Han Xin: The Most Famous General of the Han Dynasty (2 of 2)
In August of 205 BC, Liu Bang appointed Han Xin as the Left Prime Minister. Han Xin led the Han army to attack the country of Wei. The Lord of Wei, Bao, stationed a large number of troops along the east bank of the Yellow River. In light of Wei's troop placement, Han Xin placed a large number of ships at Linjin County, on the opposite shore of the Yellow River, pretending to force a frontal attack. Meanwhile he covertly built temporary equipment for crossing the river using wooden frames tied together with tiles and crocks. The troops crossed the river upstream at Xiayang County and made a surprise attack at Anyi County. With the unexpected emergence of Han's troops behind Wei's army, Han Xin defeated Wei's army and captured Lord Bao.
In September of 204 BC, Han Xin led troops eastward to attack the kingdom of Zhao. He captured the acting Prime Minister Xia Yue of the affiliated Dai country and recaptured the areas of Dai. At this time, Liu Bang ordered Han Xin to quickly shift his main forces to the Xingyang region to reinforce the defense. Thus, Han Xin led only about ten thousand troops eastward to attack Zhao at Jingxing County. The Load of Zhao, Zhao Xie, and the commander-in-chief, Chen Yu, amassed two hundred thousand soldiers at the gateway of Jingxing in the Taixing Mountain region. This elevated terrain gave a huge advantage to defense as the Zhao army prepared for a decisive battle with Han Xin. Han Xin dispatched 2000 light cavalry overnight to outflank behind Zhao's main regiment. At daybreak, Han Xin lined up the main forces at the edge of the river bank, with the river behind the troops and lured Zhao's army to attack. The Han army fought with the river behind them. Seeing this, Chen Yu ordered an all-out attack on the Han army. Knowing there was no way to retreat, the Han troops fought desperately. While the Zhao army focused on the attack, the 2000 cavalry used the opportunity to attack Zhao's battalion and planted the red flags of the Han army. By the afternoon, the Zhao army had grown weary of not being able to defeat the enemy, and was ordered to regroup at base. When the Zhao troops saw the red flags of Han flying everywhere, they panicked and fell into total chaos. Han Xin used the situation to counter attack and defeated the 200,000 people-strong Zhao army. Han's troops killed the commander Chen Yu and captured Lord Zhao Xie. This was the famous “Battle of Jingxing” that created the idiom “The last stand with one’s back to the river.”
In November of 203 BC, Han Xin used the tactics of heavy troops to quickly overcome the capital of the Qi kingdom, Linzi. The Chu general, Long Qie, led an army of 200,000 troops to the rescue and met the defeated Qi army at Gaomi (in today's Shandong Province). They faced the Han troops on the opposing side of the Huai River. Han Xin secretly dispatched troops overnight to block the river water upstream with more than ten thousand sand bags. At daybreak, he sent part of the troops to cross the Huai River to attack the Chu troops and then withdrew pretending to be defeated. General Long Qie mistook it that the Han army was timid and sent his main force to cross the river to attack. Han Xin ordered his troops to open up the dam upstream and the rushing water split the Chu troops in two. He then applied the strategy of "attacking the enemy during the middle of river crossing" and killed all the troops that had crossed the river. Long Qie was also killed. The joint troops of Qi and Chu that did not cross the river collapsed without fighting. Han Xin took the opportunity to pursue the withdrawing troops and captured the Lord of Qi, Tian Guang. He conquered Qi's territory completely.
After Han Xin occupied the Qi territory, Xiang Yu was in a panic. He quickly sent people to persuade Han Xin to cooperate with Chu to oppose Han, with the vision of splitting the lands between three rulers. Han Xin refused. Han Xin's advisor Quai Tong tried to persuade him: "General, haven't you heard that it is dangerous when one's courage and talent exceed one's master and that too great a merit will not be rewarded? Your reputation now alarms your master and you have meritorious services. If you join Chu, they won't trust you, and if you return to Han, Han's lord will fear you too. If you do not establish yourself as a lord in your own right, then where will be your home?" Han Xin quickly stopped him: "Speak no more. The Lord of Han treats me with great kindness and favor. He gave me his personal carriage to use. He gave me his clothes to wear. He gave me food to eat. The ancients said: 'When you ride another person's carriage, you will share his worry; when you wear his clothes, you should also share his worry; and when you take his food, you should do your best to support him.' How can I see only my own self-interest and forget righteousness?"
He refused to turn against Liu Bang. But the Qi territory had been newly conquered and there was a need to establish a lord to govern the country and to pacify people's minds. Han Xin thus wrote a letter to Liu Bang requesting to be the acting lord for Qi. At first, Liu Bang didn't consent to the request because he was beset by Xiang Yu at Xingyang. But after listening to the opinions of Zhang Liang and Chen Ping, Liu Bang said, “You have conquered and thus you are a real lord. What’s the point of being an acting lord!” Therefore, he named Han Xin the Lord of Qi and ordered him attack Chu.
In December of 202 BC, Chu and Han faced each other in a decisive battle at Gaixia (today's Binan, Anhui Province). Liu Bang appointed Han Xin as the commander-in-chief. Xiang Yu commanded 100,000 Chu troops to fiercely attack the Han head on. Han Xin ordered the midsection of his troops to withdraw slightly and to avoid the vigorous drive of the Chu troops. He then spread both wings out to carry out flank attacks and then ordered the midsection troops to push forward. The strategy completely surrounded the Chu troops. At night, Han Xin ordered the troops to sing songs from the hometown of Chu from all sides. Chu's troops lost their fighting spirit and were annihilated at Gaixia. Xiang Yu committed suicide on the bank of the Wu River. The five year war between Chu and Han ended with Liu Bang conquering the entire country.
Starting as a lowly guard for Xiang Yu, Han Xin became a general under Liu Bang and achieved outstanding victories repeatedly within just a few years. He was the major figure in deciding the outcome of the war between Han and Chu. Quai Tong praised this all-powerful military figure as: "A rare brilliant strategist." His principle of maneuvering troops was highly praised by the later military strategists. According to The Book of Han: Art, Literature and Ideals,
Han Xin wrote three chapters of Han Xin Military Strategy
. It's a pity that the book has been lost.
Han Xin's ability made Liu Bang extremely uneasy. After defeating Xiang Yu, Liu Bang seized his military command and made him the Lord of Chu. Later, Han Xin was demoted to the Marquis of Huaiyin and placed under house arrest by Liu Bang’s side.
In 196 BC, Empress Lu and Prime Minister Xiao He lured Han Xin to the Changle Palace and executed him on the excuse of conspiracy against the state. It is sad to see how the life of the greatest general of his time ended.