Chapter 5 summary

Now I proceed to summarize chapter 5 of The Ravages of Time.

PLOT. Liu Bei and his oath-brothers (Guan Yu and Zhang Fei) enter the city of Jinyang and publicly beat up its mayor to show the consequences of defying Dong Zhuo, much to the chagrin and shock of the residents who have heard of Liu Bei’s good reputation. Zhang Fei makes a further example out of a defiant schoolteacher by hurling him over the city walls. Liu Bei threatens the residents of Jinyang to surrender their luxuries, lest they end up like the schoolteacher. After the onlookers fill up a chest with their donations, he uses a watermelon to illustrate that much more can still be squeezed, then orders troops to loot houses for more treasure. Upon reports that Guandong alliance troops are on their way, Liu Bei’s group hastily leaves while being pelted with stones from the enraged residents who then warmly welcome the new troops. The schoolteacher is soon revealed to be alive and well, lying in a conveniently placed cart full of hay. Meanwhile, Liu Bei heads to Xianyang and gives out Jinyang’s expropriated wealth, much to the gratitude of the residents there who were looted by the Guandong army some time ago.

SCHEME. Liu Bei’s game plan involves robbing a city to save two cities. On the one hand, Liu Bei goes and impoverishes a city in Dong Zhuo’s name, then leaves right before the arrival of the Guandong forces, all in order to prevent needless bloodshed, to direct the ire of the people to the occupier Dong Zhuo, to induce the residents to warm up to the Guandong soldiers whom they will see as liberators, and to dissuade said soldiers from also looting the city. On the other hand, Liu Bei transfers the goods to an already-looted city in order to help them rebuild, and perhaps to win over their hearts and minds.

PROP. The chapter features ‘inhuman’ feats of strength as seen in how Zhang Fei threw someone from the city grounds over the city walls. There is also the sudden switch – just as the thrown man is about to hit the ground –  to Liu Bei feasting on watermelons (and comparing their flavor and juiciness to the wealth of Jinyang), perhaps to indicate at least the ambiguity of the thrown man’s fate before the reveal. The chapter moreover depicts the oath-brothers’ quick escape in a rather humorous way (providing a sort of brief comic relief to the horrors of war), which is then contrasted by the desolation that they encounter in the next city. The overall portrayal gives Liu Bei’s reputed benevolence a new and more sophisticated twist. As for their faces, Liu Bei somewhat resembles typical depictions of Jesus, while Zhang Fei wears face paint that anachronistically hints at how he is depicted in later Chinese operas. For his part, Guan Yu looks conventional, save perhaps for his shortened beard.

THEME. Some interesting topics include: coercion as a convenient (though by no means the best or only) method of eliciting some form of compliance; the variety and plurality of consequences springing from one’s choices or policies; the usefulness of redirecting popular resentment to an appropriate target; the value of gaining popular support (and concomitantly, the power of mass dispositions and behavior to somehow move those in privileged positions); the complications and nuances of trying to act benevolently in situations of intense conflict while balancing considerations of image/reputation and results/deliveries.

PLUS. The perspective shifts from the Sima clan and the Handicapped Warriors to another bunch of characters. Scenery changes will happen many times throughout the series, and this gimmick to keep things fresh also serves as a reminder that the setting is vast, and that there are many other stories involved. Also, it’s nice to see joyful smiles and a bit of goofiness from time to time (especially since there would be less of them in the later volumes).

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