Empty fort strategy
See also: Empty fort strategy
In the novel, during one of the northern expeditions, Zhuge Liang’s troops were defeated in the Battle of Jieting due to the incompetence of the commander Ma Su. In order to buy time for the Shu troops to escape, Zhuge Liang ordered the soldiers to leave the city’s gates wide open. Some of the soldiers disguised themselves as ordinary civilians doing day-to-day work such as sweeping near the city gates. Zhuge Liang personally stood guard on top of the gates, by playing the zither calmly in the face of great danger. The Wei commander Sima Yi suspected that there may be troops lying in ambush within the city and he believed that Zhuge Liang would not be foolish enough to leave the city gates wide open for the enemy to charge in, hence he ordered his troops to retreat. Historical records indicated that the Wei troops did not pursue the retreating Shu troops after the Battle of Jieting. According to Professor Yi Zhongtian, this event could not have taken place due to these reasons; Firstly, Sima Yi was not present at the site where this event took place as he was stationed far away in Wancheng (宛城) according to historical records. Secondly, it was impossible to have gotten to such close proximity to Zhuge Liang to watch his facial expressions and hear him play the zither clearly and if so, the Wei army could have ordered an archer to shoot down Zhuge Liang. Thirdly, based on Sima Yi’s expertise in military strategy, Sima Yi would possibly have ordered his army to surround the city and not attack even if he believed that there was an ambush inside, to verify that his assumption was true.