu Bang's toes and whispered to him, telling him that he was at a disadvantage and there was little he could do about Han Xin. Better to treat him favourably to win his support to avoid another fall out.

Liu Bang immediately realised his folly and continued to swear out loud,"Damned it, a real man who subdued other lords should be a real King, what's with this "namby pamby" acting that he is already the king. ..."

Zhang Liang was dispatched to Qi to present Han Xin with the royal seal and to confirm him as the real King of the State of Qi, and to ask him to deployed the army against Xiang Yu.

Xiang Yu suffered grave defeats and finally sued for peace.

Xiang Yu's Kingdom of Chu and Liu Bang's Kingdom of Han (汉) agreed on Swan Waterway (Hong Gou, 鸿沟) as the boundary dividing the entire realm between them, east to Xiang Yu, west to Liu Bang.

Xiang Yu withdrew his troops eastwards, thinking he could finally enjoy his position as hegemonist of the east.

Liu Bang was preparing to do the same until Zhang Liang and Chen Ping advised him that Liu Bang already had the submissions from various lords, and that Chu's troops and supplies were exhausted, Liu Bang should seize the opportunity to finish Xiang Yu once and for all and take over Xiang Yu's lands. If Xiang Yu was given the chance to recover, there will be no end of trouble that would follow.

Liu Bang took their advice and decided to "retire" his rival.

In the winner of 202 BC,  Liu Bang pursued Xiang Yu all the way to the city of Yang Xia (阳夏), present day Tai Kang in He Nan (河南太康).  There, he made an agreement with Peng Yue and Han Xin to attack Xiang Yu together.

Upon reaching the village of Gu Ling (固陵), south of present day Tai Kang in He Nan 河南太康县南), Peng Yue and Han Xin had not arrived. Liu Bang inquired of Zhang Liang.

Zhang Liang surmised that it was because Peng Yue and Han Xin had not been granted a permanent fief. He pointed out Liu Bang may not win the war without their support. He proposed that Liu Bang grant Han Xin the lands east of Chen county (陈县) all the way to the coast, and to Peng Yue the lands north of Sui Yang (睢阳) all the way to the city of Gu (毂城). These were part of Xiang Yu's territories, and hence Han Xin and Peng Yue would have the incentive of fighting to win their own lands. Motivated by self-interest, they would be able to fight and beat Xiang Yu.

Liu Bang followed the plan, and sure enough, Han Xin and Peng Yue and other lords joined forces with Liu Bang at Gai Xia (垓下), present day south of Ling Bi in An Hui (安徽灵壁南).

At the battle of Gai Xia, Xiang Yu's army was destroyed and the war finally ended.

Establishing the Han Dynasty
In 201 BC, after establishing himself as the sole overlord, Liu Bang began doling out rewards to those who rendered services.

Though Zhang Liang never fought in combat, Liu Bang pointed out that it was Zhang Liang's strategies and planning within the camp that determined the victories that were thousands of miles away.

Liu Bang wanted to confer Zhang Liang a fief in Qi (齐) with 30,000 families.

Zhang Liang modestly declined saying he never forgot his first meeting with Liu Bang in Liu (留) after coming out of seclusion from Xia Pi (下邳). He said he greatly appreciated the way Liu Bang trusted and employed him, and it was also fortunate that the ideas proposed to Liu Bang were effective. Zhang Liang then requested the humble holdings of Liu (留).

The remembrance of their first meeting at Liu (留) brought back nostalgic memories to Liu Bang who was very moved and agreed to Zhang Liang's request.

After conferring more than 20 followers, the rest were arguing day and night on the relative merits of the services they rendered. Some generals grouped together in twos and threes discussing among themselves, making various diagrams and markings on sandy grounds.

Many became apprehensive because according to their calculations of conferring territories according to military services, there is not enough land in the entire realms!

Emperor GaoZu (Liu Bang) again turned to Zhang Liang for advice.

Zhang Liang suggested the Emperor's next conferring should be to Yong Chi (雍齿). Everyone knew how Liu Bang personally hated Yong Chi. Once it was seen that even Yong Chi was conferred as a marquis with his own holdings, they ceased to worry and became relieved. This alleviated the tensions among the followers.

