Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 79


Brother Oppressing Brother: Cao Zhi Composes Poems;
Nephew Harming Uncle: Liu Feng Receives Punishment.

All eyes turned toward the speaker, High Minister Jia Kui, and the young prince commanded him to undertake the mission. So he went out of the city and sought to speak with Cao Zhang. Cao Zhang came quickly to the point.

“Who has the late Prince’s seal?” asked he.

Jia Kui replied seriously, “There is an eldest son to a house, and an heir-apparent to a state. Such a question from your lordship is unbecoming.”

Cao Zhang held his peace, and the two proceeded into the city to the gates of the Palace. There Jia Kui suddenly asked him, “You come as a mourner or as a rival claimant?”

“I am come as a mourner. I never had any ulterior motive.”

“That being so. Why bring in your soldiers?”

Whereupon Cao Zhang ordered his escort to retire, and entered the city alone. When the Cao brothers met, they fell into each other’s arms and wept. Then Cao Zhang yielded command of all his army, and he was directed to go back to Yanling and guard it. He obediently withdrew.

Cao Pi, being now firmly established, changed the name of the period of his rule to the Prolonged Wealth Era, the First Year (AD 220). He made Jia Xu Grand Commander, Hua Xin Prime Minister, and Wang Lang High Minister, and made many promotions. To the late Prince, he gave the posthumous title of the King of Great Might, and buried him in Gaoling.

To the superintendence of the building of King Cao’s tomb, Cao Pi nominated Yu Jin, but with malevolent intent. For when Yu Jin reached his post, he found the walls of the rooms decorated with chalk sketches depicting the drowning of the seven armies and the capture of himself by Guan Yu. Guan Yu was looking very dignified and severe. Pang De was refusing to bow to the victor, while Yu Jin himself was lying in the dust pleading for his life.

Cao Pi had chosen this method of putting Yu Jin to open shame, because Yu Jin had not preferred death to the dishonor of capture, and had sent an artist on purpose to depict the shameful scenes. When Yu Jin saw them, shame and rage alternately took possession of him till he fell ill. Soon after he died.

[hip, hip, hip]
War waged he for many a year,
Yet fell prey to craven fear.
None can know another’s heart,
Drawing tigers, with bones start.
[yip, yip, yip]

Soon after the accession, Hua Xin memorialized the Prince of Wei, saying, “The Lord of Yanling has cut himself loose from his army and gone quietly to his post, but your other two brothers did not attend the funeral of their father. Their conduct should be inquired into and punished.”

Cao Pi took up the suggestion and sent commissioners to each.

They who were sent to the younger quickly returned to report: “Cao Xiong, the Lord of Xiaohuai, had hanged himself rather than suffer for his fault.”

Cao Pi ordered honorable burial for Cao Xiong and gave him the posthumous title of Prince of Xiaohuai.

Soon after, the envoy to Linzi returned to report: “The Lord of Linzi, Cao Zhi, is spending his time in dissipation, his especial boon companions being two brothers named Ding Yi and Ding Yin. They were very rude. When we presented ourselves, Cao Zhi sat bolt upright, but would not say a word. Ding Yi used insulting words, saying, ‘King Cao intended our lord to succeed, but was turned there from by the slanderous tongues of certain among you. As soon as he is dead, your master begins to think of punishment for his own flesh and blood.’

“The other brother Ding Yin said, ‘In intellect our lord leads the age, and he ought to have been heir to his father. Now, not only does he not succeed, but he is treated in this harsh way by a lot of courtiers of your sort, ignorant of what genius means.’

“And then Cao Zhi, in a fit of anger, had ordered his lictors to beat the chief envoy and turn him out.”

This treatment of his messenger annoyed Cao Pi greatly, and he dispatched a force of three thousand Imperial Tiger Guards under Xu Chu to arrest his brother and all his immediate surroundings. When Xu Chu arrived Linzi, the gate commander stopped him. Xu Chu slew that general and entered the city, unchallenged. He went to the residence and found Cao Zhi and all his companions dead drunk. So he bound them, put them into carts, and sent them to court in Yejun. He also arrested all the officers of the palace.

Cao Pi’s first order was to put to death Ding Yi and Ding Yin. The two brothers were not wholly base; they had a reputation for learning, and many were sorry for them.

