Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Death of Zhang Fei 张飞

                  In this portrait image, Zhang Fei poses an intimidating poise
                    Zhang Fei in action - he cried out in his uncontrollable fury

During the warring years of The Three Kingdoms Era 220 – 280 AD in Ancient China, Liu Bei刘备of Shu Guo 蜀國 was trying very hard in his quest to defeat Cao Cao 曹操of Wei Guo魏國 and Sun Quan 孙权 of Wu Guo 吴国so that he could become the next emperor of China. Liu Bei was fortunate to have Guan Yu 关羽 (After his death he was revered as Guan Gong till this day as a man of integrity and loyalty values) and Zhang Fei as his two loyal stalwarts to be his military generals. Though reticent in his nature and soft in his outlook and approach, Liu was a conniving man with insidious deep thought (However history portrayed Liu Bei as a virtuous and kind hearted leader in his kingdom). In order to consolidate his bond with his two trusted left and right hand men, Liu Bei enticed them to be sworn as brothers together with him over a serious ceremony. Eventually Liu successfully enlisted the rare service of highly scholarly strategist ZhuGe Liang 諸葛亮 as his top think tank cum prime minister in their many military maneuvers. Together they fought many wars and skirmishes, winning many, and gained much anticipated territories and supports from the militia and general masses. Their epoch making conquest was documented in The Battle of Red Cliff 赤壁之战which was made into a movie in recent years.

A very fierce looking Zhang Fei in this hand drawn portrait
Guan Yu and his trade mark weapon The Green Dragon Guan Dao, 青龙 while riding astride his battle horse. He was more popular and generally loved by the Chinese people than Zhang Fei.

However during one of his treacherous mission at the frontline, Guan Yu was betrayed and eventually trapped and captured alive by the troops of Wu Guo’s Sun Qian. He refused to surrender to Sun Qian’s camp, and was subsequently beheaded together with his son. When Guan Yu’s head was brought to Liu Bei’s presence, they were all emotionally shattered with anger, sadness and agony. Hot tempered and highly charged with vengeance and vindication in his mind Zhang Fei vowed to rampage through and burn the whole region of Wu Kuo into ashes if they could gain ground there to avenge the death of their most distinguished general.

 The face of an actor who played the part of Zhang Fei in a recent movie
                                A cartoon drawn image of Zhang Fei

Zhang Fei (168AD – 221AD) was known as a bearded, broad faced, dark skinned fearsome warrior with protruding eye-balls when agitated with fury. It was his blunt and brute force that his enemies feared most as he was almost invincible during hand to hand combat. Zhang was a good, straight person, who valued comradeship and absolute loyalty in his ethics but was too fiery and quick tempered; he always flew into uncontrollable rage over minor incidents. In such cases he would become unreasonable and disgusting that nobody liked him. He had few confidants in his camp apart from Liu Bei and Guan Yu. With the untimely death of Guan Yu, Zhang Fei was down with indignation and frustration; he could only seek solace in his nightly booze of rice wine.

A memorial temple of Zhang Fei built in Zhongqing becomes a tourism hotspot
The majestic Guan Ti Memorial Temple of Guan Yu a.k.a. Guan Gong in Taishan, Shandong.
Many memorial temples of Guan Gong was built all over China, and other parts of Asia, including those erected in The Philippines and Japan, Malaysia too. Emperors of the following dynasties used Guan Gong's merits as a symbol of force, and undying loyalty to instil such values to their populace so as to stengthen their grip of their throne. There was more than that in the eyes of the Chinese people as they revered Guan Yu as a hero for the cause of justice, integrity and a man of irrevocable principle. 

Zhang Fei ordered a month long of mourning in his camp to mark the demise of Guan Yu. He summoned his two subordinate military captains Fan Jiang and Zhan Dat to oversee the sewing and making of white-colored mourning dresses and amours for thousands of soldiers, within three days. It was a tall order and was impossible to meet the targeted dateline, the two captains deduced. Eventually they gathered enough courage to tell Zhang Fei their predicament; they asked for an extended dateline. Zhang was irked and riled; and in his utmost anger he ordered the two captains to be tied around the trunks of trees, to be whipped 50 times each.  At the end of their punishment and ordeal, the two poor soldiers were seen crawling on the floor with their bodies strewn with bloody stripes, begging for mercy. Zhang Fei showed his relentless character, threatened them with his menacing finger pointing at their noses: Get it done or else you’re dead men!

At nightfall, at their barracks Fan Jiang and Zhan Dat decided that in no way they could live to have the tall order realized. Coupled with vengeance and animosity towards their commanding general, they had enough of the brutality they suffered immensely from their superior, they decided to do the drastic defiance. They wanted to turn the table round to change their own fate.

                             A caricature image of Zhang Fei

In the dearth of the night at the wee hours of the day, Fan Jiang and Zhan Dat dragged their pain stricken feet and bodies to the tent of Zhang Fei where he laid sleeping like a log, totally drunk in an unconscious stupor. The duo got an easy time to enter the tent where Zhan Fei slept with his eyes wide-opened. They had a great shock of their life; both fell onto the earthen floor, thinking that the sleeping Zhang was staring at them, almost awaking the guards. With some remaining guts they gained their composure, got up and stole quick glances at Zhang Fei’s face. After they were sure the former was soundly asleep, Fan Jiang plunged a sharp-edged dagger into the chest of Zhang Fei. From his dying bed, Zhang cried out loudly with an agonizing, hopeless wail that would have awaken everyone. The assailants fled on time and their survival in their later life was not known.

A Chinese drawing depicting the two assasins leaving the scene after murdering zhang Fei

Zhang Fei died at age 55; it was a pitiful death as he was at his prime fighting a war that history would have recorded his glorified bravery. Unfortunately due to his irascible temperament, devoid the skill for articulate handling of critical situation, his unforgiving nature and blind conceited ego, he died an awful death. Zhang Fei’s demise preached an indelible moral, telling people should not be antagonistic and unforgiving. One should always be benevolent to respect other’s quest and doubts, and accommodating even as a commanding boss. As every body was concerned with their image and pride, no one should openly delude another’s reputation or faith. A kind deed of forgivingness goes a long way and paves a future road of peace in the event of a surfacing rivalry for both parties. Zhang Fei’s death clearly showed that there was no need to subdue or annihilate any one who might not agree with him or defying his order. The assassination of Zhang Fei sounded a warning to all tyrants and blunt despots not to go overboard doing nasty things though it was futile to give tit for tat. Somehow abject minor individuals lurking in the dark are hard to detect and avoid; there are always back stabbers and rumor mongers around to disturb the peace to spread non-existing scandals in modern times. One still needs to stay vigilant as always.

Alan CY Kok

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