Hou Han Shu Translations

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Daolun
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Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Daolun »

Another much more minor translation project that has to do with the Hou Han Shu. Given that this subject is not my forte, this thread won't be as active as the Translations of Han thread but I will keep it updated any time I do add a new section!

Hòu Hàn Shū 後漢書 84.6 - Cài Yǎn 蔡琰
The Tragic Daughter

陈留董祀妻者,同郡蔡邕之女也,名琰,字文姬。博学有才辩,又妙于音律。适河东衛仲道。夫亡无子,归宁于家。兴平中,天下丧乱,文姬为胡骑所获,没于南匈奴左贤王,在胡中十二年,生二子。曹操素与邕善,痛其无嗣,乃遣使者以金璧赎之,而重嫁于祀。

Wife of Chénliú’s Dǒng Sì was the daughter of Cài Yōng, born of the same county. She was named Yǎn, appellation Wénjī.[1] She had talent and was skilled in debate, also tuning and musical temperament. Previously she wed Hédōng’s Wèi Zhòngdào who died young, siring no children she returned [to her home]. During the chaos of Xīngpíng [194-195] she was by the Hú taken and forced to wed Southern Xiōngnú’s Worthy King of the Left [xiōngnú zuǒxián wáng], bearing two sons. Cáo Cāo was saddened that [Cài] Yōng had no heir, so with gold and jade sent an ambassador to purchase [Cài Yǎn’s] freedom, she married [Dǒng] Sì.[2]

祀为屯田都尉,犯法当死,文姬诣曹操请之。时公卿名士及远方使驿坐者满堂,操谓宾客曰:“蔡伯喈女在外,今为诸君见之。”及文姬进,蓬首徒行,叩头请罪,音辞清辩,旨甚酸哀,众皆为改容。操曰:“诚实相矜,然文状已去,柰何?”文姬曰:“明公厩马万匹,虎士成林,何惜疾足一骑,而不济垂死之命乎!”操感其言,乃追原祀罪。时且寒,赐以头巾履袜。操因问曰:“闻夫人家先多坟籍,犹能忆识之不?”文姬曰:“昔亡父赐书四千许卷,流离涂炭,罔有存者。今所诵忆,裁四百馀篇耳。”操曰:“今当使十吏就夫人写之。”文姬曰:“妾闻男女之别,礼不亲授。乞给纸笔,真草唯命。”于是缮书送之,文无遗误。

[Dǒng] Sì was appointed Chief Commandant of Agricultural Garrison [túntián dū wèi], committed a grave crime and was sentenced to execution. Cáo Cāo at the time was holding a great banquet, Wénjī came, her feet bare and clothing tattered. Cáo Cāo said to the guests, “Here is Cài Bójiē’s daughter, she has come to call upon me”. Kowtowing and with apologies she faced Cáo Cāo, speaking for her husband in a clear and eloquent argument, the many ministers were moved. Cáo Cāo said "I truly sympathize but the execution order has been sent. I can do nothing." [Wénjī] spoke up "The Duke has many horses stabled and gallant soldiers at his call. Would not one man and a swift horse save a man from death!" Cāo was moved by her words and pardoned [Dǒng] Sì, as well as gifted her clothing and socks. Cáo Cāo asked of her “I have heard that in Madam’s family home there were many great books. Can you remember any of them?” Wénjī said “Of the works of my late father they totaled some four thousand juǎn, yet they are now ruined and ripped. None remain. Those from memory I can recite are no more than four hundred." Cáo Cāo said "I shall send scribes to Madam's home to write them down". Wénjī said “I have heard that propriety rules men and women to be separate, never giving things to one another. I ask to be given writing materials so I can record them, Zhōng [3] or cursive, as you command." It was agreed and her writings were presented, no words were missing nor wrong.

后感伤乱离,追怀悲愤,作诗二章。其辞曰:

Afterwards, consumed by grief and sorrow, penned two poems. Her first read: [4]

