Romance of the Three Kingdoms

On a Sad Note

Leading puppet animation producer Kihachiro Kawamoto has died of pneumonia. He was 85. He was best known for his “Sangokushi,” (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), but was also behind several other animations. Select this link for the complete story, then please join me in a virtual sake toast.

He was an amazing artist.

International Exhibit Showcasing the Three Kingdoms Era

“The Three Kingdoms era can fairly be said to have been one of the most dramatic periods in Chinese history. The Battle of the Red Cliff, 1,800 years ago, marked the commencement of a new era, in which China was divided into three kingdoms. Stories of the Three Kingdoms are still told today….

The more than 100 artifacts shown in this exhibition…depict a comprehensive picture of the history and culture of the Three Kingdoms era. The artifacts include bronzes, decorated tiles, paintings and calligraphy, seals, ceramics, lacquerware, gold and copper vessels, wood-carvings, and modern handicrafts with the Three Kingdoms theme. The earliest pieces date from the Eastern Han dynasty, the most recent from the twentieth century; they thus cover a time span of nearly two millennia. The exhibition focuses on three main themes: the official histories of the era, the period as depicted in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the continuing influence of the Three Kingdoms era in modern times. It is anticipated that, by presenting the era from different angles and on different levels, and by adopting wide-ranging approaches, it should be possible to present a comprehensive picture of military affairs, technology, the economy, daily life, art, religion, etc. in the Three Kingdoms era, as well as the influence that the history of the Three Kingdoms has exerted on later generations. In studying the ebb and flow of the power struggle among the Three Kingdoms hegemonies, and the planning that the generals and strategists undertook in their effort to secure control over the whole of China, we can see how each battle and each stratagem influenced the course of political events. The ups and downs of this conflict, with all its fascinating details, are deeply imprinted on our consciousness. The countless [non-fiction] books that have been written about the Three Kingdoms era, as well as the many movies, computer games, etc. of recent times, have succeeded in maintaining a high level of interest in this period, not only among people in Taiwan and China, and ethnic Chinese in other parts of the world, but also among our neighbors in Japan. When the Great Romance of the Three Kingdoms exhibition toured Japan in 2008, it attracted more than one million visitors, setting a new record for the largest number of visitors ever to a China-themed exhibition in Japan.”

Yeah, and that’s just Japan. Think of all the Asians who live throughout the world (not to mention those ROTK fans who aren’t Asian), and I’d say my novel has good reader base. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the Ming Dynasty novel upon which my historical fantasy is based. Oh, how I wish I could see this exhibit! For pictures and the complete article, please go to the Taiwanese National Museum of History special exhibition, Legends of Heroes: The Heritage of the Three Kingdoms Era, or select this link.

Back to revamping the opening. Again.

Laurel’s Leaves Competition

Cool news for yours truly! Laurel and Laurel’s Leaves chose my scene from “Mourn Their Courage” as her first runner up scene in her Eleventy One Contest. I’m thanking God for this and the Sandy. They’ve given me hope this month. As an addendum, I encourage everyone to check out all of Laurel’s comments. She’s got some great insights, not to mention a very gracious style.

Laurel’s contest centered around a dialogue-driven instance of negotiation or persuasion. In my scene, the former Chancellor/would-be usurper uses persuasion. All comments, suggestions and critiques are welcome.

An ascetic, narrow-faced man covered with scars approached. At first, Xiongli believed he was another servant. Then he noticed the direct gaze and confident stride, so he rose and nodded his greeting to Yang Wu, Guild Master of the Brothers of Life.

Wu returned the nod, but did not bow. Xiongli smiled. Everything he’d heard of this man might be true, then.

“We can return to my office where it’s warmer, my Lord,” Wu said. He politely did not comment on Xiongli’s guards who stood within sword range.

“Forgive my reaction to recent attacks on my person, Guild Master Yang.”

“It is an overreaction, my Lord. This is a guild. We have no political goals.” Wu gestured to the marble bench, and they sat side by side as if they were old friends.

Birds sang and the creek feeding the pond continued its chatter, but Xiongli clutched a dagger inside his sleeve.

“You have political ties and power,” he said. The smile felt painted on his face, but he wanted to put Wu at ease. “You have a traitor amongst you, Guild Master.”

Yang Wu produced a rice cake and crumbled pieces into the pond. Mustached, gasping mouths rushed to the surface. “One man does not equal the guild – Chancellor.”

Xiongli’s face flushed and the smile vanished. He calmed himself. If Wu wanted to attack, he would have done it by now. This man had ambitions, and Xiongli knew how to work with men like that.

“Tell me, Guild Master, has Tong Zhang written requesting money and food yet?”

“He has.” Wu crumbled more of his rice cake into the waiting mouths below. “You ought to know I cannot deny a guild member his rights-“

“I do. How long have you held your office, Yang Wu?”

Wu stiffened. It was the slightest of reactions. A flick of rice cake. A tic of facial muscles. Yet the implied threat was received. Now the enticement.

