Is Cao Cao better than Liu Bei

Luo Guanzhong's novel: "The Three Realms"Understand the history of China

Perhaps it is already the sign of a countermovement in a world in which texts sent via Twitter end after 140 characters when the reading public is offered works of 800 or more pages. The Frankfurt S. Fischer-Verlag has just published the great historical novel "Die Drei Reiche", one of the classics of Chinese literature, in a complete German translation - in two weighty volumes of more than 800 pages each. If you get involved, you will not only learn about the events of a transformation in China, starting with the collapse of the unified Han empire 1800 years ago through the emergence of three partial empires up to the reunification of the empire 80 years later. At the same time, one receives an introduction to Chinese historical thinking and learns something about images and ideas of long-term historical processes that are alive in China, such as personal networks such as lists and propaganda and always promises of a better life that were needed to change the balance of power in the Middle Kingdom. And since these ideas and images are still effective today, reading this great episode novel will not only entertain you, but also teach you how to deal with power, morality and the military in China.

In the 120 chapters of the novel, which repeatedly stimulate the tension and the expectation of the reader, we meet hundreds of actors and are drawn into their intrigues and power struggles. The division of the material into shorter chapters ties in with the tradition of storytellers, who do not strain the attention of their listeners and yet maintain the tension. This creates the image of a turbulent world, with fights and cunning adventures of heroes who are inscribed in the collective consciousness of China to this day and who are repeatedly referred to.

Since China today only seems to live in the future, with smartphones in the hands of young people and permeated by social networks, and at the same time threatened by a lack of drinking water and extreme air pollution in the cities, we have to reckon with the age-old stories and the images of heroes of the past may soon have their appearances again and individual regions of China will remember their earlier political independence.

A novel full of heroes and changing front lines

The novel of the Three Realms: Wei in the North, Shu in the West and Wu in the Southeast is full of war heroes and advisors, full of lists and power struggles and at first apparently completely confusing, with its many heroes and changing front lines. Who is on whose side? Who is up to what intentions?

Finding your way through here seems tedious - and yet it is worth getting involved in the whole novel. The translator, Eva Schestag, helps us here and presents the German translation of the most popular version of this novel, which dates back to the 14th century by the author Luo Guanzong but was revised in the 17th century. We know almost nothing else about the author, except that he is also associated with the novel about the rebels from Liangshan Moor.

The novel tells of the decline of the Han dynasty in its first 80 chapters, and at the same time the reader is shown the competition between the most capable, the bravest, the brightest, the wisest, the most cunning and the best. With the establishment of the empire Wei in the north under its first emperor Cao Pi (in chapter 80) the [actual] time of the three empires begins in the year 220. Shortly thereafter, the other two kingdoms, Wu and Shu, are founded. Power is now divided into three parts, and each of the three monarchs sees himself as the rightful successor to the Han emperor and claims power over the entire empire.

While none of the three empires was able to assert itself, a clan of the Sima family, which had become stronger in the north, succeeded in establishing its own statehood and subjugating the three empires one after the other and thus unifying all of China from the year 280 onwards and with the new and traditional name "Jin" to rule as a unit dynasty. The novel closes with the surrender of the last state of Wu in the south-east of the empire, but not without describing the last efforts of its ruler, Sun Hao.

No capital for an emperor

Again and again, the narrator, who often appears as a reporter, wanders into the distance and intersperses excerpts from documents. In a submission to the throne of a critical writer addressed to the emperor, which has always existed in China, the suffering of the population and thus the reasons for the collapse are described:

"There have been no natural disasters, yet the people's resources are exhausted. There have been no interventions, yet the state's fortunes have been used up. I am painfully aware of that. After the fall of the Han dynasty long ago, the empire has grown to three The Cao and Liu families are both morally decrepit, and Jin has annexed their lands. The result stands as a cautionary example. Perhaps I'm stupid, but for your sake, Your Majesty, I want to save our state from this fate . Wuchang is a dangerous area and the earth barren. It is not a capital for an emperor. Even the children rhyme in the street:

The water in Jianye is fresh and tastes better than the fish in Wuchang.

