Guan Lu Sees Things In The Book Of Changes;
Five Loyal Subjects Die For Their State.
A poet celebrated the episode of the murdered Taoist:
He studied his magical books,
Cao Cao's illness seemed beyond the art of the physicians, and drugs seemed of no avail. It happened that Minister Xu Zhi came from the capital to visit the prince, who bade the latter take a cast from the "Book of Changes."
He was learned in mystical lore,
And with magical fleetness of foot
He could travel the wide world over.
The magical arts that he knew,
He employed in an earnest essay
To reform the bad heart of Cao Cao.
But in vain; Cao Cao held on his way.
"Have you ever heard of Guan Lu? He is more than human in his skill at divination," said Xu Zhi.
"I have heard a lot about him, but I do not know how clever he is; you tell me about him," replied Cao Cao.
"He is from Pingyuan. His face is ugly and coarse; he drinks to excess and is rather dissipated. His father was an elder of Langye. From a lad Guan Lu loved to study the stars, staying up all night to watch them, in spite of the prohibition of his father and mother. He used to say that if domestic fowls and wild geese knew the seasons naturally, how much more should humans. He often used to play with other boys at drawing pictures of the sky on the ground, putting in the sun, moon, and stars. When he grew older he studied the 'Book of Changes' very deeply and observed the winds. He was a marvelous calculator and excellent physiognomist.
"His fame reached the ears of Shan Zichun, the Governor of Langye, who called him to his residence for an interview. There were present some hundred or so other guests, every one of whom could be called able of speech.
"'I am young and not over-bold,' said Guan Lu to the Governor. 'I pray you give me three flasks of wine to loosen my tongue.' The request was astonishing, but the wine was brought in, and when he had drunk it, Guan Lu, looking contemptuously at the other guests, said, 'Now I am ready; are these the sort of opponents you have got together for me to contend with? Are these gentlemen sitting around me disputants?'
"'I myself am anxious for a match with you,' said Shan Zichun. Then they began upon the meaning of the Book of Changes. Guan Lu's words poured forth like a torrent, and his ideas were most recondite. The Governor replied, stating difficulties; Guan Lu swept them away in a stream of eloquence. So it went on the whole day without a pause even for refreshment. Neither Shan Zichun nor his other guests could help praising Guan Lu and agreeing with him.
"His fame spread wide after this encounter, and people spoke of him as the 'Supernatural Boy.' After this he became famous in another way. There was a certain Guo En, a man of the people, who had two brothers. All three became lame, and they called in Guan Lu to cast lots and discover the reason. Guan Lu said, 'By the lots there is a female demon in your family tomb, an aunt, the wife of one of your father's brothers. Some years ago, in a time of famine, for the sake of a few carts of grain, she was pushed into a well and a great stone was thrown in on her, crushing her head so that she suffered intensely. She complained to the Most High, and your lameness is the retribution for that crime. No prayers will avert the evil. The three brothers wept and acknowledged their guilt.
"Governor Wang Ji of Anping, heard of the diviner's fame and invited him to come on a visit, and he went. It happened that another guest of the Governor was the magistrate of Xindu, whose wife suffered from headaches and his son from pains in the heart. Guan Lu was asked to discover the reason. He cast lots and said that at the west corner of the main hall there were buried two corpses, one of a man who held a spear, the other of a man who had a bow and arrows. The wall was built across them. The spearman's master had gashed his head, and so his head pained. The archer's master had stabbed him in the heart, and so his heart suffered anguish. They dug where Guan Lu indicated and, about eight spans down, found two coffins, one with a spear inside and the other with a strung bow and wooden arrows. All were much decayed. Guan Lu bade them remove the bones and bury them three miles outside the walls. Thereafter the woman and her son suffered no more.
"A certain Zhuge Yuan, Magistrate of Guantao, newly promoted to Governor, was leaving for his new post, and Guan Lu went to see him off. One of the guests mentioned that Guan Lu could divine what was hidden from sight. The Governor doubted such powers and said he would put a test. He got a swallow's egg, a wasp's nest, and a spider, and concealed them in three separate boxes. He asked Guan Lu to guess the contents. The divination made, Guan Lu wrote three quatrains:
'A many-chambered dwelling
'Therein is a long-legged, trembling thing,
'The latent life will declare itself;
"The guests were amazed.
