When saying the names Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, although the surnames are different, yet we have come together as brothers. From this day forward, we shall join forces for a common purpose: to save the troubled and to aid the endangered. We shall avenge the nation above, and pacify the citizenry below. We seek not to be born on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. We merely hope to die on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. May the Gods of Heaven and Earth attest to what is in our hearts. If we should ever do anything to betray our friendship, may heaven and the people of the earth both strike us dead.
- ‘Peach Garden Oath’, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a well-known Chinese historical novel. Written during the 14th century, this piece of literature is based on the historical Three Kingdoms period, which lasted from the latter part of the 2nd century AD to the second half of the 3rd century AD. Whilst the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is based on historical figures and actual events, these characters and incidents are also partly romanticized and dramatized. The result of this is a well-loved piece of literary work that has had a strong impact on generations of readers, as well as on Chinese culture, even till the present day.
Statues of (from left) Zhang Fei, Liu Bei and Guan Yu at Haw Par Villa, Singapore. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )
A Historic Novel: Romance of the Three Kingdoms
The authorship of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is traditionally attributed to Luo Guanzhong, a Chinese writer who lived during the late Yuan and early Ming Dynasties. This novel is regarded as one of the Four Great Classic Novels in Chinese literature, the other three being the Water Margin , Journey to the West , and the Dream of the Red Chamber . The Romance of the Three Kingdoms consists of 120 chapters, and over 800,000 words. Additionally, over a thousand characters, the majority of whom are historical, are mentioned in the novel.
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The Rebellion Begins
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms begins with the Yellow Turban Rebellion, which was a peasant revolt whose leaders were inspired by Taoist teachings. Although the Han Dynasty succeeded in putting down the rebellion, it eventually suffered from a breakdown in central authority, as the last two emperors were mere puppets, first under Dong Zhuo, and then under Cao Cao, both of whom were warlords. Whilst Dong Zhuo became the most powerful man in China for a brief period of time, his tyrannous reign came to an end when he was assassinated by one of his subordinates.
Qing Dynasty Romance of the Three Kingdoms illustration of Dong Zhou. ( Public Domain )
Tyrannical Cao Cao
Cao Cao is one of the main characters in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms . Although Cao Cao served as the chancellor of the Han emperor, he was posthumously honored as Emperor Wu of Wei, as the state of Wei was established by his son, Cao Pi. The capital of this state was Luoyang (also the capital of the Eastern Han) and it controlled the northern part of China. In the novel, Cao Cao is generally portrayed as a cruel and ruthless tyrant. Nevertheless, he was also a brilliant strategist, and a capable administrator. In addition, he is noted for being an accomplished poet.
Mask of Cao Cao, Qing Dynasty, produced at Anshun, Guizhou; photographed by Mountain, at Shanghai Museum. ( Public Domain )
The Young Sun Quan
Another main character in the novel is Sun Quan, the ruler of Wu, which had been founded by his elder brother, Sun Ce. This state controlled much of southern and eastern China. When Sun Ce was assassinated, Sun Quan, who was only 18 years old at the time, became the new ruler of Wu. Despite his young age, Sun Quan proved himself to be a formidable ruler, which allowed him to turn the state of Wu into one of the Three Kingdoms. Sun Quan’s most important military victory was at the Battle of Red Cliffs in 209 AD. Cao Cao had planned to extend his power to the areas south of the Yangtze River. Although possessing numerical superiority, Cao Cao was defeated by an alliance formed between Sun Quan and Liu Bei.
Statue of Sun Quan, founding emperor of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. (Dhugal Fletcher/ CC BY SA 2.0 )
The Benevolent Liu Bei
Liu Bei was the ruler of Shu, which controlled the southwestern part of China. As a distant member of the Han imperial family, Liu Bei is regarded to be the most legitimate contender to the throne. Moreover, he is perceived to be the most deserving as well. Unlike Cao Cao, Lu Bei is depicted as a benevolent ruler, and, unlike Sun Quan, who sided either with Wu or Shu depending on which benefitted him most, Liu Bei was a principled individual. It is due to his force of character that Liu Bei was able to attract such highly capable individuals as his sworn brothers Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, as well as the brilliant strategist Zhuge Liang.
The painting ‘Kongming Leaving the Mountains’ (detail), depicting Zhuge Liang leaving his rustic retreat to enter into the service of Liu Bei (both seen on horses). ( Public Domain )
The End of the Three Kingdoms
Although the states of Wei, Wu, and Shu were constantly at war with each other, none of them were able to gain complete control over China. As colorful as the maneuverings the three kingdoms may be, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms ends with fact that all three states were eventually conquered by the Sima family, who managed to unify China under the Jin Dynasty.
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The Romance of the Three Kingdoms has had a lasting impact on generations of readers and on Chinese culture. For instance, some of the stories in the novel are included in the repertoire of the Beijing opera, and adaptations have also been made in more modern media, such as films, television series, and video games. Additionally, many popular Chinese sayings have their origins in the novel, including ‘speak of Cao Cao, and Cao Cao arrives’ (the equivalent of ‘speak of the devil’), and ‘losing the lady and having the army crippled’ (meaning ‘to make double losses’).
‘Borrowing arrows with straw boats’ ( 草船借箭), portrait at the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace, Beijing. (Shizhao/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong, is a historical novel set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in 280.
- The empire, long divided, must unite long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.
- Chapter 1, opening lines (trans. Moss Roberts)
- Variant translations:
- Unity succeeds division and division follows unity. One is bound to be replaced by the other after a long span of time. This is the way with things in the world.
- trans. Yu Sumei
- from threekingdoms.com
- "The peach trees in the orchard behind the house are just in full flower. Tomorrow we will institute a sacrifice there and solemnly declare our intention before Heaven and Earth, and we three will swear brotherhood and unity of aims and sentiments: Thus will we enter upon our great task."
- Chapter 1 the Oath of the Peach Garden.
We ask not the same day of birth, but we seek to die together.
- "We three—Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei—though of different families, swear brotherhood, and promise mutual help to one end. We will rescue each other in difficulty we will aid each other in danger. We swear to serve the state and save the people. We ask not the same day of birth, but we seek to die together. May Heaven, the all-ruling, and Earth, the all-producing, read our hearts. If we turn aside from righteousness or forget kindliness, may Heaven and Human smite us!"
- Chapter 1 the Oath of the Peach Garden. translation: "When saying the names Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, although the surnames are different, yet we have come together as brothers. From this day forward, we shall join forces for a common purpose: to save the troubled and to aid the endangered. We shall avenge the nation above, and give peace to the citizenry below. We seek not to be born on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. We merely hope to die on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. May the Gods of Heaven and Earth attest to what is in our hearts. If we should ever do anything to betray our friendship, may heaven and the people of the earth both strike us dead."
- "They are many and we but few," said Yuan-te to his brothers. "We can only beat them by superior strategy."
- Chapter 1
- Though fierce as tigers soldiers be,
Battles are won by strategy.
A hero comes he gains renown,
Already destined for a crown.
- Chapter 1
- In peace you are an able subject in chaos you are a crafty hero!
- Chapter 1 Xu Shao to Cao Cao.
- To get rid of wicked men from your king's side,
Then seek counsel from the wise men of the state.
- Chapter 2 (trans. Yu Sumei)
- Now to stop the ebullition of a pot the best way is to withdraw the fire to cut out an abscess, though painful, is better than to nourish the evil.
- Chapter 3
- A fierce wild beast: If he comes, his prey will be humans!
- Chapter 3
- There is life for those who are with me, death for those against!
- Chapter 3 spoken by Dong Zhuo.
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The clever bird chooses the branch whereon to perch the wise servant selects the master to serve.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms - A Well-Loved Chinese Classic - History
by Luo Guanzhong
ROTK, aka Three Kingdoms, is the most popular novel in Asia. Written 600 years ago, it tells the epic of Han Dynasty in China during the 2nd and 3rd century. Sometimes I look at this old story and marvel to see it glow as the time goes by. In video games alone, I know 5 titles related to ROTK.
In paper book, I have read 3 full English translations of ROTK, of which one translation has been lost many years ago. But the other two are much more popular among readers. One is by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor, and another by Moss Roberts. I own 5 editions of Brewitt-Taylor (1925, 1929, 1959, 1985, 1995), and 3 Roberts' editions (1976, 1991, 1999). Since ROTK fans often want to purchase paper books, they email me quite frequently to ask about the info of these editions. So, I will write here the info I know about the books, hoping that it would help you select the suitable ones.
Abridge vs. Full: Regardless of edition, don't buy abridged versions of ROTK. Moss Roberts has a full version and an abridged version, and they may confuse you. When you read the cover of the book, pay attention to whether the word "abridged" is present in the cover or the publisher reviews. If it is, don't go for it. The full version is much more enjoyable.
Size of the Book: ROTK is a huge book of 120 chapters and from 1,100 to 1,700 pages (depending on paper and font sizes). So, it is published in several volumes (from 2 to 4 volumes). When you purchase the books, try to buy a complete set. ROTK is often sold in complete set, but somehow one of Brewitt-Taylor's versions is sold in separate volumes.
Moss Roberts (Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel): The English translation of ROTK by Moss Roberts is the best translation I have ever seen. It is more enjoyable than the original Chinese text, I truly agree. Here is the one reason: Professor Roberts provides us 250 extra pages of notes, which come from various sources, from both history and traditions. I have read a few original texts, and the editions I read do not give as much information. Beside notes, Professor Roberts also supplies several useful maps of battles. One advantage of this translation is that it is new, and therefore, it uses the modern Pinyin name system (names like Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan---those names are used in games, too). Below are the covers of different editions. The links point to the full translation, which I recommend, and you can purchase it online:
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (Romance of Three Kingdoms): The English translation of ROTK by Brewitt-Taylor is very old. Therefore, it uses the Yale name system (names like Tsao Tsao, Liu Pei, and Sun Chuan), which is less popular today. A disadvantage of this translation is that it does not provide background information like Roberts' version. This translation is like a pure novel, from page 1 to ending page---no maps, no notes. Furthermore, it has many errors that haven't got corrected since the first edition. With so many flaws, why should the readers be interested? Well, if you collect ROTK books like I do, you may want to buy several of them. But one important thing is that the translation of Brewitt-Taylor is very beautiful in literature style. The language in this version is fluid and suitable to ROTK, perhaps partly due to its old English. Here are some of its covers (be careful, the books are sold separately in 2 volumes):
Non-English translations: Since ROTK is well-known in East Asia, it's easy to find a copy in Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. in your local bookstore. Some readers ask if there are translations in French, German, Spanish, or Russian. My answer is "Maybe there are." I have seen a French translation published by Flammarion (7 volumes). Since I don't know French, I cannot tell if it is a good translation or not. A reader (Diego Rodriguez) also told me there's a Spanish translation in Beijing (cost about US $300). Another reader (Bas Suverkropp) says there's an "abridged" German translation by Franz Kuhn. If you come across these versions or any other versions, please email me your review. Amazingly, a reader (AJ) sent me a link to an online Russian translation of ROTK History Records here .
Об этой игре
To commemorate Kou Shibusawa's 35th anniversary, the "Kou Shibusawa Archives" will be opened in the Steam Store. Here we will revive popular previously released titles. Among the first released will be Romance of the Three Kingdoms which was first released in 1985.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms was the first Japanese game to be based on the Chinese classic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Players become the leaders of their countries and strive to unite the land under their rule.
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The Romance of the Three Kingdoms - A Well-Loved Chinese Classic - History
Confucius was a man of great statue and physical prowess but chose to rely on the power of his words to change the world. There were, however, many who tried to change the world through the power of swords rather than through words. Though these men of swords did regard ren as the highest human virtue, they did not see ren in the same way as Confucius did. They regarded ren first and foremost as the matter of brotherly bond, of love for their warrior brethren. Romance of Three Kingdoms is the epitome of such warrior brand of ren.
Romance of Three Kingdoms , attributed to the fourteenth century literati Luo Guanzhong, is not only one of Four Great Novels of China but has been the most loved and influential of popular Chinese novels. Romance of Three Kingdoms is said to embody the essence of being Chinese: being political, relying on personal relationships based on trust. More than half of Beijing operas, the most popular form of entertainment before the advent of radio, movie, and TV, are based on it. The founder of the Manchu Qing dynasty, Hong Taiji (r. 1626-1643) ordered a Manchu translation of this novel to be created so that his Manchu subjects could understand the Chinese people better. Chairman Mao Zedong was an avid fan of Romance of Three Kingdoms. Like many others before and after him, Mao Zedong learned strategies and tactics from the ancient heroes of Romance of Three Kingdoms. The official China Central Television made a TV series (1991-1995) of Romance of Three Kingdoms, using 100,000 extras. The set is now the popular Three Kingdoms theme park ． Idioms based on Romance of Three Kingdoms’ episodes are still widely used. New retelling and translations, and games, animations, comics, and business books based on Romance of Three Kingdoms appear every year. John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008) loosely based on Romance of Three Kingdoms was a blockbuster in Asia and sent this classic novel back to the top of best-seller list in Japan.
Romance of Three Kingdoms recounts the history of Three Kingdoms period where the power of the ruling Han Dynasty waned, and through years of civil war, the empire came to be divided into three kingdoms of Shu, Wei, and Wu after a long power struggle, the Sima family who held the top political offices in Wei reunited China, and founded the Jin Dynasty. Making extensive use of ten centuries’ worth of popular stories that sprung up around this dramatic warring period’s heroes, Romance of Three Kingdoms colorfully retells the history with anecdotes of heroes and villains, of battles and political intrigues, and of intricate war strategies and tactics. Since It includes so much history and strategies, even Confucian intellectuals who considered novels as the entertainment of the uneducated masses found Romance of Three Kingdoms a worthy read.
I introduce a summary of the story below, emphasizing the most famous episodes. Asian epic movies are made on the assumption that you know these episodes.
Romance of Three Kingdoms starts:
Here begins the story. If divided for long, the empire will unite long united, it will divide. This has long been the case. In the last years of Zhou dynasty, seven kingdoms warred against each other until the kingdom of Qin emerged triumphant and conquered others. But Qin soon fell, and in its ruin two kingdoms of Chu and Han emerged and fought until the kingdom of Han emerged triumphant and conquered the other, as Qin had done. Han’s rise to power began when the Supreme Ancestor (the founder of the Han dynasty) killed a white snake, inspiring an uprising that concluded with Han ruling the reunified empire.
Two hundred years later, after Wang Mang’s coup, Emperor Guang Wu restored the dynasty, and the Han dynasty ruled for another two hundred years until Emperor Xian, after whose reign the empire split into three kingdoms. The house of Han’s fall traces its cause from Emperor Xian’s two predecessors, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling. Emperor Huan sent away and even persecuted able officials of integrity and trusted only eunuchs. After Emperor Ling succeeded Emperor Huan, Regent-Marshal Dou Wu and Imperial Guardian Chen Fan, joint custodians of the throne, planned to eliminate eunuchs Cao Jie and his cohorts who were abusing their power. But the plan was exposed early, and Dou Wu and Chen Fan were executed. From them on, the eunuchs had their way at the court.(Chapter 1)
Romance of Three Kingdoms shows no interest in the mythical beginning of the world and solely focus on the dynasties’ rise and fall. Based on the idea of the Mandate of Heaven, Romance of Three Kingdoms places the blame for the fall of Han dynasty squarely on the reigning royal family’s lack of virtue (ren). Emperors Huan, Ling, and Xian let eunuchs rule the government, which pushed the common people’s minds toward rebellion that manifested as Yellow Scarves Rebellion.
Romance of Three Kingdoms tells how the leader of the Yellow Scarves Rebellion, Zhang Liang, rose to power. Having failed civil service examinations, Zhang Liang resigned himself to the countryside. When he was gathering medicinal herbs in the hills, a Daoist master appeared and gave him three sacred books so that he could learn secret knowledge and save the people. Zhang Liang became quite adept at summoning wind and invoking rain and grew famous. He gained more than five hundred disciples who spread his fame throughout the empire. After he had gained numerous followers, he decided to claim that he received the Mandate of Heaven to replace the Han dynasty. His followers enthusiastically joined his cause, and his army swelled to half a million strong.
Faced with the news of this serious rebellion, Emperor Xian ordered the local governors to raise armies. Governor of the Zhou province, not having enough men at hand, issued a call for volunteers. This call occasioned the meeting of three central heroes of the story, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei are recorded in history books as Liu Bei’s most trusted generals, but their details are obscure. Popular imagination made these obscure figures into heroes.
Liu Bei met Zhang Fei in front of the notice board:
…Liu Bei was 28 when the governor issued the call for volunteers. Reading the notice, he sighed heavily. “Hey, why a grown man like you waste time sighing?”, a big voice boomed. “A real man should be serving the country.” Xuande turned and faced the owner of the voice. He was eight spans tall, with a head shaped like a panther’s, huge round eyes, a jaw shaped like a swallow’s, beard like a tiger’s, a voice like a thunder, and energy of a runaway horse. Impressed by his unusual looks, Liu Bei asked his name.
“My family name,” the man answered, “is Zhang, given name, Fei, and style name, Yide. My family’s lived in this county for generations, and owns a house and farm. We trade wine and pork. I seek to befriend heroic men. When I saw you sighing reading the call for volunteers, I decided to address you.” Liu Bei answered, “I am related to the imperial family. My family name is Liu, given name, Bei, and style name, Xuande. I want to quell the Yellow Scarves rebellion and save the people, but I have no means to carry it out. That is why I was sighing.” “I have some,” said Zhang Fei, “How about we use it to recruit some men and work together for the cause?” Liu Bei was delighted. They headed to a local tavern. (Chapter 1)
At the tavern, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei met the third hero, Guan Yu:
While they were drinking, they saw a man of great statue came, pushing a cart. He stopped at the entrance of the tavern. He ordered the waiter, “Some wine, quickly! I am going to the city to volunteer.” Liu Bei observed him. An extremely tall man, good nine spans tall, with a two-foot-long beard. His had ruddy cheeks, rich red lips, shapely eyes like those of the crimson phoenix, and eye brows like nestling silk worms. His statue was imposing, and his demeanor dignified. Xuande invited him to join their table and asked his name.
“My family name is Guan, given name, Yu, style name was originally Changsheng but was later changed to Yunchang. I am from Jielang in the Hedong province, but I left home after killing a local bigwig who was exploiting the villagers and have been on the move these five or six years. So when I heard about the recruitment, I rushed to volunteer.” Liu Bei told Guan Yu his own ambitions, to the latter’s delight. Together the three went to Zhang Fei’s farm to discuss their plan further. Zhang Fei said, “My farm has a peach garden which in full bloom. Let's offer sacrifice there tomorrow to Heaven and earth to pledge ourselves as sworn brothers. Then we can be of the one heart to accomplish our plan together.” Liu Bei and Guan Yu agreed with one voice, “Good.” (Chapter 1)
Three heroes made an oath known as the Peach Garden Oath, which said:
“We three, though born to different families, swear here to be brothers, in one mind and strength, to resolve this upheaval. We will serve the country and protect the people. Though we were not born on the same day, we will all die on the same day. Heaven and Earth, be the witnesses to our pledge! If any of us ever be ungrateful or unrighteous, let Heaven’s and Earth‘s curse fall upon us!” (Chapter 1)
This oath, which places their sworn brotherly bond above that of natural familial bond, is the driving force of this novel. The idiom, the Peach Garden Oath, defines the ideal form of male friendship in the Chinese cultural tradition. Male bonding is still a popular theme in today’s Asian movies, John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) and its squeals, and Johnny To’s Exiled (2007), to name a few. In the multiple award winner period movie The Warlords (2007), three heroes swear an oath very similar to the Peach Garden Oath and test their bond against the backdrop of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). (Taiping Rebellion leaders used Romance of Three kingdoms and Water Margin as their strategy and organizational guide books.)
The elder of the brotherhood was Liu Bei. His elder status is based on his claimed royal lineage rather than physical age. Romance of Three Kingdoms describes Liu Bei as follows:
…He did not like reading, but was genteel in nature, of few words, and did not show his emotions. He was ambitious, and loved to cultivate friendship with the boldest souls of the empire. He was seven and half spans tall. His ear lobes were so elongated that he could see his own ears. His arms reached below his knees. His face was as smooth as white jade, and his lips were bright red as if rouged. He was a descendent of Liu Sheng, Prince Jing of Zhongshan, who was a great-great-grandson of the fourth emperor of the Han dynasty, Jing. His family name was Liu, given name, Bei, and his chosen name was Xuande.
