I’ve been watching the latest remake of ‘The Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ (三國演義) and have arrived at one of my all-time favourite episodes in this legendary novel, which is known as 华容道. Briefly, 华容道 is the name of a narrow pass that Cao Cao escaped to after his inglorious defeat at Red Cliff (赤壁). Zhuge Liang, knowing that Cao Cao would pass this way to escape back to his base in the north, decided to place Guan Yu there to guard the pass. Now, this was an excellent opportunity to get rid of Cao Cao once and for all, yet Zhuge Liang had no intention to do so, for fear that doing so would eliminate a possible counterbalance to the growing might of Sun Quan in the south. All along, Zhuge Liang’s maxim had been to keep China divided among the three kingdoms until such a time when his lord, Liu Bei, was strong enough to unite the land (三國鼎立) But he could not appear to be letting Cao Cao off the hook so easily. So Zhuge Liang sent Guan Yu to guard the pass, ostensibly ordering him not to let Cao Cao escape, but knowing deep down that Guan Yu would do so. Why? Because Cao Cao showed Guan Yu kindness in the past when he was his prisoner. So what ensued at 华容道 was the scene where Guan Yu tussled between obeying his lord (which meant killing Cao Cao) or repaying a past debt of favour (which meant letting Cao Cao go). A touching exchange of words finally witnessed Guan Yu ordering his men to let Cao Cao pass, knowing full well the consequences of his actions.
Now if I may, in Mandarin:
演义上记载是诸葛亮认为曹操气数未尽，再者曹操活着可防孙权北上夺取中原。如果华容道上不是关羽来守，让张飞、赵云来守，那曹操必定死路一条。曹操死后，北方大乱，北方又会回到群雄争霸的局面，这时孙权的确有可能向北进攻中原。所以诸葛亮也 为这一段想好了，必须放掉曹操，而且不能明说放曹操。那换谁去放呢？如果是张飞去放，张飞是个蛮汉，你就算跟他明说不要杀曹操，他也会提着曹操的脑袋回 来；如果是赵云去放呢？赵云是个接死命令的人，你让他往东，他绝不会往西，而且在哪种情况绝不能明说放曹操。这样的话只能让关羽去了。另外曹操能言会道， 也就只有关羽能够听进曹操的一大堆废话而感动。