Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions

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Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions
Part of the wars of the Three Kingdoms period

An illustration of the Northern Expeditions from a Qing dynasty edition of the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Datec. February 228 – October 234
Result Cao Wei strategic victory
Shu Han tactical victory, overall expedition failure
Cao Wei Shu Han
Qiang people
Xianbei people
Commanders and leaders
Cao Rui
Cao Zhen
Sima Yi
Zhang He 
Hao Zhao
Wang Shuang 
Guo Huai
Fei Yao
Dai Ling
Niu Jin
Jia Si
Wei Ping
Xin Pi
Xiahou Mao
Qin Lang
Liu Shan
Zhuge Liang
Wei Yan Executed(attempted to revolt)
Zhao Yun
Deng Zhi
Ma Su  Executed
Chen Shi
Wang Ping
Wu Yi
Wu Ban
Gao Xiang
Yang Yi
Jiang Wei
Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions
Traditional Chinese諸葛亮北伐
Simplified Chinese诸葛亮北伐
Six campaigns from Mount Qi

Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions were a series of five military campaigns launched by the state of Shu Han against the rival state of Cao Wei from 228 to 234 during the Three Kingdoms period in China. All five expeditions were led by Zhuge Liang, the Imperial Chancellor and regent of Shu. Although they proved unsuccessful and ended up as a stalemate, the expeditions have become some of the best known conflicts of the Three Kingdoms period and one of the few battles during it where each side (Shu and Wei) fought against each other with hundreds of thousands of troops, as opposed to other battles where one side had a huge numerical advantage.

The expeditions are dramatised and romanticised in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where they are referred to as the "six campaigns from Mount Qi" (六出祁山). This term is inaccurate, since Zhuge Liang only launched two of his expeditions (the first and the fourth) from Mount Qi.


The Longzhong Plan

In 220, following the end of the Han dynasty, China was divided into three competing regimes – Cao Wei (or Wei), Shu Han (or Shu) and Eastern Wu (or Wu) – with each of them trying to unify the country under its rule.

In Shu, the strategic thinking behind the Northern Expeditions came from Zhuge Liang's Longzhong Plan, which he presented to the warlord Liu Bei in 207. In essence, the plan envisaged a tripartite division of China between the domains of the warlords Liu Bei, Cao Cao and Sun Quan. According to the plan, Liu Bei would seize control of Jing Province and Yi Province from their respective governors, Liu Biao and Liu Zhang, and establish a solid foothold in southern and western China. Liu Bei would then form an alliance with Sun Quan, who ruled eastern China, and wage war against Cao Cao, who controlled northern China and the political centre of the Han dynasty in central China. Liu Bei would then lead one army from Yi Province to attack Chang'an via the Qin Mountains and Wei River valley; one of Liu Bei's top generals would lead another army from Jing Province to attack Luoyang.[1]

The first phase of the plan was completed in 214 when Liu Bei gained control of southern Jing Province and Yi Province. Between 217 and 219, Liu Bei launched a campaign to seize control of Hanzhong Commandery, the "northern gateway" into Yi Province, and succeeded in capturing it from Cao Cao's forces. In 219, Liu Bei's general Guan Yu, whom Liu Bei had left in charge of Jing Province, started the Battle of Fancheng against Cao Cao's forces. However, the Sun Quan–Liu Bei alliance ("Sun–Liu alliance"), which Zhuge Liang played an instrumental role in creating, broke down when Sun Quan sent his forces to attack and seize Liu Bei's territories in Jing Province while Guan Yu was away at the Battle of Fancheng. Guan Yu was captured and executed by Sun Quan's forces. Between 221 and 222, Liu Bei started the Battle of Xiaoting/Yiling against Sun Quan in an attempt to retake Jing Province, but failed and suffered a disastrous defeat. After Liu Bei died in 223, his son Liu Shan succeeded him as emperor of Shu, with Zhuge Liang serving as regent. In the same year, Zhuge Liang made peace with Sun Quan's Eastern Wu regime and reestablished the Sun–Liu alliance (now the Wu–Shu alliance) against Wei, the regime established by Cao Cao's son and successor, Cao Pi.

In 227, Zhuge Liang ordered troops from throughout Shu to mobilise and assemble in Hanzhong Commandery in preparation for a large-scale military campaign against Wei. Before leaving, he wrote a memorial, called Chu Shi Biao (literally "memorial on the case to go to war"), and submitted it to Liu Shan. Among other things, the memorial contained Zhuge Liang's reasons for the campaign against Wei and his personal advice to Liu Shan on governance issues.[2] After Liu Shan approved, Zhuge Liang ordered the Shu forces to garrison at Mianyang (沔陽; present-day Mian County, Shaanxi).[3]


Zhuge Liang's plan called for a march north from Hanzhong Commandery (what is now southern Shaanxi province),[4] the main population centre in northern Yi Province. In the third century, Hanzhong Commandery was a sparsely populated area surrounded by wild virgin forest. Its importance lay in its strategic placement in a long and fertile plain along the Han River, between two massive mountain ranges, the Qin Mountains in the north and the Micang Mountains in the south. It was the major administrative centre of the mountainous frontier district between the rich Sichuan Basin in the south and the Wei River valley in the north. The area also afforded access to the dry northwest and the Gansu panhandle.

