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Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義)

by Luo Guanzhong (羅貫中) Translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor

Three Kingdoms

Chapter 20 : Cao Cao Organizes A Hunting Expedition In Xutian; Dong Cheng Receives A Secret Command In The Palace.

Chapter 20 : Cao Cao Organizes A Hunting Expedition In Xutian; Dong Cheng Receives A Secret Command In The Palace.

The last chapter said that Cao Cao was checked in his angry attack upon Zhang Liao. They were Liu Bei who held his arm and Guan Yu who knelt before him.

“A man as generous-hearted as he is should be saved,” said Liu Bei.

Guan Yu said, “I know him well as loyal and righteous. I will vouch for him with my own life!”

Cao Cao threw aside his sword and smiled.

“I also know Zhang Liao to be loyal and good. I was just testing him,” said he.

Cao Cao loosed the prisoner’s bonds with his own hands, had a change of dress brought in, and clothed him therewith. Then he was led to a seat of honor. This kindly treatment sank deep into Zhang Liao’s heart, and he hastened to declare formally that he yielded. And then he was given the rank of Imperial Commander and the title of Lordship.

Zhang Liao was sent on a mission to win over the bandit leader Zang Ba, who hearing what had happened, came forthwith and gave in his submission. He was graciously received, and his former colleagues —-Sun Guan, Wu Dun, and Yin Li —-also yielded, with the exception of Chang Xi, who remained obdurate. All these former enemies who came over were kindly treated and given posts of responsibility wherein they might prove the reality of their conversion. Lu Bu’s family were sent to the capital.

After the soldiers had been rewarded with feasting, the camp was broken up and the army moved away to Xuchang. Passing through Xuzhou the people lined the roads and burned incense in honor of the victors. They also petitioned that Liu Bei should be their protector.

Cao Cao replied, “Liu Bei has rendered great services. You must wait till he has been received in audience and obtained his reward. After that he shall be sent here.”

The people bowed low to the ground to express their thanks. Che Zhou, General of the Flying Cavalry, was given command of Xuzhou for the moment.

After the army had arrived at the capital, rewards were granted to all the officers who had been in the expedition. Liu Bei was retained in the capital, lodging in an annex to the Prime Minister’s palace.

Next day a court was held, and Cao Cao memorialized the services of Liu Bei who was presented to Emperor Xian. Dressed in court robes, Liu Bei bowed at the lower end of the audience arena. The Emperor called him to the Hall and asked his ancestry.

Liu Bei replied, “Thy servant is the son of Liu Hong, grandson of Liu Xiong, who was a direct descendant of Prince Sheng of Zhongshan, who was the son of His Majesty the Emperor Jing (reigned BC 157-141).”

The Emperor bade them bring forth the Books of the Genealogies, and therefrom a secretary read:

“Liu Jing the Filial Emperor begot fourteen sons of whom the seventh was Liu Sheng, Prince of Zhongshan. Sheng begot Liu Zhen, Lord of Luchang. Zhen begot Liu Ang, Lord of Pei. Ang begot Liu Lu, Lord of Zhang. Lu begot Liu Lian, Lord of Yishui. Lian begot Liu Ying, Lord of Qinyang. Ying begot Liu Jian, Lord of Anguo. Jian begot Liu Ai, Lord of Guangling. Ai begot Liu Xia, Lord of Jiaoshui. Xia begot Liu Shu, Lord of Zuyi. Shu begot Liu Yi, Lord of Qiyang. Yi begot Liu Bi, Lord of Yuanze. Bi begot Liu Da, Lord of Yingchuan. Da begot Liu Buyi, Lord of Fengling. Buyi begot Liu Hui, Lord of Jichuan. Hui begot Liu Xiong, Governor of Zhuo. Xiong begot Liu Hong, who held no office or rank; and Liu Bei is his son.”

The Emperor compared this with the registers of the Imperial House and found by them that Liu Bei was his uncle by descent. The Emperor seemed greatly pleased and requested Liu Bei to go into one of the side chambers where he might perform the ceremonial obeisance prescribed for a nephew to his uncle. In his heart he rejoiced to have this heroic warrior uncle as a powerful supporter against Cao Cao who really held all the power in his own hands. The Emperor knew himself to be a mere puppet. He conferred upon his uncle the rank of General of the Left Army and the title of Lord of Yicheng.

