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                         --by Madeleine Lynn

  If one wishes to understand China, one must have some familiarity with the history of the Three Kingdom and with the lore that surrounds it. Above all this is true on the middle and upper Yangtze where it seems every bend in the river leads to another site associated with [his epoch and to the stoics that have grown around it like the layers of a pearl around its grain of historical fact. If the events seem complicated and the stage crowded with unfamil1ar actors that too is part of China's reality. One might as well seek to know the Greeks without the Trojan War or the English without Shakespeare.
                                    Lyman P Van Slyke, Yangtze Nature, History and the River, 1988.

  By AD 150 the Han dynasty (206 BCMD 220) was already rotting from within,the result of a Yangtze Cruiseseries of weak emperors. The uprising of peasant rebels known as the Yellow Turbans (AD 184) gave three strong warlords (Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan) the opportunity to amass their own independent armies. They gradually set up rival territories within the Empire and fought it out for the control of China. The history of their struggle formed the basis for the l4th-century popular novel The Romance 0j the Three Kingdoms, a compilation of fact and fiction taken from the repertoires of l2 centuries of storytellers. It is a rambling saga of heroism and treachery, of larger-than--life heroes and villains against the backdrop of the dying dynasty. Tales from this eat ate also the subject of many Chinese operas.

The three kingdoms were:

The Kingdom of Wei : North China, comprising the Yellow River basin; the base of the Qin and Han dynasties. lts ruler was Cao Cao, Duke of Wei, characterized in the novel as the archetypal Chinese villain, a bri1liant but ruthless general. 'Speak of Cao Cao and he is there' is the Chinese equivalent of Talk of the devil'.

The Kingdom of Shu: the area that is now called Sichuan. lt was established bYangtze Rivery Liu Bei, pretender to the throne by virtue of being a distant relation of the Han emperor. Although a rather weak and insignificant peTsona1ity himself, his royal blood attracted gifted followers, the most famous of whom are Zhuge Liang and Liu's two sworn blood--brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu).

  Zhuge Liang was Liu's premier strategist and has been held up as an example of military genius ever since. There are numerous stories of how he defeated Cao Cao's larger armies by guile and bravado rather than strength. For instance, there was the time he was staying in an unprotected city when Cao Cao's army arrived unexpected1y. As the troops approached, they saw that the city gate was wide open and that Zhuge Liang, accompanied only by one young servant boy, was perched on top of the city wall calmly playing the harp. Convinced that they were about to walk into an ambush, the enemy withdrew.

  Guan Yu was so revered for his loyalty that he was gradually turned into a god. Given the honorary title Guan Gong, and also known as Guan Di, God of War, Justice and Righteousness, until recently neatly every large town in China had a temple dedicated to him. His statue can be recognized by its distinctive red face, signifying bravery and goodness.

The Kingdom of Wu :The rich and fertile lower Yangtze region, as far as the sea. This was controlled by the treacherous Sun Quan, whose family was the most influential in the region.

   Between Shu and Wu was the middle Yangtze basin, a no--man's land of marshes and lakes. From here one could threaten either Shu or Wu and it was here that some of the most crucial battles took place. On the run from Cao Cao's army, Liu Bei took refuge in this area and Zhuge Liang persuaded Sun Quan, the ruler of Wu, to ally with them against the powerful Cao Cao. Although their combiYangtze Riverned forces were still far less than Cao Cao's, together they routed him in the critical battle of Red Cliff (see page 89), at a site upriver from modern Wuhan.

  Now it was Cao Cao's turn to flee for his life. Although Guan Yu actually cornered him and could have killed him he let him go, as Cao Cao had done the same for him in an earlier encounter.

  But the alliance between Liu Bei and Sun Quan did not last long. Sun Quan tried to persuade Guan Yu to betray Liu Bei and join him. When Guan Yu refused, Sun had him beheaded and sent his head to Cao Cao, hoping for an alliance with him. The grief stricken Liu Bei ignored Zhuge Liang's advice and launched a disastrous campaign against Sun. Before the fight even began, his other sworn brother Zhang Fei was murdered by two fellow officers who planned to surrender to Sun. Liu was ignominiously defeated and Retreated to Baidi Cheng, where he died a few years later.
Cao Cao also died without achieving his ambitions. Although his son succeeded in conquering the other two Kingdoms, it was a short-lived triumph, as he was toppled in a coup d'etat. So none of the three realized their dream of ruling over the whole of China.

BaiDi Cheng(White Emperor City)

The Story Of The Three KingDoms