汉季失权柄,董卓乱天常。志欲图篡弑,先害诸贤良。逼迫迁旧邦,拥主以自强。海内兴义师,欲共讨不祥。卓众来东下,金甲耀日光。平土人脆弱,来兵皆胡羌。猎野围城邑,所向悉破亡。斩涞无孑遗,尸骸相牚拒。马边县男头,马后载妇女。长驱西入关,迥路险且阻。还顾邈冥冥,肝脾为烂腐。所略有万计,不得令屯聚。或有骨肉俱,欲言不敢语。失意机微闲,辄言毙降虏。要当以亭刃,我曹不活汝。岂复惜性命,不堪其詈骂。或便加棰杖,毒痛参并下。旦则号泣行,夜则悲吟坐。欲死不能得,欲生无一可。彼苍者何辜,乃遭此厄祸!边荒与华异,人俗少义理。处所多霜雪,胡风春夏起。翩翩吹我衣,肃肃入我耳。感时念父母,哀叹无穷已。有客从外来,闻之常欢喜。迎问其消息,辄复非乡里。邂逅徼时愿,骨肉来迎己。己得自解免,当复弃儿子。天属缀人心,念别无会期。存亡永乖隔,不忍与之辞。儿前抱我颈,问母欲何之。“人言母当去,岂复有还时。阿母常仁恻,今何更不慈?我尚未成人,柰何不顾思!”见此崩五内,恍惚生狂痴。号泣手抚摩,当发复回疑。兼有同时辈,相送告离别。慕我独得归,哀叫声摧裂。马为立踟蹰,车为不转辙。观者皆歔欷,行路亦呜咽。去去割情恋,遄征日遐迈。悠悠三千里,何时复交会?念我出腹子,匈臆为摧败。既至家人尽,又复无中外。城郭为山林,庭宇生荆艾。白骨不知谁,从横莫覆盖。出门无人声,豺狼号且吠。茕茕对孤景,怛吒糜肝肺。登高远眺望,魂神忽飞逝。奄若寿命尽,旁人相宽大。为复强视息,虽生何聊赖!托命于新人,竭心自勖厉。流离成鄙贱,常恐复捐废。人生几何时,怀忧终年岁!

Hàn's power was failing and Dǒng Zhuō disrupted Heaven's order. With a desire to usurp and murder [the Emperor], first he brings the virtuous to harm. Forcing the court to the old capital, he took the Emperor to empower himself. Within the four seas the loyal raised armies wishing together to oppose him. Dǒng Zhuō sends armies east, metal armor shining in the sun. The inner peoples were vulnerable and [Zhuō's troops] poured into the countryside, attacking cities and towns. Coming and going they left destruction in their path, none could survive. Corpses and skeletons propped each other up. From their horses flanks, the heads of men hang [as trophies], their horses rears carried the captured women. Far west they came through the Pass, a distant path with dangers and traps. Our stomachs turned as we gazed back on the distance. The captives were numerous and we were not allowed to camp together. Though some families were taken they dare not speak. Should we be careless they would say "Kill the worthless captives, put them to the sword, we will not keep them alive." Our lives were not important, we were met with harsh threats. They beat us as they wished, anger and sorrow together came. By day we traveled wailing and weeping, by night we sat sorrowful and moaning. We wished for death yet did not get it, we wish for life yet had no chance. What crime did we commit against blue Heaven to suffer this disaster? The border wastelands are not China, the men lack righteous morals. They live in frost and snow, harsh winds in spring and summer, tossing clothes about, harming my ears. The times brought my thoughts to my parents, lamenting and sighing without end. Travelers came from abroad which was always hopeful. I meet them and ask for information yet none were from my home. Suddenly my wish was fulfilled, my family sent for me. I was released but had to abandon my children. Our hearts were united by heaven but I realized we would never reunite. In life and death we would eternally part, I could not leave them. They came to me and hugged my by the neck, "Mother, where are you going? They say Mother is leaving. Mother was always kind, why are you so unkind now? We are not grown up and we will not have you to care for us!" This caused my stomach to turn, my feelings turned to madness and i sobbed and moaned, holding them with my hands. We were to leave but I hesitated; those taken with me saw me off and bid farewell. They envied me going home, their cries were heartbreaking. The horses stayed due to my reluctance, for my sake the carriage did not move. The onlookers cried, the travelers wept and choked on tears. Away, cut off from they who I love, a quick journey, every day more distant. Far, far thousands of li. Will we ever meet again? I thought of my children who were born from me, my heart for them was torn asunder. As I came home my family was all gone, not even cousins are here. The forest had overgrown the walls and the courtyard were overgrown with brambles. White bones I did not recognize were everywhere, none were covered. As I left the gate there were no humans sounds, just wolves howling. Alone I was in dismay, my insides were tattered. Climbing and looking to the distance I felt my soul leave me. When my life was nearing it's end the people were benevolent to me. It was for their sake I chose to go on breathing, yet i live what purpose was there? My life is entrusted to a new man, I must always carry on. While I was captured I became cheap and low, living in a constant fear of being rejected again. How long does human life last? This grief will be kept until the end of mine.