Geographically, the rugged barrier of the Qin Mountains provided the greatest obstacle to Chang'an. The mountain range consists of a series of parallel ridges, all running slightly south of east, separated by a maze of ramifying valleys whose canyon walls often rise sheer above the valley streams. As a result of local dislocations from earthquakes, the topographical features are extremely complicated. Access from the south was limited to a few mountain routes called "gallery roads". These crossed major passes and were remarkable for their engineering skill and ingenuity. The oldest of these was to the northwest of Hanzhong Commandery and it crossed the San Pass. The Lianyun "Linked Cloud" Road was constructed there to take carriage traffic during the Qin dynasty in the third century BCE. Following the Jialing Valley, the route emerges in the north where the Wei River widens considerably near Chencang (in present-day Baoji, Shaanxi). Another important route was the Baoye route, which transverses the Yegu Pass and ends south of Mei County. A few more minor and difficult routes lay to the east, notably the Ziwu Valley, which leads directly to the south of Chang'an.

Xincheng Rebellion[edit]

Timeline of Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions[5]
Approximate date range Location Event(s)
4 Apr – 2 May 227 Hanzhong, Shaanxi Zhuge Liang moves to Hanzhong in preparation for the first Expedition. He writes the Chu Shi Biao to Liu Shan.
Luoyang, Henan Sun Zi dissuades Cao Rui from sending Wei forces to attack Hanzhong.
2–30 July 227 Nanyang, Henan Sima Yi is put in charge of military affairs in Jing and Yu provinces and stationed at Wancheng.
26 Dec 227 – 23 Mar 228 Northwestern Hubei Xincheng Rebellion: Sima Yi suppresses the rebellion and executes Meng Da. He then goes to Luoyang to meet Cao Rui and returns to Wancheng after that.
23 Feb – 21 May 228 Western Shaanxi and southeastern Gansu First Northern Expedition:
29 May 228 Xi'an, Shaanxi Cao Rui departs Chang'an and returns to Luoyang.
17 Sep – 15 Oct 228 Shucheng County, Anhui Battle of Shiting: Wu forces defeat Wei forces.
14 Dec 228 – 12 Jan 229 Hanzhong, Shaanxi Zhuge Liang allegedly writes a second Chu Shi Biao to Liu Shan.
13 Jan – 10 Feb 229 Chencang District, Baoji, Shaanxi Second Northern Expedition:
  • Siege of Chencang: Hao Zhao successfully defends Chencang from Zhuge Liang's attacks.
  • Zhuge Liang retreats when his army runs out of supplies.
11 Feb – 10 May 229 Longnan, Gansu Third Northern Expedition:
28 Jul – 26 Aug 230 Luoyang, Henan Ziwu Campaign: Cao Zhen convinces Cao Rui to launch a large-scale invasion of Shu. Cao Rui orders Sima Yi to lead an army from Jing Province and link up with Cao Zhen's army at Hanzhong.
27 Aug – 24 Sep 230 Hanzhong, Shaanxi Zhuge Liang orders Li Yan to lead 20,000 troops to reinforce Hanzhong. The Wei invasion forces cannot pass through the Xie Valley as the gallery roads leading into Shu have been damaged by heavy rainfall over a period of more than 30 days.
27 Aug – 24 Oct 230 Wushan County, Gansu Battle of Yangxi: Wei Yan defeats Guo Huai and Fei Yao in battle.[6]
25 Sep – 24 Oct 230 Xuchang, Henan Cao Rui orders the Wei invasion forces to abort their mission and return to base.
21 Mar – 15 Aug 231 Southeastern Gansu Fourth Northern Expedition:
  • Cao Zhen dies sometime between 20 Apr and 18 May.
  • Battle of Mount Qi: Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi engage in battle near Shanggui County and at Lucheng.
  • 17 July – 15 Aug: Zhuge Liang orders a retreat when his army runs out of supplies. Zhang He is killed in an ambush.
18 Mar – 10 Oct 234 Shaanxi Fifth Northern Expedition:

Meng Da, a former Shu general who defected to Wei in 220, served as the Administrator of Xincheng Commandery (新城郡; in present-day northwestern Hubei) near Shu's northeastern border. Zhuge Liang hated Meng Da for his capricious behaviour and worried that he would become a threat to Shu.[7] Around 227, when he heard that Meng Da had a quarrel with his colleague Shen Yi (申儀), he sent spies to stir up greater suspicions between them and spread news that Meng Da was plotting a rebellion against Wei. Meng Da became fearful and decided to rebel.[8] However, he was stuck in a dilemma after receiving a letter from the Wei general Sima Yi, who was stationed at Wancheng. In the meantime, Sima Yi quickly assembled an army, headed towards Xincheng, and reached there within eight days.[9]

