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The Chinese are known for having a long and interesting history.

They are credited with inventing fireworks, paper, printing, gunpowder, the compass and many of the foundations of modern medicine, well before they were discovered in the west.

One of the first instances of paper money ever found was within China, and solooking at one traditional Chinese folk story may be able to provide us some useful advice on how to manage our finances and make the most of them.

The Story

In 3rd Century China, the country was dominated by three different states the Wei in the North, Shu in the South West and the Wu in the South, who were constantly fighting.

The North, the biggest of these states,sent armies to attack the South. They got close to the South, set up camp and waited for the opportunity to attack.
If they succeeded they planned to go on to try and conquer the South West.

Borrowing Arrows With Thatched Boats – Learning From Chinese Folklore

The North was powerful with large numbers of soldiers and weapons.To try to fight back, the South and South West became allies to fight their potential invaders.

Zhuge Liang, of the South West, went to plan a military strategy with Zhou Yu, of the South, to fight the enemy together.

They wanted to work out which weapons to use, and agreed bows and arrows were going to be best.

However, Zhou Yu knew they were short of arrows, and asked Zhuge Liang if they could be trusted to make enough arrows. Zhuge said that they could and asked when they needed them. Zhou asked if they could be made in 10 days.

Zhuge replied that 10 days was too long and the North would attack before then. He then suggested he could make 100,000 arrows in 3 days.

Zhou did not believe this number, but Zhuge was adamant that it could be achieved and offered to be punished if he could not deliver.

Borrowing Arrows With Thatched Boats – Learning From Chinese Folklore

Later on, Zhuge advised Zhou to send 500 soldiers to the riverside in 3 days to collect the arrows.
Zhuge was not worried about the assignment, and told a member of the South that it would be impossible to make that amount of arrows in that timescale by traditional means and asked his friend in the south to find 20 small boats and place 30 soldiers in each boat.

The boats were covered with black cloth and straw figures were constructed and aligned on each side of each boat. Zhuge asked his friend to keep the plan a secret.

The 3 days had nearly passed and no arrows had been made.

At midnight on the second day, Zhuge asked his friend in the south to board one of the small boats to go with him to collect the arrows. His friend was confused.

Zhuge told his friend, “When the time comes, you will understand,” and gave orders to tie the 20 boats together with ropes and they set off, in thick fog, toward the North’s camp.

As they approached the camp, Zhuge ordered the boats to be placed in a horizontal line facing the river bank. His soldiers started to drum and shout.

His friend was confused and scared, they were completely outnumbered by the opposition, but Zhuge said with a smile, “I bet that the North dare not attack in this heavy fog.”

Borrowing Arrows With Thatched Boats – Learning From Chinese Folklore

The North’s general heard the drums and shouting and told his troops not to attack as the heavy fog made it impossible to see the real situation.
Instead, he ordered 10,000 archers to fire arrows toward the river to stop the enemy in their tracks.

Soon, the straw figures on the boats were filled with arrows. The boats were turned round so the straw figures on the other side could collect arrows. Soon they were full of arrows.

They then sailed back quickly.

When the boats arrived in the South, 500 soldiers were waiting to collect the arrows. Zhuge delivered over 100,000 arrows. Zhou was in awe of Zhuge’s foresight.

Zhuge told him a general should study many things, focusing on just one will leave him with limited expertise.

“I knew three days in advance that there would be a heavy fog today, which is why I dared to agree to the three-day deadline.”

The Personal Finance Lesson

In this instance, someone was able to make the most of a situation, by carefully researching a number of areas and using the knowledge gained to create an opportunity to gain some competitive advantage.

To do this in your own life, ask yourself 3 questions.

1) What Is Happening?

If you have a particular area of focus, you should look to research it from a number of angles.
Once you have identified the key things that are happening in your situation, you can conduct more research to find ways of turning the situation to your advantage.

2) What Could Happen?

This information should come from your research.  Weigh up the possibilities and likelihood of certain things happening in the area you are looking at. This is likely to come from looking over what has happened and what experts think is likely to happen.

3) How Do I Make The Most Of The Situation?

Again, this depends upon your interpretation of the research you have undertaken.

From this research you should be able to find some areas where you can make the most of a situation and find opportunities to get the best deals. This may be as simple as finding some money off a holiday or as complicated as investing in the stock market.

Either way, research is needed and these questions need to be asked.