Cao gets a makeover

16:22, January 07, 2010      

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The legendary politician and general from the Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280), Cao Cao can rest in peace now that his descendants proudly acknowledge him.

For centuries, despite Cao's record as a fair ruler and military genius who treated his subordinates like family and was also skilled in poetry and martial arts, he suffered from a bad reputation.

This fact is best reflected by the Chinese saying, "speak of Cao Cao and he will appear" - which broadly translates as the English idiom "speak of the Devil".

Few people have openly acknowledged they were Cao's descendants over the past centuries, making Cao's family tree an untraceable one, an unusual phenomenon considering his historical importance.

However, after last month's release of the discovery of Cao's tomb in Anyang county, Henan province, Cao Jian'ou, from Jiangxi province, claimed he was one of Cao's 82nd generation descendants. In the next few days, a few dozen people said they too had descended from the former ruler.

"This suggests the public has started to see Cao Cao as he was," says Liang Mancang, an expert on Chinese history between the Han and Wei dynasties (206 BC-AD 265).

According to Liang, Cao's image started to be distorted during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) when Confucian historians, who didn't like the fact that Cao usurped the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) throne, described him as the archetypal unscrupulous villain.

Cao was represented as a cunning and deceitful man in Chinese opera, where the character of Cao is given white facial makeup to reflect his treacherous personality, in comparison to a red face indicating uprightness and loyalty, or the black face of a rough and forthright character.

In the 14th century, when novelist Luo Guanzhong wrote The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which has become one of the four classic Chinese novels, he took much of his inspiration from the opera.

Over the past decades, however, thanks to the development of Chinese archaeology and an increasing public interest in history, there have been attempts to revise this negative image, the most recent and successful one being CCTV's hit TV program Lecture Room, featuring Professor Yi Zhongtian lecturing on the Three Kingdoms.

The professor from Xiamen University in Fujian province, brought to life the high-brow literature of The Romance of Three Kingdoms thanks to his unique points of view and witty exposition.

Cao is Yi's favorite character in the Three Kingdoms and he describes him as a "loveable but treacherous hero".

Source: China Daily
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