Wei's rival states, Shu and Wu, sent forces to support Meng Da, but were defeated and driven back by Wei forces led by Sima Yi's subordinates.[10] Sima Yi ordered his troops to surround Shangyong (上庸), Meng Da's base, and attack from eight directions. At the same time, he also successfully induced Meng Da's nephew Deng Xian (鄧賢) and subordinate Li Fu (李輔) to betray Meng Da. After 16 days of siege, Deng Xian and Li Fu opened Shangyong's gates and surrendered to Sima Yi. Meng Da was captured and executed.[11][12][13] Sima Yi and his troops headed back to Wancheng after suppressing the rebellion.[14] He then went to the Wei capital, Luoyang, to report to the Wei emperor Cao Rui and returned to Wancheng after that.[15]

First expedition[edit]

Map showing the first and second Northern Expeditions

In the spring of 228, Zhuge Liang launched the first Northern Expedition and led the Shu forces to Mount Qi (祁山; the mountainous regions around present-day Li County, Gansu). At the same time, he ordered Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi to lead a decoy force to Ji Valley (箕谷) and pretend to be ready to attack Mei County, so as to divert the Wei forces' attention away from Mount Qi. News of the Shu invasion sent shock waves throughout the Guanzhong region. Three Wei-controlled commanderies – Nan'an (南安), Tianshui and Anding (安定) – defected to the Shu side.[16]

In response to the Shu invasion, Cao Rui moved from Luoyang to Chang'an to oversee the defences and provide backup. He ordered Zhang He to attack Zhuge Liang at Mount Qi, and Cao Zhen to attack Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi at Ji Valley.[17] Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi lost the Battle of Ji Valley because their decoy force, composed of the weaker soldiers in the Shu army, were no match for Cao Zhen and his well-trained troops. (Zhuge Liang had reserved the better troops for the attack on Mount Qi.) In the meantime, Zhuge Liang sent Ma Su to lead the vanguard force to engage Zhang He at Jieting (街亭; located east of present-day Qin'an County, Gansu). Ma Su not only disobeyed Zhuge Liang's orders, but also made the wrong moves, resulting in the Shu vanguard suffering a disastrous defeat. After his victory at the Battle of Jieting, Zhang He seized the opportunity to attack and recapture the three commanderies.[18][19]

Upon learning of the Shu defeats at Ji Valley and Jieting, Zhuge Liang pulled back all his forces and retreated to Hanzhong. Although the first Northern Expedition was an overall failure, Zhuge Liang still made some small gains for Shu. The first gain was the capture of some Wei civilian families, who were then registered as Shu citizens and resettled in Hanzhong. The second gain was the defection of Jiang Wei, a low-ranking Wei officer who later became a prominent Shu general. After returning to Hanzhong, Zhuge Liang executed Ma Su to appease public anger[20] and then wrote a memorial to Liu Shan, taking full responsibility for the failure of the first Northern Expedition and requesting to be punished by demotion.[21] Liu Shan approved and symbolically demoted Zhuge Liang from Imperial Chancellor (丞相) to General of the Right (右將軍), but allowed him to remain as acting Imperial Chancellor.[22]

Second expedition[edit]

In the winter of 228–229, Zhuge Liang launched the second Northern Expedition and led Shu forces to attack the Wei fortress at Chencang via San Pass. When he showed up at Chencang, he was surprised to see that it was much more heavily fortified and well-defended than he expected. That was because after the first Northern Expedition, the Wei general Cao Zhen had predicted that Shu forces would attack Chencang the next time, so he put Hao Zhao in charge of defending Chencang and strengthening its defences.[23][24]

Zhuge Liang first ordered his troops to surround Chencang, then sent Jin Xiang (靳詳), an old friend of Hao Zhao, to persuade Hao Zhao to surrender. Hao Zhao refused twice.[25] Although Hao Zhao had only 1,000 men with him to defend Chencang, he successfully held his ground against the Shu forces. During the 20-day-long siege of Chencang, Zhuge Liang used an array of tactics to attack the fortress – siege ladders, battering rams, siege towers and tunnels – but Hao Zhao successfully countered each of them in turn.[26] Upon learning that Wei reinforcements were approaching Chencang, Zhuge Liang immediately pulled back all his troops and returned to Hanzhong.[27] A Wei officer, Wang Shuang, led his men to attack the retreating Shu forces, but was killed in an ambush.[28]

Third expedition[edit]

Map showing the Battle of Jianwei

In the spring of 229, Zhuge Liang launched the third Northern Expedition and ordered Chen Shi to lead Shu forces to attack the Wei-controlled Wudu (武都) and Yinping (陰平) commanderies. The Wei general Guo Huai led his troops to resist Chen Shi. He retreated after Zhuge Liang led a Shu army to Jianwei (建威; in present-day Longnan, Gansu). The Shu forces then conquered Wudu and Yinping commanderies.[29][30]

When Zhuge Liang returned from the campaign, the Shu emperor Liu Shan issued an imperial decree to congratulate him on his successes in defeating Wang Shuang during the second Northern Expedition, forcing Guo Huai to flee, winning back the trust of the local tribes and capturing Wudu and Yinping commanderies during the third Northern Expedition. He also restored Zhuge Liang to the position of Imperial Chancellor (丞相).[30][31]

