By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: an outtake from the monumental Chinese TV movie series, “Three Kingdoms”.
Right here, it takes just a second…
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Previous installments in the Chinese Film Culture and History Series
Note before starting: you can download the entire movie series for free, at the end of this article!
Previous installments in the Chinese Film Culture and History Series
I propose a segment of Episode 34 from the 2010 TV movie series called Three Kingdoms.
Another foundational moment of The Splendid Central Civilization 中 华 Zhong1 Hua2
The segment discussed today is from the beginning to 6’40”.
It concerns The Longzhong Plan 隆 中 对 Long2 Zhong1 Dui4.
The time is 207 CE. This reminds of 207 BCE, the foundational moment four centuries earlier involving Liu Bang (born 256 BCE – died 195 BCE) and Ziying (died January 206 BCE), of whom I spoke in Cultural Capsule #1 (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2021/04/29/chinese-film-culture-and-history-series-the-legend-of-chu-and-han-episode-41-as-explained-by-dr-quan-le-china-rising-radio-sinoland-210429/).
We meet this time Liu Bang’s scion, Liu Bei 刘 備, Liu2 Bei4 (born 16 July 161 – died 10 June 223). His Courtesy Name is Xuande 玄 德 Xuan2 De2 (Mysterious Virtue). Virtue here has to be understood as virility, according to the understanding of ancient times, Manly Upright Strength and Charismatic; exactly the meaning of the Latin word virtus, Vir and Tus: Manly Upright Strength.
He was King of Hanzhong from 219 to 15 May 221 and emperor from 15 May 221 to 10 June 223. Hanzhong corresponds to the land his ancestor Han Gaozu (Lofty Progenitor of the Han Dynasty). This latter was aka Liu Bang, who ruled before becoming Emperor of China many generations earlier, but Liu Bei, as emperor, ruled only over a small portion of China, more or less what we call Sichuan nowadays and that the translator of the series decided to name Riverlands. Not a bad choice since Sichuan 四 川 Si4 Chuan1 means Four Rivers.
The Riverlands is named Shu-Han 蜀 汉, Shu3 Han4 in Chinese, Shu3 is the name of the land around present-day Chengdu City (the capital city of the Shu-Han State) in Sichuan Province, the core of Liu Bei’s state and Han4 is for the Han Dynasty, since Liu Bei is the scion of a provincial branch of the Liu 刘 Liu2 Noble House, Sovereigns of the Han Empire.
His deadly rival was Cao Cao 曹 操 Cao2 Cao1 (born 155 – died 15 March 220); courtesy name Mengde 孟 德 Meng4 De2 (Eminent Virtue). Cao Cao skillfully ruled most (~2/3) of China, also the most populous part (~35 million people, ~1 to 2 million for Riverlands and 5 to 7 million for the very fertile Southland). Even if Cao Cao never declared himself emperor, deciding he would play the role of a loyal servant to the dying four centuries of the old Han Dynasty, and letting his offspring found the Wei 魏 Wei4 Dynasty, replacing the Han 汉 Han4 Dynasty on 25 November 220 some eight months after his own death on 15 March 220 CE.
Be informed that the coronation ceremony of the first Wei 魏 emperor happened on 11 December 220: 16 days after the deposition of the last Han Dynasty. This part of the former Han Empire is called Cao-Wei 曹魏 Cao2 Wei4, Cao being the family name of the most powerful prince of the time and Wei the name of the Dynasty he founded. The capital city of the Wei Dynasty was at present-day Luoyang City.
It’s important to know that in 196 CE, he quite cleverly kidnapped the hapless leader Xiandi 献 帝 Xian4 Di4, “ruling”, so to speak, from September 189 to 196 under the supervision of various warlords, and from 196 to 25 November 220 under Cao Cao’s mighty shadow. The last Han Emperor thus became a puppet in his hands, marrying his daughter after Xiandi’s first wife was strangled to death, on the motif of rebellion against Cao Cao. Having the emperor, he could issue edicts in the name of the Imperial House, gaining thus a definite prestige and practical advantage over the other warlords till he unified Northern China in 215, five years before his death. But the Southlands and the Riverlands escaped him.
