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Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Mon Jan 16, 2023 1:35 am
by Daolun
Another much more minor translation project that has to do with the Hou Han Shu. Given that this subject is not my forte, this thread won't be as active as the Translations of Han thread but I will keep it updated any time I do add a new section!

Hòu Hàn Shū 後漢書 84.6 - Cài Yǎn 蔡琰
The Tragic Daughter


Wife of Chénliú’s Dǒng Sì was the daughter of Cài Yōng, born of the same county. She was named Yǎn, appellation Wénjī.[1] She had talent and was skilled in debate, also tuning and musical temperament. Previously she wed Hédōng’s Wèi Zhòngdào who died young, siring no children she returned [to her home]. During the chaos of Xīngpíng [194-195] she was by the Hú taken and forced to wed Southern Xiōngnú’s Worthy King of the Left [xiōngnú zuǒxián wáng], bearing two sons. Cáo Cāo was saddened that [Cài] Yōng had no heir, so with gold and jade sent an ambassador to purchase [Cài Yǎn’s] freedom, she married [Dǒng] Sì.[2]


[Dǒng] Sì was appointed Chief Commandant of Agricultural Garrison [túntián dū wèi], committed a grave crime and was sentenced to execution. Cáo Cāo at the time was holding a great banquet, Wénjī came, her feet bare and clothing tattered. Cáo Cāo said to the guests, “Here is Cài Bójiē’s daughter, she has come to call upon me”. Kowtowing and with apologies she faced Cáo Cāo, speaking for her husband in a clear and eloquent argument, the many ministers were moved. Cáo Cāo said "I truly sympathize but the execution order has been sent. I can do nothing." [Wénjī] spoke up "The Duke has many horses stabled and gallant soldiers at his call. Would not one man and a swift horse save a man from death!" Cāo was moved by her words and pardoned [Dǒng] Sì, as well as gifted her clothing and socks. Cáo Cāo asked of her “I have heard that in Madam’s family home there were many great books. Can you remember any of them?” Wénjī said “Of the works of my late father they totaled some four thousand juǎn, yet they are now ruined and ripped. None remain. Those from memory I can recite are no more than four hundred." Cáo Cāo said "I shall send scribes to Madam's home to write them down". Wénjī said “I have heard that propriety rules men and women to be separate, never giving things to one another. I ask to be given writing materials so I can record them, Zhōng [3] or cursive, as you command." It was agreed and her writings were presented, no words were missing nor wrong.


Afterwards, consumed by grief and sorrow, penned two poems. Her first read: [4]


Hàn's power was failing and Dǒng Zhuō disrupted Heaven's order. With a desire to usurp and murder [the Emperor], first he brings the virtuous to harm. Forcing the court to the old capital, he took the Emperor to empower himself. Within the four seas the loyal raised armies wishing together to oppose him. Dǒng Zhuō sends armies east, metal armor shining in the sun. The inner peoples were vulnerable and [Zhuō's troops] poured into the countryside, attacking cities and towns. Coming and going they left destruction in their path, none could survive. Corpses and skeletons propped each other up. From their horses flanks, the heads of men hang [as trophies], their horses rears carried the captured women. Far west they came through the Pass, a distant path with dangers and traps. Our stomachs turned as we gazed back on the distance. The captives were numerous and we were not allowed to camp together. Though some families were taken they dare not speak. Should we be careless they would say "Kill the worthless captives, put them to the sword, we will not keep them alive." Our lives were not important, we were met with harsh threats. They beat us as they wished, anger and sorrow together came. By day we traveled wailing and weeping, by night we sat sorrowful and moaning. We wished for death yet did not get it, we wish for life yet had no chance. What crime did we commit against blue Heaven to suffer this disaster? The border wastelands are not China, the men lack righteous morals. They live in frost and snow, harsh winds in spring and summer, tossing clothes about, harming my ears. The times brought my thoughts to my parents, lamenting and sighing without end. Travelers came from abroad which was always hopeful. I meet them and ask for information yet none were from my home. Suddenly my wish was fulfilled, my family sent for me. I was released but had to abandon my children. Our hearts were united by heaven but I realized we would never reunite. In life and death we would eternally part, I could not leave them. They came to me and hugged my by the neck, "Mother, where are you going? They say Mother is leaving. Mother was always kind, why are you so unkind now? We are not grown up and we will not have you to care for us!" This caused my stomach to turn, my feelings turned to madness and i sobbed and moaned, holding them with my hands. We were to leave but I hesitated; those taken with me saw me off and bid farewell. They envied me going home, their cries were heartbreaking. The horses stayed due to my reluctance, for my sake the carriage did not move. The onlookers cried, the travelers wept and choked on tears. Away, cut off from they who I love, a quick journey, every day more distant. Far, far thousands of li. Will we ever meet again? I thought of my children who were born from me, my heart for them was torn asunder. As I came home my family was all gone, not even cousins are here. The forest had overgrown the walls and the courtyard were overgrown with brambles. White bones I did not recognize were everywhere, none were covered. As I left the gate there were no humans sounds, just wolves howling. Alone I was in dismay, my insides were tattered. Climbing and looking to the distance I felt my soul leave me. When my life was nearing it's end the people were benevolent to me. It was for their sake I chose to go on breathing, yet i live what purpose was there? My life is entrusted to a new man, I must always carry on. While I was captured I became cheap and low, living in a constant fear of being rejected again. How long does human life last? This grief will be kept until the end of mine.


