Biography (SGYY): Yang Hu (Shuzi)

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Yang Hu (Shuzi)
羊祜 (叔子)
Lived: 2?–278

Sanguo Yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Sam Wrest

Yang Hu (Shuzi)

Yang Hu, styled Shuzi, was a Commander serving the kingdom of Jin. Known as one of Jin’s most talented officers during the later period of the Three Kingdoms era, Hu quickly advanced through the Kingdom’s ranks, and soon became defender of Xiangyang.

As a strategic strongpoint between Jin and the Southland, Xiangyang was the location of occasional border conflicts between the two kingdoms, but Yang Hu maintained a stout defence and always offered amnesty to any surrendering southlander. During his tenure in the city, Hu also had the number of soldiers on patrol reduced, and instead employed them to cultivate some five thousand acres of land surrounding Xiangyang. Consequently, the grain supply for the army, which had previously been no more than a hundred day’s supply, grew to a ten-year supply by the year’s end. When with his troops, Yang Hu wore no armour, preferring instead to sport a simple light fur jacket with a broad belt, and the guard at his tent never exceeded that of ten men. In these ways, Yang Hu gained the confidence of Xiangyang’s populace, and was the subject of much praise and admiration.

In AD 264, Liu Shan of Shu surrendered the Riverlands to Jin, leaving the Kingdom of Wu as the only Kingdom in opposition to Jin. In response to the victory, the south’s ruler, Sun Hao, had Commander Lu Kang station forces at Jiangkou, the primary crossing point to Xiangyang, implying that an attack on the city was forthcoming. Yang Hu soon received an edict from Jin’s ruler, Sima Yan, detailing Hu to lead Jin’s forces against the south. The edict received, Hu immediately had Xiangyang’s forces readied for combat and began preparations for engaging Lu Kang.

One day, a subordinate Commander arrived in Yang Hu’s tent bearing a petition. “Scouts have reported that the Southland soldiers seem lax and lazy,” the officer said. “Since they are unprepared, a surprise attack should defeat them.”

Yang Hu, however, knew Lu Kang (1) to be an able officer, and said with a smile to the subordinate, “Aren’t you and the soldiers underrating Lu Kang? He is a man of high intelligence and productive plans. Some time ago when the ruler of Wu ordered him to attack and seize Xiling, he killed Bu Chan and several score of the defending officers before I could rescue them. (2) If he is the Southland Commander, we can do no better than to defend ourselves and wait for a change in their internal situation before aiming for conquest. If we act recklessly without carefully considering the time and circumstances, we will end up defeated ourselves.”

1: Lu Kang was the son of Lu Xun, a famed tactician who served the Southland during Sun Quan’s reign.
2: Bu Chan, originally an officer of Wu, defected to Jin and submitted the city of Xiling. Lu Kang, however, was promptly ordered to attack Chan following his defection, and succeeded in sacking the city before Yang Hu could come to its defence.

Yang Hu’s Commanders were henceforth reassured by his logic, and stuck to the defence of Xiangyang instead of the offence on Jiangkou.

One day, Yang Hu decided to lead some of his subordinate commanders on a hunt surrounding Xiangyang. While on the hunt, Hu and his party spotted Lu Kang with a similar party hunting just shy of the border between the two forces, but Hu would not allow his soldiers to cross the boundary in a show of respect to his adversary; a courtesy Lu Kang returned. Returning back home after the day’s events, Yang Hu inspected the spoils of the hunt and had an envoy carry all game shot with arrows sent to Lu Kang. The envoy soon returned with reports that Kang had kindly accepted the gift, and in turn had sent a gallon of wine. With a smile, Yang Hu remarked, “He, too, knows my capacity for drink!” and had the wine opened and poured out. However, Chen Yuan, a subordinate Commander, promptly suggested, “There could be something in it. Perhaps the field marshal should wait before drinking it.”

Knowing Lu Kang to be a man completely lacking in deceit, however, Yang Hu replied, “Don’t worry. Lu Kang is no poisoner,” and sipped the wine without worry. Messengers between Yang Hu and Lu Kang soon became commonplace, and the two quickly became friends. (3)

3: On one occasion, Yang Hu learned that Lu Kang was suffering from illness, and sent an envoy to the south’s camp with a tonic he had concocted to cure it. “Yang Hu is an enemy. This medicine cannot be safe,” his officers said. “Yang Hu would not give me tainted drugs,” Lu Kang replied. “Rest assured,” and drank the potion, just as Yang Hu had with the wine, without worry. The next day he was completely cured.

