Cliffs are red, Wei is blue. Don't get too cocky, Or you'll get screwed by Wu and Shu

Image from Wikipedia
by Edward Duncan, "Destroying Chinese war junks", public domain

Background

To begin with, we would like to give some context to the background of the Three Kingdoms period (in case our lyrics seem too abstract). If you hate reading, just skip to the first video where we react to battle scene from the film Red Cliff 2. Do take note of the key figures below.

Key figures:1
Cao Cao (曹操), warlord of the northern state of Wei (魏)
Liu Bei (劉備), warlord of the southern state of Shu (蜀)
Sun Quan (孫權), warlord of the southern state of Wu (吳)
Zhou Yu (周瑜), military general to Sun Quan (孫權)
Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), chancellor and strategist to Liu Bei (劉備)

Throughout ancient Chinese history, many wars and battles were fought. Stories were told, legends were made, and heroes were born. But there is one story that must be told, the battle of the Red Cliffs or also known as battle of Chibi. This battle started in 208 BCE2, and it was one of the major contributing factors for the rise of the Three Kingdoms. This was one of the bloodiest periods in Chinese history. The collapse of dynasty power led to a period of instablity with an estimated death toll of 4.1 million. In light of these conflicts, China underwent major reforms. This time period is significant because the political instablity was soon followed by the downfall of Confucianism which allowed for ideas like taoism and Indian Buddhism that spread throughout China.

To sum things up, the premise of the battle was Shu (蜀) and Wu (吳) forming an alliance with a combined strength of 500,000 men to fight Wei's (魏) massive 800,000 strong army. The alliance planned a two-fold attack on Cao Cao (曹操). First, Zhou Yu (周瑜) asked his officer Huang Gai (黃蓋) to set Cao Cao's (曹操) ships on fire, with dry reeds and wood soaked in oil, under the disguise of sending a false offer to surrender. Secondly, Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) planned to send supplemental fire ships to Cao Cao (曹操) to hit the entirety of his naval fleet and land forces amidst the commencement of the initial fire attack. Once the east wind came, Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) immediately sent out the ships with the wind direction blowing in favour of spreading to the entirety of the Wei (魏) army. When Cao Cao (曹操) realized the full extent of the Coalition force's plans, it was already too late for him to pull off a counter-atack. With both his land and sea army being severely hampered and suffering heavy casualties by the two-pronged fire attack, Cao Cao (曹操) had no choice but to retreat in defeat. 3

  1. Taken from: De Crespigny, R. (2010). Imperial Warlord : A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD. Leiden: Brill.
  2. Taken from: De Crespigny, R. (2010). Imperial Warlord : A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD. Leiden: Brill.
  3. Taken from: De Crespigny, R. (2010). Imperial Warlord : A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD. Leiden: Brill.

Image from Wikipedia
by 玖巧仔, "三国行政区划(简)", CC BY-SA 3.0 (with modifications)

After the fall of the Han Dynasty and the battle of Red Cliffs, a tumultuous age began. Out of the ashes rose Three Kingdoms, set in the period from 220-280 AD. 1

  1. Taken from: Tung, C., & Besio, K. A. (2007). Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press

Just a fun fact: in 1522 CE, author Luo Guanzhong (羅貫中) wrote a novel about this conflict. It was titled “Romance of the Three Kingdoms ” (三國演義). The novel contains many historical anecdotes, mixed with myths and legends, and is considered one of the greatest and most influential literary works known to Chinese literature. An apt comparison of the importance of this novel would be that of Shakespeare’s importance to English literature. This era might not have gained its due popularity and recognition if not for this literary classic. Also do note that many of the events reflected in Luo's original novel were dramatized and not all recorded accounts were completely factual, with some being fictional or overly exaggerated in symbolism and scale. 

Red Cliff 2 clip by usiaoboh from youtube
Red Cliff 2 movie poster by moviexclusive
Introduction music by Anikom15 from youtube

Adapted from "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" by Panic! At The Disco.

 

Lyrics

Pristine waters of serene demeanour
It’s the fragile calm before the storm
Future visions of a battlefield for honour

Looming shadows of a new oppressor
Heaven’s mandate claimed by the sword
The crouching dragon1 advocates a sense of valour

He waves his hand
2 The flags fly high
And our sons fight in his favour
strong and steadfast
Set sail and conquer

Oh set the seas ablaze
Oh he’s lost heaven’s grace
Fled from war3, disgraced

Walls of stone surround us ever higher
North and south face a true divide
Oversight and pride 4 predicates his downfall

The chancellor 5 sits praying for the east wind
Strawmen 6 sail across the bloodied ocean
And with assurance he sets
His plan in motion

He waves his hand
The east wind came
Tides are changing in his favour
The dice is cast
Set sail and conquer

Oh set the seas ablaze
Oh he’s lost heaven’s grace
Fled from war, disgraced

  1. the crouching dragon refers to Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮).
  2. In case you are wondering, "he" here still refers to Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮)
  3. Cao Cao (曹操) was losing the battle after the devious fire attacks, and called for retreat as a result.

    taken from: De Crespigny, R. (2010). Imperial Warlord : A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD. Leiden: Brill.
  4. Cao Cao (曹操) had been winning most of the battles prior to Red Cliff, because he had a large charismatic influence over the people and one of the largest armies. Even though his forces were fatigued from constant fighting and they had no veteran experience in naval warfare, he complacently believed he would still grasp victory for this particular battle as well.

    taken from: De Crespigny, R. (2010). Imperial Warlord : A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD. Leiden: Brill.
  5. The chancellor here refers to Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) who was serving as a tactician under Liu Bei (劉備).
  6. The Shu (蜀) and Wu (吳) coalition forces needed to collect more arrows (100,000 in 3 days to be exact!) in order to even stand a fighting chance against Cao Cao's (曹操) superior numbers. Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮) devised a brilliant plan to send ships filled with strawmen to "borrow" arrows from the Wei (魏) Army to be used against their own forces. You can read more here.