A verse in criticism says:
From past to present, the greatest traitors
Have not come up to the likes of Duke Wu of the Wei house.
Even ghosts and spirits could not foretell his sinister plans.
Deceiving his superiors and cheating subordinates,
His ambition was to devour Qin and Chu.
An evil leader living during an age of turmoil,
He wished to destroy the states of Wu and Shu.
From past to present, the greatest traitors / Have not come up to the likes of Duke Wu of the Wei house. Of all the great conspirators in history, no one can match the schemes of Cao Cao, Duke Wu of Wei.
Even ghosts and spirits could not foretell his sinister plans. Even the spirits had no way of guessing what his cunning and insidious designs were. Thus it is said, “Lord Cao had the cunning of a ghost. Emperor Yao had the wisdom of a god.”
Deceiving his superiors and cheating subordinates, / His ambition was to devour Qin and Chu. He specialized in fooling the emperor, bullying and oppressing subordinates and commoners, and his goal was to gain control of the entirety of China and make himself the emperor.
An evil leader living during an age of turmoil, / He wished to destroy the states of Wu and Shu. His one and only wish was to take over Wu and Shu in order to fulfill his dream. He was the most devious, cruel, and scheming leader in the chaotic period of the three kingdoms.
Another verse says:
The old Evasive One was like a ghost, and like a snake.
Who cleverly schemed to ascend the throne.
Lü Boshe killed a fowl to treat his guest,
But Cao Mengde repaid his kindness with enmity.
On the Huarong Path, he barely escaped death.
Amidst the ships at Red Cliff, he alone survived among his troops.
He called himself a hero, “It’s just you and me—Cao Cao!”
Who can decipher the subtle principles behind all this?
The old Evasive One was like a ghost, and like a snake. He, the old A-man, was as sneaky as a ghost and as vicious as a snake. A-man was his childhood nickname. But since he grew older, I call him Old A-man.
Who cleverly schemed to ascend the throne. Every day, he deliberated and calculated to see how he could quickly become the emperor. He was very suspicious and always suspected that others would hurt him. He suffered from headaches that could only be healed by the miraculous doctor, Huatuo. Each time he had a headache, Huatou would treat it.
One day, he was suffering from a headache again. Huatuo said, “You need to have surgery.” Cao Cao asked, “Where?” “On the brain, of course,” replied Huatuo. “Because something is growing in your brain, the headache won’t be healed without surgery.” Cao Cao had no choice but to undergo the operation, after which he got well. Guess what he did after he got well? He thought, “If you use the pretext of surgery to kill me the next time I get a headache, then what shall I do?” Thus, he ordered Huatuo killed. Not long after that, he had another headache, but no one could treat him this time. He eventually died of a headache, which was his retribution. He was extremely treacherous and cunning, and he ended up dying unfavorably.
Lü Boshe killed a fowl to treat his guest. One day, Cao Cao stopped by Lü Boshe’s home. Lü Boshe told his family to kill some chicken and lamb to serve him and went out to buy wine himself. Hearing the sound of a knife being sharpened in the kitchen, Cao Cao thought that they were getting ready to kill him. He decided to act first by killing the whole family, and then left. On the way he ran across Lü Boshe, who asked him, “Why are you leaving so soon? I went to buy some wine and told my family to cook chicken and lamb for you. Why are you leaving?”
Cao Cao realized he had misjudged them, but he had already killed them all and there was nothing he could do. And if he didn’t finish the job off, the trouble would not end. If he did not finish killing off the family, they would become his enemy. He thus told Lü Boshe, “Let me go back with you to eat meat.” As Lü Boshe walked in front of him, Cao Cao stabbed and killed him from behind. As you can see, he was more vicious than a ghost or a snake.
But Cao Mengde repaid his kindness with enmity. Others had treated him kindly, yet he repaid them with hatred. He was totally lacking in kindness, justice, and morality.
On the Huarong Path, he barely escaped death. When he fled in distress along Huarong Path, he reminded Lord Guan, the guard of the path, “I treated you well before. Now I am in trouble. Please set me free!” Lord Guan clearly knew that he had signed a military order under Zhuge Liang, saying, “I am willing to be beheaded if I fail to bring Cao Cao back.” However, he was merciful like a woman and did not want to arrest Cao Cao to earn his own merit, so he released him. If Lord Guan had arrested Cao Cao at that time, the history of the three kingdoms would be different.
Amidst the ships at Red Cliff, he alone survived among his troops. While the fire burned at Red Cliff, even the rocks shone red. Great numbers of Cao’s soldiers were killed. He ignored them all and escaped alone.
He called himself a hero, “It’s just you and me—Cao Cao!” He and Liu Bei had brewed wine together under a plum tree and were talking about heroes. Drinking the wine, they became inebriated. Cao Cao loosened up and proudly asked Liu Bei, “Who do you consider a hero of our time?” Liu Bei did not answer straightaway but only mentioned a few contemporary famous figures: “Zhou Yu? Sun Quan? So-and-so?” Cao Cao did not nod his head. Liu Bei then asked him the same question. Cao Cao lifted his wine glass, drank, and said with a laugh, “The only heroes of today are you and Cao.” Cao was referring to himself and Liu Bei.
Hearing that, Liu Bei was so frightened that he dropped his glass, and it smashed to pieces. Why was he so scared? Because he knew that if Cao Cao truly considered him a hero, he would not let him go. Fortunately when Liu Bei dropped the glass, there was a sudden peal of thunder. When Cao Cao asked him, “Why did you drop the glass?” he cleverly replied, “Mende, I’m so afraid of thunder. Just now that loud thunder scared me.” Cao Cao thought, “Loud thunder makes you that scared. What kind of hero are you?” After that, Cao Cao did not care too much about Liu Bei. Although Cao Cao was cunning, Liu Bei had outsmarted him and got away from him. This is as in the sayng, “Of the thousand thoughts of a smart man, surely one will be off.”
Who can decipher the subtle principles behind all this? With all the clever schemes and tricks that transpired among the personages of the three kingdoms, who could recognize the cause-and-effect relationships that were operating among them? “Through thousands of years, the waves wash away the marks made by famous people.” Today, none of them is still alive.
— The End —