Mǎ Sù 馬謖 [Yòucháng 幼常]
(Last Updated 2021-12-02)
Mǎ Liáng appellation Jìcháng was a man of Yíchéng in Xiāngyáng. He and his brothers, five people, all had reputation for ability, and their hometown said of them a proverb: “The Mǎ clan have five constants (Cháng). White eyebrows is the most great (Liáng).” Liáng’s eyebrows had white hairs, and therefore he was called that.
Xiān-zhǔ [Liú Bèi] commanded Jīngzhōu  and recruited him as Advisor. When Xiān-zhǔ entered Shǔ , Zhūgě Liàng also followed afterward and went, and [Mǎ] Liáng remained in Jīngzhōu, and wrote a letter to [Zhūgě] Liàng: “One hears Luò city is already taken, and this is Heaven’s blessing. Honored elder brother you should at this time seize on the occasion, assist the enterprise of restoring the state, and your radiance is already obvious. (1) One who can adapt to use with careful consideration, thoroughly investigate and decide with understanding is simple ability and should be found at this time. If you can then follow bright and distant view, spread virtue across Heaven and earth, it will cause the unoccupied of the time to listen, and through the world follow principle, be level with the highest and greatest sounds, correct the tones of Zhèng and Wèi, bring benefit to affairs without disturbing relations between people. This then would reach the level of Guǎn Xián and the harmony of [Bó] Yá and Shī Kuàng. Though I am not as the sort as Zhōng [Zǐqī], dare I not strike the staves!”
- (1) Your Servant Sōngzhī believes [Mǎ] Liáng together with [Zhūgě] Liàng swore to become brothers, or else they were close to each other as family. [Zhūgě] Liàng was older, so [Mǎ] Liáng therefore called [Zhūgě] Liàng as honored elder brother and that is all.
Xiān-zhǔ recruited Liáng as a General of the Left’s Official.
Later he was sent as envoy to Wú. [Mǎ] Liáng said to [Zhūgě] Liàng: “Now I have received the state’s commands, to harmonize relations between our two families [Shǔ and Wú]. Hopefully you may help me make an introduction to General Sūn [Quán].”
[Zhūgě] Liàng said: “You sir should try writing it yourself.”
[Mǎ] Liáng then made a draft that said: “Our lord has sent his official Mǎ Liáng to send gifts and continue good relations, to continue on the legacy of Kūn Wú and Shǐ Wéi. I am a fortunate scholar, an official of the Jīng-Chǔ region, rarely am rash in action, and yet have the virtue of being thorough to the end, and hope with subdued heart to be accepted, in order to accomplish my commands.”
[Sūn] Quán respected and treated him well.
Xiān-zhǔ took Imperial title , and appointed [Mǎ] Liáng as Attendant Internal. During the eastern campaign against Wú, he sent Liáng to enter Wǔlíng to recruit the surrendered Wǔxī Mǎnyí [tribes]. The Mǎnyí great leaders all received seals and titles, and each were under his [Mǎ Liáng’s] direction. When Xiān-zhǔ was utterly defeated at Yílíng , Liáng also came to harm. Xiān-zhǔ appointed Liáng’s son Bǐng as Cavalry Commandant.
Liáng’s younger brother Sù appellation Yòucháng, as Jīng province Attending Official followed Xiān-zhǔ to enter Shǔ, and was sent out as Magistrate of Miánzhú and Chéngdū and Administrator of Yuèxī. His talent and ability surpassed others, he enjoyed discussing military strategy, and the Chancellor Zhūgě Liàng deeply praised his unique ability.