“You can deny him whatever you wish,” Xiongli said. “He is a traitor to the Empire and should be denied.” Silence reined for a moment as Xiongli let his words sink in.
Then he turned to Wu again and allowed the painted, friendly expression to return to his face. “You and your guild would be compensated.”

“A traitor to the Empire is still not a traitor to his guild, Lord Hu.”

“Ah, but if he is not a traitor to his guild, then what Empire does the guild serve?”

Threat, offer and threat were made. Now Xiongli forced himself not to smile. Yang Wu crumbled the last of the rice cake between finger and thumb.

“And if I were to give Zhang his money and food,” Wu raised his hand to stop Xiongli’s response, “but gave you the location for those deliveries, would that be sufficient?”

Xiongli didn’t answer. Let him sweat. At last, he nodded. “That is acceptable, Master Yang.”

“Zhang tells me they expect their first delivery in Xien Ye, a month from now.”

“Excellent. I will leave you, as I am sure you have business to attend to.”

“Please excuse me for not seeing you out.” Wu stood.

“Of course,” Xiongli murmured.

He left Yang Wu standing beside the pond where carp swam their placid, uneventful courses amid a garden of cypress and bird song.

Excerpt Monday

Okay, for anyone who has seen my empty blog post for the last three hours, you may wonder where my mind was. I had to create the blog post on Friday so that I could send them my link. I put it on the “timed” feature and completely forgot how busy my weekends – especially Sundays – can be. Fast forward and we’re now two hours late putting our child to bed and I’ve got 150 emails waiting for me since Friday night. (Did I mention weekends are busy?) I just found the email link reminder and remembered that I decided to finally commit to an Excerpt Monday event on one of the busiest weekends of the year. Argh.

So what is Excerpt Monday? Once a month, a bunch of authors get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate–just an writer with an excerpt you’d like to share. For more info on how to participate, head over to Excerpt Monday.

Here’s my first chapter of my novel:

By Victoria Dixon

Chapter One

Weary of killing, Liu Jie picked at the blood under his fingernails as he swayed in the saddle.

He straightened and took a deep breath of peach-scented air as he noticed a nearby orchard. Amid the trees, an inn with a modest tamped-earth façade stood.

Reaching the Emporer was urgent, but he and his men had destroyed twenty bandits this afternoon. One of his men was injured and needed rest. Better a night or two behind a sturdy wooden gait, than a fatal mistake. He signaled to stop. “We’ll rest here for a few days.”

Jie dismounted outside the inn’s courtyard entrance and opened the gate. Guards carried his wife and son’s sedan chair into the courtyard and Mei raised her eyebrows when Jie helped her from the stuffy litter.

“We cannot reach the Emperor if the men are too tired to protect us,” he murmured.

Mei nodded, smoothed her hair and adjusted Shan’s belt before they entered the inn.
To Jie’s right, six farmers in worn hemp robes gathered around a silk scroll mounted on the wall. He read it in a glance.

“The Son of Heaven requires the aid of all men as sons might come to their father. Yellow Turban rebels assault the people and threaten the capital. All districts report.” A crimson Imperial Chop blazed in a corner.

“No,” Mei whispered.

He read it again, hands clenched. “You were right. War was inevitable. I must go.”

“I’d hoped-“

Jie took her hand to give mute comfort. They traveled to the capital in the hope of convincing the Emperor to pity the people and repeal his taxes. Rumor said, many of the Yellow Turbans were starving farmers seeking justice, not a coup. Killing them would promote unrest, placing more strain on Jie and the rest of the nobility.

“Send our meal upstairs?” Her voice wavered and Jie nodded. When servants brought in the family’s luggage, Mei followed them past faded red pillars and up the stairs. He knew she wanted to avoid the noise of the tearoom and the implications of the notice.

Shan ran outside to play in the last rays of sunlight. What would happen to Shan if Jie went to war? What would happen if he did not? The weight of past failures as a father bore down. He must protect his family, but there was the broader family at stake in this war as well.

Jie sat at an empty table. Servants lit paper lanterns and the tearoom filled with more men who crowded the notice.

A group of boisterous young farmers sat at a nearby table and a game of sixes commenced with a clatter of dice.

The voices and noise blended into a monotonous drone. When the innkeeper brought him warmed rice wine and a plate of dumplings, he barely tasted the food. Instead, he used his chopsticks and wrote plan after plan in the congealing sauce. He abandoned every scheme.

Each strategy required him to send spies out to learn about the Yellow Turbans. He wanted to know if they sought food and clothing from those they robbed, or did they raise an army to overthrow the throne?

This information seemed necessary to Jie, but gaining it did not respond to his Emperor’s summons. If only the Emperor had not issued this order. Jie might have saved countless people if he had reached his nephew a month ago. Now, the Son of Heaven demanded that Jie attack his countrymen. Acting counter to Imperial command was treason.

He must either go to the capital and enlist, or gather an army from the countryside and lead men into battle as ordered.

Since he did not have enough money to fund a campaign against the rebels, he must continue to the capital and report for duty. Jie longed to respond now.

The inn door slammed open and Shan rushed inside.

Jie smiled as his son looked around the room as if all the demons of hell chased him. After all, he is eight.

