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The Ruse of Empty City

The Ruse of Empty City is a traditional Peking Opera, which is from the novel The Romance of Three Kingdoms, one of the four major classical novels of China. The story tells how Zhuge Liang used his resourcefulness to prevent his city from being attacked by a huge army. The story took place in the late period of the Three Kingdoms and the whole play consists of three main parts: "Loss of Jie Ting Fort", "The Ruse of Empty City", and "Execution of Ma Su".

Loss of Jie Ting Fort
Zhuge Liang was a grand minister of the State of Shu and led the army to fight against the State of Wei. Knowing that the army of Wei led by Sima Yi was coming to attack, Zhuge Liang believed that Sima Yi would conquer Jie Ting Fort first. Ma Su, one of his staff officers, volunteered to defend the Jie Ting Fort. Thus, Zhuge Liang sent Ma Su to Jie Ting as well as sending another staff officer, Wang Ping, to assist. Zhuge Liang ordered Ma Su to camp at Jie Ting near the water source, while Ma Su believed that it would be better to camp at the top of a hill. Despite Wang Ping's hesitation, Ma Su insisted that they camp on the hill regardless of Zhuge Liang's order. After camping, Wang Ping sent a map back, while Zhuge Liang soon understood that Jie Ting Fort was in serious danger and eventually, Ma Su's command failed to defend Jie Ting Fort.

The Ruse of Empty City
As West City that was governed by Zhuge Liang largely relied on the defense of Jie Ting Fort, Zhuge Liang knew that Sima Yi's army would easily take West City after they took Jie Ting Fort. However, Zhuge Liang sent most of his army out and only left a few old or injured soldiers in West City. He immediately sent a message to ask for his general Zhao Yun to come back. Zhuge Liang decided to use the empty city as a ruse to start a battle of wits. Zhuge Liang told his soldiers to open the city gate and clean the streets. He claimed that there were huge armies surrounding the city, falsely relieving his soldiers. Remarkably, he climbed up the city wall to play Gu Qin (seven-stringed musical instrument) and waited for Sima Yi's army. When Sima Yi arrived, he was so confused about the empty city and suspected that this was a trap. This led Sima Yi to not take the risk of entering the city. This is why The Ruse of Empty City is also known as Repulsing the Enemy by Playing Gu Qin. Sima Yi retreated and camped several miles away outside West City. Later general Zhao Yun returned and Zhuge Liang soon retread back to his state. Sima Yi's spies again reported that West City was empty, so he travelled there for a second time. This time, however Sima Yi's army encountered Zhao Yun's army and Sima Yi was defeated.

Execution of Ma Su
After Ma Su got back to the State of Shu, Zhuge Liang reminded him of his oath to accept death if he failed and Ma Su acknowledged the consequences. After Ma was executed, Zhuge Liang cried as he thought highly of Ma Su's military ability, while he also regretted over-trusting Ma Su and relying on him.