Ziwu Campaign[edit]

In August 230,[30] Cao Zhen led an army from Chang'an to attack Shu via the Ziwu Valley (子午谷). At the same time, another Wei army led by Sima Yi, acting on Cao Rui's order, advanced towards Shu from Jing Province by sailing along the Han River. The rendezvous point for Cao Zhen and Sima Yi's armies was at Nanzheng County (南鄭縣; in present-day Hanzhong, Shaanxi). Other Wei armies also prepared to attack Shu from the Xie Valley (斜谷) or Wuwei Commandery.[32]

When he heard of Wei recent movements, Zhuge Liang urged Li Yan to lead 20,000 troops to Hanzhong Commandery to defend against the Wei invasion which he reluctantly accepted after much persuasion.[33] As Xiahou Ba led the vanguard of this expedition through the 330 km Ziwu Trail (子午道), he was identified by the local residents who reported his presence to the Shu forces. Xiahou Ba barely managed to retreat after reinforcements from the main army arrived.[34]

Zhuge Liang also allowed Wei Yan to lead troops behind the ennemy lines towards Yangxi (陽谿; southwest of present-day Wushan County, Gansu) to encourage the Qiang people to join Shu Han against Wei. Wei Yan greatly defeated Wei forces led by Guo Huai and Fei Yao.[35] Following those events, the conflict became a prolonged stalemate with few skirmishes. After more than a month of slow progress and by fear of significant losses and waste of resources, more and more Wei officials sent memorials to end the campaign. The situation wasn't helped by the difficult topography and constant heavy rainy weather lasting more than 30 days. Cao Rui decided to abort the campaign and recalled the officers by October 230.[30][36]

Fourth expedition[edit]

Map showing the Battle of Mount Qi and Battle of Wuzhang Plains

In 231,[37] Zhuge Liang launched the fourth Northern Expedition and attacked Mount Qi again. He used the wooden ox, a mechanical device he invented, to transport food supplies to the frontline.[38] The Shu forces attacked Tianshui Commandery and surrounded Mount Qi, which was defended by the Wei officers Jia Si (賈嗣) and Wei Ping (魏平).[39] At Mount Qi, Zhuge Liang managed to convince Kebineng, a Xianbei tribal leader, to support Shu in the war against Wei. Kebineng went to Beidi Commandery and rallied the locals to support Shu.[40]

At the time, as Cao Zhen, the Wei grand marshal, was ill, the Wei emperor Cao Rui ordered the general Sima Yi to move to Chang'an to supervise the Wei defences in the Guanzhong region against the Shu invasion. After making preparations for battle, Sima Yi, with Zhang He, Fei Yao, Dai Ling (戴陵) and Guo Huai serving as his subordinates, led Wei forces to Yumi County (隃麋縣; east of present-day Qianyang County, Shaanxi) and stationed there.[41] He then left Fei Yao and Dai Ling with 4,000 troops to guard Shanggui County (上邽縣; in present-day Tianshui, Gansu), while he led the others to Mount Qi to help Jia Si and Wei Ping.[42]

When Zhuge Liang learnt of the Wei forces' approach, he split his forces into two groups – one group to remain at Mount Qi while he led the other group to attack Shanggui County. He defeated Guo Huai, Fei Yao and Dai Ling in battle and ordered his troops to collect the harvest in Shanggui County. In response, Sima Yi turned back from Mount Qi, headed to Shanggui County, and reached there within two days. By then, Zhuge Liang and his men had finished harvesting the wheat and were preparing to leave.[43] Zhuge Liang encountered Sima Yi at Hanyang (漢陽) to the east of Shanggui County, but they did not engage in battle: Zhuge Liang ordered his troops to make use of the terrain and get into defensive positions; Sima Yi ordered his troops to get into formation, while sending Niu Jin to lead a lightly armed cavalry detachment to Mount Qi. The stand off ended when Zhuge Liang and the Shu forces retreated to Lucheng (鹵城), took control of the hills in the north and south, and used the river as a natural barrier.[44][45]

Although his subordinates repeatedly urged him to attack the enemy, Sima Yi was hesitant to do so after seeing the layout of the Shu camps in the hills. However, he eventually relented when Jia Si and Wei Ping mocked him and said he would become a laughing stock if he refused to attack.[46] Sima Yi then sent Zhang He to attack the Shu camp in the south, guarded by Wang Ping, while he led the others to attack Lucheng head-on.[47] In response, Zhuge Liang ordered Wei Yan, Wu Ban and Gao Xiang to resist the enemy outside Lucheng, where the Wei forces suffered an unexpected and tremendous defeat: 3,000 soldiers were killed, and 5,000 suits of armour and 3,100 sets of hornbeam crossbows were seized by Shu forces.[48] Even though the losses were heavy, Sima Yi still retained a sizeable army, which he led back to his camp.

