Three Kingdoms

| 2017-11-30 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The portrait of Cao Cao


shuo Cao Cao, Cao Cao dao
Shuo means to speak of; dao means to arrive. Cao Cao (155-220) was a military strategist, the founder of Cao Wei Kingdom (220-266) and a poet during the Three Kingdoms Period. This proverb, taken literally, means “speak of Cao Cao and there he comes.” It is used in the same context as “Speak of the devil.”


ji sheng Yu, he sheng Liang
Yu refers to Zhou Yu (175-210), commander-in-chief of Sun Wu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period. Liang refers to Zhuge Liang (181-234), military counselor of the Shu Han Kingdom. This proverb, taken literally, means that after endowing me, Zhou Yu, with talent, why does Heaven endow Zhuge Liang with even better talent?

Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang were well-matched rivals. However, Zhuge, as described in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, always exceeded Zhou. According to the novel, Zhou Yu cried these last words right before his demise.

This proverb, also referred to as the Yu-Liang complex, is used to describe the competitive relationship between two extremely talented persons as tragic fatalism. For example, Chinese football fans sometimes use this proverb to describe the relationship between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.


Sima Zhao zhi xin, luren jiezhi
Xin means hearts. Luren means passerby. This proverb, taken literally, means that everyone knows what’s in Sima Zhao’s mind.

Sima Zhao (211-265) was the son of Sima Yi, the righthand man of Cao Cao. His son, Sima Yan, was the first emperor of Jin Dynasty (265-420). Following the footsteps of his father Sima Yi, Sima Zhao also paved the way for the establishment of the Jin Dynasty. His ambition to usurp the throne of Wei Kingdom was obvious at that time. This proverb quoted from remarks of Cao Mao, the fourth emperor of Wei Kingdom.

This proverb has a similar meaning as “The villain’s design is obvious.” It means that a person’s supposed hidden intention is so well known that it is no longer a secret.