Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

With Contributor Notes
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Attributed to
Luo Guanzhong
(Circa 1300–1400)
Translated by
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Edited by
Snow N. Snow

Chapter 78

Treating a Headache, a Famous Physician Dies
Giving the Last Words, the Crafty Hero Departs

As has been said, the Prince of Hanzhong swooned on hearing the terrible news of the death of the two Guans, father and son. His officers went to his help, and when he had recovered sufficiently, they led him to his private apartments.

“My lord, control your grief,” said Zhuge Liang. “Life and death are fixed by fate. Guan Yu brought the evil upon himself by his harshness and haughtiness. You must now take care of your health and mature your vengeance.”

“When we swore brotherhood in the Peach Garden, we pledged ourselves to live or die together. What enjoyment of riches and honors is there for me now that my brother is gone?”

Just then he saw Guan Yu’s son, Guan Xing, coming in weeping in deep distress. At sight of the youth, Liu Bei uttered a great cry and again sank to the earth. By and by he came to, and spent the whole day weeping and swooning at intervals. For three days he refused all nourishment, and he wept so bitterly that his garments were wetted, and there were spots of blood. Zhuge Liang and the others tried every means to soothe him, but he was inconsolable.

“I swear I will not live under the same heaven as Sun Quan,” cried he.

“It is said that the head of your brother has been sent to Cao Cao, but Cao Cao has buried the remains with the rites of a princely noble,” said Zhuge Liang.

“Why did he do that?” asked Liu Bei.

“Because Sun Quan thought thereby to bring evil upon Cao Cao. But Cao Cao saw through the subterfuge and has buried your brother with great honor so that your anger may burn against Wu.”

“I want to send my armies to punish Wu and appease my wrath,” said Liu Bei.

“No, you may not do that. Wu wishes to move you to smite Wei, and Wei wishes you to attack Wu, each harboring the malevolent design of taking advantage of the quarrel. You would do well, my lord, to keep your armies at home. Put on mourning for Guan Yu, and wait till Wei and Wu are at war. That will be your time.”

The other officers supported Zhuge Liang, and Liu Bei listened. Presently his grief spent itself, and he began to take food again. An edict was promulgated enjoining mourning dress upon all officials. The Prince went outside the south gate to summon the spirit home, and sacrificed and wailed a whole day for the dead warrior, his brother.

In Luoyang, although Cao Cao had given honorable burial to the remains of Guan Yu, yet he was continually haunted by the dead man’s spirit. Every night when he closed his eyes, he saw Guan Yu as he knew the warrior so well in the flesh. These visions made him nervous, and he sought the advice of his officers. Some suggested the building of new rooms for his own use.

“There is much witchcraft and malign influence in this old Palace at Luoyang. Build a new Palace for your own occupation,” said they.

“I would, and it should be called ‘The New Foundation’,” said he. “But where is the good architect?”

Jia Xu said, “There is one Su Yue, a very cunning artificer in Luoyang.”

Su Yue was called and set to work on the plans for a nine-hall pavilion for Cao Cao’s own use. It had verandahs and upper rooms as well. His plans pleased Cao Cao greatly.

“You have planned just such a place as I wished, only where will you find the main beam for such a building?”

“I know a certain tree that will serve,” said the architect. “About ten miles from the city there is the Pool of the Leaping Dragon. Near it is a shrine, and beside that grows a fine pear tree. It is over a hundred spans high, and that will serve for the roof tree.”

Cao Cao at once sent people to fell the tree. But after one whole day of labor they came back to say they could make no impression on it neither with saw nor ax. Cao Cao, doubting their word, went to see. When he had dismounted and stood by the tree, he could not but admire its size and proportions, as it rose above him tall, straight and branched till the wide-spreading and symmetrical top reached into the clouds. But he bade the men attack it again.

Then a few aged people of the village came and said, “The tree has stood here some centuries and is the haunt of a spirit. We think it should not be cut down.”

