Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

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

Chapter 80

Cao Pi Deposes the Emperor, Taking Away the Fortunes of Han
Liu Bei Assumes the Throne, Continuing the Heritage

Hua Xin was the spokesman of the deputation of officers that went into the Forbidden City, and he spoke thus: “Since the inauguration of the Prince of Wei, virtue has spread to the four corners of the empire and humanity has permeated all the earth to a degree unexcelled in all the ages, even in the days of the ancient rulers, King Tang and King Yu. We, your servants, have taken account of these things and have reached the conclusion that the fortunes of Han is worn out, wherefore we trust Your Majesty, in imitation of the great prototypes King Yao and Emperor Shun, will yield the mountains, the rivers, and the peoples to a more able guardian and high priest of the sacrifices in the person of the Prince of Wei, thereby pleasing Heaven and satisfying the hearts of humans, and enabling Your Majesty to enjoy the happiness of freedom and repose from the exacting duties of the chief ruler. The happiness of your ancestors and of humanity at large would thereby be enhanced. Having thoroughly debated this matter, we have come to lay it before you.”

The Emperor listened in amazement, and for a time could not reply.

Then, looking at the assembly, he said sadly, “How can I abandon my empire for the sake of repose—the empire won by my Great Ancestor, its Founder, when, with a three-span sword, he slew the Snake and restored Right, and consolidated when he reduced Qin and overwhelmed Chu—the empire which has been handed down for four centuries? Though I possess not brilliant talents, yet I have done no wrong. Go back and debate this again in a just and moderate spirit.”

Then Hua Xin led forward Xu Zhi and Li Fu nearer the throne, saying, “If Your Majesty thinks we may be mistaken, pray ask these two, who will explain.”

Said Li Fu, “Since the Prince of Wei has taken his seat, the Jilin has descended, the Phoenix has appeared, the Yellow Dragon has come forth, the Grain of Felicity has flourished, and Sweet Dew has watered the earth. All these things augur that Heaven decrees a change, and Wei must replace Han.”

Xu Zhi continued, “The astrologers, watching the aspect of the skies at night, have seen the blazing light of the star of Han gradually fade away and Your Majesty’s own star become dim. On the other hand, the aspect of the sky and the attitude of the earth have been wholly bright in favor of Wei to a degree hard to state in words. Moreover, the lots have been cast, and they gave the words ‘Devil, at the side, has been sent, there must be an inroad upon Han without word’; another lot, ‘Word, in east, light moves west, two suns radiating as the air blows south’. These oracles gave two words which, joined, compose Xu; ‘two suns, one on the other’, which is Chang. These signs are unmistakeable, for when put together the whole reads, ‘Wei at Xuchang is to receive the abdication of Han.’ If you consider, Your Majesty must admit this.”

“All empty words and madness, this talk of auguries and lots! Is it reasonable that I should suddenly abandon the great heritage for such nonsense?”

Then Wang Lang said, “Wax and wane has been the law of all things from the beginning; every period of glory is followed by one of obscurity. Has any rule endured forever or any House never failed? The rule of Han, handed down through four centuries to Yourself, has lost its vigor, and the time has come to yield. Retirement may not be delayed, or confusion will ensue.”

The Emperor wept aloud and retired to his private chamber, while the officers left the hall laughing.

Next morning they assembled in the court, but the Emperor did not appear. So they sent the Palace officers to request his presence. Still he feared to show himself.

Empress Cao asked him, “Why do Your Majesty not hold the court as usual, especially when you are requested to go out?”

“Because your brother wishes to depose me and become Emperor himself. He has set the whole host of officers against me to force me to abdicate, and I will not expose myself to this compulsion.”

“But what can have induced my brother to do such a dreadfully rebellious thing?” said she angrily.

Just as she spoke, Cao Hong and Cao Xiu, both armed, forced their way into the inner apartments and requested His Majesty to come to the Hall of Audience.

The Empress broke out into abuse: “So you are two of the disorderly rebels who, for the sake of your own ends, have conspired to upset all the good service of my father. Though he overshadowed the whole land, yet he never dared to aspire to the sacred throne. But my brother, who has only just succeeded him, sets no bounds to his ambition and temerity and would usurp the Throne. Heaven will surely cut off his offspring!”

She wept bitterly as she went away, and the attendants sobbed and wept too. But Cao Xiu and Cao Hong still urged the Emperor to go to the Hall of Audience, and at last he had to yield. There Hua Xin took up the question again.

“Your Majesty should act as was advised yesterday and so avoid any misfortune.”