其二章曰:

The second poem reads:

嗟薄佑兮遭世患,宗族殄兮门户单。身执略兮入西关,历险阻兮之羌蛮。山谷眇兮路曼曼,眷东顾兮但悲叹。冥当寝兮不能安,饥当食兮不能餐,常流涕兮眦不乾,薄志节兮念死难,虽苟活兮无形颜。惟彼方兮远阳精,阴气凝兮雪夏零。沙漠壅兮尘冥冥,有草木兮春不荣。人似禽兮食臭腥,言兜离兮状窈停。岁聿暮兮时迈征,夜悠长兮禁门赖。不能寐兮起屏营,登胡殿兮临广庭。玄云合兮翳月星,北风厉兮肃泠泠。胡笳动兮边马鸣,孤雁归兮声嘤嘤。乐人兴兮弹琴筝,音相和兮悲且清。心吐思兮匈愤盈,欲舒气兮恐彼惊,含哀咽兮涕沾颈。家既迎兮当归宁,临长路兮捐所生。儿呼母兮号失声,我掩耳兮不忍听。追持我兮走茕茕,顿复起兮毁颜形。还顾之兮破人情,心怛绝兮死复生。

I met with the world's great disasters and my family line was extinguished, my house died out. I was taken and brought west through the Passes. Through traps and dangers to the Qiāng and Mán. Mountains and Valleys were remote with a long winding road. I gaze east, forever yearning to return but only able to lament. In the dark I could not sleep, when hungry I could not ear. My eyes were not dry as constantly my tears flowed. My will [to live] was poor and I thought of suicide but had not the strength to go through with it. Thought I lived on I lost all nobility. The essence of yáng was absent in this distance land, yīn air takes shape[?] as summer snow falls. Sand storms of thick dust is so dark. There is grass and trees but no blossoming Spring. The people are mere animals eating but only fetid meats. Their words are incomprehensible, their looks unkempt. The years come to an end and time passes on, the night is long and the door is locked[?]. Unable to sleep I pace in the night. I go to the hall and look to the large courtyard. The dark clouds hide the moon and stars, the harsh winds stir in the north. Hújiā could be heard and the horses neigh. Geese fly home and honk. Musicians rose and pluck their zithers; their sounds harmonize beautiful and clearly. My heart spills its feelings of longing, my breast full of resentment. I wish to unfold but fear they would be shocked. I hold back by sobbing, wetting my collar with tears. My family has since sent for me and I must go home. I take off down the long road, abandoning the ones I have born. The children say I am mother, crying till their voices are lost. My ears are covered, I cannot bear to hear. They come running and hold me, wishing to not me left. They trip and hurt themselves, I look back and feel shame. My heart is distressed, dead yet alive.


1: Her actual appellation during her lifetime was Zhāojī 昭姫, however during the Jìn 晉 the word Zhāo 昭 became a taboo word after the state posthumously enfeoffed Sīmǎ Zhāo 司馬昭 as an Emperor, thus making his personal name of Zhāo 昭 taboo and illegal to speak, write or hold. Posthumously her name was changed to avoid this taboo violation. Many sources follow this taboo, less out of a respect for Jìn’s mandate and more-so due to many poems, rightly or wrongly attributed to her, using the name Wénjī 文姬. So much so is the fame of her changed appellation that she is commonly referred to by it, similar as one might see for a certain Chancellor of a south western state.

2: While this reason and story is backed up in the writings of Cáo Pī 曹丕 it doesn’t make much of a sense in reality. At least the reason for Pī’s father doing what he did as women cannot be seen as heirs in Han China. More importantly she was not a lone child either, therefor her father did in fact have more ‘heirs’ if we view women as such. It seems more likely that Cáo Cāo’s admiration for her father was the primary reason for purchasing her safety. This story is further backed up in the writings of Dīng Yí 丁儀, although Yí in his writings states she was captive for 13 years as opposed to Cáo Pī and the Hòu Hàn Shū record of 12.

3: Zhōng 鍾 is a calligraphy style named after Marquis Chéng 成侯, Zhōng Yáo 鍾繇 of Yǐngchuān 潁川. It is the ancestor form of standard script.

4: For a far better translation done by someone with talent, for the love of God, please refer to Cai Yan and the Poems Attributed to Her by Hans H. Frankel. I tried my best to make the poetry comprehensible but I can’t promise it’s anywhere near as accurate as Frankel.


