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Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms
An illustration from a Ming dynasty printed edition of the novel from 1591, collection of the Peking University.
Author Luo Guanzhong
Original title 三國演義
Country China
Language Chinese
Subject Ancient China
Genre History, war
Publication date
14th century
Media type Print
LC Class PL2690.S3 E53 1995
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Traditional Chinese 三國演義
Simplified Chinese 三国演义

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong, is a historical novel set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, starting in 169 AD and ending with the reunification of the land in 280.

The story – part historical, part legend, and part mythical – romanticises and dramatises the lives of feudal lords and their retainers, who tried to replace the dwindling Han dynasty or restore it. While the novel follows hundreds of characters, the focus is mainly on the three power blocs that emerged from the remnants of the Han dynasty, and would eventually form the three states of Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. The novel deals with the plots, personal and military battles, intrigues, and struggles of these states to achieve dominance for almost 100 years.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature; it has a total of 800,000 words and nearly a thousand dramatic characters (mostly historical) in 120 chapters.[1] The novel is among the most beloved works of literature in East Asia,[2] and its literary influence in the region has been compared to that of the works of Shakespeare on English literature.[3] It is arguably the most widely read historical novel in late imperial and modern China.[4]


  • Overview 1
    • Expansion of the history 1.1
    • Recensions and standardised text 1.2
  • Story 2
    • Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Ten Attendants 2.1
    • Dong Zhuo's tyranny 2.2
    • Conflict among the various warlords and nobles 2.3
    • Sun Ce builds a dynasty in Jiangdong 2.4
    • Liu Bei's ambition 2.5
    • Battle of Red Cliffs 2.6
    • Liu Bei's takeover of Yi Province 2.7
    • Death of Guan Yu 2.8
    • Battle of Xiaoting 2.9
    • Zhuge Liang's campaigns 2.10
    • End of the Three Kingdoms 2.11
  • Historical accuracy 3
  • Literary analysis 4
  • Cultural impact 5
    • Buddhist aspects 5.1
    • Strategies used in battles 5.2
  • Translations 6
    • English translations 6.1
    • Adaptations 6.2
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References and further reading 9
  • External links 10


Myths from the Three Kingdoms era existed as oral traditions before written compilations. With their focus on the history of Han Chinese, the stories grew in popularity during the reign of the Mongol emperors of the Yuan dynasty. During the succeeding Ming dynasty an interest in plays and novels resulted in further expansions and retelling of the stories.

The earliest written work to combine these stories was a pinghua, Sanguozhi Pinghua (simplified Chinese: 三国志评话; traditional Chinese: 三國志平話; pinyin: Sānguózhì Pínghuà; literally: "Story of Records of the Three Kingdoms"), published sometime between 1321 and 1323. This version combined themes of legend, magic, and morality to appeal to the common people, who did not have education in literary Chinese. Elements of reincarnation and karma were woven into this version of the story.

Expansion of the history

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is traditionally attributed to Luo Guanzhong,[5] who lived sometime between 1330 and 1400 (late Yuan to early Ming period). However, Luo's name was not associated with the novel until about a century after his death and recent scholars, such as Andrew H. Plaks in his Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel, have argued that the novel was composed at a later date; perhaps the latter half of the 15th century. This dating would account for the similarities in structure and style between Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West and Water Margin, which were also written in partly vernacular and partly Classical Chinese. It was first printed in 1522 as Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi in an edition which bore a perhaps spurious preface date 1494. The text may well have circulated before either date in handwritten manuscripts.[6]

In any case, whether an earlier or later date of composition, whether or not Luo Guanzhong was responsible, the author made use of available historical records, including the Records of the Three Kingdoms compiled by Chen Shou, which covered events from the Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184 to the unification of the Three Kingdoms under the Jin dynasty in 280. The novel also includes material from Tang dynasty poetic works, Yuan dynasty operas and his own personal interpretation of elements such as virtue and legitimacy. The author combined this historical knowledge with a gift for storytelling to create a rich tapestry of personalities.[7]

Recensions and standardised text

Several versions of the expanded Sanguozhi are extant today. Luo Guanzhong's version in 24 volumes, known as the Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi, is now held in the Shanghai Library in China, Tenri Central Library in Japan, and several other major libraries. Various 10-volume, 12-volume and 20-volume recensions of Luo's text, made between 1522 and 1690, are also held at libraries around the world. However, the standard text familiar to general readers is a recension by Mao Lun and his son Mao Zonggang.