The Emperor sobbed, “All of you have eaten of the bounty of Han for years, and among you are many whose fathers and grandfathers were conspicuous for merit. How can you bring yourselves to act thus improperly toward me?”

“If Your Majesty refuses to follow advice, I fear that there will soon be trouble in the family. Really we are not disloyal.”

“Who would dare to murder me?” cried the Emperor.

“Everyone knows that Your Majesty lacks the happy attributes of a successful ruler and that is why there is so much confusion in the country. If it were not for the presence of the Prince of Wei in your court, many people would murder you. Your Majesty has never yet learned how to treat people; is your sole desire to set people against you?”

The Emperor, alarmed at the violence of his language, shook out his sleeves and rose to go away. Then Wang Lang glanced at Hua Xin, who rushed forward and seized the Emperor by the sleeve.

“Is it consent or not?” cried he angrily. “One word!”

The Emperor was dumb with terror.

“Where is the Keeper of the Seal?” shouted Cao Hong and Cao Xiu, drawing their swords.

“The Keeper of the Seal is here,” said Zu Bi, stepping calmly to the front.

They tried to force the seal from him, but he cried, “The Seal belongs to the Emperor, and I will not yield it!”

Cao Hong called up the executioners and told them to behead him, which they did. Zu Bi abused the ruffians to the last breath.

Dethroned by wicked traitors was the ruling House of Han,
They falsely claimed as precedent the deeds of Yu and Tang.
The crowd of officers at court were all on Cao Pi’s side,
Save one, Zu Bi the Keeper of the Seal, and loyally he died.

The Emperor was in a state of abject terror, and when he saw the whole court filling up with armed guards, all the soldiers of Wei and so enemies, he burst into tears.

“Yes. I will give up the throne to the Prince, if haply I may be spared to live out the few years Heaven has assigned me,” wailed he.

“The Prince will always take care of Your Majesty,” said Jia Xu. “It would be as well to prepare the abdication manifesto quickly so as to preserve tranquillity.”

Such a hint could not be missed, and Chen Qun was directed to draft the document. As soon as it was finished, Hua Xin and a host of officers, took it off to the Prince of Wei’s palace and presented it, with the Imperial Hereditary Seal, in the name of the Emperor. Very joyfully, Cao Pi read this writing:

“During the whole of my thirty-two years of reign the land has been in a state of turmoil, but the spirits of my ancestors have preserved me in the midst of danger. Now from the signs of the heavens and the hearts of the people, I see that the virtue of the Hans is exhausted, and happy fortune has devolved upon the House of Wei, as may be seen from the success in war enjoyed by the late King Cao and the resplendent virtue of the present Prince, which answers to the times.

“By all noble principles the empire is no private possession, but a public trust. Wherefore the great King Yao, to his eternal glory, passed over his own son. How I admire this deed! Now in imitation thereof I have resolved to abdicate in favor of my Chief Minister, the Prince of Wei, who will not, I hope, disappoint my wishes.”

Cao Pi heard this and was going to accept it as final.

But Sima Yi said no: “Although the declaration and the seal have been sent, yet decorum demands refusal at first so as to silence people’s criticism.”

Then Wang Lang drafted a memorial modestly declining the proposal of succession on the ground of unfitness and asking that some other be sought. When this reached the Emperor, he was much perturbed and asked what was to be done next.

Replied Hua Xin, “When his father was offered a princedom, he declined thrice, but he finally accepted. Wherefore Your Majesty should renew the offer. The Prince will end by acceptance.”

There was no help for it, and so Huan Jie was bidden to draft another declaration of offer, which was sent by the hand of the Officer of the Dynastic Temple, Zhang Yin, together with the emblems and the seal.

This new declaration read thus:

“To the Prince of Wei. You have sent your modest refusal of my offer to abdicate. But I have long since seen that the virtue of Han is passing, and I could only rely upon the late Prince, your father, who virtuously undertook the great task of removing the evil oppressors and purging the land. Now his son Cao Pi has succeeded. His perfect virtue is resplendent, his fame universal and his benevolence is wafted to all parts. The divine choice rests upon him.

“In the days of old, Yao the Great would abdicate, and did so in favor of Shun, who possessed merit after his twenty accomplishments; and the God-king Shun in the same manner handed the Throne to Yu after Yu had labored to control the floodwaters. The House of Han succeeded in the course of ages to the work of Yao and now passes on the sacred trust, to promote the repose of the Earth and manifest the command of Heaven.

“By the hand of the Minister Zhang Yin, this is sent with the emblems and the seal.”

Greatly rejoicing, Cao Pi received this.