When the banquet was concluded, Liu Bei thanked the Emperor and went out of the Palace. And from this time he was very generally styled the “Imperial Uncle.”

When Cao Cao returned to his palace, Xun Yu and his fellow advisers went in to see him.

Xun Yu said, “It is no advantage to you, Illustrious Sir, that the Emperor recognizes Liu Bei as an uncle.”

“Liu Bei may be recognized as uncle, but he is under my orders since I control the decrees of the Throne. He will be all the more ready to obey. Beside I will keep him here under the pretense of having him near his sovereign, and he will be entirely in my hands. I have nothing to fear. The man I fear is Yang Biao, who is a relative of the two Yuan brothers. Should Yang Biao conspire with them, he is an enemy within and might do much harm. He will have to be removed.”

Hence Cao Cao sent a secret emissary to say that Imperial Guardian Yang Biao was intriguing with Yuan Shu, and on this charge Yang Biao was arrested and imprisoned. And his death would have been compassed had his enemy dared.

But just then the Governor of Beihai, Kong Rong, was at the capital, and he remonstrated with Cao Cao, saying, “Yang Biao comes from a family famed for virtue for at least four generations. You cannot trump up so foolish a charge as that against him.”

“It is the wish of His Majesty!” retorted Cao Cao.

“If the child Emperor Cheng of Zhou Dynasty had put Duke Chao to death, could the people have believed Duke Zhou, the Regent Marshal, had nothing to do with it?”

So Cao Cao had to relinquish the attempt, but he took away Yang Biao’s offices and banished him to his family estate in the country.

Court Counselor Zhao Yan, an opponent of the Prime Minister, sent up a memorial impeaching Cao Cao for having removed a minister of state from office without a decree. Cao Cao’s reply to this was the arrest of Zhao Yan and his execution, a bold stroke which terrified the bulk of officers and reduced them to silence.

Cheng Yu advised Cao Cao to assume a more definite position. He said, “Illustrious Sir, your prestige grows daily. Why not seize the opportunity to take the position of Chief of the Feudatory Princes?”

“There are still too many supporters of the court,” was the reply. “I must be careful. I am going to propose a royal hunt to try to find out the best line to follow.”

This expedition being decided upon they got together fleet horses, famous falcons, and pedigree hounds, and prepared bows and arrows in readiness. They mustered a strong force of guards outside the city.

When the Prime Minister proposed the hunting expedition, the Emperor said he feared it was an improper thing to do.

Cao Cao replied, “In ancient times rulers made four expeditions yearly at each of the four seasons in order to show their strength. They were called Sou, Miao, Xien, and Shou, in the order of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Now that the whole country is in confusion, it would be wise to inaugurate a hunt in order to train the army. I am sure Your Majesty will approve.”

So the Emperor with the full paraphernalia for an imperial hunt joined the expedition. He rode a saddled horse, carried an inlaid bow, and his quiver was filled with gold-tipped arrows. His chariot followed behind. Liu Bei and his brothers were in the imperial train, each with his bow and quiver. Each party member wore a breastplate under the outer robe and held his especial weapon, while their escort followed them. Cao Cao rode a dun horse called “Flying-Lightning,” and the army was one hundred thousand strong.

The hunt took place in Xutian, and the legions spread out as guards round the hunting arena which extended over some one hundred square miles. Cao Cao rode even with the Emperor, the horses’ heads alternating in the lead. The imperial attendants immediately following were all in Cao Cao’s confidence. The other officers, civil and military, lagged behind, for they dared not press forward into the midst of Cao Cao’s partisans.

One day the Emperor was riding toward the hunting grounds and noticed his newly found uncle respectfully standing by the roadside.

“I should like to see my uncle display his hunting skill,” said the Emperor.

Liu Bei mounted his steed at once. Just then a hare started from its form. Liu Bei shot and hit it with the first arrow.

The Emperor, much struck by this display, rode away over a slope. Suddenly a deer broke out of the thicket. He shot three arrows at it but all missed.

