Ravaging Times

December 12, 2017

chapter 492 (magazine syndication, not final)

Filed under: Ravages of Time — Tags: — merc @ 9:01 pm

Empty promises and hollow appearances.

[?]: What are you waiting for?
The very definition of a strategist.
(“[one who] uses strategy, is like this”)

[?]: Why the sudden retreat when south of Xiang is within reach?
(I don’t know if 襄下 is an actual location or an approximate/relative location; if you have specific citation please link the information to me)
[?]: I’ll ask you again, fight or not?

[?]: No retreat!

[?]: Oh.

chapter 492 Unmatched Brain and Brawn

[?]: No retreat!

[?]: Keep fighting!

[Zu Lang]: Real men from the southeast must never bend a knee to traitor Cao!

[ZL]: Our main force will arrive soon. Taking south of Xiang will advance our cause!
(“…will able even [further] forward one step”)

[ZL]: Once the rebellion is suppressed, lead a troop to the Rocky Hills through the Tailwind Valley, and pitch camp on flat terrain immediately!
(顺风谷,石山 are these actual location names? Or only descriptive references? I could translate 石山 to Mount Shi or Rocky Mountains XD)

[ZL]: Have two infantry units guard the source of the river!

[ZL]: If Cao Cao’s army comes we’ll be able to fight or defend as usual!

[Guo Huai]: Amazing. His last words will be enough to pacify the Jing Province…

[ZL]: What are you standing around for?

(sfx “cha”)

[GH]: I’ll ask again, will you retreat or not?

[ZL]: UGH.

[?]: We’ve already called off the siege, brat. Is that not enough?
[?]: Release our commander and you’ll be free to go. We swear!
(“…promise not pursue investigate”)

[GH]: It’s an art of war to go back on one’s words while on the march.
(not sure)

[ZL]: Huff.

[?]: Commander!

[GH]: If you won’t go away, then I’ll lead you away.

[GH]: All of you, come!

[?]: Deputy commander, what do we do?
[?]: Forget it, let’s fight them!

[?]: Wait.

[Zhou Yu]: Zu Lang’s rank is too low for a decisive choice to be made.

[ZY]: So trade him in.
(“then change one”)

[ZY]: How about for Zhou Yu?

[ZY]: Remember that I was the one who came up with the full setup.
[ZY]: If you want to take down the leader…
(“capture thief first capture [their] king”)

[ZY]: then there is no better deal than this.

[GH]: Gentleman Zhou of the southeast trumps Zu Lang.
(trivial wordplay lost in translation)

[GH]: Too bad Zu Lang is still an old mentor of the Sun army despite his lower rank.
(not sure)

[GH]: Not to mention he’s your most important hunting dog.
(“…lead vanguard first dog”, not sure, the sentences in this chapter are a mix of old and modern phrasing, and old style is terse and allows for more possible interpretation)

[GH]: As a commander, he destroyed my formations at Nan city.
[GH]: That shows his extraordinary skill with formations as well as his bravery.

[GH]: If I remember correctly, even Sun Ce suffered losses against him back in the day.

[ZY]: Why, young sir, do you think I’m not as good as him?

[GH]: A secret trick of military advisers goes, don’t touch a fancy cover with no “substance”.
(not sure; is he insulting Zhou Yu as a pretty face with no skill? Or full of talk but no fighting prowess? Or something else?)

[GH]: Not many people understand that. What a genius.


[GH]: Not many people can force us into a dead end.

[GH]: What a genius.


[?]: Wh…

[?]: That brat’s really skilled, Chief Controller!
[?]: Don’t fight him to the death!

[ZY]: Come.

[ZY]: You win if you capture me.

[ZY]: Hard to refuse, yes?



[ZY]: There!

[ZY]: Too bad,

[ZY]: wrong guess!
(“you calculated wrong”)

[ZY]: You’re tired.

[ZY]: There!

[?]: That… that technique…!

[ZY]: Let me remind you

[ZY]: that my childhood sparring partner was the Little Conqueror.
(or you can try the translation “that the Little Conqueror and I grew up roughhousing each other”)

[GH]: That was so unnecessary! We still have the hostage!

[ZY]: Abandon the hostage. Kill him!


[?]: Take him down!

[?]: Brilliant plan by the Chief Controller. He was distracted!

[?]: Ma Zhong! Your shot was what we needed!

[?]: All right, resume the siege!

[Liaoyuan Guang]: Huff.

[ZY]: Stop struggling.

[ZY]: Not even the Little Conqueror could handle that move.

[?]: Chief Controller, General Zu’s face appears metallic green-

[?]: he might be poisoned!
[?]: Something’s wrong with that dagger!

[?]: Beware of treachery!



[GH]: The dagger is coated with poison!

[GH]: Your retreat for my antidote!

[ZY]: Brat…

[GH]: Empty promises and hollow appearances.
(open to interpretation)

[GH]: Let me remind you

[GH]: of how the Little Conqueror died.

[GH]: Do as I say and withdraw your troops!

——– black page preview —-
Cao Cao’s troops withdrew from south of Xiangyang by the afternoon. Chief Controller Zhou suddenly ordered a retreat of his own at dusk.


November 27, 2017

reader Hsu Li-Heng’s 2007 critique on “The Ravages of Time”

Filed under: Ravages of Time — Tags: , , , — merc @ 12:01 pm

original blog post
(note: a reader asked me to translate this really old critique of Ravages, written in 2007, based on about 100 chapters of the story; it has solid points that are still relevant, but also possibly outdated commentary with regard to what Chen Mou tries to express through this work, sometimes a little obliquely in his “Afterwords” commentaries)

“The Ravages of Time” is a graphic novel series that upends the traditional Three Kingdoms lore. The author makes powerful forces that are hidden behind the scene as the lead, and makes Sima Yi the main character (even though he has very little screen time). With that setup, the author brings out the ingenious strategies of various factions to re-interpret the history of the Three Kingdoms.