But he said to Jia Xu, “Although I have received two such declarations, yet I fear that I may not escape being branded as a usurper by posterity.”

“That is easily arranged,” replied Jia Xu. “Direct Zhang Yin to take the seal back again, and tell Hua Xin to cause the Emperor to set up a Terrace of Abdication and select an auspicious day for the ceremony. Then assemble all the officers at the terrace, and cause the Emperor to offer the seal with his own hands and surrender the empire to you. Thus can you dissipate all doubts and prevent any caviling.”

So the seal was once more rejected with a memorial to say so. Zhang Yin returned, and the Emperor inquired of the courtiers how he was to understand this act.

Then Hua Xin said, “Your Majesty can set up a Terrace of Abdication and assemble nobles, officers, and common people to witness the act of abdication. Thereafter the descendants of your House shall receive favor at the hands of Wei.”

The Emperor consented and sent officials in the Office of Imperial Ceremonies to select a site at Fanyang. And there they built a terrace of three stories, and they chose an auspicious day of the tenth month for the act of abdication. On the appointed day, Emperor Xian [Liu Xie] requested Cao Pi to ascend the terrace and receive his abdication. At the foot of the terrace stood the officials, more than four hundred, and the Imperial Guards and the Tiger Guards, and soldiers to the number of three hundred thousand. Thereupon the Emperor presented the seal, which Cao Pi received into his hands. Then all those about the terrace knelt to listen to the reading of the manifesto:

“To the Prince of Wei. In days of old, Yao yielded the empire to Shun, and Shun in turn gave it to Yu. The will of Heaven does not follow the way of mortals, but seeks the virtuous. The rule of Han has lost its virility and the times are out of joint. When my turn came to rule, great disorder arose, and evils stalked abroad till the empire was in danger of subversion. I trusted to the military genius of the late Prince of Wei to restore order and purge away the evil, whereby to ensure tranquillity to my House. What could my single hand do to correct this and ensure peace for my Nine Domains?

“The present Prince has succeeded to his father. He is also resplendent in virtue, capable as Wu the Military King and Wen the Scholar King of the great task, brilliant in the glory of his father. The spirit of the empire is upon him; gods and humans declare his worth. To him be the bright reward, and let him accept this mandate. For all say his capabilities fit him to stand beside Yu.

“As did my great predecessor, I respectfully retire that he may be set up. The revolution of Heaven brings the glory upon his person, and he will accept the high office and comfort all people by reverently obeying the decree of Heaven.”

The reading finished, the Prince of Wei, Cao Pi, proceeded to the terrace and ascended to the place of the Emperor. Then Jia Xu, at the head of the great concourse of officers, came to the foot of the terrace, and a court was held. The year of reign was changed from Prolonged Wealth, the first year, to Yellow Dawn, the first year (AD 220), and the government became that of Great Wei. An edict was then published proclaiming a general amnesty, and the title of “Founder of the Dynasty” was conferred upon the late Prince, Cao Cao.

Then said Hua Xin, “As heaven has but one sun, so the people can have but one ruler. The Hans have abdicated, and it is fitting that they withdraw to a distance. I pray for an edict naming the place of residence of the Liu family.”

Taking the late Emperor by the arm, Hua Xin led him forward and made him kneel below the terrace to hear the command. Then the new Emperor Pi conferred upon him the title of Duke of Shanyang, bidding him depart forthwith.

Thereupon Hua Xin drew his sword and in a harsh voice said, “It is an old rule that the setting up of one emperor means the degradation of another. Now, through the gracious kindness of His Majesty, you are spared personal injury and created a duke. Proceed at once and return not to court without express command.”

The late Emperor Xian [Liu Xie] controlled his emotion, thanked the Emperor Pi for his clemency and left on horseback. But those who saw the departure could not help a feeling of pity for him.

Said Cao Pi to his courtiers, “Now I understand the story of Shun and Yu.”

Then they all shouted: “O Ruler, may thy life be eternal!”

The ruling policy of Han had failed them,
Dangers pressed in upon the House,
And the land they had held so long
Passed from them forever.
Little thought he, who then snatched their scepter,
That the precedent he then claimed
Would be used in due time by another
To justify the destruction of his own House.

The officials then requested Cao Pi to make a solemn declaration to Heaven and Earth, which he did with humble obeisance.

But at this moment a sudden storm burst whirling up the dust and rolling along stones till no one could see the face of his neighbor. All the lights on the terrace were extinguished. The newly enthroned Emperor was terrified and fell prostrate. He was borne away unconscious. When he revived, he was assisted into the Palace, but for many days he was too ill to hold a court.