Despite the victory, Zhuge Liang could not press his advantage with a major offensive due to a dwindling food supply. Adverse weather prevented Shu's logistics from delivering matériel on schedule. Li Yan, the Shu general responsible for overseeing the transportation of food supplies to the frontline, falsely claimed that the emperor Liu Shan had ordered a withdrawal. The Book of Jin claimed that Sima Yi launched an attack on Shu garrisons at this juncture and succeeded in capturing the Shu "covering camps". Zhuge Liang abandoned Lucheng and retreated under the cover of night, but Sima Yi pursued him and inflicted roughly 10,000 casualties on the Shu army.[49] This account from the Book of Jin is disputed by historians[50][51] and is not included in the 11th-century outstanding chronological historical text Zizhi Tongjian.[52]

In any case, according to Records of the Three Kingdoms and Zizhi Tongjian, Zhuge Liang retreated to the Shu, because of lack of supply, not defeat.[53][54] and the Wei forces pursued him. The pursuit did not go completely smoothly for Wei. Sima Yi ordered Zhang He to further pursue the enemy in an attempt to capitalise on their momentum. The Weilüe mentioned that Zhang He refused to obey Sima Yi's order and argued that, according to classical military doctrine, one should refrain from pursuing an enemy force retreating to its home territory. However, Sima Yi refused to listen and forced Zhang He to carry out this order. Indeed, Zhang He fell into an ambush at Mumen Trail (木門道; near present-day Qinzhou District, Tianshui, Gansu), where Zhuge Liang had ordered crossbowmen to hide on high ground and fire at approaching enemy forces when they entered a narrow defile. Zhang He died after a stray arrow hit him in the right knee. Unlike book of Jin records, Wei's army suffered a great deal of damage from pursuing Shu's retreating army.[55]

Fifth expedition[edit]

In the spring of 234, Zhuge Liang led more than 100,000 Shu troops out of Xie Valley (斜谷) and camped at the Wuzhang Plains on the south bank of the Wei River near Mei County. Aside from using the flowing horse to transport food supplies to the frontline, he implemented a tuntian plan by ordering his troops to grow crops alongside civilians at the south bank of the Wei River. He also forbid his troops from taking the civilians' crops.[56][57]

In response to the Shu invasion, the Wei general Sima Yi led his forces and another 20,000 reinforcements to the Wuzhang Plains to engage the enemy. After an initial skirmish[58] and a night raid on the Shu camp,[59] Sima Yi received orders from the Wei emperor Cao Rui to hold his ground and refrain from engaging the Shu forces. The battle became a stalemate. During this time, Zhuge Liang made several attempts to lure Sima Yi to attack him. On one occasion, he sent women's ornaments to Sima Yi to taunt him. An apparently angry Sima Yi sought permission from Cao Rui to attack the enemy but was denied. Cao Rui even sent Xin Pi as his special representative to the frontline to ensure that Sima Yi followed orders and remained in camp. Zhuge Liang knew that Sima Yi was pretending to be angry because he wanted to show the Wei soldiers that he would not put up with Zhuge Liang's taunting and to ensure that his men were ready for battle.[60][61]

During the stalemate, when Zhuge Liang sent a messenger to meet Sima Yi, Sima Yi asked the messenger about Zhuge Liang's daily routine and living conditions. The messenger said that Zhuge Liang consumed three to four sheng of grain a day and that he micromanaged almost everything, except trivial issues like punishments for minor offences. After hearing that, Sima Yi remarked, "How can Zhuge Kongming expect to last long? He's going to die soon."[62][63]

The stalemate at the Wuzhang Plains lasted for over 100 days.[64] Sometime between 11 September and 10 October 234,[a] Zhuge Liang became critically ill and died in camp. He was 54 (by East Asian age reckoning) at the time of his death.[65]

When Sima Yi heard from civilians that Zhuge Liang had died from illness and that the Shu army had burnt down their camp and retreated, he led his troops in pursuit and caught up with them. The Shu forces, on Yang Yi and Jiang Wei's command, turned around and readied themselves for battle. Sima Yi pulled back his troops and retreated. Some days later, while surveying the remains of the Shu camp, Sima Yi remarked, "What a genius he was!"[66] Based on his observations that the Shu army made a hasty retreat, he concluded that Zhuge Liang had indeed died and so he led his troops in pursuit again. When Sima Yi reached Chi'an (赤岸), he asked the civilians living there about Zhuge Liang and heard that there was a recent popular saying: "A dead Zhuge (Liang) scares away a living Zhongda[b]" He laughed and said, "I can predict the thoughts of the living but I can't predict those of the dead."[67][68]


Zhuge Liang's expeditions managed to inflict damage to the Wei army, killed several notable Wei commanders, and captured two small commanderies, but he failed to fulfil his strategic goal. After Zhuge Liang's death, his successor, Jiang Wan, changed the policy and turned to a defensive stance. Some people in Eastern Wu suspected that Shu Han wanted to renege on the Shu-Wu alliance, but Sun Quan commented that it was simply a sign of fatigue and exhaustion.