Cao Pi’s mother, Lady Bian, was alarmed at the severity of the new rule, and the suicide of her youngest son wounded her deeply. When she heard that Cao Zhi had been arrested and his comrades put to death, she left her palace and went to see her eldest son. As soon as he saw her, the Prince hastened to meet her. She began to weep.

“Your brother has always had that weakness for wine, but we let him go his way out of consideration for his undoubted ability. I hope you will not forget he is your brother and that I bore you both. Spare his life that I may close my eyes in peace when I set out for the deep springs.”

“I also admire his ability, Mother, and have no intention to hurt him. But I would reform him. Have no anxiety as to his fate,” said Cao Pi.

So the mother was comforted and withdrew. The Prince then went to a private room and bade them call his brother.

Said Hua Xin, “Surely the Princess-Mother has just been interceding for your brother. Is it not so?”

“It is so,” replied the Prince.

“Then let me say that Cao Zhi is too clever to be content to remain in a humble station. If you do not remove him, he will do you harm.”

“I must obey my mother’s command.”

“People say your brother simply talks in literature. I do not believe it myself, but he might be put to the test. If he bears a false reputation, you can slay him; if what they say is true, then degrade him, lest the scholars of the land should babble.”

Soon Cao Zhi came, and in a state of great trepidation bowed low before his elder brother, confessing his fault.

The Prince addressed him, saying, “Though we are brothers, yet the proper relation between us of prince and minister must not be overlooked. Why then did you behave indecorously? While the late Prince lived, you made a boast of your literary powers, but I am disposed to think you may have made use of another’s pen. Now I require you to compose a poem within the time taken to walk seven paces, and I will spare your life if you succeed. If you fail, then I shall punish you with rigor.”

“Will you suggest a theme?” asked Cao Zhi.

Now there was hanging in the hall a black and white sketch of two bulls that had been fighting at the foot of a wall, and one of them had just fallen dead into a well. Cao Pi pointed to the sketch and said, “Take that as the subject. But you are forbidden to use the words ‘two bulls, one bull, fighting, wall’s foot, falling, well, and dead’.”

Cao Zhi took seven paces and then recited this poem:

[hip, hip, hip]
“Two butcher’s victims lowing walked along,
Each head bore curving bones, a sturdy pair,
They met just by a hillock, both were strong,
Each would avoid a pit newly dug there.
They fought unequal battle, for at length
One lay below a gory mass, inert.
It was not that they were of unequal strength
Though wrathful both, one did not strength exert.”
[yip, yip, yip]

This exhibition of skill amazed the Prince and the whole court. Cao Pi thought he would use another test, so he bade his brother improvise on the theme of their fraternal relationship, the words “brotherhood” or “brother” being barred. Without seeming to reflect, Cao Zhi rattled off this rhyme:

[hip, hip, hip]
“They were boiling beans on a beanstalk fire;
Came a plaintive voice from the pot,
‘O why, since we sprang from the selfsame root,
Should you kill me with anger hot?'”
[yip, yip, yip]

The allusion in these verses to the cruel treatment of one member of a family by another was not lost upon Cao Pi, and he dropped a few silent tears.

The mother of both men came out at this moment from her abiding place and said, “Should the elder brother thus oppress the younger?”

The Prince jumped from his seat, saying, “My mother, the laws of the state cannot be nullified.”

Cao Zhi was degraded to the rank of Lord of Anxiang. He accepted the decision without a murmur and at once left his brother’s court by horse.

Cao Pi’s accession was the signal for a set of new laws and new commands. His behavior toward Emperor Xian was more intemperate than his father’s had ever been.

The stories of his harshness reached Chengdu and almost frightened Liu Bei, who summoned his counselors to discuss what he should do.

Said he, “Since the death of Cao Cao and the accession of his son, the position of the Emperor has changed for the worse. Sun Quan acknowledges the lordship of Wei, and its influence is becoming too great. I am disposed to destroy Sun Quan in revenge for the death of my brother. That done. I will proceed to the Capital District and purge the whole land of rebellion. What think you?”

Then Liao Hua stood out from the ranks of officers and threw himself upon the earth, saying with tears, “Liu Feng and Meng Da were the true cause of the death of your brother and his adopted son. Both these renegades deserve death.”

