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Romance of the Three Kingdoms ( ), written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, is a Chinese historical novel based upon events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinamarker, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in 280.

It is acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, with a grand total of 800,000 words, nearly a thousand characters, most of them historical, in 120 chapters.


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

The earliest attempt to combine these stories into a written work was Sanguozhi Pinghua (三國誌評話,三国志评话; Sānguózhì Pínghuà), literally "Story of Sanguozhi", published sometime between 1321 and 1323. This version combined themes of legend, magic, and morality to appeal to the peasant class. Elements of reincarnation and karma were woven into this version of the story.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is traditionally attributed to Luo Guanzhong, who lived sometime between 1315 and 1400 (late Yuan to early Ming period). Some scholars argue for an origin from around the second half of the fifteenth century (mid-Ming) based on characteristics of the text. This theory is extensively developed in Andrew Plaks' Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. It was written in partly vernacular and partly Classical Chinese and was considered the standard text for 300 years. 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 up to the unification of the three kingdoms under the Jin Dynasty in AD 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, and initially published it in 24 volumes. It was copied by hand until first printed in 1522 as Sanguozhi tongsu yanyi In the 1660s, during Kangxi's reign in the Qing Dynastymarker, Mao Lun (毛綸; 毛纶) and his son Mao Zonggang (毛宗崗; 毛宗岗) significantly edited the text, fitting it into 120 chapters, and abbreviating the title to Sanguozhi yanyi. 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 commanders were removed. Scholars have long debated whether Mao's viewpoint was anti-Qing (identifying Southern Ming remnants with Shu-Han) or pro-Qing. The previous version was almost completely supplanted by Mao's edition, which is considered to be the superior literary work.

This novel reflects the Confucian values that were prominent at the time it was written. According to Confucian moral standards, loyalty to one's family, friends, and superiors are important measures for distinguishing good and bad people. In the novel, characters who were not loyal to the collapsing Han Dynasty are portrayed as bad people; on the contrary, modern mainstream ideology in Communist China would say that the deeply suffering masses were trying to overthrow the ruling feudal lords.


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. As such, the following only serves as a summary of the central plot.

Three Heroes of Three Kingdoms, silk painting by Sekkan Sakurai (1715–1790), depicting Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.
This painting is usually hung in the offices of businessmen to show that they are trustworthy, just as these brothers were to each other.

Yellow Turban Rebellion

In the final years of the Han Dynasty, incompetent eunuchs deceive the emperor and persecute good officials. The government has become extremely corrupt on all levels, leading to widespread deterioration of the empire. During the reign of the penultimate Han emperor, Emperor Ling, the Yellow Turban Rebellion breaks out under the leadership of Zhang Jiao, who allegedly practiced Taoist wizardry. Zhang pretends to be a traveling physician while secretly inciting the common people to rise in revolt. In this time of turmoil, many of the major characters in the story are introduced; Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Cao Cao, Sun Jian, etc.

The rebellion is barely suppressed by troops under the command of He Jin, the Commander-in-Chief of the imperial armies. Fearing his growing power, the eunuchs led by Zhang Rang lure He Jin into the palace and murder him. He Jin's stunned guards, led by Yuan Shao, respond by charging into the palace to kill all eunuchs for revenge, which turned into an indiscriminate slaughter. In the ensuing chaos, the child Emperor Shao and the Prince of Chenliu disappear from the palace.

Dong Zhuo's tyrannical rule

The missing emperor and prince are found later by soldiers of the warlord Dong Zhuo from Western Liang, who proceeds to seize control of the capital city Luoyangmarker under the pretext of protecting the emperor. Dong deposes Emperor Shao later and replaces him with the Prince of Chenliu, who becomes Emperor Xian. Under Dong Zhuo's violent rule, the people suffer greatly. There are assassination attempts on Dong by both the court physician Wu Fu and Cao Cao but they fail.

Cao Cao manages to escape and issues an imperial edict in the emperor's name to all governors, calling them to remove Dong Zhuo from power. Under Yuan Shao's leadership, eighteen governors and nobles form a coalition force in a campaign against Dong Zhuo, but undermined by poor leadership and conflict of interest, they only manage to drive Dong from Luoyang to Chang'anmarker. Dong Zhuo is betrayed and murdered by his own foster son Lü Bu later, from a dispute over the beautiful maiden Diao Chan, in a scheme orchestrated by minister Wang Yun.