…Liu Bei’s father died young. Orphaned, Xuande served his widowed mother with singular devotion. They were so poor that he had to weave and sell sandals and mats to survive. Their house was in a village called Mulberry Tower, and had a mulberry tree of some fifty spans near its southwest corner. Seen from a distance, the mulberry covered the house like a carriage canopy. ”This house will produce an eminent man,” a feng shui (geomancy) reader said. While playing beneath the tree with other boys, young Liu Bei declared, “When I become the Son of Heaven, I will ride a chariot with canopy like this.” These bold words impressed his uncle Liu Yuanqi, who commented, “This is no ordinary child.” Since then, Liu Yuanqi often helped Liu Bei and his mother financially. At fifteen Liu Bei was sent away by his mother to study… (Chapter 1)
Romance of Three Kingdoms , thus, tells that that Liu Bei was a descendant of a Han emperor. This claim is actually not as impressive as it sounds. Prince Jing of Zhongshan who is named as Liu Bei’s ancestor is said to have had 120 sons (as well as unknown number of daughters). So there must have been quite a number of men who could claim the same linage. However, in Romance of Three Kingdoms, Liu Bei gets a lot of mileage out of this imperial lineage. This claim entitles him to preferential treatments and favors from different warlords and even earns him the official title of Imperial Uncle. In fact, this claim of imperial lineage is central to Romance of Three Kingdoms which tells that, even though it was later absorbed by the Jin dynasty, Liu Bei’s kingdom, Shu was the legitimate successor to the Han Dynasty.
While Creation of Lesser Gods is the story of a tyrant emperor's fall and the righteous emperor's rise, Romance of Three Kingdoms is the story of the rightful successor to the imperial throne eclipsed by a villainous foe, which gives a sense of tragedy to this novel.
Emphasizing his imperial lineage, the authors of Romance of Three Kingdoms made Liu Bei a prince in exile, stylizing him into a junzi whose ren qualifies him to be the emperor. Liu Bei is described as genteel by nature, of few words, and did not show emotions. He is also described to have elongated ear lobes. Elongated ear lobes are considered as the sign of good fortune, and a fixed feature of Buddhist deities. So having elongated earlobes indicates that Liu Bei was a man of high moral quality.
Stylized as junzi, Liu Bei of Romance of Three Kingdoms is not much of a warrior but shows keen appreciation of great warriors. When his general Zhao Yun risked his life to save his only son Ah Dou in the middle of an enemy attack, Liu Bei threw the infant aside, and declared, "I nearly lost a great general because of a worthless kid!", which moved Zhao Yun to tears. (Chapter 14) The combination of the aura of an imperial lineage and his sincere appreciation of talented men was what attracted men such as Zhao Yun, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei to Liu Bei.
Guan Yu personifies the hero quality. Even among many excellent warriors described in this story, Guan Yu ranks as one of the very best. Guan Yu is magnificent in his appearance. (Homer also endowed Achilles and Hercules with brilliant good looks.) He is of imposing height—nine spans converts to about six foot eight inches—with two feet long beard, for which he was nicknamed Lord Beautiful Beard. He is a mighty warrior who yields a huge long handled saber named Green Dragon Crescent Blade that weighs some 40 pounds. Though he lacks the prestige of lineage Liu Biao boasts, Guan Yu is still a man of aristocratic learning and has a particular fondness for Annals of Spring and Autumn attributed to Confucius. As many martial men, even generals, were at best semi-literate, — for one, Liu Bei did not like reading— this description distinguishes him as a man of dual talent.
Zhang Fei who sports fearsome looks and thunderous voice is an earthy macho guy. He lacks the learning and consequently acts upon emotion rather than reason. Zhang Fei who wields a thirteen feet long spear is recklessly brave and powerful, and rumored to be able to defeat an army of ten thousand single-handedly. Zhang Fei whose family business was butchering pigs and trading wine was a folk hero whom the uneducated common people could easily relate to. In the more oral tradition of the Three Kingdoms story, Zhang Fei is something of a superman who can make e a bridge collapse with his thunderous roar.
Let’s follow the progress of the three sworn bothers. They happened to rescue two wealthy merchants who were chased by bandits. Grateful merchants offered money and horses to the three. They gathered men, had their weapons made, joined the fight against the Yellow Scarves. Here they met their latter day competitors Cao Cao and Sun Jian.
Cao Cao, who is the main villain of the story, is described as seven span tall, narrow-eyed, with a long beard. Romance of Three Kingdoms tells:
His family name was Cao, given name, Cao, style name, Mengde. Cao Cao’s father Cao Song’s family name was originally Ziahou. When he became the adopted son of eunuch Cao Teng his family name became Cao. Cao Song was Cao Cao’s natural father. Cao Cao had child-hood name Ah Man and sometimes also called Jili.
Since childhood, Cao Cao had loved hunting, song and dance, and good at scheming and playing tricks. An uncle of Cao Cao got upset by the boy’s unruliness, and complained to Cao Song. Cao Song scolded Cao Cao. Cao Cao hatched a scheme. When the boy saw his uncle coming, he fell to the ground, imitating a fit. The uncle told Cao Song, who rushed to his son. The boy was perfectly fine. Cao Song said, “Your uncle said you’d had a fit. Is it over?” “I never had such illness. Uncle doesn’t like me so mistook something for a fit,” was the boy’s reply. The father believed the son’s words. Since then, the father stopped heeding the uncle’s complaints. Cao Cao continued his unruly ways.
A man named Qiao Xuan said to Cao Cao, “The Empire is near chaos. Only the extraordinarily talented man can save the situation. You might be the one.” He Yu of Nanyang saw Cao Cao and said, “The house of Han is doomed to fall. I am sure that this is the man to unify the empire.” Xu Shao of Runan was famous for reading people. Cao Cao asked, “What kind of person am I?” Xu Shao refused to answer. Asked repeatedly, Xu Shao said,”You would make a great statesman in a time of peace and a treacherous villain in a time of chaos.” These words greatly pleased Cao Cao.
At 20, Cao Cao was recommended by the district to become a secretary, and later made the chief of security in the northern half of district. Upon arrival, he had ten or so five-colored cudgels placed at the four gates of the city, and severely punished every violator of the law, even rich and mighty. One night an uncle of eunuch Jian Shuo was walking the streets carrying a broadsword. Cao Cao, on his nightly rounds, arrested him and beat him with the cudgel. Since then, no one dared to break the law and Cao Cao’s fame rose. Later he was appointed for Governor of Dunqiu. When the Yellow Scarves uprisings started, Cao Cao was promoted to the rank of cavalry commander…(Chapter 1)
Cao Cao belonged to the house of a eunuch. Though they were powerful as personal servants of the emperor, eunuchs were despised as men who were not really men. Respectable families did not agree to make their sons adopted by a eunuch. By mentioning his grandfather was a eunuch, albeit a famous and powerful one, Romance of Three Kingdoms places Cao Cao’s social status as lowly, in contrast to Liu Bei’s much touted imperial lineage.
Cao Cao is described as scheming and cunning, and strict disciplinarian. This does not conform to Confucian ideal of the rule by ren. Romance of Three Kingdoms, thus, places Cao Cao socially and morally lesser to Liu Bei. It also describes Cao Cao as far less impressive looking—only seven spans tall and narrow eyed—than the three sworn brothers. However, Cao Cao, the founder of the kingdom of Wei, is not a one-dimensional villain. As the evaluation, “You would make a great statesman in a time of peace and a treacherous villain in a time of chaos,” shows, maligned Cao Cao shows hero qualities, too.
The three brothers also met another of their future competitor, Sun Jian. Sun Jian’s son, Sun Quan later became the founder of the kingdom of Wu. Sun Jian is described as:
…a man of broad forehead and big face, with a body like tiger’s and a girth like bear’s. This man was from Fuchun in the Wu province. His name was Sun Jian, his chosen name was Wentai. He was descended of the author of Sunzi, Sun Wu (Chapter 2).
With all these warriors weighing in, the Yellow Scarves were contained. While Cao Cao and Sun Jian who had connections to the central government received due rewards, Liu Bei received no reward because he lacked connections. After petitioning, Liu Bei received a measly reward of appointment as a county governor. Liu Bei, accompanied by his sworn brothers, worked honestly and diligently, and earned the people’s trust. One day, a regional government inspector came to his county. The inspector accused Liu Bei of occupying the post undeservingly and being corrupt. Since Liu Bei refused to pay bribe to placate him, the inspector arrested one of local officials and interrogated him at his lodging, trying to make him confess that Liu Bei was exploiting the local populace. Liu Bei tried to get him released, but in vain. It was not genteel Liu Bei but Zhang Fei who resolved the situation.
Angry Zhang Fei gulped down several cups of wine. When he rode by the inspector’s lodging, he saw dozens of old men weeping. Zhang Fei asked them why. They said, “The government inspector is torturing an official, trying to frame up Governor Liu. We came to petition the inspector but the gate keepers beat us away.” Zhang Fei exploded in anger. Glaring his huge eyes and gnashing his teeth, he jumped off the horse and shoved his way in. The gate keepers did not dare stop him. Zhang Fei crushed into the inner hall to find the inspector seated, and the local official on the floor, tied up by a rope.
Zhang Fei yelled, “You, the thug who harm the people! Do you know who I am!” Before the inspector could open his mouth, Zhang Fei grabbed him by the hair, dragged him all the way to the front of the county governor’s office, and tied him up to a hitching pole with a rope. Ripping off the branches from a nearby willow tree, Zhang Fei whipped the inspector on his thighs, breaking dozens of branches.
Inside the county governor’s office, Liu Bei sat worried. All of sudden, a rancor started outside the gate. Liu Bei asked and got the answer that Zhang Fei had bound up someone and was whipping him. Liu Bei rushed to the gate to find the inspector bound. Liu Bei cried to Zhang Fei, “What are you doing!” “What’s the good reason to let a thug like this stay alive!” was the answer. The inspector pleaded for his life, and Liu Bei, being of genteel nature, ordered Zhang Fei to release him. Guan Yu came and said, “You did so much in quelling the Yellow Scarves uprising. Now you are held in the menial office of a county governor and suffer insults by a guy like this. A phoenix cannot live in a bush. It is better to kill him, leave the office, and seek a better opportunity.” Liu Bei took off his county governor’s seal from his neck, hanged it around the inspector’s neck, saying, “A thug like you who harms the people deserves to die. However, I let you go today. I return the seal and leave the post.” (Chapter 2)
This episode titled “Zhang Fei Whips the Government Inspector” is typical of Zhang Fei of Romance of Three Kingdoms. He often gets angry at perceived insult against his brother Liu Bei and acts violently upon that impulse. Here, Zhang Fei, a commoner with no official power, whips the arrogant government inspector into tears. The scenario is so emotionally satisfying that this has been one of most popular episodes of the novel.
The meeting of thee brothers and whipping of the inspector occurred in 184. (I follow the chronology given in Romance of Three Kingdoms, which does not always coincide with that of the official history book Annals of Three Kingdoms.) In 189, the reigning emperor Ling passed away, which caused a power struggle at the court. In confusion, the child emperor Shao and Prince Chenliu were led away from the court. A general named Dong Zhuo, whom the three brothers once saved during the battle against the Yellow Scarves, happened to secure Emperor Shao and seized power under the pretext of protecting the emperor and prince. Dong Zhuo forced Emperor Shao to abdicate and installed the prince as Emperor Xian. Cao Cao, who was then in service of Dong Zhuo, tried to assassinate Dong Zhuo, but failed and fled. Cao Cao then issued an edict in the name of the emperor, calling governors to destroy Dong Zhuo.
In 190, the anti-Dong Zhuo campaign force gathered under the leadership of General Yuan Shao. Liu Bei and his brothers, Cao Cao, Sun Jian, and many others joined the battle against Dong Zhuo. During the battle, Guan Yu deeply impressed Cao Cao by taking the head of enemy general Hua Xiong who had beaten two of their best generals.
…The assembly began to panic. Yuan Shao exclaimed, “It’s a pity my generals Yan Liang and Wen Zhou are not here! Either one can defeat Hua Xiong!” A booming voice from the back answered, “I will get Hua Xiong’s head for you!”
The assembled lords turned to the voice. There stood a man of over nine spans, with a great beard flowing from rich ruddy cheeks, eyes like those of the crimson phoenix, brows like silkworm cocoons, voice like a tolling bell. “Who is this man?” demanded Yuan Shao. “Gun Yu, sworn brother of Liu Bei,” answered Gongsun Zan. “His position?” inquired Yuan Shao. “Mounted archer under Liu Bei,” was the reply. Yuan Shao’s brother, Yuan Shu, exploded, “Are you insinuating that we have no warriors? How a mere archer dares such big boast! Get him out of here!” But Cao Cao said to Yuan Shu, “Please hold your temper. This man has made a grand boast. He is brave. Let him go at it. You can punish him if he fails.” “But to send out an archer!” Yuan Shao protested. “Hua Xiong will scoff at us!” Cao Cao replied, “He looks impressive. Hua Xiong wouldn’t think that he is an archer.” Guan Yu added, “If I fail, you will have my head.” Cao Cao offered Guan Yu a cup of heated wine. “Please keep it for me,” said Guan Yu. “I will be back shortly.” He left the tent, grabbed his halberd, jumped on his horse, and was gone. Inside the tent, the lords heard the rolling of drums and clamor of voices outside. It sounded as if the heaven was splitting open and the earth buckling, and as if the hills were shaking and the mountains moving. Anxious, they were about to send a scout out, when the jingling of bridle bells approached. Guan Yu entered the tent and tossed Hua Xiong’s head onto the ground. His wine was still warm. (Chapter 5)
The main purpose of this episode is to introduce Guan Yu as an exceptional warrior. However, this episode also describes General Yuan Shao’s smallness—unlike Cao Cao, he cannot see nothing beyond the present rank and position—, to lead up to his later demise.
In the end, the anti-Dong Zhuo campaign, rife with insider rivalry, only managed to drive Dong Zhuo and his force from the capital Luoyang to Chang-an which became the new capital. Dong Zhuo was tyrannical, exploiting the people for his own gain. Dong Zhuo was finally killed by his adoptive son Lü Bu in 192.
While the struggle to destroy Dong Zhao raged on in the capital, the empire had disintegrated into the state of civil war. In 193, Cao Cao invaded the Xuzhou province in order to avenge his father who was killed by a henchman of Governor of Xuzhou, Tao Qian. In 194, Liu Bei decided to help Tao Qian and proposed a truce to Cao Cao. Tao Qian died and passed on the governorship to Liu Bei. At this time, Lü Bu, the killer of Dong Zhuo, was also at war with Cao Cao. In 195, Lü Bu lost to Cao Cao and sought refuge under Liu Bei.
In 196, Cao Cao took Emperor Xian from Dong Zhuo’s men and established a new court in the northern city of Xuchang . With the emperor under his thumb, Cao Cao set out to realize his ambition to reunify China. In the same year, Lü Bu stole control of Xuzhou from Liu Bei. Liu Bei, then, sought refuge under Cao Cao. In the meanwhile Sun Jian, now Governor of Changsha, was curving out his power base in the southwestern China.
In 198, Cao Cao and Liu Bei defeated and executed Lü Bu. Lu Bei was allowed to see Emperor Xian who made him a general of the imperial army and gave him the honorary title of Imperial Uncle in recognition of his lineage.
In 199, Liu Bei, who was still living as a guest of Cao Cao, was recruited to join the plot to assassinate Cao Cao. The emperor was fearful that Cao Cao might usurp him and made a secret request for assassination. Cao Cao did not suspect Liu Bei and treated him friendlily. When they heard the news that General Gongsun Zan lost a battle and was killed, Liu Bei volunteered for a revenge battle, partly to repay Gongsun Zan’s past kindness, and also to make a break with Cao Cao. When Cao Cao’s advisors found out that Cao Cao had let Liu Bei go, they insisted to call him back. Liu Bei refused to go back to Cao Cao and moved back to Xuzhou to become an independent warlord.
In early 200, the assassination attempt on Cao Cao failed. Cao Cao executed the plotters, including the emperor’s mother. Cao Cao then invaded Xuzhou. Liu Bei lost badly and sought refuge under Yuan Shao who was organizing an anti-Cao Cao campaign.
When Liu Bei fled Xuzhou, Guan Yu was left behind, guarding Liu Bei’s two wives. Cao Cao, who was a keen collector of talents, greatly appreciated Guan Yu’s hero qualities. He was therefore unwilling to attack him but wanted him to become his own retainer, even though Guan Yu’s loyalty to Liu Bei was well known and his changing side was extremely unlikely. Zhang Liao, who was a friend of Guan Yu, offered to negotiate with Guan Yu, hoping to save Guan Yu’s life.
When Cao Cao’s army marched into Xushou, Zhang Liao maneuvered to have Guan Yu and his troop get stuck up on a hill, and next morning paid a visit to Guan Yu. Guan Yu was fully intending to die in battle. Zhang Liao told Guan Yu that dying then and there would be committing three offences.
Zhang Liao said, “When you bound yourself to Lord Liu as brother, you swore to share life and death. Now your brother has been defeated, and you intend to die in combat. If Xuande (Liu Bei) comes back and seeks your aid but cannot find it, won’t you have betrayed your oath? That is your first offence. Lord Liu’s family is entrusted to your care. If you die now, the two ladies will have no one to defend them, and you will have betrayed his trust. That is your second offence. You are not only incomparable warrior but also are well learned in classics and histories. If you forget your oath to uphold the house of Han, and instead rush into fool’s valor and jump into boiling water, or step into fire, how can you justify your action? I am obliged to tell you that you commit these three offences.” (Chapter 25)
Guan Yu could not refute Zhang Liao’s reasoning, so asked him what to do. Zhang Liao answered, “Lord Cao’s troops are on all sides. If you refuse to submit, you will die. Dying serves no purpose. Submit to Lord Cao and seek the news of Lord Liu. When you learn his whereabouts, you go to him immediately. This way you will ensure the safety of two ladies, uphold the Peach Garden Oath, and preserve your most useful life.” Guan Yu basically agreed but demand three conditions be met before surrendering. First, he would surrender to the emperor, not to Cao Cao. Second, two wives of Liu Bei should be treated with respect and dignity befitting their status as Imperial Uncle’s wives and no one approach their gate. And third, the moment he learned Liu Bei’s whereabouts, no matter how far he might be, Guan Yu would depart.
Cao Cao had no qualms about the first two conditions but balked at the third condition. Clever Zhang Liao persuaded Cao Cao by saying, “Liu Bei treats Lord Guan simply with generosity and consideration. If Your Excellency show greater generosity and consideration, his loyalty could be won over.” Cao Cao accepted the third condition.
Guan Yu surrendered and Cao Cao warmly welcomed him and showered him with gifts. Only gift that pleased Guan Yu was Red Hare, a rare blood-red furred horse that was reputed to be able to run thousand miles a day. Though Guan Yu appreciated all the favors bestowed upon him, his loyalty did not waver. When Zhang Liao inquired about his intentions, Guan Yu told him that he intended to repay Cao Cao’s favor before going back to Liu Bei. If Liu Bei turned out to be dead, he would follow his brother to the underworld. Hearing this from Zhang Liao, Cao Cao was deeply impressed by the depth of Guan Yu’s devotion.
In the meanwhile, Liu Bei talked Yuan Shao into starting the campaign against Cao Cao. Yuan Shao’s best general Yan Liang led the advance guard of one hundred thousand and set up the camp at Baima. Cao Cao himself led an army of fifty thousand to face the enemy. Cao Cao sent two of his best warriors to challenge Yan Liang, but both got slain. The third warrior, Xu Huang, was also beaten back. Cao Cao decided to withdraw and Yan Liang also withdrew.
Cao Cao’s men decided it was only Guan Yu who could beat Yan Liang. Not knowing Liu Bei was with Yuan Shao, Guan Yu agreed to challenge Yan Liang. Romance of Three Kingdoms describes Guan Yu’s battle as follows:
Resolutely, Guan Yu mounted. Keeping his halberd blade toward the ground, he raced downhill, his phoenix eyes glaring and his silkworm brows bristling, and dashed to into the enemy line. The enemy army parted like ocean waves as Guan Yu charged straight toward Yan Liang. Yan Liang was still under his canopy. Yan Liang saw Guan Yu coming and tried to say something, but speedy Red Hare was already before his face. Yan Liang had no chance. The halberd blazed, and Yan Liang was dead and fell from his horse. Guan Yu jumped off, severed his head, and tied it to Red Hare’s neck. He jumped back on the horse, left the enemy line as if he were on an empty field. (Chapter 25)
When Guan Yu took Hua Xiong’s head, the scene was described through sounds. Here his glorious feat is described visually. When Cao Cao praised Guan Yu, Guan Yu astonished him by saying that his brother Zhang Fei could fetch the chief general’s head of an army ten times bigger. Cao Cao told his aids that if they should encounter Zhang Fei, they should not risk engaging him.
