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|Regent of Eastern Wu|
|Died||253 (aged 50)|
|Courtesy name||Yuanxun (traditional Chinese: 元遜; simplified Chinese: 元逊; pinyin: Yuánxùn; Wade–Giles: Yüan-hsün)|
Zhuge Ke (203–253), courtesy name Yuanxun, was a military general and regent of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. He was the eldest son of Zhuge Jin, an official who served under Wu's founding emperor Sun Quan. After the death of Sun Quan, Zhuge Ke served as regent for Sun Quan's son and successor, Sun Liang, but the regency proved to be militarily disastrous due to Zhuge's overaggressiveness against Wu's rival state Cao Wei. In 253, Zhuge Ke was killed, along with his family, in a coup d'état.
Career during Sun Quan's reign
After Wu's founding emperor Sun Quan created his son Sun Deng as crown prince in 221, he set up a staff for the crown prince consisting of the sons of the key officials or other well-known young members of the administration. The four most prominent ones were Zhuge Ke, Zhang Xiu, Gu Tan and Chen Biao. Sun Deng treated them as friends, not as subordinates, and they grew up together and served as Sun Deng's advisors. When Sun Deng had his secretary Hu Zong (胡綜) write a commentary about his advisors in 229, Hu wrote that Zhuge Ke was the most intelligent and skilful of his generation. While this was true, he also quickly developed a reputation for being reckless, a characteristic that both his father Zhuge Jin and his uncle Zhuge Liang repeatedly rebuked him about. On one occasion, Zhuge Jin observed, "This child will either bring great honor to my household or destroy it."
By 234, Zhuge Ke was serving as a commander of the capital guards, and he submitted a plan to Sun Quan to suppress the indigenous Baiyue people of Danyang commandery (in present-day Xuancheng, Anhui), who had not submitted to the Wu authorities and were pillaging the Han people — a plan that most senior officials, including Zhuge Jin, considered reckless and costly. Zhuge Ke, however, insisted that his plan would be successful, so Sun Quan commissioned him as the governor of Danyang and gave him full powers to implement his plan. Once he arrived, he requested the four neighbouring commanderies to seal their borders and did not combat the Yue; then, when the rice became ready for harvest, he had the rice harvested quickly and then gathered up, away from the pillaging Yue. The Yue were starved into submission, and as soon as they submitted, he treated them with kindness. By 237, Danyang was entirely under the Wu government's control and became a productive commandery for manpower and supplies. Sun Quan was impressed and granted Zhuge Ke the title of a marquess.
In 243, Zhuge Ke planned a major attack on the Wei-controlled garrison of Shouchun and he put his army in an attack posture. However, when the prominent Wei general Sima Yi arrived and prepared to attack Zhuge Ke, rather than allowing Zhuge to face the much more experienced Sima in battle, Sun Quan ordered that Zhuge withdraw. Still, among the people, Zhuge Ke became renowned for being willing to stand against Sima Yi. Lu Xun, however, became concerned about Zhuge Ke's recklessness and wrote him in rebuke. Knowing that he had to submit to the senior Lu Xun, Zhuge Ke wrote back and apologized. After Lu Xun's death in 245, Sun Quan commissioned Zhuge Ke to take over Lu's key post at Wuchang (in present-day Ezhou, Hubei).
In 251, as Sun Quan neared death, he sought a regent for his young son and heir, Sun Liang. His personal assistant Sun Jun recommended Zhuge Ke, and it was also the sentiment of the people that Zhuge was the most capable. Sun Quan was concerned about Zhuge Ke's arrogance and overly high opinion of himself, but at Sun Jun's urging commissioned him to be regent, summoning him back from Wuchang. As Zhuge Ke departed Wuchang, the senior general Lü Dai, knowing Zhuge's recklessness, told him, "What you will be doing is difficult. Before you do anything, think ten times." Zhuge Ke, rather than showing his earlier submission to Lu Xun, responded irreverently to Lü Dai, "When Ji Wenzi (季文子, a student of Confucius) thought three times before acting, Confucius told him, 'Only think twice.' Now you, sir, told me to think ten times. Is it not that you are calling me stupid?" Lü Dai was unable to respond, and the people at the time thought that Lü did speak inappropriately, but later historians pointed to this incident as a sign of Zhuge Ke's ever growing arrogance and recklessness. Indeed, after Sun Quan named him regent and ordered that all important matters be decided by Zhuge Ke first (except matters of life and death) and made all other officials bow to Zhuge, Zhuge became even more arrogant.
After Sun Quan's death in 252, Sun Liang succeeded him, and Zhuge Ke served as regent, as Sun Quan willed.
As regent to Sun Liang
Upon becoming regent, Zhuge Ke relaxed some of the strict laws that Sun Quan had put in place in his late reign and cut the tax rates. The people were happy, and wherever he went, there would be large crowds wanting to catch a glimpse of him.
Later in 252, Zhuge Ke rebuilt the Dongxing Dam (東興隄, in present-day Chaohu, Anhui), which Sun Quan had initially built in 230 but which was destroyed in 241, to create a reservoir near the Chao Lake, with the dual purpose of using it as a defence against potential Wei attacks and, with two castles built nearby, as forward attack mechanism for Wu ships. In response, Wei's regent Sima Shi made a major three-pronged attack against Wu, with the main forces attacking Dongxing Dam. Zhuge Ke and his general Ding Feng were able to catch Wei forces unprepared by pretending to be unprepared themselves, and then inflicted a major loss on the Wei forces, forcing their withdrawal.