When he had somewhat recovered, he met his courtiers and received their felicitations. He rewarded Hua Xin with the post of Minister of the Interior, and Wang Lang with that of Minister of Works. All the officers were advanced in rank. But as his recovery was slow, he began to think there was too much witchcraft about the palaces at Xuchang and left it for Luoyang, where he erected a large palace complex.

The tale of these doings reached Chengdu and caused great grief to the Prince of Hanzhong, for he heard the rumors that the late Emperor had been put to death. He issued an order for mourning to be worn and instituted sacrifices, and he conferred the posthumous title of Emperor Xian [Liu Xie] the Filial on the late Emperor. This worry brought on an illness, so that he could not transact the business of the court, which was left in the hands of Zhuge Liang.

Then Zhuge Liang and some of his colleagues took counsel one with another, saying, “The empire cannot be one single day without its ruler, wherefore we desire that our Prince should be honored with the title of ‘Emperor’.”

Qiao Zhou said, “There have been auspicious indications. A yellow vapor has been seen in the northwest of Chengdu rising to the clouds, and the star of emperor has greatly increased in splendor and shined like the moon. These signs mean that our Prince is to become Emperor in succession to the House of Han. There can be no doubt.”

Whereupon Zhuge Liang and Xu Jing, at the head of a large number of officers, presented a memorial requesting the Prince to assume the title of Emperor. But Liu Bei objected.

“O Nobles, do you desire to set my feet in the way of disloyalty and wrong-doing?”

“Not so,” said Zhuge Liang. “But Cao Pi has usurped the Throne, while you are a scion of the House. It is right and proper that you succeed and prolong the line.”

But the Prince suddenly showed anger, saying, “Can I imitate the deeds of such a rebel?”

He rose and left the chamber, going to his own apartments. So the officials dispersed.

But three days later Zhuge Liang again led a deputation to the court, and they requested that the Prince should come forth and hear them. He came, and they all prostrated themselves.

Xu Jing spoke, “The late Emperor of the Hans has been slain by Cao Pi. You, O Prince, will fail both in loyalty and rectitude if you do not assume the succession and destroy the wrong-doers. The whole empire requests you to rule that you may avenge the death of the late Emperor, and the people will be disappointed if you do not accede to their wishes.”

The Prince replied, “Although I am descended from the grandson of Emperor Jing, I have not been of the least advantage. If I assumed the title of ‘Emperor’, how would that act differ from usurpation?”

Zhuge Liang pleaded with him again and again, but the Prince remained obdurate. Then Zhuge Liang bethought that where argument failed a ruse might succeed. So having arranged the parts his several colleagues were to play, he pleaded illness and remained at home. Presently it was told the Prince that his adviser’s condition was becoming serious, wherefore Liu Bei went to see him as he lay on his couch.

“What illness affects you, my Commander-in-Chief?” asked Liu Bei.

“My heart is sad like unto burning, and I shall soon die.”

“What is it that causes you such grief?”

But Zhuge Liang did not reply. And when the question was repeated again and again he said nothing, but just lay with his eyes closed as if he was too ill to speak.

The Prince, however, pressed him to reply, and then with a deep sigh Zhuge Liang said, “Great Prince, from the day I left my humble cottage to follow you, you have always listened to my words and accepted my advice, and now this western domain, the whole of the two River Lands is yours just as I said it would be. But this usurpation of Cao Pi means the annihilation of the Hans and the cessation of their sacrifices, wherefore my colleagues and I desired you to become Emperor in order to crush this upstart Wei and restore the Hans. We all worked for this end, never thinking that you would refuse so obstinately to accede to our wishes. Now the officers are all annoyed, and they will drift away before very long. If you are left alone and Wu and Wei come to attack, it will be difficult for you to hold on to what you have. Do you not think this sufficient reason for me to feel grieved?”

“Unless I refused, the whole world would blame me. I am afraid,” replied the Prince.

Quoting Confucius [Kong Qiu] the Teacher, Zhuge Liang replied, “‘If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.’ In other words, if one be not really straight, people will not speak of one favorably. O Prince, you are straight, and people speak of you favorably. What more is there to say? You know when Heaven offers and you refuse, you are certainly to blame.”

“When you have recovered, it shall be done,” said the Prince.

Up leapt Zhuge Liang from his bed, tapped at the screen in front of a doorway and in rushed a number of high officers, who prostrated themselves, crying, “So you have consented, O Prince! Then choose the day for the ceremony.”

