Do you know? The Taoist teachings of the Three Kingdoms in “Records of the Three Kingdoms” and “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” actually had a great killing power on Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms, because these Taoist teachings punished the period between the Eastern Han and Western Jin as the “Three Kingdoms” era, rather than the “Cao Wei Dynasty” era, and to a certain extent, affirmed the legitimacy of Cao Wei’s royal power. The negative consequences of the Three Kingdoms actually have specific goals for historical transcribers.

In the book “Dai Xiandi’s Travels: The Medieval Scenery of Historical Transcription”, the Department of History at Fudan University teaches Xu Chongcun about the connection between the “history” of action texts and the “history” of action reality. He said, “Once the latter appeals to the former, it’s just a historical transcript with specific goals, and the former is the only bridge between us and the latter.”
He saw that Cao Cao had “coerced the emperor to order the feudal lords”. The emperor Liu Xie, who was “coerced”, later abdicated to Cao Cao’s son, King Cao Pi of Wei. The Wei Dynasty posthumously named him “Xiaoxian Emperor” and named his tomb “Chanling”. The posthumous title and the name of the tomb both have clear political implications to emphasize the legitimacy of the Han Wei Zen dynasty. When people think about the absence of the three characters “Emperor Xian of Han”, the legitimacy of the power source of the Cao Wei Dynasty once again loses recognition.
What is the living Emperor Xian of Han in history? Nowadays, when we flip through the historical records, we cannot see the political affairs transcribed from the perspective of the Cao Wei dynasty, and the every move of Emperor Xian of Han is used to demonstrate the legitimacy of Han Wei’s succession; It is not possible to see Emperor Xian of Han, who was dominated by elite scholars and transcribed, maintain a gap from the aforementioned historical transcripts. Emperor Xian’s abstraction is by no means a puppet; In addition, there are also novels written by the enemy states of Cao Wei, and the words of Emperor Xian complement the unorthodox royal power of Cao Wei… The real Emperor Xian has been covered up layer by layer by these works.
“Each work has a specific transcription standpoint, and the negative is the specific temporal and spatial resume of the participants in the author’s action history. In other words, these works cannot be expected to be the author’s journey to experience time and space while wearing Emperor Xian.” In this interview, Xu Chongdao talked about the well-known historical abstractions or viewpoints of “Han thieves” such as Cao Cao and the Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians, which have specific positions and goals for historical transcription, as well as how ordinary readers should distinguish and contemplate when browsing history and in their actual lives.
01 The perspective of forgetting is diverse, and any type of data includes specific goals
Interface Culture: How to Understand the Title of the Book “Dai Xian’s Traveling Words: Medieval Scenery of Historical Transcription”?
Xu Chong: This book is the title of an article in the book, and I feel that it serves as a thought-provoking reminder for the entire book. It is very difficult for us to approach the “Emperor Xian” since we have not received it from now on. I used a passage from a book at the beginning of “Preface” to describe the scene of Emperor Xian fleeing from pursuit and crossing the river in a disheveled manner at Caoyang Pavilion. The appearance of that section did not come from the “Annals of Emperor Xian” written by Liu Aijian during his personal experience. At that time, he felt that it was closer to the real history than the information from later generations. As a result, my friend You Yifei reported that the most vivid appearance on the ship was that “the people on board cut off their fingers with a blade oak, but the fingers in the ship were not pinched” (note: it refers to the situation where the first person on board the ship had to leave slowly, and the last person caught the ship and refused to let go, so the people on the ship chopped indiscriminately, and there were too many severed fingers on the ship to pick them up), which actually used the allusion of “Zuo Zhuan: Twelve Years of Duke Xuan” to transcribe the sum of Jin and Chu. At the end of 2019, when I was writing that passage, my mind was filled with the scene of Qiongchou Snow leading the Night Watcher’s lone ship offshore and looking back at the legion of ghosts from the beginning of the American TV series S5E8, “The Game of Thrones,” and “The Peace of Difficulties,” which I had just watched. However, most people probably couldn’t read it.