The second poem reads:


I met with the world's great disasters and my family line was extinguished, my house died out. I was taken and brought west through the Passes. Through traps and dangers to the Qiāng and Mán. Mountains and Valleys were remote with a long winding road. I gaze east, forever yearning to return but only able to lament. In the dark I could not sleep, when hungry I could not ear. My eyes were not dry as constantly my tears flowed. My will [to live] was poor and I thought of suicide but had not the strength to go through with it. Thought I lived on I lost all nobility. The essence of yáng was absent in this distance land, yīn air takes shape[?] as summer snow falls. Sand storms of thick dust is so dark. There is grass and trees but no blossoming Spring. The people are mere animals eating but only fetid meats. Their words are incomprehensible, their looks unkempt. The years come to an end and time passes on, the night is long and the door is locked[?]. Unable to sleep I pace in the night. I go to the hall and look to the large courtyard. The dark clouds hide the moon and stars, the harsh winds stir in the north. Hújiā could be heard and the horses neigh. Geese fly home and honk. Musicians rose and pluck their zithers; their sounds harmonize beautiful and clearly. My heart spills its feelings of longing, my breast full of resentment. I wish to unfold but fear they would be shocked. I hold back by sobbing, wetting my collar with tears. My family has since sent for me and I must go home. I take off down the long road, abandoning the ones I have born. The children say I am mother, crying till their voices are lost. My ears are covered, I cannot bear to hear. They come running and hold me, wishing to not me left. They trip and hurt themselves, I look back and feel shame. My heart is distressed, dead yet alive.

1: Her actual appellation during her lifetime was Zhāojī 昭姫, however during the Jìn 晉 the word Zhāo 昭 became a taboo word after the state posthumously enfeoffed Sīmǎ Zhāo 司馬昭 as an Emperor, thus making his personal name of Zhāo 昭 taboo and illegal to speak, write or hold. Posthumously her name was changed to avoid this taboo violation. Many sources follow this taboo, less out of a respect for Jìn’s mandate and more-so due to many poems, rightly or wrongly attributed to her, using the name Wénjī 文姬. So much so is the fame of her changed appellation that she is commonly referred to by it, similar as one might see for a certain Chancellor of a south western state.

2: While this reason and story is backed up in the writings of Cáo Pī 曹丕 it doesn’t make much of a sense in reality. At least the reason for Pī’s father doing what he did as women cannot be seen as heirs in Han China. More importantly she was not a lone child either, therefor her father did in fact have more ‘heirs’ if we view women as such. It seems more likely that Cáo Cāo’s admiration for her father was the primary reason for purchasing her safety. This story is further backed up in the writings of Dīng Yí 丁儀, although Yí in his writings states she was captive for 13 years as opposed to Cáo Pī and the Hòu Hàn Shū record of 12.