Yi Zhongtian listed three reasons for Zhuge Liang's failures:[69]

  1. Strong enemy: Cao Wei regime was robust and stable and had many talents (such as Sima Yi) and so could not be easily tackled by Shu Han.
  2. Rough terrain: Cao Wei and Shu Han were separated by natural barriers, which put extremely heavy logistical burdens on the Shu Han army including providing adequate food supply. This was a key reason for the failure of the expeditions.
  3. Zhuge Liang's own limitations: Zhuge Liang was an excellent military organizer but not an outstanding military commander. Zhuge Liang lacked the cleverness and decisiveness of a military general since he could properly lead an army but could not conduct complex and deceptive moves.

Yi Zhongtian argued that Zhuge Liang knew full well of all of the difficulties, including his own weaknesses, but Liang still pressed on with the Northern Expeditions for three reasons:[69]

  1. Han restoration: Zhuge Liang was sincere and faithful to his goal of restoring the Han dynasty. He could change the tactics depended on the situation but never deviated from his ultimate goal.
  2. Waging war for internal stability: The expeditions also served as a means to maintain the "state of war" and hence "martial rule" over Shu Han. Zhuge Liang wanted to use "martial rule" to tighten control over the local nobility and the privileged classes, which were not always happy with Zhuge Liang's legalist policies.
  3. Pre-emptive strike: Being the weakest of the three kingdoms, Shu Han would be the first one to be preyed upon. The only solution for that was making pre-emptive strikes to intimidate the enemy and to enlarge Shu Han's own power base. The pre-emptive moves did not guarantee a 100% success rate, but the option was better than doing nothing and withering away

In other words, Shu Han's relentless attacks against stronger enemy were from Zhuge Liang's point of view actually necessary for its own survival. Zhuge Liang was praised for being far-sighted in recognising this issue.[69]

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

The Northern Expeditions in the novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" are heavily fictionalized and romanticized.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Sanguozhi recorded that Zhuge Liang fell sick and died in the 8th lunar month of the 12th year of the Jianxing era in Liu Shan's reign.[65] This month corresponds to 11 September to 10 October 234 in the Gregorian calendar.
  2. ^ "Zhongda" was Sima Yi's courtesy name.