It will cling to your lordly hall,
Or male or female, flung into space,
Wide wings will prevent its fall.
This seems to indicate a swallow's egg.
Is hanging to your eaves.
Each room has a poisonous tenant;
Who'll be flying when he leaves.
This answers to a wasp's nest.
Who spins a thread from his inside
And spreads a fine spun net for flies;
He profits most at eventide.
And this it a spider.'
'A many-chambered dwelling
'Therein is a long-legged, trembling thing,
"An old woman in his village having lost a cow, came to consult him. After the divination, he told her that seven men had taken away the cow and were cooking and eating it on the bank of a certain mountain stream. She would better go there quickly and see who they were. If she went with all speed, she would find the skin and the flesh. The woman went and found the seven men hidden behind a small shanty, boiling beef. Most of the cow's flesh was still there. She told Governor Liu Bin, who arrested the seven men and punished them. Then the Governor asked the old lady how she got to know exactly who the offenders were, and she told him.
"Governor Liu Bin was dubious, too. He sent for Guan Lu and put him to the following test. He placed his seal and a pheasant feather in a box and asked what were the contents. The reply was:
'There's a bird on the precipice steep,
'Square within, without so round,
"Governor Liu Bin treated the marvelous diviner with great honor.
Beauteous colors here abound;
The jewel within is held secure
And what it witnesses is sure.
Is not this a seal in its bag?
Its body with flame seems aglow.
Its wings are barred yellow and black.
At sunrise it never fails to crow.
And I think this hints at a pheasant feather.
'There's a bird on the precipice steep,
"One day Guan Lu saw a youth plowing a field. After watching him for a long time, Guan Lu suddenly asked his name and age.
"'My name is Zhao Yan, and I am nineteen,' said the young man. 'Pray, who may you be, Sir?'
"'I am Guan Lu; you may have heard of me. I see an air of early death about you, and you will be done with life in three days. It is a pity that one so handsome should die so young.'
"Zhao Yan forsook his plow, hurried home and told his father. The father at once set out to find Guan Lu, and, having found Guan Lu, threw himself on the ground and besought the diviner to save his son.
"'How can I avert the doom? It is fate,' said Guan Lu.
"'Alas! I have but this one son, I pray you save him.'
"And the son added his tears and prayers to those of his father. Guan Lu was deeply touched. Then he turned to the lad and said, 'You get ready some good wine and some venison. Tomorrow go into the forest on the south there, and underneath a lofty tree you will see two men seated on boulders playing chess. One of them will be dressed in white, and he will be facing the south. He is very evil looking. The other will be seated opposite, dressed in red. He is very handsome. They will be deeply absorbed in their game and will not notice who offers them food and wine, which you will humbly present on your knees. When they have eaten and drunk, you will prostrate yourself and with tears pray them to grant you length of days. You will gain an increased span of life, but, above all things, do not mention that I told you what to do.'
"The father kept Guan Lu as a guest, and the next day the son followed out his instructions. He entered the forest and soon came upon the two men seated beneath a pine, playing chess. They seemed oblivious to all around them. Zhao Yan presented the wine and the food, and the two men ate absent-mindedly, for the game went on.
"But when Zhao Yan threw himself on the ground and implored the gift of long life, they seemed startled.
"'This must be some of Guan Lu's doing,' said Red-Robe. 'Still, as we have accepted a gift at his hand, we must have pity on him.'
"He who was dressed in white then lifted up a book that hung at his side and looked therein.
"'You are nineteen this year,' said White-Dress to Zhao Yan. 'You ought to die. But we will insert a number nine over the number one and so make it read ninety-nine, and that is the age you will attain. But when you go back, tell Guan Lu he is not to betray the secrets of fate, or Heaven will surely punish him.'
"Then Red-Robe took out a pen and added the figure. A gust of wind passed, and the two old men were transformed into two cranes that rose into the sky and flew away.
"Zhao Yan came back home and told what he had seen. Guan Lu told him the red-robed man was the Southern Dipper Constellation, and the white-robed, the Northern Dipper.