Hòu Hànshū 後漢書 54 - Yáng Xiū 楊修
A genius who could not be allowed to live.

脩字德祖,好學,有俊才,為丞相曹操主簿,用事曹氏。及操自平漢中,欲因討劉備而不得進,欲守之又難為功,護軍不知進止何依。操於是出教,唯曰「雞肋」而已。外曹莫能曉,脩獨曰:

[Yáng] Xiū[1][2], appellation Dézǔ, was talented, brilliant and excelled at studying, served as Chancellor Cáo Cāo’s Registrar, handling affairs for the Cáo clan. At the time [Cáo] Cāo had captured Hànzhōng he wished to advance upon Liú Bèi but was unable to advance and wished to defend yet this was hard to accomplish, the army was not sure whether to advance or withdraw. [Cáo] Cāo therefor sent out an order “chicken rib”, and this was all that was said. Of the outer officials, it was only [Yáng] Xiū who understood,

「夫雞肋,食之則無所得,棄之則如可惜,公歸計決矣。」

“To eat a chicken rib is to gain nothing, and to discard it is a pity. The plan to retreat has been decided.”

乃令外白稍嚴,操於此迴師。脩之幾決,多有此類。脩又嘗出行,籌操有問外事,乃逆為荅記,敕守舍兒:

He then issued orders to prepare to travel and [Cáo] Cāo soon set out, returning the army home.[3] [Yáng] Xiū's understanding and decisiveness was like this. When Xiū desired to head out he soon expected [Cáo] Cāo to talk of outer affairs, and so drafted prepared responses, telling the guards

「若有令出,依次通之。」

“Should there be any orders, deliver this.”

既而果然。如是者三,操怪其速,使廉之,知狀,於此忌脩。且以袁術之甥,慮為後患,遂因事殺之。

It was as expected. Several times it was like this and [Cáo] Cāo was shocked by the speed, therefor began an investigation and fully understood, resenting Xiū.[4] Furthermore, as he was Yuán Shù's nephew, [Cāo] worried about future troubles, therefor because of some matter Xiū was put to death.[5]

1: Yáng Xiū is a sub entry to his ancestor Yáng Zhèn 楊震, along with a lot of his prominent clan. He as well has an appended biography to SGZ19.2, the entry of Prince Sī of Chén 思陳王, Cáo Zhí 曹植 that is much larger than this. I will attempt this at a future date.

2: Yáng Xiū hails from the extremely powerful Yáng clan of Hóngnóng 弘農. During the Han Dynasty they were one of the greater literati clans. Later on during the Western Jìn 西晉 Yáng Jùn 楊駿, father of two Empresses, attempted a palace coup but was killed. This very same Yáng clan were the same who ruled the Suí 隋 as they all claimed to be descended from Yáng Zhèn 楊震. There is also another member of the clan named Yáng Xǐ 楊喜 who was one of several to claim the head of Xiàng Yǔ 項羽.

3: There is a possibility that this event did not occur in 219, but in fact in 216. No date is ever given, and the wording seems to imply it occurs after the aborted idea to invade southward.

4: A greater and more impressive version of this story is in the Wénshì zhuán 文士傳. Translation by Richard Mather:

Yáng Xiū once wrote a report on a certain matter. Anticipating that there would inevitably be further instructions back and forth, he had written in advance his replies in several pages. Attaching them in order, he went to Cáo Cāo's office. There he left orders with the caretaker, saying, "My original report will inevitably call forth instructions back and forth. Just reply to them in this order, that's all."The wind came up and blew the papers, and the order became confused. Since the caretaker did not make any distinction between them, Yáng Xiū's replies were all inappropriate. Cáo Cāo became angry and inquired back to the source. Yáng Xiū was embarrassed and frightened, but replied with the facts, and thus what he had reported made a great deal of sense. [Although Cáo Cāo at first took it amiss], in the end it turned out to be correct. [Xiu's ability and understanding were all of this sort]. (Passages in square brackets represent portions retained in the Tang fragment
but not carried in the Song and later texts.)