“You try,” said the Emperor turning to Cao Cao.

“Lend me Your Majesty’s bow,” Cao Cao replied.

Taking the inlaid bow and the golden-tipped arrows, Cao Cao pulled the bow and hit the deer in the shoulder at the first shot. It fell in the grass and could not run.

Now the crowd of officers seeing the golden-barbed arrow sticking in the wound concluded at once that the shot was the Emperor’s, so they rushed up and shouted “Wan shui! O Son of Heaven! Live forever!”

Cao Cao rode out pushing past the Emperor and acknowledged the congratulations.

They all turned pale. Guan Yu, who was behind Liu Bei, was especially angry. The silkworm eyebrows stood up fiercely, and the red phoenix eyes glared as, sword in hand, he rode hastily forth to cut down the audacious Prime Minister for his impertinence.

However, Liu Bei hastily waved him back and shot at him a meaning glance so that Guan Yu stopped and made no further move.

Liu Bei bowing toward Cao Cao said, “Most sincere felicitations! A truly supernatural shot, such as few have achieved!”

“It is only the enormous good fortune of the Son of Heaven!” said Cao Cao with a smile.

Then he turned his steed and felicitated the Emperor. But he did not return the bow; he hung it over his own shoulder instead.

The hunt finished with banqueting; and when the entertainments were over, they returned to the capital, all glad of some repose after the expedition.

Guan Yu was still angry of the Prime Minister’s breach of decorum.

One day Guan Yu said to Liu Bei, “Brother, why did you prevent me from killing that rebel and so ridding the world of a scoundrel? He insults the Emperor and ignores everybody else.”

“When you throw stones at a rat, beware of the vase,” quoted Liu Bei. “Cao Cao was only a horse’s head away from Our Lord, and in the midst of a crowd of his partisans. In that momentary burst of anger, if you had struck and failed, and harm had come to the Emperor, what an awful crime would have been laid to us!”

“If we do not rid the world of him today, a worse evil will come of it,” said Guan Yu.

“But be discreet, my brother. Such matters cannot be lightly discussed.”

The Emperor sadly returned to his palace. With tears in his eyes, he related what had occurred in the hunt to his consort, Empress Fu.

“Alas for me!” said he. “From the first days of my accession, one vicious minister has succeeded another. I was the victim of Dong Zhuo’s evil machinations. Then followed the rebellion of Li Jue and Guo Si. You and I had to bear sorrows such as no others have borne. Then came this Cao Cao as one who would maintain the imperial dignity, but he has seized upon all real authority and does as he wishes. He works continually for his own glorification, and I never see him but my back pricks. These last few days in the hunting field, he went in front of me and acknowledged the cheers of the crowd. He is so extremely rude that I feel sure he has sinister designs against me. Alas, my wife, we know not when our end may come!”

“In a whole court full of nobles, who have eaten the bread of Han, is there not one who will save his country?” said she.

Thus spoke the Empress, and at the same moment there stepped in a man who said, “Grieve not, O Imperial Pair! I can find a savior for the country.”

It was none other than the father of the Empress, Fu Wan.

“Have you heard of Cao Cao’s wanton and perverse behavior?” said the Emperor, drying his eyes.

“You mean the deer shooting? Who did not see that, indeed? But the whole court is full of his clan or his creatures. With the exception of the relatives of your Consort, there is not one loyal enough to deal with a rebel. I have no authority and can do nothing, but there is General Dong Cheng, the State Uncle, who could do it.”

“Could Uncle Dong Cheng come in to consult about this? I know he has had much experience of state troubles.”

Fu Wan replied, “Everyone of your attendants is a partisan of Cao Cao, and this sort of thing must be kept most profoundly secret or the consequence will be most serious.”

“Then what can be done?” said the Emperor.

“The only plan I can think of is to send gifts of a robe and a jade girdle to Dong Cheng, and in the lining of the girdle hide a secret edict authorizing him to take certain steps. When he gets home and has read the edict, he can elaborate plans as quickly as possible, and neither the spirits above nor the demons below will know anything about them.”

