Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义) - Classical Chinese Novels

All the worlds under heaven,
After a long period of division,
Tends to come together;
After a long period of unity,
Tends to fall apart.
 

Written by Luo Guanzhong ( 罗贯中) in the late Yuan and early Ming period (the exact period is not known ), the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, continue to be the most popular classical novels in Chinese Literature all these years.

Map of China - Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms of Shu, Wei and Wu

The period of the Three Kingdoms, from late Eastern Han to the Western Jin Dynasty (169-265 AD) lasted about ninety years, and was an extremely chaotic period in which heroes rose to compete against one another and legends were made. Among the famous incidents was one of the most decisive battle in ancient China, the Battle of the Red Cliff ( 赤壁大战 ) where southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan allied to stopped the numerically superior Cao Cao from crossing the Yangtze river. The battle stopped Cao Cao from conquering the South and marked the border demarcation of the three forces which was the foundation for the formation of the Three Kingdoms.

Chibi, Battle of Red Cliff in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
A 1000 year old engraving marked the site of the Battle of Red Cliff in today's Hubei, China.

About seventy percent truthful to historical records, the novel has been rewritten many times. It was originally based on Recordings of the Three Kingdoms by Chen Shou of the Jin Dynasty, as well as historical notes kept by Pei Songzhi of the Southern Dynasty. The Romance of the Three Kingdom’s evolution from historical facts and tales was a common technique that was well followed by later Chinese classical novels. Indeed, in the modern world as we know today, it is also common to see movies and books written with storyline based partially on historical facts. This technique was also used in western movies.

Guan Yu in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
A movie portrayal of Guan Yu

The story has three main characters, Cao Cao, Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu. Cao Cao was, somewhat incorrectly, portrayed as a treacherous and evil overlord, while Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu were endowed with Confucius’s virtuous attributes of humility, loyalty and righteousness. This preference was in part due to the early Chinese’s belief that Liu Bei (whom Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu served) was the orthodox ruler descended from the royal Han family. In addition, by portraying Liu Bei in a favourable light, the Chinese of that period (book was written in late Yuan and early Ming period) was denouncing the Yuan ruler (Mongols) and gratifying the virtuous of the Chinese as represented by the Confucius spirit of the Liu Bei’s camp. The author grieved for his occupied homeland via Zhuge Liang in the story, who passed away before the war was won.


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