Liu Bei was of the same opinion and was going to send and arrest them forthwith, but here Zhuge Liang intervened and gave wiser advice.

“That is not the way. Go slowly or you may stir up strife. Promote these two and separate them. After that you may arrest.”

The Prince of Hanzhong saw the prudence of this procedure and stayed his hand. He raised Liu Feng to the Governorship of Mianzhu, and so separated the two delinquents.

Now Peng Yang and Meng Da were old friends. Hearing what was afoot, the former hastened home and wrote warning his friend. The letter was confided to a trusty messenger to bear to Meng Da. The messenger was caught as he went out of the city and carried before Ma Chao, who thus got wind of the business. He then went to Peng Yang’s house, where, nothing being suspected, he was received kindly and wine was brought in. The two drank for some time.

When Ma Chao thought his host sufficiently off his guard, he said, “The Prince of Hanzhong used to look on you with great favor. Why does he do so no longer?”

The host began to rave against his master.

“The obstinate old leather-belly! But I will find some way to pay him out.”

In order to see to what lengths he would go, Ma Chao led him on, saying, “Truth to tell, I have long hated the man too.”

“Then you join Meng Da and attack, while I will win over the people of East and West River Lands. That will make it easy enough,” said Peng Yang.

“What you propose is very feasible, but we will talk it over again tomorrow,” said Ma Chao, and took leave.

Taking with him the captured man and the letter he carried, Ma Chao then proceeded to see the Prince, to whom he related the whole story. Liu Bei was very angry and at once had the intended traitor arrested and put in prison, where he was examined under torture to get at full details.

While Peng Yang lay in prison, bitterly but vainly repentant, Liu Bei consulted his adviser.

“That fellow Peng Yang meant to turn traitor. What shall I do with him?”

“The fellow is something of a scholar, but irresponsible,” replied Zhuge Liang. “He is too dangerous to be left alive.”

Thereupon orders were given that he should be allowed to commit suicide in gaol. The news that Peng Yang had been made away frightened his sympathizer and friend, Meng Da, and put him in a quandary. Further, Liu Feng’s promotion and transfer to Mianzhu arrived, and it frightened him still more. So he sought advice from two friends and commanders, the brothers Shen Dan and Shen Yi, who lived in Shangyong.

“My friend Peng Yang and I did much for the Prince of Hanzhong. But now Peng Yang is dead, and I am forgotten. More than that, the Prince wishes to put me to death. What can I do?” said Meng Da.

Shen Dan replied, “I think I can find a plan that will secure your safety.”

“What is it?” asked Meng Da, feeling happier.

“Desertion. My brother Shen Yi and I have long desired to go over to Wei. You just write the Prince of Hanzhong a memorial resigning your service and betake yourself to the Prince of Wei, who will certainly employ you in some honorable way. Then we two will follow.”

Meng Da saw that this was his best course, so he wrote a memorandum, which he gave to the messenger who had brought the recent dispatches to take back with him. That night Meng Da left his post and went to Wei.

The messenger returned to Chengdu, handed in Meng Da’s memorial, and told the story of his desertion. The Prince was angry. He tore open the letter and read:

[e] Yi Yin was was helper and prime minister of King Tang, the founder of Shang Dynasty. After King Tang’s death, Yi Yin served his sons and grandson. …..
[e] Lu Wang was a master strategist, founding minister of Zhou Dynasty, counselor to King Wen. Before joining King Wen, Lu Wang had been a fisher, who mediated on the river bank on political events. …..

[e] Duke Wen of Jin (reigned 636-628 BC) was ruler of the western state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn period. He and his successors made Jin a dominant state for nearly 200 years. …..

[e] Duke Huan of Qi (reigned BC 685-643), in the name of serving the Zhou emperor, became the leader of a league of small states in northeast China during the Spring and Autumn period. His prime minister was the famed Guan Zhong. …..

[e] Wu was the South Land, while Chu was the area of Jingzhou.

[e] Fan Li was adviser of Gou Jian, the king of Yue. Fan Li helped Gou Jian plot the “Beauty Ruse” in order to destroy Fu Zha, the king of Wu. After Yue triumphed over Wu, Fan Li resigned from politics. His collegue Wen Zhong stayed to serve Gou Jian, but Wen Zhong got executed due to slanders. …..

