why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

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why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby yaksha » Tue Jan 03, 2017 12:11 pm

strange that xun yu would start hating cao cao all of a sudden when he was more or less already abusing the emporor (which he seemed fine with btw) :?
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby Xu Yuan » Wed Jan 04, 2017 12:51 am

Xun Yu never hated Cao Cao and Cao Cao never hated Xun Yu. Xun Yu was a Han Loyalist and felt that his actions for Cao Cao was in helping the Han. It may be surmised that Xun Yu had felt that he had done so much for Cao Cao (which he had, saving his life on multiple occasions with his wit) that Cao Cao would tow the line for as long as Xun Yu lived. Xun Yu was a traditionalist who found stability and eternal endurance in the Han.

To Xun Yu the Han must have seemed on the mend, Dong Zhuo and his successors had damaged the prestige of the Emperor but now that the Emperor was safe with Cao Cao affairs of court could proceed in a proper manner. In the novel he seems astounded that Cao Cao would reject his advice and take the position of Duke of Wei and expresses his displeasure, leading to his forced suicide.

History says that Cao Cao talked to Xun Yu about the issue privately. Xun Yu reasoned that since Cao Cao had started his force with the claim of Han Loyalty that he should stay the course, this advice angered Cao Cao. Shortly after this event Xun Yu died mysteriously, it should be noted that Xun Yu was 50 years old, but the term "died of grief" is normally code for "forced suicide" in the SGZ it seems.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby Zyzyfer » Wed Jan 04, 2017 1:41 am

Xu Yuan wrote:...that Cao Cao would tow the line for as long as Xun Yu lived.


I hate to do this but...the expression is "toe the line". Although I have a feeling that at some point "tow the line" is going to become an accepted term. :lol:

To me, what's particularly amusing about this phrase is that it appears in ROTK 11. When a ruler who is set to "Ignore" the Han receives a promotion in rank, they will begrudgingly state that they will have to continue to toe the line.

Edit: And as far as Xun Yu goes, I don't have any clear observations about the mysteries surrounding his death, but I'd hardly say that he suddenly changed his loyalty. From the beginning, it was pretty clear that he was a Han loyalist.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Jan 04, 2017 12:08 pm

Welcome to the forum Yaksha

I don't think Xun Yu hated Cao Cao even at the friend but felt Cao Cao crossed the line with the Han by wanting to become Duke. He was always a Han loyalist and recognized by such by all sides but it was a difficult time for moral men as everything they knew was changing including philosophies and teachings that had been taught for generations.

Xun Yu was a close friend to Cao Cao, he saw Cao Cao as the best chance of the ending the civil war, he like many saw Cao Cao's government as a moral one that brought back rule of law, ended famine and appointed by talent. In terms of the Han, for most of his life, easy for someone like Xun Yu to see it as a Han loyal government. He knew Cao Cao from early on when Cao Cao like many probably did care for the Han, Cao Cao had served Han, opposed eunuch control, involved against Turbans, heavily involved against Dong, he rescued Emperor Xian when others didn't.

As bad as Cao Cao was to Xian, he was the best long term gentry controller of a Han emperor for generations. The rest were even worse to be the puppet Emperor of (thus Huan and Ling clinging to eunuchs) and if Xun Yu looked around at rival warlords, I don't think he would have seen anyone he 1) really trusted for the Han once the saintly Liu Yu was dead and 2) felt could unite the land. Emperor Xian might not have been happy but he was alive, the Han was alive through him and it was not unprecedented for a powerful subject to control government and uphold the dynasty. This was a civil war and Xun Yu was a pragmatic man.

When Cao Cao was looking at taking a rank only those seen as usurpers took, for Xun Yu it was suggesting Cao Cao was not seeking to support the state but eventually replace it with his own dynasty. For Cao Cao, rejecting it was embarrassing but also meant Xun Yu might be a problem for securing his succession when he died.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby ivolga » Wed Jan 04, 2017 7:31 pm

Oh, Xun Yu's true loyalty is a very interesting subject!

Did Xun Yu oppose the idea of Cao Cao accepting the title of duke because he was a Han loyalist - or do people consider Xun Yu the Han loyalist because he opposed the idea of Cao Cao accepting the title of the duke?

