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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 23 : Mi Heng Slips His Garment And Rails At Traitors; Ji Ping Pledges To Kill The Prime Minister.

Chapter 23 : Mi Heng Slips His Garment And Rails At Traitors; Ji Ping Pledges To Kill The Prime Minister.

At the close of the last chapter the two unsuccessful leaders, Liu Dai and Wang Zhong, were in danger of death.

However, Kong Rong remonstrated with Cao Cao, saying, “You knew these two were no match for Liu Bei, and if you put them to death because they failed, you will lose the hearts of your people.”

Wherefore the death sentence was not executed, but they were deprived of rank and status.

Cao Cao next proposed to lead an army himself to attack Liu Bei, but Kong Rong advised, “The weather is too inclement. We must wait the return of spring. In the interval, we better use the time to arrange peace with Zhang Xiu and Liu Biao, before launching an expedition against Xuzhou.”

Wherefore Liu Ye was sent to Zhang Xiu and in due time reached Xiangyang. He first had an interview with Jia Xu, Zhang Xiu’s adviser, whereat he dwelt upon Cao Cao’s virtues so that Jia Xu was impressed. Jia Xu kept Liu Ye as a guest and undertook to smooth his way.

Soon after Liu Ye saw Zhang Xiu and spoke of the advantages of coming to terms with Cao Cao. While the discussion was in progress, a messenger from Yuan Shao was announced, and he was called in. He presented letters and, when they also proposed terms of peace, Jia Xu asked what their success had been lately against Cao Cao.

“The war had ceased for the moment on account of the winter,” replied the messenger. “As you, General, and Liu Biao are both well reputed officers of the state, I have been sent to request your help.”

Jia Xu laughed, “You can return to your master and say that as he could not brook rivalry of his brother, he certainly would be sorely put to it with that of all the officers of the state.”

The letter was torn into fragments before the messenger’s face, and he was angrily bidden be gone.

“But his master, Yuan Shao, is stronger than Cao Cao,” protested Zhang Xiu. “You have torn up his letter and are dismissing his man. What shall we say about such an insult should Yuan Shao come?”

“Better join hands with Cao Cao,” said Jia Xu.

“But there is still between us an unavenged enmity. We could not suffer each other.”

Jia Xu said, “There are three advantages in joining hands with Cao Cao. First, he has a command from the Emperor to restore peace. Second, as Yuan Shao is so strong, our little help to him will be despised, while we shall loom large and be well treated by Cao Cao. Third, Cao Cao is going to be Chief of the Feudal Lords, and he will ignore all private feuds in order to show his magnanimity to all the world. I hope, General, you will see these things clearly and hesitate no longer.”

Zhang Xiu, now convinced, became more reasonable and recalled Liu Ye, who, at the interview, extolled the many virtues of his master.

“If the Prime Minister had any thought of the old quarrel, he would hardly have sent me to make friendly engagements, would he?” said Liu Ye at the last.

So Zhang Xiu and his adviser proceeded to the capital where formal submission was made. At the interview Zhang Xiu bowed low at the steps, but Cao Cao, hastening forward, took him by the hand and raised him, saying, “Forget that little fault of mine, I pray you, General!”

Zhang Xiu received the title of General Who Possesses Prowess, and Jia Xu was appointed Counselor.

Cao Cao then directed his secretaries to draft letters inviting the support of Liu Biao.

Jia Xu said, “Liu Biao loves to have to do with famous people. If some famous scholar should be sent to him, he would submit forthwith.”

So Cao Cao inquired of Xun You who was the best person to go as a messenger, and he recommended Kong Rong. Cao Cao agreed and sent Xun You to speak with this officer.

Xun You went to Kong Rong, saying, “A scholar of reputation is required to aid as a messenger of state. Can you undertake this task?”

Kong Rong replied, “I have a certain friend, Mi Heng, whose talents are ten times mine. He ought to be constantly at the court of the Emperor and not merely be sent as a state messenger. I will recommend him to the Emperor.”

So Kong Rong wrote the following memorial:

“In ancient days, when the great waters were abroad, the emperor pondered over their regulation and he sought out people of talent from all directions. In old time, when Emperor Wu of the Hans desired to enlarge his borders, crowds of scholars responded to his call.