  1. ^ (亮荅曰:「自董卓已來,豪傑並起,跨州連郡者不可勝數。 ... 誠如是,則霸業可成,漢室可興矣。」) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  2. ^ [建興]五年,率諸軍北駐漢中,臨發,上疏曰:先帝創業未半, ... 不知所言。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  3. ^ (遂行,屯于沔陽。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  4. ^ Killigrew, John (1999-06-01). "Zhuge Liang and the Northern Campaign of 228–234". Early Medieval China. 1999 (1): 55–91. doi:10.1179/152991099788199472. ISSN 1529-9104.
  5. ^ Sima (1084), vols. 70–72.
  6. ^ (八年,使延西入羌中,魏後將軍費瑤、雍州刺史郭淮與延戰于陽谿,延大破淮等, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  7. ^ (蜀相諸葛亮惡其反覆,又慮其為患。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  8. ^ (諸葛亮聞之,陰欲誘達,數書招之,達與相報答。魏興太守申儀與達有隙,密表達與蜀潛通,帝未之信也。司馬宣王遣參軍梁幾察之,又勸其入朝。達驚懼,遂反。) Weilüe annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  9. ^ (帝恐達速發, ... 達得書大喜,猶與不決。帝乃潛軍進討。諸將言達與二賊交構,宜觀望而後動。帝曰:「達無信義,此其相疑之時也,當及其未定促決之。」乃倍道兼行,八日到其城下。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  10. ^ (吳蜀各遣其將向西城安橋、木闌塞以救達,帝分諸將以距之。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  11. ^ (上庸城三面阻水,達於城外為木柵以自固。帝渡水,破其柵,直造城下。八道攻之,旬有六日,達甥鄧賢、將李輔等開門出降。斬達,傳首京師。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  12. ^ (二年春正月,宣王攻破新城,斬達,傳其首。) Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  13. ^ (魏略曰:宣王誘達將李輔及達甥鄧賢,賢等開門納軍。達被圍旬有六日而敗,焚其首於洛陽四達之衢。) Weilüe annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  14. ^ (俘獲萬餘人,振旅還于宛。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  15. ^ (... 歸于京師。 ... 屬帝朝于京師,天子訪之於帝。 ... 天子並然之,復命帝屯于宛。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  16. ^ ([建興]六年春,揚聲由斜谷道取郿,使趙雲、鄧芝為疑軍,據箕谷,魏大將軍曹真舉衆拒之。亮身率諸軍攻祁山,戎陣整齊,賞罰肅而號令明,南安、天水、安定三郡叛魏應亮,關中響震。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  17. ^ ([建興]五年,隨諸葛亮駐漢中。明年,亮出軍,揚聲由斜谷道,曹真遣大衆當之。亮令雲與鄧芝往拒,而身攻祁山。雲、芝兵弱敵彊,失利於箕谷,然歛衆固守,不至大敗。) Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  18. ^ (諸葛亮出祁山。加郃位特進,遣督諸軍,拒亮將馬謖於街亭。謖依阻南山,不下據城。郃絕其汲道,擊,大破之。南安、天水、安定郡反應亮,郃皆破平之。) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  19. ^ (亮使馬謖督諸軍在前,與郃戰于街亭。謖違亮節度,舉動失宜,大為郃所破。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  20. ^ (亮拔西縣千餘家,還于漢中,戮謖以謝衆。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  21. ^ (上疏曰:「臣以弱才,叨竊非據,親秉旄鉞以厲三軍,不能訓章明法,臨事而懼,至有街亭違命之闕,箕谷不戒之失,咎皆在臣授任無方。臣明不知人,恤事多闇,春秋責帥,臣職是當。請自貶三等,以督厥咎。」) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  22. ^ (於是以亮為右將軍,行丞相事,所總統如前。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  23. ^ (真以亮懲於祁山,後出必從陳倉,乃使將軍郝昭、王生守陳倉,治其城。明年春,亮果圍陳倉,已有備而不能克。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  24. ^ (大和中,魏遣將軍郝昭築城陳倉城。適訖,㑹諸葛亮來攻。亮本聞陳倉城惡,及至,怪其整頓,聞知昭在其中,大驚愕。) Taiping Huanyu Ji vol. 30.
  25. ^ (亮圍陳倉,使昭鄉人靳詳於城外遙說之, ... 詳以昭語告亮,亮又使詳重說昭,言人兵不敵,無為空自破滅。 ... 詳乃去。). Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  26. ^ (亮自以有眾數萬,而昭兵才千餘人,又度東救未能便到,乃進兵攻昭,起雲梯衝車以臨城。昭於是以火箭逆射其雲梯,梯然,梯上人皆燒死。昭又以繩連石磨壓其衝車,衝車折。亮乃更為井闌百尺以付城中,以土丸填壍,欲直攀城,昭又於內築重牆。亮足為城突,欲踊出於城裏,昭又於城內穿地橫截之。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  27. ^ (晝夜相攻拒二十餘日,亮無計,救至,引退。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 3.
  28. ^ (冬,亮復出散關,圍陳倉,曹真拒之,亮糧盡而還。魏將王雙率騎追亮,亮與戰,破之,斬雙。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  29. ^ ([建興]七年,亮遣陳戒攻武都、陰平。魏雍州刺史郭淮率衆欲擊戒,亮自出至建威,淮退還,遂平二郡。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  30. ^ a b c d Sima (1084), vol. 71.
  31. ^ (詔策亮曰:「街亭之役,咎由馬謖,而君引愆,深自貶抑,重違君意,聽順所守。前年耀師,馘斬王雙;今歲爰征,郭淮遁走;降集氐、羌,興復二郡,威鎮凶暴,功勳顯然。方今天下騷擾,元惡未梟,君受大任,幹國之重,而乆自挹損,非所以光揚洪烈矣。今復君丞相,君其勿辭。」) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  32. ^ (真以八月發長安,從子午道南入。司馬宣王泝漢水,當會南鄭。諸軍或從斜谷道,或從武威入。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  33. ^ (八年,迁骠骑将军。以曹真欲三道向汉川,亮命严将二万人赴汉中。亮表严子丰为江州都督督军,典为后事。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  34. ^ (黃初中為偏將軍。子午之役,霸召為前鋒,進至興勢圍,安營在曲谷中。蜀人望知其是霸也,指下兵攻之。霸手戰鹿角間,賴救至,然後解。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  35. ^ (八年,使延西入羌中,魏後將軍費瑤、雍州刺史郭淮與延戰于陽谿,延大破淮等,遷為前軍師征西大將軍,假節,進封南鄭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  36. ^ (會大霖雨三十餘日,或棧道斷絕,詔真還軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  37. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 72.