5: Yáng Xiū’s death took place ten months before the death of Cáo Cāo. “Worrying about future affairs” has the implication that he believes Xiū is too much for his children to handle.
以其言非吾言者,是猶以卵投石也,盡天下之卵,其石猶是也,不可毀也。
To refute my principle with one's own principle is like throwing an egg against a boulder. The eggs in the world would be exhausted without doing any harm to the boulder.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Xu Yuan »

Cai Yan's purported poems are indeed powerful and I think you gave them an excellent measure of respect. The vision of a mother having to tear herself away from her confused children is heartbreaking, no matter the circumstance. I do think the reason for the ransom is an odd part of the history. As noted, Cai Yong did have living children aside from her, so what was special about Cai Wenji? I doubt her talents were known when she was a girl outside of her family, was it basically done as repayment to a great man's legacy? In any event, her memory must have been remarkable to recall 400 works that she had not seen for over a decade and a half from her father's library. Do we know what Dong Si had done to warrant execution? Or is Dong Si only mentioned in respect to being Cai Wenji's husband? (I also greatly appreciate you putting the Pinyin markers above the words. Not knowing how words were actually said without the right tone still causes me to err frequently, despite living in China for three years).

Yang Xiu's story is interesting. As you noted there's a much more involved story with Cao Zhi. I always thought this story derived from the Romance, I guess these events together (the retreating password, the mixed-up responses, and helping Cao Zhi cheat on the "heir tests") was too much for Cao Cao. Cao Cao seemed to be very worried about a Yang/Yuan family resurgence, recognizing that the Cao were always considered outsiders of sorts, I guess his fears were decently well founded.
A moment's anger can revert to joy,
sorrow be turned to delight.
A nation destroyed cannot be restored,
the dead brought back to life.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Jia Nanfeng »

I too find Yang Xiu’s story fascinating to read about. Thank you for sharing!

He also impressed Cao Cao with the gravestone interpretation and with solving Cao Cao’s “you made the door to the garden way too big” puzzle.

It’s interesting that he wanted to surround himself with gifted folk, but had a limit. As you said, his fears of the Yang returning to power later came to be — the treasonous buffoons.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Daolun »

Yang Xiu is such a fascinating man to me. I find him so damn admirable and talented. Too talented in fact, and he knew he'd die one day as a result of that talent.
以其言非吾言者,是猶以卵投石也,盡天下之卵,其石猶是也,不可毀也。
To refute my principle with one's own principle is like throwing an egg against a boulder. The eggs in the world would be exhausted without doing any harm to the boulder.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Jia Nanfeng »

Have you seen the Chinese drama “Secret of the Three Kingdoms”? Yang Xiu makes appearances throughout (as a side character), including the Cao Zhi conspiracy.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

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I am familiar with it, though I have to admit the premise of Liu Xie having a body double/twin thing sort of turned me off.

Yang Xiu did play a large role as Sima Yi's antagonist in Advisers Alliance though. He was the highlight of that for me.
以其言非吾言者,是猶以卵投石也,盡天下之卵,其石猶是也,不可毀也。
To refute my principle with one's own principle is like throwing an egg against a boulder. The eggs in the world would be exhausted without doing any harm to the boulder.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Jia Nanfeng »

I have yet to actually see that. I am angry at myself now.

Time to download it completely legally.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

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Part 2 felt more enjoyable for me simply due to the Sima vs Cao rivalry I've been waiting for SOME adaptation outside of Legend of Jiang Wei to cover. While it wasn't exactly what I wanted, I really enjoyed it a lot. Sima Yi certainly was the Hero in it, sadly, but that didn't stop me from rooting for the actual good guys!

I forgot to mention there is a show about the Unification of China by Jin in production. Jia Nanfeng will be in it.
以其言非吾言者,是猶以卵投石也,盡天下之卵,其石猶是也,不可毀也。
To refute my principle with one's own principle is like throwing an egg against a boulder. The eggs in the world would be exhausted without doing any harm to the boulder.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Jia Nanfeng »

I do remember hearing about that! I’m excited for it — I hope it continues through the entire war of the princes.
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Re: Hou Han Shu Translations

Unread post by Xu Yuan »

DaoLunOfShiji wrote: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:19 pm I am familiar with it, though I have to admit the premise of Liu Xie having a body double/twin thing sort of turned me off.

Yang Xiu did play a large role as Sima Yi's antagonist in Advisers Alliance though. He was the highlight of that for me.
Of course, Emperor Xian had a body double... it was Zhuge Liang. Look at the evidence. They were both born in the same year and died in the same year of each other (just ignore that the death dates are six months apart), a cover-up, I tell ya! Emperor Xian was Zhuge Liang, spread the word!

To be honest, I am kind of surprised no out-there adaptation has tried to use that weird bit of historical trivia to concoct a truly bonkers plot.
A moment's anger can revert to joy,
sorrow be turned to delight.
A nation destroyed cannot be restored,
the dead brought back to life.
Sunzi - The Art of War
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