Conflict among the various warlords and nobles

In the meantime, however, the empire is already disintegrating into civil war. Sun Jian, governor of Changshamarker, finds the Imperial Seal at the bottom of a well in the ruins of Luoyang but secretly keeps it for his own purposes, further weakening royal authority. Without a strong central government, warlords begin to rise and fight each other for land, plunging China into a state of anarchy. In the north, Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan are at war, and in the south, Sun Jian and Liu Biao. Many others, even those without title or land, such as Cao Cao and Liu Bei, are also starting to build up power.

Cao Cao takes Emperor Xian from Dong Zhuo's former subordinates Li Jue and Guo Si and establishes the new imperial court in Xuchangmarker. Even more powerful now with the emperor in his control, Cao Cao subdues his rivals such as Lü Bu, Yuan Shu and Zhang Xiu, culminating in his greatest military victory, over Yuan Shao in the famous Battle of Guandumarker despite being outnumbered 10-to-1. Cao Cao pursues the defeated Yuan clan and finally united northern China, which later serves as the foundation for the state of Cao Wei.

Sun Ce builds a dynasty in Jiangdong

Meanwhile, an ambush had violently concluded Sun Jian's life in a war with Liu Biao, fulfilling his own rash oath to heaven. His eldest son Sun Ce delivers the Imperial Seal as a tribute to the rising royal pretender, Yuan Shu of Huainan, in exchange for reinforcements. Now, like the proverbial tiger that has been given claws, Sun secures himself a state in the rich riverlands of Jiangdong, 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 and executed in jealousy. However, his successor and younger brother Sun Quan, assisted by skilled advisors Zhou Yu and Zhang Zhao, proves to be a capable and charismatic ruler, inspiring hidden talents from across the land such as Lu Su to join his service, while raising a strong military which would truly receive a trial by fire in Cao Cao's great southern campaign.

Liu Bei's unrealized ambition

Liu Bei, along with his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei had sworn allegiance to the Han Dynasty (in the famous Oath of the Peach Garden) and pledged to do their best to serve the emperor and the common people. However, their goals and ambitions have not been realized until the later part of the novel. Liu Bei, ever since he had successfully quelled the Yellow Turban Rebellion, is not recognized for his efforts and he is only appointed the magistrate of a small county. Later, Liu joins Gongsun Zan and participates in the war against Dong Zhuo. Cao Cao invades Xuzhoumarker as a revenge against Tao Qian, the governor of Xuzhou who unknowingly allowed his subordinate to kill Cao's father. Liu Bei leads his troops from Pingyuan to help Tao Qian and Tao passes on his post as Governor of Xuzhou to Liu before his death. At that same time, Lü Bu is at war with Cao Cao as he also wishes to dominate China ever since he killed Dong Zhuo. Lü Bu is defeated by Cao Cao and he seeks refuge under Liu Bei. Later, Lü repays Liu's kindness with evil and seizes control of Xuzhou. Liu Bei is forced to join forces with Cao Cao and they defeat Lü Bu. Lü is executed and Liu becomes officially recognized by Emperor Xian as the Imperial Uncle. Liu Bei plots with some officials to kill Cao Cao as Cao wields far too much power and has the intention of usurping the throne. Liu fails to kill Cao as the plot is exposed. He seizes control of Xuzhou but loses to Cao Cao when Cao leads his troops to conquer Xuzhou. Liu Bei takes control of Runan with help from some former Yellow Turban rebels but he is defeated once again by Cao Cao in battle. Liu has no choice but to move to Jingzhou to seek Liu Biao's protection. Liu Biao treats Liu Bei with respect and places him in charge of Xinye. At Xinye, Liu Bei recruits the talented strategist Zhuge Liang personally and slowly builds his forces.