Cao Cao reported Guan Yu’s stunning victory to Emperor Xian who granted Guan Yu the fief of Hanshou precinct. During the next battle, Liu Bei saw Guan Yu from afar and wrote a letter to him, asking him to come back. Guan Yu tried to get Cao Cao’s permission to go, but Cao Cao refused to meet him in order to avoid giving his consent. In the end, Guan Yu wrote a farewell letter to Cao Cao, left all gifts Cao Cao had given him but one (his steed Red Hare), and departed with his soldiers, guarding the two wives of Liu Bei. (Chapter 26)
Cao Cao’s advisors demanded that they pursued Guan Yu. Cao Cao refused and said, “Guan Yu left all the money and even the fief behind. He did not waver over bribe or fame. I deeply respect him for that.” Instead, Cao Cao decided to send him off personally. Cao Cao sent Guan Yu’s old friend Zhang Liao to make him wait until Cao Cao arrived. Guan Yu sent the rest of the party ahead, and waited on the horseback, with his halberd ready to strike (just in case). Cao Cao and Guan Yu exchanged polite greetings. Cao Cao offered some money for the road, but Guan Yu refused. Cao Cao offered a robe, which Guan Yu could not reasonably refuse. He took it with his halberd (to avoid getting off the horse, still on guard), thanked Cao Cao, and rode off.
After parting from Cao Cao, Guan Yu, who had no travel permit, broke through five check points, killing six commanders who were guarding these gates. This is one of most famous episodes of this novel, called “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.” (Chapter 27) Guan Yu was traveling with Liu Bei’s two wives and his soldiers. However, Guan Yu was without his sworn brothers, so it is called Riding Alone. Thousands of Miles is not literal, only indicating a very long distance. Cao Cao soon issued him a travel permit so that Guan Yu did not have to crush any more gates.
Though cast as a villain, Cao Cao of Romance of Three Kingdoms has both hero and villain qualities. He is described cruel enough to kill innocents under the motto of “I can wrong the world, but won’t let it wrong me.”(Chapter 4) However, when Cao Cao let Guan Yu go, Cao Cao says, “I seek to win the trust of the entire world. I won’t go back on my word.” These words show his pride in his moral quality, and he did act very honorably toward Guan Yu.
Cao Cao is known as one of Chinese history’s worst villains, along with the Zhou Wang of the Yin dynasty and the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) of the Qin dynasty. Chairman Mao, who reunited China after a long period of civil war, once protested such characterization in an interview in 1965, saying that Beijing opera was wrong to portray Cao Cao as villain he was an extraordinary man. Cao Cao was indeed a very talented man and was well known in his time as an excellent poet as well as a savvy general. Cao Cao is also known to have edited the war strategy book Sunzi. Sunzi was probably composed in the late Spring and Autumn Period (roughly the same time as Confucius lived). Though highly valued, Sunzi had been transmitted in bits and pieces. Cao Cao collected fragmented pieces and compiled them into one collection, on which our contemporary version of Sunzi is still based. Sunzi holds today an international fame, and renowned personage such as the Bill Gates and former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates read and quote from it.
While Guan Yu was “riding alone,” Liu Bei parted from Yuan Shao and headed to the city of Xunan he had instructed Guan Yu to meet him there. On his way to Xunan, Guan Yu ran into Zhang Fei who was occupying a fort in the city of Gucheng. Zhang Fei initially accused Guan Yu of being a renegade and challenged him for a battle. After having resolved the misunderstanding, they headed to Xunan together and were reunited with Liu Bei. They, then, moved to the city of Runan.
In the meanwhile, Yuan Shao decided to team up with Sun Ce to fight against Cao Cao. Sun Ce’s father, Sun Jian, whom the three brothers met during the Yellow Scarves rebellion, had conquered territories in southwestern China. Sun Jian was on such a winning streak that Cao Cao decided to avoid confrontation with him by making his son marry Sun Jian’s daughter. When Sun Jian died, his eldest son Sun Ce succeeded him. Sun Ce had six provinces under his control and had a large army. Sun Ce died suddenly at the age of 25, haunted by the ghost of a Daoist priest he had murdered. His younger brother Sun Quan, only 18, took over. Sun Quan is described thus:
Sun Quan had a square jaw and huge mouth. His eyes were green and his beard purple. Many years ago, Liu Wan, a Han court envoy came to the south, had met all the sons of the of the Sun family. He told others, “All of them are highly talented, but none is fated to live long, except Sun Quan. He has extraordinary looks. He is no ordinary man. He is destined to eminence. He will live long. No other brothers compare to him.” (Chapter29)
Sun Quan proved himself to be a capable ruler. He was good at picking right person for right positions, courteous toward them, therefore held loyalty of his men. Later when he was near 40, his senior advisor Zhao Zi described him as “a man of understanding and insight, humanity and wisdom, valor and military judgment.” (Chapter 82) He is described as having green eyes and purple (reddish) beard, which means he was of non-Han ancestry from the central Asia. There are many non-Han warriors in Romance of Three Kingdoms. Though the Han culture has been considered as the norm of Chinese history, many non-Han ethnic groups, including southern agrarian groups (toward the borders with current day Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar) and nomadic groups of the north and west, had regular dealings with and intermarried with the Han-Chinese. More than half of Chinese emperors had some non-Han blood. The Zhou dynasty, the venerable founder of the agriculture-based Chinese imperial system, was of the central Asian nomadic origin whose native language was not Chinese, but that of Indo-European family. As long as they were willing to respect the Han customs, the non-Hans were accepted as the fellow humans. In that sense, being a Chinese is like being an American regardless of where the ancestors came from, within a few generations they all become American or Chinese.
Sun Quan received a letter from Yuan Shao, asking him to join forces to defeat Cao Cao. His advisor Zhou Yu recommended against it, and advised to focus on solidifying his power in the southern region instead. In the meanwhile, trying to make Sun Quan to side with him, Cao Cao worked on the emperor to issue the rank of a general to Sun Quan.
Disappointed by Sun Quan’s refusal, Yuan Shao mobilized all the men under his command and marched with his seven hundred thousand strong force to attack Cao Cao. Cao Cao was outnumbered by ten to one. Still, Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shao’s army in the Battle of Guandu (200) by burning and destroying all the food and fodder Yuan Shao had. Yuan Shao was forced to retreat.
Liu Bei also raised an army against Cao Cao. He lost badly and sought refuge under Liu Biao, Lord of Jianzhou (201). Liu Biao treated Liu Bei with respect and put him in charge of the city of Xinye. Though the life was good, Liu Bei found it depressing that he was putting on weight because of the lack of action. (There is an idiom for this episode: Sighing over Soft Thigh). However, while in Xinye, Lie Bei found his wizard military advisor Zhuge Liang Kongming (207).
Zhuge Liang Kongming is one of the most famous wizard military advisors of Chinese history. Though still only 27 when Liu Bei met him, Kongming was already famous for his learning and wisdom. For the appreciation of his brain power and obvious ambition, he was nicknamed Sleeping Dragon. Even though his elder brother Zhuge Jin decided to serve Sun Quan, Kongming decided to wait for someone better to serve. Romance of Three Kingdoms compares him with Jiang Ziya who helped the establishment of the Zhou dynasty and Zhang Liang who guided the establishment of the Han dynasty.
Liu Bei, now 47, had to pay three visits to Kongming’s residence until he finally managed to meet him. Kongming is described as “eight spans tall, with a face like gleaming jade, wearing a woven silken cap and a robe made of crane feathers. He had the air of someone out of this world.” (Chapter 37) (This description signifies his exceptional talent and his mastery of Daoist learning.) Kongming was the one who changed Liu Bei’s fortune and made him a major warlord.
At their first meeting, Kongming taught Liu Bei the famous plan of tri-division of the empire. Cao Cao held power in the north, and Sun Quan, in the south. Liu Bei should curve out his power in the central plains, starting with Jiangzhou, spreading into Riverlands. The unification of China would then be the next objective. Impressed by this insight, Liu Bei begged Kongming to become his advisor.
Liu Bei was so happy to have found the great advisor he had long wanted. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei who had been with him now 20 years were not happy to see Liu Bei pay so much respect to this young newcomer. Liu Bei told them, “My discovering Kongming is like fish finding water. Say no more, brothers.” (Chapter 39) Because of these words of his, closest friendship is still called Friendship of Water and Fish. Liu Bei's strength was in his ability to cultivate deep relationships with talented men.
Liu Biao, Lord of Jiangzhou, passed away and Jiangzhou was split between his two sons. In 208, Cao Cao, now Chancellor, attacked the Jiangzhou province. Liu Bei had only five thousand solders and could not defend the city of Xinye. Kongming advised Liu Bei to evacuate the civilians and burn down the city of Xinye, in order to slow down Cao Cao’s army. This was the first time Kongming worked as Liu Bei’s military advisor.
During the defense against Cao Cao's army, Zhang Fei single-handedly scared away Cao Cao’s one million strong army at the Long Slope Bridge:
Zhang Fei’s glaring eyes spotted a blue silk umbrella, luxurious banner, and broadax, signifying the rank of Chancellor. “So Cao Cao is coming,” Zhang Fei thought. He yelled, “I am Zhang Fei of Yan! Who’ll fight me to death?” The voice was like a booming bell. His voice sent a chill down the spine of Cao Cao and his men. Cao Cao ordered the blue umbrella removed. Cao Cao told his attendants, “Once Guan Yu told me that Zhang Fei can take the head of a chief general of one million as easily as picking up a stone. Be careful!” Zhang Fei glared his eyes again and yelled for the second time: “Here I am, Zhang Fei of Yan! I’ll fight anyone who dares, to death!” Feeling Zhang Fei’s mighty spirit, Cao Cao thought of retreating. Zhang Fei noticed the rear lines of Cao Cao’s army shifting. He lifted his spear and bellowed: “Fight or don’t fight? Leave or don’t leave? What will it be? ” The mighty voice still hang in the air when Xiahou Jie, right next to Cao Cao, fell from his saddle, panic-stricken. Cao Cao turned his horse and ran. All of his generals and soldiers stampeded away. (Chapter 42)
This episode of yelling down Cao Cao’s army is one of most famous episodes of the folk hero Zhang Fei, along with Zhang Fei Whipping the Government Inspector.
This episode is written with intention of making Cao Cao look like a coward. Actually, Cao Cao followed Sunzi’s famous idiom, “If you know yourself and know your enemy, you are safe in one hundred battles.” This idiom is often misunderstood. People tend to think that “you are always safe” means “you always win.” This is not the case. If you know that your chance of winning is low, not fighting, even running away, is the best course of action. Remembering Guan Yu’s word about Zhang Fei’s prowess, he decided not to risk losing his own head, to be safe.
Cao Cao studied Sunzi well. Sunzi has much in common with Laozi it recommends engaging in actual fight only when there are no other options such as diplomacy, negotiation, and other maneuvering achieve the goal, and only when the chance of winning is good. Cao Cao was well known for not fighting and retreating when the circumstances turned out to be unfavorable. He was also proud of learning from his mistakes. This way, he won battles some 80% of the time, while Liu Bei, though Romance of Three Kingdom tries hard to emphasize his victories, won only about 20% of the time.
Later, the allied force under Liu Bei and Sun Quan defeated Cao Cao’s numerically far superior army at the Battle of Red Cliff on the shore of Yantze River (208). Romance of Three Kingdoms tells that Kongming magically summoned strong southeastern wind so that the fire arrows would spread the fire across Cao Cao’s entire fleet. Cao Cao was forced to retreat.(Chapter 49) John Woo’s 2008 film Red Cliff retold this episode, adding a couple of invented female characters to suit the contemporary movie goers’ taste. (Similarly, Peter Jackson fortified women’s roles in his Lord of Rings trilogy.)
Cao Cao and his men fled, and Liu Bei’s men pursued them. After others failed to capture Cao Cao, Guan Yu, Liu Bei’s best warrior, got the order to capture Cao Cao. By this time, Cao Cao had lost most of soldiers and was accompanied by only some three hundred. All of them were exhausted and drenched in rain, with their horses near collapse none of them had full gear or ration. And now, they were ambushed by Guan Yu and his men:
…Fire arrows whooshed through the air and five hundred men with their blades in their hands flanked the road. At their head, Guan Yu, with his blade Green Dragon in his hand, riding Red Hare, blocked their way. Cao Cao’s men lost what little spirit they had left. They helplessly looked at one another.
“This is it, then,” said Cao Cao, “We will fight to death!” But his commanders replied, “Men might try, but their horses lack strength. How can we fight?” Chang Yu said, “Lord Guan is known to disdain the high and mighty but show compassion toward the humble. He defies the strong but never beats the weak. He distinguishes obligation and enmity, and has keen sense of justice. In the past, Your Excellency showed him great kindness. If Your Excellency in person negotiates with him, we might still escape.” Cao Cao agreed and moved his horse forward.
Bowing, he greeted Guan Yu: “How have you been, General, since our last meeting?” Lord Guan bowed in return and said, “On the order of Director General, I have been waiting for Your Excellency.” “My army is defeated, the situation is dire, and now we are here,” Cao Cao said, “I hope, General, you will remember how I treated you in the old days.” Guan Yu replied, “I have repaid your ample generosity by eliminating two enemy generals to break the siege at Baima. I cannot let my personal feelings muddle today’s mission.”
Cao Cao said, “Don’t you remember that you slew my commanders at five gates? Heroes value morality. You know the Annals of Spring and Autumn so well. You must remember the story of Yugongzhisi?” Guan Yu was a man of utmost morality, so his could not dismiss Cao Cao’s past kindness or the thought of commanders he had slain from his mind. Guan Yu’s heart ached to see Cao Cao’s men in such misery and near tears. Guan Yu turned away his mount and ordered to his soldiers, “Off the road!” It was to let Cao Cao know his intentions. Cao Cao saw Guan Yu turn aside, he and his men grabbed the opportunity and run. By the time Guan Yu turned back, they were nearly gone.
Guan Yu gave a powerful yell. Cao Cao’s soldiers dropped off their horses, and groveled in the dirt. Guan Yu felt even more pity. Then, Zhang Liao (who once persuaded Guan Yu to surrender to Cao Cao) came racing. Remembering their friendship, Guan Yu sighed deeply and let them go. (Chapter 50)
This tale of warrior’s compassion is the most moving scene of Romance of Three Kingdoms. By mentioning the story of Yugongzhisi, Cao Cao successfully invoked compassion in Guan Yu. The story tells that the famous archer Yugongzhisi was ordered to pursue an equally famous archer, Zizhuoruzi. Zizhuruzi was sick and could not shoot arrows. Yugongzhisi took the arrowhead off his arrow, shot Zizhuoruzi with the headless arrow, declared his mission fulfilled, and left. He showed compassion for his disabled opponent. Similarly, Guan Yu’s compassion made him sabotage his mission. This episode paints Guan Yu as a true noble hero, a warrior with honor and compassion.
Kongming was furious at Guan Yu for letting Cao Cao escape and threatened to execute him for disobeying the order. However, Liu Bei excused him, pointing out that he and Guan Yu had the vow to live and die together, as one.
With Kongming’s help, Liu Bei conquered the Jiangzhou province. Sun Quan wanted Jiangzhou, too. So, as a part of scheme to take Jiangzhou from Liu Bei, Liu Bei was invited to marry Sun Quan’s sister. After the wedding, Liu Bei was de fact captive at the Sun mansion, but refused to give up Jiangzhou. With the help of his new wife, Lady Sun, Liu Bei safely went back to Jiangzhou with her in 210.
Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and Sun Quan kept expanding their power bases. In 213, Cao Cao was made Duke of Wei. In 215, Cao Cao made the emperor marry his daughter who was declared the empress. This increased Cao Cao’s social prestige. In 216, Cao Cao was proclaimed Prince of Wei. In 219, Cao Cao once again attacked Liu Bei but lost. Liu Bei consolidated his power in central China and proclaimed himself Prince of Hanzhong. Sun Quan was known as Duke of Wu.
Guan Yu was by then the lord of Jiangzhou, a territory which Sun Quan wanted. Kongming’s brother Zhuge Jin who was the advisor to Sun Quan came up with the idea of proposing a marriage between Sun Quan’s son and Guan Yu’s daughter as a way to acquire the territory later. When Zhuge Jin broached this proposal, Guan Yu’s reply came in a burst of anger. “My tiger-lass married off to a mongrel? (The Sun family was non-Han.) I’d have your head if you weren’t Kongming’s brother!”(Chapter 73) Though an exceptional warrior, Guan Yu did have his faults. He was too proud and arrogant. This insult angered Sun Quan so much that he allied with Cao Cao and raised an army against Guan Yu.
Guan Yu made a series of mistakes during this round of battles and lost many soldiers. When he requested help from Liu Bei’s adoptive son Liu Fen, Guan Yu’s request was denied because he had earlier counseled Liu Bei not let Liu Fen succeed him. Guan Yu was forced to flee with few remaining soldiers. After Gun Yu rejected Sun Quan’s invitation to surrender, Zhuge Jin set a trap and captured Guan Yu and his adoptive son Guan Ping. Sun Quan asked Guan Yu to serve him, but Guan Yu harshly replied, “Green-eyed brat! Purple-whiskered rodent! I swore my allegiance to Imperial Uncle Liu in the peach garden in order to uphold the house of Han. I will have nothing to do with a traitor against the house of Han like you! Now that I have blundered into your treacherous trap, only death remains. Words are useless.” Disregarding this insult, Sun Quan still said to his men, “Lord Guan is such a great hero. I appreciate him deeply. I would treat him with utmost courtesy to win him over to us. What do you think?” Only after being reminded that even Cao Cao’s extreme generosity could not sway Guan Yu, Sun Quan regretfully agreed to execute Guan Yu and Guan Ping.
Guan Yu and Guan Ping were beheaded. Guan Yu, who died at 58, refused to fade away. His soul wandered over to Zhenguo Temple at the Jade Spring Hill. The night Guan Yu died, the moon glowed pale, a breeze blew cold, and a voice in the sky called out, “Return my head.” The ghost of Guan Yu, accompanied by Guan Ping and his royal servant Zhou Cang (who killed himself to follow Guan Yu), appeared to his old acquaintance Abbott Pujing (Universal Purity). The Abbott said,
“General, today you died at the hand of Lü Ming and called out, “Return my head!” Yan Liang, Wen Chou, Cao Cao’s six commanders at the five gates (you killed)—whom would they demand their heads be returned?” Realizing the great truth in his words, Guan Yu bowed and departed. Thereafter his spirit frequently appeared on the Jade Spring Hill to protect the common people. The grateful locals built a temple to honor Guan Yu on the summit and made offerings each season. (Chapter 77)
Guan Yu became a much venerated figure not only in the locality but also in entire China. On one hand, he is venerated as War God. This veneration goes back at least as early as the early sixth century. During the Song dynasty era in the late twelfth century, Guan Yu started to receive the central government’s official veneration. During the Ming dynasty era in the late fifteenth century, Guan Yu was given the official title of Saintly Emperor Guan, and during the Qing dynasty era in the early seventeenth century, the official title of Great Saintly Emperor Guan, to be treated as the protector god of the empire. On the other hand, Guan Yu has been very popular as a god of wealth. As he was a man of his words and died in order to keep his oath, Guan Yu became particularly popular among merchants who have to rely on other people keeping their words in their daily dealings. Temples dedicated to Guan Yu with the statue sporting his distinctive read face and flowing beard are still popular today in China and China towns around the world. If you see a picture or statue of a man with red face and long black beard in a Chinese restaurant or shop, that is Guan Yu.
Neither people’s veneration nor Abbot Pujing’s enlightening words deterred the ghost of Guan Yu from exacting revenge from those who caused his death. Lü Ming was the chief commander in trapping of Guan Yu. In the middle of the victory celebration, Guan Yu’s ghost possessed Lü Meng. He swore vengeance, grabbed at Sun Quan, and dropped dead, spewing blood all over. Scared, Sun Quan sent Guan Yu’s head to Cao Cao, in the hope of steering the avenging ghost toward Cao Cao. When Cao Cao received and inspected Guan Yu’s head. Cao Cao made the mistake of greeting Guan Yu’s head as if he were still alive, which caused the head to respond by opening and moving eyes, with hair and beard standing on their end. Cao Cao fainted at the sight, and later ordered a grand funeral ceremony to console Guan Yu’s spirit. Though he was not directly responsible for Guan Yu’s death, Cao Cao could not recover from the shock of seeing the severed head opening eyes, and died shortly afterwards in 220, haunted by the ghosts of all those whom he had killed. (Chapter 77)
Guan Yu’s death was a devastating blow to his sworn brothers. Liu Bei cried his eyes out for days on end, and wanted a revenge battle against Sun Quan. However, because of Kongming’s and other advisors’ strong objections, he could not proceed. He held a great funeral ceremony for Guan Yu.