The Emperor approved, and Fu Wan went out. The Emperor then with his own hand drew up a decree, writing it with blood drawn by biting his finger. He gave the document to Empress Fu to sew into the purple lining of the girdle. When all was done, he put on the robe and girded it with the girdle. Next he bade one of the attendants summon State Uncle Dong Cheng to the Palace.

Dong Cheng came; and after the ceremonies were finished, the Emperor said, “A few nights ago I was talking with the Empress of the terrible days of the rebellion, and we thought of your good services then, therefore we have called you in to reward you.”

The minister bowed his head in thanks. Then the Emperor led Dong Cheng out of the Reception Hall to the Temple of Ancestors, and they went to the gallery of Worthy Ministers, where the Emperor burned incense and performed the usual ceremonies. After this they went to see the portraits, and among them was one of the founder of the dynasty, Liu Bang the Supreme Ancestor.

“Whence sprang our great ancestor, and how did he begin his great achievement?” said the Emperor.

“Your Majesty is pleased to joke with thy servant,” said Dong Cheng, rather startled at the question. “Who does not know the deeds of the Sacred Ancestor? He began life as a minor official in Sishang. There gripping his sword, he slew a white serpent, the beginning of his struggle for the right. Speedily he mastered the empire: In three years had destroyed Qin and, in five, also Chu. Thus he set up a dynasty that shall endure forever!”

“Such heroic forefathers! Such weakling descendants! How sad it is!” said the Emperor.

Pointing to the portraits right and left, he continued, “Are not these two Zhang Liang, Lord of Liu, and Xiao He, Lord of Cuo?”

“Certainly. The Supreme Ancestor was greatly assisted by these two.”

The Emperor glanced right and left. His attendants were rather far away. Then he whispered to Dong Cheng, “You, like these two, must stand by me.”

“My poor services are of no worth. I do not compare with those men,” said the Uncle.

“I remember that you saved me at the western capital, Changan. I have never forgotten, and I could never reward you properly.”

Then pointing to his own robe, the Emperor continued, “You must wear this robe of mine, girded with my own girdle, and it will be as though you are always near your Emperor.”

Dong Cheng bowed his gratitude while the Emperor, taking off the robe, presented it to his faithful minister. At the same time he whispered, “Examine it closely when you get home, and help your Emperor carry out his intention.”

Dong Cheng understood. He put on the robe and the girdle, took leave and left the chamber.

The news of the audience for Dong Cheng had been taken to the Prime Minister, who at once went to the Palace and arrived as Dong Cheng was passing out at the Donghua Gate. They met face to face, and Dong Cheng could in nowise avoid him. Dong Cheng went to the side of the road and made his obeisance.

“Where are you from, State Uncle?” asked Cao Cao.

“His Majesty summoned me into the Palace and has given me this robe and beautiful girdle.”

“Why did he give you these?”

“He had not forgotten that I saved his life in the old days.”

“Take it off and let me see it.”

Dong Cheng who knew that a secret decree was hidden away somewhere in the garments was afraid Cao Cao would notice a breach somewhere in the material, so he hesitated and did not obey. But Cao Cao called his guards, and they took off the girdle. Then Cao Cao looked it over carefully.

“It certainly is a very handsome girdle,” said he. “Now take off the robe and let me look at that.”

Dong Cheng’s heart was melting with fear, but he dared not disobey. So he handed over the robe. Cao Cao took it and held it up against the sun with his own hand and minutely examined every part of it.

When he had done this, he put it on, girded it with the girdle and turning to his attendants said, “How is it for length?”

“Beautiful!” they chorused.

Turning to Dong Cheng, he said, “Will you give these to me?”

“My Prince’s presents to me I dare not give to another. Let me give you another robe in its stead,” said Dong Cheng.

“Is there not some intrigue connected with these presents? I am sure there is,” said Cao Cao.

“How could I dare?” said Dong Cheng, trembling. “If you are so set upon it, then I must give it up.”

“How could I take away what our Prince has given you? It was all a joke,” said the Prime Minister.

Cao Cao returned both robe and girdle, and their owner made the best of his way home. When night came and he was alone in his library, he took out the robe and looked over every inch of it most carefully. He found nothing.