[e] Zi Fan was uncle to Duke Wen of Jin. In his early days, Duke Wen spent nineteen years in exile, and Zi Fan accompanied him. When Duke Wen set to return to Jin, Zi Fan took leave, believing that Duke Wen would remember only Zi Fan’s faults.

[e] Shen Sheng was the eldest son of Duke Xiao of Jin in the Spring and Autumn period. But Duke Xiao wanted the son of his favorite concubine, Li Ji, to succeed him as the ruler of Jin. So Duke Xiao falsely accused Shen Sheng of trying to murder him. Shen Sheng committed suidcide rather than flee. …..

[e] Wu Zixu was a native of Chu but sought refuge in Wu, and achieved great accomplishments for Wu. However, the younger king of Wu later believed rumors spread by some people, and ordered Wu Zixu to be put to death. …..

[e] Meng Tian a commander of the First Emperor, engineer of the Great Wall, inventor of the brush. He was executed, together with the First Emperor’s eldest son, by Zhao Gao, who supported the second son for succession. …..

[e] Yue Yi was a great general of Yan. Yue Yi helped Yan overcome Qi, which was a dominant state during the Warring States period. …..

“In the humble opinion of thy servant, O Prince, you have set out to accomplish a task comparable with that of Yi Yin*, and to walk in the meritorious footsteps of Lu Wang* in building the fame of Dukes Wen* and Huan*. When the great design was rough-hewn, you had the support of the lands of the states of Wu* and Chu*, wherefore many people of ability incontinently joined you. Since I entered your service, I have committed many faults; and if I recognize them, how much more do you see them! Now, O Prince, you are surrounded by famous people, while I, useless as a helper at home and inept as a leader abroad, should be shamed were I to take a place among them.

“It is well known that when Fan Li* saw certain eventualities, he went sailing on the lakes, and Zi Fan* acknowledged his faults and stayed by the rivers. Inasmuch as one cannot take means of safeguarding one’s self at the critical and dangerous moment, I desire—as is my duty—to go away as I came, untainted. Moreover, I am stupid and without use or merit, merely born in these days as the sport of circumstances.

“In the days of old, Shen Sheng*, though perfectly filial, incurred the suspicions of his father and died; Wu Zixu*, though perfectly loyal, was put to death. Meng Tian*, though he extended the borders of Qin, suffered the extreme penalty; and Yue Yi*, though he destroyed the might of Qi, was the victim of calumny. Whenever I have read of these men, I have been moved to tears, and now I am in like case and the more mortified.

“Lately Jingzhou was overwhelmed, and I, an officer of rank, failed in my duty, not one in a hundred behaving as I should. Only I return Fangling and Shangyong and seek service abroad. Now I desire you, O Prince, graciously to understand, to sympathize with thy servant and to condone the step he is about to take. Really I am but a mean man, incapable of great deeds. I know what I am doing, and I dare to say it is no small fault.

“They say that dissolution of bonds should not occasion recrimination, and the dismissed servant should take leave without heart-burning. I have taken your orders many times, and now, O Prince, you must act yourself. I write this with extreme trepidation.”

But the reading gave rise to great anger in the breast of the Prince.

“The unmerited fellow!” said he. “He turns traitor and dares to insult me by sending a letter of farewell.”

Liu Bei was just giving orders to send a force to seize the deserter, when Zhuge Liang interposed, saying, “You had better send Liu Feng to capture him and let the two tigers worry each other to weakness. Whether Liu Feng succeeds or fails, he will have to come to the capital, and you can kill him. Thus will you cut off two evils.”

Liu Bei took his advice. Orders were sent to Mianzhu, and Liu Feng obediently led out his troops.

Now Meng Da arrived when Cao Pi was holding a great council. When the attendants told him that General Meng Da of Shu had come, Cao Pi summoned him to enter.

Said Cao Pi to him, “Is this a sincere surrender?”

Meng Da replied, “I was in fear of death for not having relieved Guan Yu. That is my only reason for coming.”

However, Cao Pi did not trust him. Then they reported that Liu Feng was coming to arrest him, with a large army, and had attacked Xiangyang and was challenging Meng Da to battle.