3: Zhōng 鍾 is a calligraphy style named after Marquis Chéng 成侯, Zhōng Yáo 鍾繇 of Yǐngchuān 潁川. It is the ancestor form of standard script.

4: For a far better translation done by someone with talent, for the love of God, please refer to Cai Yan and the Poems Attributed to Her by Hans H. Frankel. I tried my best to make the poetry comprehensible but I can’t promise it’s anywhere near as accurate as Frankel.

Hòu Hànshū 後漢書 54 - Yáng Xiū 楊修
A genius who could not be allowed to live.


[Yáng] Xiū[1][2], appellation Dézǔ, was talented, brilliant and excelled at studying, served as Chancellor Cáo Cāo’s Registrar, handling affairs for the Cáo clan. At the time [Cáo] Cāo had captured Hànzhōng he wished to advance upon Liú Bèi but was unable to advance and wished to defend yet this was hard to accomplish, the army was not sure whether to advance or withdraw. [Cáo] Cāo therefor sent out an order “chicken rib”, and this was all that was said. Of the outer officials, it was only [Yáng] Xiū who understood,


“To eat a chicken rib is to gain nothing, and to discard it is a pity. The plan to retreat has been decided.”


He then issued orders to prepare to travel and [Cáo] Cāo soon set out, returning the army home.[3] [Yáng] Xiū's understanding and decisiveness was like this. When Xiū desired to head out he soon expected [Cáo] Cāo to talk of outer affairs, and so drafted prepared responses, telling the guards


“Should there be any orders, deliver this.”


It was as expected. Several times it was like this and [Cáo] Cāo was shocked by the speed, therefor began an investigation and fully understood, resenting Xiū.[4] Furthermore, as he was Yuán Shù's nephew, [Cāo] worried about future troubles, therefor because of some matter Xiū was put to death.[5]

1: Yáng Xiū is a sub entry to his ancestor Yáng Zhèn 楊震, along with a lot of his prominent clan. He as well has an appended biography to SGZ19.2, the entry of Prince Sī of Chén 思陳王, Cáo Zhí 曹植 that is much larger than this. I will attempt this at a future date.

2: Yáng Xiū hails from the extremely powerful Yáng clan of Hóngnóng 弘農. During the Han Dynasty they were one of the greater literati clans. Later on during the Western Jìn 西晉 Yáng Jùn 楊駿, father of two Empresses, attempted a palace coup but was killed. This very same Yáng clan were the same who ruled the Suí 隋 as they all claimed to be descended from Yáng Zhèn 楊震. There is also another member of the clan named Yáng Xǐ 楊喜 who was one of several to claim the head of Xiàng Yǔ 項羽.

3: There is a possibility that this event did not occur in 219, but in fact in 216. No date is ever given, and the wording seems to imply it occurs after the aborted idea to invade southward.

4: A greater and more impressive version of this story is in the Wénshì zhuán 文士傳. Translation by Richard Mather:

Yáng Xiū once wrote a report on a certain matter. Anticipating that there would inevitably be further instructions back and forth, he had written in advance his replies in several pages. Attaching them in order, he went to Cáo Cāo's office. There he left orders with the caretaker, saying, "My original report will inevitably call forth instructions back and forth. Just reply to them in this order, that's all."The wind came up and blew the papers, and the order became confused. Since the caretaker did not make any distinction between them, Yáng Xiū's replies were all inappropriate. Cáo Cāo became angry and inquired back to the source. Yáng Xiū was embarrassed and frightened, but replied with the facts, and thus what he had reported made a great deal of sense. [Although Cáo Cāo at first took it amiss], in the end it turned out to be correct. [Xiu's ability and understanding were all of this sort]. (Passages in square brackets represent portions retained in the Tang fragment
but not carried in the Song and later texts.)

5: Yáng Xiū’s death took place ten months before the death of Cáo Cāo. “Worrying about future affairs” has the implication that he believes Xiū is too much for his children to handle.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Mon Jan 16, 2023 8:26 am
by Xu Yuan
Cai Yan's purported poems are indeed powerful and I think you gave them an excellent measure of respect. The vision of a mother having to tear herself away from her confused children is heartbreaking, no matter the circumstance. I do think the reason for the ransom is an odd part of the history. As noted, Cai Yong did have living children aside from her, so what was special about Cai Wenji? I doubt her talents were known when she was a girl outside of her family, was it basically done as repayment to a great man's legacy? In any event, her memory must have been remarkable to recall 400 works that she had not seen for over a decade and a half from her father's library. Do we know what Dong Si had done to warrant execution? Or is Dong Si only mentioned in respect to being Cai Wenji's husband? (I also greatly appreciate you putting the Pinyin markers above the words. Not knowing how words were actually said without the right tone still causes me to err frequently, despite living in China for three years).

Yang Xiu's story is interesting. As you noted there's a much more involved story with Cao Zhi. I always thought this story derived from the Romance, I guess these events together (the retreating password, the mixed-up responses, and helping Cao Zhi cheat on the "heir tests") was too much for Cao Cao. Cao Cao seemed to be very worried about a Yang/Yuan family resurgence, recognizing that the Cao were always considered outsiders of sorts, I guess his fears were decently well founded.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 12:48 pm
by Jia Nanfeng
I too find Yang Xiu’s story fascinating to read about. Thank you for sharing!

He also impressed Cao Cao with the gravestone interpretation and with solving Cao Cao’s “you made the door to the garden way too big” puzzle.

It’s interesting that he wanted to surround himself with gifted folk, but had a limit. As you said, his fears of the Yang returning to power later came to be — the treasonous buffoons.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:03 pm
by Daolun
Yang Xiu is such a fascinating man to me. I find him so damn admirable and talented. Too talented in fact, and he knew he'd die one day as a result of that talent.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:12 pm
by Jia Nanfeng
Have you seen the Chinese drama “Secret of the Three Kingdoms”? Yang Xiu makes appearances throughout (as a side character), including the Cao Zhi conspiracy.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:19 pm
by Daolun
I am familiar with it, though I have to admit the premise of Liu Xie having a body double/twin thing sort of turned me off.

Yang Xiu did play a large role as Sima Yi's antagonist in Advisers Alliance though. He was the highlight of that for me.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:21 pm
by Jia Nanfeng
I have yet to actually see that. I am angry at myself now.

Time to download it completely legally.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:23 pm
by Daolun
Part 2 felt more enjoyable for me simply due to the Sima vs Cao rivalry I've been waiting for SOME adaptation outside of Legend of Jiang Wei to cover. While it wasn't exactly what I wanted, I really enjoyed it a lot. Sima Yi certainly was the Hero in it, sadly, but that didn't stop me from rooting for the actual good guys!

I forgot to mention there is a show about the Unification of China by Jin in production. Jia Nanfeng will be in it.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2023 2:08 pm
by Jia Nanfeng
I do remember hearing about that! I’m excited for it — I hope it continues through the entire war of the princes.

Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Posted: Wed Jan 18, 2023 1:41 am
by Xu Yuan
DaoLunOfShiji wrote: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:19 pm I am familiar with it, though I have to admit the premise of Liu Xie having a body double/twin thing sort of turned me off.

Yang Xiu did play a large role as Sima Yi's antagonist in Advisers Alliance though. He was the highlight of that for me.
Of course, Emperor Xian had a body double... it was Zhuge Liang. Look at the evidence. They were both born in the same year and died in the same year of each other (just ignore that the death dates are six months apart), a cover-up, I tell ya! Emperor Xian was Zhuge Liang, spread the word!

To be honest, I am kind of surprised no out-there adaptation has tried to use that weird bit of historical trivia to concoct a truly bonkers plot.