Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Never trust a eunuch

The Dowager Empress thus sent an imperial order for her son, He Jin, the de facto ruler of the Empire. Receiving it, he prepared to leave for the palace when the Imperial Clerk warned him: "The eunuchs are surely behind this order from the Empress, so you can't possibly follow it. If you do, there'll certainly be disaster."  He Jin calmly replied that there couldn't possibly be any danger in responding to a request by his mother, the Dowager Empress.
Cao Cao advised: "Only go into the palace once the eunuchs have come out."
He Jin laughed and said, "This is the advice of a child. I hold the power over the whole world, what could the eunuchs possibly dare do?" Yuan Shao advised that if He Jin had to go, then they'd go with armoured troops and thus Yuan Shao and Cao Cao chose five hundred troops to accompany He Jin and nominated Yuan Shao's son, Yuan Shu to lead them.
Yuan Shu suited himself head to toe in armour and arranged the troops before the outer green gates of the Forbidden City. Yuan Shao and Cao Cao personally then lead He Jin before the Palace of Lasting Happiness.  There the officials of the Inner Bureau said that the Empress had particularly specified to allow only the Grand General, He Jin. Therefore Cao Cao and Yuan Shao were held back at the palace door, while He Jin confidentally strode into the palace.
At the Gate of Great Virtue he was met by the eunuchs Zhang Rang and Duan Gui, and then others quickly surrounded He Jin. They blamed him in angry voices: "What crime had Empress Dong done for you to posion her? And then at the time of her funeral for you to feign sickness so not to attend. You are just the spawn of a butcher, yet it was us who raised your family to the palace and gave you honour and wealth. And in response you want to kill us.  You say we are debased, but who is the cleaner?" He Jin panicked and looked for a way out but the palace gate had closed. Just then fifty soldiers came out from their hiding place and sliced He Jin into two pieces...
Thus went another character to the grave in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a classic Chinese novel written in the 14th century, creating a semihistorical narrative around the turbulent Three Kingdom period (250CE -  300CE). I'm rather enamoured by it, although I must proudly state in advance that I'm relieved that I can actually read it at all. I've always had a fascination with classical chinese with several of the philosophy books I love (written over 2000 years ago) written in it. But writing and language develops. The language of 2000 years ago is harder to read than that of 700 years ago and most parts of this classic are readable without assistance; only in some small parts do I need character by character reference to retain my grasp. I bought a copy while I was sick hoping just experience it. I opened to the first page and found I had just enough knowledge to deal with the first page, and with a little bit of study of the common words I found that I could read quite swifty.
And it has to be said that it is rip-roaring yarn. I'm benefitted a lot though by the fact that I don't know much about it. Every page brings its own surprises. I don't know what will happen next. There are computer games and table-top card game based on it. The youth are still fascinated by it, although it must be said that more have seen the cartoons and games of it than those that have read the original. The theme for the week at school two weeks ago was Literature so I thought I'd stealthily measure how much an average class had read. I talked about famous literature and brought up the English names of the four great Chinese classic novels, then got the class to act out a scene in them.
There is a culture gap too when reading these - the culture of the past is far different from that of the present. I couldn't understand one part of the book where there was a sorcerer was holding a whole army off by conjuring a black qi from the sky. One General strategy is spelt out here: 
"He's using magic! Tomorrow I can slaughter some pigs, goats and dogs for their blood. Then I'll order some soldiers to hide on the cliff top. When the rebels come we can spray it upon them from above, and then it will counteract their magic."
Apparently pouring blood from a high place counteracts that sort of black magic - not surprisingly this method worked a treat. And here is a section for the feminists:
 Zhang Fei had raised his sword to cut his own throat when Xuande ran forward to stop him, grabbing his sword and throwing it to floor: "The Ancients said: One's brothers were like limbs and one's wives and children were like clothes. If the clothes break, they can be mended. If your limbs are cut off, how could you go on?' We made a pledge of honour in the Peach Garden, that though we don't seek to be born together, we'd want to die together. Though I've lost my castle and family, how can we end here only halfway though our adventure? Why would you, my dearest brother, seek to end his life over a momentary lapse?"
This band of blood brothers so far are almost comic relief especially the character that tried to kill himself, who seems to have temper/alcohol/personality issues. His momentary lapse was not listening to his blood brothers suggestions of staying off the booze while he was the one responsible for looking after their walled city; naturally on the very first night with this heavy duty he got plastered and forced other officers to get similarly wasted, threatened violence on those who didn't drink, and then in his drunkenness whipped the father-in-law of a rather aggressive neighbouring General fifty times. This neighbouring General upon hearing of this disgrace launched an assault on their city taking control of it. Very momentary, indeed, this lapse. The gentleman dispensing the advice in the quote, Liu Xuande also known as Liu Bei, is one of the three famous characters from the Three Kingdoms and frankly seems rather simple-minded though very diligent in his application of duty and honour.
With vivid battles raging on in the pages, my quagmiraculous promotion seems rather fictional. Having been told that this was the week for the move, I was told two weeks ago that alas my replacement has been diverted to a centre in more immediate need. That was before one of our newly arrived international teachers was lured by more money in Korea and resigned last week, not to mention the other internal promotion in our office that is waiting to move. Effectively there is only one international teacher who isn't moving anywhere and it will be those over whom the HR eunuchs have control (i.e. internal promotions) that will have to stay put till they find three teachers to fill the short fall. At this point it seems like September when I'll be moving but it's really not best to say. This is strangely reminiscent of a certain visa I waited for last year.