Cao Pi said, “You seem to be true. Go then to Xiangyang and take Liu Feng. If you bring me his head, I shall no longer doubt.”

Meng Da replied, “I will convince him by argument. No soldiers will be needed. I will bring him to surrender too.”

So Meng Da was made General Who Establishes Strong Arms, Lord of Pingyang, and Governor of Xincheng, and sent to guard Xiangyang and Fancheng.

Now there were two generals there already, Xiahou Shang and Xu Huang, who engaged in reducing the surrounding territories. Meng Da arrived, met his two colleagues, and was told that Liu Feng was fifteen miles from the city. Whereupon Meng Da wrote him a letter urging him to surrender. But Liu Feng was in no mood to surrender. Instead he tore up the letter and put the messenger to death.

“The renegade has already made me offend against my duty to my uncle, and now would sever me from my father so that I shall be reproached as disloyal and unfilial,” said Liu Feng.

Meng Da went out with his army to give battle. Liu Feng rode to the front, pointed with his sword at his opponent, and railed against him.

“Death is very near you!” replied Meng Da. “Yet you continue obstinately in the way of foolishness and will not understand.”

Liu Feng rode out flourishing his sword. He engaged Meng Da, who ran away before the conflict had well begun. Liu Feng pursued hotly to seven miles. Then he fell into an ambush and found himself attacked on two sides by Xiahou Shang and Xu Huang. Also Meng Da returned to the attack. Liu Feng was forced to fly. He made straight for Shangyong, pursued all the way. When he reached the city and hailed the gate, he was met by a volley of arrows.

“I have surrendered to Wei!” cried Shen Dan from the city tower.

Liu Feng got furious and prepared to attack the wall, but the army of Wei was close behind, and having no resting place, he set off for Fangling. He arrived there to find the banners of Wei set out along the walls. Then he saw Shen Yi wave a signal from the tower, and at once there appeared from the shelter of the wall a body of soldiers, and the leading banner displayed General of the Right Army Xu Huang.

Liu Feng was worsted by the ambush. Then he made for home. But he was pursued, and only a hundred riders of his remained to him when he regained Chengdu.

Seeking an interview with his father, he found but scant sympathy.

In response to his petition, made prostrate, and weeping, Liu Bei said, “Shameful son! How are you come to see me at all?”

“My uncle’s mishap was not due to my refusal of help, but because Meng Da thwarted me.”

“You eat as a man, you dress as a man; but you have no more the instincts of a man than an image of clay or wood. What mean you by saying another wretch thwarted you?”

Liu Bei bade the executioners expel Liu Feng and put him to death. But the Prince felt some compunction later when he heard of Liu Feng’s treatment to the messenger who had brought Meng Da’s letter inviting him to become a traitor. And he gave way to grief for the death of Guan Yu until he fell ill. So no military movements were made.

After he had succeeded to the princedom, Cao Pi raised all his officers to high rank and had an army prepared of three hundred thousand, and maneuvered them over the southern territories and made great feasts in the county of Qiao in the old state of Pei, which was the land of his ancestors. As the grand army passed by, the aged villagers lined the roads offering gifts of wine, just as when the Founder of the Hans returned home to Pei.

When it was announced that the Regent Marshal Xiahou Dun was near death, Cao Pi hastened back to Yejun, but arrived too late to see him. He put on mourning for the great leader and instituted magnificent funeral ceremonies.

In the eighth month of that same year (AD 220), it was reported that a phoenix had been seen to bow at Shiyi, and a jilin had appeared at Linzi, while a yellow dragon was observed in Yejun.

Whereupon Imperial Commander Li Qu and Minister Xu Zhi discussed these appearances, and putting them all together they concluded, saying, “Those splendid signs presage that Wei is about to supplant Han, and the altar of abdication should be set up.”

Presently a deputation of forty high officers, both military and civil, led by Hua Xin, Wang Lang, Xin Pi, Jia Xu, Liu Ye, Liu Zi, Chen Jiao, Chen Qun, and Huan Jie went into the Forbidden City and proposed to Emperor Xian that he should abdicate and yield to the Prince of Wei, Cao Pi.

[hip, hip, hip]
It is time to set up the throne of Wei,
And steal the land from the Hans.
[yip, yip, yip]

The next chapter will record the Emperor’s reply.

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