Duke Huan of Qi (齐桓公) was the best-known ruler of the state of Qi in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history.
He was the Duke of Qi from 685 BC until his death; under this period Qi reached its zenith, and the Duke himself was elected to be one of the Five Hegemons.
One year, Duke Huan and his prime minister Guan Zhong attacked a state named Shan Rong who often harassed the border of state Yan, a confederate state of Qi. At the beginning, the war went along very well. Scared by the fame of Duke Huan, the king of Shan Rong took his family and belongings to flee to the state of Gu zhu even without a fight.
|The Old Horses Know The Way|
Guan Zhong said to the Duke: " Though Shan Rong run away, we have to chase and completely destroy them, otherwise they will come back and continue to raid Yan."
The Duke of Yan who agreed with Guan Zhong also made a suggestion: " Wu Zhong is a friendly state of Yan and also suffered a lot from Shan Rong. We might as well ask them for assistance. They will send soldiers to help in no time. What's more, they are very familiar with the geography."
Duke Huan took their advices. So Qi's army headed north to chase Shan Rong with the guide of the cavalry of Wu Zhong.
The general Huang Hua was ordered by the king of Gu Zhu to resist Qi, but his men was no match for Qi's warriors. After losing a series of battles in a row, he was going to surrender. At this point, a subordinate official suggested : " There is a place named 'Dry Sea' in the north. It's an endless desert. Nobody can get out of it without good guides. If we kill the king of Shan Rong and give his head to Duke Huan, he will certainly trust us, then we lead them into the 'Dry sea'. In this way, we can get rid of them all without casualties."
Huang Hua was happy with this idea and did as was suggested. As might be expected, neither Duke Huan nor his ministers saw through the trick. They really believed that Huang Hua and his men would lead the way to the capital of Gu Zhu until they found themselves in the middle of the desert without water and guides.
Seeing the surroundings deserted, windy and cold, the whole troop including the cavalry of Wu Zhong got into panic. At noon, soldiers were too thirsty to move any more. A minister named Xi Peng said:" Ants live in the place close to water. We'd better seek ant holes first. " What he said was proved to be correct. However, they still failed to find a way out.
After a cold and sleepless night, the prime minister Guan Zhong suddenly recalled that some old horses in the cavalry of Wu Zhong were captured from Gu Zhu. So he said to the Duke: "Old horses know the way it once traveled. Why not use their wisdom to guide us?" So they picked some old horses to lead the way. And the Qi army followed. Finally, they went out of the desert safely.
Background and Writer Comment:
The idiom of The Old Horses Knows The Way--Lao Ma Shi Tu is used to describe an experienced person who knows how to deal with different ideas, situations, and people.