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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5 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. My biggest problem w/ROT3K isn’t so much the “good guys vs bad guys” angle, but the spin job it gives to the actual events. Every battle has Shu generals kicking tail & looking great. Let’s have a look…

        Changban (historical version): Liu Bei’s forces are crushed in battle & routed by Cao Cao.
        Changban (ROT3K version): Liu Bei escorts peasants to safety. Zhang Fei, by himself, makes Cao Cao’s entire army wet its pants & run away in terror. Zhao Yun singlehandedly blazes his way through Cao Cao’s army, saves Liu Bei’s baby 👶, again rips through them on his return trip, & nabs Cao Cao’s ceremonial sword 🗡to boot.

        Zhuge Liang vs Sima Yi (historical version): Zhuge Liang makes 5 ventures into Wei. Sima Yi beats him every time except for attempt #5 (which has Zhuge losing again, only this time it’s not to Sima, but to the Grim Reaper💀👻).
        Zhuge Liang vs Sima Yi (ROT3K version): Zhuge makes a fool of Sima time & again. He prevents Sima & his massive army from conquering Xicheng by strumming a lute. He embarrasses Sima w/a gift 🎁 of women’s clothing👗. A fake dummy of the recently dead Zhuge terrifies Sima into calling off a pursuit of Shu.

        Zhuge Liang vs Zhou Yu (historical version): Both were top notch advisors for their respective kingdoms.
        Zhuge Liang vs Zhou Yu (ROT3K version): Zhou Yu exists to show how his boorish stupidity is no match for the cool, calm, superior wit of Zhuge Liang. Their dealings w/each other play out like a Yosemite Sam & Bugs Bunny cartoon.

        I could honestly go on w/so many more examples, I really could.

        Seriously, Shu spends the whole ROT3K story outwitting, humiliating, & valiantly curb stomping all opposition. Look at the titles of most of the novel’s chapters if you don’t believe me; the major majority of them are pro-Shu, even concerning battles in which, historically speaking, Shu got pulverized. During the course of reading it, I was perplexed at how Cao Cao’s holdings & armies kept growing despite also reading how Liu Bei beat the bejeebers out of Cao Cao virtually every time they squared off. Shu battling Wei in ROT3K comes off like Superman fighting Glass Joe. It’s so warped in its rendering of events, you’ll be lead to think Shu was unbeatable, wondering how they could’ve possibly lost (oh wait, ROT3K does tell us how they lost: It’s all because Liu Shan is a wimp. Shu oh-so-certainly would’ve won if only HE hadn’t surrendered after Wei gave him a little paper cut. If not for him, Jiang Wei’s concurrent Northern Campaign ABSOLUTELY would’ve delivered the KO punch to Wei, no doubt about it. Wei didn’t defeat Shu. Liu Shan’s cowardice did!).

        So yeah, that endless skewing of actual historical events bothers me more than anything else in ROT3K… Well, that along w/how it portrays women (of course Liu Biao’s wife had to muddle things up. It’s 100% all her fault! If only these meddling witches would stick to their Confucian roles by staying at home, obeying their husbands, making & mothering their husband’s babies, & keeping their big fat yappers shut, this kind of societal chaos wouldn’t happen, gosh darn it!)

      2. I don’t think anyone would ever dare accuse the traditional Chinese historians of being “unbiased”, lol! I have it on good authority that they were required to shake their pom-poms and shout “goooooooo TEAM!” after every line written 😉

  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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