Fundamentally speaking, it is impossible to return to the real past and see fresh history. When we look back at the past, there will always be filters for transcribers, discussants, and our action viewers. What we see is the things they appear to us, as well as the things we hope to see. I call this “scenery”. Is it possible to explore to what extent the filter has deformed and how we can recognize it.
History provides us with some common rules that allow us to approach falsehoods as closely as possible based on discerning the organization of data. But I think it is interesting for people from different eras in history to apply historical capital in different time and space frameworks. So I said at the beginning of the preface: “Scenery is everywhere, let’s listen to the wind.”.
Interface culture: The “historical transcription” in the book title is the central point that you have been trying to help.
Xu Chong: My understanding of “historical transcription” has undergone a pioneering process. More than a decade ago, when writing my doctoral thesis, I equated it with the projection of political rights or the realization of political rights. I am assessing several structures in the biographical unofficial history, thinking that they are projections of political and political power structures. If power is to be realized, it will inevitably be implemented in the historical records. This kind of thinking has a significant impact on the study of historical research, and the main tool for deep thinking is the common historical research thinking, which exaggerates the personal historical thinking of historians, and is related to political rights in the form of so-called “straight books/Qubi”. My contemplation is based on the hope of reminding that in no era has there been a collusion between historical transcription and political rights and forms of understanding, which is a “commendable” political history rather than a “confrontational” political history.
As I grew older and gained more experience, especially in the three or four years since 2020, I gradually realized and felt that the infiltration of historical transcription was much more extensive. Narrowly defined “historical transcription” is not just tangible and indelible goods. Our forgetting of the past and our understanding of history are all standards for our actions and constitute the capital that we cannot rely on. The department that was finally implemented in the book is the one that took shape after countless real-time historical transcripts.
Otherwise, each and every one of us has a close and inseparable connection with historical records, even daily connections. At every moment when an individual is involved in an event, the action capital provides legitimacy support for events that occurred yesterday or even earlier. Our minds are constantly being influenced by our understanding of the past while causing forgetfulness. From this perspective, it is true that everyone is stopping the narrow definition of historical transcription, rather than just specific authors who have the right to historical transcription.
Interface Culture: What does it mean to use “Chronological Dynasty History” instead of the viewpoint of “Chronological Chronology”?
Xu Chong: Applying the Daoist method of “emotional economic man”, the negative consequence of the viewpoint of “Chronological Chronology” corresponds to a hypothesis of “emotional historians”, which is that they did not write this work from a specific historical perspective. But I thought it would be too monotonous if too many factors were removed from participating in this historical process. I use the perspective of “biographical dynastic history” in the hope of reminding more about the political rights and collective factors corresponding to this historical transcription, rather than just limited historians.
Interface culture: Different Taoist teachings have different goals, how should ordinary readers face these viewpoints and historical transcripts?
Xu Chong: Don’t take a moment to forget without thinking. Think about where it went from? Who is the reporter, the transcriber, and the audience? Who is the beneficiary of the transcription and who is the victim? This is my suggestion to ordinary readers based on the work habits of a historian. Any historical material contains its specific goals, so we must be cautious when applying historical materials. In fact, it is necessary to extend it to other aspects of actual life and maintain a cautious and patient stance.
02 The blackening of Prime Minister Cao and the sanctification of Prime Minister Zhuge
Interface Culture: In the article “Why the” Han Thief “, you talked about the process of questioning the legitimacy of the Cao Wei royal power and fixing it on the” Han Thief “. The author of “Burying Cao Cao Here”, Tang Jigen, believes that Cao Cao’s abstract and treacherous transformation mainly occurred after the Southern Song Dynasty. The complex of the Southern Song Dynasty can be traced back to Eastern Wu, and the hostile Jin Dynasty can be traced back to Cao Cao. How do you deal with this Taoist method?