In the 1660s, during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing dynasty, Mao Lun and Mao Zonggang significantly edited the text, fitting it into 120 chapters, and abbreviating the title to Sanguozhi Yanyi.[8] The text was reduced from 900,000 to 750,000 characters; significant editing was done for narrative flow; use of third-party poems was reduced and shifted from conventional verse to finer pieces; and most passages praising Cao Cao's advisers and generals were removed.[9] Scholars have long debated whether the Maos' viewpoint was anti-Qing (identifying Southern Ming remnants with Shu-Han) or pro-Qing.[10]

The famous opening lines of the novel, "The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been",[11] long understood to be Luo's introduction and cyclical philosophy, were actually added by the Maos in their substantially revised edition of 1679. None of the earlier editions contained this phrase. The earlier editions, moreover, spend less time on the process of division, which they found painful, and far more time on the process of reunification and the struggles of the heroes who sacrificed for it.[12]


One of the greatest achievements of Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the extreme complexity of its stories and characters. The novel contains numerous secondary stories. The following consists of a summary of the central plot and some well-known highlights in the story.

Three Heroes of Three Kingdoms, silk painting by Sekkan Sakurai (1715–1790), depicting Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.

Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Ten Attendants

In the final years of the Eastern Han dynasty, treacherous eunuchs and villainous officials deceive the emperor and persecute good ministers. The government gradually becomes extremely corrupt on all levels, leading to widespread deterioration of the Han Empire. During the reign of Emperor Ling, the Yellow Turban Rebellion breaks out under the leadership of Zhang Jiao.

The rebellion is barely suppressed by imperial forces led by the general He Jin. Upon Emperor Ling's death, He Jin installs the young Emperor Shao on the throne and takes control of the central government. The Ten Attendants, a group of influential court eunuchs, fear that He Jin is growing too powerful, so they lure him into the palace and assassinate him. In revenge, He Jin's supporters break into the palace and indiscriminately slaughter any person who looks like a eunuch. In the ensuing chaos, Emperor Shao and the Prince of Chenliu disappear from the palace.

Dong Zhuo's tyranny

The missing emperor and the prince are found by soldiers of the warlord Dong Zhuo, who proceeds to take control of the imperial capital Luoyang under the pretext of protecting the emperor. Dong Zhuo later deposes Emperor Shao and replaces him with the Prince of Chenliu (Emperor Xian), who is merely a figurehead under Dong's control. Dong Zhuo monopolises state power, persecutes his political opponents, and oppresses the common people for his personal gain. There are two attempts on his life: the first is by a general Wu Fu, who fails and dies a gruesome death; the second is by Cao Cao, who nearly succeeds.

Cao Cao escapes from Luoyang and then sends out an imperial edict in the emperor's name to various regional officials and warlords, calling them to rise up against Dong Zhuo. Under Yuan Shao's leadership, 18 warlords form a coalition army and launch a campaign against Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo feels threatened after losing at the battles of Sishui Pass and Hulao Pass, so he decides to evacuate Luoyang and move the capital to Chang'an in the west. He forces Luoyang's residents to move together with him and has the city set aflame. The coalition eventually breaks up due to poor leadership and conflicting interests among its members. Meanwhile, in Chang'an, Dong Zhuo is betrayed and murdered by his foster son Lü Bu in a dispute over the maiden Diaochan as part of a plot orchestrated by the minister Wang Yun.

Conflict among the various warlords and nobles

In the meantime, the Han Empire is already disintegrating into civil war and anarchy as various warlords start fighting for land and power. Sun Jian finds the Imperial Seal in the ruins of Luoyang and secretly keeps it for himself. Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan are at war in the north while Sun Jian and Liu Biao are battling in the south. Others such as Cao Cao and Liu Bei, who initially had no titles or land, are also gradually forming their own armies and taking control of territories.

Cao Cao rescues Emperor Xian from Dong Zhuo's remnants, establishes the new capital in Xu, and becomes the new head of the central government. He defeats his rivals such as Lü Bu, Yuan Shu and Zhang Xiu in a series of wars in central China before scoring a decisive victory over Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu. Through his conquests, Cao Cao unites central and northern China under his control. The lands he conquered would serve as the foundation of the state of Cao Wei in the future.

