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Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Novel Review

Romance of the Three Kingdoms Novel Review

 

 In the west we have certain stories that have attained an almost immortal status as classic literature, stories such as Homer's Iliad, or Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur spring instantly to mind.

 

  These stories are not only part of our western literature heritage, but they also have their place cemented in our popular culture. Ask the average person on the street about Excalibur or the Trojan Horse and they will instantly know what you are talking about, even if they have never personally read the stories.

 

  In the east they have their own classical literary traditions, especially in China, with such great works as Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber, Shi Naian's Water Margin, Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West, and of course Lo Kuan Chung's Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

 

  The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a historical novelization written in the 14th century, that details the characters and events of the Three Kingdoms period of China, from the rise of the Yellow Turban Rebellion to the reunification of China by the Jin Dynasty (184 CE - 280 CE).

 

  Be prepared... no really I mean it, this is not some book that you will read over a single lunch break. The two volume set of Romance of the Three Kingdoms clocks in at over thirteen hundred pages, covering nearly a century of Chinese history with a cast of thousands, if you have ever been afraid to start War and Peace because of the size of the book, remember that War and Peace clocks in at under thirteen hundred pages.

 

  The only other warning I have is due to the various translations available for Romance of the Three Kingdoms, there can be a significant variation on the way that character names are presented, for example the name Cao Cao might be translated as Ts'ao Ts'ao in one edition versus another.

 

  My suggestion for the protection of your own sanity is to pick up both volumes together from a single translation, so that you can follow along without trying to figure out if character A was the same as Character B from the first volume.

 

  The story starts with the beginning of the end of the Han Dynasty due to the meddling of the imperial Eunuchs in government affairs and the rise of Zhang Jiao and his Yellow Turbans. This is also were we meet our main protagonist Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, and Guan Yu.

 

  These three men meet in the Cho District at a posting for recruits to fight back against Zhang Jiao and his rebel forces. They decide to meet the following day in the peach tree grove behind Zhang Fei's farm to offer sacrifices and swear brotherhood to each other.

 

  We three Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, though of different families, swear brotherhood, and promise mutual help to one end. We will rescue each other in difficulty, we will aid each other in danger. We swear to serve the state and save the people. We ask not the same day of birth but we seek to die together. May heaven, the all ruling, and Earth, the all producing, read our hearts, and if we turn aside from righteousness or forget kindliness may heaven and man smite us!

 

   -The peach garden oath of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.

 

 of Liu Bei Guan Yu and Zhang Fei

You know you did good, when there are statues dedicated to you nearly two thousand years after the fact.

 

  The three oath brothers and other heroes from across the empire gather together to fight under the banner of the imperial armies supreme commander He Jin, and are able to eventually overcome the Yellow Turban rebellion.

 

  The scheming Eunuchs fearing the growing power and popularity of general He Jin have him assassinated at the palace, accidently laying the ground work for the collapse of the empire.

 

  Liu Bei becomes a very Arthurian like figure and gathers together heroes from across China to fight under his banner. From these found heroes he is able to form his five tiger generals Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Ma Chao, and Huang Zhong. Liu Bei even gets his own version of Merlin when after three attempts he is able to recruit the brilliant military strategist Zhuge Liang.

 

Statue of Zhuge Liang

Zhuge Liang, A man so feared for his brilliance that after his death he ordered that his body be propped up on the battle field to hold back the enemy... it worked.

 

  The chaos of the following years sees the rise and fall of various powers across China, eventually leading to the formation of three different kingdoms, Shu in the west, Wei in the north and Wu in the south.

 

3 Kingdom Map

 

  The novel continues to follow the struggles of these three powers as they try to overcome one another with Liu Bei heading the kingdom of Shu but eventually following the descendants and successors of the various characters as the length of time dealt with is nearly a century.

 

  In a cruel twist of fate by the end of the three kingdom era none of the three great kingdoms would be the one to reunify China, that honor would go to a forth power that would become known as the Jin dynasty.

 

  Romance of the Three Kingdoms is truly one of the classic works of literature that should not be confined to Chinese eyes only. Expand your world view and see what another cultures Camelot is like.

 

Final Verdict: Romance of the Three Kingdoms 10/10

 

  -Professor

 

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