Please note that Meng 孟 Meng4 means eminent or great but also signals the eldest brother.
Zhong 仲 Zhong1 means centered but also the second brother in a family.
Sun Quan 孙 权 Sun1 Quan2 (born 5 July 182 – died 21 May 252) Courtesy Name 仲 谋 Zhong1 Mou2: Middle Plan.
He declared himself emperor in 229, ruling the Southlands till his death on 21 May 252.The name in Chinese for the Southlands is Dong Wu 东 吴 Dong1 Wu2, meaning Eastern Wu. It corresponds to Chinese territory south-east of the Long River 长 江 Chang2 Jiang1 (~6300 km long) and including parts or whole of modern provinces such as Hubei, Hunan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Anhui, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. Dong Wu ruled over the northern part of Vietnam since it was part of the Chinese Empire for a millennium (First century BCE to 939 CE)
Another name for Dong Wu is Jiang Dong 江 东 Jiang1 Dong1 East of the River (The Long River). It is a big and beautiful piece of Marvelous China. The first capital city of Dong Wu was on the land of present-day Wuhan City. They then moved to the east to present-day Nanjing City.
Now you all understand why the series is called Three Kingdoms, San Guo 三 国 San1 Guo2; the Three Kingdoms being three unequal parts of the former Han Empire: the Cao-Wei portion was created on 25 November 220 as the Wei Empire. The same day was the official end of the four century-old and venerable Han Dynasty. The Dong Wu Kingdom was established in 197-199 but elevated to the Imperial status only in 229 by Sun Quan’s (born 182 – died 252) declaration, and the Shu-Han Kingdom created in 219 and elevated to imperial status on 15 May 221 by Liu Bei.
Three Kingdoms is also the name of a Chinese historical period from 25 November 220 (the official end of the Han Dynasty) to 280, when the Jin 晋 Jin1 Dynasty (265-420) ruled over a re-united China. To be nuanced, most historians will include the half-century from 168 to 220, as a prelude to the Three Kingdom period. The Jin 晋 Jin1 Dynasty (265-420), founded by the Sima 司 马 Si1 Ma3 family, replaced the Wei 魏 Wei4 Dynasty in 265. The Wei Dynasty, having deftly conquered Riverlands in 263, the Jin Dynasty finished the task in 280, by subduing the fertile Southlands, thus reuniting the Chinese homeland.
The official and authoritative account of this period is known as San Guo Zhi 三 国 志 San1 Guo2 Zhi4 (The Records of The Three Kingdoms), written by Chen Shou 陈 寿 Chen2 Shou4 (born 233 – died 297).
Three Kingdoms is also the name of a historical novel written in the 14th century, more than a millennium after the events, and attributed to Luo Guanzhong (circa 1300-1400) 罗 贯 中 Luo2 Guan4 Zhong1.
It’s a daunting 800,000-word-long creation with hundreds of distinct characters, which has been part of the popular culture of the Sinosphere for ages, and now part of the global culture through mangas, paintings, video games like Kingdom, animes, movies (eg, Red Cliff by John Woo), Beijing operas and TV series, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms San Guo Yanyi 三 国 縯 义 San1 Guo2 Yan3 Yi4
(The third character, Yan3, needs a correction because of the limits of my tablet, the right component is correct but the silk radical on the left side needs to be replaced by the water radical).
At the time of the Three Kingdoms, the Chinese people had a cultural past of 3,200 years and 18 centuries later, the characters in the novel — their desires, their ideals, their joys, their sufferings, their ideas and representations of the world– still embody exemplars for the Chinese Nation and the Nations of the Sinosphere.
Among the most shining figures are the four appearing in this short excerpt of seven minutes.
I already introduced briefly Liu Bei (born 161 – died 223).
Now is the turn of Wolong 卧 龙 Wo4 Long2 Couch Dragon (like Couch Potato but here Dragon replaces Potato). He is the man in white exposing the Longzhong Plan to Liu Bei. Longzhong is merely the name of his estates west of present day Xiangyang City in Hubei province, where is the now world-famous city of Wuhan.
Couch Dragon is the Art Name of Zhuge Liang.
