by TAN WEE CHENG, Singapore



Origins of a Proud People
Food Culture
The Capital
Xindu / Wenshu Yuan
Emei : The Legend & First Impressions
The Ascent & Jinding
Wuhou Ci
Du Fu
Wang Jian & "xiangs"
The setting
Grotto art
The Setting
The Arrival
Red Crag Village
Gele Hill
Business entertainment Chinese style
The foreigner
The oldest profession
Law and enforcement
One child policy
Eating in Chengdu
What do they believe in ?
Ethnic Minorities: Discmimated ?
Politics : Is Big Brother watching you ?
Tale of two cities
Is Sichuan a land of opportunity ?
Copyright (c) 1995 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. All Rights Reserved 
Three Kingdoms
Liu Bei
Zhuge Liang
Su Dong Po
Du Fu 

Three Kingdoms, 

Chinese (Wade-Giles romanization) SAN-KUO, Pinyin SANGUO (AD 220-280), trio of warring Chinese states that followed the demise of the Han dynasty. 

By the end of the 2nd century AD, the great Han empire had disintegrated into a period of chaos. Its last emperor had become a mere puppet, and finally (220) he ceded the throne to Ts'ao P'eir, the son of his generalissimo and protector, Ts'ao Ts'ao. Thus began the Wei kingdom, but its effective influence was confined to the North. Two other Han generals shortly installed themselves as emperors and took over regions of the West and South; the Shu-Han empire was proclaimed in what is now Szechwan Province, and the Wu empire was declared south of the Yangtze at present Nanking. The Sinicizing of the southern regions by the Wu was an important contribution to the future of China, and Nanking was to become a future Chinese capital for more than two centuries. 

The Wei conquered the Shu-Han in 263/264, but two years later one of the Wei generals usurped the throne and proclaimed the Chin dynasty, which in 280 conquered the Wu and reunited the country. This dynasty soon fell apart, and the country disintegrated into chaos. 

The Three Kingdoms survived for too short a period to contribute much to the arts in any conventional sense, although during their time the use of clay puppets to act out dramas did arise. But the period is important to the arts as subject matter. This short and bloody era of warfare and political intrigue was one of the most interesting and romantic in China's long history; and, ever since, it has been a favourite subject of historical fiction and other art forms. One of the most celebrated examples is the novel San Kuo chih yen-i (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). 

Liu Bei, 

Liu Pei, or Pinyin LIU BEI, posthumous name, or shih, CHAO-LIEH TI, or HSIEN CHU (b. AD 162, Chihli, now Hopeh Province, China--d. 223, Szechwan Province), ruler of one of the three kingdoms into which China was divided at the end of the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). 

Although Liu claimed descent from one of the early Han emperors, he grew up in poverty. Distinguishing himself in battle in the great Yellow Turban Rebellion that broke out at the end of the Han, he eventually became one of the leading Han generals and a rival of the other great general, Ts'ao Ts'ao. After P'ei, the son of Ts'ao Ts'ao, usurped the Han throne in 220, Liu Pei occupied the area in central China around Szechwan and founded his own dynasty. Liu retained the name Han for his new dynasty, and his is usually known as the Shu, or Minor, Han to distinguish it from the Great Han dynasty. As one of the heroes of the 14th-century Chinese historical novel San Kuo chih yen-i (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), Liu has been celebrated and romanticized in Chinese history. The dynasty that he founded, however, never expanded much beyond Szechwan and lasted only from 221 to 263 or 264. 

Zhuge Liang

Chu-ko Liang, or Pinyin ZHUGE LIANG (b. 181, Yang-tu, Shantung province, China--d. 234, China), celebrated adviser to Liu Pei, founder of the Shu Han dynasty (221-263/264). 

Chu-ko, to whom supernatural powers often are ascribed, has been a favoured character of many Chinese plays and stories. Legend states that Liu Pei, then a minor military figure, heard of Chu-ko Liang's great wisdom and came three times to the wilderness retreat to which Chu-ko had retired to seek him out as an adviser. It is known that Chu-ko helped Liu organize a large army and found a dynasty. Liu was so impressed with Chu-ko's wisdom that on his deathbed Liu urged his son to depend on Chu-ko's advice and urged Chu-ko to ascend the throne himself if the prince were unable to rule. 