“Intelligent and holy, Your Majesty ascended the throne. You have fallen upon evil days, but have been diligent, modest, and untiring in your efforts. Now the great mountains have sent forth spirits, and people of genius appear.

“I, your humble servant, know of a certain simple scholar, Mi Heng by name, of Pingyuan, a young man of twenty-four. His moral character is excellent, his talents eminent. As a youth he took a high place in study and penetrated the most secret arcane of learning. What he glanced at he could repeat, what he heard once he never forgot. He is naturally high principled, and his thoughts are divine. Sang Hongyang’s mental calculations and Zhang Anshi’s memorial feats compared with Mi Heng’s powers are no longer wonderful. Loyal, sincere, correct, and straight-forward, his ambition is unsullied. He regards the good with trembling respect; he detests the evil with uncompromising hatred. Ren Zuo in unflinching candor, Shi Yu in severe rectitude, never surpassed him.

“Hundreds of hawks are not worth one osprey. If Mi Heng be given a court appointment, notable results must follow. Ready in debate, rapid in utterance, his overwhelming intelligence wells up in profusion. In the solution of doubts and the unraveling of difficulties he has no peer.

“In former days of Han, Jia Yi begged to be sent on trial to a vassal state for the control of the Xiongnu tribespeople; Zhong Jun offered to bring back the Prince of Nanyue to do homage to the emperor. The generous conduct of these youths has been much admired.

“In our day Lu Cui and Yan Xiang, remarkable for their talents, have been appointed among the secretaries. And Mi Heng is no less capable. Should he be got, then all possibilities may be realized: The dragon may curvet through the celestial streets and soar along the Milky Way; fame will extend to the poles of the universe and hang in the firmament with rainbow glory. He would be the glory of all the present Ministers and enhance the majesty of the Palace itself. The Music will acquire new beauties, and the Palace will contain an excellent treasure. People like Mi Heng are but few. As in the recitation of ‘Ji Chu Songs’ and the singing of ‘Yang E Poems’, the most skillful performers are sought; and such fleet horses as ‘Fei Tu Broncos’ and ‘Yao Niao Mustangs’ were looked for by the famous judges of horses, Wang Liang and Bo Le.

“So I, the humble one, dare not conceal this man. Your Majesty is careful in the selection of servants and should try him. Let him be summoned as he is, simply clad in his serge dress; and should he not appear worthy, then may I be punished for the fault of deception.”

The Emperor read the memorial and passed it to his Prime Minister, who duly summoned Mi Heng. He came, but after his formal salutations were over, he was left standing and not invited to sit down.

Looking up to heaven, Mi Heng sighed deeply, saying, “Wide as is the universe, it cannot produce the person.”

“Under my orders are scores of people whom the world call heroes. What do you mean by saying there is not the person,” said Cao Cao.

“I should be glad to hear who they are,” said Mi Heng.

“Xun Yu, Xun You, Guo Jia, and Cheng Yu are all people of profound skill and long views, superior to Xiao He and Chen Ping. Zhang Liao, Xu Chu, Li Dian, and Yue Jing are bravest of the brave, better than Cen Peng and Ma Wu. Lu Qian and Man Chong are my secretaries; Yu Jin and Xu Huang are my van leaders; Xiahou Dun is one of the world’s marvels, Cao Ren is the most successful leader of the age. Now say you there are not the people?”

“Sir, you are quite mistaken,” said Mi Heng with a smile. “I know all these things you call people. Xun Yu is qualified to pose at a funeral or ask after a sick man; Xun You is fit to be a tomb guardian; Cheng Yu might be sent to shut doors and bolt windows; and Guo Jia is a reciter of poems; Zhang Liao might beat drums and clang gongs; Xu Chu might lead cattle to pasture; Yue Jing would make a fair reader of elegy; Li Dian could carry dispatches and notices; Lu Qian would be a fair armorer; Man Chong could be sent to drink wine and eat brewers’ grains; Yu Jin might be of use to carry planks and build walls; Xu Huang might be employed to kill pigs and slay dogs; Xiahou Dun should be styled ‘Whole Body General,’ and Cao Ren should be called ‘Money-grubbing Governor.’ As for the remainder, they are mere clothes shelves, rice sacks, wine vases, flesh bags.”

“And what special gifts have you?” said Cao Cao angrily.