"'But the Northern Dipper consists of nine stars, and there was only one man,' objected the lad.
"'Separately they are nine, but they combine to form one. The Northern Dipper records deaths; the Southern Dipper, births. Now the extra figure has been added, you need have no anxiety; you will live long.
"Father and son both thanked him most sincerely, but thereafter Guan Lu was very careful how he divined for people lest he should betray celestial secrets.
"Now, this man is at Pingyuan, and you, O Prince, can seek your fate of him. Why not call him?"
Cao Cao was greatly glad. Guan Lu was sent for and came. As soon as the salutations were over, Cao Cao asked him to cast lots for him.
Guan Lu at once found the cause and said, "The illness is only due to magical machinations; it should not create anxiety."
Cao Cao was much relieved in his mind, and his health began to improve.
Next Cao Cao wished to know about the conditions in the empire's affairs.
After the necessary calculations the prophet said, "Three and eight cross; the yellow boar meets the tiger; the southern expedition causes the loss of one limb."
Then Cao Cao asked him to inquire whether his life should be long or not.
Guan Lu replied, "Lion in the Palace to preserve the talents of ancestors: the Prince's way is securely renewed, and his son and grandson shall come to high honor."
Then Cao Cao asked concerning himself.
"Divination concerning the fate of the universe may not be foreknown; wait a time and I will look into it."
Cao Cao was pleased and would like to keep such a man near him, so he offered him the post of historiographer (who was also soothsayer) at his court, but it was declined.
"My destiny is mean, my luck despicable; I am not equal to such an office and dare not undertake it," said Guan Lu.
"Why not?" said Cao Cao.
"My forehead has no lofty fullness; my eyes no steady expression; my nose no bridge; my feet no round, solid heels; my back lacks the triple armor (of shoulder blades and intervening muscles); and my breast the three marks (like the character indicating wealth). I can only control evil spirits securely; I cannot rule living humans."
"What think you of my physiognomy?"
"What can a minister of extremely exalted rank like yourself desire further?" said Guan Lu.
Cao Cao pressed him to say; the soothsayer only laughed. Then Cao Cao asked him to look at the many officers of all kinds standing around.
"Every one of them is a servant equal to the administration of the empire," said Guan Lu.
But when Cao Cao asked whether good or bad fortune was to be his, the soothsayer would not give a clear and full reply.
A poem says:
Guan Lu was a seer of old.
Again Cao Cao asked him to divine concerning his rivals Wu and Shu.
Stars to him their secrets told.
Mysteries, occult and dim,
Were as daylight unto him.
His so subtle intellect
Could the shade of death detect,
But the secrets of his skill
Died with him,---are secrets still.
Guan Lu said, "The south just lost a famous leader, and the west is encroaching on your territory."
Cao Cao's doubts as to the accuracy of one of these events were soon set at rest, for a messenger came from Hefei to report: "Lu Su, the Supreme Commander of the South Land, has died in Lukou."
Then Cao Cao sent hurriedly into Hanzhong, and the scout returned to report: "Zhang Fei and Ma Chao have taken the Xiabian Pass and are threatening Hanzhong."
Cao Cao was angry and inclined to march at once against the invaders; but he consulted the great soothsayer, who advised him not to move.
"Do not act in haste. In the coming spring there will be a conflagration in Xuchang," said Guan Lu.
Having been witness of the verification of Guan Lu's words, Cao Cao was in no mood to neglect the warning. He stayed on in his palace, but he sent Cao Hong with fifty thousand troops to assist in the defense of the Eastern Land of Rivers, while Xiahou Dun, with thirty thousand troops, went to Xuchang to keep careful watch and be ready against any surprises. He placed High Minister Wang Bi in command of the Imperial Guard.
Sima Yi warned Cao Cao against this Wang Bi, saying, "The man is given to wine, and slack. He is not a fit person for such a post."
Cao Cao replied, "He is very fit. He has followed me through all difficulties and dangers. He is loyal and diligent, solid as stone or iron."
Wang Bi was appointed and led the guard into camp at the capital, outside the East Gate of the Imperial Palace.