After being stationed in Xiangyang for some time, Yang Hu received word that Wu’s ruler, Sun Hao, had had Lu Kang removed from office and replaced his position at Jiangkou with Sun Ji (4). Years passed after Kang’s removal from office, and Yang Hu observed that Sun Hao’s rule over the Southland had resulted in the kingdom’s steady decay. Hu eventually came to the conclusion that the time to attack the south had come, and sent a petition to the court in Luoyang to authorize an invasion. The text read in part:

4: Sun Hao had ordered Lu Kang to initiate an attack on Yang Hu and Jin, but Kang, knowing that the kingdom could not be successfully subdued, sent a document back to Hao explaining in detail why Jin couldn’t be taken. It also entreated the ruler of the Southland to develop his virtue, apply punishment with great caution, and avoid military adventures for the sake of domestic security. Upon reading the letter, Sun Hao cried, “I have heard that Lu Kang fraternizes with the enemy at the border, and that’s exactly what this means!” Hao then immediately sent an envoy to terminate Lu Kang’s command.
Heaven may ordain, but men must achieve. The Southland’s terrain is far less arduous than the west’s. The tyranny of Sun Hao far exceeds Liu Shan’s. Wu’s people face problems far worse than Shu’s. And Jin is militarily stronger now than ever before. Our reign will not long endure unless we restore order throughout the realm at this critical hour, for to allow the confrontation of armies to go on, taxing the empire with endless campaigns, will quickly lead us from prosperity to ruin.

However, Yang Hu soon learned that his petition had been denied, (5) and Sima Yan had decided not to initiate the invasion of the south. Sighing to himself, Hu said, “How rarely things go one’s way in the world! A Heaven-sent opportunity will pass untaken. What could be more lamentable?”

5: Sima Yan had initially been delighted with Yang Hu’s memorial, and quickly ordered the mobilisation of Jin’s armies. However, Jia Chong, Xin Xu, and Feng Dan all objected strenuously to the attack, and successfully swayed Sima Yan’s decision to attack the south.

With his petition to attack the south rejected, Yang Hu instead continued with the defence of Xiangyang.

While governing Xiangyang, Yang Hu’s health steadily started to decrease, and by AD 278, his condition had worsened to such an extent that he was unfit to carry out the duties of his office. Hu travelled to Jin’s court for an audience with Sima Yan, and requested that he retire to his home village in order to restore his lost health. “Have you any recommendation for the security of our kingdom?” Yan asked.

“Sun Hao’s tyranny has reached the extreme of violence and cruelty,” Yang Hu replied. “He can be conquered without a battle. But if Sun Hao should pass from the scene and a capable sovereign come to the throne, Your Majesty may find the Southland difficult to conquer.”

“Would you be willing to lead the invasion now?” Sima Yan asked.

Yang Hu answered, “I doubt I could undertake the mission. But if your majesty could find someone else—some shrewd, bold warrior—it could be done.”

Not wishing to reveal any names of whom he thought capable of the invasion in court, Yang Hu took leave of Sima Yan and returned to his home village to regain his health.

By the eleventh month of the same year, Yang Hu’s condition had worsened, and he was unable to regain his lost health. A concerned Sima Yan soon personally visited him and, as Yan came to Yang Hu’s sickbed, Hu tearfully said, “Ten thousand deaths could not repay what I owe your majesty.”

Also in tears, Sima Yan said, “How sorely we regret our failure to adopt your plan to invade Wu, for who today can bring your purpose to fulfilment?”

Yang Hu, however, knew who would be capable of the undertaking, and said to Sima Yan, “As death approaches, I must fulfil my humble fealty. Du Yu, General of the Right, is the one to entrust with the task. He is the man to lead the attack on Wu.”

“Recommending the worthy and able is something to be proud of,” Sima Yan replied. “Why did you burn your memorials of recommendation and prevent anyone from learning of them?”

“To recommend someone in open court so that later he could show his gratitude to me privately was something I chose to avoid,” Yang Hu replied. With those words, Yang Hu passed away. The year was AD 278. Sima Yan loudly lamented Yang Hu’s passing, and immediately issued an order posthumously naming Hu imperial guardian and lord of Juping. When the common people of Nanzhou heard of Yang Hu’s death, they closed their markets and mourned for him. Even the soldiers guarding the Southland borders wept and mourned. The people of Xiangyang, knowing that Yang Hu had often enjoyed riding in the Xian Hills, had a temple erected there for him, and sacrificed to his tablet every season. Without exception, those who passed by the grave shed tears, and the stone came to be known as the “Tablet of Falling Tears.” A poet of later times was moved to write these lines in memory of Yang Hu:

A morning climb—the temple—Yang Hu’s moving tale
On old stone shards, one spring in Xian Hills.
The constant fall of dewdrops through the pines—
Are they the tears of those who mourned him then?

Copyright © 2006 Sam Wrest. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms