Cao Cao (Ts¡¯ao Ts¡¯ao, 155-220 AD) is a highly dramatic figure in
Chinese history. During the Eastern Han dynasty - one of the most
turbulent ages in the history of China when various dukes had split
up the country in their struggle for control - Cao Cao managed to
dominate and unify the north of China. In doing so he abused his
title as chief minister while pretending to respect the puppet emperor.
When Cao Cao died, his son went on to usurp the emperor¡¯s throne.
Ever since, tradition in China has criticized his character and
actions as a classic example of the tenet: ¡°If a person¡¯s title
does not reflect the truth, his words will be untenable.¡±
¡°Beating Drums in Criticism of Cao¡± is a story that uses the figure
of Cao Cao to portray a classic example of a treacherous court official.
The story is based on three different literary texts whose time
of writing span over 1000 years: History of Eastern Han, The Romance
of the Three Kingdoms, and the traditional play called ¡°Kuang Gu
Shi Yu Yang San Nong¡±. The writers and styles of these sources vary
greatly: the first text is a court historian¡¯s annals, the second
text is an oral narrative passed down and collected among the common
people, and the third text is a traditional dramatic play.
The title ¡°Ceremony¡± has a double meaning. First, the three literary
sources all refer to a common venue: the ceremony of the beating
of drums. The unusual venue tells us that we will be presented with
an unusual character. Secondly, the narrative has a ceremonial quality
to it. The story is based on historical texts which span a history
of over 1000 years, during which the repeated telling of the story
has resulted in the consolidation of a certain historical image
that has an undeniable weight and norm associated with it. These
two types of ceremony merge together to describe an indisputable
¡°Ceremony¡± is founded on the historical process of the creation
of these three literary texts, and it uses a personal story to analyze
a historical event yet once again. During this ceremony, everybody
participates both as a speaker and as a performer, and the stage
turns into an place where history and the present come together.
In doing so, the audience plays a role in furthering the relationship
between drama and history.