Now there was a certain Geng Ji, a Luoyang man, who had long been employed in the Prime Minister's palace in a subordinate capacity and afterward had been promoted to a post of Minister. He and Minister Wei Huang were close friends.
These two were greatly distressed at Cao Cao's advance to princely rank, and more especially at his use of the imperial chariots. In the early months of the twenty-third year (AD 218), Geng Ji and Wei Huang came to a secret exchange of views on Cao Cao's conduct.
Geng Ji said, "The man is rebellious and wicked, every day behaving worse. He intends to go farther, and how can we, as servants of the dynasty, help him in his wickedness?"
Wei Huang said, "I have a friend named Jin Yi, who also is a servant of Han and an enemy of Cao Cao's. He is a descendant of the old Great Minister Jin Midi. Beside, he is friendly with Wang Bi. If we all tried our best, we ought to succeed."
"But if he is friendly Wang Bi, he will not assist us!" said Geng Ji.
"Let us go and sound him," said Wei Huang.
So the two went to see Jin Yi, who received them in his private rooms. There they talked.
Said Wei Huang, "O virtuous Jin Yi, we know you are on most friendly terms with Commander Wang Bi, and so have come to beg a favor."
"What is it you ask?"
"The Prince of Wei will soon receive the abdication of the Emperor and himself ascend to the seat of the mighty. Then you and your friend Wang Bi will advance to places of great honor; and when that day comes, we pray you not to forget us, but to recommend us for employment. We should feel no shallow gratitude for your kindness."
Jin Yi flicked down his sleeves and arose looking very angry. At that instant arrived the tea for the visitors. He snatched it away from the serving man and emptied it on the floor.
Wei Huang started up in feigned alarm.
"How have I offended you, my good friend?" cried he.
"I have been friends with you because you are descendants of people who have served the Hans faithfully. Now, instead of trying to repay the debt of gratitude you ought to feel, you turn aside to assist one who is their enemy, think you that I can regard you as friends? How could I look the world in the face?"
"But if it be destiny, one cannot help it," said Geng Ji. "One must accept it."
Jin Yi grew still more angry, so that the two visitors were convinced that at heart he was still loyal to the dynasty. Then they began to tell him the true state of the case.
"Our real desire is to destroy this rebel, and we have come to ask your help in that. What we said at first was only a test to find out what you thought."
"Think you, with my ancestry, generation after generation in the confidence and service of the Hans, that I would willingly follow a rebel? If you, Sirs, really think of restoring the dynasty, pray tell me your plans."
"Though we have the desire to prove our gratitude, yet we lack the means to destroy the enemy," said Wei Huang.
Said Jin Yi, "We desire helpers within and supporters without. If we could slay Wang Bi, we could use his name and troops to help the Emperor. With the help of Liu Bei, the Imperial Uncle, we should be able to destroy the rebel Cao Cao."
Hearing Jin Yi's plan, the others clapped their hands in approval.
"And I have two friends outside of the city who will go with us," said Jin Yi. "Both of them have the murder of a father to avenge. We can get their helps."
"Who are they?"
"They are sons of the great physician Ji Ping and are called Ji Mao and Ji Mu. Cao Cao put their father to death for his connection with the plot organized by Dong Cheng, when Dong Cheng received the secret edict conveyed in the robe and girdle, which was conferred upon him by the Emperor. The two sons escaped that time by flight, but they have since secretly returned to the capital. With their help all will go well."
Geng Ji and Wei Huang rejoiced at the prospect of further help, and a messenger was sent to call in the two Reilly brothers. Soon they arrived, and the plot was laid before them. They were deeply affected and shed copious tears. Their wrath rose to the sky and they swore to aid in the destruction of the rebel.
"On the fifteenth day of the first month there will be grand illuminations in the city," said Jin Yi, "and felicitations will continue on every side. Geng Ji and Wei Huang will each lead out their retainers and make their way quickly to Wang Bi's camp to wait till they see the fire begin. Then they will dash in, slay Wang Bi, and follow me inside the Palace. We will then request the Emperor to ascend the Tower of the Five Phoenixes, assemble his officers, and issue orders to destroy the rebels. The two Reilly brothers will make their way into the city and set fires going. Then all will raise their voices and summon the populace to their aid. They are to hold up any rescue force in the city till the Emperor has issued the edict and disturbance is allayed, when they will rush toward Yejun and seize Cao Cao. Then a messenger will be dispatched with a summons for Liu Bei, the Imperial Uncle. We will begin our work that night at the second watch, and we will escape the ill success that attended Dong Cheng's attempt."
