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Chinese Literature
Sanguo yanyi 三國演義 "The Three Kingdoms"


This romance (also called Sanguozhi yanyi 三國志演義) about the war between the Three Kingdoms Wei 魏, Wu 吳 and Shu 蜀 is said to be a writing by Luo Guanzhong 羅貫中 (1494), but it was probably already written during the Yuan Dynasty 元. It developed from popular stories about the heroes of that historical period, their strategies, tactics and battles. Comparing the novel with the historical book Sanguozhi 三國志 (written during the Jin period 晉) and the Song time(Zizhi) tongjian gangmu (資治)通鑑綱目 "Summary of the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government", we see that there is a great difference in judgment about justified rule. Contrasting to the historical book, where the ruler of Wei, Cao Cao 曹操, is seen as the legal ruler of all China, the later histories and the romance see him as an usurpator of the throne that has to be possessed by the Liu family, whose descendant Liu Bei 劉備 was ruling in Shu. Central figures in the novel are heroes like the wise tactician Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮, Zhang Fei 張飛 or the red faced semi-god Guan Yu 關羽. Not describing in black and white, the novel judges nevertheless between the good side, the followes of Liu Bei, and their conterparts like Sun Quan 孫權, king of Wu, and the usurper Dong Zhuo 董卓. Many of these persons and their stories have been adapted in theater and performing arts. Unbroken is the popularity of the war skills and plans that occur in the novel, and there exist even TV series. See a short excerpt of the Three Kingdoms telling of the battle at the Red Cliff.
Source:

Exemplarious translation:

49. On the Seven Stars Altar Zhuge sacrifies to the winds: At the three rivers Zhou Yu liberates fire
[...] KONG MING (Zhuge Liang) got out writing materials, sent away the servants and then wrote a few words: "One should burn out CAO; all is ready, but there is no east wind", this he gave to the sick general ZHOU YU, saying "That is the origin of your illness." [...] KONG MING took his leave, went forth and rode off with LU SU to the mountains where they measured out the ground. He bade the soldiers build the altar of red earth from the south-east quarter. [...] Around the second tier he placed sixty-four yellow flags, corresponding to the number of the diagrams of the Book of Divination, in eight groups of eight. [...] Thrice that day he ascended the altar and thrice descended; but there was no sign of the wind. [...] Huang Gai had his fire ships already, a score of them. The fore parts of the ships were thickly studded with large nails, and they were loaded with dry reeds, wood soaked in fish oil and covered with sulphur, salpetre and other inflammables. The ships were covered with black oiled cloth. In the prow of each was a black dragon flag with indentations. A fighting ship was attached to the stern of each to propel it forward. All were ready and awaited orders to move. [...] But the sky remained obstinately clear and as night drew nigh no breath of air stirred. "We have been cajoled", said ZHOU YU. "Indeed what possibility is there of a south-east wind in mid-winter?" - "KONG MING would not use vain and deceitful words", replied LU SU. Towards the third watch the sound of a movement arose in the air. Soon the flags fluttered out. And when the general went out to make sure he saw they were flowing toward the north-east. In a very short time the south-east wind was in full force.
High was raised the Seven Stars' Altar, On it prayed the Sleeping Dragon (Kong Ming)
For an eastern wind, and straightway Blew the wind. Had not the wizard
Exercised his mighty magic Nought had ZHOU YU's skill availed.
Then LÜ MENG was sent into the Black Forest (Wulin) with three companies as a support. GAN NING was ordered to set fire to CAO CAO's camp. A fourth party was to go to the borders of Iling and attack as soon as the signal from the forest was seen. A fifth party of three companies went to Hanyang to fall upon the enemy along the river. Their signal was a white flag and a sixth division supported them. When these six parties had gone off, HUANG GAi got ready his fire ships and sent a soldier with a note to tell CAO CAO that he was coming over that evening. [...] Letting the wind blow full in his face CAO CAO laughed aloud for was he not now to obtain his desire? Then a soldier pointing to the river said, "The whole south is one mass of sails and they are coming up on the wind." CAO CAO went to a higher point and gazed at the sails intently and his men told him that the flags were black and dragon shaped, and indented, and among them there flew one very large banner on which was a name HUANG GAI. "That is my friend the deserter", said he joyfully. "Heaven is on my side today." As the ships drew closer CHENG YU said, "Those ships are treacherous. Do not let them approach to the camp." - "How do you know that?" asked CAO CAO. And CHENG YU replied, "If they were laden with grain they would lie deep in the water. But these are light and float easily. The south-east wind is very strong and if they intend treachery, how can we defend ourselves?" [...] When the ships were about a couple of miles distant, HUANG GAi waved his sword and the leading ships broke forth into fire, which, under the force of the strong wind, soon gained strength and the ships became as fiery arrows. Soon the whole twenty dashed into the naval camp. All CAO CAO's ships were gathered there and as they were firmly chained together not one could escape from the others and flee. There was a roar of bombs and fireships came on from all sides at once. The face of the three rivers was speedily covered with fire which flew before the wind from one ship to another. It seemed as if the universe was filled with flame. [...]
Translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, transscription modernized.

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July 18, 2010 © · Ulrich Theobald · Mail