In the meanwhile, Cao Cao’s son, Cao Pi succeeded as Prince of Wei. Soon afterwards, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to hand the imperial throne over to him. Cao Pi’s sister, Empress Cao, tearfully protested that their late father had rejected the suggestions to take the throne, but in vain. Cao Pi was proclaimed the emperor in 220. It was rumored that Emperor Xian was assassinated. Hearing this, Kongming persuaded Liu Bei to be proclaimed as the emperor in 221, claiming that his imperial lineage made Liu Bei the true successor to the Han imperial throne.
Liu Bei still wanted a revenge battle against Sun Quan. Kongming and other advisors disapproved the idea, saying that Cao Pi who had usurped the throne was the real enemy and should be tackled first. Zhang Fei was also devastated by Guan Yu’s death. He spent days wailing until his eyes bled. His commanders pushed wine for consolation, which only made him ill-tempered and violent. Seeing no revenge battle was planned, Zhang Fei went to see Liu Bei and begged Liu Bei to let him go avenge Guan Yu. Seeing Zhang Fei in such distress, Liu Bei made up his mind. He decided to mobilize an army against Sun Quan, overruling Kongming’s protest.
Zhang Fei ordered his men to obtain white armors and white banners—white is the color of mourning in China—for every soldier of his army within three days. When his commanders, Zhang Da and Fan Qiang, protested that three days was too short of a time, Zhang Fei bound them to a pole and whipped them fifty times. Knowing that they could not of fulfill his demand in three days and fearing that Zhang Fei would kill them for not fulfilling the order, Zhang Da and Fan Qiang assassinated Zhang Fei in his sleep. They fled to seek refuge under Sun Quan, carrying Zhang Fei’s head with them. (Chapter 81)
Now having lost both of his sworn brothers, Liu Bei led the army of seven hundred thousand against Sun Quan. Sun Quan did not want to fight Liu Bei’s army. His military advisor Zhuge Jin recommended that Sun Quan should submit to Cao Pi Cao Pi would send him troops to aid him. Sun Quan submitted to Cao Pi and was given the title of Prince of Wu. Cao Pi, however, would not aid Sun Quan militarily. Sun Quan proposed a peace talk to Liu Bei. Sun Quan sent back Zhang Da and Fan Qiang who killed Zhang Fei as a gesture of good will. Zhang Bao, Zhang Fei’s son, promptly executed them.
Liu Bei rejected the offer of peace talk and attacked. During the ensuing war against Sun Quan, Guan Yu’s ghost helped his son Guan Xing to recover his blade Green Dragon from Pan Zhang. Pan Zhang captured Guan Yu in person, and was given the blade in recognition of this. When Guan Xing came across him, Pan Zhang tried to run away. Guan Yu’s ghost blocked Pan Zhang’s way, and ensured that he would be avenged and his beloved blade Green Dragon be held by his own son. (Chapter 83) His other treasure, his steed Red Hare, had refused to eat after Guan Yu’s death and followed his master to death several days later.
As he overruled Kongming’s protest and was without his aid, Liu Bei lost the war badly. He fell ill and died at the age of 62 in 223. (Chapter 85) His death marks the end of the time of the first generation heroes of Romance of Three Kingdoms.
Thus, the three sworn brothers died because of their respective weakness. For Guan Yu, it was his arrogance that caused his downfall for Zhang Fei, his lack of self-control and for Liu Bei, his lack of military savvy. Before his death, Liu Bei saw the ghosts of Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, who told him that Emperor of Heaven made them gods in recognition of their righteousness. The three brothers are still venerated in the Temple of Three Righteous. Liu Bei and Zhang Fei as gods are nowhere near as popular as Guan Yu. However, their brand of “live and die together” male bonding is still much cherished in the Chinese cultural tradition.
Dying Liu Bei told Kongming, “Your talent exceeds Cao Pi’s by ten to one. You can secure and preserve the country and in the end achieve the goal (of reuniting China under the Han dynasty). If my son proves worthy, support him. If he proves unworthy, take the kingship of Shu yourself.” Liu Bei’s eldest son, Liu Shan, then eighteen, succeeded Liu Bei as the emperor. Though Liu Shan proved to be unworthy, Kongming still supported him and carried on with his grand plan to reunite the empire. After Liu Bei’s death, Romance of Three Kingdoms focuses mostly on the battle of wits between Kongming and Cao Pi’s military advisor Sima Yi. Their magic battles sometimes exhibit the same kind of flight of imagination seen in The Journey to the West and Creation of Lesser Gods.
Even though Kongming showed his skill in successfully pacifying the rebels in the south, Kongming could not win against wealthier Wei under the command of Sima Yi. While Wei and Shu were warring, Sun Quan of Wu also proclaimed himself the emperor in 229, which created the co-existence of three self-proclaimed emperors. During the sixth war against Sima Yi, Kongming fell ill from exhaustion. Knowing his days were numbered, Kongming ordered a wooden stature of his made. Sima Yi knew Kongming condition and was waiting for him to expire. When his divination reading told him Kongming’s passing, Sima Yi tried to attack, but was surprised by the life–like statue of Kongming and retreated. (Chapter 104) This episode is memorized in the idiom, “Dead Konming makes live Zhongda (Sima Yi’s style name) run.”
Without Kongming to watch over him, Liu Shan, the son of Liu Bei, surrounded himself with brownnosers and spent his days partying, neglecting his duties. With the kingdom of Shu without Kongming no longer posing a threat, Sima Yi got the ample opportunity to consolidate power in the kingdom of Wei. Sima Yi’s grandson Sima Yan forced Cao Pi’s brother and successor, Cao Wei, to hand over the imperial throne to him, in much the same way as Cao Pi did to Emperor Xian. Sima Yan became Emperor Wu and founded the Jin dynasty in 236.
The kingdom of Shu surrendered to Wei in 263. Liu Shan showed no sense of shame or regret, merrily partying as a hostage at the Jin court. This disgusted people so much that his childhood name Ah Dou became a synonym with idiot. In 264 Sun Hao succeeded the throne of the kingdom of Wu. Sun Hao proved to be an extravagant tyrant, ruined the economy of Wu, which was conquered by Jin in 280. Thus ended the eventful era of three kingdoms.
The above summary barely begins to describe the richness of this novel. Romance of Three Kingdoms tells tales of many secondary characters. Some of the secondary characters die as martyrs. One such character is Minister Ding Guan. When Dong Zhuo forced the child emperor Shao out and installed Emperor Xian, Ding Guan stood up in righteous rage. “Traitor Dong Zhuo! You dare try to deceive Heaven! I will kill you with my own hand!” Ding Guan attacked Dong Zhuo with his minister’s ivory staff. A lone voice of righteousness, Ding Guan was arrested and executed. Until the moment of his death, Ding Guan showed no fear and kept cursing Dong Zhuo. (Chapter 4)
Dong Zhuo, then, imprisoned the young emperor Xian and his family. A personal bodyguard of the emperor by the name of Wu Fu took upon himself to try assassinating Dong Zhuo to liberate his master. Dong Zhuo, being a mighty man, blocked Wu Fu’s attack easily:
“Who is behind this treason?” accused Dong Zhuo. Wu Fu glared and shouted back “You are not my emperor. I am not your subject. What ‘treason’ are you talking about? Your crimes piles to heaven and everyone wants to see you dead. Shame, I failed to rip you up for the sake of the country!” Furious Dong Zhuo had Wu Fu dragged out and chopped up. Wu Fu kept cursing Dong Zhuo till the moment of his death.” (Chapter 4)
These two men’s deaths are honored by poems sung by people. Poems might sound like a poor solace for death. On the contrary, having a poem written and sung about is the greatest honor one can hope for. Poems assure that their heroic deeds are remembered and honored in the collective memory of people poems award the heroes immortality as a part of remembered history. Zilu of "The Disciple" was not the only one who appreciated standing up for justice, regardless of the consequences. Such appreciation is still seen in the contemporary movies such as Blade of Fury (1993) which commemorates Tan Sitong (1865-1998) who chose to die as a martyr to the failed One Hundred Days' Reform of 1898, and the all star production Bodyguards and Assassins (2009) which commemorates the people who died trying to save Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), Father of the Republic (of China), from an assassination attempt.
Tomoyuki Murakami, trans., Sangokushi ( Romance of Three Kingdoms), 5 vols. (Tokyo: Shakai Ssisu-sha, 1981).
Moss Roberts, trans, Luo Guanzhong, Three Kingdoms (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1995), 4 vols.
Ritsuko Inami, Sangokushi Engi (Romance of Three Kingdoms) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1994).
Shosuke Tatsuma, Shokatsu Komei: Sangokushi no Eiyu-tach (Zhuge Kongming: Heroes of Romance of Three kingdoms) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1990.
Harrison E. Salisbury, The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng (New York: Little Brown & Co., 1992).
Co Kyo (Zhang Jing), Koi no Chugoku Bunmei-shi (Love in Chinese History) (Tokyo: Chikuma Shoten, 1993).
Noritada Kubo, Jukyo no Kamigami (Gods of Daoism) (Tokyo: Kodan-sha, 1996).
Hiroshi Moriya, Chugoku Koten no Ningen-gaku (Life Lessons of Chinese Classics) (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 1984).
Wang Yong, "Suikoden no Bunnka-shi" (Cultural History of Water Margin), Japanology of China.
The Great Classic: Romance of the Three Kingdoms
It is early in the third century and the once-glorious Han Dynasty is in its twilight. Those who would cast themselves as China&rsquos next rulers have brought the empire to the brink of war. Court eunuchs scheme, rulers fall, and great heroes are born in epic combat. The people of China, longing for peace, wonder what will become of their lives as war rages across the land. The dynasty seems to have lost its &ldquoMandate of Heaven&rdquo&mdashwhat now?
This is the backdrop for the literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the four great pillars of Chinese literature (Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Dream of the Red Chamber are the others). Its fourteenth century author, Luo Guanzhong, draws upon history and folklore to create a colorful tale that showcases the era&rsquos political and social affairs.
Moreover, it is considered a guidebook to military strategy that has been likened to Sun Tzu&rsquos The Art of War. Through its pages, readers meet dozens of iconic characters from history, and witness battles of every scale. Three Kingdoms is at the core of Chinese cultural identity and, especially, the concept of yi&mdashthe essential glue that binds a harmonious society.
Shen Yun&rsquos 2015 dance Capturing Arrows With Boats of Straw, tells of one of the brilliant stratagems employed in this mega-historical saga.
Three Kingdoms at War
As lords and generals gather to vie for supremacy, three great leaders soon emerge. Their names are Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and Sun Quan. These are men of formidable character, prowess, and guile, each keen to see his ambition fulfilled. They are each rulers of their own kingdoms&mdashShu, Wei, and Wu, respectively&mdashand each aspire to unite the empire, bringing together &ldquoAll Under Heaven,&rdquo as they call it.
With the help of the most brilliant minds and bravest hearts of the time, these three rise to power and engage in an epic contest for the future of China.
Kingdom of Shu
Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, and Guan Yu.
Illustration by Jinxie Zhong (金协中)
Warlord Liu Bei is the founder of Kingdom of Shu. His claim to the imperial throne is that he is a descendant of the Han&rsquos rulers and can thus continue the heritage if not the dynasty.
Liu is portrayed as the most legitimate and deserving contender. He is high of mind and kind of heart, but lacks the resources and raw power of his rivals. But his lofty character acts like a magnet that attracts to his cause some of the novel&rsquos most unforgettable heroes&mdashmind-boggling strategists and nearly infallible warriors. Together, they successfully establish their own state.
The alliance of these heroes begins in one of Three Kingdoms&rsquo best-known scenes: &ldquoOath of the Peach Garden.&rdquo Liu Bei and the two warriors Zhang Fei and Guan Yu become sworn brothers:
&ldquoWe don&rsquot ask to be born on the same day,&rdquo they vow, &ldquobut we ask that it be on the same year, same month, and same day that we together die.&rdquo
The bond between the three establishes a strong theme that wends throughout the tale. Later, Liu Bei's influence increases rapidly after obtaining the help of Taoist sage and expert strategist Zhuge Liang. Some of Three Kingdoms&rsquo most fantastic stories, like &ldquoCapturing Arrows With Boats of Straw,&rdquo owe to Zhuge&rsquos exploits.
Kingdom of Wei
In Three Kingdoms, the ambitious general Cao Cao is Liu Bei&rsquos and conniving rival. Here is an example of a dialogue between him and his loyal chef:
Cao Cao: I need to borrow something of yours. Loyal Chef: Sure, what is it? Cao Cao: Your head. Loyal Chef: What? Cao Cao: Don&rsquot worry, I&rsquoll make sure your family is taken care of.
Cao Cao (pronounced tsao tsao) has an enormous army and the loyalty of much of the realm. He is also an accomplished poet whose works go on to have a significant impact on the Chinese poetic style.
Kingdom of Wu
Meanwhile, the Sun clan controls most of southern China. At the age of 18, after his older brother is assassinated, the red-bearded Sun Quan steps into power. During the decisive "Battle of Red Cliffs," Sun Quan allies with Liu Bei to keep Cao Cao&rsquos armies from advancing across the Yangtze River.
Their allegiance was short-lived, however, and the three kingdoms continued to maneuver and vie for the future of China, known as the Middle Kingdom. But in this riveting tale filled with both triumph and sacrifice, every episode comes back to the principle of yi.
The Meaning of Yi
The Chinese character for Yi, 義, is composed of 羊 (sheep) on top and 我 (I, myself) on the bottom. In Chinese culture, sheep are symbols of prosperity because of their kind and obedient nature. The "I" character 我 originates from ancient oracle bone script where it represents a fighting tool complete with a sharp tooth. Together, the Yi character 義 literally signifies, &ldquoI am a sheep.&rdquo Symbolically, it suggests making sacrifices in the name of justice.
The novel&rsquos Chinese title, San Guo Yan Yi (三國演義), can also be translated as &ldquoThree Kingdoms Performing Yi.&rdquo Yi (pronounced ee) most exactly translates as &ldquorighteousness&rdquo or &ldquoduty.&rdquo However, the concept expands to encompass honor, benevolence, loyalty, selflessness, and brotherhood.
Yi explains the virtuous relationships between rulers and subjects, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and among brothers and friends. In traditional Chinese society it was an accepted rule that no matter what happens, you must observe yi.
Perhaps the ultimate embodiment of yi can be seen in the character of General Guan Yu. Also known as Guan Gong, later generations erected temples in his memory and worshiped him as "the God of War." On one occasion, he agreed to duel with a fierce adversary. Poured a bowl of hot wine for good luck, Guan Yu refused to drink it, saying he would be back in just a moment. Minutes later, he returned with the adversary&rsquos head before his wine had even chilled.
And yet, along with his flowing beard, it is his indomitable spirit of yi that makes him most memorable. Faced with likely defeat, the once unbeatable warrior uttered the immortal lines:
Should the city walls fall, it means death, that&rsquos all. Jade can be shattered, but you cannot change its whiteness. Bamboo can be scorched, but its joint cannot be destroyed. The body might perish, but the name will live on for posterity.
In order to protect his lord Liu Bei&rsquos family, Guan Yu once allowed himself to be captured by the merciless enemy, Cao Cao. Cao Cao, who had long admired Guan Yu&rsquos abilities as a warrior, tried coaxing him to his side with gold, titles, and prized horses. A weaker man would have easily given in, but Guan Yu took the first chance to escape. He braved great danger and overcame injury to safely return his sworn brother&rsquos family to him.
Still, he never forgot the generosity that, though an enemy, Cao Cao had shown him. Years later Cao Cao was defeated at the &ldquoBattle of Red Cliff&rdquo and was running for his life with what was left of his decimated army. Guan Yu was sent to finish him off and intercepted Cao Cao at a narrow mountain pass. Facing the mighty Guan Yu, the disheveled and exhausted Cao Cao did not stand a chance. Guan Yu let him go.
Guan Yu, who was torn, had chosen to face certain execution for disobeying orders rather than betray yi by killing his former benefactor. Of course, Guan Yu was not executed, because it turns out that the strategist Zhuge Liang had specifically sent him to kill Cao Cao precisely because he knew full well Guan Yu could not get himself to do it. The strategist did so because he knew that China still needed Cao Cao to maintain a balance of three equal kingdoms, but that is another story.
The much-maligned Cao Cao, on the other hand, is an example of a leader with a poor sense of yi. He is known for the quote, &ldquoI&rsquod rather betray the world than let the world betray me.&rdquo His personal philosophy becomes apparent in one scene where a pursued Cao Cao takes refuge with his father&rsquos sworn brother. While his friend is out on an errand, Cao Cao overhears servants sharpening knives and discussing a kill. Cao Cao&rsquos paranoia is piqued and he murders the entire family. He then discovers they were only preparing to slaughter a pig for his grand welcome dinner. When his old friend, the lord of the house, returns Cao Cao realizes he will be held accountable. So he uses the who&rsquos-that-behind-you trick and stabs his host.
The Tale Lives On
With protagonists shining with yi and antagonists sorely lacking yi, Three Kingdoms, like Guan Yu, leaves a most important lesson for posterity. Not only has it has had a profound impact on Chinese culture and society, the novel offers a glimpse into an ancient world of moral courage and righteousness, with the glue of yi that held it together.
Three Kingdoms author, Luo Guanzhong, believed that the fate of every nation is etched in the stars, and that humans are very limited in their ability to affect the grand flow of history. However, he also believed that if people are upright and virtuous, we are able to accomplish tremendous things, bringing glory to ourselves and our families, leaving a shining legacy that transcends the ages.
The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, By Various Authors (17th Century)
This massive fictionalized history of the struggles attendant to the death the Han dynasty and the establishment the Jin dynasty (circa AD 169-280) is akin to Shakespeare’s historical plays as well as, in some respects, to Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. It is to be approached in the same way, for what the dialogues tell us about a civilization’s understanding of conflict, of statecraft, as well as of virtue.
The history is straightforward: A Northern warlord, repelled by the sight of eunuchs who monopolized power in a weak emperor’s court, takes over the court and makes a puppet of the emperor. As he becomes a tyrant, assassination attempts mount within and revolts brew in the peripheries, eventually giving rise to three contending claimants to the empire. Eventually, one annexes the other two. Not for nothing however is this a “romance” that, in its original form, consisted of nearly a million classical Chinese characters and that Chinese television has serialized it in 95 superbly acted and staged episodes of 46 minutes each. In that form it is part of China’s attempt to reach back to its cultural foundations. One more reason for Westerners to pay attention.
The book is a showcase of Chinese civilization’s hierarchy of values. Secondarily, it illustrates the emphasis that Sun Tzu’s The Art of War places on deception and surprise in Chinese military culture. The highest of goods is the stability that a continuing dynasty provides. Hence, devotion to the provider of this peace is the greatest of virtues. From this flows the rest of China’s hierarchy of virtues: devotion of sons to fathers (and mothers as well) and of subordinates to superiors. Again and again, in countless situations big and small, this hundred-year struggle plays out through challenges to these virtues.
The struggle of the three kingdoms is, in a fundamental sense, natural and unavoidable: “Turbulent times bring forth unpredictable changes.” “Willful men split the kingdom.” “The arrow on their bows must be shot as they reveal their ambitions.” “Let peace be restored to our land.” Similarly, the manner of the struggle follows the laws of “heaven.” Struggles big and small are decided more often than not by one side having a firmer hold of virtues, such as self-control, resistance to overweening pride and self-confidence, as well as superior skill at deception, misdirection, and surprise.
Each major contender employed a wise man as counselor. On the highest level, the struggle for succession of the Han dynasty was between these wise men. The winner turned out to be the one whose thoughts and actions had the highest admixture of deception as opposed to virtues and skills. The wise men had in common countless poems and sayings, perhaps the most telling of which concerns the fate of a cicada that chirped in the sunshine, unaware that a mantis was about to pounce.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
…Chinese novels Sanguozhi yanyi (Three Kingdoms) and Shuihuzhuan (Water Margin, or All Men Are Brothers).
…on the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi yanyi), traditionally ascribed to Luo Guanzhong.
…Kok) of the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The author, Pra Klang, was admittedly a royal official nevertheless, the work was meant for the people rather than the court. It was followed by a spate of imitations and finally resulted in the development of the historical novel.
…literary work Sanguozhi yanyi (“Romance of the Three Kingdoms”). The story has since been adapted in Thai plays, poems, and stories.