Cao Cao grew annoyed, saying, “I have gone to and fro in the world now some thirty years, and there is no one, from the Emperor to the commoner, who does not fear me. What spirit is there who dares oppose my wish?”

Drawing the sword he was wearing, Cao Cao went up to the tree and slashed at the trunk. The tree groaned as he struck, and blood stains spattered his dress. Terror-stricken, he threw down the sword, mounted his horse and galloped off.

But that evening when he retired to rest, he could not sleep. He rose, went into the outer room, and sat there leaning on a low table. Suddenly a man appeared with his hair unbound, dressed in black and carrying a naked sword.

The visitor came straight toward Cao Cao, stopped in front of him and, pointing, cried out, “Behold the Spirit of the Pear Tree! You may desire to build your nine-hall pavilion, and you may contemplate rebellion. But when you began to attack my sacred tree, the number of your days was accomplished. I am come now to slay you.”

“Where are the guards?” shouted Cao Cao in terror.

The figure struck at him with the sword. Cao Cao cried out and then awoke. His head was aching unbearably.

They sought the best physicians for him, but they failed to relieve the terrible pain. Sympathy for their lord was universal among Cao Cao’s subordinates.

Hua Xin one day said to his master, “My lord, have you heard of Hua Tuo?”

“Do you mean him of Qiao who cured Zhou Tai?”

“Yes, that is he,” replied Hua Xin.

“I have heard something of his fame, but I know nothing of his capabilities in his art.”

“He is very clever; there are few so skillful. If one is ill and calls him in, he knows immediately whether to use drugs, or the needle, or the cutlery, and the patient finds relief at once. Let one suffer from an internal complaint and drugs are ineffectual, with a dose of hashish he throws the patient into a state of perfect insensibility and then opens the abdomen and washes the affected organs with a medicament. The patient feels no pain. When the cleansing is complete, he sews up the wound with thread, dresses it, and in a month or less the patient is well. This shows you how skillful he is.

“One day Hua Tuo was traveling, when he heard a man by the wayside groaning with pain. ‘That is dyspepsia,’ said Hua Tuo. And further questions confirmed the diagnosis. He prescribed long draughts of the juice of garlic as an emetic, and the man vomited a worm. After this the man was quite well.

“Chen Deng, the Governor of Guangling, suffered from a heavy feeling at the heart. His face was red and congested, and he had no appetite. Hua Tuo gave him a drug, and he threw up many internal wriggling parasites with red heads. The Governor asked what had caused the trouble, and Hua Tuo told him that he ate too much strong smelling fish. He could cure Chen Deng this once, but in three years the disease would recur, and then nothing could save him. Three later Chen Deng died.

“Another man had a tumor between the eyes, and it itched intolerably. Hua Tuo examined it and said there was a bird in it. The tumor was opened, and, surely enough, a canary flew out. The patient was relieved.

“A dog bit a man’s toe, and two tumorous growths ensued, one of which itched intolerably and the other pained severely. Hua Tuo said the painful one contained ten needles, and the other a couple of chess pips, black and white. He opened the two swellings, and the contents were as he had said. Really he is of the same class of physician as masters Bian Que and Zang Kong of old times. He lives at Jincheng, not far away, and could be here very soon.”

Cao Cao summoned him. As soon as he arrived, Hua Tuo felt the pulse and made careful examination.

“Prince, your headaches are due to a malignant humor within the brain case. The humor is too thick to get out. Swallowing drugs will do no good. But I propose to administer a dose of hashish, then open the brain case and remove the thickened humor. That will be a radical cure.”

“You mean you want to kill me?” cried Cao Cao angrily.

“O Prince, you have heard how I cured Guan Yu of the poison that had got into his bones? I scraped them, and he did not hesitate a moment. Your malady is trifling, and why do you mistrust me?”

“A painful arm may be scraped, but how can you cut open a man’s head? The fact is you have conspired with some of Guan Yu’s friends to take this opportunity to make away with me in revenge for his death.”

Cao Cao told his lictors to hale Hua Tuo to gaol, and there he was tortured to try to find who were his accomplices.

