Empty City/ fort Strategy (2 min read)

In Cambrian Period Ep 5, Zhan Shili (James Li) talks about using an empty city/fort strategy when he was dealing with Suo Tou. (*Spoilers below*)

This is the 32nd stratagem from the chinese essay the 36 strategems (三十六计) which is attributed to the ancient chinese general, Sun Tzu (孙子)  who also wrote The Art of War. It is a strategy utilised when in a desperate situation.

Using reverse psychology (and luck), it is used to deceive the enemy into thinking you are luring them into a place full of ambushes and traps when in fact you have no traps there at all.

There is a very famous true historical event when this strategy had been utilized. In 195AD, Cao Cao, a chinese warlord who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period, was forced to use this strategy when his enemy Lu Bu launched a surprise ambush on him. At the time, Cao Cao had very few men with him, his fort was literally empty so to deceive Lu Bu, he called all his available men and even the women to stand guard on the walls. Lu Bu seeing the women, the dyke and the forest which was near the fort was tricked into thinking that Cao Cao had made preparations long ago and had already set up an ambush. He retreated and missed his opportunity to attack Cao Cao. The next day, when both armies were fully prepared, Cao Cao had set up an ambush at the dyke and defeated Lu Bu.

So in Ep 5, in actual fact, if Suo Tou had been brave and decisive enough, if he had used the knife in his belt, he could have killed his father, taken over Autumn’s Door’s Group and that would be the end of it.

What had stopped him was that Zhan Shili had tricked him into thinking that it was a trap and that he knew everything already and was fully prepared, but actually he was only trying to find out if Suo Tou was the one behind it all (hence the checking of the pulse).

NB:If you like books about war, deception, intrigue and strategy, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a very good book to read. It’s one of China’s four classical novels and is part historical, part legend and part mythical. In the 1660s, because the book was greatly edited, and the editora where unhappy to be under the rule of the Qing dynasty so passages praising chararcters who were ancestors/ related to the Qing Emperors were removed. This is why the novel does have a tendency to portray some characters i.e. Cao Cao as an evil warlord and romanticises others Liu Bei (as he was Han Chinese).

Despite the name, there isn’t really much romance in it.


  1. Very interesting. So basically, they were bluffing but in a very specific “tricking him into thinking it’s a trap” kind of way. I thought it was interesting that afterwards they deliberately let Suo Tou think Lian Pu killed Keke.

    Oh – which reminds me I have some questions maybe you can answer?

    When they were questioning him, they mentioned how he has killed many of his brothers. And I remembered back when Suo Tou was drinking at Jian Zi’s place – Jian Zi said many of their brothers have left and wondered when it would be their turn. At the time I thought that meant they’d gotten out of the mafia and were living clean lives elsewhere, and he was saying he doesn’t want to be mafia forever. But now I wonder if he just meant they’ve died and are out of the business because of that & so he was wondering when it will be their turn to die?

    Or if he just thinks they’ve left but they really were killed and he doesn’t know? Or am I mixing up two different groups of brothers since they seem to refer to all their fellow mafia members as brothers…?

    Another question I had was the note he found – I’m guessing that was written by his friend Mai Quan Cheng? And since it mentioned “when you are done with your mission” does that mean Mai Quan Cheng knows he is Lian Pu? It seemed very sloppy/risky of Mai to leave the note in the secret lair and leave the door open like that. And why was the girl cop “doing her duty” by visiting Mai’s mom?


    1. Ok, because I haven’t watched all of the episodes yet, but I believe, Jian Zi only thinks that their brothers i.e. their fellow mafia members had left to life a clean life, as he talks about the fact that they probably don’t want to look back at their old lives but the old man revealed in ep 5 that actually they’ve been killed/ harmed by Suo Tou.
      I think Mai Quan Cheng probably knows about Lian Pu, although “mission” I guess can be interpreted as getting groceries.
      As for the girl cop, if you remember earlier in the episode, Officer Li told her to stay close to Tang Yin, so I guess she left with them when she found out that Tang Yin was going to visit Mai Quan Cheng’s mom.

      Liked by 1 person

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