… (in full Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi Romance of the Three Kingdoms), and since then he has been one of the most popular figures of Chinese legend and folklore, with various evil magic powers ascribed to him. Modern historians tend to view Cao as a skillful general and pragmatic politician. After Cao’s…
…dynasty novel Sanguo Yanyi (“Romance of the Three Kingdoms”), as a sort of Chinese Robin Hood. When a magistrate was about to carry off a young girl, Guan Yu came to her rescue and killed the man. Guan Yu, fleeing for his life, came upon a guarded barrier. Suddenly…
…historical novel Sanguozhi Yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), Liu has been celebrated and romanticized in Chinese history. The dynasty that he founded, however, never expanded much beyond Sichuan and lasted only until 263/264.
In the Sanguozhi yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), the great 14th-century historical novel, Zhuge is one of the main characters he is portrayed as being able to control the wind and foretell the future.
…Ming novels Sanguozhi yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and Shuihuzhuan (The Water Margin, also published as All Men Are Brothers) became the universally acclaimed masterpieces of the historical and picaresque genres, respectively. Sequels to each were produced throughout the Ming period. Wu Cheng’en, a 16th-century local official, produced…
The Chinese novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms furnishes material for many military plays. The latter, dealing with the lives of commoners, contain humorous scenes alternating with scenes of suffering that are played to the accompaniment of sad southern-style songs. The Confucian ethic of obligation to one’s…
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
A historical novel which recounts the political intrigue and deceit within the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, Romance of the Three Kingdoms combined history, legend and mythology to tell the tumultuous story of this era. This epic tale was written by Luo Guanzhong and incorporates hundreds of characters, weaving a multitude of complicated plotlines in its portrayal of the disintegration of a unified China into three warring kingdoms, the three states of Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu, and their eventual reconciliation and unification. Romance of the Three Kingdoms remains hugely popular in China, and has had a profound influence on national identity, since it dramatises one of the foundational myths of the nation that of its disintegration and unification. The belief in the cyclical nature of history is expressed succinctly in the opening line of the novel: ‘It is a general truism of this world that anything long divided will surely unite, and anything long united will surely divide’. The complexity of the political world it depicts, as well as its epic length and density, can make reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms a challenge. However it remains a uniquely potent work, which informs Chinese political consciousness event today in a way that rivals Shakespeare’s place in English self-identity.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms - A Well-Loved Chinese Classic - History
Edited by Joseph Whiteside
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1. Origin of the People
The inhabitants of China are known to the world as Chinese. They speak of themselves as the "people of Han." As Han is name of a dynasty, it hardly denote the origin of the people. Many theories, based more or less upon religious myths, have been advanced to show whence the first inhabitants of China came but their correctness must necessarily await further scientific discoveries. All accounts, however, agree that the basin of the Yellow River was the cradle of the Chinese culture, and that their ancestors were a nomadic people who, some five or six thousand years ago, migrated from the north-western part of Asia and finally settled in the northern-central part of what is now China.
They soon learned how to till the ground and produce grain. As time went on, the settlers formed themselves into tribes ruled by chieftains. Wars with the aborigines and among the different tribes were frequent. The result was that the original inhabitants were driven off in all directions, and the most powerful chieftain became the acknowledged head. As to how long this state of affairs had continued to exist, history is silent. What we do know of this period is founded largely upon the law of evolution, which is common to all peoples.
2. Mythological Era
2.1. Age of the Three Divine Rulers
Given the first rank among the chieftains is Fuxi, or "Conqueror of Animals." He taught his subjects how to catch animals and fish with nets and to rear domestic animals for food. He is also the originator of the writing system which, with their improvements and modifications of ages, has been handed down to us in the form of the modern Chinese characters.
Before Fuxi, there lived in the pre-historic times a ruler, called Sui Jen, "Producer of Fire." As the name implies, he is believed to have been the man who brought down fire from heaven for the first time and employed it in the preparation of food. Before his time the people lived like wild beasts and ate their food raw.
Some 1300 years after Fuxi, the throne fell to Shennong, or "God of Agriculture," who taught the people the art agriculture and the use of herbs as medicine.
The three foregoing rulers are commonly spoken of by historians as the "Three Divine Rulers."
The successors of Shennong were all rulers of inferior ability, and unable to check the encroachments of the savage tribes whose subjugation was left to Huang Di, or the Yellow Emperor. He was a warrior as well as a statesman. He has been immortalized by the famous battle of Zhuo Lu, where he used a compass to locate his chief enemy and defeat him. His chief enemy was among those killed in the battle, and this victory is believed to have prepared the way for a permanent Chinese settlement in the Middle Kingdom.
After this conquest of the aborigines, Huang Di was placed on the throne. He took his title from the color of the earth, believing that he had come into power by its virtue. His kingdom spread north and west to the desert, east to the ocean, and south to the Great River ((Yangtze River)). This was the largest empire hitherto known in China.
His rule lasted 100 years, a century of progress and enlightenment. He is commonly believed to have been the inventor of boats, carts, bow, arrows, bamboo musical instruments, copper coins, calendar, and fixed standard weight and measures, and more. His ministers invented six kinds of writing, constructed a Celestial Globe, and recorded the movement of stars. His wife taught the people how to rear silkworms and weave silk, and has been regarded as the goddess of the silk industry.
Huang Di, his grandson, his great-grand son, Yao, and Shun are commonly spoken of as the Five Sovereigns.
2.3. Yao and Shun
2.3.1. Yao: Chinese historians generally regard the accession of Yao as the dawn of authentic history. The first official act of Yao was to give his people a more correct calendar than that which had previously existed. This system has been followed throughout all the succeeding ages. Every one had access to his court either to offer a suggestion or to make a criticism. No important appointment was ever made without the advice and consent of the chiefs of the feudal lords and, as the result, his administration was a great success.
The prosperity of the nation was, however, temporarily disturbed by a thirteen-year flood which began in the sixty-first year of Yao's reign. It was a terrible disaster, and Yao was greatly grieved by the sufferings of his people. With some hesitation, the great task of reducing the waters was assigned to Gun, who failed, and for this failure and other crimes, was put to death by Shun, Yao's son-in-law and co-ruler. Strange as it may seem, Yu, son of Gun, was recommended to the throne by Shun.
It took Yu eight years to finish the work. Instead of building high embankments as his father had done, he deepened the beds of existing rivers and cut as many channels as were necessary to carry the water off to the sea. By his great engineering success, he soon became the idol of the nation. "We would have been fish but for Yu" is a saying which has come down to us from those days.
2.3.2. Shun: Yao ruled 100 years. From the seventy-third year of his reign, however, Shun was actually the head of the government and acted as regent. Yao died at the age of 117 and, as he was not pleased with the conduct of his own son, he left the throne to Shun.
After the death of Yao, Shun refused to take the throne which had been left for him. He evidently wished to give Yao's son an opportunity to succeed his illustrious father. Public opinion, however, was so strong in favor of Shun that, at the end of the three years of mourning, he reluctantly assumed the royal title.
We have seen that Shun was the son-in-law of Yao. One naturally thinks that a man must be a prince, or high official, before he may become the son-in-law of a sovereign. Shun was neither. He was but a farmer, and one whose early life was not at all happy. According to tradition, his mother died when he was young, and his father married again and had more children. His stepmother never liked him and, under her influence, the father, who was blind, and his half-brothers hated him. Shun never complained, and finally his filial piety overcame all prejudices.
His fame spread far and wide and soon reached the ear of Yao, who had begun to feel the burden of the government. Shun having been recommended to the sovereign by the feudal lords as the man best fitted to be his successor, Yao thereupon gave both of his daughters to him in marriage. Thus at the age of 30, Shun was obliged to give up a farmer's life to share the responsibilities of governing an empire.
Shun's administrative abilities soon justified the confidence placed in him by Yao. He called from private life many capable people to take part in the administration of the government, and did not hesitate for a moment to punish those who were unworthy of trust. Among the former, Yu the Great was his prime minister. Shun was the author of the scheme by which all ministers directly responsible to the throne were required to give a strict account of their administration or department every third year. He further made the rule that feudal prince should report in person to the royal court every year and the overlord or king make a tour of inspection every fifth year. Shun had ruled as emperor for 47 years and was succeeded by Yu the Great.
Yao and Shun are regarded as the ideal rulers in China. Much of their unrivaled popularity is undoubtedly due to the eulogies of Confucius and Confucian scholars, who have endowed them with every virtue known to humans. They are worshipped not because of the deeds they performed, but because of the spotless lives they led. They are models as humans and rulers, and their days are generally accepted as the Golden Age in Chinese history. No greater honor can be paid to a Chinese emperor than to compare him to Yao and Shun.
3. The Xia Dynasty
3.1. Yu the Great: Following the example of Yao, Shun made Yu co-ruler in the twenty-third year of his reign. Yu was, therefore, actually in power when Shun died but being anxious to give Shun's son a chance, he made an attempt to retire. However, his great success in restoring the flooded lands and his subsequent services to the State, had long eclipsed the would-be heir-apparent. When the people had to choose between a tried statesman and one who had no other claim to the throne than that based upon his birth, their preference was naturally for the former.
So, after the period of mourning, Yu was elected to the throne. He moved his capital to Anyi, and adopted the name of his former principality, Xia, as the name of the dynasty he now founded. To show his gratitude, he made the sons of Yao and Shun feudal lords over territories called Tang and Yu, respectively.
Yu, as ruler, desired to maintain the closest relations with his people, and caused to be hung at the entrance to his court five instruments---a drum, a gong, a stone instrument, a bell, and a rattle. The drum was to announce the coming of a caller who desired to discourse with him upon any of the virtues which should adorn a monarch. By beating the gong, he who disapproved of the king's conduct could be admitted to audience. If any one had important news, or personal grievances to communicate, he had but to strike the stone instrument, or ring the bell, as the case might be, in order to gain admittance while the king was always ready to hear any appeal from the judicial decisions of his judges whenever he heard the sound of the rattle. These instruments kept Yu so very busy that, as historians inform us, he was always late at his midday meal.
The discovery of intoxicating spirits has been traced to Yu's time but Yi Di, the discoverer, was dismissed from the public service by the sovereign, who said in the presence of his ministers: "The day is coming when the liquor will cost someone a kingdom."
As a monument to his greatness, Yu, in the fourth year of his reign, cast nine metal tripods, and engraved descriptions of the Nine Regions on each of them. These emblems of royalty, as the tripods have been regarded, were then placed in the ancestral temple of Yu. As Yu was ninety-three years when he came to the throne, he did not rule long before death put an end to his distinguished eight-year career.
The Xia Dynasty is worthy of note for the fact that after Yu the throne ceased to be elective and became hereditary. No selfish motive, however, could be attributed to Yu. Gao Yu, to whom he would have gladly resigned the throne, had died. As his own son, Ji, inherited many of his kingly virtues, it was but natural that the people, who had so much to say in the matter, should insist, as they did, upon Ji's inheriting the throne. Ji's reign was one of prosperity and peace.
3.2. Jie and Mei Xi: Passing over some fourteen kings, we come to the days of the notorious Jie, the seventeenth and last king of the house of Xia. Jie was a man of extraordinary strength, but was no statesman. He conquered many tribes who had refused to submit to his authority but his military achievements made him haughty, willful, and cruel, and he became both extravagant and immoral. He refused to heed the advice of the wise, and spent his time among bad women, of whom Mei Xi was the most notorious.
Mei Xi was beautiful but wicked. She had been given to Jie as ransom by a noble whom the king had humbled. It is commonly believed that she was largely responsible for the downfall of the Xia Dynasty. According to tradition, there was a lake full of liquor in the palace of Jie. At a given signal, three thousand persons jumped into this lake and drank like cattle, for the drunken conduct of such revelers was the principal amusement of the king and his royal concubine. To please her, an underground palace was built at an immense cost. Here Jie enjoyed all kinds of vice by day and by night while the affairs of state were entirely neglected.
Extra taxation had to be resorted to, in order to provide means to meet the heavy expenditure of Jie but this so alienated the hearts of the people that a rebellion was started by a virtuous noble named Tang. Little resistance was possible, and Jie, after having led a most wanton royal life for fifty-three years, died in exile.
4. The Shang Dynasty
4.1. Tang, the Founder of the Dynasty: Tang, who was said to have descended from the minister of education under Shun, was the founder of the Shang Dynasty, named after the principality bestowed on him for his services. The capital was moved to Bo for this new family of rulers.
The battle of Ming Diao, which resulted in the overthrow of Jie, gave Tang the title of "Victorious." In fact, his revolution was the first successful one recorded in Chinese history. It is stated that he never felt happy afterwards, because he feared that his action in taking up arms against Jie, his sovereign, might be viewed by succeeding ages in the light of a usurpation. One of his ministers tried, by an able address, to convince him that what he did was in strict accord with the will of Heaven, since Jie had sinned against Heaven and humans. This view is fully shared by Confucian scholars, who not only exonerate Tang, but rank him with the celebrated rulers of antiquity.
A fearful drought commenced in the second year of Tang's reign and lasted seven years. The suffering among the people was beyond description. Money was coined and freely distributed among the poor, but this hardly relieved the situation. Having exhausted all means in his power, Tang finally appealed to God by going to a mulberry grove and there offering his prayer. He confessed his sins and offered his own life for the benefit of the people. "Do not destroy my people," said he, "because of my sins!" The reply to his prayer was a copious rain. Tang was so much delighted with the result of the appeal to Heaven, that he composed a new hymn to which he gave the name of "Mulberry Grove."
4.2. Tai Jia: Tang's son having died before him, Tai Jia, his grandson, came to the throne after his death. This sovereign was weak and was soon led astray by bad ministers. Fortunately for him and the dynasty, Yi Yin, who had placed the crown upon the head of Tang, was close at hand.
Several times Yi Yin remonstrated with the young ruler by calling attention to the good qualities which distinguished Tang and the causes of the downfall of the Xia Dynasty. To all this, Tai Jia turned a deaf ear. Yi Yin, who preferred to commit an irregularity rather than see the empire fall to pieces through the follies of Tai Jia, made up his mind to take strong measures. Tai Jia was dethroned and made to live near the tomb of Tang, while Yi Yin assumed the exercise of royal functions in the capacity of regent.
This unprecedented action on the part of Yi Yin had a most salutary effect, for the change of environment worked a complete reformation in Tai Jia, who returned at the end of three years to Bo, a thoroughly repentant man and competent ruler. To him Yi Yin gladly restored all royal powers.
It was this act of Yi Yin rather than his services in building up an empire that has made him immortal. Whether he did right in temporarily dethroning the king was open to question, until a final verdict was rendered by Mencius who thought that his ends amply justified his means. This historical event attests the extent of the power exercised by a prime minister in those days.
4.3. Wu Ding: Wu Ding, the twentieth ruler, is famous for two things---the way in which he obtained the services of an able minister and the expedition he led against the Tartars.
According to tradition, Wu Ding never spoke a word during the time of mourning, but permitted, his prime minister to manage the state affairs for him. When the mourning was over, the prime minister resigned on account of age. To find a successor to such a brilliant man was no easy task. Wu Ding, therefore, appealed to God, and a man was revealed to him in a dream. He made a picture of the man of his dream and ordered a search to be made for him. A mason was at length found who answered the description given and who was at once ushered before Wu Ding. The king was very much pleased with the words of the mason and made him Prime Minister at once. This man was Fu Yue.
Modern historians think that Wu Ding had known Fu Yue well, and that the dream was a mere pretense on the part of the king who did not wish to raise a mason to so important an office as that of prime minister without some better excuse than his own knowledge of the man. Fu Yue, however, proved to be the right man for the place for, under his guidance, the country prospered within and was respected without.
In the year BC 1293 there was an expedition sent against the Land of the Demon commonly believed to be the Tartars. This war lasted three years, and resulted in a temporary lease of new life to the Shang Dynasty. Nobles again flocked into the court of Wu Ding with tribute. Unfortunately Wu Ding's successors were not able to check the rising power of a western state which was reaching its zenith.
4.4. King Zhou and Daji: The Shang Dynasty ended with a tyrant, the twenty-fourth king---King Zhou. He was a talented man, but utterly without principle. In character, he very much resembled Jie, the last ruler of the house of Xia. Like him, King Zhou was aided to a great extent in the practice of vice by a woman. Her name was Daji. When he heard of this beauty, he led an army to attack her father, a noble of Su, and compelled him to surrender her as a concubine to the sovereign.
King Zhou soon became a helpless slave to share her wicked will. She evidently took no fancy to an underground palace. To satisfy her vanity, King Zhou constructed the "Deer Tower," the highest structure known in his day. The work was completed in seven years and cost an incredible amount of money. Unfortunately, this great architectural work perished with King Zhou, who set fire to it and burned himself to death, when he saw no hope for himself.
King Zhou, who was even worse than Jie, permitted Daji to interfere with the management of his government, for she was "the hen that heralds the dawn of the day." To seal the lips of the timid, she caused all those who ventured to remonstrate with the king to be put to death by making them climb up a red-hot copper pillar. Even the uncle of the king lost his life.
Desertion and rebellion were the order of the day. Eight hundred nobles joined the flag of Chou Fa, whose own army numbered only three thousand men. King Zhou was not a man who would give up his kingdom without a struggle. An immense army was raised and the last stand was made at Mu Yie. The royal soldiers refused to fight and the result was the death of King Zhou and the end of the Shang Dynasty.
5. The Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty marks the beginning of a new epoch in Chinese history. With it the real authentic history begins. In it are to be found the origins and principles of Chinese civilization. The Zhou Dynasty was to China what Greece was to Europe for most of the customs, laws, and institutions which we see today have been handed down from this period. Its history resembles the history of Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The rise and development of philosophies during this period have also rendered the name of Zhou particularly memorable. For the sake of convenience, this longest Chinese dynasty may be divided into three periods: the first, Western Zhou, embraces the rise of the dynasty and down to the removal of its capital to the east the second, the age of Feudalism, or Spring and Autumn Period and the third, the age of the Seven States, or Warring States Period.
5.2. Western Zhou
5.2.a. Its early history: The founder of the Zhou Dynasty, Wu Wang, the Military King, was of distinguished ancestry, being a descendant of Ji, the Minister of Agriculture under Shun. One of this Ji's descendants introduced the art of agriculture among the savage tribes in the western part of the empire and built a town at Bin. Here his family continued to live in peace for hundreds of years. In the year BC 1326, they, having been harassed by the constant incursions of the barbarians, migrated eastward to Ji, and gave this new settlement the name of Zhou.
Through the labors of a succession of good people, this little town in time became the center of civilization. Its growth was most rapid. By the time of Wen Wang, or Scholar King, father of the founder of the dynasty, it was a city of far greater importance than the capital of the empire, for it was the capital of "two-thirds of the empire." The fruits of his benevolent government were finally reaped by his son, Wu Wang, or Military King.
5.2.b. Wu Wang: Having ascended the throne, made vacant by the death of King Zhou, amid the acclamations of the nobles who had allied themselves with him, Wu Wang set himself to organize a peaceful government.
His first act was to set at liberty the unhappy people who had been imprisoned by King Zhou for no fault of theirs. Among them was one named Qi Zi, who was King Zhou's uncle, and a man of great learning. He explained the rules of government, and then escaped to Korea, where he was elected ruler. He evidently had no desire of becoming an official under the newly established dynasty.
By order of the king, Daji, who had caused so many innocent men and women to be put death, paid the penalty with her life. The immense stores of grain which had been stored by King Zhou and the treasures he had accumulated were distributed to the poor soldiers were disbanded horses and oxen given to farmers for agricultural purposes schools established and houses built for the old. A new city was laid out at Hao, which was henceforth the capital of the empire. Wu Wang died at the age of ninety-three, alter having ruled as king for seven years.
5.2.c. Duke of Zhou: Of the numerous great people who adorned the court of Wu Wang, the Duke of Zhou, his younger brother, must be given the first place. It was he who completed what had been left undone by Wu Wang, for the latter's death left a boy of thirteen on the throne, and the responsibility of the government rested with the Duke who was the regent.
As a statesman and lawyer, the Duke of Zhou wrote a classic known as "The Rites of Zhou," which is a permanent monument to his greatness as a general, he crushed a most stubborn rebellion headed by Wu Geng, son of King Zhou, and aided by other uncles of the boy-king, whom Wu Wang had appointed to most responsible positions and as a philosopher, succeeding ages have pronounced him to be second only to Confucius. The name of this man is closely associated with the early institutions of the Zhou Dynasty.