The next important decision following the unification was the choice of the location of the Imperial capital.

During a discussion by the emperor and his ministers, Liu Jing (刘敬) proposed the Guan Zhong (关中) region. Most of the ministers on the emperor's left came from Shan Dong (山东) and advocated for the ancient city of Luo Yang (洛阳), former capital of the Zhou dynasty. They reasoned that Luo Yang had Cheng Gao (成皋) to its east, Gu (殽) and Min (黾) to the west, bounded by the river Xiang Qu (乡雒), and is thus a hardy and self sufficient location.

According to "Han Su, Accounts of Zhang Liang" 《汉书·张良传》, it was Zhang Liang who advised the indecisive Liu Bang to arrived to a decision on where to establish his new capital. 

Zhang Liang analysed that Luo Yang may appear hardy, but it was small. The territories it commanded were only measured in hundreds of miles, and the soil was not rich. It was indefensible to attacks from the four cardinal directions and was a poor choice as a strategic command base.

On the other hand, Guan Zhong also had the strategic advantages of Gu (殽) and Han (函) to the east, the fertile lands of Long (陇) and Shu (蜀) to the west for thousands of miles. The west could act as the support to the capital, while in any event of rebellion of the feudal lords, punitive expeditions could be launched downstream of the Yellow River. Zhang Liang's conclusion was that it was the Golden City commanding thousands of miles of territories, backed by the land of great abundance. Liu Jing also agreed to the assessment.

Liu Bang set off on the very day to establish his new capital in the Guan Zhong region, in the city of Chang An (长安).

Zhang Liang Advising Liu Bang
After becoming the emperor, Liu Bang felt that his designated heir Liu Ying (刘盈), born by the Empress Lü (吕后), was too weak willed by nature and unlike him (Liu Bang). He preferred his other son, RuYi (如意), who was born by Concubine Qi (戚姬) and had been conferred as Prince of Zhao (赵王), even though RuYi was just a child. Liu Bang thought many times of changing the Crown Prince (太子) from Liu Ying to RuYi.

In feudalistic societies, changing of the Crown Prince was a grave matter that directly affects the stability of the political establishment. Senior ministers such as Shusun Tong (叔孙通) and Zhou Cang (周昌) protested strongly, but could not talk the Emperor round.

Empress Lü was especially fearful and tried all means to no avail. Finally, she cornered Zhang Liang for his assistance. Zhang Liang felt that it was not a matter that the Emperor could be persuaded by means of arguments.

He suggested that the Crown Prince Liu Ying humbled himself and sought four highly revered sages that the Emperor himself had sought repeatedly but never succeeded. The four sages, wizened white haired old men, were known as the Four Luminescents (四皓), agreed and accompanied the Crown Prince into the Imperial Court. When Liu Bang saw that Liu Ying had won the support of the four sages that he (Liu Bang) could not, he was led to believe that the Crown Prince had popular support and a solid political base, and hence gave up the idea of deposing Liu Ying as the Crown Prince, who eventually succeeded the throne as Emperor Hui (惠帝).

Incidentally, Liu Ying was not the warrior like his father. When his father ordered him to lead an expedition against nomad raiders in the north, he was not up to the task. Liu Ying had no military experience while the generals he was supposed to lead were veterans of his father's campaigns, being fierce warriors who needed a strong leader like his father. But Liu Ying was not a coward either. When he ascended the throne, his mother held much power but Liu Ying made a great effort to prevent his mother from harming RuYi.

Since then, Zhang Liang quitted politics, remaining at home with the excuse of being ill. He followed a strict practice of Daoism which include greatly reducing food intake. Grateful for his help, Empress Lü tried to make him eat, questioning his needless suffering in the short span of humanlife. Zhang Liang was forced to comply, but his body rejects much of the food. 

Six years later, Zhang Liang passed away and was posthumously conferred as Marquis of Cheng (成侯). His march was succeeded by his son Zhang BuYi (张不疑).

- more to come - 


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