Was Xun Yu really such a principled (borderline fanatical) Han supporter? I just can't believe that. Xun Yu had been treated extremely well by Cao Cao and had more reason to be loyal to him than the Han. Xun Yu never urged Cao Cao to treat the emperor better, or to share power with him, or to raise Xian-di's heir as a better ruler. He never tried to strengthen the Han dynasty - only the Cao Cao' rule.

It's debatable whether Cao Cao himself wanted to depose the Han and establish his own dynasty or not: his acceptance of the titles of Wei-gong and later Wei-wang seems to be motivated by the desire to protect his family and supporters after he himself is gone:
It may be, however, that as some people see how my power has grown, and recognize that I am not the sort of man to trust indefinitely on the favor of Heaven. I am concerned lest they misjudge me, and say I have ambitions for the throne.
So I now reveal my true feelings, with words from the bottom of my heart.
On the other hand, should anyone suggest that I give up my army, hand over my power, and retire to my fief at Wuping, then that just cannot be. Quite simply, I am afraid I should be harmed as soon as I left the protection of my troops; and I want to arrange that even my children and grandchildren shall be secure.
(Cao Cao, from Wei Wu Gushi).

Being de facto the ruler of the realm, Cao Cao could have easily deposed Xian-di and become the emperor even without any fancy titles. On the contrary, the initial justification (by Dong Zhao&Co) for the Wei-gun title was that if Cao Cao hadn't taken any title, people would have suspected that he plans to usurp the throne. It's not clear, whether Xun Yu was against this because he saw this as a threat to the Han, as a political blunder, or as an unnecessary extravagance: after all, Xun Yu himself kept refusing any honors and awards. I think it's also important to note, that Xun Yu never spoke against this publicly, only in the private conversation with Cao Cao and only after being asked. He didn't try to enforce his opinion or to rally the Han loyalists at the court.

And Cao Cao listened to the Xun Yu's advice, at least for the time being - he didn't make himself the duke.

So why did Cao Cao order Xun Yu to accompany the army during the next Southern expedition - something that Xun Yu hadn't done for a long time? Was it because the previous expedition went badly, and Cao Cao counted on Xun Yu's help - or because he didn't trust Xun Yu anymore and didn't want to risk leaving him at the court, where he could have created an opposition against Cao Cao? Or perhaps he wanted to watch him closely and to find out where did Xun Yu's true loyalty lie? Probably, all reasons are valid.

During the Southern expeditions, the northerners used to die like flies from local diseases. Considering how many officers died during 208, 217 and 223 campaigns, and that the Xun family didn't seem to be of a strong health (none of Xun Yu's children even reached 40), and that two years later, in 214, his nephew Xun You died the same way, on the road during yet another Southern expedition - Xun Yu's death doesn't seem even slightly suspicious. If not for that "died from grief" expressions, used by Chen Shou.

Honestly, I just can't understand why did Xun Yu have to kill himself at that exact time and place - not right after that private talk with Cao Cao, not after receiving the order to join the army, but right in the middle of the campaign.
Same goes to Cao Cao giving the suicide order - why wait so long? Why bother to remove Xun Yu from the court and place him under Cao Cao's direct command (thus essentially neutralizing the danger of a potential opposition), if it was possible to organize suicide or poisoning without it? If Xun Yu wasn't a fanatical Han loyalist - why kill him at all? Getting rid of Xun Yu would make sense if he could organize a successful opposition to Cao Cao at the court and become a threat to his heirs. But why would he do that if he wasn't a Han fanatic? For years Xun Yu was one of Cao Cao's most loyal and dependable supporters and didn't show any particular loyalty to the Han.