I started reading it from its inception. I’ve also read his previous works- how the short stories in “Not Human” upended portrayals of Sir Guan and Wei Yan, or how the failed series “God Pretenders” was unnecessarily complex and unintelligible. I’m very aware of Chen Mou’s tendency, which is to make every character ultra smart, crazy powerful, full of schemes, and never how they appear on the surface. This became his view on history, the innovative idea in his work, and inevitably created his myth.

In Chen Mou’s imagination, every wise man, strategist, officer, and warlord thinks through their plans and understands what power (and related theories) is about; Lü Bu and Wen Chou are top-of-the-line thinking Generals, where the reputation of being “brave but brainless” was merely a cover. Of course, some of these people could calculate further than others, or be at a higher tier, which means any mistake will lead to death. Consequently, the author makes every battle of wits as complicated as possible, leaving readers who don’t think as deeply in the dust.

However, does that make this creative work brilliant? Maybe a little bit. I think once the novelty wears off, repeating this trope can be exhausting to read. The author wears himself out to come up with new tricks and schemes, or turns possible coincidences in history into the result of N-rounds of a game between masterminds. He ends up exhausted, and we feel exhausted reading it. And I want to ask: Why do you choose to craft a series like this?

Chen Mou’s view on history has a fatal flaw- that he uses his own view to frame history. In other words, it’s like how the trendy “use theory to bring along history” idea of the previous century led to “use theory to replace history”. Marxism and Leninism of that generation were eventually rejected because of it. Those of us who use history to create literature or art should put it at the same level as us or just above, so it’s from historical facts that we develop our viewpoint; to make characters approachable and let them help us grow, instead of willfully remain steeped in one’s own fantasy.

Of course you can create your own world and let characters roam free in it. But why should I pay attention to your unilateral dreamland? How will it benefit me? If it was just “for fun”, fine; but Chen Mou’s graphic novels are never just read for fun. His ambition is enormous. Through his upended history, he wants to expose the deeply ingrained ambition within human nature. We can be certain of such an avarice, for it’s a great motivator. However, people like that are also prone to straying off course or going off the deep end.

“The Ravages of Time” has reached over thirty volumes by now, right? I haven’t really stayed with it after a hundred chapters. It’s not because of the inconsistent release schedule, but that Chen Mou keeps making the same old mistake: expanding the scope so much that he loses control of it. Hundreds of pages later the timeline is still prior to Lü Bu’s death (I don’t know where the story is now). The finale that was revealed in chapter one depicts the emptiness of an old Sima Yi who knows all and controls all. I don’t know how many years it’ll take for the graphic novel to reach that point. Without new breakthroughs, it’s rare for an author to maintain the passion for a long series.

The historical view in “The Ravages of Time” does have a commendable quality: it illustrates the influential power of clans, especially those of royalty and deep lineage. Back then that was the basic structure within which power struggle was conducted. In the past we had Wang Fu Zhi‘s “Reading Zi Zhi Tong Jian” (this is so esoteric that it’s probably rare for anyone who is not a history major like me to have read it; even I was introduced to it by a professor), Fan Wen Lan’s “The Concise Edition of General History of China,” Lü Si Mian‘s “The Story of the Three Kingdoms;” average readers of this day and age would have heard of Yi Zhong Tian (and history buffs like me think his work is all right; flawed, but not enough to overshadow its brilliance); overall the general population has a higher understanding of Three Kingdoms period than past generations. Therefore if you want our attention, Chen Mou, you better bring out something of higher level, a historical view more comprehensive, and intellects that are more abnormal – but why torture yourself thus?

Someone whose name I can’t remember said, “Guan Ning in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the best character.” And Guan Ning is a hermit living in Liaodong (east Liao). What does that tell us? It tells us that there is a yearning for morality and sentimentality. Some people in times of chaos would abandon moral principles, while others would long for them. Not to mention that virtues were still celebrated values among the men of class near the end of East Han dynasty (despite it turning hypocritical). Confucianism was also the mainstream belief system (despite having produced “renowned literati” like Kong Rong and Mi Heng, who were only full of talk). But this seems to be a blind spot for Chen Mou. Or maybe Chen Mou only focuses on its negative side- the commonly criticized hypocritical and preachy side, without seeing the positive and other various sides to it. As a result, you have neglected a very important human mentality in the historical context.

In addition, Chen Mou is mistaken about another aspect of people’s mentality in times of great turmoil: uncertainty. Are those warlords really fully informed, confident, flawless strategists that only ever fail because of their own overconfidence? Chen Mou’s tendency to embellish, to raise characters to god or demon status reduces their believability. And even if he manages to justify it all, what’s so entertaining about a Three Kingdoms setting where it’s just a bunch of crazy strong brains and brawns going back-and-forth? You upended the traditional images from history, folklore, and literature in order to create your own imagery. But if none of that helps the reader to get closer to the reality, to approach better understanding and sympathy, then what’s the meaning of your work of art?

In short, I think Chen Mou’s failing can be summed up as “imbalance”. He is so eager to create super heroes and mysterious extraordinary talents that he and the entire series became a prisoner to this idea- unable to actually let these heroes and extraordinary talents present themselves to us. What a pity. On the other hand, I must still praise Chen Mou’s ambition and creativity. I also have reason to believe that with the ever increasing literacy of historical text by the masses, the widespread of education, the open flow of information, and the liberation in ways of thinking, that there will be creators in the future who may surpass Chen Mou in this regard.

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