All five swore before Heaven to be true, and they smeared their lips with blood in earnest of their oath. After this, each returned to his own home to prepare arms and call up their people.
Geng Ji and Wei Huang each had four or five hundred retainers, whom they armed. Ji Mao and Ji Mu also got together three hundred men. They gave out a story of a hunting party to explain the gathering.
When the preparations were complete, and before the time fixed for the rising, Jin Yi went to see Wang Bi and said, "Everything in the world seems now tranquil, and the power of the Prince of Wei extends over all the land. It is a season of joy and felicitation, and everyone is hanging out lanterns and putting up decorations for the occasion."
The night of full moon was very clear, moon and stars most brilliant. The people of the capital took advantage of the night and thronged the "six streets and the three market places." The lanterns were hung out in profusion, and all went merrily. No official interfered with the crowd, no one thought of the flight of time; all was simple gaiety.
That night the Commander of the Imperial Guards, Wang Bi, and his officers had a feast in their camp. Just after the second watch had begun, they heard a great shouting in the camp, and someone came in to say that a fire had started in the rear. Wang Bi hurriedly left the table and went outside. He saw flames leaping up and rolling by and heard shouts of "Kill!" rising on every side and echoing to the very sky. He thought the camp had certainly mutinied, and, jumping on his horse, went out at the south gate. Just outside he ran against Geng Ji, who loosed an arrow which struck him in the shoulder. He nearly fell with the shock, but he got away toward the west gate. He found he was pursued by armed men, so he got flurried, dismounted, and went on foot. Presently he came to the house of Jin Yi and hammered at the door.
Now the fire that had created such a scare had been raised by Jin Yi's own people sent for that purpose, and Jin Yi had followed them to fight when the time came. Hence there was no one but the woman folk left in his house. When the women heard the clamor at the door, they thought Jin Yi had come back, and his wife, from the door of the women's quarter, called out, "Have you killed Wang Bi?"
This was a shock, but it told Wang Bi that his quondam friend was now an enemy. Wherefore he fled further to the house of Cao Xiu and told him, "Geng Ji and Jin Yi have raised a disturbance."
Cao Xiu immediately armed himself, got to horse, and led a thousand troops into the city. He found fires on all sides, and the Tower of the Five Phoenixes was in flames. The Emperor had fled into the recesses of the Palace, but Cao Cao's friends and partisans were defending the Palace gates like grim death.
In the city the crowd was shouting one to another: "Slay Cao Cao and restore the Hans!"
When Xiahou Dun had received thirty thousand troops and the command to keep watch and ward over the capital, he had gone into camp three miles from the city. When he saw the conflagration start, he set the army in motion and surrounded the city. He also sent reinforcements to Cao Xiu within.
Inside the city the fighting went on all night. No one joined the conspirators; the small band were left to their own efforts. Soon it was reported that Jin Yi, Ji Mao, and Ji Mu were slain. Geng Ji and Wei Huang found their way to one of the gates, but there they met Xiahou Dun' main force and were made prisoners. The handful of men with them were cut to pieces.
When the fighting subsided, Xiahou Dun went into the city and set his troops to put out the fires. He also laid hands on the whole households of the five conspirators. Then he sent a report to Cao Cao, who sent back orders to execute the two conspirators and put to death in public all the members of the five families. He was also to arrest every official and send the whole batch to Yejun for interrogations.
Xiahou Dun sent his two chief prisoners to the place of execution. They shouted against Cao Cao.
"Living we have failed to slay you, Cao Cao; dead we will be malicious spirits smiting rebels in all places!"
The executioner smote Geng Ji on the mouth with his sword, so that the blood gushed out, but he continued to shout as long as he could. Wei Huang, his fellow-conspirator, dashed his temples on the ground crying, "How I hate him!" and ground his teeth till he broke them to fragments. And they both died of hatred and exhaustion.