Sun Ce builds a dynasty in Jiangdong

Meanwhile, an ambush had violently concluded Sun Jian's life at the Battle of Xiangyang against Liu Biao. His eldest son, Sun Ce, delivers the Imperial Seal as tribute to a rising pretender, Yuan Shu, in exchange for reinforcements. Sun Ce secures himself a state in the rich riverlands of Jiangdong (Wu), on which the state of Eastern Wu will eventually be founded. Tragically, Sun Ce also dies at the pinnacle of his career from illness under stress of his terrifying encounter with the ghost of Yu Ji, a venerable magician whom he had falsely accused of heresy and executed in jealousy. However, Sun Quan, his younger brother and successor, proves to be a capable and charismatic ruler. With assistance from Zhou Yu, Zhang Zhao and others, Sun Quan inspires hidden talents such as Lu Su to serve him, builds up his military forces and maintains stability in Jiangdong.

Liu Bei's ambition

Liu Bei recruiting Zhuge Liang, from Visiting the Thatched Hut Three Times, a Ming dynasty painting by Dai Jin (1388-1462).

Liu Bei and his oath brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei had sworn allegiance to the Han dynasty in the Oath of the Peach Garden and pledged to do their best for the Han Empire. However, their ambitions have yet to be realised and they were not given due recognition despite helping to suppress the Yellow Turban Rebellion and participating in the campaign against Dong Zhuo. After Liu Bei succeeds Tao Qian as the governor of Xu Province, he offers shelter to Lü Bu, who had just been defeated by Cao Cao. However, Lü Bu betrays his host, seizes control of the province, and attacks Liu Bei. Liu Bei combines forces with Cao Cao and they defeat Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi. Liu Bei then follows Cao Cao back to the capital Xu, where he is honoured by Emperor Xian as the "Imperial Uncle". When Cao Cao shows signs that he is planning to usurp the throne, Emperor Xian writes a secret decree in blood to Dong Cheng and orders him to get rid of Cao. Dong Cheng secretly contacts Liu Bei and others, and they plan to assassinate Cao Cao. However, the plot is leaked out and Cao Cao has Dong Cheng and the others arrested and executed along with their families.

Liu Bei has already left Xu when the plot was exposed, and he proceeds to take control of Xu Province from Che Zhou, the new governor appointed by Cao Cao. In retaliation, Cao Cao attacks Xu Province and defeats Liu Bei, forcing him to take shelter under Yuan Shao for a brief period of time. Liu Bei eventually leaves Yuan Shao and establishes a new base in Runan, but is defeated by Cao Cao again. He retreats south to Jing Province, where he finds shelter under the governor Liu Biao. Liu Biao puts Liu Bei in charge of a small county, Xinye. In Xinye, Liu Bei visits Zhuge Liang thrice and recruits him as an advisor. He also builds up his forces in preparation for war against Cao Cao.

Battle of Red Cliffs

Cao Cao is appointed as the chancellor and he leads his forces south to attack Liu Bei after unifying central and northern China. He is defeated twice at Xinye by Liu Bei, but Liu also loses the county. Liu Bei leads his followers and the civilians on an exodus further south and they arrive at Jiangxia.

Liu Bei sends Zhuge Liang to meet Sun Quan and discuss the formation of a Sun–Liu alliance to counter Cao Cao. Sun Quan agrees and places Zhou Yu in command of his army in preparation for an upcoming war with Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang remains temporarily in Wu to assist Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu feels that Zhuge Liang will become a threat to Wu in the future and tries to kill him on a few occasions but fails. He has no choice but to cooperate with Zhuge Liang for the time being. The Sun–Liu forces score a decisive victory over Cao Cao at the Battle of Red Cliffs.

Traditional site of the Red Cliffs.

Sun Quan and Liu Bei start vying for control of southern Jing Province after their victory at Red Cliffs, but Liu wins and takes over the territories from Cao Cao's general Cao Ren. Sun Quan is unhappy and sends messengers to ask Liu Bei to "return" the province to him, but Liu dismisses the messengers each time with a different excuse. Sun Quan is unwilling to give up, so he follows Zhou Yu's plan to trick Liu Bei to come to Wu to marry his sister Lady Sun and then hold Liu hostage in exchange for Jing Province. However, the plan fails and the newlywed couple returns to Jing Province safely. Zhou Yu dies in frustration after Zhuge Liang repeatedly foils his plans to take Jing Province.