Battle of the Red Cliffs

Cao Cao, who declared himself the Chancellor, leads his troops to attack southern China after uniting the north. At Xinye, he is defeated twice by Liu Bei's forces but Liu loses Xinye and moves to southern Jingzhou. Unfortunately, Liu Biao had died by then and left Jingzhou split between his two sons Liu Qi and Liu Cong. Liu Bei leads the civilians of Xinye to Xiangyang, where Liu Cong rules but they are denied entry. Liu Cong surrenders to Cao Cao later, and Liu Bei has no choice but to move to Jiangxia where Liu Qi rules. On the way, Liu Bei and the civilians are pursued by Cao Cao's troops and several innocent civilians are killed. Liu Bei and his men manage to reach Jiangxia where he establish a strong foothold against Cao Cao's invasion.

To resist Cao Cao, Liu Bei sends Zhuge Liang to persuade Sun Quan in Jiangdong to form an alliance. Zhuge Liang succeeds in his diplomatic mission and stays in Jiangdong as a temporary advisor to Sun. Sun places Zhou Yu in command of the forces of Jiangdong (Eastern Wu) to resist Cao Cao's invasion. Zhou feels that Zhuge Liang will become a future threat to Eastern Wu and tries several times to kill Zhuge, but fails. In the end, he has no choice but to co-operate with Zhuge for the time being as Cao Cao's armies are at the border. Cao Cao is defeated at the Battle of Red Cliffsmarker by the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan and forced to flee back to Jingzhou.

Traditional site of the Red Cliff

Tension between Liu Bei and Sun Quan

After the great battle at the Red Cliffs, Sun Quan and Liu Bei vie for control of Jingzhou. Zhou Yu leads the troops of Eastern Wu to attack Jingzhou and gains a victory, but eventually Jingzhou ends up in Liu Bei's hands, as Zhuge Liang had advised Liu to seize Jingzhou while Zhou Yu and Cao Cao's forces are at war. Zhou is extremely unhappy and reports the matter to Sun Quan. Sun dispatches Lu Su to Jingzhou to negotiate with Liu Bei for Jingzhou. Again and again, Liu refuses to hand over Jingzhou to Sun. Sun has no choice but to use new strategies suggested by Zhou Yu to take Jingzhou. One of these is the Beauty Scheme, in which Sun Quan lures Liu Bei to Jiangdong (where he intends to hold Liu Bei hostage in exchange for Jingzhou) by pretending to betroth his younger sister, Lady Sun to Liu. However, Zhuge Liang outwits Zhou Yu and Liu returns to Jingzhou safely with his new wife. Zhou Yu tries and fails repeatedly to take Jingzhou. After being infuriated by Zhuge Liang thrice, Zhou Yu eventually coughs blood and dies.

Rise of Ma Chao

In the northwest, Ma Chao starts a campaign against Cao Cao to avenge his father, Ma Teng, who was killed by Cao Cao. Ma's forces are formidable as he has the support of Han Sui and troops from the Qiang minority. However, Cao Cao manages to defeat Ma Chao's forces by using cunning strategies to turn Ma and Han against each other. Han Sui surrenders to Cao Cao and Ma Chao is left stranded. Ma seeks refuge under Zhang Lu of Hanzhongmarker later and eventually joins Liu Bei.

Liu Bei's conquest of Xichuan

After Zhou Yu's death, relations between Liu Bei and Sun Quan deteriorated, but not to the point of open war. Following Zhuge Liang's advice, Liu invades and conquers Xichuanmarker, where the incompetent noble Liu Zhang rules. He also takes Hanzhongmarker, which was part of Cao Cao's territory after he captured it from Zhang Lu. Liu Bei proclaims himself King of Hanzhong, while Cao Cao is promoted from Chancellor to King of Wei; Sun Quan is known as the Duke of Wu. At this time, Liu Bei rules a vast area of land from Jingzhou to Sichuanmarker in the west. This would later serve as a strong foundation for the founding of the state of Shu Han. Meanwhile, Cao Cao and Sun Quan are also at war, with defeats and victories for both sides at the Battle of Ruxukou and Battle of Hefei.

