mjj (flemmings) wrote,

I have made it through this book and it killed me

Well, not quite. Several Badnasties bit the dust (or rather, expired in bloody vomit) in the last few chapters, and I thought I could say Oh good that's it for Yuan Shao *and* his unlikable family let's rest here and read something else before Cao Cao (being his generous Dr Jekyll self at the taking of Jizhou) and Sun Quan and Liu Biao and Liu Bei go at it again. But no.

Last page of vol 1 has impetuous Cow Pee bursting armed into Yuan Shao's house (in defiance of his father's orders) and finding two women weeping together. He decides to kill them, because that's what one does with unarmed women your father has given securities of safety to. So I had to start vol 2 to see what happens. Yes, and it all ends well, but Cow Pee does not impress. I wish him a short unhappy life.

The worst part of 3K is how it makes reading most kinds of fantasy novel impossible. I'd thought of getting The Fall of the Kings, since I can't read it fast in enough in library copy, or The Years of Rice and Salt because it sounds marvellous. But imagined worlds pale beside the doings of these dismissable confusable unlikable and real-life 3rd century thugs and ruffians. Which is so not fair. Were they Roman thugs and ruffians I wouldn't look at them twice. Why must they inhabit a work that's central to Chinese culture?

I'm increasingly struck by something I first noticed in Woxin, and thereafter in just about any Chinese work I come across. It's the way people naturally turn to historical parallels whenever debating a course of action. Yes, the present viewed in light of the past, makes perfect sense, nado nado. But I'm trying to think if we ever do it here and I can't think of any parallel examples. Never mind now-- did we ever say 'Henry II thought Thomas a Beckett was his right hand, but that hand turned on him and betrayed hm to Rome. Your Majesty should not trust Thomas Wolseley so far'? 'Edward II's favouring of Piers Gaveston caused his death. Elizabeth's love for Essex nearly ended the same way. Your Majesty should beware of showing favour to the Duke of Buckingham'? Not that I recall.

But any Chinese courtier has history, ancient and modern, at his fingertips (or hers, if you're Ya Yu.) And I wonder how come? Quotations from the Confucian classics one expects, and doesn't find nearly as often as you'd think. Were all the complicated doings of the end of Zhou and the start of Qin and (in 3K) the early Han commonplace knowledge, passed on in stories or something? Where did people learn all this?

Equally, as the Gou Jian book demonstrated, the cultural use of historical personages to, umm, point the moral and adorn the tale. That I can recall, just, from earlier days when American schoolchildren were told to emulate the infant George Washington's truthfulness and British ones to emulate Robert the Bruce's patient spider. But movies and TV have replaced what few popular-cultural historical figures we may have had, and we never had that many to start with. Are we a culture that refuses to remember the past? (Pace Santayana, the Chinese remembrance of the past doesn't seem to have deterred anyone in 3K from repeating it in bloody and horrific detail.)

The only other time I've some across such an automatic referencing of the past is in Yoshitoshi's 100 Aspects of the Moon (a useful site that annoyingly requires something above 1028 x 764 to navigate comfortably.) And there half the prints can be traced to either Heike or Chuushingura. Though the common Edokko for whom the prints were designed seem unlikely to have read Heike or to know about Nara period Japanese envoys to China...
Tags: 3k, history

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