Then Shan found him, and white-eyed horror filled his son’s face.

“Papa, come outside. There’s a body!” Shan said. “A dead boy is in the garden.”

Breath left Jie as if his son had struck him, but he jumped to his feet. “Show me.” They ran out the door. His eyes adjusted to the dark as he rushed beyond the golden light spilling from the inn’s latticed windows.

A body. There’s a dead boy. Jie’s chest tightened, but he kept running through the courtyard’s gate.

Within the orchard, autumn leaves chattered like the river that brings the dead to hell. Did his ghosts crowd him now?

“Over here, Papa!” Shan gestured ahead.

Jie’s robes slapped against his legs. He slipped on fallen peaches and the smell of sour wine enveloped him. Each cold breath was visible as he left the orchard and reached the garden. At last, he slid to his knees beside the body of an emaciated teenage boy. Jie put his ear to the boy’s chest. It rose. Air squeaked from blue lips.

“He’s alive. Beg the innkeeper for hot water, Shan. Run!

Shan sprinted away.

Twelve years ago, Liu Jie had heard the river of the dead. Now, he looked at the boy in his arms, but did not see him.

He saw his sons. Their eyes were open and clear in the moonlight.

Jie clenched his jaw, but that did not stop the tears welling in his eyes.

He wished saving this boy would alter his memories, but Jie’s life was a ladder of wishes. Twelve years ago, he had failed, so now he bore a stranger’s child in his arms and ran.

Outside the inn, a ghost of cold, rank air made the boy moan. The door burst open as if a typhoon wind struck it and Jie ran through.

“Shut the door!” A guest shouted. Jie ignored the demand and followed Shan upstairs.

The innkeeper waited for them at the top of the landing. “I arranged for a separate room.”

“Thank you,” Jie said.

“Perhaps he would fare better at the holy shrine?” The innkeeper wrung his hands.

“No,” Jie said. “He’s not ill. I can feel his ribs. He needs good food, not incense.” The innkeeper bowed out of the room as Jie knelt, laid the boy down and removed his damp clothes.

Shan returned with his mother. Her hands flew to her lips at the sight of the boy.

“He is alive,” Jie said. “We need to warm and feed him and let him sleep.” He thought of the innkeeper’s concerns. “I can pay for the local priests to care for him.”

“Nonsense.” She told him in one word that she was fine, but they suffered the same demons of memory and sorrow. Jie said nothing. Instead, he prayed for the boy to gain strength as Mei fed him beef broth.

At first, the Orchard Boy shuddered and groaned. Jie ordered warm water and heated blankets by the fire. Mei swaddled her patient in steaming cloth. Together, they laid him on the room’s kang bed; a hollowed space underneath held flickering, live coals.

During their silent, unquestioning care, Shan quietly ate a bowl of rice and vegetables, offered a quick prayer for the Orchard Boy, then returned to their bedroom. When Jie checked on his son later, Shan’s arm and leg already lay uncovered. Jie tucked his child under the mound of warm cloth and returned to his wife.

She didn’t look up when he entered, but clutched the hand he placed on her shoulder. He knew the helplessness in his heart was in hers. She would not give up. Mei was stronger than he, and he had always loved her for that.

They cared for a nameless child, and neither commented on the other’s tears.

“Links to other Excerpt Monday writers”

Note: I have not personally screened these excerpts. Please heed the ratings and
be aware that the links may contain material that is not typical of my site.
Excerpt Monday Logo

The Tomb of a Megalomaniac or Great Leader

The tomb of Cao Cao was unearthed recently. Those of you who know I’ve written a novel of magical realism based on the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” might be interested to know Cao Cao is the equivalent to Hu Xiongli, my villain.

If one examines the historical facts, Cao Cao was “often praised as a brilliant ruler and military genius who treated his subordinates like his family. He was also skilled in poetry and martial arts and authored many war journals.” – Wikipedia entry.

If one looks at the literary history of China, Cao Cao appears as “a cruel and merciless tyrant.” – Wikipedia

The literary history I speak of is, of course, the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” and the folklore it is based on. It was written by a confucian scholar and since Cao Cao’s actions were based on anything but Confucian thought, he is villified in the Ming Dynasty novel. Since literature tends to carry more weight than straightforward history, Cao Cao is not well thought of. For instance, the Chinese way of saying “speak of the devil” is: “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.” The food dish typically referred to as “General Tsao’s Chicken” is in deference to him, as it is both hot and spicy. There are so many ways this man has touched and twisted the history and culture of his people, it’s fascinating to study him.

One of the quotes attributed to him is: “Better for me to wrong the world than for the world to wrong me.” That says something about his character.

In my research, I discovered a tale where he was invited to the household of a loyal retainer for dinner. Cao Cao got drunk and became paranoid as to his host’s intentions. Seeing assassins everywhere, he jumped up and killed his host and the man’s two sons, then killed the wife at the dinner table. He regretted his actions almost immediately, and gave them posthumous titles, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the face of his actions.

Nonetheless, his tomb is said to be of a modest, unadorned nature in comparison to other such burial grounds.

Read more: