Once (Liu Bei) asked for lodging at a household, and a young man came to pay his respects. The lad turned out to be a hunter called Liu An. He wanted to offer the inspector some game but, unable to find any, butchered his wife. At dinner Liu Bei asked 'What kind of meat is this?' 'Wolf, replied Liu An. Suspecting nothing, Liu Bei ate his fill and retired. Toward dawn he went to the rear to fetch his horse and noticed a woman's corpse in the kitchen. Her arms had ben carved away. Then Liu Bei realized what he had eaten and tears of gratitude streamed from his eyes. As Liu Bei mounted, Liu An said, 'I wish I could accompany you, Inspector, but with my elderly mother to care for, I cannot travel. Liu Bei expressed his thanks and rode out of the district.If Liu Bei is the hero, she says palely, I'm not sure I want to meet the villain.
Suddenly the road ahead was darkened by dust. In the distance Liu Bei recognized Cao Cao's men.... Liu Bei told Cao Cao about the fall of Xiaopei, his separation from his (oath) brothers, and the capture of his family. Cao Cao shed tears of sympathy. Liu Bei also related how Liu An had slaughtered his wife to feed him. Cao Cao ordered Sun Qian to reward the hunter with one hundred taels of silver. (ch19)
Truly, I don't know what Liu An's problem is with having a mother. A footnote to this passage says
In (a collection of tales) dating to the 1470s, 'Hua Guan Suo zhan' gives the following account of the formation of the brotherhood:Err yes. Of course. Can't let a few Confucian ties get in the way of oath brotherhood.After the three, Guan, Zhang, and Liu Bei- had made their vows to Heaven in the temple of Jiang Ziya, Liu Bei said, "I am without family. You both have old and young to wory about. Your concern may cause a change of heart." Lord Guan replied, "I shall join you, elder brother, after I have killed them." Zhang Fei said, "How could you kill your own? You kill mine and I'll kill yours." "That is best," Liu Bei said.
Now let's look at the death of Chen Gong later in the same chapter.
"And now," said Cao Cao, "what shall we do?" "Today," Chen Gong replied, "I look only for death." "And what of your mother," asked Cao, "your wife and your children?" "It is said, Gong responded, "that he who governs with filial duty will never cut off the sacrifices from a man's descendents. My lord, their fate lies with you. I am your captive and ask only for execution; I have no misgivings."Shall I say that to date Cao Cao seems to be the only one who governs with filial duty? and possibly not always. He too may have been one of those many many warlords given to executing his enemies' families in batches and in toto, hanging their heads by the city gates. He certainly seems to have gone gungho after the man who was only indirectly responsible for his own father's death, though I fancy what I'm missing here is the role of blood debt that mauvecloud mentioned a ways back.
(If Chen Gong's death scene isn't a deliberate appeal to that famous Chinese collective unconscious, I don't know what it is:
Cao Cao felt a lingering affection for his former companion, but Chen Gong strode brusquely down from the tower, shaking off the guards who tried to stop him. Cao Cao rose from his seat and wept to see him go, but Chen Gong never turned back. Cao Cao said to his men, "Take his family to the capital and see to their needs as long as they live. Anyone mistreating them will die." Though he heard Cao Cao, Chen Gong said nothing as he offered his neck to the executioner. The assembly wept. Cao Cao had the corpse placed in a double coffin and buried in Xucheng.In my mind Cao Cao is played, against all casting expectation, by Uncle Ming, Chen Gong is played by Hu Jun, and very nice it is indeed.)