Jia Xu pleaded for him, saying, “The man possesses rare skills. To kill him is to waste his talents.”

But the intervention was of no avail.

“The man wants to get a chance to kill me. He is the same sort of scoundrel as Ji Ping.”

The wretched physician was subjected to worse sufferings.

His gaoler was a certain Wu, nicknamed “The Gaoler” by nearly everybody. He was kindly disposed to Hua Tuo and saw that Hua Tuo was well fed.

Hua Tuo conceived a liking for his gaoler and said to him one day, “I am doomed, I know. The pity is that my Black Bag treatise on medicine may be lost. You have been most kind to me, and as I have no other way of recompensing you, I will give you a letter to my wife telling her to send the Black Bag, and I will give it to you that you may carry on my art.”

Wu the Baliff rejoiced greatly, saying, “If I have that book, I will throw away the menial position of gaoler, travel about the country healing sick folks, and spread your virtue.”

The letter was written and given to Wu the Baliff, who lost no time in traveling to Jincheng to meet with Hua Tuo’s wife, and she gave him the Black Bag to bring back to Hua Tuo. After Hua Tuo had read through the book carefully, he presented it to Wu the Baliff, who took it home and hid it away.

Ten days after this, Hua Tuo died in prison. Wu the Baliff bought a coffin and had him buried. This done, he quitted the prison and went home. But when he asked for the book, he found that his wife had discovered it and was using it to light the fire. He snatched away what was left of it, but a whole volume was missing, and what was left amounted only to several pages. He vented his anger in cursing his wife.

But she retorted, saying, “If you become such a learned person as Hua Tuo, you will only die in prison like him. What good did it all do him?”

It struck Wu the Baliff that there was something in what she said, and he ceased grumbling at her. But the upshot of all this was that the learning in the “Treatise of the Black Bag” was finally lost to the world, for what was left only contained the recipes relating to domestic animals.

Hua Tuo was the ablest of physician,
Seeing what diseases were lurking within beings.
Alas! That he died, and his writings
Followed him to the Nine Golden Springs.

Meanwhile, Cao Cao became worse, the uncertainty of the intentions of his rivals aggravating his disease not a little. Then they said an envoy had come with letter from Wu, and it ran like this:

“Thy servant, Sun Quan, has long seen destiny indicates Your Highness as master of all, and looks forward with confidence to your early accession to the dignity of the Son of God. If you will send your armies to destroy Liu Bei and sweep rebellion from the two River Lands, thy servant at the head of his armies will submit and accept his land as a fief.”

Cao Cao laughed as he read this, and he said to his officers, “Is this youth trying to put me on a furnace?”

But Minister Chen Qun and the attendants seriously replied, “O Prince, the Hans have been feeble too long, while your virtues and merits are like the mountains. All the people look to you, and when Sun Quan acknowledged himself as your minister, he is but responsive to the will of God and the desire of humans. It is wrong that you oppose when such contrary influences work to a common end, and you must soon ascend to the high place.”

Cao Cao smiled. “I have served the Hans for many years. Even if I have acquired some merit, yet I have been rewarded with a princedom and high rank. I dare not aspire to greater things. If the finger of heaven points to me, then shall I be as King Wen of Zhou.”

“As Sun Quan acknowledges himself your servant and promises obedience, you, my lord, can confer a title upon him and assign to him the duty of attacking Liu Bei,” said Sima Yi.

Approving of the suggestion, Cao Cao gave Sun Quan the titles of General of the Flying Cavalry and Lord of Nanzhang, and appointed him to the Imperial Protectorship of Jingzhou. Forthwith this command was sent away to Sun Quan.

Cao Cao’s condition grew worse daily. One night he had a dream of three horses feeding out of the same manger.

Next day he told it to Jia Xu, saying, “I saw three horses feeding on the same manger before the family of Ma Teng was harmed. Last night I saw the same dream again. How do you interpret it?”