A mechanical and mathematical genius, Chu-ko is credited with inventing a bow for shooting several arrows at once and with perfecting the Eight Dispositions, a series of military tactics. In the San Kuo chih yen-i (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), the great 14th-century historical novel, Chu-ko is one of the main characters; he is portrayed as being able to control the wind and foretell the future. In 1724 he was made a Confucian saint. 

Su Dongpo

Pinyin SU DONGPO, pen name of (Wade-Giles romanization) SU SHIH, or SU SHI (b. Dec. 19, 1036, Mei-shan [now in Szechwan Province], China--d. July 28, 1101, Ch'ang-chou, Che-hsia [now Kiangsu Province]), one of China's greatest poets and essayists, who was also an accomplished painter and calligrapher and a public official. 

A member of a literary family, the young Su Tung-p'o performed brilliantly in his official examinations and was rewarded with the first of the many official positions he occupied during his long and distinguished career. While Su was popular with the people of the various provinces in which he industriously served, he sometimes encountered criticism from the frequently changing heads of state. Wang An-shih, prime minister under the Sung emperor Shen Tsung and an accomplished poet himself, banished Su to Huang-chou, Hupeh, in 1079, because of Su's opposition to some of Wang's radical reform measures. Yet, despite his five-year banishment, Su remained friendly to Wang, later exchanging poems with him. He demonstrated this same optimism and lack of bitterness when he was banished by other forces in 1094 to southern Kwang-tung. He was allowed to return to the mainland and was restored to favour and office shortly before his death. 

Su Tung-p'o was a leader of Sung-dynasty poets in trying to loosen poetic conventions on form and content, especially in the song form known as tz'u. The optimism he demonstrated in his private and political life can be seen also in his verse.  

Du Fu

Tu Fu, or Pinyin DU FU (b. 712, Hsiang-yang, now in Honan province, China--d. 770, Hunan), Chinese poet, considered by many literary critics to be the greatest of all time. 

Born into a scholarly family, Tu Fu received a traditional Confucian education but failed in the imperial examinations of 736. As a result, he spent much of his youth traveling, during which he won renown as a poet and met the other poets of the period, including the great Li Po. After a brief flirtation with Taoism while traveling with Li Po, Tu Fu returned to the capital and the conventional Confucianism of his youth. He never again met Li Po, despite his strong admiration for his older, freewheeling contemporary. 

During the 740s Tu Fu was a well-regarded member of a group of high officials, even though he was without money and official position himself and failed a second time in an imperial examination. Between 751 and 755 he tried to attract imperial attention by submitting a succession of literary products in which political advice was offered, couched in a language of ornamental flattery, a device that eventually resulted in a nominal position at court. He married, probably in 752, and acquired some farmland; but by then he showed signs of a lung affliction. In 755 during the An Lu-shan Rebellion, he experienced extreme personal hardships. He escaped, however, and in 757 joined the exiled court, being given the position of censor. His memoranda to the emperor do not appear to have been particularly welcome, and he was relieved of his post. Undergoing another period of poverty and hunger, the poet lived to see several of his children die of starvation. Wandering about until the mid-760s, he served a local warlord, a position that enabled him to acquire some landed property and to become a gentleman farmer at Kuei-chou. In 768 he again started traveling aimlessly toward the south. He died in 770, probably at Tan-chou. Popular legend attributes his death to overindulgence in food and wine after a 10-day fast. 

Tu Fu's early poetry celebrated the beauties of the natural world and bemoaned the passage of time. He soon began to write bitingly of war, as in "The Army Carts," a poem about conscription, and with hidden satire, as in "The Beautiful Woman," which speaks of the conspicuous luxury of the court. As he matured, and especially during the years of extreme personal and national turmoil of 755 to 759, his verse began to sound a note of profound compassion for humanity caught in the toils of senseless war. 

Tu Fu's paramount position in the history of Chinese literature rests, finally, on his superb classicism. He was highly erudite, and his intimate acquaintance with the literary tradition of the past was equaled only by his complete ease in handling the rules of prosody. His dense, compressed language makes use of all the connotative overtones of a phrase and of all the intonational potentials of the individual word, qualities that no translation can ever reveal. He was an expert in all poetic genres current in his day, but his mastery was at its height in the lü shih, or "regulated verse," which he refined to a point of glowing intensity. 


William Hung, Tu Fu, China's Greatest Poet (1952, reissued 1969); A.R. Davis, Tu Fu (1971).

If you have any comments, please email them to TAN WEE CHENG