Liu Bei's takeover of Yi Province

Relations between Liu Bei and Sun Quan deteriorate after Zhou Yu's death, but not to the point of war yet. In accordance with Zhuge Liang's Longzhong Plan, Liu Bei leads his forces to Yi Province in western China and takes control of the territories from the noble Liu Zhang. By then, Liu Bei rules over a vast stretch of land from Yi Province to southern Jing Province, and this would serve as the foundation of the state of Shu Han later. Liu Bei declares himself "King of Hanzhong" after defeating Cao Cao in the Hanzhong Campaign.

At the same time, Cao Cao is granted a vassal king title – "King of Wei" – by Emperor Xian, while Sun Quan is known as the "Duke of Wu". In the east, Sun Quan and Cao Cao's forces fight various battles, including Hefei and Ruxu, but neither side succeeds in gaining an advantage over the other.

Death of Guan Yu

Meanwhile, Sun Quan plots to take Jing Province after growing tired of Liu Bei's repeated refusals to hand over the province. He makes peace with Cao Cao and allies with Cao against Liu Bei. While Guan Yu, who is in charge of Liu Bei's territories in Jing Province, is away attacking Cao Ren at the Battle of Fancheng, Sun Quan sends his general Lü Meng to launch a stealth invasion on Jing Province. Guan Yu is unable to capture Fancheng so he retreats, but is caught off guard by Lü Meng and had already lost Jing Province before he realised it. With the size of his army gradually shrinking over time, Guan Yu withdraws to Maicheng, where he is surrounded by Sun Quan's forces. In desperation, he attempts to break out of the siege but fails and is captured in an ambush. He is executed by Sun Quan after refusing to surrender.

Shortly after Guan Yu's death, Cao Cao dies of a brain tumour and his son Cao Pi forces Emperor Xian to abdicate in his favour, thereby ending the Han dynasty. Cao Pi establishes the state of Cao Wei. In response, Liu Bei also declares himself the emperor and founds the state of Shu Han as a successor state to the Han dynasty. While Liu Bei is planning to avenge Guan Yu, Zhang Fei is assassinated in his sleep by his subordinates.

Battle of Xiaoting

As Liu Bei leads a large army to attack Sun Quan to avenge Guan Yu, Sun attempts to appease him by offering him the return of Jing Province. Liu Bei's subjects urge him to accept Sun Quan's offers, but Liu persists in vengeance. After initial victories, a series of strategic mistakes leads to Liu Bei's defeat at the Battle of Xiaoting by Wu forces led by Sun Quan's general Lu Xun. Lu Xun refrains from pursuing the retreating Shu forces after encountering Zhuge Liang's Stone Sentinel Maze.

An artist's impression of Zhuge Liang.

Liu Bei dies in Baidicheng from illness shortly after his defeat. As he lay dying, Liu Bei grants Zhuge Liang permission to take the throne if his successor Liu Shan proves to be an inept ruler, but Zhuge refuses and swears to remain faithful to the trust Liu has placed in him.

Zhuge Liang's campaigns

After Liu Bei's death, Cao Pi induces several forces, including Sun Quan, a turncoat Shu general Meng Da, the Nanman and Qiang tribes, to attack Shu, in coordination with a Wei army. However, Zhuge Liang manages to send the five armies retreating without any bloodshed. He also sends Deng Zhi to secure a peace treaty with Sun Quan and renew the former alliance between Shu and Wu. Zhuge Liang then personally leads a southern campaign against the Nanman, defeats them seven times, and wins the allegiance of the Nanman king Meng Huo.

After pacifying the south, Zhuge Liang leads the Shu army on five military expeditions to attack Wei in the name of restoring the Han dynasty. However, his days are numbered because he has been suffering from chronic illness and his condition worsens under stress. He eventually dies of illness at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains while leading a stalemate battle against the Wei general Sima Yi.

End of the Three Kingdoms

The long years of battle between Shu and Wei see many changes in the ruling Cao family in Wei. The influence of the Caos weakens after Cao Rui's death and state power eventually falls into the hands of Sima Yi, and then to his sons Sima Shi and Sima Zhao.

In Shu, Jiang Wei inherits Zhuge Liang's legacy and continues to lead another nine campaigns against Wei for three decades, but fails to achieve any significant success. Besides, the Shu emperor Liu Shan turns out to be an incompetent ruler who places faith in corrupt officials. Shu gradually declines under Liu Shan's rule and is eventually conquered by Wei forces. Jiang Wei attempts to restore Shu with the help of Zhong Hui, a Wei general who is dissatisfied with Sima Zhao, but their plan fails and both of them are killed in battle. After the fall of Shu, Sima Zhao dies and his son Sima Yan forces the last Wei emperor, Cao Huan, to abdicate in his favour, thereby ending the state of Cao Wei. Sima Yan then establishes the Jin dynasty with him as its first emperor.