5.2.d. Divisions of the empire: The feudal system was undoubtedly an outcome of the tribal government of the early ages. It existed during the Xia and Shang Dynasties, but the Duke of Zhou perfected it by the introduction of the five orders of nobility, which are dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons. A duke or a marquis was entitled to rule over a territory 100 mile square an earl, 70 mile square and a viscount or baron, 50 mile square. These were classified as the first, second, and third class states respectively. States, whose area was less than 50 mile square, had no direct representation at the court of the emperor and were obliged to send their tribute through a neighboring first-class state.
There were nine regions in the empire. With the exception of the territory reserved as the domain of the emperor, each region contained 30 first-class, 60 second-class, and 120 third-class states, or a total of 210 feudal states. The domain of the emperor was divided among the executive ministers of his court and included nine first-class, twenty-one second-class, and sixty-three third-class states.
At the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty, the total number of feudal states was 1,773. Subsequent civil wars among these states finally reduced this number to seven. The Zhou Dynasty reaped much benefit from "the wall of feudal states around the House of the Emperor," built by the Duke of Zhou. It was the armies of these states that saved it from the horrors of a barbarian invasion and, when its power had sunk to the lowest ebb, it was the jealousy among them that prolonged its existence.
5.2.e. Government: Of the political institutions of the two preceding dynasties, we know very little. The highest officials under the emperors of the Zhou Dynasty were the Grand Tutor, the Grand Instructor, and the Grand Guardian, with an assistant under each. Their offices were purely didactic. The administration of the government was entrusted to a cabinet consisting of the heads of the following six departments: the Heavenly Minister or Minister of the Interior, the Earthly Minister or Minister of the Treasury, the Spring Minister or Minister of Rites and Religion, the Summer Minister or Minister of War, the Autumn Minister or Minister of Jurisprudence, the Winter Minister or Minister of Works. Each cabinet minister had a corps of sixty subordinate officers under him. The total number of executive officers, therefore, was 360, corresponding to the number of heavenly bodies known at that time.
Outside of the domain of the emperor, feudal chiefs were appointed. They were of different grades, and the number of states subject to their supervisory power varied from five, for one of the lowest grade, to 210 for one of the highest grade, or Lord of a Region.
5.2.f. Taxation: Soon after the reduction of the waters by Yu the Great, a system of taxation was inaugurated, known as the "Tribute System." The Shang Dynasty introduced another familiar system called "Aid System." Each able-bodied man or a group of families received land from the government and was to pay to it as tax the produce of a part of the land. The system adopted by the Zhou Dynasty was a combination of the two, the "tribute system" for the more crowded cities and the "aid system" for the outlying districts. The Zhou people were also taxed by labor, the length of time during which a man had to work for the government varying according to the condition of the crop of each year.
5.2.g. Military equipment: Under the Zhou Dynasty the burden of military equipment rested entirely on the farmers. Every unit of 512 families was required to furnish four horses, one chariot, three charioteers, seventy-two foot soldiers, and twenty-five other men. The emperor's domain was composed of 64,000 units, hence its military strength was estimated at 10,000 chariots. For this reason, his realm is spoken of as "a state of ten thousand chariots."
5.2.h. Mu Wang: The Zhou Dynasty is famous for several able rulers immediately after its founder. This line was broken when Mu Wang, the fifth emperor, came to the throne. He was more ambitious than wise. In the height of his passion for conquests, he led an immense army against the Jung Tribes in the western part of the country. This expedition must have been a failure, for he brought back only four white wolves and four white deer. Unintentionally, he thus sowed the seed of hatred which culminated in an invasion of China in BC 771.
5.2.i. Xuan Wang: As the son of the fifth emperor, who died in exile due to his vassals' rebellions against his misgoverning, Xuan Wang had evidently learned a good lesson from the misfortunes that had come upon his father. Placing himself under the guidance of experienced ministers, he soon saw the return of better days. The internal conditions improved and his arms were successful everywhere.
Not only did Xuan Wang have good ministers, but he also had a good queen, Jiang Hou, who today ranks among the greatest women of antiquity. It is stated that the emperor was less energetic when he saw that his state was in a better condition. He began to rise late and was indifferent to the affairs of state. No advice from ministers was heeded but finally Jiang Hou hit upon an expedient which proved successful. One morning she deprived herself of all emblems of royalty, and sent word to Xuan Wang that she was no longer worthy to be his queen, since she had failed to prevent him from falling into the evils which would ultimately bring his government into difficulties.
5.2.j. Yu Wang: Unfortunately, Xuan Wang did not have a good son. He was succeeded by Yu Wang, in whose reign of eleven years we see the records of Jie and King Zhou repeated. Like them, Yu Wang was completely under the influence of a beauty. By a well-planned stroke of policy, this woman had the queen degraded and the crown prince disinherited in favor of herself and her son. This was the infamous Bo Su, whose smile cost Yu Wang his crown and his life.
Tradition says that Bo Su was hard to please, and that the king tried every means in his power to make her smile, but without success. He at length thought of a scheme. He had all the beacons lighted, which, it must be remembered, was to be done only as a signal for the nobles to come to the defense of their overlord. The loyal nobles responded promptly with what forces they were able to collect at short notice. To their dismay they discovered that no danger existed and that the whole thing was but a false cry of "wolf." Yu Wang was indeed successful, for he saw a smile on the face of Bo Su.
The mistake he thus made, however, was a fatal one. Not long afterwards his empire was invaded by the barbarians known as the Jung. As the country was by no means prepared for the attack, the emperor lighted the beacons again, but no one responded. The capital was easily taken, and Yu Wang slain. These barbarians had invaded China at the invitation of the Marquis of Shen, father of the former queen. In the court of this marquis, the disinherited crown prince had sought refuge. Instead of surrendering the unhappy exile, the marquis allied himself with the Jung to make war on Yu Wang.
5.2.k. Removal of the capital: For a time the Jung were permitted to plunder the country, but the allied troops of the more powerful nobles finally drove them outside of China. The vacant throne was then restored by the allies to the disinherited crown prince. The dynastic title of the new king was Ping Wang , or "The Pacifier," but he was not worthy of the name.
No sooner did he come to the throne than he transferred the seat of government to "The Eastern Metropolis," in Luoyi (near Luoyang), a city built by the famous Duke of Zhou, and hitherto used as the place for meeting the nobles, because of its central location. Henceforth the dynasty was known as "The Eastern Zhou."
With this event, which took place in BC 770, a period of weakness came upon the Zhou Dynasty. During the remainder of some 500 years, it existed in name only. The weaker feudal states were an easy prey for the more powerful nobles who only acknowledged allegiance to the emperor so long as it suited them. The China of this period may be described as an empire partitioned amongst the nobles.
5.2.l. The tribes: We have seen that the removal of the capital to the east was due entirely to a dread of the growing power of the tribes in the west. These were not the only barbarians which existed then. Their kindred in the north and in the south also made constant inroads into China. The weakness of the reigning house was most favorable to their growth. As the Zhou Dynasty was not able to defend the country, the task fell to the lot of the nobles. Fortunately for China, the Mongolian Tartars were not strong enough then to harass the northern border, or they would have made short work of a weakened empire.
5.2.m. Aborigines: The rulers of the Zhou Dynasty never troubled themselves much about the aborigines. As long as they remained quiet, they were always permitted to retain their customs and land in the heart of the empire. They were scattered here and there among feudal states. For several centuries, they remained uninfluenced by Chinese civilization. In view of their love of war, they became very valuable tools of the feudal states but, as the latter grew stronger, they were either conquered or disappeared through assimilation.
5.3. Eastern Zhou: The Age of Feudalism
5.3.a. Introduction: The Feudalism in China furnishes a most important study. The best record of this period has been preserved in the Spring and Autumn Classic, dating from BC 722 to BC 481, a work said to have been edited by Confucius. It is largely a record of civil wars among the feudal states, which the emperor was powerless to prevent. Annexations of weaker states by stronger ones were of frequent occurrence. Of 1,773 states created by the founder of this Zhou Dynasty, only one hundred and sixty were left and of this number only twelve were of importance. The rest merely rallied under the flags of their leaders until they were swallowed up.
5.3.b. Interstate relations: In times of peace an exchange of envoys was not uncommon, though none was ever appointed to reside at the capital of a friendly state. Free transit through a third state and personal immunity were among the privileges enjoyed by a diplomatic agent. An insult to such an agent was sometimes a sufficient cause for declaring war.
A lame envoy was once subjected to ridicule at the court of the state to which he was sent. In the war that ensued the offending state was beaten and the envoy, who was now the commander-in-chief of the invading army, demanded, as a condition of peace, the surrender of the mother of the defeated prince as hostage, since she was thought to have been among the women who laughed at him on his former peaceful mission.
A peace concluded under the walls of the capital of a defeated state was considered an unusual humiliation, while a sheep, presented by a defeated ruler in person and half naked, was a sign of submission.
The desire for leadership and preeminence was the cause of many a bloody war between rival states. Chu was always looking for opportunities of conquest. To defeat Chu, therefore, was the stepping stone to supremacy. In times of need a state was obliged to go to the rescue of a friendly neighbor that looked to it for leadership.
5.3.c. The five supreme powers: It seems there were five states more powerful than the rest. As to which they were historians never agree. The following states are certainly worthy of mention, beside Chu.
.1. Qi: The state of Qi came into prominence through the efforts of Duke Huan. Before his time, Qi was the scene of internal disorder and murder. In consequence of a disputed succession, Duke Huan put his half-brother to death. A devoted friend of the latter was Guan Zhong, who shot an arrow at Duke Huan, but it was arrested by the hook of the Duke's girdle.
Duke Huan, however, was more than ready, when he came to the throne, to forgive this would-be assassin. He make Guan Zhong his prime minister. The finances of Qi were then in a very bad condition, and the army was far from efficient. Guan Zhong soon proved his worth. He established a salt monopoly, encouraged commerce, opened iron mines, and reorganized the existing army. In a few years the internal conditions improved, and Qi was looked to by neighboring states as their leader in time of peace and their protector in time of war.
Duke Huan was now in a position to enter upon a war of conquest. What he needed was a pretext that would receive universal approval. He did not wait long for such a pretext. The emperor was too weak to enforce his authority and was more than glad to befriend any one of his vassals who could do it for him. Duke Huan was the man.
His army was soon seen punishing the northern tribes for their disrespect to the reigning house of the empire. Nobles who refused to acknowledge his supremacy shared the same fate. He reached the climax of his glory when he succeeded in bringing the state of Chu over to his side. He led an expedition consisting of his own army and the picked armies of his allies against Chu, for the alleged reason that the latter state had failed to present to the royal court a certain kind of plant, which grew in that territory. Chu preferred to agree to a condition so easy to fulfill rather than go to war, and so a treaty of peace was signed.
With the death of Guan Zhong the days of conquests and supremacy seemed to have ended in Qi. Two years later, Duke Huan himself died, leaving a numerous progeny. The latter quarreled over the throne, and through their follies, the leadership among the states was forever lost to Qi. The success of Duke Huan had its effect upon the neighboring states. Among the nobles who tried to follow his footsteps, was Duke Xiang of Song, who made a pretty good start, but received a crushing defeat at the hands of Chu.
.2. Jin: This feudal state occupied the western part of the empire. The defeat of Duke Xiang of Song gave Chu a free hand in the political affairs of the empire. She "absorbed all the states along the Han River," and her sway extended over the whole of Huashang Mountains. She was a terror in the domain of the emperor until Jin arose.
Duke Wen of Jin passed his early days in exile, traveling from state to state. When he was in Chu, a feast was given in his honor by the Baron of Chu. "If you ever become the ruler of your own state, what will you do in return for the favors I have shown you?" asked the Baron.
Wen, afterwards Duke of Jin, replied that he really did not know what he could do in that case. "Of servants, mistresses, precious stones, and silks," he added, "your honor has had more than enough and feathers, leather, and ivory are the produce of your soil but should it ever become my good luck to meet your honor in the battlefield at the head of an opposing army, I shall order a retreat of ten miles, in consideration of what you have done for me. And should you insist on further advance, I will certainly make a stand."
These remarks of this ambitious young man offended many of the ministers of the baron, who advised him to kill Wen but the advice was rejected as cowardly. The baron evidently little thought that Wen would ever be able to realize his ambition. But Duke Wen of Jin fulfilled his promise to the letter when he met the army of Chu at Chengpu, BC 632. He crippled the military strength of Chu for nearly half a century. The battle of Chengpu is especially memorable because one of the generals of Jin had the chariot horses covered with tigers' skins.
Duke Wen, being a member of the reigning family of Zhou, stood in the closest relationship to the court at the "Eastern Metropolis" (Luoyi). After his success at Chengpu, he was received in audience by the emperor, who loaded the royal "uncle" with honors and presents. The prestige of Jin was maintained by successors to Duke Wen for nearly two hundred years.
.3. Wu: The next state, which was able to weaken the strength of Chu, was a new rising power in the south called Wu. In the latter part of the sixth century BC, a certain fugitive from justice, Qu Wuchen, made his way from Chu to Wu, where he was the first to teach the people how to use a bow and arrow. He reorganized the army of Wu. What was left undone by him was completed by another military genius who had fled in a similar manner from Chu some seventy years later.
This was the famous Wu Zixu, whose father and elder brother had been wrongfully put to death by Ping Wang of Chu. His life was also in danger, and so he fled to Wu. His marvelous escape has often been acted on the Chinese stage, and his story is perhaps familiar to every Chinese schoolchild. He was just the man Wu needed. In BC 506, he entered the capital of Chu at the head of a triumphant army, and had the remains of Ping Wang dug out and given 300 blows.
.4. Yue: Sun Zi certainly did much for his newly adopted state, which was now the leader in the empire. Her army overran the state of Yue, and made it a vassal. Gou Jian, King of Yue, knew well that he could rule only at the pleasure of Fu Zha, King of Wu. Outwardly he did everything to please Fu Zha, but at the same time went on with the reorganization of his own state. He made Fu Zha a present of Xi Shi, the famous beauty of the time.
This had a most astonishing effect. The girl, who "was washing silk by the side of a brook in the morning and concubine of the king of Wu in the evening," soon became the favorite of Fu Zha. The King of Wu paid no further attention to what was going on in Yue. The year BC 472 saw the downfall of his state and his own death by suicide. Wu was added to the territory of Yue, but the latter was finally conquered by Chu.
5.3.d. Treaty-making: Treaties were always very solemn functions, invariably accompanied by the sacrifice of an animal. A part of the sacrifice, or of its blood, was thrown into a ditch in order that the spirit of the earth may bear witness to the deed the rest of the blood was rubbed upon the lips of the parties concerned, and also scattered upon the documents by way of imprecation sometimes, however, the imprecations instead of being uttered, were specially written at the end of the treaty. Just as we say "the ink was scarcely dry before etc., etc.," the ancients used to say "the blood of the victim was scarcely dry before etc., etc."
5.3.e. Warfare: The armies of the various feudal princes consisted principally of charioteers and foot soldiers. We have seen that the strength and wealth of a state were measured by the number of war chariots it was able to place in the field. These were made of leather and wood and their use, it would seem, dates as far back as BC 1800. When in camp these chariots were often arranged in opposite rows with the ends of their shafts meeting above, so as to form a "shaft gate," over which a flag was kept flying. No mention is made of cavalry during the true feudal time. In fact this arm of military service was only introduced into China by the semi-Tartar states about the year BC 307, after which no more war chariots were used.
Besides the war chariots, more comfortable conveyances drawn by horses or oxen were also in use. An eight-horse carriage or cart was the style used by a king. Confucius, in his famous travels, employed a two-horse carriage which was always driven by one of his disciples.
The offensive weapons of the warriors consisted of knives, swords, halberds, spears, pole-axes, and lances with crescent-shaped blades on the side. These were all made of copper. Bows and arrows, much the same as those of today, were also used. The defensive weapons were shields, cuirasses made of skins of rhinoceroses, and helmets made of skins or copper. The soldiers marched to the sound of a drum and retreated at the sound of a gong. Before setting out on an expedition, it was customary to rub the regimental drum with the blood of a sacrifice, and to show the number of enemies slain, their left ears, instead of their heads, were often cut off by the victors.
5.4. Eastern Zhou: The Age of Seven States
5.4.a. End of feudal leadership: In the preceding section we have seen how the Zhou Dynasty, during the sixth and seventh centuries BC, was able to maintain its shadow of power over the feudal states. The emperor always strove to cultivate the good will of the strongest state, because its military strength maintained his authority the latter was no less happy to be under the protection of the royal scepter, because his name gave it moral support.
While this condition of affairs existed, both the emperor and the leading states reaped immense benefit therefrom. But it could not exist always. The Zhou Dynasty was now on the decline. The royal name had lost all its value the royal domain had been greatly reduced by occasional grants of land for services rendered by the stronger states. Friendship with Zhou was without profit and so it was no longer sought.
5.4.b. Civil war within each state: Furthermore, the national life had assumed a new phase. It must be borne in mind that, under the feudal system, the land granted by the emperor carried sovereignty with it. Each feudal lord was sovereign over his own domain which was subdivided into estates among his ministers. These ministers were executive officials in time of peace and commanders in time of war. The standing army of a noble was under his immediate control. The growth of estate holders, as was inevitable, always corresponded to that of the state itself. So the strongest states had the most difficult internal problems to face. According to the saying at the time, "the tail often became so large that it could not be wagged at will."
5.4.c. The seven states: As the predominant states exercised the power of the emperor, so the estate holders exercised the power of a feudal lord. Civil warfare on a small scale characterized the internal condition of each state. Powerful estate holders could depose their master whenever they pleased. This condition was especially true in Jin, the most powerful of the feudal states. It had grown so large that its duke was no longer able to maintain order. The three rival estate holders in this state at length came to some kind of agreement, and the partition of Jin took place.
To the three new states, the founders gave their respective surnames of Wei, Zhao, and Han. This partition was fatal to the existence of Zhou. Had the state of Jin remained intact, Qin would never have come into prominence. As it was, division caused weakness, and no one single state was strong enough to check the eastward advance and aggrandizement of Qin.
The three newly founded states and four of the older states, each representing the amalgamation of a number of smaller ones, made up the Seven States, and this period of Chinese history is known as the Age of the Seven States, or Warring States. The four older states were Qin in the west, Chu in the south, Yan in the north, and Qi in the east.
Of the Seven States, or "Masculine Powers," as they were then called, Chu and Qin each possessed a third of the empire, while the remaining third was divided among the other five states.
5.4.d. Qin: Qin was first known in history as a fourth-class state. Out of gratitude to its chief for military aid in connection with the transfer of the capital, Ping Wang of Zhou gave him permission to annex all territory west of Jin, the earliest home of the dynasty. This easily raised Qin to a first-class state, so far as the area was concerned, and brought it to the border of Jin.
Jin was then the leader in the empire, and as its way to the east was blocked, its rulers were obliged to seek expansion in the west. Intermarriages between the ruling houses of these two states were frequent, but their wars were not few. The decline of the military prowess of Jin gave Qin access to the great empire in the east. Once this door was opened, there was nothing to arrest the tide of expansion which, checked in the west, had now begun to flow in the opposite direction.
Duke Shang of Qin was a wonderful man. By introducing administrative reforms, he succeeded in building the foundation of the first centralized empire in China. The immediate cause of the greatness of Qin lay in the following facts:
(1) The state was in a better financial condition due to more than two centuries of peace.
(2) Natural defense of streams and mountains formed a stronghold which required but small garrisons to become well-nigh impregnable, and from this stronghold, her generals could pour immense armies upon the plains on either side of the Yellow River.
(3) Constant collisions with the western barbarians had given her better soldiers who could carry everything before them.
(4) Her rulers had very little regard for the traditions of ages, but insisted on reforms as the needs arose.
(5) Her rulers had been able to employ the best geniuses of the time for the benefit of their country and people. Among the decrees issued by Duke Shang, one is specially worthy of note, he not only granted official honors and lands to his own subjects, but also invited able people from other states to come to the help of his government. In response to this call, many foreigners flocked to his court. It was these "alien ministers" that helped build up a wealthy and powerful nation.
5.4.e. Yan: Yan was the territory given to Duke Zhao by Wu Wang of Zhou. Its earlier history is not known. It was north of Qi. During the period of strife between the leading states, she took no part whatever in national affairs, and it was said of her in BC 539: "She was never a strong power in spite of her numerous horses."
The year BC 284 is a memorable one in her history, because one of her generals invaded Qi and captured more than sixty cities. Her success, however, was only temporary. This able General, Yue Yi by name, was falsely accused of treason and was superseded by a man of inferior ability.
As a consequence, she was deprived of all the fruits of her former victory. She owed her integrity not to her own standing army, but to her secluded position. The three states of Jin stood between her and the powerful Qin. The northern Tartars were not strong enough to harass her. In fact, she had obtained a large tract of land from them.