“I know everything in heaven above and the earth beneath. I am conversant with the Three Religions and the Nine Systems of Philosophy. I could make my prince the rival of Kings Yao and Shun, and I myself could compare in virtue with Confucius and Mencius. Can I discuss on even terms with common people?”

Now Zhang Liao was present, and he raised his sword to strike down the impudent visitor who spoke thus to his master, but Cao Cao said, “I want another drummer boy to play on occasions of congratulation in the court. I will confer this office upon him.”

Instead of indignantly declining this, Mi Heng accepted the position and went out.

“He spoke very impertinently,” said Zhang Liao. “Why did you not put him to death?”

“He has something of a reputation; empty, but people have heard of him and so, if I put him to death, they would say I was intolerant. As he thinks he has ability, I have made him a drummer to mortify him.”

Soon after Cao Cao instituted a banquet in the capital at which the guests were many. The drums were to be played, and the old drummers were ordered to wear new clothes. But the new drummer Mi Heng took his place with the other musicians clad in old and worn garments. The piece chosen was the “Tolling of Yuyang,” and from the earliest taps on the drum the effect was exquisite, profound as the notes from metal and stone. The performance stirred deeply the emotions of every guest; some even shed tears.

Seeing all eyes turned on the shabby performer, the attendants said, “Why did you not put on your new uniform?”

Mi Heng turned to them, slipped off his frayed and torn robe and stood there in full view, naked as he was born. The assembled guests covered their faces. Then the drummer composedly drew on his nether garments.

“Why do you behave so rudely at court?” said Cao Cao.

“To flout one’s prince and insult one’s superiors is the real rudeness,” cried Mi Heng. “I bare my natural body as an emblem of my purity.”

“So you are pure! And who is foul?”

“You do not distinguish between the wise and the foolish, which is to have foul vision. You have never read the Odes or the Histories, which is to have foul speech. You are deaf to honest words, which is to have foul ears. You are unable to reconcile antiquity with today, which is to be foul without. You cannot tolerate the vassals, which is to be foul within. You harbor thoughts of rebellion, which is to have a foul heart. I am one of the most famous scholars in the empire, and you make me a drummer boy, that is as Yang Huo belittling Confucius or Zang Cang vilifying Mencius. You desire to be chief and arbitrator of the great nobles, yet you treat me thus!”

Now Kong Rong who had recommended Mi Heng for employment was among the guests, and he feared for the life of his friend. Wherefore he tried to calm the storm.

“Mi Heng is only guilty of a misdemeanor,” said Kong Rong. “He is not a man likely to disturb your dreams like Fu Yue, Illustrious Sir.”

Pointing to Mi Heng, the Prime Minister said, “I will send you to Jingzhou as my messenger; and if Liu Biao surrenders to me, I will give you a post at court.”

But Mi Heng was unwilling to go. So Cao Cao bade two of his men prepare three horses, and they set Mi Heng on the middle one and dragged him along the road between them.

It is also related that a great number of officers of all ranks assembled at the East Gate to see the messenger start.

Xun Yu said, “When Mi Heng comes, we will not rise to salute him.”

So when Mi Heng came, dismounted, and entered the waiting room, they all sat stiff and silent. Mi Heng uttered a loud cry.

“What is that for?” said Xun Yu.

“Should not one cry out when one enters a coffin?” said Mi Heng.

“We may be corpses,” shouted they altogether, “but you are a wandering headless ghost.”

“I am a minister of Han and not a partisan of Cao Cao’s,” cried Mi Heng. “You cannot say I have no head.”

They were angry enough to kill him, but Xun Yu checked them, saying, “He is a paltry fellow. It is not worth soiling your blades with his blood.”

“I am paltry, and yet I have the soul of a man, and you are mere worms,” said Mi Heng.

They went their ways, all very angry. Mi Heng went on his journey and presently reached Jingzhou, where he saw Liu Biao. After that, under pretense of extolling Liu Biao’s virtue, he lampooned Liu Biao who was annoyed and sent him to Jiangxia to see Huang Zu.

“Why did you not put the fellow to death for lampooning you?” said one to Liu Biao.

“You see he shamed Cao Cao, but Cao Cao did not kill him as Cao Cao feared to lose popular favor. So Cao Cao sent him to me, thinking to borrow my hand to slay him and so suffer the loss of my good name. I have sent him on to Huang Zu to let Cao Cao see that I understood.”

