This is an interesting story from the Three Kingdoms period (220-280) in ancient China when the Wei and Wu kingdoms joined together to fight against the Wei Kingdom. Zhou Yu, the chief military commander of the Wu Kingdom, ordered Zhu Ge Liang (the chief minister of the Shu Kingdom and generally regarded as the kingdom’s top mastermind) to produce 100,000 arrows within 10 days.
“Three days is enough, ” said Zhu. He also agreed to be punished if he failed to complete the order.
Zhou mocked that Zhu was looking for self-destruction. On the one hand, Zhou ordered his troops not to provide Zhu with materials to make the arrows. He also sent Lu Su to see how Zhu was dealing the problem.
In fact, Zhu had already realized that this was a plot. He asked Lu (who was kind-hearted) to lend him 20 boats, each lined with straw scarecrows and manned by 30 soldiers. He also requested that Lu not tell Zhou what was happening.
When Lu came again to see Zhu, he did not find anything unusual. Nothing happened on the second day either. In the early morning of the third day, Zhu invited Lu for a boat ride. The 20 boats were tied together with strong ropes. Zhu’s fleet sailed toward the camp of Cao Cao (who was the king of the Wei Kingdom).
A thick mist had spread over the surface of the river. People could hardly see each other on the river. When Zhu’s fleet got close to the Cao camp before dawn, Zhu ordered his soldiers to shout and beat drums to fake an attack. Zhu and Lu simply sat inside one of the boats and drank wine to enjoy themselves.
As soon as the Cao camp heard the shouting and drum beating, they mistook it for a surprise attack by the Zhou camp. Since they could see nobody on the river, they gathered 3,000 bowmen and ordered them to shoot arrows. The front of the scarecrows was quickly shot full of arrows.
After a while, Zhu had his fleet turn around to expose the other side of the scarecrows. When this side was also shot full of arrows, the day broke. Zhu ordered his soldiers to return to their base port. The soldiers shouted, “Thank you, Cao, for your arrows.” After they got back to their camp, they collected more than 100,000 arrows from the scarecrows.
To borrow arrows with thatched boats is a famous story in Chinese history. Today we use it as a proverb to express use others’ power to achieve own’s goal.