The situation among the three major powers almost reaches a stalemate after this, until Cao Cao dies due to a brain tumor. The following year, Cao's son Cao Pi forces Emperor Xian to abdicate, ending the Han Dynasty which lasted for centuries. Cao Pi proclaims himself emperor and renames his dynasty Cao Wei. In response to this, Liu Bei declares himself Emperor of Shu Han, to signify that he still carries on the bloodline of the Han royal family, but he is based in the lands of Shumarker.

Death of Guan Yu

Meanwhile, Sun Quan plots to take Jingzhou after being tired of Liu Bei's repeated refusals to hand the land over. He makes peace with Cao Cao and becomes a vassal of Cao Wei with the title of King of Wu. Liu Bei leaves his sworn brother Guan Yu in charge of Jingzhou, and Guan leads the troops to attack Cao Cao. Sun Quan takes advantage of the situation and sends Lü Meng to seize Jingzhou. Lü disguises his troops as merchants and finessed a quiet entry. As Guan Yu is besieging Cao Ren at Fancheng, Lü Meng's forces attacks Guan from the rear and routs his army with ease. Guan Yu's deputy Liao Hua volunteers to ride his horse through the incoming horde of Wu soldiers to Liu Feng's castle to request for reinforcements. Liu Feng, fearing that he will be in danger with a smaller force of soldiers, refuses, and this ultimately leads to the fall of Guan Yu. In desperate retreat, Guan's army disintegrates and he is captured. Sun Quan has him beheaded after he refuses to renounce his loyalty to Liu Bei. Liu Bei is deeply grieved by the death of Guan Yu and loss of Jingzhou. He is planning to avenge Guan Yu when he hears that his other sworn brother, Zhang Fei, had been murdered in his sleep by subordinates who had defected to Eastern Wu. Liu is determined to avenge both of his brothers. Disregarding advice from Zhuge Liang, Zhao Yun and others, Liu Bei leads a formidable army of 750,000 to attack Eastern Wu.

Battle of Xiaoting

Sun Quan offers Liu Bei the return of the Jing province and of his sister (Liu's ex-wife Lady Sun). Liu's advisers, including Zhuge Liang, urge him to accept those terms, but Liu persists in vengeance. After initial victories, a series of strategic mistakes due to the impetuosity of Liu leads to the cataclysmic defeat of Han troops in the Battle of Xiaoting. However, Lu Xun, the commander of Wu who spearheads the war against Shu Han, refrains from pursuing Liu Bei's defeated troops. Famous generals from both Shu Han and Eastern Wu forces perish in the battle. Lu Xun's caution is vindicated when Cao Pi launches an invasion against Wu, thinking that Wu forces will still be abroad. The invasion is crushed by strong Wu resistance, coupled with a plague outbreak.
Meanwhile, in Baidichengmarker, 62-year-old Liu Bei, ailing after three years of neglecting his health, dies, leaving his young son Liu Shan in the care of Zhuge Liang. In a moving final conversation between Liu and Zhuge, Liu asks Zhuge to take the throne himself in place of Liu Shan, should his son prove to be inept. Zhuge refuses to do so and swears that he will remain faithful to the trust that Liu Bei had for him. This promise is to be a raison d'être for the rest of Zhuge Liang's life.

Zhuge Liang calmly fends off five armies

Cao Pi, following Sima Yi's advice, induces several forces, including Sun Quan, turncoat Shu general Meng Da, Meng Huo of the Nanman, and the Qiang tribe, to attack Shu Han, in coordination with a Cao Wei army. Zhuge Liang successfully deploys the Shu Han troops and causes the five armies to retreat without any bloodshed. An envoy from Shu Han named Deng Zhi subsequently persuades Sun Quan to renew its former alliance with Shu Han.

In one of his final strokes of brilliance, Zhuge Liang personally leads the Shu troops to subdue the southern barbarian king Meng Huo of the Nanman. The barbarian troops are no match for the Shu troops and Zhuge captures Meng seven times by using cunning strategies. The first six times, Meng complains that he had been captured by trickery, and has no chance to fight a real battle with the Shu troops. Zhuge agrees to release every time, allowing him to come back again for another battle. The seventh time, Zhuge wants to release Meng once again but this time Meng declines. Meng is ashamed of rebelling against Shu Han and is so deeply touched by Zhuge Liang's benevolence that he swears allegiance to Shu Han forever.

