Straw Trickery

“Once upon a time, two nations were at war in Ancient China. One was a peasant nation, while the other was an invading force, attempting to subjugate the peasants and assimilate them into their iron rule. Both sides had been battling for many years now, and their armies had been whittled down to mere shadows of what they had once been. Now, it was time for a decisive battle, one that would determine the outcome of the war, and who would be defeated. The two armies camped across a river from each other, making preparations for this final battle. It was at this point that the peasant army realized that it was dangerously low on arrows. There was no way they could win a skirmish without arrows to support the army. The general knew he had to do something, and quick, or else the invading army would easily win. And so he thought of a plan. He ordered his men to gather all the straw they could find, and bundle these straw piles on all of the boats they had on the river. Then, he ordered his men to strip down and put their clothes on these straw men, and told his men to sleep and be rested for tomorrow’s long day. The next morning, before dawn, the general woke up a small group of soldiers, and ordered them to go with him to the river. They tied ropes to the boats and with a push, sent the straw men in boats on their way to the enemy camp. In the enemy camp, at dawn, the soldiers woke up to hundreds of boats carrying soldiers ready to attack. The general panicked, immediately concluding that the peasant army must have mobilized in the night. He ordered his archers to fire upon the boats, yet was shocked to see that none of the peasant soldiers fell. He ordered them to fire again, and this time the archers sent out an immense volley. At this point, the sun had risen a little higher, illuminating the battlefield better, and at this point, the general realized he had made a huge mistake. He had just expended a huge amount of his arrows shooting at the peasants straw decoys. The peasant army reeled the boats back in, and with a new found supply of arrows, went on to win the battle and maintain their independence.” (translated from Chinese)


The informant is from Taiwan, and it is easy to see how the Taiwanese would come up with a story where a smaller, less equipped army defeats a larger invading force with their wits. As Taiwan has been at odds with their Chinese neighbor across the strait, such a story would be a nationalistic tale to inspire the people of Taiwan in their own struggle to gain independence as the underdog achieves victory. It is also a story that parents would likely tell their children in order to promote pride and resourcefulness as qualities to pursue.

Whether this battle actually occurred, or the story is the product of fakelore is a question that cannot be easily answered. In both cases, we see motifs such as the brave good leader defeating the looming imperial force with overwhelming numbers, never giving up and beating incredible odds.