Death in Jianye is a blessing, but a punishment in Wuchang's life. "

The mood among the people is held up to the rulers by their advisors by denouncing grievances and invoking the "workings of heaven" or the "natural order" and shouting admonishments:

"Our state's reserves are not even enough for a year, and its roots are gradually being eroded. […] During the lifetime of the great Emperor Sun Quan, there were not even a hundred women in the harem. Since the reign of Emperor Jing, the blessed Sun Xiu it is more than a thousand: That is the height of waste! [...] I ask you, Your Majesty, spare the people compulsory services, stop the attacks by the civil servants, reduce the number of women in the harem and scrap the servants and officials, then there is joy in heaven, harmony among people and peace in the land. "

Such occasional insertions mark the moral tone of the whole novel. In the foreground, however, are the actions, the plans and strategies, the power struggles of the generals.

Creating new order with a battle

How the general Du Yu of the Sima clan also succeeds in conquering the Wu kingdom is reported at the end of the second volume:

"… Du Yu continued the advance and soon encountered Sun Xin's fleet. After a brief skirmish, he withdrew his troops. Sun Xin led his people to the bank and followed the winding roads in pursuit. They were not yet twenty Miles had come when Jin soldiers rushed in from all sides at the crack of guns. The Wu army quickly turned back. Du Yu took the opportunity to attack them. Countless men from Wu were killed. Sun Xin fled into the city, but the sailors from Zhou Zhi had mingled with his people, scaled the [II / 849] city walls and set fire. Sun Xin exclaimed in horror: "Have the troops from the north flown over the river?" the moment he was about to flee, Zhou Zhi let out a scream and knocked him dead off his horse with one blow. "

Combat operations are often lightning-fast skirmishes, and one can vividly imagine how such events were staged on the stages of the country:

"Lu Jing on the ship saw fire flare up from afar on the south bank of the Yangzi and a flag with the writing on it was waving on Mount Bashan

Jin Dynasty - Colonel General Du Yu, Pacifier of the South. He wanted to run for his life on land and there, but Jin commander Zhang Shang caught up with him and chopped off his head from his horse. When Wu Yan realized that all Wu armies had been defeated, he gave up the city and fled. Jin soldiers lurking in an ambush got hold of him and led him in handcuffs in front of Du Yu. He yelled: "He's useless for us!" And ordered the guards to cut off his head. That was the case of Jiang-ling City. "

After such battles it was again a matter of creating new order and gathering strength for further successes and forging plans:

"In the area from the Yuan and Xiang Rivers to Guangzhou, the governors and prefects bowed like grass in the wind and left their cities and commanderships and seals to the Jin. Du Yu ordered his soldiers to maintain discipline and calm the population. It came No assaults. Next he advanced on Wuchang, and this city fell into his hands without a fight. The army under Du Yu was tremendous. Finally he gathered his officers to come up with a plan for the conquest of the capital, Jianye Hu Fen spoke up: "This brood of robbers cannot be subdued completely. The spring melt has set in and the rivers are full of water. We can hardly stay here any longer. Let us wait for the next spring before we go to the big one Strike. "Du Yu replied:" Back then, Yue Yi defeated the state of Qi with a single battle, the Battle of Jixi. The power of our army is enormous. It is like splitting bamboo. As soon as the first knots have been overcome, the reed gives in to the knife without any further effort. "He then sent an express message calling on all officers to advance together against Jianye."

What is described as the pacification of the empire began with the collapse of the empire, in which the uprising movement of the "red turbans", called after their headgear, played a role.

Cao Cao - a character with a prominent role in the novel

Right at the beginning of the novel, as if it were an anticipation of the 19th century, a first success of the government troops against the Red Turbans, the figure appears who plays a prominent role in the entire novel: Cao Cao:

"Suddenly mounted troops with red flags appeared and prevented them from retreating. From the front row one of the leaders shot out like lightning. He was tall, with narrow eyes and a long beard. The man with the military degree of a commander the cavalry came from Qiao County in Pei State: his name was Cao Cao, he was called Mengde. "

This is then followed by a detailed description of this Cao Cao, with an incident from his childhood that led to the formation of this unscrupulous personality.

"As a boy, Cao Cao loved to travel and hunt, and he loved to sing and dance. He had cunning plans and was clever and agile. When one of his uncles realized how self-indulgent and immoderate the boy was, he became angry and joined in." the father who punished his son. Cao Cao had an evil plan: when he saw his uncle approaching, he deliberately dropped to the ground and pretended to have a seizure. The uncle excitedly told Cao Song about it and he rushed over to check on the child - Cao Cao was not missing anything at all. Cao Song said: "The [p. 27] uncle said you had a seizure. Are you feeling better?" I've never had illness; just because I've lost my uncle's affection, I now suffer such an injustice. "

Heads have to roll

Cao Cao destroyed his uncle's credibility in his father's eyes. - With such a type, the ruthless approach to the rebels is no longer surprising:

"His people killed the rebels in rows and cut off more than ten thousand heads. They captured banners and flags, gongs and drums and countless horses."

