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Romance of the Three

Chinese book review
Irfan Ahmed
China book review 1

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Mostly the young Americans know about the epic Chinese literature Romance of the

Three Kingdoms, a very popular novel, through the video game, Dynasty Warriors. Today these

kinds of games which the youngsters play are actually based on the most appreciated and oldest

Chinese novels ever written in the 14th century by famous Chinese playwright Li Kuan chung.

This historical epic, a fiction tells about the three kingdoms of China, which existed after the fall

of the famous Han Dynasty. C.H.Brewitt-Taylor first translated this epic during 1920 and it still

remains the only translation. Just like the Han dynasty which was spread over many decades, this

novel is also a long one and is available in two volumes namely, Romance of the Three

Kingdoms Vol. I and Romance of the Three Kingdoms Vol. II, divided in two volumes due to its


Romance of the Three Kingdoms Vol. I and Vol. II encompass many figures but like all

historical epics, it has one hero, Lu Pei. This epic story begins with the decline of Han Dynasty

when the rulers start losing power and the kingdom becomes weak. When rebellion begins, the

mighty generals in the army join hands to ward off the rebellious elements and awe-inspiring cult

setting stage for the Han fighters and heroes to enshrine their names in history and gain power

too. The story unfolds; the dynasty eventually crumbles and is in control of only one individual,

whose name is T'sao T'sao. Ultimately TSao ends up as the villain because he lays the

foundations for his own kingdom, Wei kingdom. He swings the Emperor for his personal aims.

Lui Pei faces one defeat after another, as detailed in the first part of the first volume of this epic.

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the way of storytelling is different and not in the

old traditional style. In this novel story of the battles are just in one or two sentences, giving few
details. The story is narrated in a vague manner and the reader is unable to get more details, like

in other war stories in which the reader finds him to be in the midst of war. The writer of the

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is more focused on the battle's outcome than the war itself. Lo

Kuan-chung is seen saying more than one time that such fellow got his head chopped off or were

cut in two pieces. This novel is not a war story but about war planning and strategy because each

ruler has his advisor to advise him before the battle, while the advisor thinks just about the

opponent's advisor, like in chess.

Some characters have various names in this story, like Liu Pei is known as Liu, Liu Pei,

Yuan-te, the First Ruler, and the Imperial Uncle, many other characters also have the name of Liu

and Yuan, and so on, so this confuses the reader. But all said, the story is truly fascinating with a

flow which is very fluid, especially the reasoning and war plans are very good to read. This novel

also details about old Chinese customs and traditions, like respecting the opponents' leaders just

like one's own leader, which is very different from Western culture. Novel doesn't just cover the

exploits of the three rules: Liu Pei, T'sao T'sao, and Sun Chuan but goes to show the generations

who came after them and it finishes by telling how the Three Kingdoms came to an end and how

China was reunited. This novel is a great reading for those who like history and fiction and also

those who like reading war games. Each volume is nearly 700 pages. It is a great treasure for

those who like to read ancient history or something different.


C.H. Brewitt-Taylor, Romance of Three Kingdoms: The English translation Shanghai: Kelly &
Walsh, 1925. Various reprints....