“The horses were feeding on bounty: It is auspicious to dream of dignity,” replied Jia Xu. “And naturally such an honor comes to the Caos. I do not think you need feel any misgivings.”

Cao Cao was comforted.

Cao Cao dreamed three steeds together fed,
The vision seers could not explain,
None guessed how soon, when Cao Cao was dead,
One dynasty would rule again.
Ah, yes, Cao Cao had vainly wrought;
Of none avail each wicked wile,
For, later, in Wei court, there fought
Against him one with equal guile.

That night Cao Cao became worse. As he lay on his couch he felt dizzy and could not see, so he rose and sat by a table, upon which he leaned. It seemed to him that someone shrieked, and, peering into the darkness, he perceived the forms of many of his victims—the Empress Fu Shou, the Consort Dong, Fu Wan, Dong Cheng, and more than twenty other officials—and all were bloodstained. They stood in the obscurity and whispered, demanding his life. He rose, lifted his sword and threw it wildly into the air. Just then there was a loud crash, and the southwest corner of the new building came down. And Cao Cao fell with it. His attendants raised him and bore him to another palace, where he might lie at peace.

But he found no peace. The next night was disturbed by the ceaseless wailing of men and women’s voices.

When day dawned, Cao Cao sent for his officers, and said to them, “Thirty years have I spent in the turmoil of war and have always refused belief in the supernatural. But what does all this mean?”

“O Prince, you should summon the Daoists to offer sacrifices and prayers,” said they.

Cao Cao sighed, saying, “The Wise Teacher said, ‘He who offends against heaven has no one to pray to.’ I feel that my fate is accomplished, my days have run, and there is no help.”

But he would not consent to call in the priests. Next day his symptoms were worse. He was panting and could no longer see distinctly. He sent hastily for Xiahou Dun, who came at once. But as Xiahou Dun drew near the doors, he too saw the shadowy forms of the slain Empress and her children and many other victims of Cao Cao’s cruelty. He was overcome with fear and fell to the ground. The servants raised him and led him away, very ill.

Then Cao Cao called in four of his trusty advisers—Cao Hong, Chen Qun, Jia Xu, and Sima Yi—that they might hear his last wishes.

Cao Hong, speaking for the four, said, “Take good care of your precious self, O Prince, that you may quickly recover.”

But Cao Cao said, “Thirty and more years have I gone up and down, and many bold leaders have fallen before me. The only ones that remain are Sun Quan in the south and Liu Bei in the west. I have not yet slain them. Now I am very ill, and I shall never again stand before you; wherefore my family affairs must be settled. My first born—Cao Ang, son of Lady Liu—fell in battle at Wancheng, when he was young. The Empress Bian bore four sons to me, as you know. The third, Cao Zhi, was my favorite, but he was vain and unreliable, fond of wine and lax in morals. Therefore he is not my heir. My second son, Cao Zhang, is valiant, but imprudent. The fourth, Cao Xiong, is a weakly and may not live long. My eldest, Cao Pi, is steady and serious; he is fit to succeed me; and I look to you to support him.”

Cao Hong and the others wept as they heard these words, and they left the chamber. Then Cao Cao bade his servants bring all of the rare incenses and fragrances that he burned every day, and he handed out to his handmaids.

And he said to them, “After my death you must diligently attend to your womanly labors. You can make silken shoes for sale, and so earn your own living.”

He also bade them go on living in the Bronze Bird Pavilion and celebrate a daily sacrifice for him, with music by the singing women, and presentation of the eatables laid before his tablet.

Next he commanded that seventy-two sites for a tomb should be selected near Jiangwu, that no one should know his actual burying place, lest his remains should be dug up.

And when these final orders had been given, he sighed a few times, shed some tears, and died. He was sixty-six, and passed away in the first month of the twenty-fifth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity Era (AD 220).