Liu Biao’s clever caution met with general praise. At that time a messenger from Yuan Shao was also there with certain proposals for an alliance, and it was necessary to decide which aide to espouse. All the advisers came together to consider the question.

Then Commander Han Song said, “As you have now two offers, you can please yourself and choose your own way to destroy your enemies; for if one refuses, you can follow the other. Now Cao Cao is an able general and has many capable officers in his train. It looks as though he may destroy Yuan Shao and then move his armies across the river. I fear, my lord, you would be unable then to withstand him. That being so, it would be wise to support Cao Cao, who will treat you with respect.”

Liu Biao replied, “You go to the capital and see how things tend. That will help me to decide.”

Han Song said, “The positions of master and servant are clearly defined. Now I am your man prepared to go all lengths for you and obey you to the last, whether in serving the Emperor or in following Cao Cao. But lest there should be any doubt you must remember that if the Emperor gives me any office, then I shall become his servant and shall not be ready to face death for you.”

“You go and find out what you can. I have ideas in my mind.”

So Han Song took his leave and went to the capital, where he saw Cao Cao. Cao Cao gave him rank and made him Governor of Lingling.

Adviser Xun Yu remonstrated, saying, “This man came to spy out how things were moving. He has done nothing to deserve reward, and yet you give him an office like this. There were no such suspicious rumors connected with poor Mi Heng, and yet you sent him off and would never test his power.”

“Mi Heng shamed me too deeply before all the world. I am going to borrow Liu Biao’s hand to remove him. And you need say no more,” said Cao Cao.

Then Cao Cao sent Han Song back to his former master to tell him what had happened. Han Song came and was full of praise for the virtues of the court and was keen on persuading Liu Biao to espouse that side.

Then Liu Biao suddenly turned angry, charged him with treachery, put him in prison, and threatened him with death.

“You turn your back on me,” cried Han Song. “I did not betray you.”

Kuai Liang remarked, “Han Song had foretold this possibility before he left. It is only what he expected.”

Liu Biao, who was just and reasonable, went no further.

Presently came the news that Mi Heng had been put to death by Huang Zu on account of a quarrel begun over the wine cups. Both being worse for liquor they had begun to discuss the worth of people.

“You were in Xuchang,” said Huang Zu. “Who was there of worth?”

“The big boy was Kong Rong and the little one Yang Xiu. There was no one else to count.”

“What am I like?” said Huang Zu.

“You are like a god in a temple: You sit still and receive sacrifice, but the lack of intelligence is pitiful.”

“Do you regard me as a mere image?” cried Huang Zu, angrily.

So Huang Zu put the impudent speaker to death. Even at the very point of death, Mi Heng never ceased his railing and abuse.

“Alas!” sighed Liu Biao when he heard Mi Heng’s fate. Then Liu Biao had the victim honorably interred near Yingwu, on Parrot Island.

And a later poet wrote of Mi Heng:

Huang Zu could brook no rival; at his word

Mi Heng met death, beneath the cruel sword.

His grave on Parrot Isle may yet be seen,

The river flowing past it, coldly green.

Cao Cao heard of the young man’s death with pleasure.

“The putrid bookworm has just cut himself up with his own sharp tongue,” said he.

As there was no sign of Liu Biao coming to join him, Cao Cao began to think of coercion. Xun Yu dissuaded him from this course.

Said he, “Yuan Shao is not subjugated; Liu Bei is not destroyed. To attack Liu Biao would be to neglect the vital to care for the immaterial. Destroy the two chief enemies first, and the Han River is yours at one blow.”

And Cao Cao took the advice.

After the departure of Liu Bei, Dong Cheng and his fellow conspirators did nothing else day or night but try to evolve plans for the destruction of Cao Cao. But they could see no chance to attack. At the new year audience Cao Cao was odiously arrogant and overweening, and the chief conspirator’s disgust was so intense that he fell ill.

Hearing of the State Uncle’s indisposition, the Emperor sent the Court Physician to see him. The Court Physician at this time was a native of Luoyang, named Ji Ping. A very famous physician, Ji Ping devoted himself wholly to the treatment of his court patient. Living in Dong Cheng’s palace and seeing Dong Cheng at all times, Ji Ping soon found that some secret grief was sorely troubling him. But Ji Ping dared not ask questions.