5.4.f. Perpendicular and horizontal alliances: Qin had begun to cast covetous eyes on the immense territory that separated her from the sea. To check her eastward-growing power, it was necessary for the remaining six states to form a chain of north and south alliances. The party that advocated this policy found in Su Qin, an able leader. They styled themselves "Perpendicular Unionists." Su Qin traveled from one state to another until he was made Prime Minister of all the Six States and formed an alliance against Qin.
At the same time there existed another party who worked in the interest of Qin and who, in their eloquence, persuaded the other states to make peace with Qin. They wanted to form a line of east and west alliances, hence they called themselves "Horizontal Unionists." This party was headed by Zhang Yi, a classmate of Su Qin.
In other words, Su Qin and his school may be called the War party while Zhang Yi and his followers, the Peace party. These people flocked to the court of every state. When the war party came into power, the armies of the six states were fighting their common foe in the west but when the peace party directed affairs, their envoys were seen at the capital of Qin, bearing tribute.
Qin had also another plan. By bribery, murder, and intrigues of all sorts, she was able to utilize one or more of the six states as a cat's paw to pull chestnuts out of the fire. In this manner, she exhausted the strength and treasure of her rivals, and gave herself a little rest whilst gathering more strength for the supreme effort.
5.5. The Famous Philosophers
5.5.a. Introduction: The most important event, which has rendered the Zhou Dynasty especially conspicuous in Chinese history, is undoubtedly the birth of Confucius, the greatest of Chinese philosophers. A philosopher may be described as a person who tries by his teaching to lay down general laws or principles. As a rule, philosophy in the earlier times had a background of mystery, and Confucianism is no exception. As Confucius was a disciple of Laozi, the founder of Daoism, some knowledge of the latter system, coupled with that of the religious beliefs and moral standard of the contemporary Chinese teachers, is necessary to a proper understanding of Confucianism.
"In the early days three groups of divinities were recognized---those of the heaven, the earth, and human. Besides these, ancestral worship was largely practiced. Various kinds of sacrifices were offered according to strictly enforced rituals at appointed times. Oracles were consulted before even the smallest undertakings." (Faber's "China in the Light of History.")
The belief in astrology, fortune telling, and dreams was almost universal but by the time of the Spring and Autumn Classic, considerable intellectual improvements had been made. "The nation that listens to human is bound to rise that which listens to gods is doomed to ruin." "The will of heaven is far off, but that of human near how can one claim knowledge of that which is beyond one's reach?"
These quotations suffice to show the intellectual tendency of the time. The thought thus expressed was later greatly magnified by Laozi (or Laotze) in his famous Daode Jing (or Tao Te Ching, or The Way and Power Classic).
5.5.b. Daoism (Taoism): "Dao probably means impersonal Nature which permeates all things, and from which all things are evolved. According to the teaching of Laozi, true peace comes from ceasing to strive and by living in harmony with the leadings of 'Dao.' The cause of disorder in the world is the development of what is artificial and unnatural, and the only remedy is a return to 'Dao.'" (Pott's "A Sketch of Chinese History.")
His philosophy has been thoroughly understood by few, as it is beyond the comprehension of the average Chinese. Tradition makes Laozi a librarian of the royal court of Zhou. After the completion of his philosophical work, he retired to an unknown place, leaving the all-important reform movement to be perfected by Confucius.
5.5.c. Confucius: Confucius was born BC 551 in the feudal state of Lu. At fifteen his mind was set on learning and at thirty, he stood firm in his convictions. In his twenty-second year, he began his career as a teacher.
In BC 501, Duke Ding of Lu made him minister of justice and acting prime minister. In the latter capacity, he accompanied Duke Ding to an interview that had been arranged with the chief of Qi. He advocated the policy that the only way to maintain peace is to be prepared for war, and at his request the Duke's retinue included two generals. The return of certain tracts of land, which had been occupied by Qi, crowned his diplomatic effort.
Qi became jealous of Lu's prosperity, and corrupted the Duke by a present of beautiful courtesans. Confucius then left Lu to seek employment at the courts of other nobles. He traveled from state to state but to no avail. At times his life was in danger. Seeing no further hope for himself, he returned to Lu and spent his last days in literary work. He died in BC 479. Since his death, the world has come to understand his true worth.
5.5.d. Age of darkness: It must be borne in mind that the states through which Confucius traveled were shrouded in ignorance. The moral standard of the people was low: Between the states there were intrigues of all kinds. Polygamy among the nobles gave rise to endless trouble. Monarchs often lost their lives at the hands of their own children, and murder was frequently resorted to by an ambitious prince to put his brothers or half-brothers out of the way. A famous cook, in order to obtain favor with his sovereign, killed his own son and prepared his flesh as food. It was not uncommon for the ruler of a stronger state to wage war against a weaker one for the purpose of capturing a beautiful queen. If any reform was needed in a world of disorder and crimes of this kind, it certainly was in the matter of morality.
5.5.e. Confucianism: Confucius never sought to explain anything new, but to reinstate the old in a pure form. "He sought to guide his fellows by holding up to them the wisdom and virtue of the ancients. His teaching was purely ethical and practical, confined to the daily life of humans as members of the state and of their family. He spoke little of God, and he avoided talking about the supernatural. For this reason it is often said that he cannot be called a religious teacher, but only a moral philosopher, and that Confucianism is rather a system of morality than religion."
5.5.f. Influence of Confucianism: "Among the virtues demanded by the Confucian ethics, propriety, reverence for tradition, and filial piety are the most important." The last especially is the foundation upon which have stood the social life and security of the Chinese structure. Filial piety not only means dutiful behavior of children towards parents, but it also includes loyalty to the government and respect for authority. Again, "lack of bravery in battle is no true filialty."
"These precepts have molded Chinese society for more than two thousand years. No other reformer has held such absolute sway over a great part of humanity for such a long period." Unfortunately, Confucianism has been corrupted to a great extent by the commentaries and interpretations of Zhu Xi and his school. These commentaries and interpretations are dark clouds in a beautiful summer sky.
5.5.g. Mencius: "Mencius was also born in the feudal state of Lu (BC 372). While Confucius did not claim to be an originator but only a transmitter, Mencius was an independent and original thinker. He expounded the teachings of his Master, and also added his own reflections on the nature of human. He held an extremely optimistic view as to the original goodness of human nature, and believed that it was possible for humans by their own efforts to reach the state of perfection. He is regarded by the Chinese as being second to Confucius." (Pott's "A Sketch of Chinese History.")
5.5.h. Sinzi: Sinzi was also a follower of Confucius, but held a view entirely different from that of Mencius as regards the nature of human. According to him, human nature is bad, and it is only by living in accordance with the requirements of righteousness and politeness that human can become good.
5.5.i. Mozi: This teacher was a native of the feudal state of Song but the dates of his birth and death are not known. He is said to have been one of the disciples of the Great Sage. His teaching is entirely antagonistic to Confucianism. The main point of contention was on the Funeral Rites. Confucianism is silent respecting the immortality of the soul, and considers death as the end of a person, and funeral rites as the last honor one can do to his parents or sovereign. But according to Mozi there is something immortal after death, and funeral rites are a waste of money. Perhaps he was right.
He, however, mentioned no recompense for the good, or punishment for the bad. In other respects his system is a close approximation at Christianity. He taught self-sacrifice for the good of humankind and sanctioned the "destruction of one's self from head to foot for the benefit of the world." His system gained many adherents at one time, but received a fatal blow at the hands of Mencius. His philosophical writings have been preserved to the present day.
5.6. Ancient Society, Laws, and Customs
5.6.a. Divisions: Four classes of people were recognized in the days of the Zhou rulers, viz., scholars, husbandmen, mechanics, and merchants. A son necessarily followed the calling of his father. Only the scholars were eligible to government offices which were more or less hereditary. Thus the office holders and the educated formed the noble class and the rest were commoners. The saying of the time was "no penal code was ever above a noble while no ritual was below a commoner." It appears from the Spring and Autumn Classic that the only punishments which were received by nobles of those days, according to the nature of their crimes, were death, imprisonment, and banishment.
5.6.b. Eunuchs and their origin: The Zhou Dynasty is commonly credited with having introduced the custom of keeping eunuchs. The fact is, eunuchs had existed for centuries before the family became supreme in China.
"This class of men seems to have originated with the law's severity rather than from the callous desire on the part of any reigning house to secure a craven and helpless medium and means for pandering to, and enjoying the pleasures of the harem without fear of sexual intrigue. Criminals whose feet were cut off were usually employed as park-keepers, simply because there could be no inclination on their part to gad about and chase the game. Those who lost their noses were employed as isolated frontier pickets where no children could jeer at them, and where they could better survive their misfortune in quiet resignation. Those branded in the face were made gate-keepers, so that their livelihood was perpetually marked out for them. It is sufficiently obvious why the castrated were specially charged with the duty of serving females in a menial capacity. Eunuchs were so employed because they were already eunuchs by law."
Since the abolition of the law, BC 197, however, men have been purposely made eunuchs in order that their services as menials could be conveniently rendered.
5.6.c. Publication of written laws: While various forms of punishment had been provided for, there had been no written laws published for the information of the public. The "Son of Heaven" (emperor) was the law giver and executive and this sacred authority he could bestow on any one of his ministers.
The first publication of laws was made in the year BC 536 in the feudal state of Cheng. Zi Zhan, who thought it advisable to cast the laws in metal for the information of his people, was a good friend of Confucius.
In the latter part of the Zhou Dynasty, there had grown up a party who advocated the enforcement of severe laws as the only means of securing peace in an empire. This party is known as "Legalists," among whom Wei Yang was preeminent. He was a native of Wei, but was obliged to enter the service of Qin, and tradition makes him author of many cruel forms of punishment provided for in the penal code of the latter state.
5.6.d. Polygamy: Polygamy has not only existed in China, but has been legalized by Confucianism. During the fifth and sixth centuries BC, it was customary for a feudal chief to marry his daughter to another chief with many of her cousins or other relatives as maids (the number went up as high as nineteen), so that in case she should die one of them would succeed her at the head of the harem.
The practice of making concubines wives was almost universal among the states. For over two thousand years no one seems to have regarded this evil as sin, and much less, as a crime, until one Li Kui, a legalist and statesman of Wei in the time of the Seven States, saw fit to declare polygamy a crime punishable by death. While this has been the basis of later legislation, law had never been stronger than Confucianism. The reason why Confucianism sanctions polygamy lies in a belief that death without an heir is a sin unpardonable.
5.6.e. Divorce: The ancients sanctioned seven reasons why a husband could divorce his wife, including inability to bear a child. How far divorce was actually effected on this ground, we are not informed. It must not be understood that divorce in those days required legal proceedings as it now does. All the husband had to do to get rid of an undesirable wife was to expel her by force. On the other hand, no ground ever existed in law for a wife to break away from a wretch!
5.6.f. Respect for the old: The government of the Zhou Dynasty may be described as follows: a father was supreme in a family, a king in a state, and old age in a village. Every three years the people of each village met, when a banquet was given, presided over by a representative of the Crown and with guests of honor seated according to their ages. This was one of the most solemn occasions and detailed rituals were prescribed and followed.
5.6.g. Religion: Before the introduction of Buddhism into China (65 AD) no religion in the true sense of the word was in existence among the ancients. As already stated, Confucianism is not a religion but a system of morality. "No word for religion was known to the language the notion of church or temple served by a priestly caste had not entered human's mind." (Parker's "Ancient China Simplified.")
That the ancients had some knowledge of God, history abundantly attests. His worship, however, was one of the prerogatives of the reigning house or family and, as "Son of Heaven," the king alone could offer sacrifice to the Highest Divinity on behalf of his nation. Lesser ranks worshipped lesser divinities, such as the elements of nature, mountains, and streams. The worship of the common people was confined to their own ancestors. It must be noted also that what the ancients did in the way of worship was nothing more than the performance of prescribed rituals, such as that of sacrifices and prayers.
5.6.h. Burial of companions to the dead: This evil custom was almost universal during the sixth and seventh centuries BC. In the Book of Odes, we read an account of the funeral of Duke Mu of Qin. Before his death, he had decreed that three of the ablest ministers of the time (brothers) should be interred with him. Although the nation did not approve of the choice thus made, yet the decree was faithfully carried out, and the three "good men of Qin" accompanied the remains of Duke Mu to their last resting place.
5.6.i. Education and literature: There was a very good educational system with schools for the nobles as well as for the common people. There was a primary school for every 25 families a higher school for every 500 families and a college for every 12,500 families. Children were of school age when they reached their eighth years. The higher branches of learning consisted of (1) rituals, (2) music, (3) archery, (4) horsemanship, (5) literature, and (6) mathematics. In other words, education embraced moral, military, and intellectual training.
"It is the father's fault if at the binding of the hair (eight years of age) children (mostly boys) do not go to the teacher it is their own fault if after having gone to the teacher they make no progress it is their friends' fault if they make progress but get no repute for it it is the executives' fault if they obtain repute but no recommendation to office it is the prince's fault if they are recommended for office but not appointed."
In the pre-Confucian period, books were comparatively few. The best known are the Book of Record, Book of Odes, Book of Change, Rites of Zhou, and Guanzi (or Kuan Tze) or Political Economy. Books were made of bamboo slips and the characters were painted on them. Interstate correspondence was confined to a small area in the north, but the dialectical barrier was gradually overcome, and by the time of Mencius, even Chu could boast of its literary renown. The State of Qin never produced any famous literary person. In fact, those who did anything for her were all aliens. The period of the Seven States was a golden time in Chinese literature. The influence of the Perpendicular and Horizontal diplomats upon Chinese literature has been permanent and beneficial.
5.6.j. Astronomy and calendar: From the earliest times, the Chinese month has been lunar, that is, the days of the month are so arranged as to begin each new month with a new moon. The ancients had learned to divide the heavenly bodies into constellations and to observe the zodiacal signs.
5.6.k. Science and arts: The science of medicine and surgery were developed to a considerable extent under the Zhous. It was the first dynasty that had official doctors and surgeons. During the feudal period, however, Qin surpassed the rest of China in the number of able physicians it possessed.
During the days of Yao, the ranks of officials were denoted by the objects painted on their official costumes such as the sun, moon, stars, constellations, dragons, and other animals. Among the Zhou officials, we find people whose function was to paint official garments. The three dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou had all made use of jade or malachite rings, tablets, scepters, and so on as marks of official rank.
Silk was universally known. That the women were mostly engaged in rearing silkworms, the Book of Odes abundantly testifies. Even the queen had to set an example in this industry at appointed times each year if she did not have to do the actual work. No cotton was known, so the poorer classes wore garments of hempen materials. In the cold weather, furs were used. Dyeing too was largely practiced.
The Zhou Dynasty had regularly appointed officials whose business was to teach the people how to take ores out of the mines and to manure their land but as to how far this useful knowledge had been acquired, we have very little information.
Historians agree that the Shang mechanics were the best. This belief seems to have been based upon a statement of Confucius that he preferred the state carriage of the Shang Dynasty because of its workmanship.
6. The Qin Dynasty
6.1.a. General statement: We have seen that the Chinese established themselves first in tribal groups here and there along the course of the Yellow River at a remote period. In course of time the tribal government developed into a feudal system with hundreds of petty states scattered throughout the land which they called the Middle Kingdom. The next movement was towards consolidation which reduced the number of states to seven. The union of the Seven States into one homogeneous whole was inevitable, and finally came in BC 221 as the result of the statesmanship of Prince Zheng of Qin. While his dynasty lasted only fifteen years, still he left many permanent traces of his rule.
6.1.b. His early life: Very little is known of his early life, save that he inherited his father's princely throne at a very tender age. Tradition says that Prince Zheng was not the son of Zhuang Xiang Wang, his reputed father. The latter, as the story goes, had been held as a hostage in the state of Zhao. While there he met a wealthy merchant named Lu Puwei, who, pretending to show his devotion to the young prince, made him take to wife a beautiful woman, already pregnant.
It seems that this story was of later invention, and the work of personal prejudice. At any rate the son to whom Zhuang Xiang Wang's wife gave birth was one of the greatest empire builders of antiquity. During his minority, Lu Puwei was his first prime minister and in that capacity exercised much of the royal power.
6.1.c. Conquest of the six states: The Zhou Dynasty with its eight-hundred years of power was already a thing of the past when Prince Zheng became king of the state of Qin. The last representative of the family of Zhou had already been made away with by one of his predecessors. The work that was left for him to accomplish, therefore, was not the overthrow of the ruling house but the conquest of the six sister states.
The policy pursued by Prince Zheng, or rather by his statesmen and generals, is best summed up in a statement of Xu Dai, a contemporary politician. "This morning," said he, "when crossing the river, I saw a mussel open its shell to sun itself. Immediately an oyster catcher thrust its bill in to eat the mussel but the latter closed its shell and held the bird fast. 'If it doesn't rain today or tomorrow,' cried the oyster catcher, 'there will be a dead mussel.' 'And if you don't get out of this by today or tomorrow, there will be a dead oyster catcher,' retorted the mussel. Meanwhile up came a fisherman and carried off both of them. I fear that the state of Qin will some day be our fisherman."
In other words, Qin played off one state against another till they were all exhausted and then conquered them one by one. Han, the smallest of the states, was annexed first and the rest were added in the following order: Wei, Chu, Zhao, Yan, and Qi, the last being the easternmost state.
6.2.a. Shi Huangdi, or the First Emperor: Prince Zheng made a new title for himself. This title, Huangdi, signifies in his own words, that "the holder is equal to the Three Divine Rulers in virtue and the Five Emperors in achievements." It was retained by his successors down to the last of the Manchus, and has been rendered "emperor" in English. He also discontinued the practice of giving a deceased ruler a posthumous name. He decreed that thenceforth he was to be known as Shi Huangdi, or First Emperor, his immediate successor, Er Shi, or Second Emperor, and so on even down to the ten-thousandth generation.
As regards the name of his dynasty, he let it be known under the old name of his state. "It is interesting to note," says the author of "A Sketch of Chinese History," "that the name China is probably derived from this name, Qin (pronounced Ch'in), for the first westerners who knew anything about the Chinese, spoke of them as the people of the land of Ch'in, which afterwards became the word 'China.'"
6.2.b. End of feudalism: Having built an empire on the ruins of the old feudal system, the question arose as to how this huge territory should be governed. The majority of the statesmen, the slaves of tradition, would have partitioned it out among a number of feudal lords as had been the custom with the Zhous. Such an idea, of course, was offensive to a man who wanted history to begin anew with himself. Divided it must be, but there must be no feudal lords.
Accordingly, Shi Huangdi divided it into thirty-six provinces, each of which was subdivided into districts, governed by agents directly responsible to him. One agent looked after civil matters, another after military affairs, and a third acted as a sort of inspector or intelligence officer of the Throne. Such was the form of government he introduced, and such has been the form of government that has come down to modern times, although in two thousand years, it has undergone many changes in name and detail. All ownership of land and its inhabitants was vested in Shi Huangdi.
6.2.c. The burning of classics: No radical change call take place in China without encountering the opposition of the literati. This was no less the case then than it is now. To abolish feudalism by one stroke was a radical change indeed. Whether the change was for the better or the worse, the people of letters took no time to inquire whatever was good enough for their fathers was good enough for them and their children. They found numerous authorities in the classics to support their contention, and these they freely quoted to show that Shi Huangdi was wrong. They continued to criticize the government to such an extent that something had to be done to silence the voice of antiquity.
As a consequence, an order came from the Throne, directing every subject in the empire, under pain of branding and banishment, to send all the literature he possessed, except works on agriculture, medicine, and divination, to the nearest official to be destroyed by fire.
As to how far this decree was enforced, it is hard to say. At any rate, it exempted all libraries of the government, or such as were in possession of a class of officials called Learned Men. If any real damage was done to Chinese literature under the decree in question, it is safe to say that it was not of such a nature as later writers would have us believe. Still, this extreme measure failed to secure the desired end, and a number of the people of letters in Xianyang, the capital, was subsequently buried alive.
6.2.d. The Great Wall: The union of China was not effected a moment too soon. In the north, a formidable foe had risen, whom the Chinese called Xiongnu. One Chinese authority seems to think that these tribespeople descended directly from Xiong Yu, son of Jie, the last ruler of the House of Xia. He is said to have taken to wife his father's concubines and to have migrated into the steppes north of the Mongolian Desert. If we may accept this suggestion, the Xiongnu began to terrify the Chinese as early as the middle of the Zhou Dynasty, for in the Book of Odes, we read of many expeditions against a tribe known as Xiong Yu.
