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The Peach Garden Oath

This oath of fellowship is an iconic moment in the first chapter of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong (14th century), in which the main heroes of the novel pledge to restore goodness and order to a nation whose government is entrenched in corruption. The most recent television adaption of the popular work had this oath removed by communist censors in China.

We present here, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei,
Although of different surnames, now are bound
As brothers who stand united on this day,
Our strength and hearts as one entwined around.

Together we’ll make it through each difficulty
That arises, braving any danger—
Guardians of our nation, standing lofty,
And for the humble masses, their defender.

We do not seek to be the same, born in
The same year or on the same month or day;
But wish instead to die the same, buried in
The same year and on the same month and day.

May Heaven’s Emperor and his Empress Earth
Inspect our hearts for righteousness and grace,
And if of either we have shown some dearth,
Then Heaven and Man should wipe us off Earth’s face.

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Original Chinese

今刘备、关羽、张飞虽然异姓,既结为兄弟,

则同心协力救困扶危,上报国家下安黎庶;

不求同年同月同日生,但愿同年同月同日死。

隍天后地实鋻此心﹔背义忘恩,天人共戮。

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Translation by Evan Mantyk


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14 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a beautiful piece of work.

    The fact that the CCP is terrified of a short fourteenth-century poem speaks volumes about the hollowness and brittleness of Communism.

    Reply
  2. Mike Bryant

    Words are powerful. The authoritarian masters of this tiny earth fear them so much that we all must be masked and gagged. We must speak out before it is too late, here and in our cities and towns and wherever we can make ourselves be heard. You have spoken out in powerful words that make the powerful tremble.

    Reply
  3. Brian Yapko

    This is indeed very beautiful, Evan. That it was censored is despicable. It is inspiring in the oath-takers’ love for their country and it is poignant knowing that such national guardians — those whose hearts bespeak righteousness and grace — are a thing of the past in Communist China (and many other places.) I love depictions of valor and this is a good one.

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is beautiful, Evan. May we who desire goodness over corruption (or civilization over savagery, as G.K. Chesterton would say) make a similar pledge to each other, inspecting “our hearts for righteousness and grace”.

    Reply
  5. Allegra Silberstein

    Thank you for this wonderful translation of a 14th century poem that speaks eloquently for today. Allegra

    Reply
  6. Terry L. Norton

    The peach and its garden are symbols of immortality and springtime in Chinese lore. How appropriate this powerful oath, ably translated, should take place in the Peach Garden of the Celestial Kingdom.

    Censors may delete the oath, but as the great American poet William Cullen Bryant said, “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.”

    Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    What a gorgeous English presentation of an important text in Chinese culture! From the few Chinese characters whose meaning I know, I can sense your care to follow the meaning and structure of the original, while putting it into beautifully rhymed and rhythmic words that English speakers can understand. Of the ideas here, I’m especially struck by the fact that these three men acknowledge different backgrounds, even as they swear to be brothers in patriotism and virtue.

    Reply
  8. Paul Freeman

    This sounds like one of those rousing speeches before a great battle – ‘Bands of brothers’ stuff.

    Very stirring.

    Reply
  9. Evan Mantyk

    Thank you all for your comments!

    Now is precisely the time when the people of China must remember the Peach Orchard Oath, band together, and demand justice from the Chinese Communist Party. The stupidity, hypocrisy, and barbarity of communism has reached its extreme. Enough is enough.

    We too at the SCP are bound in fellowship, thrown together by providence as one in preserving tradition and withstanding the cultural decomposition that is taking place before our eyes. Our backgrounds are myriad but our hearts are one…

    I wax poetic.

    Reply
  10. Yael

    Very interesting and beautiful, I feel culturally enriched. I had never previously heard about any of this so I just learned something new, thank you!

    Reply
  11. David Watt

    When a pledge to uphold righteousness and grace is taken as a threat, we know that the CCP lacks these very qualities. Thanks for translating these beautiful words.

    Reply
  12. Sally Cook

    Peaches are beautiful, and this oath is beautiful because it is true. Yes, no matter what opressors say, words still mean things, and it is our responsihbility to use them to convey the true things. Six hundred years is not so long ago when truth is involved Let SCP be a haven for what is true.

    Thank you, Evan.

    Reply

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