They were all the most trusted of his court: Imperial Guardian Xu Jing, General Who Brings Peace to Han Mi Zhu; Lord of Qingyi Xiang Ju, Lord of Yangquan Liu Bao, Deputy Governor Zhao Zuo; First Secretary Yang Hong, Counselor Du Qiong, Secretary Zhang Shuang, Minister Lai Gong, Minister Huang Quan, Minister He Zong, Doctorate Scholar Yin Mo, Minister Qiao Zhou, Grand Commander Yin Chun, Imperial Commander Zhang Si, Treasurer Wang Mou, Doctorate Scholar Yin Ji, Counselor Qin Mi, and many others.

The Prince was greatly startled, and said, “You are committing me to doing what is dishonorable!”

But Zhuge Liang said, “Since consent has been given, let a terrace be built and a day chosen for the great ceremony.”

The Prince was escorted back to his palace, and Academician Xu Ci and High Counselor Meng Guang were told off to see to the building of the terrace at Mount Wudan south of Chengdu. And when all was ready, a great concourse of officers solemnly escorted the Prince, seated in a carriage of the imperial pattern, to the ground prepared, and he went up to the altar and performed the appointed sacrifice.

This done, the solemn announcement was read in a loud voice by Qiao Zhou:

“On this twelfth day of the fourth month of the twenty-fifth year of the Rebuilt Tranquillity Era, Liu Bei, the Emperor, makes this solemn announcement to Heaven and Earth.

“The dynasty of Han has possessed the empire for years without end. Formerly Wang Mang rebelled against his sovereign, and Emperor Guangwu [Liu Xiu] the Founder of Latter Han rose in his wrath and put Wang Mang to death, thus restoring the prerogatives of the great sacrifices to him who rightly exercised them. Lately Cao Cao, powerful and cruel, slew the Empress, and his crimes cry aloud to Heaven for vengeance. His son, Cao Pi, carrying evils into every quarter, then seized the scepter.

“My officials and leaders, regarding the dynasty as having been overthrown, think it fitting that I, Liu Bei, would continue the line. As successor to my two warrior ancestors, Liu Bang [Gaozu] and Emperor Guangwu [Liu Xiu], I will punish as Heaven decrees.

“Fearing lest my virtue be inadequate to the Imperial Throne, I consulted the voices of the people, and all, even the most distant, have said that the mandate of Heaven may not be disobeyed, the great task of my ancestors may not discontinue, the land must have a lord, and they aver the cynosure of all eyes is myself.

“Now I, respecting the mandate of Heaven and fearing lest the great achievements of Liu Bang [Gaozu] and Emperor Guangwu [Liu Xiu] may be overthrown, have reverently selected this auspicious day to ascend the altar, sacrifice, and announce my assumption of the Imperial Seal in order to comfort all the people, rejoice the ancestors of the Dynastic House, and bring eternal tranquillity to all domains.”

When the reading was ended, and the sacrifice and the prayer, Zhuge Liang, in the name of all those assembled, presented the Imperial Seal.

The Prince received it in both hands, laid it upon the altar, and again declined acceptance, saying, “I, Liu Bei, am unfitted. I pray that another, more able, may be chosen.”

But Zhuge Liang said, “Our lord has settled the empire, and his merits are manifest to the whole world. Moreover, he is of the Dynastic Family, and it is fitting that he succeed. Now that the great announcement has been made, such self-abnegation is impossible.”

So all the officers shouted, “Eternal life to the Emperor!” And they did obeisance.

Then the style of the reign was announced to be Manifest Might, the first year (AD 220). The Lady Wu was declared Empress, and the eldest son, Liu Shan, was declared Heir-Apparent. The second son Liu Yung was made Prince of Lu, and the third son Liu Li, Prince of Liang (the ancient states of Lu and Liang). Zhuge Liang became Prime Minister, and Xu Jing, Minister of the Interior. Many others were promoted, and a general amnesty was proclaimed, so that there was great rejoicing throughout all the length and breadth of the two River Lands.

Next day the first court was held, and after the ceremonial prostration, and when they were all arranged in due order, the First Ruler made a pronouncement.

“In the Peach Garden I and my brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei pledged ourselves to live and die together. Unhappily my brother Guan Yu came to his end at the hands of Sun Quan of Wu, and I must avenge him lest I fail to fulfill the oath. Therefore will I devote the whole force of my kingdom to the destruction of Wu and the capture of its rebellious chief, whereby to wipe away my reproach.”

But just as he closed this oration, an officer threw himself down at the foot of the throne, crying, “It may not be so!”

All eyes turned to this man. He was Tiger General Zhao Yun.

“Dire vengeance will I wreak!” so cried the King,
His minister replied, “Do no such thing.”

What arguments were used will appear in the next chapter.