“He gave me a robe and a girdle and bade me look at them carefully. That means there is something to be looked for but I can find no trace of it. What does it mean?” he soliloquized.

Then he lifted the girdle and examined that. The jade plates were carved into the semblance of small dragons interlaced among flowers. The lining was of purple silk. All was sewn together most carefully and neatly, and he could find nothing out of the common. He was puzzled. He laid the belt on the table. Presently he picked it up and looked at it again. He spent long hours over it but in vain. He leaned over on the small table, his head resting on his hands and was almost asleep, when a candle snuff fell down upon the girdle and burned a hole in the lining. He hastily shook it off, but the mischief was done: A small hole had been burned in the silken lining, and through this there appeared something white with blood red marks. He hastily ripped it open and drew out the decree written by the hand of the Emperor himself in characters of blood. It read:

“Of human relationships, that between parents and children stands first. Of the various social ties that between prince and minister stands highest. Today Cao Cao, the wicked, is a real tyrant, treating even his Prince with indignity. With the support of his faction and his army, he has destroyed the principles of government. By conferring rewards and inflicting punishments, he has reduced the Emperor to a nonentity. I have grieved over this day and night. I have feared the empire would be ruined.

“You are a high minister of state and my own relative. You must recall the difficulties of the Great Founder’s early days and draw together the loyal and right-minded to destroy this evil faction and restore the prerogatives of the Throne. Such a deed would be indeed an extreme joy to the spirits of my ancestors.

“This decree, written in blood drawn from my own veins, is confided to a noble who is to be most careful not to fail in executing his Emperor’s design.

“Given in the era of Rebuilt Tranquillity, fourth year and the third month of spring.” (AD 199)

So ran the decree, and Dong Cheng read it with streaming eyes. There was no sleep for him that night. Early in the morning he returned to his library and reread it. No plan suggested itself. He laid the decree down on the table and sought in the depths of his mind for some scheme to destroy Cao Cao, but could not decide upon any. And he fell asleep leaning over his table.

It happened that Minister Wang Zifu, with whom Dong Cheng was on terms of great intimacy, came to visit him and, as usual, walked into the house unannounced and went straight to the library. His host did not wake, and Wang Zifu noticed, hardly hidden by his sleeve, the Emperor’s writing.

Wondering what this might be, Wang Zifu drew it out, read it, and put it in his own sleeve.

Then he called out loud, “Uncle Dong Cheng, are you not well? Why are you asleep at this time of day?”

Dong Cheng started up and at once missed the decree. He was aghast; he almost fell to the ground.

“So you want to make away with Cao Cao? I shall have to tell him,” said Wang Zifu.

“Then, brother, that is the end of the Hans,” said his host, with tears.

“I was joking,” said Wang Zifu. “My forefathers also served the Hans and ate of their bounty. Am I devoid of loyalty? I would help you, brother, as far as lies in my power.”

“It is well for the country that you think like this,” said Dong Cheng.

“But we ought to have a more private place than this to talk over such plans and pledge ourselves to sacrifice all in the cause of Han.”

Dong Cheng began to feel very satisfied. He produced a roll of white silk and wrote his own name at the top and signed it, and Wang Zifu followed suit.

Then the visitor said, “General Wu Zilan is one of my best friends. He ought to be allowed to come in.”

Dong Cheng replied, “Of all the officials of the court, Commander Chong Ji and Court Counselor Wu Shi are my best friends. Certainly they would back me up.”

So the discussion proceeded. Presently a servant announced no other than these very two men Dong Cheng just mentioned.

“This is providential,” said Dong Cheng, and he told Wang Zifu to hide behind a screen.

The two guests were led into the library, and after the exchange of the ordinary civilities and a cup of tea, Chong Ji referred to the incident at the hunt and the shooting of the stag.

“Were you not angry at that?” said Chong Ji.

Dong Cheng answered, “Though we be angry, what can we do?”

Wu Shi struck in, saying, “I would slay this fellow, I swear, but I cannot get anyone to back me up.”

“One should perish for one’s country; one should not mind,” said Chong Ji.