Xu Chong: This is a very effective Taoist technique. I mentioned in the book that during the Qianlong period, in the “Outline of the Complete Library of the Four Treasuries”, the officials of the Four Treasuries evaluated Xi Chiaochi’s “Han Jin Annals” (note: the historian of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, Xi Chiaochi, wrote a historical book, forgot to mention the historical events of the Three Kingdoms, and regarded Shu Han as the orthodox). They also attributed this book’s approach of criticizing Cao Wei and emphasizing Shu Han to the protection of their own orthodox positions by the Eastern Jin Dynasty’s Pian’an regime. But I have always held a conservative stance on this kind of explanation.
On the one hand, Eastern Jin did not position itself as a biased regime in the Jiangnan region. Its self positioning was still a continuation of the orthodox Western Jin dynasty, but for now, it is temporarily “speaking” in Jiangnan and will still return to the Central Plains and restore the Shenzhou. From this point of view, they may not necessarily need to prioritize the historically biased regime. On the other hand, we cannot clearly observe that in the “Book of Later Han” written by Fan Ye in the early years of the Southern Song Dynasty, the abstraction of Cao Wei or Cao Cao had already been “blackened” and became the “traitor” of the Great Han Dynasty rather than the “prime minister”. This time point is obviously much earlier than the Southern Song Dynasty.
In fact, during the late Han and Three Kingdoms period, just like the political and military advantages gained by Cao Wei, Cao Cao’s abstract “Yuan Xun” was still quite tributary. Flipping the Cao family from “Yuanxun” to “Han thief”, I thought the Western Jin Dynasty was an important promoter.
The mentality of the people of the Western Jin Dynasty was actually quite contradictory. On the one hand, they inherited the legitimacy of Cao Wei, and the governing collectives of the two dynasties themselves had strong continuity. But after the disappearance of the Sima family from Shu and Wu to achieve world unity, he felt that he was the most qualified successor to the orthodoxy of the Eastern Han Dynasty. If one does not directly inherit the Eastern Han Dynasty without going through the intermediary of Cao Wei, wouldn’t their historical position be even higher? So after the destruction of Wu, the people of Western Jin became more easily exposed to the Mongols and were more pleased to spread various rumors about the Wu people’s derogatory behavior towards Cao Cao in the past. Chen Shou, a native of Shu, wrote “Records of the Three Kingdoms”, which punished the period between the Eastern Han Dynasty and the Western Jin Dynasty as the “Three Kingdoms” period, rather than the “Cao Wei Dynasty” period. At the time of the Western Jin Dynasty, he was able to be accepted by the Mongolian people and lost recognition from the public, which was a remarkable achievement.
Interface culture: So is the turning point for evaluating Cao Wei the Western Jin Dynasty?
Xu Chong: Of course, the Western Jin Dynasty did not criticize Cao Wei so much, but at least it did not consider it as the only orthodoxy, so the “little essays” written by Cao Cao’s enemies back then gradually became popular.
Can the turning point of the crux be the “Book of Later Han” compiled by Fan Ye in the early years of the Southern Dynasty. From the perspective of conservative historiography, the Book of Later Han was well written, ultimately eliminating the so-called eight schools of “Later Han books” (note: the eight schools of “Later Han books” refer to the eight biographical and chronological historical records that forget the history of the Eastern Han Dynasty, in addition to the “Eastern View of Han Forgetting” and Fan Ye’s “Later Han Books”). In fact, there are not only eight schools, but more than ten people between the Wu and Jin dynasties have successively written the history of Later Han since the “Eastern View of Han Forgetting”.). However, Fan Ye’s stance of being “non Cao” was very clear, and when writing about the history of the late Han Dynasty, he used many black materials written by Sun Wu for Cao Cao. Due to the high praise placed on Fan Ye’s “Book of Later Han”, these negative transcriptions became “unofficial”, which greatly accelerated Cao Cao’s “sinicization” process.
I compared the paragraphs in the book between “Book of Later Han” and “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” about Cao Cao sending Hua Xin to the palace to arrest Empress Fu. I realized that the framework of this novel had already been fully formed in Fan Ye’s “Book of Later Han”, and “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” only added fuel to some of its leadership. In fact, this section of the novel “Book of Later Han” was not copied from the book written by Sun Wu, and may not have any concrete basis.
