Episode 41: A Farewell to Hans

We reach the end of the road for the Han Dynasty… well, sort of… it’s complicated. In any case, there will be two emperors and a king by the time this episode is over. The Three Kingdoms are officially here.

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3 thoughts on “Episode 41: A Farewell to Hans

    1. Agreed! Though it does make sense… what is a novel without a clear exemplary good guy and bad guy (this is prior to GRRM, after all 😉 ). By the time the Romance was written, which was right at the end of the Yuan Dynasty about 1100 years later, the Han Dynasty had been deeply romanticized. Since Liu Bei’s Shu Han had the closest blood tie to the dying Han, it stands to reason that he’d be turned into an exemplar, and his main for Cao Cao into a devious, monstrous villain.

      I hope you agree, though, that viewing these people historically – as people with individual motivations and complex personalities, rather than just opera characters with pre-defined roles – is actually much more interesting!

  1. There is another side of the coin, in my view. In fact, I was hoping that Guan Yu, the sworn brother of Liu Bei, be given a stroke more. Here is why: Regardless of how history actually played out, Shu Han and the brotherhood between Liu, Guan, and Zhang are culturally much influential than the more multi-talented Cao Cao, not only in orthodox national history and Han-ethnic folklore, but also in China influence circles as north as Korea and as south as Vietnam. The Brotherhood is celebrated in their cultures, too, as if the trio are heroes in their own history. (This is particularly interesting in the case of Vietnam, which was invaded (and conquered) precisely by Liu’s lieutenant, Zhuge. Guan Yu, in particular, was later promoted in folklore to “emperorship” of sorts, much more widely worshiped than his employer. Given the podcast’s goal is to help people unfamiliar with China, it helps to connect history with culture. At the very minimum, such drastic discrepancy between historic records and cultural significance deserves some explanation/demystification. Sooner or later, your audience will learn about these cultural references if they are seriously learning about the Far East.

    (By the way, great reference to Mao and Chiang’s different reading of the Battle of Guandu. A side anecdote: Chairman Mao was one who also seriously wanted to right the wrong between Cao and Liu’s historic places. In his famous campaign to “Evaluate the Legalese and Criticise the Confucian” (评法反儒) after his lieutenant + chosen successor Lin Biao’s alleged “defection” in early 70’s, Cao was promoted as a legalese progressive, and Liu a Confucian regressive. I don’t believe that Mao’s most loyal ally among historians, Guo Moro, originally held as extreme a view, but you can imagine what he did during the campaign. In fact, Guo, my fellow Shu man, had been a great admirer of Zhuge’s philosophy on governorship: 能攻心则反侧自消 从古知兵非好战 不审势即宽严皆误 后来治蜀要深思 (To suppress rebellion calls for winning of hearts – those who know how to win the war throughout history have not been fond of conflicts; relaxed ruling and harshness can both backfire unless assessment of the current conditions is correct – be this a deep lesson for future governors of Shu.) Guo’s handwriting of this verse still hangs in the Temple of Marquis Wu (Zhuge), Chengdu. The latter half of the verse shows that the Shu Han governor tried to balance between legalese and Confucian. If I’m not mistaken, Zhuge is more often connected with the legalese school.)

    Anyway, the reason I come here is in response to your call for questions in centennial celebration. Here are two, one silly, the other more serious.

    1. Starting from the silly. Has anyone thought about the relationship between 绿林好汉 (Lülin Haohan, or Goodmen of Greenwoods) and the Merry Men of Greenwoods? The question came to my mind ever since I listened to Robin Hood and the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood a year ago. At the time, my impression was that the term was popularized by Song Dynasty which was close to the time Robin of Hood had supposedly lived, because I first learned the phrase from associations with the Water Margin. Now that you clarified that the Greenwoods was even earlier than the Yellow Turbans which the Romance did mention – or maybe the Romance mentioned Greenwoods as well. What is significant is the cultural and colloquial reference of “Greenwoods” in both languages. In China, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang were probably the first rebels on whom orthodox history had shed any positive light. But people do not use them in colloquial reference. Even though they called their establishment “Chu”, Chu (post-Qin) is generally associated with Xiang Yu in colloquial use. Song Jiang and the Liangshan heroes of Water Margin fame were perhaps the best romanticised of all rebels. But people use Liangshan Haohan (梁山好汉) only in reference to this Song era romance. Only Lulin gets to be the Xerox of rebels. Why? There must be similar situations with British rebellions. (Although compared with Robin Hood, Lulin is little romanticised; most Chinese nationals, like myself, can’t even cite the time of Lulin, much less its leaders.)

    2. This must have been asked again and again: When Zhuge went to set up alliance with Sun Quan against Cao Cao, what chips did he really have, given that Liu Bei had been best known for his fame as “the General of Constant Flops” (常败将军)? Even the Romance elaborate on Liu’s failures to build Zhuge’s drama. What compelled Sun, who had far more soldiers than Liu and had had more wins in the past, into an alliance that turned out to be fruitful?

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