The self-image of later times was shaped by the battle in which it was possible in 208 to stop an invasion from the north led by this cruel and successful general Cao Cao: the battle on the Red Cliff, at that point on the middle reaches of the Yangzi, which since then has been a recurring topos both in scholarly ink painting and in poetry. Here on the Red Cliff, the united southern warlords, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, succeeded in thwarting the attempt of the successful Cao Cao to cross the Yangzi and reunite the empire. This prevention of the unification of the empire by Cao Cao through a ruse, whose troops were outnumbered by far, but had little experience in fighting in the water-rich areas of the central Yangzi course, solidified the division of the empire, which was only over seventy years later - and then too again only for a few decades - could be ended.

Often successes were not the result of sheer military power, but of cleverness and cunning. The prevention of the Yangzi crossing was based on this. The troops of Cao Cao were provoked, who blindly shot thousands of arrows on a foggy night, which the enemy caught with bales of straw tied to the boats invisible in the fog - and in this way more than compensated for his lack of armament. And another coup was spectacular, the so-called "chain list":

A consultant who claims to be a defector succeeds in convincing Cao Cao that it is an advantage to connect his boats with chains. He said:

"On the Yangzi the changing of the tides can be felt, wind and waves never stop. The soldiers from the north are not used to driving in boats and get sick from this rocking. When you look at the big and the small ships and joins boats in such a way that rows of thirty or fifty are side by side, if you hang them bow to bow and stern to stern with iron rings and chains and lay wide boards over them, then not only the men can go from one boat to the other But also the horses. Whoever travels the river in this way need not fear the wind, the waves, or the ebb and flow of the tides! <[I / 673] Cao Cao stood up and thanked him: "Without your valuable advice I would not be able to defeat the Wu Empire! "

Cao Cao followed the advice, and after chaining his fleet in this way, the other side completed their plan and attacked Cao Cao's fleet with fire, which the chained and so immobile boats could not avoid.

"This empire must fall apart"

With this novel "The Three Realms", the lifestyle of past centuries juts into the present. It has left impressions over the centuries and has been read. His characters and their speeches have left their mark and still appear today on stages and in films. Only one, but perhaps also the most important, possibility of a current connection to this novel is the sentence with which it begins and which everyone knows:

"History teaches that if power over the world has long been divided, it must be united, and if it has long been united, it must be shared."

When the Chinese author Liao Yiwu, who is now in exile in Germany, interrupted his speech again and again with the slogan that became the title of the speech in October 2012 after receiving the Peace Prize from the German book trade in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt:

"This empire must fall apart"

this sentence should immediately remind of the doctrine with which the novel "The Three Realms" begins, which Liao Yiwu now related to today's People's Republic of China.

In China, however, such calls are countered by fear of new chaos. This explains the repeated calls for moderation and reform. The experience of the "Great Leap" with over 40 million starvation deaths has burned into the collective memory. The writer Yang Jisheng, born in 1940, warns of a rushed fight, who dealt in detail with the fate and death of his father during the time of the Great Leap and thus provides an outstanding example of how China has come to terms with the past. Despite the move towards pragmatism, he said that China lacks a democratic system to ensure its success, but it will take "a very long time before a modern democratic system can be built in China." Yang Jisheng concludes his report with the council: To prevent despots from seizing power again, one must "stand in the way of those who want to act hastily and hastily against the old system, because it could be precisely them, the new ones Despotism pave the way. "

The dynamics of today's China are not comparable to the conditions 1800 years ago, but many of the strategies and lists are remembered and are used within China as well as in international competition. The novel "Die Drei Reiche" can be called a people's book - the people's book on the understanding of power and history and of "national identity". Because although the European idea of ​​the nation only found its way into China at the end of the last dynasty in the 19th century, it was already there after the end of Mongolian rule in China in the 14thIn the 19th century, the time of the author Luo Guanzhong of our novel, approaches to a new Chinese self-confidence, which to this day is always linked to the idea that China could break apart again as in the time of the Three Kingdoms.

Luo Guanzhong, "The Three Realms".
Novel. Translated from Classical Chinese and edited by Eva Schestag. S. Fischer. Frankfurt am Main 2017. 2 volumes, clothbound. 864 + 887 pages. 99 euros