Battle of wits between Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi

At this time, Cao Pi also dies of illness and is succeeded by his son Cao Rui. Ma Chao dies of illness as well at the age of 46. In Jiangdong, Sun Quan declares himself Emperor of Eastern Wu. Zhuge Liang plans to attack Cao Wei to restore the Han Dynasty as he had promised Liu Bei at the latter's deathbed. However, his days are numbered and Shu is far too weak to overcome the material superiority of Wei. His last significant victory against Wei is probably the defection of Jiang Wei, a young general whose brilliance parallels his own.

Zhuge Liang has all along been suffering from chronic tuberculosis, which is compounded when he refuses to rest even into the early hours of the morning, so that he will be able to complete his analysis of the battlegrounds or to formulate his next plan. He dies of sickness at the Battle of Wuzhang Plains eventually, while leading a stalemate battle against the Wei commander, Sima Yi, who leads a far superior force. As a final ploy, Zhuge orders his trusted generals to fake a statue of himself to scare off Sima Yi in order to buy time for the Shu army to retreat to Hanzhong.

Sima family controls Wei

The long years of battle between Shu and Wei sees many changes in the ruling Cao family in Wei. The Cao family gradually grows weak after the death of Cao Rui and Sima Yi plots to usurp the throne. Sima removes Cao Shuang, a powerful noble of Wei from power with a cunning strategy and since then the power of Wei has been in the hands the Sima clan. After Sima's death, his sons Sima Shi and Sima Zhao continue wielding the power of Wei in their hands. Sima Zhao removes Cao Fang from the throne and replaced him with Cao Mao. Later, Cao Mao tries to assassinate Sima Zhao, who has the intention of usurping the throne, but is killed by Sima's subordinate. Sima pretends to grieve and mourn Cao Mao's death and even later had his subordinate, whom he ordered to kill Cao Mao, executed for committing regicide.

End of the Three Kingdoms

Jiang Wei inherits Zhuge Liang's legacy of the campaign against Wei for a bitter three decades. However, Liu Bei's son Liu Shan does not heed Jiang's advice and listens to the treacherous eunuch Huang Hao instead. In order to escape from the rival officials in court, Jiang decides to resign from his military title temporarily and settles in the fertile land of Tazhong. The Wei general Deng Ai, who is at war with Jiang Wei, takes the chance to attack Shu Han. Deng and his troops arrive in front of Chengdumarker, the capital city of Shu Han, by taking a shortcut. Liu Shan surrenders without a battle and ends the state of Shu-Han. Jiang Wei plans to rebuild Shu Han by uniting forces with a Wei general, Zhong Hui, who is at odds with Deng Ai. However, he is unable to see it to the end when his heartache grows intolerable in the midst of the final battle. Seeing that the rebellion has failed, Jiang commits suicide with a sword, marking the last stand of Shu.

In Eastern Wu, there is internal conflict among the nobles ever since the death of Sun Quan. Zhuge Ke tries to usurp the throne of Eastern Wu but is assassinated by Sun Chen. Later, Sun Chen also lusts for power and deposes the emperor of Eastern Wu Sun Liang and replaces him with Sun Xiu. Sun Xiu seeks help from the old veteran general Ding Feng and has Sun Chen assassinated, and the power of Eastern Wu goes back into the hands of the emperor. This does not last for long.

In Wei, Sima Yan, son of Sima Zhao, finally forces the last Wei emperor Cao Huan to abdicate in the same manner as Cao Pi had forced Emperor Xian to abdicate. Sima Yan establishes the Jin Dynasty in AD 265, declaring himself the first emperor of the new dynasty. The state of Cao Wei comes to an end.

Sima Yan orders the Jin troops to attack Eastern Wu from the former land of Shu-Han and succeeds in conquering Eastern Wu after a long period of struggle when the last tyrannical emperor of Eastern Wu, Sun Hao surrenders. The Three Kingdoms period concludes after almost a century of civil strife following that.