The Xiongnu were a nomadic people, moving from place to place with their flocks and herds and always in search of fresh pastures. They had no written language. As soon as their children were able to ride on the back of the sheep, they were taught the use of bows and arrows and how to hunt down small animals. Thus they became skillful archers when they were grown up. They lived chiefly by hunting and used the skins of animals for clothing. Those who were in the prime of life received the best of everything while the old could eat only what was left by them.
It was because of this tribal people that the Great Wall was built by Shi Huangdi. This wall extends about 1,500 miles long. It must not be supposed that this gigantic work was done all at once. As a matter of fact, separate walls had been erected by the states which bordered upon the territory of the Xiongnu. What was actually done by Shi Huangdi was the uniting, strengthening, and improving of the existing structures and this work was executed under the supervision of General Meng Tian.
It is stated that the immediate cause of the completion of this wall was an oracle which Shi Huangdi consulted. It told him that it was Hu, or Xiongnu, was destined to overthrow the Qin empire. Shi Huangdi died in BC 210 while making a tour through the northern country.
6.2.e. Some characteristics of the age: The art of sculpture had reached a high stage of development. At the same time, the taste of the emperor undoubtedly gave a great impetus to the art. The style of writing known as Lesser Seal, which was designed to take the place of the older and more cumbrous Big Seal, was an invention of his reign. Meng Tian, the general of the Great Wall fame, is generally believed to have been the inventor of the brush used in writing. The paper, so far as the cheaper bamboo is concerned, was not a product of this age (it came into use in the Han Dynasty) but according to the best information, the expensive paper made of silk was in existence when the brush was invented. The invention of convenient writing materials and the simplification of the characters, marked the beginning of literary advancement in China.
Another characteristic of the age was the ascendency that had been attained by the teachings of Xunzi. Almost all the statesmen who adorned the court of Shi Huangdi were people of that school. They believed that the nature of human was bad and that peace and order were the result of fear. Human should be awed into submission, or there would be lawlessness. For the many unjust and cruel laws and acts of tyranny with which the name of Shi Huangdi is closely associated, he in reality was not so much to blame as was the spirit of the age.
The same motive that led to the building of the splendid palaces, and to the erecting of huge and costly stone monuments, was responsible for the meting out of the severest sentences on the least show of offense. It was to impress the people at large with the greatness of the emperor and to make them stand in awe of him. If those measures succeeded in arousing the fear of the people, they also served to alienate their love, for the death of Shi Huangdi was followed almost immediately by the breakup of the unity once the pride of his reign.
Another characteristic of the age was the regard in which a merchant or trader was held. He was no better than a criminal. The first batches of men sent to work on the Great Wall and to serve on the southern frontier consisted of criminals and merchants. At a later date this punishment fell upon those whose fathers were known to have been merchants.
6.2.f. End of Qin Dynasty: Shi Huangdi desired to leave his throne to his first son Fu Su. Unfortunately, this son, who had been banished beyond the Great Wall because he had had the audacity to remonstrate with the all-powerful emperor on the policy of his government, was not present at the time of his father's death.
Worse still, the decree of succession fell into the hands of Li Si , the prime minister, and Zhao Gao, a eunuch, who were devoted friends of the emperor's second son, Hu Hai. The death of Shi Huangdi was kept a secret until the imperial party reached Xianyang. A false decree was then promulgated in the name of the deceased Emperor. In accordance with this Fu Su (together with Meng Tian) was put to death, and Hu Hai ascended the throne under the name of Er Shi, or Second Emperor.
Er Shi proved a worse tyrant than his father, whose vices he inherited but without his greatness. During his short reign, Zhao Gao became the real power after Li Si's execution (BC 208). A story which is familiar to every Chinese schoolchild well shows the position this eunuch occupied in the government. One day, so the story runs, Er Shi showed his courtiers a picture of a deer. "It's a horse," cried Zhao Gao, and none of the crowd had the courage to contradict him, for the eunuch was more powerful than the sovereign.
Rebellion was rife throughout the empire. In less than two years the descendants of the earlier Six States had planted small kingdoms alongside those of other rebel leaders. Er Shi in BC 206 was murdered by Zhao Gao, and Shi Huangdi's grandson was placed on the throne. He gave himself up to Liu Bang---the first general who entered the Land Within the Pass, and afterwards the founder of the Han Dynasty---and brought with him the jade seal of state. He had been on the throne for less than 200 days but in this brief time, however, he had succeeded in punishing Zhao Gao for the murder of his uncle.
7. The Han Dynasty
(BC 206-AD 220)
7.1. The Strife between Chu and Han
The Qin empire, as we have seen, ended in BC 206. From BC 206 to BC 202, there was actually no emperor in China and the principal event in this period of anarchy was what we call the Strife between Chu and Han. It was a continuous conflict between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, the former a native of Wu, and the latter of Pei. Both of them had been lieutenants under King Huai of Chu. This King was a descendant of the old ruling house of the state of Chu, and during the troubles attending the breakup of the Qin empire, he setup a kingdom on the ruins.
Through his valor and military renown, Xiang Yu was made Commander-in-Chief not only of the forces of Chu, but also of the contingents from each of the other states. Although he had by far the stronger army, yet the honor of capturing the capital of the Qin empire belonged to Liu Bang. According to the promise of King Huai of Chu, Liu Bang, the first general to enter the capital, should have been made ruler of Guanzhong (Within the Pass), a strategic base but it was here that the jealousy of Xiang Yu appeared. The latter on his arrival at the capital, took the royal power into his own hands and began to appoint feudal lords without referring them to the King. Instead of the whole of Guanzhong [Land Within the Pass], he gave Liu Bang only a portion of it, called Hanzhong (or Within Han), with the title of King of Han. As to himself, he preferred Guanzhong, and at once assumed the title of King of Western Chu.
Liu Bang did not like the manner in which he was treated, but policy required him to accept less than his due. The circumstances, however, were by no means entirely unfavorable to him. Xiang Yu soon withdrew his army to the east, and his absence from Guanzhong permitted Liu Bang to gather strength.
When Liu Bang felt himself strong enough to appeal to arms, hostilities broke out between the two rivals. For a time victory was on the side of Xiang Yu, who made prisoners of Liu Bang's father and wife. But about BC 202, fortune deserted Xiang Yu, and he at once sued for peace. Meanwhile King Huai of Chu had been murdered, presumably by the agents of Xiang Yu.
Peace was at length concluded, and the Great Canal, by mutual consent, was made the dividing line between the kingdoms of Chu and Han. Assuming that war was at an end, Xiang Yu, in good faith, returned to Liu Bang his father and wife, and began to retire into the south.
In so doing, he had evidently overestimated the character of his rival. As soon as he departed, Liu Bang pursued him with the flower of his army. At Gaixia in Huaixi, the two armies met. The battle that ensued was a severe one and ended in the complete overthrow of Xiang Yu, whose once powerful army was now reduced to a few followers. To avoid falling into the hands of his enemy, he killed himself while crossing the river Wujiang. His death left Liu Bang in undisputed possession of China.
7.2. Western Han Dynasty
(BC 206-AD 24)
7.2.a. Accession of Liu Bang: When Liu Bang took the throne, the famous city of Changan in the west became for the first time the capital. The new dynasty he thus founded was the Han Dynasty, in memory of whose greatness, the Chinese still call themselves "the Children of Han."
To his credit, most of the unjust laws of the preceding dynasty were repealed, though Liu Bang did nothing to exalt his own position. "I have never realized the dignity of an emperor, until today," exclaimed he and this is sufficient to give us an idea of the character of his court. He revived the ancient law authorizing the conferring of a posthumous name on the emperor. As his temple names Gao Zu, or "Supreme Ancestor," we shall thereafter speak of him by this name.
7.2.b. Revival of feudalism: We must not think that Gao Zu ruled as large an empire as that of Shi Huangdi (The First Emperor). The provinces south of the Great River were virtually independent, and his authority was by no means supreme in the north, where the many feudal states gave nothing more than nominal submission at best. These feudal states maybe divided into two classes those held by members of his house, and those held by others. The latter were the outgrowth of the previous troubles, but the former were a necessity under the system of checks and balances. Thus after a comparatively short time the old feudal system was again an established fact.
The reign of Gao Zu was principally occupied with putting down rebellions headed by Han Xin, Peng Yue, and other feudal lords, most of whom had been his best generals. In several cases his ingratitude was the actual cause of the rebellions. Towards the end of his reign, all the feudal states, with one or two exceptions, were held by members of his own house.
7.2.c. An encounter with the Xiongnu: While China was again splitting herself into petty states, the Xiongnu in the north had arisen to the height of their power. Under the leadership of their chief, named Mouton, they not only conquered many of the neighboring tribes, but were also in a position to measure strength with China---terrible and civilized China, the builder of the Great Wall.
At the head of a great horde, Mouton ravaged the northern part of the empire. The cause of this invasion was that the chief of the feudal state of Han was suspected of disloyalty, and was driven to cast his lot with the northern tribes. Gao Zu now led an army to check the advance of his enemy but he was outgeneraled and, falling into an ambuscade, lost the greater part of his army. In the hour of misfortune, he sought refuge within the walls of the city of Ping Cheng, which was closely besieged. It was only through judicious bribes that he succeeded in making good his escape under cover of a dense fog.
The experience was enough for him, and he never again took the field himself against the Xiongnu. He gave a beautiful lady of his harem in marriage to Mouton and endeavored to keep friendly with him by occasional presents. His original plan was to give his own daughter to Mouton, but owing to the objection raised by his wife he sent a substitute. A dangerous precedent was thus established.
7.2.d. Gao Zu's immediate successors: Gao Zu died BC 195, and left the throne to his son, Emperor Hui. This feeble monarch died in BC 188, and his mother, Empress Lu, placed an adopted son on the throne. In the following year, she caused the boy to be murdered and began to reign in her own right, thus becoming the first woman ruler in China. Many princes and nobles of her husband's house were mercilessly executed and members of her own family appointed in their stead. The empire was on the point of falling to pieces, when death removed her. The next two successors to the throne improved significantly the conditions of the empire.
7.2.e. Emperor Wu: The next reign of Emperor Wu, comprising the years BC 140 to BC 87, was one of the most important periods in Chinese history. It was an age of great generals, brilliant statesmen, and people of letters.
During this reign, the Han Dynasty reached the zenith of its power, and the empire was greatly enlarged. In the south it included Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and northern Vietnam in the southwest, all the tribes that had held sway in Yunnan and Guizhou now acknowledged the supremacy of the Han emperor while in the north, the power of the Xiongnu was shattered, and the boundary of the empire included what is now Inner Mongolia, the northwest Xiliang, and the northeast Liaodong, and north Korea.
7.2.f. The usurpation of Wang Mang: The cause of the downfall of the Han Dynasty is to be traced to the ambition of its imperial women. In a country like China, where the separation of the two sexes is a matter of fixed custom, even an empress could not make friends among her husband's ministers. Therefore when power fell into her hands, she knew of no one in whom she could place her confidence except her own people and the eunuchs.
The fact that Emperor Wu caused the mother of his son to be put to death before he appointed him heir, is sufficient to show that the interference of an empress dowager in affairs of state had long been a matter to be dreaded. It was the undue influence of the imperial women that finally brought the house of Han to ruin.
Wang Mang, the notorious usurper, was the nephew of one empress and the father of another. The mother of Emperor Cheng (BC 32-AD 7) was from the Wang family and when her son came to the throne, her brothers were at once raised to positions of great influence. Every one of them abused the power that fell into his hands. Wang Mang, who was then a mere lad, was the reverse of his uncles in his private character. He did everything he could to conceal his true character and to cultivate the friendship of the literary class. As a result, he was as popular as his uncles were unpopular.
It was not long before he succeeded to a most important position which had been held by one of his uncles. During the short reign of Emperor Ai (BC 6-1) he was obliged to retire but upon the accession of the next emperor, Emperor Ping (AD 1-5), he returned to office, for this emperor was his son-in-law. His ambition, however, knew no relative and when his time arrived, he showed his true character by murdering the emperor, forcing him to drink a cup of poison on New Year's day. A lad was then placed on the throne, with Wang Mang acting as an "Assistant Emperor." Two years later the "Assistant Emperor" became a full emperor, and the Han Dynasty was no more.
7.3. Eastern Han Dynasty
7.3.a. Wang Mang: If reverence for tradition may justly be regarded in the light of a virtue, as is the case in China, Chinese history gives us no name which stands out more preeminently than that of Wang Mang, the Usurper. Once upon the throne, he busied himself in bringing to life all laws and institutes that experience had long since discarded as out-of-date and impracticable. From morning till late in the evening the "new" Emperor was seen at his desk reading, writing, and legislating. The Institutes of the Zhou Dynasty became his guide. The ancient system of was revived, and many ridiculous currency laws were promulgated. It was quite as much a crime to buy or sell land as to depreciate the currency issued by the government.
At length, excessive taxation, unjust laws, incessant border warfare, severe famines, and the corruption of officials---all combined to arouse the people and standards revolt were unfurled in more than one place in the empire.
Had Wang Mang taken wise measures, he might have been able to save himself but he was superstitious and believed that by shedding tears towards the south, the rebellions would die a natural death.. Even at the last moment, when he was dragged out of a tower in his palace, where he had been hiding, he still held in one hand a small knife said to have been handed down from King Shun, and in the other the symbolic instrument of the Daoist magicians.
Wang Mang was beheaded in AD 22 but peace did not come to the nation until a member of the House of Han, Liu Xiu by name, assumed the imperial title two years later. As Liu Xiu fixed his capital at Luoyang, about 150 miles east of Changan, the capital of the Former Han Dynasty, the new dynasty has been known under the name of the Eastern Han.
7.3.b. Guang Wu: The dynastic name of Liu Xiu was Guang Wu. When he ascended the throne, Changan was in the hands of the "Red Eyebrows" rebels, who had placed another member of the Liu house on the throne. Other rebels had also set up emperors, or declared independence in other parts of the empire. It was by great exertion that Guang Wu succeeded in extinguishing every spark of rebellion in China.
As regards the Xiongnu who had again become active, Guang Wu felt that their subjugation was a task he had to leave to his successors. The empire needed rest and the arts of peace were no longer to be neglected. He accordingly devoted the remainder of his reign to works of peace by patronizing learning and the arts. He got rid of his generals without bloodshed by retiring them on a liberal allowance. This act at least entitles him to a higher place in history than Gao Su, the Founder of the Former Han.
In his work of reorganizing the Latter Han, however, Guang Wu greatly enlarged the field of employment for eunuchs and thus sowed the seed of trouble, which was soon destined to bring ruin to the house that he had just restored. After reigning thirty-three years, Guang Wu died in AD 57, at the age of six-three, and left his empire to his son, Emperor Ming (AD 58-75).
7.3.c. Introduction of Buddhism into China: The most important event of the reign of Emperor Ming was undoubtedly the official introduction of Buddhism into China. We say official introduction because its unofficial introduction dates as far back as the reign of the Han Emperor Wu, or soon thereafter. It is safe to say that soon after the opening up of communications with the west, there began to be an influx of Buddhist missionaries into lands then subject to the sway of the Xiongnu.
There is a legend that Emperor Ming had a dream in which he saw a giant, and that when he told his ministers what he had seen, one of them immediately informed him that it was the Sage of the West, called Buddha. This shows that Buddhism was not unknown at his court. The envoys that Emperor Ming sent to inquire into the faith returned in AD 65 with two Indian priests and a number of their classics. These priests were housed in the White Pony Temple, the first Buddhist temple erected with imperial sanction in China, and named after the pony that brought back the Sutra, and here they continued to reside and translate the Buddhist literature until they died.
7.3.d. Buddhism: Buddhism, so far as its Hindu origin is concerned, was an offspring of Brahmanism, the earlier faith of the Hindus. This earlier faith was a belief in a single god, Brahma as he was called, who was the cause and mover of all things. The soul, too, comes from Brahma and passes through all forms of animal life, until finally, having freed itself from all imperfection, it goes back to him. The great aim of existence was to reach this final state and mingle with Brahma. Such was the substance of Brahmanism.
In course of time the old faith reached such a stage of decay that reformers were required to remind the believers of its essential truths. "Of these reformers the greatest was Prince Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha, or the 'Enlightenment,' whose reforms were of such a radical nature as virtually to found a new religion. Yet he did not quarrel with the old, but merely interpreted it anew, and gave it a more practical character.
"Buddha was born about the middle of the sixth century BC. He was a member of a royal house, but left his home, his wife, and a newly born child to find religious peace and the way to salvation. He sought truth from the Brahmans in vain, and spent seven years in religious meditation. Finally he learned the truth he had been seeking. It was summed up in the two ideas of self-culture and universal love.
"About BC 522 he proclaimed his creed at Benares. In the details of worship, he left the ancient Brahmanism unchanged but he taught that every act in this life bears its fruit in the next. Every soul passes through successive lives, or reincarnations, and its condition during one life is the result of what it has done in a previous state. The aim of life is the attainment of Nirvana---a sinless state of existence, which requires constant self-culture. Four truths were especially taught: first, that all life is suffering second, that this suffering is caused by the desire to live third, that the suffering ceases with the cessation of this desire fourth, that this salvation can be found by following the path of duty. A very high morality was preached, including the duties of chastity, patience, mercy, fortitude, and kindness to all entities." (Colby's "Outlines of General History.")
After his death Buddha was worshipped as a divine being. His disciples carried the faith throughout India, and thence it spread to the northwest and to the southeast of that country. About BC 377, there was a division among the Buddhists the northern branch had their center in Kashmir, while the southern section made Ceylon their headquarters. It was the northern creed that was introduced by Emperor Ming into China.
7.3.e. First contamination of Confucianism: In this connection, it is necessary to say something as to the change Confucianism had undergone since the days of Shi Huangdi [The First Emperor]. In the history of Confucianism, or Chinese literary classics (we can hardly separate the one from the other), the two Han Dynasties form but a single period. Numerous commentaries of the Confucian Classics were issued during this period, but the commentators were more or less under the influence of the Daoist magicians. Their tone of speculation was entirely Daoist. Thus Daoist elements, foreign to Confucianism, became mingled with the teaching of the Great Sage. The Classics which contain their commentaries were largely written from memory by the learned scholars of the Former Han. They are known as "Modern Literature."
About the time of Wang Mang, however, some books, said to have been exhumed, were presented to the government. They contained a text slightly different from that of the "Modern Literature," and were called "Ancient Literature." Their authenticity, however, is a disputed point even at the present day. After the appearance of the "Ancient Literature," a movement was on foot to separate Daoism from Confucianism, with the result that by the time of Emperor Huan the former became an independent creed.
7.3.f. Period of eunuch ascendency: This period commenced in the reign of Emperor He, who came to the throne at the age of ten. During his mother's regency, his uncle, Dou Xian, was the real power. Being jealous of him, the first official act of the emperor on assuming the government himself was to cause his death. This was no easy task, for the court was made up of Dou Xian's own creatures. Under these circumstances, Emperor He looked to his chief eunuch, Chen Chong by name, for help.
While the emperor succeeded in getting rid of his uncle, he did not improve matters. During the remainder of his reign, he never freed himself from the clutches of the eunuch. His infant son outlived him but a few months, and during this time and the minority of Emperor An, the next monarch, Empress Deng was regent. She would see no minister of state, but suffered her eunuchs to be the sole medium of communication. It was not long before their influence was turned into real power. They had a voice in every question and had an important part to play in every intrigue.
The destruction of Liang Ji, brother of the Empress Liang, and murder of Emperor Shi gave the eunuchs undisputed control of the government. Five of them were ennobled, a thing hitherto unknown in Chinese history, and no office was now too high for a eunuch. Those in power could exalt their friends and slay their enemies at pleasure. In the empire, the emperor was the state, but he was a mere tool of the eunuchs in the successive reigns.
7.3.g. Decline of the Eastern Han: The Eastern Han Dynasty entered upon a period of decline for the reason stated in the last section. When there was a woman on the throne, the usurpation of power by eunuchs and her own relatives was inevitable. This was no less true of the Latter Han than of the Former Han, though there is this much difference. During the former dynasty, the two parties always worked hand in hand during the latter dynasty, they were constantly engaged in bringing ruin to one another. In the main, the eunuchs were masters of the situation, and their extermination was followed by the downfall of the dynasty only a few years later. But in this downfall arose the panoramic, dramatic period: THE THREE KINGDOMS.
Watch the video: Romance of the Three Kingdoms 1994 Episode 7 Fengyi Pavilion English Sub
- To get rid of wicked men from your king's side,
- Though fierce as tigers soldiers be,
- Unity succeeds division and division follows unity. One is bound to be replaced by the other after a long span of time. This is the way with things in the world.