In Wu, there has been internal conflict among the nobles since Sun Quan's death. Besides, there are also attempts by the regents Zhuge Ke and Sun Chen to seize power, but both of them are ousted and killed in coups. Although stability is temporarily restored in Wu, the last Wu emperor Sun Hao turns out to be a tyrant. Wu, the last of the Three Kingdoms, is eventually conquered by the Jin dynasty. The fall of Wu marks the end of the near century-long era of civil strife historically known as the Three Kingdoms period.

Historical accuracy

The novel draws from historical sources, including Chen Shou's Records of the Three Kingdoms. Other major influences include Liu Yiqing's A New Account of the Tales of the World (Shishuo Xinyu), published in 430,[13] and the Sanguozhi Pinghua, a chronological collection of eighty fictional sketches starting with the peach garden oath and ending with Zhuge Liang's death.[14]

Some fifty or sixty Yuan and early Ming plays about the Three Kingdoms are known to have existed, and their material is almost entirely fictional, based on thin threads of actual history. The novel is thus a return to greater emphasis on history, compared to these dramas.[15] The novel also shifted towards better acknowledgement of southern China's historical importance, while still portraying some prejudice against the south.[16] The Qing dynasty historian Zhang Xuecheng famously wrote that the novel was 70% fact and 30% fiction.[8] The fictional parts are culled from different sources, including unofficial histories, folk stories, the Sanguozhi Pinghua, and also the author's own imagination. Nonetheless, the description of the social conditions and the logic that the characters use is accurate to the Three Kingdoms period, creating "believable" situations and characters, even if they are not historically accurate.[17]

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, like the dramas and folk stories of its day, features Liu Bei and his associates as the protagonists; hence the depiction of the people in Shu Han was glorified. The antagonists, Cao Cao, Sun Quan and their followers, on the other hand, were often denigrated. This suited the political climate in the Ming dynasty, unlike in the Jin dynasty, when Cao Wei was considered the legitimate successor to the Han dynasty.

Some non-historical scenes in the novel have become well-known and subsequently became a part of traditional Chinese culture.

Literary analysis

A depiction of Pang De at the Battle of Fancheng, from a Qing dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Dominant themes of the novel include: the rise and fall of the ideal liege (Liu Bei) finding the ideal minister (Zhuge Liang); the conflict between the ideal liege (Liu Bei) and the consummate villain (Cao Cao); and the cruelties and injustice of feudal or dynastic government.[1]

Critics have argued that the opening lines of the novel, "The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been", which were added by Mao Zonggang in his Qing dynasty recension, epitomise the tragic theme of the novel. One recent critic notes that the novel takes political and moral stands and lets the reader know which of the characters are heroes and which villains, yet the heroes are forced to make a tragic choice between equal values, not merely between good and evil. The heroes know that the end of the empire is ordained by this cosmic cycle of division and unity, yet their choices are moral, based on loyalty, not political.[18]

Cultural impact

Besides the famous Peach Garden Oath, many Chinese proverbs in use today are derived from the novel:

Translation Chinese Interpretation
Brothers are like limbs, wives are like clothing. Torn clothing can be repaired; how can broken limbs be mended? 兄弟如手足,妻子如衣服。衣服破,尚可縫; 手足斷,安可續?[19]

It means that wives, like clothing, are replaceable if lost but the same does not hold true for one's brothers (or friends).