When Xiān-zhǔ was near death he said to [Zhūgě] Liàng: “Mǎ Sù’s speech exceeds his actual ability. He cannot be employed in important positions. You sir must observe this.” [Zhūgě] Liàng however said this was not so, appointed Sù Advisor to the army, and always summoned him to meet and discuss things, from daytime to night. (1)
- (1) Xiāngyángjì states: Jiànxīng third year , [Zhūgě] Liàng campaigned against Nánzhōng. Sù escorted him for several tens of lǐ. Liàng said: “Though we have made plans together for many years, now I can again ask you a favor for a good plan.” Sù answered: “Nánzhōng relies on its rugged terrain and distance, and has been disobedient for a long time. Even if today they are defeated, tomorrow they will again rebel and that is all. Now you lord are about to gather the whole state for a Northern Expedition to deal with powerful rebels [Wèi], so they [the Nánzhōng rebels] will learn the government’s authority is weak inside [while Zhūgě Liàng is away in the north], and their rebellions will also accelerate. If all their tribes and kinds are exterminated to remove future worry, that is not the way of the benevolent, and moreover could not be done quickly. In the way of using troops: attacking the heart is best, attacking cities is worst; hearts battling is best, soldiers battling is worst. I hope your excellency will focus on subduing their hearts and that is all.” Liàng accepted this plan, and pardoned Mèng Huò to comfort the south. Therefore to the end of Liàng’s life, the south did not dare again rebel.
Jiànxīng sixth year , [Zhūgě] Liàng set out with the army towards Qíshān. At the time there were veteran Generals Wèi Yán, Wú Yī, and others, and commentators all said that that one should be ordered to serve as the front line commander, but Liàng disagreed with the majority and chose Sù, to command the great army at the front, and with Wèi General Zhāng Hé battled at Jiētíng, was by Hé defeated, and the soldiers were scattered. Liàng’s advance had nowhere to occupy, so he retreated the army and returned to Hànzhōng. Sù was imprisoned and died, and Liàng wept for him.
[Mǎ] Liáng died at thirty-six years, Sù at thirty-nine years. (1)
- (1) Xiāngyángjì states: Sù was facing his end and wrote a letter to [Zhūgě] Liàng: “You wise lord regarded me like a son, and I regarded you wise lord as a father. I hope deeply that this is the righteousness of the execution Gǔn [leading to] the rise of Yǔ. May our whole life’s relationship not be reduced by this. Though I die I have no resentments against the yellow earth.” At the time the army of a hundred thousand wept for him. Liàng personally oversaw sacrifices, and cared for his orphans for all their lives. Jiǎng Wǎn later visited Hànzhōng he said to Liàng: “In the past Chǔ killed Déchén, and afterward Wén-gōng’s joy was understandable. When the realm Under Heaven is not yet settled and yet killing a scholar with wise plans, is that not a pity!” Liàng wept and said: “The reason Sūn Wǔ was one who could create victories across the realm Under Heaven was that he used the law with understanding. Therefore when Yáng Gān brought chaos to the laws, Wèi Jiàng killed his servant. The Four Seas are broken apart, and the meeting of soldiers has just begun. If we return to abandoning the law, what is to be used to suppress the rebels!”
- Xí Zuòchǐ states: That Zhūgě Liàng could not conquer a stronger state, was it not appropriate! The people of Jìn planned Línfù’s later relief, and therefore abandoned the law and yet received achievement; Chǔ completed Àn Déchén’s advantage on its own, and therefore killed him for a serious defeat. Now Shǔ occupied a secluded and weak position, its talents were fewer than the stronger state, and yet they killed their outstanding talent, retreated and collected the worn out to use, bright law and victorious talent, is not the principle of the army’s three defeats, and in completing the enterprise is it not also difficult? Moreover, Xiān-zhǔ commanded that Sù could not receive important employment, how can it not be said he was not a talent? Liàng received the command and yet did not accept and hold to it, showing that Sù was difficult to remove. To be the realm Under Heaven’s greatest craftsmen, one wishes to receive the strength to greatly collect objects, not judge the ability and integrity of appointees, following ability to assist industry. To know it was a serious mistake, then disobey the command of an enlightened ruler, make a decision that missed the mark, at once kill a useful man, it is difficult to speak of it with the words of the wise.