It's more likely, that losing Cao Cao's trust and being removed from the court had a negative impact on Xun Yu's already fragile health, and that the psychological stress intensified the course of his illness. So Xun Yu indeed died from grief - but not in the metaphorical sense. And Cao Cao was indirectly responsible for his death.
Last edited by ivolga on Thu Jan 05, 2017 10:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby Xu Yuan » Wed Jan 04, 2017 8:28 pm

I see your argument, but it's not just armchair scholars who have put forth the notion that Xun Yu was the foremost Han Loyalist, but trained scholars of the era who also viewed it in the same light. There's a book called Hsün Yüeh (A.D. 148-209): The Life and Reflections of an Early Medieval Confucian which expands upon the basic "Xun Yu was a Han Loyalist" and goes steps further and says that in the early era of Jianan that despite the Imperial Court's lack of real power, it was still viewed as highly important due to Xun Yu who was the Emperor's personal counselor along with Kong Rong and Xun Yue while Xun Yu also attended the role of Cao Cao's main military advisor. To quote this, Xun Yu is "regarded as the chief architect of the Han Restoration in Xu". (p. 78). I must also note that Xun Yue was a Han Loyalist as well.

Also you say that Xun Yu had never spoken or acted in favor of the Han, but we simply do not know because he destroyed the massive amounts of memorials he sent to Cao Cao and the Emperor. We can see from his actions prior to his death and leading up to the impasse of the decision of Dukedom that Xun Yu had acted in the Han's favor as he was the de facto leader of the Han Restoration in Xu and this gave the newly restored court prestige for as long as he was around to guarantee it.

We do know that his family had believed him to be a Han Loyalist as his son Xun Can argued that Xun You was the more favorable of the two because he didn't try to assert his moral high ground and this severely angered his brothers who saw their father as a fallen martyr.

I believe there is enough evidence to show that Xun Yu was a Han Loyalist that is not to say he wasn't also devoted to Cao Cao, after all Cao Cao would play the role of Duke of Zhou and bring the world back to propriety, something Xun Yu could not do.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Thu Jan 05, 2017 11:29 am

Picking up on strands of Ivolga's case

1) Was Xun Yu a Han loyalist? Those alive at the time considered him to be so, I assume Emperor Xian did given his use of Xun Yu (which I had forgotten till Xu Yuan mentioned it), his family considered him. His death adds lustre to it but those who knew him considered him a Han loyalist so I'll go with that.

We may have different definitions of fanatical but by mine, no he was not a fanatic. Was Xun Yu well treated by Wei and loyal to Cao Cao? Yes but we don't define loyalty just by who offers you a good job. The Han may have treated Xun Yu less well then Cao Cao but the Han was a dynasty that seemed to have lasted forever, that still is a defining part of China and for some then, the Han being at the top was the natural order, it was the way things had to be.

2) Cao Cao's loyalty to Han. We will never know what Cao Cao's final intentions were, indeed perhaps he did not know. He could have deposed Xian near the end but it carries some risk or legacy damage he may not have wanted to take so put it off till unification or for his son to do, he could never have intended to take throne.

3) Ranks have symbolism. It is why so much work was put to decide what title Prince Philip (note not king or even Prince Consort) had, it is why any PM claiming title Lord Protector would send shockwaves around the world, why a US President can't try to change title.

Cao Cao certainly was very careful to ensure his family survived his death and the rank was part of that. It was also a rank, and as a scholar he was likely aware of this, that had become "I want to take over the Han and this is my stepping stone" in terms of symbolism. For Xun Yu, it was a red flashing light.

Even though the conversation was private, Cao Cao had shown the ducal proposal to a few people, when that project died, questions would have been asked. Word leaks out as it always does. Cabinet disagreements in UK leak out sooner rather then later, particularly if someone's public pet project has just been killed.

4) Was death suspicious? After falling out that makes Xun Yu a potential threat, he is stripped away from powerbase, taken with army for first time in a very long time, Xun Can's reaction, that Chen Shou did indeed use the "I can't say forced suicide but you know what I mean :wink: :wink: " historian phrase, the annotations. It seems generally accepted Xun Yu was forced to die.