Encouraged by his success at Dongxing, Zhuge Ke prepared for a major attack against Wei — citing, as his reason, that Sima Shi (then 45) was "young and inexperienced". He carried out a plan he had for a while — to gather up nearly all service-eligible young men of Wu to make a major attack against Wei — despite opposition by a number of other officials. He further coordinated his attack with ally Shu Han's regent Jiang Wei. However, his strategy turned out to be faulty as he was initially targeting Shouchun but, on his way, changed his mind and attacked Hefei instead, despite the fact that Hefei's defences were strong and intended to withstand major Wu attacks. Zhuge Ke's forces became worn out by the long siege and suffered plagues, which Zhuge ignored. He eventually withdrew after Wei reinforcements arrived, but instead of returning to the capital Jianye and apologise for his erroneous strategies, he remained from the capital for some time and never apologised to the people for the heavy losses suffered.
When Zhuge Ke eventually did return to Jianye, he further sternly tried to wipe out all dissent, punishing all those who disagreed with him. He further planned another attack against Wei, disregarding the recent heavy losses the people had suffered and their resentment. Sun Jun decided that he had to kill Zhuge Ke. He told Sun Liang that Zhuge Ke was planning to seize the throne, and he set up a trap at the imperial feast for Zhuge. (How much the young emperor knew of Sun Jun's plans and whether he concurred is unclear; traditional historians implied that Sun Liang knew and concurred, but he was just 10 years old at this point.) During the middle of the feast, assassins that Sun Jun had arranged for killed Zhuge Ke, and Sun Jun's forces then wiped out the Zhuge clan.
After the death of Sun Jun and his successor, his cousin Sun Chen, the emperor Sun Xiu, in 258, reburied Zhuge Ke with honours, but when someone suggested that a monument be built for Zhuge, Sun Xiu refused — observing correctly that both the military losses and the reckless way in which he put his own life in danger showed that Zhuge was unworthy of a monument.
Anecdotal stories or legends about Zhuge Ke
An anecdotal story regarding Zhuge Ke's fame during his childhood or adolescence involved a banquet. Among top Wu officials, a running joke was that Zhuge Jin's face resembled that of a donkey. To tease Zhuge Ke, Sun Quan brought in a donkey; it bore a sign reading "Zhuge Ziyu" (Ziyu being Zhuge Jin's style name). Sun Quan then turned to Zhuge Ke and told him to add any two characters that he wanted to the sign. Zhuge Ke added quickly "The donkey of" (zhi lü, 之驢) and requested that the donkey be given to his father, and this quick wit impressed Sun Quan.
At another banquet, Sun Quan asked Zhuge Ke, "Is your father superior, or is your uncle Zhuge Liang superior?" Zhuge Ke quickly responded, "My father is." When asked why, Zhuge Ke responded, "My father knows the right emperor to serve, while my uncle does not, and therefore my father is superior." Sun Quan was impressed by the subtle flattery and told Zhuge Ke to offer wine to all the senior officials present (considered a high honour for the junior officials). Upon reaching Zhang Zhao, Zhang refused the alcohol offered by Zhuge Ke, saying, "This is not the proper form for the ceremony of nourishing an elder." After learning of his refusal, Sun Quan quite simply said to Zhuge Ke, "Get Zhang Zhao to drink for me."
Wine in hand, Zhuge Ke ventured back to Zhang Zhao's seat and said, "Long, long ago the great counsellor Jiang Ziya — at the age of 90 — grasped the signal banner, steadied the battle axe, and never once called himself 'old'. On days of trial by arms, you are always in the rear; on days of banqueting, you are always in the front. What do you mean, 'I have failed to nourish an elder?'"
At a loss for words, Zhang Zhao consented and accepted the wine offered by Zhuge Ke. After this incident, Sun Quan prized Zhuge Ke more than ever and consequently made him the guide to his heir apparent, Sun Deng.
On yet another occasion, a Shu ambassador arrived with a gift of horses for Sun Quan. Sun Quan knew that Zhuge Ke was a good rider, and summoned him with intent to award him one of the horses. When Zhuge Ke arrived, he immediately knelt and thanked Sun Quan for the gift. Sun Quan was surprised at how he knew what he was summoned for, and Zhuge Ke's response was, "Shu only serves as your imperial majesty's stable, and it is certain that the ambassador has offered a tribute of horses." This remark deprecated Shu and flattered Sun Quan, and Sun was again impressed.
- Grandfather: Zhuge Gui
- Great-uncle: Zhuge Xuan
- Father: Zhuge Jin
- Zhuge Chuo (諸葛綽), eldest son, served as a Cavalry Commandant, poisoned to death by Zhuge Ke for befriending Sun Ba
- Zhuge Song (諸葛竦), served as Changshui Colonel, killed by Sun Jun's follower Liu Cheng after Zhuge Ke's downfall
- Zhuge Jian (諸葛建), served as an Infantry Colonel, attempted to escape to Cao Wei after Zhuge Ke's downfall but was captured and killed
- Chen, Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
- Pei, Songzhi. Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).