Interface culture: In the book, you also mentioned that the sanctification of Prime Minister Zhuge was far behind the blackening of Prime Minister Cao.
Xu Chong: Our “sanctification” of Zhuge Liang mainly includes two aspects: one is to elevate his “loyalty to the Han” stance, shaping him as a moral example of a devoted and deceased traitor; One is to bestow upon him various extraordinary military and even supernatural talents, as Mr. Lu Xun put it in “A Brief History of China’s Great Dao”, “many wise and close to demons.”. In fact, throughout the entire Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties period, Zhuge Liang was still a relatively normal hero, not as abstract as a political official, not as tragic, and his contact was not as magical. The “sanctification” of the above two aspects should have been an event after the Tang and Song dynasties, and may not necessarily have been synchronous.
What is the dazzling uniqueness of the Three Kingdoms era in the long history of China, to the extent that Cao Cao became a representative of treacherous heroes in later generations, Zhuge Liang became a representative of treacherous ministers, Guan Yu became a representative of generals, and Liu Bei became a representative of good emperors? Actually not. Cao Cao is not so bad, and Zhuge Liang is not so magical. Perhaps it has nothing to do with the excellent writing and excessive emphasis on the history of the late Eastern Han Dynasty in the Book of Later Han. Otherwise, for example, in the late years of the Xinmang era, there were also many heroes, Liu Xiu and his group of heroes competing for power, with ups and downs in their journey, no less than the period from the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty to the Three Kingdoms. However, why was the “Three Kingdoms” particularly welcomed and turned into a historical capital that countless people, including the Japanese, were passionate about?
Interface culture: This reminds me of the author Tang Nuo’s mention that Sima Qian’s “Annals of Xiang Yu” delves so deeply into the popular culture of Xiang Yu. In China’s history of a hundred years and a thousand years, “such a failure of popular culture that trembles, such a fall and destruction that has almost reached the highest point, has not been brought to life by others, but only Sima Qian wrote so. Just as Helen’s peerless existence is due to Homer’s recitation, Xiang Yu’s incompatibility is also due to Sima Qian’s transcription.”
The public has been actively exploring whether Cao Cao is a traitor, a hero, or a hero, for example, Dao Yi Zhongtian said that Cao Cao is a “traitor who does not love him”. Do you think this kind of discussion is interesting? Or do Dao’s abstractions differ from different perspectives of historical transcription?
Xu Chong: Of course, it’s not that the Tao has a history of “playing the Tao”, but every individual has their own needs, and they can extract what they want from the historical capital. Just as Mr. Yi said that Cao Cao is a “traitor who does not love”, this is also whether the Tao of love is a topic of discussion. But what I want to exaggerate is that Cao Cao’s negative abstraction is definitely a later event. During a considerable period of time in the late Han and Three Kingdoms, his abstraction was very positive. It cannot be said that if he wants to become an emperor, he is a good person, which is not in line with the common understanding of dynasties as a substitute in the past.
03 Northern Wei portrayed himself as the legitimate inheritor of Central Plains culture and portrayed the Five Barbarians as barbarians
Interface culture: As you can see in the book, the Northern Wei Dynasty stopped using the term “Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms” to refer to the previous regime, which means affirming their self positioning. Why did the abstract experiences of Cao Wei undergo changes, and the abstractions of the Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms only flip over?
Xu Chong: Today, we have become accustomed to using the “Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms” movement as a fixed reference for a historical era. But in reality, both the “Five Hu” and “Sixteen Kingdoms” are affirmative views, referring to words with specific historical transcription goals and cognitive forms and effects.
The “Five Hu” viewpoint was formed earlier and roughly in the fourth and fifth centuries, and was a derogatory term used by the Eastern Jin and Southern Dynasties to refer to hostile regimes in North China. This is generally contemptuous of historical reality. During the hundred years of opposition to the Eastern Jin Dynasty, there were indeed five or six quite powerful dynasties that survived in North China. Among them, the Later Zhao and Former Qin dynasties also achieved unity in North China, with high historical positions. Although the Jiankang side exaggerates that they are a puppet regime, they also acknowledge this historical position.