That’s the second Art Name that we encounter in this series of Chinese Cultural Capsules. The first one being Mei Niang 媚 娘 Mei3 Niang2, The Glamorous Lady, for the woman Emperor Wu Zetian (624-705) and ruling from 660 to 705.
Zhuge Liang 诸 葛 亮 Zhu1 Ge3 Liang4 (born 181 – died 8 October 234). Courtesy Name: 孔 明 Kong3 Ming2, meaning Understanding Kong (Kong is the family name of Confucius 551 BCE-479 BCE, the Philosopher at the heart of Chinese Civilization).
In this scene, the 26-year-old Zhuge Liang accepts the position of Director General 军 师 Jun1 Shi1 (Master Strategist of the Army), thus serving the 46-year-old Liu Bei, in his aspiration to restore the Han Imperial House. It is the beginning of a long relationship, since Zhuge Liang would die in 234, 27 years later, at 53 years of age on the battlefield, as Prime Minister of Liu Bei’s son; Liu Bei having left this world 11 years earlier in 223.
Please listen to the following Chinese expression,
San1 Gu4 Mao2 Lu2 三 顾 茅 庐, meaning, The Three Visits to The Cottage. Liu Bei missed The Couch Dragon aka Zhuge Liang, aka Kong Ming during his first two visits but was so eager to meet him that he returned a third time. If you are sincere in getting the services of a highly talented person, you must be ready to make the needed sacrifices and show your willingness to learn from him.
For the Chinese, Zhuge Liang represents the archetypal genius and polymath, endowed with the qualities of the heart (true to his friends, loving to his family and loyal to his prince) and a totally consummate strategy master planner. As if that is not enough, also having artistic sensitivity and a widely respected guqin 古 琴 gu3 qin2 (the Chinese zither) player, not to mention being capable of witty, even sarcastic remarks. He is the absolute, not easy to emulate and simply daunting exemplar for many generations of Chinese scholars, giving them the unwavering conviction that the true gentleman, although striving to refine his mind, his heart and his conduct in everyday life, and always having in mind to act with kindness, is neither a moron nor a nerd and definitely not a pathetic weakling.
In an earlier Chinese Cultural Capsule I wrote that it is part of the glory of the Splendid Central Civilization that The Shining Emperor (Tang2 Xuan2 Zong1 who ruled from 713 to 756) met, befriended and played with The Immortal Exiled on Earth (the Poet Li3 Bai2, born 701 – died 762). It’s a no lesser glory for the Splendid Central Civilization that Mysterious Virtue met Couch Dragon, and they worked closely together for almost two decades, from 207 to the death of Mysterious Virtue in 223, sixteen years later. And out of loyalty, Couch Dragon kept on serving till his own death in 234, Mysterious Virtue’s son, a much, much less charismatic prince.
Let’s write here the gist of this famous private conversation between Liu Bei and The Couch Dragon at his home in Longzhong, (hence the name, THE LONGZHONG PLAN 隆 中 对 Long2 Zhong1 Dui4), as read from the Records of The Three Kingdoms 三 国 志 San1 Guo2 Zhi4, written at the end of the 3rd century CE by Chen Shou 陈 寿 Chen2 Shou4 (born 233 – died 297). The text is from Volume 35 of the San Guo Zhi; it is a 360,000-character history treatise divided in three books: Book I for the Wei (30 volumes), Book II for the Shu-Han (15 volumes) and Book III for the Wu (20 volumes); volume here being understood as chapter. This authentic dialogue happened in 207.
LIU BEI (born 161 – died 223), 46 years old in the year 207:
The Han Dynasty is in decline, villainous officials usurp power while the emperor was forced into exile. I may be unworthy in both strength and virtue, but I still want to uphold justice and righteousness in the Empire. However, I am not intelligent and shrewd enough, which is why I have repeatedly suffered setbacks and ended up in my current situation. Nevertheless, I have neither deviated from my initial intentions, nor given up on my ambitions. Sir, what do you think I can do?
