Childhood & Early Life
Zhuge Liang was born in 181, in Yangdu County, Langya Commandery, Shandong Province. His mother died when he was very young. His father, Zhuge Gui, was an officer in the ‘Han dynasty’ and died in Liang’s childhood. He, along with his two brothers, Zhuge Jin and Zhuge Jun, and two sisters, was raised by his father’s cousin, Zhuge Xuan.
In 195, the chancellor of the eastern Han dynasty, Cao-Cao, invaded Shandong. Zhuge Xuan fled to Jing province, and Zhuge Liang followed him to stay with Liu Biao, the governor of Jing Province. After Zhuge Xuan’s death, Zhuge Liang went to Hubei in Longzhong Commandery, where he worked on a farm during day and studied at night.
Zhuge Liang lived like a recluse and studied in the company of local intellectuals, such as Xu Shu, Pang Tong, and Sima Hui. He was considered a man of wisdom, and earned the nickname ‘Crouching dragon’ or ‘Sleeping dragon.’
Zhuge Liang studied various subjects and gained knowledge in astronomy and geography. With his keen intelligence he mastered the subjects of political analysis, and military strategy and maneuvers. His peers acknowledged his superiority in many fields. Xu Shu and Sima Hui suggested his name as adviser to Liu Bei, the ruler of the state of Shu.
When Liu Bei asked to call Zhuge Liang for a meeting, he was informed that he would have to go personally and meet him. After Liu Bei’s third visit in person, Zhuge Liang agreed to join him in 207.
Liu Bei ruled in the southwest, around Sichuan. Cao Cao ruled a large kingdom to the north of the Yangtze River. He posed a threat to Liu Bei and other rulers. Zhuge Liang drew up a strategic plan, ‘Longzhong Plan,’ by which he suggested an alliance between Liu Bei and Wu state in southeast, which was ruled by Sun Quan. He personally travelled to Eastern Wu, had meetings with Sun Quan’s advisors, and convinced him of this alliance.
In 208, the combined forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan confronted and defeated Cao Cao in the ‘Battle of Red Cliffs,’ also known as the ‘Battle of Chibi.’ Thus, after the decline of the ‘Eastern Han Dynasty,’ the kingdom was divided in three parts – the northern (north of River Yangtze) part - Cao Wei - was ruled by Cao Cao; and Sun Quan became ruler of the southeast (Dong Wu or Eastern Wu), whileLiu Bei set up the state of ‘Shu Han’ in the southwest around Sichuan.
Zhuge Liang was appointed chief of court gentlemen commanding the army. Under his guidance, Liu Bei led campaigns to take over Jingzhou, followed by Yizhou (with its capital Chengdu) in 214. Zhuge Liang defended Chengdu as an administrative officer whenever Liu Bei went away on war-campaigns. In 221, he persuaded Liu Bei to declare himself an Emperor. Zhuge Liang was made his chancellor and worked as the head of imperial secretariat. After General Zhang Fei’s death, he was made ‘Colonel Director of the Retainers.’
The relations between Wu and Shu Han soured when Wu’s General Lü Meng attacked Jing Province in 219 and executed Liu Bei’s close associate, General Guan Yu. Furious Liu Bei charged with a huge army, but was defeated at the ‘Battle of Yiling.’ He had to retreat to Fortress of Baidicheng in his kingdom, where he died.
Before his death, Liu Bei appointed Zhuge Liang the ‘Chancellor of Shu Han’ kingdom and ‘General Commander of the army.’ He requested that Zhuge Liang should take over the control of the Shu Han Kingdom if Liu Bei’s son proved to be an ineffectual ruler. But Zhuge Liang continued as Chancellor/advisor under Liu Bei’s son, Liu Shan, who became the second and last ruler of the Shu Han kingdom.
Zhuge Liang re-established good relations with the Wu kingdom. He consolidated the Shu Han army force and put into practice ‘Tun Tian’ agricultural system, or farming by soldiers. Liu Shan gave the title of ‘Marquis of Wu District,’ and later made him ‘Governor of Yi Province.’
Zhuge Liang wished to consolidate and reinstate the Han Dynasty (as per Liu Bei’s wish), for which, integration of Cao Wei was essential. Before conquering Cao Wei, it was necessary to pacify the rebellious southern Nanman (or Barbarian) tribes of Nanzhong and include them into Shu Han kingdom. Military advisor Ma Su counseled that the tribes should be overpowered and made to support the army. But Zhuge Liang defeated the head of the Nanman tribes, Meng Huo, in 7 successive clashes, only to set him free each time. Ultimately, Meng Huo surrendered and promised loyalty to the Shu Han kingdom. Zhuge Liang allowed Meng Huo to continue with Nanzhong rule while asking only for tribute that helped him fund his major campaign.
Between 228 and 234, Zhuge Liang led 5 campaigns to Cao Wei, but failed each time except one. During the first expedition, he convinced Wei military officer Jiang Wei to cross over to Shu Han side. He continued to fight for Shu Han and also, later followed Zhuge Liang’s war strategies.
The fifth campaign resulted in the ‘Battle of Wuzhang Plains’ against Wei general Sima Yi. The exertion and exhaustion of battle campaigns adversely affected Zhuge Liang’s health, and following a serious illness, he died in the war camp in 234. He was buried on Mount Dingjun.
Liu Shan honored him posthumously with title of ‘Marquis Zhongwu.’
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Family & Personal Life
Around 200AD, Zhuge Liang married Huang Yueying (a fictional name, as her real name is not recorded in history), daughter of reclusive scholar Huang Chengyan. He had adopted his nephew, Zhuge Qiao and had two sons, Zhuge Zhan and Zhuge Huai.
Zhuge Liang was accredited with several inventions, chief among them being ‘repeating crossbow (Zhuge-nu).’ However, reportedly he only made modifications to the crossbow that shoots multiple arrows. ‘Stone Sentinel Maze,’ an array of stones that produce supernatural powers, is also attributed to him. Several other inventions include the Chinese lantern (Kongming lantern), the wooden ox carrying grain supply and others. He has also written books including, ‘Thirty Six Strategies,’ ‘The Art of War by Zhuge Liang.’
The Chinese historical novel, ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms,’ describes wisdom, many achievements, and war-strategies of Zhuge Liang, but it is not clear whether the stories are true or fictional. Supernatural powers were ascribed to him
Several temples were dedicated to Zhuge Liang, important amongst them is, the ‘Temple of the Marquis of Wu’ in Chengdu.