During the Warring Kingdoms period (475-221 B.C.), Yan attacked Qi and captured all of the Qi territory except two cities: Jucheng and Jimo.
Tiandan was the commanding general in charge of defending Jimo. He had a very clever strategy. He said to the Yan army: “We are out of food. Please let us come out to surrender tomorrow.”
That night, Tiandan ordered his army to have one thousand oxen covered with bright red satin sheets painted with dragons, tied a dagger on each bull horn, and tied a burning rope on the oxen’s tails. He then ordered the oxen to be released and had soldiers follow them.
City dwellers beat drums and shouted together. Yan’s army woke up in panic from their dreams and saw many sharp horns with strange fiery bodies rushing towards them. Yan’s soldiers panicked and fled. Tiandan exploited the victory and continued to pursue and attack his enemy. In just a few months he recovered all of the Qi territory.
Who would think of using farming oxen to be the vanguard? His stratagem produced extraordinary efficacy. Of course, the success of the oxen with flares tied to their tails to overwhelm the enemy may have been because Qi wasn’t destined to be destroyed at that time.
From Historical Records by Sima Guang