One evening of the full moon festival, when the physician was just taking his leave, Dong Cheng kept him, and the two men had supper together. They eat talking for some time, and Dong Cheng by and by dropped off to sleep dressed as he was.

Presently Wang Zifu and the others were announced. As they were coming in, Wang Zifu cried, “Our business is settled!”

“I should be glad to hear how,” said Dong Cheng.

“Liu Biao has joined Yuan Shao, and five hundred thousand troops in fifty legions are on their way here by different routes. More than this, Ma Teng and Han Sui are coming from the northwest with seven hundred thousand Xiliang troops. Cao Cao has moved every soldier outside Xuchang to meet the combined armies. There is a great banquet in his palace tonight. If we get together our young men and servants, we can muster more than a thousand, and we can surround the palace, while Cao Cao is at the banquet, and finish him off. We must not miss this.”

Dong Cheng was more than delighted. He called his servants and armed them, put on his own armor and mounted his horse. The conspirators met, as they had arranged, just at the inner gate of the Prime Minister’s palace. It was the first watch. The small army marched straight in, Dong Cheng leading with his treasured sword drawn. His intended victim was at table in one of the private rooms. Dong Cheng rushed in, crying, “Cao Cao, you rebel, stay!” and dashed at Cao Cao who fell at the first blow.

And just then he woke up and found it was all a dream, but his mouth was still full of curses.

“Do you really wish to destroy Cao Cao?” said Ji Ping, going forward to his half awakened patient.

This brought Dong Cheng to his senses. He stopped, terror stricken, and made no reply.

“Do not be frightened, O Uncle,” said the doctor. “Although I am a physician, I am also a man, and I never forget my emperor. You have seemed sad for many days, but I have never ventured to ask the reason. Now you have shown it in your dream, and I know your real feelings. If I can be of any use, I will help. Nothing can daunt me.”

Dong Cheng covered his face and wept.

“I fear you may not be true to me,” cried he.

Ji Ping at once bit off a finger as a pledge of his faith. And then his host and patient brought forth the decree he had received in the girdle.

“I am afraid our schemes will come to nought,” said Dong Cheng. “Liu Bei and Ma Teng are gone, and there is nothing we can do. That was the real reason I fell ill.”

“It is not worth troubling you gentlemen with, for Cao Cao’s life lies in these hands of mine,” said Ji Ping.

“How can that be?”

“Because he is often ill with deep-seated pain in his head. When this comes on, he sends for me. When next he calls me, I only have to give him one dose and he will certainly die. We do not want any weapons.”

“If only you could do it! You would be the savior of the dynasty. It depends upon you.”

Then Ji Ping went away leaving his late patient a happy man. Dong Cheng strolled into the garden and there he saw one of his servants, Quin Quington, whispering with one of the concubines, Yun Ying, in a dark corner. This annoyed him, and he called his attendants to seize them. He would have put them to death but for the intervention of his wife. At her request he spared their lives, but both were beaten forty canes, and the lad was thrown into a dungeon. Sulky at this treatment, Quin Quington broke out of the cell in the night, climbed over the wall, and went straight to Cao Cao’s palace, where he betrayed the conspiracy.

Cao Cao at once had him taken into a secret chamber and questioned him.

Quin Quington gave the names of the conspirators, saying, “Wang Zifu, Wu Zilan, Chong Ji, Wu Shi, Ma Teng, and my master have been meeting secretly. My master has a roll of white silk, with writing on it, but I do not know what it means. Yesterday, Ji Ping bit off one of his fingers as a pledge of fidelity. I saw that.”

Quin Quington was kept in a secret part of the palace, while his late master, Dong Cheng, only knowing that he had run away, took no special means to find him.

Soon after this Cao Cao feigned a headache and sent for Ji Ping as usual.

“The rebel is done for,” thought Ji Ping, and he made a secret package of poison which he took with him to the palace of the Prime Minister. He found Cao Cao in bed. The patient bade the doctor prepare a potion for him.

“One draught will cure this disease,” said Ji Ping.

He bade them bring him a pot, and he prepared the potion in the room. When it had simmered for some time and was half finished, the poison was added, and soon after the physician presented the draught. Cao Cao, knowing it was poisoned, made excuses and would not swallow it.

