According to the folklore, Sima Yi is a villain. According to the history book, he is a brilliant politician during The Three Kingdoms period, hence a villain. Wikipedia listed two instances that showcased the deficiencies in his character. First instance, he refused to see his big wife and called her an ugly, old hag in front of his younger wife. The big wife was so upset over it, she went on a hunger strike, with their sons joining her. He later apologized and begged for her forgiveness. When asked why he changed his tune, he explained that he would gladly let the old hag die but he couldn’t let his precious sons die with her. (Scathing, much?) The second instance was during the final battle between him and Zhuge Liang, a brilliant strategist who is not a villain. When he heard the rumor that Zhuge had died and the Shu-Han army was retreating, he feared that it was a trap and did not pursue them. He was mocked for missing out his best chance to crush his enemy once and for all, “a dead Zhuge scared away a living Sima.”
The first season of The Advisors Alliance (军师联盟) didn’t whitewash his character. Instead, it gave context to his actions. Sima Yi in the drama is a real person, who, at times, is cowardly, selfish, calculating, ambitious, decisive, protective, smart, humble, caring, and supportive. He does what it is needed to protect his family and his country. Altruism is a rare human trait and that’s why we call altruistic people heroes. Sima Yi clearly is not one of them. He is just a regular fellow who has been judged a wee bit too harshly by the history book.
I like this drama even better than Nirvana in Fire. It integrates humor with seriousness. It is quick paced yet heartfelt. I cried when Yang Xiu died. He is a true believer of Cao Cao’s vision and I can feel across the TV screen his intense regret for not being able to witness that vision come true.
I love the rivalry between Sima Yi and Yang Xiu because competition spurs improvement. When Cao Cao asks Sima Yi whether he feels vindicated by Yang Xiu’s execution, an enemy who has tried numerous time to get him killed, Sima responds: “I have no enemies, only teachers. Some show me the way. Some teach me a lesson.”