Episode 52: The Two Caligulas of China

Following the death of Emperor Shi Le, Later Zhao will swiftly succumb to the bloody revenge of Shi Hu. But it’s his heir, Shi Sui, who is the true terror of this episode…

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One thought on “Episode 52: The Two Caligulas of China

  1. About the Soviet source’s comment on Shi Hu’s reforms on Chinese traditions, he is right on in many accounts except “Chinese culture does not know of female literacy.” Whereas it is true that female 巫 (astrologer) had long faded by then, female literacy had flourished in one tiny corner. Two Han dynasty women celebrated for their literacy in their time are Zhuo Wenjun (卓文君) of West Han and Cai Wenji (蔡文姬) of East Han. Although Wenjun’s name was recorded by the Grand Historian only because of his literary celebrity husband, even though she didn’t have any surviving work (attributed work notwithstanding), there is no doubt that literacy earned her a second husband and a place in the Historic Record.

    Wenji, on the other hand, not only transcribed 400 her father’s destroyed books out of memory, but composed quite a few critically acclaimed poems of her own. (胡笳十八拍, Eighteen Verses over Barbarian Flute, is an ancient music piece that every student who studies Chinese music must learn today. Guo Moruo convinced himself that the accompanying poem was Wenji’s although there is no consensus.) Then Prime Minister Cao Cao, who like Chairman Mao was a proud poet himself, respected her so much that he not only arranged payment of her ransom to retrieve her from Xiongnu, but also pardoned her last husband’s death sentence. (Literary accomplishment was not the only reason for Cao’s deeds, but it certainly bore weight.) Her name (in Wade-Gile spelling, Ts’ai Wen-chi) was even eternalised on a crater on Mercury, listed as “Chinese poet and composer”.

    In short, although Han Chinese culture does not know female roles outside household – the legend of Mu Lan in the same period has obvious references to non-Han people and even there resorts to disguise, female literature work could still circulate.

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