Strategy 36

If All Else Fails Retreat

If it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat then retreat and regroup.

Ming Dynasty China

The Ming emperor Hwei Ti, had disposed of all his uncles except one who feigned madness. (See Chapter 27) This very uncle, the prince of Yan, in 1403 led a huge army to the capital of Nanking to seize the throne. The city was surrounded and the emperor considered committing suicide when he was stopped by a eunuch who told him that his father, the emperor Hong Wu, had left a chest in his care with orders that should any great crisis occur to threaten the dynasty then the reigning emperor should open the chest.

"Let us open it at once then," said the emperor, "and see what my father would do were he here now." When the lid was lifted the box was found to contain the robes of a Buddhist monk, a diploma, a razor, and ten ingots of silver. The emperor understood the meaning at once and with a handful of attendants fled the palace through a secret tunnel to a Buddhist temple. There he shaved his head and put on the robes. He made his way out of the city and all the way to Sichuan province where he lived in obscurity in a remote monastery.

Meanwhile the palace had burned down during the fighting and it was assumed that the emperor had died in the fire. Forty years later during the rein of emperor Ying Tsung (the fourth since Hwei Ti's time) an old Buddhist priest arrived at court and claimed to be the old emperor Hwei Ti. It turned out the man was an imposter, but a rumor began that Hwei Ti was still alive. To quell the rumors and settle the issue, an official investigation was made which discovered that Hwei Ti was indeed still alive and living as a Buddhist priest. The old emperor was invited back to the capital with great ceremony and he lived out his last days as a guest in the palace. However, he was kept under a watchful eye.

See Modern Example