At this moment Wang Zifu appeared from behind the screen, saying, “You two want to kill Cao Cao! I shall have to let him know this. And Uncle Dong Cheng is my witness.”

“A loyal minister does not mind death. If we are killed, we will be Han ghosts, which is better than being sycophants of a traitor,” said Chong Ji, angrily.

Dong Cheng said, “We were just saying we wanted to see you two on this matter. Wang Zifu is only joking.”

Then he drew forth the decree and showed it to the two newcomers, who also wept as they read it. They were asked to add their names to the silk roll.

Wang Zifu said, “Wait here a few moments till I get Wu Zilan to come.”

He left the room and very soon returned with his friend, who also wrote his name in the presence of all the others.

After this they went into one of the inner chambers to drink success to the new plot. While there, a new visitor, Ma Teng, Governor of Xiliang, was announced.

“Say I am indisposed,” said the host, “and cannot receive visitors.”

The doorkeeper took the message, whereat Ma Teng angrily said, “Last night at the Donghua Gate, I saw him come out in robe and girdle. How can he pretend illness today? I am not come from mere idleness, why does he refuse to see me?”

The doorkeeper went in again and told his master what the visitor had said and that he was very angry. Then Dong Cheng rose, excused himself saying he would soon return, and went to receive Ma Teng.

After the visitor had saluted and they were both seated, Ma Teng said, “I have just come from a farewell audience and wished to bid you good bye. Why did you want to put me off?”

“My poor body was taken suddenly ill. That is why I was not waiting to welcome you,” said Dong Cheng.

“You do not look as if you were ill. Your face wears the very bloom of health,” said Ma Teng bluntly.

His host could say no more and was silent. The visitor shook out his sleeves and rose to depart.

He sighed deeply as he walked down the steps, saying to himself, “Not one of them is any good. There is no one to save the country.”

This speech sank deeply into Dong Cheng’s heart. He stopped his guest, saying, “Who is no good to save the country? Whom do you mean?”

“That incident at the hunt the other day, the shooting of the stag, filled my breast with anger. But if you, a near relative of the Emperor, can pass your time in wine and idle dalliance without a thought of doing away with rebellion, where can anyone be found who will save the dynasty?”

However, Dong Cheng doubts were not set at rest. Pretending great surprise, he replied, “The Prime Minister is of high rank and has the confidence of the court. Why then do you utter such things?”

“So you find that wretch Cao Cao a good man, eh?”

“Pray speak lower: There are eyes and ears very near us.”

“The sort of people who covet life and fear death are not those to discuss any great undertaking.”

So saying, Ma Teng rose to go sway. By this time his host’s doubts were set at rest. He felt that Ma Teng was loyal.

So Dong Cheng said, “Do not be angry any more. I will show you something.”

Whereupon he invited Ma Teng to go into the room where the others were seated and then showed him the decree. As Ma Teng read it, his hair stood on end; he ground his teeth and bit his lips till the blood came.

“When you move, remember the whole force of my army is ready to help,” said Ma Teng.

Dong Cheng introduced him to the other conspirators, and then the pledge was produced, and Ma Teng was told to sign his name. He did so, at the same time smearing the blood as a sign of the oath and saying, “I swear to die rather than betray this pledge!”

Pointing to the five he said, “We require ten for this business, and we can accomplish our design.”

“We cannot get many true and loyal people. One of the wrong sort will spoil all,” said Dong Cheng.

Ma Teng told them to bring in the list of officials. He read on till he came to the name Liu, of the imperial clan, when clapping his hands he cried, “Why not consult him?”

“Whom?” cried they altogether.

Ma Teng very slowly and deliberately spoke his name.

To a very trusty servant comes an Emperor’s decree,

And a scion of the ruling house can prove his loyalty.

If the readers turns to the next chapter, they will see whom Ma Teng talked about.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 20 : Cao Cao Organizes A Hunting Expedition In Xutian; Dong Cheng Receives A Secret Command In The Palace.
Chapter 20 : Cao Cao Organizes A Hunting Expedition In Xutian; Dong Cheng Receives A Secret Command In The Palace.
Cao Cao Organizes A Hunting Expedition In Xutian; Dong Cheng Receives A Secret Command In The Palace.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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