The 36 Strategies

Lure Underestimating To Attack Surprising


Feign Madness But Keep Your Balance

Means that you will hide behind a mask that creates an illusion of a fool, a drunk or a madman. This causes your enemy will underestimate your ability. Then while your enemy will be overconfident; you can attack with a surprise that leads to victory.

Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.

At times, it is better to pretend to be foolish and do nothing than to brag about yourself and act recklessly. Be composed and plot secretly, like thunder clouds hiding themselves during winter only to bolt out when the time is right.


Sui Dynasty China

During the final years of Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty there appeared a ballad that foretold the fall of the house of Sui and the ascent of a man named Li as emperor.

The ballad became immensely popular among the disaffected subjects of Emperor Yang's infamous rule. The emperor, being superstitious and believing in the prophecy himself, began a campaign to search out and execute anyone of importance with the surname Li. He had numerous ministers and officials along with their entire families put to the sword.

A minor official whose name was, Li Yuan, was serving as superintendent in the provinces when he was summoned to the court. Li Yuan delayed appearing in court by claiming poor health. Li Yuan had a niece who was a palace maid and one day the emperor asked her where her uncle Li has been. The lady replied that her uncle was ill. The emperor said: "I wonder if he is courting death?" When Li Yuan heard this he was certain that if he obeyed the summons to court he would never return. Thereupon he feigned madness and pretended to become an incorrigible drunk. When the imperial spies reported Li's behavior the emperor thought that a madmen could never fulfill the prophesy and was no longer suspicious of Li.

Surprisingly, two years later the Sui emperor placed Li in charge of a field army to defend the empire against barbarian incursions. Li fought bravely, won the respect of his troops, marched on the capital, and went on to found the illustrious Tang dynasty thus fulfilling the prophecy.


In the year AD 239, the young prince of Wei was enthroned as king for his father was critically ill.

However the real power was shared between Sima Yi and Cao Shuang. Cao Shuang managed to deprive Sima Yi of his military power. Sima Yi feigned illness and didn't attend court. His sons Sima Shi and Sima Zhao also quit their posts to avoid suspicion. He told his sons to keep tabs on court affairs secretly, and to bide their time.

During Winter of 248, Cao Shuang's henchmen Li Sheng was appointed governor of Jinzhou. Cao Shuang told him to visit Sima Yi to find out what the old man was up to.

When Sima Yi heard tha Li Sheng was coming, he crept into his bed. Li Sheng arrived to find Sima Yi in bed. Sima Yi pointed to his mouth indicating that he was thirsty. The maid fed him soup. He deliberately let the soup spill out of his mouth and flow to his collar. Li Sheng was surprised to see this.

Sima Yi said, "I understand you are assigned to Bingzhou today. Bingzhou is a dangerous place, do take care. I'm dying and won't be able to see you again. Please ask Cao Shuang to be nice towards my sons."

Li Sheng told him, "It's Jinzhou, not Bingzhou." Sima Yi said, "Bingzhou is a dangerous..." Again Li Sheng corrected him, "No, Jinzhou." Finally Sima Yi said, "I'm old and senile and don't understand what you are saying."

Li Sheng reported to Cao Shuang that Sima Yi is near death. Thinking that Sima Yi is dying, Cao Shuang thought that he was no longer a threat.

On the fifth day of the second month in the year AD 249, Sima Yi and his sons staged a coup while Cao Shuang left the capital with the emperor to visit the imperial tombs.

On the ninth day of the second month, Sima Yi had Cao Shuang and his henchmen executed on charges of conspiracy.


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