5) Timing. Xun Yu needed to be taken out of the capital, out of the powerbase and enough time for discretion before his "sudden demise" so everyone could play the game of pretending it was a natural death. Ordering Xun Yu to kill himself when Xun Yu is in his own power base is taking a risk and given Cao Cao needs to secure his sons future, having Xun Yu around anywhere is a problem when Xun Yu's loyalty is to the Han.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby ivolga » Fri Jan 06, 2017 2:26 pm

Ok, Xu Yuan and Dong Zhou, you convinced me that Xun Yu indeed a Han loyalist and also clarified a few things, so thank you for that. :)

But it just doesn't sit well with me that for such an intelligent person as Xun Yu only the duke title became a sudden and cruel wake-up call, that shattered his illusions about Cao Cao being a loyal Han supporter. I feel like I'm still missing a few pieces, and it bugs me. Of course, people change, and Cao Cao could gradually become more power-hungry, and Xun Yu could become more loyal to the Han than in the beginning of his career. Perhaps, initially Xun Yu did believe that Cao Cao is the one to restore the Han to its former glory, but with time supporting both Cao Cao and the Han started to be a risky attempt to "sit between two chairs", as we say in my native language. And in the end, Xun Yu chose the Han over Cao. Or he just died from illness. Considering the scarcity of the sources we may never learn for certain, whether it was indeed a forced suicide or a rumor spread by Wei deserters in Wu, which Chen Shou seems to believe. At least, we can be sure, that such rumors existed.

I've re-read Xun Yu SGZ, and there is a phrase that puzzled me:
Therefore, in the second year of the Chuping reign [AD 191], when the Great Progenitor [Cao Cao] was in Dongjun serving as General who Manifests Might, Xun Yu left Yuan Shao for him. The Great Progenitor was greatly pleased, and said, “This is my own Zifang!”

By calling Xun Yu his Zifang (Zhang Liang), Cao Cao essentially admitted his ambitions: if Xun Yu is Zhang Liang, that makes Cao Cao himself Liu Bang - the founder of the new dynasty. So how could Xun Yu have any illusions concerning Cao Cao being a true Han supporter? Apparently, at least back then, Xun Yu had no qualms being a "new Zifang" for a "new Liu Bang".

Did he really believe that after consolidating all the power in his hands, Cao Cao would want (and would be able to, without endangering his and his family lives) to retire? That makes Xun Yu too naive and idealistic. I just don't understand what Xun Yu's long-term political goals were.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:31 am

ivolga wrote:But it just doesn't sit well with me that for such an intelligent person as Xun Yu only the duke title became a sudden and cruel wake-up call, that shattered his illusions about Cao Cao being a loyal Han supporter. I feel like I'm still missing a few pieces, and it bugs me. Of course, people change, and Cao Cao could gradually become more power-hungry, and Xun Yu could become more loyal to the Han than in the beginning of his career. Perhaps, initially Xun Yu did believe that Cao Cao is the one to restore the Han to its former glory, but with time supporting both Cao Cao and the Han started to be a risky attempt to "sit between two chairs", as we say in my native language. And in the end, Xun Yu chose the Han over Cao. Or he just died from illness. Considering the scarcity of the sources we may never learn for certain, whether it was indeed a forced suicide or a rumor spread by Wei deserters in Wu, which Chen Shou seems to believe. At least, we can be sure, that such rumors existed.


People often have divided loyalties. Family vs work. Faith vs nation. Party vs nation. We all get pulled two ways between things we hold dear that suddenly demand different things from us.

SGZ says the "suicide" phrase just after making clear the extent of the fall out, Songzhi didn't see fit to challenge it or the idea in annotations about suicide and that seems to be at least partly why historians widely accept Xun Yu was forced to kill himself. We perhaps can't be 100% sure but given the way it was written, does seem high likely

By calling Xun Yu his Zifang (Zhang Liang), Cao Cao essentially admitted his ambitions: if Xun Yu is Zhang Liang, that makes Cao Cao himself Liu Bang - the founder of the new dynasty. So how could Xun Yu have any illusions concerning Cao Cao being a true Han supporter? Apparently, at least back then, Xun Yu had no qualms being a "new Zifang" for a "new Liu Bang".


Your overthinking it.

