Tomb of Cao Cao

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.

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