Liu Bei "borrows" Jing Province – borrowing without returning. 劉備借荊州——有借無還 This proverb describes the situation of a person borrowing something without the intention to returning it.
Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives. 說曹操,曹操到
Equivalent to speak of the devil. Describes the situation of a person appearing precisely when being spoken about.
Three reeking tanners (are enough to) overcome one Zhuge Liang. 三個臭皮匠, 勝過一個諸葛亮
三個臭皮匠, 賽過一個諸葛亮
Three inferior people can overpower a superior person when they combine their strengths.
Losing the lady and having the army crippled. 賠了夫人又折兵 The "lady" lost here was actually Sun Quan's sister Lady Sun. Zhou Yu's plan to capture Liu Bei by means of a false marriage proposal failed and Lady Sun really became Liu's wife. Zhou Yu later led his troops in an attempt to attack Liu Bei but fell into an ambush and suffered a crushing defeat. This saying is now used to describe the situations where a person either makes double losses in a deal or loses on both sides of it.
Eastern Wu arranges a false marriage that turns into a real one. 東吳招親——弄假成真 When a plan to falsely offer something backfires with the result that the thing originally offered is appropriated by the intended victim of the hoax.
Every person on the street knows what is in Sima Zhao's mind. 司馬昭之心,路人皆知 As Sima Zhao gradually rose to power in Wei, his intention to usurp state power became more obvious. The young Wei emperor Cao Mao once lamented to his loyal ministers, "Every person on the street knows what is in Sima Zhao's mind (that he wanted to usurp the throne)." This saying is now used to describe a situation where a person's intention or ambition is rather obvious.
The young should not read Water Margin, and the old should not read Three Kingdoms. 少不讀水滸, 老不讀三國 The former depicts the lives of outlaws and their defiance of the social system and may have a negative influence on adolescent boys, as well as the novel's depiction of gruesome violence. The latter presents every manner of stratagem and fraud and may tempt older readers to engage in such thinking.

The writing style adopted by Romance of the Three Kingdoms was part of the emergence of written vernacular during the Ming period, as part of the so-called "Four Masterworks" (si da qishu).[20]

Buddhist aspects

Romance of the Three Kingdoms recorded stories of a Buddhist monk called Pujing (普淨), who was a friend of Guan Yu. Pujing made his first appearance during Guan's arduous journey of crossing five passes and slaying six generals, in which he warned Guan of an assassination plot. As the novel was written in the Ming dynasty, more than 1,000 years after the era, these stories showed that Buddhism had long been a significant ingredient of the mainstream culture and may not be historically accurate. Luo Guanzhong preserved these descriptions from earlier versions of the novel to support his portrait of Guan as a faithful man of virtue. Guan has since then been respectfully addressed as "Lord Guan" or Guan Gong.

Strategies used in battles

Create Something from Nothing: A stratagem to make an audience believe of something’s existence, when it in fact does not exist. On the flip side, it can be used to convince others that nothing exists, when something does exist. (Ch. 36)

Beauty Trap: Send the enemy beautiful women to cause disorder at his site. This trick can work in three ways: firstly, the ruler can become so entranced with the feminine allure that he neglects all else. Secondly, the men will start competing for the females’ attention, which will cause friction and rifts, and hinders cooperation and eradicates morale. And lastly, other women motivated by jealously will begin to plot, only worsening the entire situation. Also known as the “Honey Trap”. (Ch. 55-56)

Empty City: When the enemy is superior in numbers and you are expecting to be attacked at any moment, drop all pretenses of seeming like you’re preparing something militarily and act calm, so the enemy will think twice and will think you’re setting a trap or an ambush. It is best used sparingly, and only if one has the military aptitude to do so. It’s also best used if one’s enemy is an over-thinker. (Ch. 95)


The book was translated into Manchu as ᡳᠯᠠᠨ

Möllendorff: Ilan gurun-i bithe.[21]

English translations

Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been translated into English by numerous scholars. The first known translation was performed in 1907 by John G. Steele and consisted of a single chapter excerpt that was distributed in China to students learning English at Presbyterian missionary schools.[5] Z.Q. Parker published a 1925 translation containing four episodes from the novel including the events of the Battle of Red Cliffs, while Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang published excerpts in 1981, including chapters 43–50.[5] A complete and faithful translation of the novel was published in two volumes in 1925 by Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor, a long time official of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service.[5] The translation was well-written, but lacked any supplementary materials such as maps or character lists that would aid Western readers; a 1959 reprint was published that included maps and an introduction by Roy Andrew Miller to assist foreign readers.[5] In 1976, Moss Roberts published an abridged translation containing one fourth of the novel including maps and more than 40 woodblock illustrations from three Chinese versions of the novel.[5] Roberts' abridgement is reader-friendly, being written for use in colleges and to be read by the general public.[5] After decades of work, Roberts published a full translation in 1991 complete with an afterword, eleven maps, a list of characters, titles, terms, and offices, and almost 100 pages of notes from Mao Zonggang's commentaries and other scholarly sources.[5] Roberts' complete translation remains faithful to the original; it is reliable yet still matches the tone and style of the classic text.[5] Yang Ye, a professor in Chinese Literature at the UC Riverside, wrote in Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English (1998) that Roberts' translation "supersedes Brewitt-Taylor's translation and will no doubt remain the definitive English version for many years to come."[5] Roberts' translation was republished in 1995 by the Foreign Languages Press without the illustrations.[22]

In 2014, Tuttle published a new, three-volume translation of the novel, by Yu Sumei, edited by Ronald C. Iverson (ISBN 978-0804843935). This is an unabridged "dynamic translation" intended to be easy to read for English speakers.


