Hurrah, the Royal Baby etc. etc.

Well, so the world – or at least a subset of the world that enjoys both 21st century amenities and 19th century sentiments about entitlement, social order and the way things should be, the lucky bastards – has been abuzz over the royal baby.

Except he’s no longer the royal baby, he’s George! Nice choice of name there given the rather colourful Georges that Britain’s had. (Incidentally, the character of George in Blackadder is real. There was a Prince Regent, whose father the King was indeed bonkers in his later years, and who was quite well known for being a party-goer. He did commission the Royal Pavilion in Brighton though, and that is a very nice building, so I guess it all balances out if you’re a prince, eh?)

蒿里行 – Marching amid Wormwood

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Cao Cao, as portrayed by Zhang Fengyi in the Red Cliff films.

If 诸葛亮 Zhuge Liang (as mentioned in this post) is the Chinese name for genius, then the name for intrigue, sneakiness and cunning plans would have to be 曹操 Cao Cao (155 − 220 CE), a name which has unfortunately been frequently savaged by English dubbers of Japanese games. (The c is pronounced ts, like in cats, or dots.)

Full disclosure here – in the Three Kingdoms fandom, I’ve always been very partial to Cao Cao. If there is one complaint about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms that I have, it is that it turned him into the villain – but also a figure of fun, someone who is alternately horribly cruel and horribly idiotic.

The historical record begs to differ; indeed, while Zhuge Liang was a skilled strategist who could write good prose, the all round Renaissance Man of that turbulent century was Cao. His ability to win battles and wars is one thing; but he was also an accomplished poet, an innovative policy-maker who revived agriculture in a country that had lost about 30% (if not more) of its population, and a patron and manager of people whose retinue included inventors, urban architects, and all sorts of other talents. In poetry terms, he – along with his oldest son and successor 曹丕 Cao Pi, and his third son 曹植 Cao Zhi – are still known as the ‘Three Caos’.

But this poem was written before he was any of those things – when he was still one warlord among many, and a relatively small one at that. When in 191 the tyrannical 董卓 Dong Zhuo took control of the Han court, an alliance of regional commanders to depose him was quickly formed; Cao Cao was one of its most ardent supporters, and much of his later career – his suspicion of people and instinct for power – might have been shaped by his disillusionment at how the alliance fell apart almost before it got going. But it also gave a sense of him not often seen in his war-making, as a person who actually did feel concern for how the Han Dynasty had gone way down the drain and the world was being ruined.

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