“You should take it hot,” said the doctor. “Then there will be a gentle perspiration, and you will be better.”

“You are a scholar,” said Cao Cao, sitting up, “and know what is the correct thing to do. When the master is ill and takes drugs, the attendant first tastes them; when a man is ill, his son first tastes the medicine. You are my confidant and should drink first. Then I will swallow the remainder.”

“Medicine is to treat disease. What is the use of anyone’s tasting it?” said Ji Ping.

But he guessed now the conspiracy had been discovered, so he dashed forward, seized Cao Cao by the ear, and tried to pour the potion down his throat. Cao Cao pushed it away, and it spilt. The bricks upon which it fell were split asunder. Before Cao Cao could speak, his servants had already seized the assailant.

Said Cao Cao, “I am not ill. I only wanted to test you. So you really thought to poison me!”

He sent for a score of sturdy gaolers who carried off the prisoner to the inner apartments to be interrogated. Cao Cao took his seat in a pavilion, and the hapless physician, tightly bound, was thrown to the ground before him. The prisoner maintained a bold front.

Cao Cao said, “I thought you were a physician. How dared you try to poison me? Someone incited you to this crime. If you tell me, I will pardon you.”

“You are a rebel. You flout your Prince and injure your betters. The whole empire wishes to kill you. Do you think I am the only one?”

Cao Cao again and again pressed the prisoner to tell what he knew, but he only replied that no one had sent him and it was his own desire.

“I have failed, and I can but die,” added Ji Ping.

Cao Cao angrily bade the gaolers give him a severe beating, and they dogged him for two watches. His skin hung in tatters, the flesh was battered, and the blood from his wounds ran down the steps. Then fearing he might die and his evidence be lost, Cao Cao bade them cease and remove him. They took him off to a quiet place where he might recover somewhat.

Having issued orders to prepare a banquet for next day, Cao Cao invited all the courtiers thereto. Dong Cheng was the only one who excused himself, saying he was unwell. The other conspirators dared not stay away as they felt they would be suspected.

Tables were laid in the private apartments, and after several courses the host said, “There is not much to amuse us today, but I have a man to show you that will sober you.”

“Bring him in!” Cao Cao said, turning to the gaolers, and the hapless Ji Ping appeared, securely fastened in a wooden collar. He was placed where all could see him.

“You officials do not know that this man is connected with a gang of evil doers who desire to overturn the government and even injure me. However, Heaven has defeated their plans, but I desire that you should hear his evidence.”

Then Cao Cao ordered the gaolers to beat their prisoner. They did so till Ji Ping lay unconscious, when they revived him by spraying water over his face. As soon as he came to, he glared at his oppressor and ground his teeth.

“Cao Cao, you rebel! What are you waiting for? Why not kill me?” cried Ji Ping.

Cao Cao replied, “The conspirators were only six at first; you made the seventh. Is that true?”

Here the prisoner broke in with more abuse, while Wang Zifu and the other three conspirators exchanged glances, looking as though they were sitting on a rug full of needles. Cao Cao continued his torture of the prisoner, beating him into unconsciousness and reviving him with cold water, the victim disdaining to ask mercy. Finally Cao Cao realized he would incriminate none of his accomplices, and so he told the gaolers to remove Ji Ping.

At the close of the banquet, when the guests were dispersing, four of them, the four conspirators, were invited to remain behind to supper. They were terrified so that their souls seemed no longer to inhabit their bodies, but there was no saying nay to the invitation.

Presently Cao Cao said, “Still there is something I want to speak about, so I have asked you to stay for a time longer. I do not know what you four have been arranging with Dong Cheng.”

“Nothing at all,” said Wang Zifu.

“And what is written on the white silk?” asked Cao Cao.

They all said they knew nothing about it.

Then Cao Cao ordered the runaway servant to be brought in. As soon as Quin Quington came, Wang Zifu said, “Well, what have you seen and where?”

Quin Quington replied, “You five very carefully chose retired places to talk in, and you secretly signed a white roll. You cannot deny that.”

Wang Zifu replied, “This miserable creature was punished for misbehavior with one of Uncle Dong Cheng’s maids, and now because of that he slanders his master. You must not listen to him.”