Historical accuracy

The novel draws from historical sources, including Chen Shou's Records of Three Kingdoms. Other major influences include Liu Yiqing's Shishuo xinyu or A New Account of Tales of the World, published 430, and the Sanguozhi pinghua, a chronological collection of eighty fictional sketches starting with the peach garden oath and ending with Zhuge Liang's death. 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. The novel also shifted towards better acknowledgement of the Southland's historical importance, while still betraying some prejudice against them. Zhang Xuecheng wrote that the novel consists of 70% history and 30% non-history. The "non-history" parts have different sources, besides unofficial historical records, folk stories and Sanguozhi pinghua, some were created by the author on his own. 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..

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, like the dramas and folk stories of its day, features Liu Bei and his kingdom as the protagonist; hence the depiction of the people in Shu-Han was glorified. The antagonists, Cao Cao, Sun Quan and their kingdoms, 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 entered traditional Chinese culture.

Literary analysis

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.

Luo Guanzhong's re-telling of this story also gives a window into the politics of his time. The later Míng Emperor Wanlì had officially elevated Guan Yu to the position of a god, Lord Guan, to promote Guan Yu's characteristics of bravery and extreme fidelity (characteristics the emperor no doubt wanted to promote in his subjects). Recent research finds in Luo Guanzhong's Guan Yu a fascinating reflection of Chinese culture under Míng rule, the author complying with the program of imperial propaganda while also subtly subverting it.

Besides the famous oath, many Chinese proverbs in use today are derived from the novel:
Translation Chinese Interpretation
The relationship between a husband and a wife is like a piece of garment; if the garment is torn, it can be mended. The relationship between two brothers is like a limb; if a limb is broken, it cannot be repaired. 夫妻如衣服, 兄弟如手足 It is much easier for a husband and his wife to reconcile after a quarrel but that is much harder in the case of two siblings.
Liu Bei "borrows" Jingzhou – borrowing without returning. 劉備借荊州——有借無還 There are some people who borrow things from you and do not return them.
Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives. 說曹操,曹操到
Equivalent to speak of the devil, when someone who is being spoken about appears.
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 strength.
Losing your wife and your army. 賠了夫人又折兵 Making double losses in a deal or losing on both sides of it.
Eastern Wu arranges for a marriage which turns from fake into real. 東吳招親——弄假成真 Putting on a show (to deceive someone) but the events in the "show" become reality unexpectedly.

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 Dynastymarker, more than 1000 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 Yu as a faithful man of virtue. Guan Yu was since then respectfully addressed as "Lord Guan" or Guan Gong.

Popular saying

Regarding this novel and another Chinese classic Water Margin, there is a popular saying in China that goes: "少不讀水滸, 老不讀三國", translated as "The young shouldn't read Water Margin while the old shouldn't read Three Kingdoms." The former depicts the lives of outlaws and their defiance with the established social system. Depicting frequent violence, brawls, passionate brotherhood and an emphasis on machismo, it could easily have a negative influence on young boys. The latter presents all kinds of sophisticated stratagems, deceptions, frauds, trickeries, traps and snares employed by the three kingdoms and their individual characters to compete with each other, which might tempt the experienced old readers (the elderly are traditionally well respected, trusted and considered wise and kindhearted in Chinese society) to use them to harm other people. Also, old people are supposed to "know the will of the heavens" (says Confucius). They shouldn't exhaust or strain themselves with always having to consider how to deceive others.

Cultural references

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

Chinese manhua

  • The Ravages of Time (火鳳燎原) - retells the events of Romance of the Three Kingdoms with Sima Yi as the central character. The drawing style is dark and grim, and while it keeps the main plot intact, the finer details are dramatized.
  • Sanguozhi (三國志) by Lee Chi Ching. Lee has also drawn a spinoff manhua series entitled Battle of Red Cliffs (赤壁之戰). He also illustrated the manhua Story of Heroes in Three Kingdoms with more 30 volumes and the 13-volume manhua Zhuge Kongming.
  • Wuba Sanguo authored by Yongren (永仁) and Cai Jingdong (蔡景東)
  • Sanguo Yanyi (三國演義) by Sun Jiayu (孫家裕)
  • Jiaqingqu by Lü Xiangru (呂相儒).
  • Sanguo Shenbing (三國神兵) by Ip Ming Fat (葉明發).
  • Sanguo Wushuang (三國無雙) and Sanguo Wushuang Zhuan (三國無雙傳) - illustrated by Heui Ging-Sam (许景琛). Adapted from the video game series Dynasty Warriors by Koei.
  • Sanguo Wushuang Mengjiang Zhuan (三國猛將傳) by Liu Gwong-Jou (廖光祖).
  • Shuyun Canglong Ji by Lam Ming-Fung (林明鋒).