The story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been told in numerous forms including television series, manga and video games.

See also


  1. ^ a b Roberts 1991, pg. 940
  2. ^ Kim, Hyung-eun (2008-07-11). "(Review) Historical China film lives up to expectations".  
  3. ^ Shoji, Kaori (2008-11-06). "War as wisdom and gore".  
  4. ^ Ng, On-cho and Q. Edward Wang (2005). Mirroring the Past: The Writing and Use of History in Imperial China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.   p.86.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English. Taylor & Francis. 1998. pp. 1221–1222.  
  6. ^ Moss Roberts, "Afterword," in Luo, Three Kingdoms (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 938, 964.
  7. ^ Roberts, pp. 946-53.
  8. ^ a b Roberts 1991, pg. 980
  9. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 965
  10. ^ Roberts 1991, pp. 967-71
  11. ^ Luo (1991), p. 5.
  12. ^ Bojun Shen, translated by Kimberly Basio, "Studies of Three Kingdoms in the New Century," in Besio and Tong, eds., Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture, p. 154
  13. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 981
  14. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 954
  15. ^ Roberts 1991, pp. 958-9
  16. ^ Roberts 1991, pp. 959, 983
  17. ^ Luo 2006, pg. 14
  18. ^ Constantine Tung, "Cosmic Foreordination and Human Commitment: The Tragic Volition in Three Kingdoms," in Kimberly Ann Besio, Constantine Tung. Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture (Albany: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 4.
  19. ^ Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 15.
  20. ^ Liangyan Ge, "Out of the margins: the rise of Chinese vernacular fiction", University of Hawaii Press, 2001
  21. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Rawski, Evelyn S. (Jun 1993). "A Profile of The Manchu Language in Ch'ing History". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 53 (1): 93.  
  22. ^ "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Chinese Bookshop. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 

References and further reading

  • Luo, Guanzhong, attributed to, translated from the Chinese with afterword and notes by Moss Roberts (1991). Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel. Berkeley; Beijing: University of California Press; Foreign Languages Press.  
  • Hsia, Chih-tsing,"The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," in The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (1968) rpr. Cornell East Asia Series. Ithaca, N.Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1996.
  • Luo, Guanzhong; English translation by Charles H. Brewitt-Taylor, Introduction by Robert E. Hegel (2002) [1925]. Romance of the Three Kingdoms 1.  
  • Luo, Guanzhong; English translation by Charles H. Brewitt-Taylor, Introduction by Robert E. Hegel (2002) [1925]. Romance of the Three Kingdoms 2.  
  • Luo, Guanzhong; English translation by Moss Roberts, Introduction by Shi Changyu (2006). Three Kingdoms.  
  • Li Chengli. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (illustrated in English and Chinese) (2008) Asiapac Books. ISBN 978-981-229-491-3
  • Besio, Kimberly Ann and Constantine Tung, eds., Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. ISBN 0791470113. Essays on this novel's literary aspects, use of history, and in contemporary popular culture.
  • Luo, Guanzhong; English translation by Yu Sumei, Edited by Ronald C. Iverson (2014). The Three Kingdoms 1.  
  • Luo, Guanzhong; English translation by Yu Sumei, Edited by Ronald C. Iverson (2014). The Three Kingdoms 2.  
  • Luo, Guanzhong; English translation by Yu Sumei, Edited by Ronald C. Iverson (2014). The Three Kingdoms 3.  

External links

  • Andrew West, The Textual History of Sanguo Yanyi The Mao Zonggang Recension, at Sanguo Yanyi 三國演義. Based on the author’s, Quest for the Urtext: The Textual Archaeology of The Three Kingdoms (PhD. Dissertation. Princeton University, 1993), and his 三國演義版本考 (Sanguo Yanyi Banben Kao Study of the Editions of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1996)
  • Andrew West, The Textual History of Sanguo Yanyi: The Manchu Translation.
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