  38. ^ ([建興]九年,亮復出祁山,以木牛運, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  39. ^ (明年,諸葛亮寇天水,圍將軍賈嗣、魏平於祁山。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  40. ^ (漢晉春秋曰:亮圍祁山,招鮮卑軻比能,比能等至故北地石城以應亮。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  41. ^ (乃使帝西屯長安,都督雍、梁二州諸軍事,統車騎將軍張郃、後將軍費曜、征蜀護軍戴淩、雍州刺史郭淮等討亮。 ... 遂進軍隃麋。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  42. ^ (於是魏大司馬曹真有疾,司馬宣王自荊州入朝, ... 乃使西屯長安,督張郃、費曜、戴陵、郭淮等。宣王使曜、陵留精兵四千守上邽,餘衆悉出,西救祁山。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  43. ^ (亮聞大軍且至,乃自帥衆將芟上邽之麥。 ... 於是卷甲晨夜赴之,亮望塵而遁。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  44. ^ (亮分兵留攻,自逆宣王于上邽。郭淮、費曜等徼亮,亮破之,因大芟刈其麥,與宣王遇于上邽之東,斂兵依險,軍不得交,亮引而還。宣王尋亮至于鹵城。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  45. ^ (進次漢陽,與亮相遇,帝列陣以待之。使將牛金輕騎餌之,兵才接而亮退,追至祁山。亮屯鹵城,據南北二山,斷水為重圍。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  46. ^ (張郃曰:「彼遠來逆我,請戰不得,謂我利在不戰,欲以長計制之也。且祁山知大軍以在近,人情自固,可止屯於此,分為奇兵,示出其後,不宜進前而不敢偪,坐失民望也。今亮縣軍食少,亦行去矣。」宣王不從,故尋亮。旣至,又登山掘營,不肯戰。賈栩、魏平數請戰,因曰:「公畏蜀如虎,柰天下笑何!」宣王病之。諸將咸請戰。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  47. ^ ([建興九年]五月辛巳,乃使張郃攻无當監何平於南圍,自案中道向亮。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  48. ^ (漢晉春秋曰:亮使魏延、高翔、吳班赴拒,大破之,獲甲首三千級,玄鎧五千領,角弩三千一百張,宣王還保營。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  49. ^ (帝攻拔其圍,亮宵遁,追擊破之,俘斬萬計。天子使使者勞軍,增封邑。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  50. ^ (縱其後出,不復攻城,當求野戰,必在隴東,不在西也。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  51. ^ (時宣王等糧亦盡) Huayangguo Zhi vol. 7.
  52. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 72.
  53. ^ (糧盡退軍)Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  54. ^ (六月,亮以糧盡退軍)Zizhi Tongjian vol. 72.
  55. ^ (魏略曰:亮軍退,司馬宣王使郃追之,郃曰:「軍法,圍城必開出路,歸軍勿追。」宣王不聽。郃不得已,遂進。蜀軍乘高布伏,弓弩亂發,矢中郃髀。) Weilüe annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  56. ^ (亮每患糧不繼,使己志不申,是以分兵屯田,為乆駐之基。耕者雜於渭濵居民之間,而百姓安堵,軍無私焉。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  57. ^ ([建興]十二年春,亮悉大衆由斜谷出,以流馬運,據武功五丈原,與司馬宣王對於渭南。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  58. ^ (遣將軍胡遵、雍州剌史郭淮共備陽遂,與亮會于積石。臨原而戰,亮不得進,還于五丈原。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  59. ^ (會有長星墜亮之壘,帝知其必敗,遣奇兵掎亮之後,斬五百餘級,獲生口千餘,降者六百餘人。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  60. ^ (時朝廷以亮僑軍遠寇,利在急戰,每命帝持重,以候其變。亮數挑戰,帝不出,因遺帝巾幗婦人之飾。帝怒,表請決戰,天子不許,乃遣骨鯁臣衞尉辛毗杖節為軍師以制之。) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  61. ^ (漢晉春秋曰:亮自至,數挑戰。宣王亦表固請戰。使衞尉辛毗持節以制之。姜維謂亮曰:「辛佐治仗節而到,賊不復出矣。」亮曰:「彼本無戰情,所以固請戰者,以示武於其衆耳。將在軍,君命有所不受,苟能制吾,豈千里而請戰邪!」) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  62. ^ (先是,亮使至,帝問曰:「諸葛公起居何如,食可幾米?」對曰:「三四升。」次問政事,曰:「二十罰已上皆自省覽。」帝既而告人曰:「諸葛孔明其能久乎!」) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  63. ^ (魏氏春秋曰:亮使至,問其寢食及其事之煩簡,不問戎事。使對曰:「諸葛公夙興夜寐,罰二十以上,皆親擥焉;所噉食不至數升。」宣王曰:「亮將死矣。」) Wei Shi Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  64. ^ (相持百餘日。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  65. ^ a b (其年八月,亮疾病,卒于軍,時年五十四。) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  66. ^ (及軍退,宣王案行其營壘處所,曰:「天下奇才也!」) Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  67. ^ (漢晉春秋曰:楊儀等整軍而出,百姓奔告宣王,宣王追焉。姜維令儀反旗鳴鼓,若將向宣王者,宣王乃退,不敢偪。於是儀結陣而去,入谷然後發喪。宣王之退也,百姓為之諺曰:「死諸葛走生仲達。」或以告宣王,宣王曰:「吾能料生,不便料死也。」) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
  68. ^ (與之對壘百餘日,會亮病卒,諸將燒營遁走,百姓奔告,帝出兵追之。亮長史楊儀反旗鳴皷,若將距帝者。帝以窮寇不之逼,於是楊儀結陣而去。經日,乃行其營壘,觀其遺事,獲其圖書、糧穀甚衆。帝審其必死, ... 追到赤岸,乃知亮死審問。時百姓為之諺曰:「死諸葛走生仲達。」帝聞而笑曰:「吾便料生,不便料死故也。」) Jin Shu vol. 1.
  69. ^ a b c Yi Zhongtian. Analysis of the Three Kingdoms, Vol. 2, Vietnamese translation. Publisher of People's Public Security, 2010. Chapter 41: Attacks for Defenses