The concept of “Sixteen Kingdoms” originated from the “Age of Sixteen Kingdoms” compiled by Cui Hong, which was not produced after the Northern Wei Dynasty moved its capital to Luoyang. This Taoist method affirmed the orthodox positions of the previous “Five Hu” dynasties, and stewed together these “world kingdoms” that once occupied the Central Plains and claimed to be emperors, as well as the border small regimes that occupied the territories, collectively known as the “Sixteen Kingdoms”. The image I hope to produce is that the previous historical tradition was the Western Jin Dynasty. After unification, it became the Sixteen Kingdoms period, mixed for a hundred years, and finally, our Great Wei took over the fate of the Western Jin Dynasty, achieving unity.
Therefore, these two viewpoints have different origins and different cognitive goals, but the commonality lies in that neither is a transcription of the self position of the “Five Hu” or “Sixteen Kingdoms”, especially a serious criticism and distortion of the position of the “Five Hu” dynasty. Unfortunately, what we ultimately inherited was such a distorted historical understanding.
The main achievement is that the “Five Hu” did not retain suitable successors and stopped sufficient historical transcription. The Northern Wei Dynasty finally unified with North China, especially after Emperor Xiaowen moved the capital to Luoyang, achieving its own orthodoxy. The Northern Wei Dynasty was very discriminatory towards the transcription of this previous period of history, and it was clearly very successful.
More importantly, the Tang Dynasty, which later replaced the Southern and Northern Dynasties, was a huge and successful empire. The transcription of the Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms in the Tang Dynasty largely inherited the results and stance of the promotion during the Luoyang period of the Northern Wei Dynasty, manifested in the thirty volume “Zai Forget” edited by the Tang Dynasty in the “Book of Jin”. After this battle, the historical abstraction of the “Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms” has probably been overturned.
Interface culture: Is it because they are more actively accepting of Mongolian and Chinese culture than the Five Barbarians and Sixteen Kingdoms that they have a better understanding of the Taoist teachings of Northern Wei or the imagery of Northern Wei?
Xu Chong: This is a very conservative image and also a reflection of the comparison between the Five Barbarians and the Northern Wei in the past. It was thought that the Five Barbarians did not fulfill the identity of North China, but Northern Wei could possibly achieve it because Northern Wei was a regime that was more influenced by Mongolian culture and culture than the Five Barbarians. But in reality, the study of the history of the Northern Dynasties over the past 30 years has gradually made us realize that compared to the Five Barbarians, the Northern Wei was the more nomadic and Inner Asian collective.
From the perspective of Central Plains culture, if Dao Wuhu stood at the door, then Northern Wei was a stranger standing in the wilderness far outside the door. The Five Barbarians were a “world kingdom” that settled in the Central Plains, with the central region of the Central Plains, which was located after the Han and Jin dynasties. However, the capital cities of Northern Wei and Helian Xia were located in the wrong areas of northern agriculture and animal husbandry, making them the border of the Central Plains world.
Exaggerate the truth. If we take the Han and Jin cultures as the standard, the Northern Wei Dynasty was able to achieve unity not because of its “culture”, but because of its “barbarism”. The Tuoba people, with Dai Bei as the center, had a strong ability to integrate the two cultural capitals of the grassland nomadic world and the North China agricultural vacation world at that time, but also lost their strong vitality. If standing in a broader cultural context, the historical position of Northern Wei should be quite high. However, when he went to Northern Wei and moved his capital to Luoyang, hoping to inherit the orthodoxy of the Western Jin Dynasty, he portrayed himself as a legitimate inheritor of the Han Jin culture, portraying the “Five Barbarians” as barbarians and a culprit in the disintegration of the Western Jin world. The historical popularity here is a bit complicated, and I have experienced several twists and turns.

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