I imagine Xun Yu was happy to be compared to a great Han hero. Who wouldn't? The idea of it is simple: a compliment. Europe did the same for awhile, they used the ancient figures (like Arthur and Charlamange) to provide a complimentary comparison. We do it nowadays, PM's compared to Churchill, wily tacticians compared to Napoleon, Presidents to Regan. Cao Cao was calling Xun Yu his right hand, a man of great intelligence, a rock who could be relied on. If people thought that was a line of Cao Cao's ambition, his enemies would have used it, scholars would criticize it but nobody does. The novel has warlords making that sort of comparison fairly often (or through poems) and even LGZ doesn't slam Cao Cao for it.

We do tend to do it to our leaders rather then leaders to subordinates but it is the same thing: a compliment, not a "and secretly our leader is a cuckold/has a drink problem". Or with potential sports stars compared to someone else.

Did he really believe that after consolidating all the power in his hands, Cao Cao would want (and would be able to, without endangering his and his family lives) to retire? That makes Xun Yu too naive and idealistic. I just don't understand what Xun Yu's long-term political goals were.


He didn't leave a manifesto so hard to know exactly. He may not have believed Cao Cao would retire but that Cao Cao would not seek to be more then the most powerful subordinate, he would control the empire for the Han and that if need be, the sons grip would be loosened.
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Re: why the sudden change in loyalty by xun yu

Unread postby ivolga » Sun Jan 08, 2017 2:37 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:People often have divided loyalties. Family vs work. Faith vs nation. Party vs nation. We all get pulled two ways between things we hold dear that suddenly demand different things from us.

SGZ says the "suicide" phrase just after making clear the extent of the fall out, Songzhi didn't see fit to challenge it or the idea in annotations about suicide and that seems to be at least partly why historians widely accept Xun Yu was forced to kill himself. We perhaps can't be 100% sure but given the way it was written, does seem high likely


So, Xun Yu served Cao Cao for many years, being both his adviser and his friend.
During the years of Xun Yu's service, the Han emperor is treated like a mere accessory (Li Jue and Guo Si at least let the emperor write orders, while Cao Cao wrote imperial edicts himself). It was basically Xun Yu's doing since it was he who proposed to use the emperor in order to rule the lords. Han loyalists, who aren't happy with such turn of events, regularly plot against Cao Cao - and regularly get killed off as a result so that the whole families of loyal Han supporters are being exterminated.

The worst thing - the prestige of the Han dynasty inevitably declines (and by the end of Cao Cao's rule apparently reaches its minimum, otherwise the "usurpation" of Cao Pi couldn't have gone so smoothly).

Yet for all these years Xun Yu was apparently fine with this? And only the duke title became the final straw or a wake-up call: Xun Yu makes a weak attempt to resist the inevitable and to fight for the already lost cause?
A suicidal and pointless action: he was an intelligent man and knew Cao Cao well - so he couldn't help expecting a hard retaliation.
No wonder Xun Yu's change of loyalty, as it depicted in SGZ, seems sudden and illogical.

By this time even the Xun family wouldn't have backed him up in this belated attempt: Xun Yu's own clansman and colleague, Xun You (also one of the highest-ranking state officials), was one of the main supporters of Cao Cao accepting the duke, and later the king titles.

Perhaps, Xun Yu envisioned a political system similar to that of Edo Japan or the Great Britain, when the real power belongs to chengxiang (shogun, prime minister) and the government, while emperor exists as a symbolical ruler. If that was his political goal, this could explain why he was ok with the mistreatment of the emperor, and why Cao Cao's intention to establish a new dynasty upset him.

Dong Zhou wrote:Your overthinking it.
...
We do tend to do it to our leaders rather then leaders to subordinates but it is the same thing: a compliment, not a "and secretly our leader is a cuckold/has a drink problem". Or with potential sports stars compared to someone else.


Perhaps, I'm overthinking. Still, this phrase does sound a bit loaded (actually, I was sure that it is SGYY invention so I was surprised to see it verbatim in Xun Yu's SGZ). Cao Cao didn't simply compare Xun Yu to Zhang Liang (e.g. "He is another Zhang Liang", or smth like this) - he emphasized a role Xun Yu has to play for him: "Here is my Zhang Liang". Everyone knows the huge role Zhang Liang played in establishing the Han dynasty, and Xun Yu did play the same role for Wei: his contribution is hard to overestimate - it's second only to Cao Cao himself.
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