Battle of Jieting

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Battle of Jieting
Part of the first of Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions
Kongming subjects Ma Su to execution.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Ma Su's execution
Datec. February – May 228[1]
Longcheng Town, Qin'an County, Gansu, China
Result Decisive Wei victory
Cao Wei Shu Han
Commanders and leaders
Zhang He Ma Su
Wang Ping
Battle of Jieting
Traditional Chinese街亭之戰
Simplified Chinese街亭之战

The Battle of Jieting was fought between the states of Cao Wei and Shu Han in 228 during the Three Kingdoms period in China. The battle was part of the first Northern Expedition led by Shu's chancellor-regent, Zhuge Liang, to attack Wei. The battle concluded with a decisive victory for Wei.

Opening moves[edit]

Zhuge Liang first sent generals Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi to attack Wei, while he personally led a force towards Mount Qi. Cao Rui, the emperor of Wei, moved to Chang'an and sent Zhang He to attack Zhuge Liang while Cao Zhen would oppose Zhao Yun. Zhuge Liang chose generals Ma Su and Wang Ping to intercept Zhang He.

The battle[edit]

Zhuge Liang's first and second northern expeditions against Cao Wei

Jieting was a crucial region for the securing of supplies, and Zhuge Liang sent Ma Su and Wang Ping to guard the region. Ma Su went accompanied by Wang Ping but did not listen to his sound military advice. Relying purely on books of military tactics, Ma Su chose to "take the high ground" and set his base on the mountains instead of in a city, ignoring Wang Ping's advice to make camp in a valley well supplied with water. Wang Ping, however, managed to persuade Ma Su to give him command of a portion of the troops, and later Wang set up his base camp near Ma's camp, in order to offer assistance when Ma was in danger. Due to this tactical mistake, the Wei army led by Zhang He encircled the hill and cut off the water supply to the Shu troops and attacked; later, Wei forces set fire to the hill. Wang Ping led his troops in an attempt to help Ma Su but the Shu army suffered a great defeat in which both the army and the fort were lost. Though he survived the battle, Ma Su feared punishment and attempted to flee. However, he was soon captured by Shu forces.


Ma Su was sentenced to death by Zhuge Liang, along with his deputies Zhang Xiu (張休) and Li Sheng (李盛), but Ma eventually died of illness in prison before the execution could be carried out, while the other two were executed.

Because of the loss of Jieting, the supply situation became dire for Zhuge Liang's army and he had to retreat to his main base at Hanzhong. In addition, the defeat at Jieting caused the First Northern Expedition to result in failure.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ma Su was executed on the order of a tearful Zhuge Liang, whose continued high appraisal for Ma's intelligence made that a very reluctant decision. The scene has also been reenacted in Chinese opera. A Chinese proverb, "wiping away tears and executing Ma Su" (挥泪斩马谡; 揮淚斬馬謖; Huī Lèi Zhán Mǎ Sù), refers specifically to this incident, meaning "punishing a person for his wrongdoings regardless of relations or his abilities. A Japanese equivalent is "tearfully executing Ma Su" (泣いて馬謖を斬る, Naite Bashoku wo kiru).

In the novel, the loss of Jieting exposed Zhuge Liang's current location, the defenceless Xicheng (西城). Zhuge Liang used the Empty Fort Strategy to ward off the enemy before retreating.

In many stories, including the novel, the battle includes Sima Yi on the Wei side, but this event is impossible according to his biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms. Moss Roberts comments on this in his fourth volume of his English translation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms on (page 2179 under Chapter 95 Notes, fourth and last paragraph of the chapter notes):

The historical Sima Yi was not at the western front for the "vacant city ruse" but at the more important southern front with the Southland [Wu]. Sima Yi did not come to the western front until Kongming's [Zhuge Liang] fourth offensive [Battle of Mount Qi]. The fictional tradition tends to attach more importance to the Wei-Shu conflict than the Wei-Wu conflict, and Three Kingdoms accordingly builds up the Kongming-Sima Yi rivalry and the events of AD 228.[2]

In the abstract above, Roberts explains and compares historic history with fictional tales and the most likely reason Sima Yi was included before the Battle of Mount Qi. Some notable texts in the abstract include the western front; the area where Zhuge Liang targeted in his expeditions, the "vacant city ruse"; referring to the tale of Zhuge Liang's "Empty Fort Strategy", and the southern front, being the areas of Wei including Fancheng, Hefei, Xiapi, and Shouchun. This means that the Empty Fort Strategy could not have occurred because Sima Yi was never there to fall for it and the southern front was where Sima Yi was stationed during the expeditions before Zhuge Liang targeted Mount Qi and the Wuzhang Plains.

In popular culture[edit]

The battle is featured as a playable stage in Koei's video game series Dynasty Warriors for the PlayStation 2. If the player is playing on the Wei side, he has the option of following history to win the stage easily. On the other hand, if the player is playing on the Shu side, he will encounter a higher level of difficulty since one of his major objectives is to ensure the survival of Ma Su.

In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering there is a card named Empty City Ruse in reference to the Empty Fort Strategy described in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.


  1. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 71.
  2. ^ Roberts, Moss (1976). Three Kingdoms Volume IV. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. p. 2179. ISBN 978-7-119-00590-4.

Coordinates: 34°54′26″N 105°41′54″E / 34.9072°N 105.6983°E / 34.9072; 105.6983