The Three Kingdoms era is perhaps one of the most well-studied and romanticized periods in Chinese history. Scholars and enthusiasts alike have been enthralled by the fantastical tales of heroism and conquest associated with the Three Kingdoms period for generations. Spanning a period of just under a hundred years (184-280), it was known to be one of the bloodiest in the annals of Chinese history. For context, the Eastern Han Dynasty had a population of approximately 50 million people prior to this era. When the Jin dynasty finally unified China in 280, the population was estimated to be closer to 16 million. That translates to a 68% decrease in population in just over a century. And while some of these fantastical tales, anecdotes, and historical accounts continue to tighten its grip on our intrigue today, there are some interesting parallels to the current state of global affairs.

Here are some anecdotes specific to the widely studied battle of Redcliff:

Ignoring circumstances

Romanticized accounts often citied Zhuge Liang as the fabled adviser to Lui Bei who ‘borrowed the eastern wind’ to help destroy Cao Cao’s naval fleet. The reality of the situation rather, is a culmination of a multitude of factors. The first being a sickness had ravaged the warlord, Cao Cao’s army. The Wei army had been on a long, grueling campaign, the close quarters and tropical climate in the south proved to be a deadly mix for the Wei Army. Having limited medical knowledge at the time, we can only speculate as to what exactly the sickness is, however some scholars and historians have liken this disease to the flu and some variant of tropical diseases. Interestingly, leaders at the time understood the impact of a pandemic and would under normal circumstances practice some form of containment.

Additionally, the bulk of the Wei Army were infantry and calvary men, unaccustomed and untrained in naval walfare. To make up for this, Cao Cao ordered his ships to be chained together in an effort to create a more familiar battleground for his men. This however, also meant they had less mobility and were particularly prone to fire-based assault. This band-aid approach came undone when Huang Gai, a Wu general feigned defecting to the Wei army and launched a surprise fire attack on the Wei fleet.

 After the disastrous battle of Redcliff, it took Cao Cao the next 10 years to reconsolidate power and replenish his armies. Had he listened to any of the numerous advisers who advocated for waiting out the sickness and training his men for naval combat, he would have been in a more favorable position to take the battle.

How to relates

In this troubled time, countries focused on recovery during this period are generally faring better for a post-pandemic market. Key sectors like tourism, aviation and trade relies on border security. We’re starting to see safe travel bubbles emerge within some countries. Naturally, countries operating outside of these bubbles are prone to losing opportunities that are desperately needed to revive and maintain certain industries.
Today, countries like Singapore, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand are amongst some negotiating open travel agreements. Countries that initially underestimated the immediate threats are in favor of expediating an economic recovery continue to struggle with controlling the spread of the virus.

The importance of rationality

While historical accounts of the incident involving Cai Mao and Zhang Yun differ in various accounts, historical and romanticized, there is a particular anecdote I find relatively poignant and especially relevant to the world we live in today. Cai Mao and Zhang Yun were both naval generals familiar with the terrains around Redcliff. In addition to this, they had a lot of experience fighting the Wu as well. Cao Cao had the good fortune of having the opportunity to enlist the two esteemed naval commanders to train his troops, so much so that it greatly bolstered the moral of the Wei army. Some historians even favored Cai Mao’s odds in the battle of Redcliff, had he been there to participate.
According to romanticized accounts, the two generals were the target of an intricate counter-espionage maneuver, Zhou Yu had planted evidence of treason within his own camp for Cao Cao’s spies to find. Having found their way back to Cao Cao, the fictitious correspondence between Cai Mao and the Wu commanders directly resulted in the execution of Cai Mao and Zhang Yun before the battle of Redcliff. This greatly diminished the Wei army’s odds as Cai Mao and Zhang Yun were the only experienced naval commanders in Cao Cao’s army. If these accounts are accurate, this might have been a substantial blunder on the part of Cao Cao. Many scholars believed that the lack of experienced seamen helming the assault was a major consideration that forced Cao Cao to bind his ships together, and eventually losing the battle.