A certain poet composed “A Song of Yejun” expressing sympathy for Cao Cao, which is given here:

I stood in Yejun and saw the River Zhang
Go gliding by. I thought no common human
Ever rose from such a place. Or he was great
In war, a poet, or an artist skilled.
Perchance a model minister, or son,
Or famous for fraternal duty shown.
The thoughts of heroes are not ours to judge,
Nor are their actions for our eyes to see.
A man may stand the first in merit; then
His crimes may brand him chief of criminals.
And so his reputation’s fair and foul;
His literary gifts may bear the mark
Of genius; he may be a ruler born;
But this is certain: He will stand above
His fellows, herding not with common people.
Takes he the field, then is he bold in fight;
Would he a mansion build, a palace springs.
In all things great, his genius masters him.
And such was Cao Cao. He could never be
Obedient; he a rebel was, foredoomed.
He seized and ruled, but hungered for more power;
Became a prince, and still was not content.
And yet this man of glorious career
When gripped by sickness, wept as might a child.
Full well he knew, when on the bed of death,
That all is vanity and nothing worth.
His latest acts were kindly. Simple gifts
Of fragrant incense gave he to the maids.
Ah! The ancients’ splendid deeds or secret thoughts
We may not measure with our puny rule.
But criticize them, pedants, as ye may
The mighty dead will smile at what you say.

As Cao Cao breathed his last, the whole of those present raised a great wailing and lamentation. The news was sent to the members of the family, the Heir Cao Pi, Lord of Yanling Cao Zhang, Lord of Linzi Cao Zhi, and Lord of Xiaohuai Cao Xiong. They wrapped the body in its shroud, enclosed it in a silver shell, and laid it in a golden coffin, which was sent at once home to Yejun.

The eldest son wept aloud at the tidings and went out with all his following to meet the procession and escort the body of his father into his home. The coffin was laid in a great hall beside the main building, and all the officials in deep mourning wailed in the hall.

Suddenly one stood out from the ranks of the mourners and said, “I would request the heir to cease lamentation for the dead and devote himself to the present needs of state.”

It was Sima Fu, and he continued, “The death of the Prince will cause an upheaval in the empire, and it is essential that the heir should assume his dignity without loss of time. There is not mourning alone to be seen to.”

The others replied. “The succession is settled, but the investiture can hardly proceed without the necessary edict from the Emperor. That must be secured.”

Said Chen Jiao, who was Minister of War, “As the Prince died away from home, it may be that disputes will ensue, and the country will be in danger.”

Then Chen Jiao slashed off the sleeves of his robe with a sword and shouted fiercely, “We will invest the prince forthwith, and anyone who does not agree, let him be treated as this robe.”

Still fear held most of the assembly. Then arrived Hua Xin most haste from the capital. They wondered what his sudden arrival meant.

Soon he entered the hall and said, “The Prince of Wei is dead and the world is in commotion. Why do you not invest his successor quickly?”

“We await the command,” cried they in chorus, “and also the order of Princess-Mother Bian concerning the heirship.”

“I have procured the imperial edict here,” cried he, pulling it out from his breast.

They all jumped up and down to shout their congratulations. And Hua Xin read the edict.

Hua Xin had always been devoted to Wei. As soon as he knew of Cao Cao’s death, he drafted this edict and got it sealed by Emperor Xian almost by force. However, there it was: Therein Cao Pi was named as Prince of Wei, First Minister, and Imperial Protector of Jizhou.”

Cao Pi thereupon took his seat in the princely place and received the exultant congratulations of all the officers. This was followed by a great banquet.

However, all was not to pass too smoothly. While the banquet was in progress, the news came: “Cao Zhang, Lord of Yanling, with an army of one hundred thousand troops, is approaching from Chang’an.”

In a state of consternation, the new Prince turned to his courtiers, saying, “What shall I do? This young, golden-bearded brother of mine, always obstinate and determined and with no little military skill, is marching hither with an army to contest my inheritance.”

“Let me go to see the Marquis. I can make him desist,” said one of the guests.

The others cried, “Only yourself, O Exalted One, can save us in this peril!”

Quarrel between two sons of Cao Cao
Just as in the House of Yuan Shao.

If you would know who proposed himself as envoy, read the next chapter.