Friday, July 24, 2009

The ravages of time

Few years back I tried to read Sun Tzu's 'Art of war'. I lost interest soon after few pages then and didn't bother to finish it. The book was dry then. It was as if I was running through an
instruction manual for a person who has bought a large army on Sunday evening sale and is planning to go at war next morning. I suppose when translated to English all the idioms and one liners (which may sound like a good composition in Chinese) lose their substance. I found the book quite hopeless. Since two years, my opinion remained unscathed and unaltered... until last weekend.

After looking for some new novel to read I was browsing the blogging community for satisfactory recommendations on which book to read. As ever, my favorite genre has been history. I was searching for history and literature when accidentally I stumbled across a blog owned by some American Manga enthusiast. He was encouraging Chinese history aficionados to read a certain Manga(comics) online. I decided to take a peek at the particular Manga. Although Naruto is my favorite, I wasn't exactly in a mood to pick a Manga for reading as a substitute for a history novel.

But nevertheless I went to the link out of curiosity. After reading the first chapter, I went one to read all the volumes in one week. It wasn't just some stupid manga, but rather a historical epic based on chinese history, and most importantly Sun Tzu's Art of War and its practical approach utilized by ancient chinese warlords in crafting havoc. I know all about people's perspective about Mangas. Most of them are based on fantasies and science fiction. However, unlike the traditional Manga this particular one was worth an year of history lessons in school.

The Ravages of time

The story is a spin off based on the events during the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China, when the Han dynasty was at the stage of culmination, narrowly clinging on to power. Three
kingdoms(Wei, Shu and Wu) distinctly surfaced to dominion out of the chaos of civil war which batterd the land. The story describes all the major battles during the times. Battles fought with
unparalleled deception and trickery rather than sheer strength, enriched with stratagem of superhuman subtlety. In those times, most of the successful generals followed Sun Tzu teachings on war tactics, which could all be summed up into a one liner... 'Let your enemies know your next move'.

The manga depicts all the prominent characters in history, like Dong Zhao, who appears in the story as a power hungry tyrant at the helm of the declining Han Dynasty; Lu Bu, the bloodthirsty warrior whose fame is analogous to the Greek Achilles; Lui Bei, a common thief who becomes a governor, and of course, Cao Cao who ultimately puts a full stop to Han Dynasty. The yellow scarf rebellion and Gaundong army's advance are wonderfully depicted in pictures. Even the burning of Luoyang (the Chinese capital) is employed by the author to shape the events in style.

However, rather than a straightforward storyline, the tale describes the events from the perspective of the primary protagonist, Sima Li, the head of the Sima clan and one of the key
players in the three kingdoms period (who eventually established his rule over the kingdom of Wei), and Liaoyuan Hou (a military general) who is portrayed in the Manga as a leader of an
assassination team working for the Sima clan.

Sima Li is an ultimate tactician and businessman who, through the means of Hou and his team of assassins, deliberately interferes in the plans of both Han dynasty and Guandong army by masterminding assassinations, setting up prisoner escapes, and surprise attacks to bring about a deus ex machina in major battles which ultimately serves the purpose of the Sima family's business in trading commodities across the country. By his machinations, Sima clan accrues vast fortunes.

Sima Li and Liaoyuan Hou

The story begins with an artistic scheme for the assassination of Xu Lin (Han dynasty's chief military adviser) to cut the advances of Dong Zhao's expansionist policy. The assassination itself is accomplished at the hands of Huo and his assassins. It sets the entire story in motion and war follows. Throughout the series, Sima Yi and Liaoyuan Huo along with his assassins are frequently the catalyst of the historical events presented in the story. They are involved in the downfall of Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao's rise to power, Battle of Xu Zhou, Battle of Puyang, etc. Their involvement it a common thread which runs through the narrative.

Liaoyuan Huo and his party of assassins

Although the primary subject is war, the story focuses on minor intelligence plots and assassination strategies. It describes all those subtle details and little events which bear a major impact on the outcome of battles. Sun Tzu's art of war is throughly applied in the manga in major battles with each verse being employed in some or the other chapter and explained accordingly. Its a must read for war history enthusiasts.

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.