Glowing lanterns will float into the sky tonight, expressing reverence for a strategist, statesman and scholar Zhuge Liang — said to have used hot air balloons to carry messages — during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220).
Zhuge Liang, known as Zhuge Kongming, was nickamed wo long or crouching dragon, for his brilliant military strategies and famous deceptions. Though not a general, he was the greatest strategist of his time, and some scholars have compared him to Sun Tzu.
Zhuge helped establish land to defend the Shu Kingdom in the Sichuan region against the Wu and Wei kingdoms. After his death, the great military adviser was honored with the title of Zhong Wu Hou or Marquis of Loyalty Wu.
To remember him today on his birthday, the 23rd day of the seventh lunar month, people will send up sky lanterns or Kongming lanterns, said to be his military invention to carry messages written on the outside.
Official worship activities will be carried out in Wu Hou shrines around China, but only around 10 survive today.
In addition to being a scholar-statesman, Zhuge invented weapons and military equipment, including a rapid-firing crossbow. He also observed astronomical phenomena, believed to be connected with foretelling the future in ancient China.
He is always depicted as a scholar holding a magical fan of crane feathers and wearing a silk headdress resembling a ridged roof. With a wave of his fan, problems would disappear.
For many years Zhuge lived in solitude in a simple thatched cottage until Liu Bei, a future ruler, visited him three times, imploring him to help establish his own Kingdom of Shu.
His political and military strategies helped the kingdom survive and became legends, not all of them historically accurate.
In one monumental case of deceit, Zhuge used arrows from the Wu army to set alight thatched boats secretly tied to Wei army vessels. In the conflagration, the weakly defended Wu city was thrown into chaos and captured by Shu soldiers.
Apart from military wisdom, Zhuge is also known for inventions such as the sky lantern or Kongming lantern, a small hot air balloon carried aloft by the heat of a small contained fire. The lantern bore a message, summoning help when Zhuge and his army were surrounded by the enemy. They were then rescued.
Zhuge is said to have developed land mines and improved the design of a repeating crossbow, enabling it to shoot 10 arrows in a short time.
He developed the mu niu and liu ma, or wooden cattle and moving horses, a rather mysterious but efficient automatic transportation device that could carry provisions.