Japanese manga

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been adapted into several comic versions in Japan, varying in levels of historical accuracy and loyalty to the original novel and popular tradition. Some of the most widely read in Japan are:

  • Sangokushi (Japanese for "Records of the Three Kingdoms") by Yokoyama Mitsuteru (Ushio Shuppansha) and the adapted anime Yokoyama Mitsuteru Sangokushi.
  • Sōten Kōro by King Gonta (Kodansha)
  • Ryūrōden by Yoshito Yamahara (Kodansha)
  • Tenchi o Kurau by Motomiya Hiroshi (Shueisha)
  • Qwan (Media Factory) and its spinoff Foreign Grass by Aki Shimizu.
  • Ikki Tousen - loosely based on the novel, but the characters in the story refer to the names in the Japanese version of the book. In the series, most characters appear to have similar fates to the characters of the same name from the classic novel.
  • Lord (覇-LORD-) by Ryoichi Ikegami and Buronson is very loosely based on the novel. In the series, a general from the Nakoku country becomes Liu Bei.
  • The novel serves as the model for SD Gundam Sangokuden: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a manga/model kit line in the long running Musha Gundam SD Gundam series.
  • Dragon Sister! Sangokushi Hyakka Ryōran (DRAGON SISTER!三國志 百花繚乱) by Nini.
  • Sangoku Shōden no Gentoku Daishingeki (ブレイド三国志) - a comedy manga by Ichikawa Ryūnosuke (壱河 柳乃助).
  • Magical Musou Tenshi Tsuki Irase!! Ryofuko-chan by Suzuki Jiro (铃木 次郎) and its adapted anime Yawaraka Sangokushi Tsuki Isase!! Ryofuko-chan.
  • Jimmu - Can Two Lords Be in the Grand Country? by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu (安彦 良和).
  • Koutou no Akatsuki by Takaguchi Rinrin (滝口 琳琳).
  • Sousou Moutoku Seiden by Daisuke Kōichi (大西 巷一).

Film and television


  • Red Cliff - an acclaimed Chinese epic film by John Woo. It is based on the Battle of Red Cliffsmarker. The first part was released in Asia in July 2008 while the second part was released in December. Notable stories from the novel were skillfully reenacted, along with epic battle scenes featuring innovative military formations and a star-studded cast. The film remained in the first position in the box office of Singaporemarker for a few weeks after its release.

TV series

  • Sangokushi - a three part Japanese anime series. The theme song Fuushi Hanaden (風姿花伝) was performed by Shinji Tanimura.

  • Koutetsu Sangokushi - a Shounen-Ai type of anime released in 2007 in Japan. It featured homosexual relationships between some of the male characters.

Video games

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  • Sango Fighter series - portrayed the generals as characters in a two-dimensional fighting game.


  • Sangokushi Taisen a hybrid card/board/strategy game released by Sega. Players manipulate cards on a tabletop to move military units in order to take destroy enemy castles.

See also


  1. Roberts 1991, pg. 940
  2. Roberts 1991, pg. 964
  3. Roberts 1991, pg. 938
  4. Roberts 1991, pg. 980
  5. Roberts 1991, pg. 965
  6. Roberts 1991, pp. 967-71
  7. Roberts 1991, pg. 979
  8. Roberts 1991, pg. 981
  9. Roberts 1991, pg. 954
  10. Roberts 1991, pp. 958-9
  11. Roberts 1991, pp. 959, 983
  12. Roberts 1991, pg. 980
  13. Guanzhong 2006, pg. 14
  14. 三国搜集
  15. ゲソの三国志ブログ
  16. Emperor Jimmu was the first Emperor of Japan.


  • Roberts, Moss, tr. Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel (1991) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22503-1

External links

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