Du Yu, styled Yuankai, was an officer of Jin. He was worldly-wise and experienced in war. He never tired of his studies and his favourite book was Zuo Qiuming’s commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, the Zuo zhuan. He kept this book beside him day and night. Even when he went riding, he always had his assistant carry a copy of the book. His contemporaries called him the Zuo zhuan addict because of this.
After Yang Hu (1) died, Sima Yan appointed Du Yu chief commander out of respect for Yang Hu’s last wishes (2). Du Yu accepted the appointment and began training his forces at Xiangyang, ready to invade Wu.
1: Yang Hu was the previous general in charge of Xiangyang. He was famous for his friendship with the Wu general Lu Kang, son of the great Lu Xun.
2: Yang Hu died in AD 278 and Sima Yan was grief-stricken. Yang Hu had requested an attack on Wu, but Jia Chong and Pei Xiu managed to convince the Jin emperor not to invade.
In AD 280, Sima Yan finally decided to attack Wu, following requests by Wang Jun (3) and Du Yu.
3: Wang Jun was the imperial inspector for Yizhou under the Jin. He was seventy at this time.
Du Yu’s memorial read:
Previously, Yang Hu failed to consult widely with the court officials and laid plans with Your Majesty in secret. As a result, the officials came to no consensus. The merits of every decision need to be debated fully. In my judgement, the benefits of a southern offensive outweigh the drawbacks by a ratio of eight or nine to one, while the only real danger is failing to accomplish our goal. Since autumn, it has become increasingly clear that we will have to conduct a punitive expedition against the south. If we delay now, midway in our course, Sun Hao will have been sufficiently alarmed to shift the capital to Wuchang and to fortify the various towns along the Great River, transferring their populations elsewhere. If the southern river towns are fortified and the countryside offers nothing to plunder, then a year’s delay will prove too long.
Sima Yan was playing chess with Zhang Hua at the time of the memorial. Zhang Hua knocked the chessboard aside and said, “Your Majesty is wise in military affairs, our kingdom is wealthy, and our people are strong. The rebel Sun Hao is depraved and his people fear him (4). He has weakened his country. If we move to smite them now, rest assured we shall bring about a new order with little effort!”
4: Sun Hao was a tyrant who had executed many of his officials. He enjoyed peeling the skin off offenders’ faces and gouging out their eyes.
Sima Yan agreed and issued an order to Du Yu to assume the position of first field marshal and to lead an army of one hundred thousand against Jiangling. Supreme Commanders Sima Zhou and Wang Hun, General Wang Rong, and General Hu Fen, were to go against Tuzhong, Hengjiang, Wuchang, and Xiakou respectively. All the aforementioned generals were under the command of Du Yu. The ruler also sent Prancing Dragon General Wang Jun and Extender of Warfare General Tang Bin to move east down the river. The land and marine forces together numbered more than two hundred thousand. Lastly, Sima Yan sent Champion General Yang Ji to occupy Xiangyang and control the several field armies. All began to march on Wu.
When Du Yu reached Jiang Ling, he ordered Garrison Commander Zhou Zhi, “You will quietly take eight hundred sailors across the Great River on small boats and capture Yuexiang by night, then raise flags and banners all over the surrounding country. By day shoot your bombards and roll your drums; by night fires at various points.” Zhou Zhi accepted and led his men to begin the task.
The next day, Du Yu advanced with his forces. Scouts informed him that three generals were opposing him-General of Chariots and Cavalry Wu Yan on land, Lu Jing (5) on water, and Sun Xin in the vanguard. Du Yu continued until he met Sun Xin. The two forces engaged briefly, then Du Yu retired and his men retreated. Sun Xin pursued along the northerners’ torturous escape route. Before he had gone twenty li, however, a bombard sounded and the troops of Jin fell upon Sun Xin’s forces. Pressing his advantage, Du Yu slew most of the southern troops.
5: Lu Jing was the son of Lu Kang.
Sun Xin managed to escape and flee back to the outskirts of Xiakou. However, to his amazement he found the flags of Jin flying at the walls. Zhou Zhi and his eight hundred troops had mingled with the southern troops and entered the city undetected. Once inside, they started fires on the walls. Alarmed, Sun Xin cried, “Has the enemy flown across the river?” Xin began to retreat when Zhou Zhi charged towards him. Zhou shouted once and hacked Sun Xin from his mount.
Lu Jing died in the battle and Wu Yan retreated from Jiangling. However, he was captured and brought before Du Yu in bonds, who said, “What’s the good of sparing him?” Thus Wu Yan was executed.
Du Yu’s power was felt everywhere, and many cities and towns surrendered, their governors bearing their credentials and bowing before the might of Jin. Du Yu authorized his men to reassure the populations of these areas and to avoid even the slightest encroachment on their interests. Wuchang was the next to fall before the onslaught of the Jin forces.
Du Yu then gathered all his commanders together at a grand conference to discuss the taking of the Wu capital, Jianye. Hu Fen said, “Rebels for a hundred years are unlikely to submit fully. Now the spring floods are at their highest, maybe we should halt until next spring. We cannot stay here for long with these floods.”
Du Yu replied, “In ancient times, Yue Yi annexed the kingdom of Qi in one great battle at Jixi. Now when our might is feared by all, we can take the south as easily as a knife splits bamboo: cut through a few sections, the bamboo comes apart as soon as it meets the blade until there’s nothing left to deal with.” Du Yu circulated a bulletin summoning all commanders to a general attack on Jianye.
Wang Jun forced the surrender of Jianye with the aid of the surrendered Wu general Zhang Xiang. Sun Hao surrendered and the next day Du Yu himself came. He ordered the granaries unsealed to relieve the southern population. He also rewarded the armies lavishly and waited for instruction from Sima Yan. He didn’t have to wait long. He was promoted and rewarded for his great service. Wang Jun was made Commanding General Who Guides the Kingdom for forcing the surrender of the capital.
At court, liege and liege men drank in celebration of the fall of Wu and the reunification of the empire. Clasping a cup of wine, Sima Yan said tearfully, “This is all thanks to Yang Hu. It is a great pity he did not live to see this day. However, I thank him for recommending Du Yu, who made this possible.”
Copyright © 2005 Mike Holmes
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong