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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2 Responses to “The Tomb of a Megalomaniac or Great Leader”

  1. Jeannie Lin says:

    How interesting! They say history goes to the victor. It's good to keep in perspective that history is by it's very nature slanted by the historian. I was watching a marathon on the history channel about rulers and tyrants of the ancient world and it discussed how historians aimed to villify certain rulers like Nero. The stories about them are part fact and then possibly embellished by historians.

    I saw the US release of Red Cliff by the way. Other than a job well done by Tony & Takeshi Kaneshiro, I have to say I was a little disappointed. Too much overblown action for my taste. The didn't treat Cao Cao so well either, but he was more of a pushover than a tyrant.

  2. Victoria Dixon says:

    I do see your point about their treatment of Cao Cao. They focused mainly on Zhou Yu's and Zhuge Liang's relationship (which was more based on jealousy in the original novel, but the movie may be more true to the historical record in that respect) than on who Cao Cao was. That said, I loved the overblown action, but that's me. ;D

    Thanks in part to the historical facts brought up by the discovery of his tomb, I am trying to bring out more of Cao's humanity in my own novel. There's no doubt the man was a sadist to anyone who challenged him, but I haven't done as fair a job showing his generosity to his friends. And he's only got one friend in my novel, so I'll have to squeeze SOMETHING in there. LOL

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