“Ji Ping tried to pour poison down my throat. Who told him to do that if it was not Dong Cheng?” said Cao Cao.

They all said they knew nothing about who it was.

“So far,” said Cao Cao, “matters are only beginning, and there is a chance of forgiveness. But if the thing grows, it will be difficult not to take notice of it.”

The whole four vigorously denied that any plot existed. However Cao Cao called up his henchmen, and the four men were put into confinement.

Next day Cao Cao with a large following went to the State Uncle’s palace to ask after his health.

Dong Cheng came out to receive his visitor, who at once said, “Why did you not come last night?”

“I am not quite well yet and have to be very careful about going out,” replied Dong Cheng.

“One might say you were suffering from national sorrow, eh?” said Cao Cao.

Dong Cheng started. Cao Cao continued, “Have you heard of the Ji Ping affair?”

“No. What is it?”

Cao Cao smiled coldly, saying, “How can it be you do not know?”

He turned to his attendants and told them to bring in the prisoner, while he went on talking to his host about national illness.

Dong Cheng was much put about and knew not what to do. Soon the gaolers led in the physician to the steps of the hall. At once the bound man began to rail at Cao Cao as rebel and traitor.

“This man,” said Cao Cao, pointing to Ji Ping, “has implicated Wang Zifu and three others, all of whom are now under arrest. There is one more whom I have not caught yet.”

“Who sent you to poison me?” continued Cao Cao, turning toward the physician. “Quick, tell me!”

“Heaven sent me to slay a traitor!”

Cao Cao angrily ordered them to beat Ji Ping again, but there was no part of his body that could be beaten. Dong Cheng sat looking at him, his heart feeling as if transfixed with a dagger.

“You were born with ten fingers. How is it you have now only nine?”

Ji Ping replied, “I bit off one as a pledge when I swore to slay a traitor.”

Cao Cao told them to bring a knife, and they lopped off his other nine fingers.

“Now they are all off. That will teach you to make pledges.”

“Still I have a mouth that can swallow a traitor and a tongue that can curse him,” said Ji Ping.

Cao Cao told them to cut out his tongue.

Ji Ping said, “Do not. I cannot endure any more punishment, I shall have to speak out. Loosen my bonds.”

“Loose them. There is no reason why not,” said Cao Cao.

They loosed him. As soon as he was free, Ji Ping stood up, turned his face toward the Emperor’s palace and bowed, saying, “It is Heaven’s will that thy servant has been unable to remove the evil.”

Then he turned and smashed his head into the steps and died.

His body was quartered and exposed. This happened in the first month of the fifth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 200), and a certain historian wrote a poem:

There lived in Han a simple physician.

No warrior, yet brave

Enough to risk his very life

His Emperor to save.

Alas! He failed; but lasting fame

Is his; he feared not death;

He cursed the traitorous Prime Minister

Unto his latest breath.

Seeing his victim had passed beyond the realm of punishment, Cao Cao had Quin Quington led in.

“Do you know this man, Uncle?”

“Yes,” cried Dong Cheng. “So the runaway servant is here. He ought to be put to death!”

“He just told me of your treachery. He is my witness,” said Cao Cao. “Who would dare kill him?”

“How can you, the First Minister of State, heed the unsupported tale of an absconding servant?”

“But I have Wang Zifu and the others in prison,” said Cao Cao. “And how can you rebut their evidence?”

He then called in the remainder of his followers and ordered them to search Dong Cheng’s bedroom. They did so and found the decree that had been given him in the girdle and the pledge signed by the conspirators.

“You mean rat!” cried Cao Cao. “You dared do this?”

He gave orders to arrest the whole household without exception. Then he returned to his palace with the incriminating documents and called all his advisers together to discuss the dethronement of the Emperor and the setting up of a successor.

Many decrees, blood written, have issued, accomplishing nothing,

One inscribed pledge was fraught with mountains of sorrow.

The reader who wishes to how the fate of the Emperor must read the next chapter.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 23 : Mi Heng Slips His Garment And Rails At Traitors; Ji Ping Pledges To Kill The Prime Minister.
Chapter 23 : Mi Heng Slips His Garment And Rails At Traitors; Ji Ping Pledges To Kill The Prime Minister.
Mi Heng Slips His Garment And Rails At Traitors; Ji Ping Pledges To Kill The Prime Minister.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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