Wuhou Temple -- Shrine of the Original "Hidden Dragon"
   2011-06-10 10:50:33    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhangxu

This photo taken on Thursday, June 9, 2011 shows the sculpture of Zhuge liang (181 A.D. C 234 A.D.) at the Wuhou Temple in Chengdu, capital city of southwest China's Sichuan Province. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com/ Liu Donghui]

By  Allie Johnson

Today we visited Chengdu's Wuhou Temple, dedicated to one of the most revered figures in Chinese history, Zhuge Liang. Zhuge Liang was prime minister to the Shu-Han emperor Liu Bei, and one of the most revered figures of China's celebrated Three Kingdoms period (220-280 CE).

Zhuge Liang is often called the greatest war strategist in Chinese history. He's the hero of countless Chinese action flicks and the original "hidden dragon" -- so nicknamed because those around him underestimated his capacity to achieve incredible things.

Zhuge Liang's name is branded in my mind because of a story I heard a couple of years ago. This may not be the most classic re-telling, but it is the version that sticks in my mind:

One afternoon, Zhuge Liang and his fellow statesmen were enjoying a cup of tea in the mid-day heat, when a frantic messenger burst in.

"Sir!" he said, gasping for breath. "Cao Cao and his army are headed this way! They've planned an ambush! We must prepare the troops!"

(A note for those unfamiliar with China's history or war movies: Cao Cao led the Kingdom of Wei -- and he is always the bad guy. In the official version of the "Empty City" scheme, the strong Wei army was led by General Sima Yi instead of Cao Cao. Also Zhuge Liang sat leisurely on top of the city wall playing his zither instead of playing chess.)

Zhuge Liang, frankly, had no troops to prepare. They were, at that moment, completely unarmed and unready for battle.

"Alright," said Zhuge Liang. He picked up a sunflower seed from a ceramic bowl and slowly nibbled on it. "Open the city gates."

"What?" cried his men, spitting out their hot tea. "With all due respect, we're completely unarmed. If we open the gates, Cao Cao will use our flesh for dumpling filling!"

Zhuge Liang shrugged. "Open the city gates. And grab my chessboard."

"Chessboard?" cried his men. They tugged at their long beards in confusion. It was something of a collective nervous tick.

"It's fine," Zhuge Liang said. "Come on now, I want to play some chess."

Never ones to disobey, his men flung open the city gates, and drew out the chessboard.

It didn't take long for Cao Cao and his men to reach the crest of the hill leading down to the city, where Zhuge Liang and a friend were already deep into their chess game. Cao Cao's men couldn't believe their luck. The city gates were wide open!

"Charge!" they shouted.

"Wait!" said Cao Cao. He drew up his hand, then stroked his beard for effect. "Something is not right here. Zhuge Liang is far too wise to leave himself open to attack like this. Just look -- you can see him in there, playing chess! He must have a counter-ambush waiting for us. We must turn back before it's too late!"

Cao Cao and his men turned their steeds around and bolted for the hills as fast as they could. Zhuge Liang finished his chess game, and his tea, in peace.

It's more or less for this reason that Zhuge Liang has made an impression on me. But as we saw this morning at the Wuhou temple, he has made an impression on centuries of Chinese people. While Wuhou temple is the burial place of emperor Liu Bei, it is Zhuge Liang -- a commoner -- who attracts visitors from all over the country.

You can gain a lot of insight into a culture by looking at who they prize as heroes. Today I asked several Chinese people why it is - that whole chess thing aside - that Zhuge Liang is so revered nearly two millennia after his death. I mostly heard two things -- his genius as a war strategist, and his loyalty. When Liu Bei died, Zhuge Liang continued to serve as prime minister to Liu Bei's son. Though he could easily have taken over as emperor himself, Zhuge Liang chose to be loyal to the man he served. That particular brand of loyalty and deference to authority are, in my experience, classical Chinese values that still hold a lot of weight today.

The temple itself is stunning, whether or not you know the history. There are the statues of Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang, and 28 statesmen of the Shu Kingdom, beautifully painted and in beautiful condition, especially considering they are nearly 300 years old. There is a museum with artifacts from the Three Kingdoms period, many found within Sichuan, where the temple is located. And fear not - there is plenty of info in English.

And the grounds are beautiful: long curving red walls with willow branches dipping down, ponds covered in thick lotus leaves. We walked the circular path that surrounds the mausoleum of Liu Bei, and there was little noise apart from the sounds of birds and a few tourists. You could smell that thick, wet Chengdu air, and on it, the scent of blossoms and damp leaves.

Whatever your reasons for coming, Wuhou temple is definitely worth checking out.

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