Cao Gui Awaits a Third Attack
The state of Qi was a major power in the Spring and Autumn Period. It’s leader, Duke Huan of Qi (齐桓公), one day commanded his general BaO Shuya (鲍叔牙) to attack the neighboring state of Lu.
Duke Zhuang (庄公) of Lu was horrified when he heard the news, since Qi was larger and more powerful than Lu, and Lu had little chance of defending itself.
A wandering scholar named CaO Gui (曹刿) claimed to have a plan. Although Cao was disreputable looking, Duke Zhuang was desperate. So he listened, and Cao's ideas about warfare seemed to make sense. In the end, Cao was put in charge of the Lu troops just as the forces of Qi began their invasion.
The invasion was a stylized affair, although held in difficult terrain, and the forces of Qi expected to march out and be met by the forces of Lu, whom they expected then to slaughter, ending the question of who should run Lu.
The armies were arrayed, and the Qi troops, with great fluttering of flags and banging of drums, sallied forth onto the plain to do battle. But Cao Gui prohibited the Lu troops from joining combat. At length the Qi forces returned to camp, puzzled.
A second time, the Qi forces came forth from their camp for attack. And a second time Cao Gui would not let the Lu soldiers go forth to fight. And a second time, the Qi forces returned to camp, tired and disappointed.
A third time Bao Shuya led the Qi troops forth, certain that if the Lu soldiers were so easily intimidated by the first two sallies, the third would easily send them into flight. But the Qi men were wearied from the first two attacks, and they expected little resistance from any army that had twice failed to engage. As they were half-heartedly launching their attack, Cao Gui gave the command for the Lu troops, fresh and eager, to counter-attack.
Lu trounced Qi easily, and the Qi forces returned in defeat, having wearied themselves on useless attacks and having let their guard down. In Li, Cao Gui was celebrated as a military genius.