How it relates

In relation to current day, the lesson we can draw from this story is to not make rash decisions, especially based on unsubstantiated information. The Trump administration in particular saw a lot of key appointees being fired or replaced. Experts like Anthony Fauci were increasingly undermined as the pandemic spread. Similarly, the US announced their plans to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) this year, in a time when the world is ravaged by a global pandemic. Governing bodies poised to see through these trying times not only rely on the expertise of their key appointment holders without undermining them, but also actively enable them.
I would imagine this to be akin to appointing a financial consultant to oversee the financial growth of your portfolio while actively and publicly discrediting that same adviser.

Creative problem solving presents new opportunities

Building arrows or fletching arrows is a time-consuming process. In a shrewd move, Zhuge Liang successfully managed to transfer his enemies’ resources into his resources. The romanticized accounts mentioned a scenario whereby Zhou Yu, a commander in the Wu army wanted Shu to provide logistics since the manpower is largely Wu. He gave the Shu a monumental task of providing the coalition armies 100,000 arrows within 3 days. Knowing a fog was coming up, Zhuge Liang devised a strategy whereby he made it look like he was launching a surprise attack on Wei. Under the guise of fog, Zhuge Liang launched ships outfitted with strawmen onto the Wu force. In a panic, the Wei soldiers fired arrows into the fog to repel the attack, unbeknownst to them the boats were really designed to catch the arrows.

How it relates

2020 is the start of a new era, we will live with the repercussions of Covid-19 for some time, and it will force us to change the way we tackle some issues going forward. For instance, working from home was never seriously considered to be a viable option prior to the pandemic. However, circumstances have catapulted Zoom to household fame as the service provider of choice for video conferencing. Other services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Nintendo and Shopify also benefitted from the current situation.
Similar to Zhuge Liang, identifying the opportunities present at any one given time requires some measure of creativity and understanding. The tumultuous situation we find ourselves in could also be an opportunity to accrue more resources. I recommend speaking to a financial consultant on the kinds of opportunities available to you at this juncture.

Capitalizing on strategic advantages: Singapore

Years after the battle of Red Cliff, all three kingdoms eventually fell and power was consolidated under the Jin Dynasty. There is much to be learned from the romanticized time period, the battle of Redcliff is just the tip of the iceberg and there are more interesting anecdotes from within that time period.
Coming back to date, both China and American firms look to Singapore as a regional headquarters. The unique position we find ourselves in today did not occur by happenstance. Our founding father’s foresight enabled these unique opportunities to develop over the years. That being said, it is not only our responsibility to utilize these opportunities but to safeguard them for the coming generations. As history have shown, we stand to lose any advantages we have gained if we do not act prudently. Even in our unique position, we will continue to face challenges. One such challenge is that the majority of the nations within APAC are either politically misaligned or still developing, however this is likely to change within the next few generations and the opportunities available to use now might no longer be available then.
These factors highlight the importance of personal wealth protection and accumulation. The ever-shifting geo-political climate and fleeting nature of our times create unless opportunities and pitfalls. By ensuring our personal wealth, we ensure some degree with permanence for the generations to come.


Mervyn Ang

An advocate for upward economic mobility, Mervyn is passionate about helping people improve their economic statuses.

“I believe that everyone deserves a chance to achieve financial freedom regardless of their family background or how much they earn,’ he says.

A specialist in investment planning, Mervyn supports about 200 clients in growing their wealth, legacy planning, and facilitating buy/sell agreements. His determination to help others was influenced by a personal experience earlier in life, where he lost a small fortune due to unsound advice. He took the loss in his stride, and strengthened his resolve to focus on strategic advice and good planning in personal finances.

Today, he continues to strive to make a difference in his clients’ lives – so that they can as he puts it, do what they love in life.


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The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and not associated to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual

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