THE COUCH DRAGON (born 181 – died 234) 26 years old in 207, replied:
Since Dong3 Zhuo2 董 卓 (born 134 – died 192) usurped power, many warlords throughout the empire have risen up, seized and controlled territories. Cao Cao (born 155 – died 220) was inferior to Yuan Shao, in terms of fame and military power, yet he managed to defeat Yuan Shao 袁 绍 Yuan2 Shao1 (died 28 June 202) and transformed from a weak to a powerful warlord. This was not due to only favorable circumstances, but also human intelligence and wisdom. Now, as Cao Cao leads hundreds of thousands of troops and uses the emperor’s name to command other warlords, you definitely can’t compete with him directly.
Sun Quan (born 182 – died 252) rules over Jiangdong and his family had controlled the region for over three generations. He has geographical advantage, the hearts of the people, and the support of many wise and talented advisers. You should attempt to make contact and form an alliance with him, instead of trying to conquer his territories.
As for Jing Province (Hubei), it has natural geographical barriers such as the Han and Mian rivers to the north, as well as direct access to an abundance of resources from the sea in the south. It is connected to the Wu Commandery (Jiangsu Province; also the antique name of Suzhou City in Jiangsu Province; another famous name is Gusu) and the Kuaiji Commandery in the east (Zhejiang Province mostly; Kuaiji is also the antique name of Hangzhou City surroundings) and Ba (Chongqing Municipality region) and Shu (present-day Sichuan province + Chengdu City) Commanderies in the west. It is a strategic location in the eyes of military strategists. Its ruler doesn’t have the capability to defend it. It is a special gift from Heaven to you, General. Do you, General, have the intention of seizing it?
Yi Province (Sichuan Province and the Chongqing Municipality) is a geographically strategic location. It has thousands of li of fertile land and has been called a “Country of Heaven”. Emperor Han Gaozu (Liu Bang) used it as his base when he started to conquer the empire. Liu Zhang (flourished 190 – 210) is incompetent and weak.
He also faces the threat of Zhang Lu (died 216) in the north. Even though his domain is wealthy and prosperous, he doesn’t know how to treasure it. All the talent there hopes to serve under a wise ruler.
General, you are not only a member of the Imperial House, but also a man famous throughout the empire, for your integrity and righteousness. You have attracted heroes to aid you, and you see wise and capable talent, like a thirsty man looking for water. If you control Jing and Yi provinces and make use of their geographic strategy to defend them, well…? At the same time, you should foster good relations with the Rong people in the west and implement policies to placate and pacify the Yi and Yue peoples to the south.
Externally, you should build a strong alliance with Sun Quan (born 181 – died 252); internally, you should reform the government and promote civil culture.
When the opportunity arises, you can order one of your senior officers to lead troops from Jing Province to attack Wancheng and Luoyang, while you, General, can personally lead troops out of Yi Province via the Qin Mountains. When you do this, won’t the people welcome you and your troops with food and drink? If this really happens, you will be able to fulfill your ambition and the Han Dynasty will be revived.
This Cultural Capsule is already too long, but a last word. The two men waiting outside for Liu Bei are his two sworn brothers. When Guan Yu died in 220, they had been together for 36 years. I’ m quite flippant to mention just their names and some words but I don’t want to write something too long. It’s a capsule, not a treatise, after all!
GUAN YU 关 羽 Guan1 Yu3 (born 160 – died 220) Courtesy Name 云 长 Yun2 Chang2 Everlasting Cloud. Warrior, Scholar and Strategist. Embodiment of the ideal of Loyalty. The Long-Bearded One.
ZHANG FEI 张飞 Zhang1 Fei1 (died in August 221) Courtesy Name 益 德 Yi4 De2 Beneficent Virtue, Foolhardy but successful Warrior. Boisterous and uncouth. Binge alcoholic. Having the outmost loyalty to his two brothers. Uncouth Chinese people consider him as their Saint Patron.
When you mention the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in the Sinosphere, four characters come forth to the mind spontaneously: The Couch Dragon, virtuous Liu Bei and his two sworn brothers: the lofty Guan Yu and the boisterous Zhang Fei. And no less famous is their Oath of the Peach Garden 桃 园 三 结 义 Tao2 Yuan2 San1 Jie2 Yi4, where they pledged to toil together as sworn brothers to restore the Han Imperial House. The Peach Garden was in Zhuozhou County, 涿 州 Zhuo1 Zhou1; 18 centuries later, the county still bears the same name and is just south of Beijing.
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