Zhuge Liang, also known as Kong Ming, lived from 181 to 234 A.D., during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He was born in what is now Shandong Province. Zhuge Liang was a brilliant statesman, and was considered the greatest military strategist of his era.
He was Liu Bei’s chief military adviser, and was later appointed prime minister of the Shu state after the Three Kingdoms were established. Zhuge Liang is often depicted wearing the traditional outfit of a Daoist priest and carrying a goose feather fan in one hand.
His reputation as a gifted intellectual living in seclusion earned him the nickname, “Crouching Dragon or “Wolong” in Chinese. According to historical accounts, Liu Bei visited Zhuge Liang’s humble thatched cottage three times seeking his help. On the third visit, Zhuge Liang agreed to help Liu Bei’s attempt to restore the Han Dynasty.
Zhuge Liang was also a musician, an accomplished scholar, a visionary, and a creative inventor. According historical texts, Zhuge Liang invented the land mine, an automatic transport wagon similar to the wheelbarrow, and also the repeating semi-automatic bow called the “Zhuge crossbow,” which could shoot farther and faster.
It was believed that Zhuge Liang invented the Sky or Kongming lantern. He created the lanterns when General Sima Yi of the Wei state trapped him in Pingyang. After reading the message on the lantern, neighboring troops came to his help.
One legend has it that Zhuge Liang invented the Chinese steamed bun, or “mantou” — which means barbarian’s head. He conceived the mantou after a battle against Meng Huo, the barbarian king, in the southern region of China.
Zhuge Liang and the Shu army had to cross a dangerous, swift-flowing river. He was advised that he needed to offer the heads of 50 men to appease the river spirit. But Zhuge Liang did not want to sacrifice any human life.
He killed some cows and horses instead, placed the meat inside the steamed buns — shaped roughly like human heads — and threw the buns into the river. Hence, he called the steamed buns “mantou.”
It was believed that Zhuge Liang created the rock formation called the Stone Sentinel Maze using the ancient Chinese theory of the Eight Trigrams (Bagua). Many took this formation as supernormal.
Zhuge Liang was believed to have supernormal powers because of his abilities to harmonize with natural forces and to come up with creative solutions in the midst of danger. He excelled in the reading of the ancient Daoist I-Ching (Book of Changes).
He created the Eight Dispositions battle tactics or army formations — based on his understanding of the I-Ching and the Bagua. The legendary stories of Zhuge Liang charmed many Chinese, who respected him like a god.
This was more so after a Ming Dynasty writer, Luo Guanzhong, published the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Today, Zhuge Liang’s military prowess, loyalty, and devoted service to Liu Bei have been immortalized — in literary works, such as books, poetry, songs, movies, and even video games.
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