Who can with outstretched hands uphold the sky
Xiahou Dun carried out his chief's orders and sent the officials he had arrested to Yejun. There Cao Cao set up two flags, one red and one white, in the drill ground and sent all the officials thither. Then he addressed them.
Or thrones maintain by simple loyalty?
Han's day was done; two would avert the doom,
But failed, and carried anger to the tomb.
"In this late rebellion some of you went out to extinguish the fire, some of you stayed within doors. Let those who went forth to put out the fire take their stand by the red flag, and those who remained in their houses go to the white flag."
The officials thought within themselves, "Certainly there can be nothing wrong in trying to put out a fire," so they nearly all placed themselves under the red flag; only about a third went to the white.
Then the order was given to seize all those by the red flag.
"We are guiltless!" cried they.
Cao Cao said, "At that time you intended not to put out the flames but to aid the rebels."
He sent them all down to River Zhang and had them put to death on the bank. There were more than three hundred victims. He rewarded those who were under the white flag and sent them to their homes in the capital.
Wang Bi died from his wound and was buried with great honor.
Cao Xiu was placed over the guards; Zhong Yao was created Prime Minister of the princedom of Wei, Hua Xin became High Minister. The occasion was taken to create six grades of the title of Lordship with three divisions each, eighteen in all. There were seventeen grades of Marquis West of the Pass. And all these had golden seals of office with purple ribbons. There were also sixteen ranks of Interior Marquis and Exterior Marquis. They had silver seals with tortoise ornaments on the back and black ribbons. There were five classes of Minister with three grades in each class. These had brass seals, with chain ornaments and ribbons. And with all these various gradations of ranks and nobility reorganized, the court was entirely reformed. There were new ranks and new people in office.1
Cao Cao then remembered the warning about a conflagration in the capital and wished to reward Guan Lu for his prescience, but he would receive nothing.
Cao Hong with an army went into Hanzhong. He placed Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He in command at points of importance, while he went on to the attack. At that time Zhang Fei and Lei Tong were holding Baxi. Ma Chao marched to Xiabian and sent Wu Lan out as Van Leader to reconnoiter. He fell in with Cao Hong, and Wu Lan was going to retire. But General Ren Kui advised against this.
"The enemy are newly arrived, why not fight and take the keen edge off their pride? If we do not fight, how can we look our chief in the face when we return?"
So it was decided to offer battle, and Ren Kui rode out and challenged Cao Hong. The challenge was accepted, and the warriors advanced. Cao Hong cut Ren Kui down in the third encounter and pressed the advantage, and Wu Lan was beaten off. When Wu Lan returned and told Ma Chao, he was blamed.
"Why did you attack without orders and bring about this defeat?"
"It was the fault of Ren Kui, who disobeyed orders."
"Defend the Pass most carefully; do not engage," said Ma Chao.
Ma Chao sent a report to Capital Chengdu and awaited orders for a further action. Cao Hong suspected some ruse when Ma Chao remained so long inactive, and retired to Nanzheng. Here he was visited by Zhang He, who asked, "General, why did you retire after the successful attack and slaughter of one of the enemy leaders?"
"Seeing that Ma Chao declined to come out to fight, I suspected some ruse," replied Cao Hong. "Beside, when I was at Yejun that wonderful soothsayer, Guan Lu, foretold the loss of a leader here. I heeded what he said and so was careful."
Zhang He laughed, "You have been a leader of soldiers for half your life, and yet you heed the sayings of a soothsayer! I may be of small wit, but I would take Baxi with my own troops, and the possession of Baxi would be the key to the whole of Shu."
"The defender of Baxi is Zhang Fei," said Cao Hong. "He is no ordinary man to meet. One must be careful."
"All of you fear this Zhang Fei, but I do not. I look upon him as a mere nobody. I shall have to capture him this time."
"But if you fail, what then?"
"Then I shall be content to pay the penalty according to military rules."
Cao Hong made him put his undertaking in writing, and then Zhang He marched to the attack.
The proud are often defeat;
The following chapter will tell how Zhang He fared.
Lightsome attacks oft fail.
1 This wave of reformation earned Cao Cao many admirers, but it also increased the number of his enemies.