by Snow N. Snow

Romance of Three Kingdoms gives us a world full of versatility in full scale---a rolling panorama of zenithal passions and ambitions that brings readers to all realms of human aspects. What makes the book fascinating is its wide appeal to many sorts of readers. In Asia, children read the book like they do with fairy tales, whereas rulers embrace it for strategies, scholars wisdom, parents guidelines, everyday people entertainment. A Korean saying goes: "You can discuss life after reading Romance of Three Kingdoms." And the most famous Chinese commentator, Mao Zonggang, who lived in the 17th century at the start the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), had chosen "Seven Beautiful Books", and he ranked Romance of Three Kingdoms the first among them.

Several reasons can be explained here on why the historical novel has such a large group of fans.

Romance of Three Kingdoms is based closely on historical events (7 parts of facts and 3 parts of fiction); it is considered a mainstream history work, not a product of pure imagination or fabrication. Hence, it is extraordinary by itself, because history is always the best storyteller.

But, one may ask, China with its rich and widespread civilization has produced many historical novels, why is Romance of Three Kingdoms the first masterpiece among them all?

First, the strive for mastery over the empire in the Three Kingdoms period is the most outstanding strive. Never before, and never since then has the world seen so many talents appearing in one same era; a large number of them are important figures who have left permanent impressions in several fields such as military, politics, literature, morals, and pop culture; their names are heard throughout numerous records.

Second, the author of the book is one of the most talented novelists China has ever produced. Writing a novel with a main theme is much more difficult than writing the annals. In the annals, each topic is dealt with separately; but in Romance of Three Kingdoms, arranging a huge amount of details and focuses into a continuous epic, and the epic being consistent and captivating, is the author's greatest achievement.

According to tradition, Luo Guanzhong is the author of the modern edition of the book. Born at the beginning of the 14th century, he was a scholar in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but did not take office. Instead he traveled throughout with the tittle "The Man of All Lakes and Seas." Some three hundred years after Luo Guanzhong, Mao Zhonggang edited the original work and made popular the new edition. This English translation is based on the Mao edition, which is also the most widely read edition in China and Asia.

But the birth of the book can be traced back to the Jin dynasty (265-316 AD). Chen Shou was believed to be the first to pen Romance of Three Kingdoms. He was an official in Shu-Han court, and later worked for Jin as historian after Shu-Han submission. This first edition had 61 chapters---26 stories of Wei, 15 stories of Shu, and 20 stories of Wu. A century after Chen Shou, Emperor Wen of the Liu-Song dynasty commissioned Pei Songzhi to edit the work. Pei Songzhi collected a great amount of tales and historical facts and added them to the book, and this new edition of 65 chapters became mainstream history source for the Three Kingdoms period. The book went through various minor changes and inventions, until Luo Guanzhong combined the many sources and rewrote the masterpiece that gave birth to the Mao edition, which has been handed down until today.

Not only does Romance of Three Kingdoms has a rich history in the making, but indeed is it picturesque in contents. Its concepts and execution exact human notions of what are beautiful. Reading it is like contemplating clouds passing through mountains or storms pouring down the forest, the moon glowing in autumn or flowers blooming in spring. The evolution of all elements is infinite. Sometimes, the writing is as serene as a shooting star; other times, it is as rousing as tidal waves or earthquakes.

Romance of Three Kingdoms is cherished also due to its perfect cause-and-effect technique. Before a storm, thunders must be heard; after it, cold air can be felt. Every detail is traced to its origin and projected beyond its conclusion; one thing leads to another, so the various focuses relate to each other, making the main theme whole. The author did not merely record events, but he helped explain them in a style that all readers love. The main book has 120 chapters (about 1,400 pages).

Having finished the book, you can also enjoy the wisdom of war strategy through a read of The Art of War by Sun Tze, a 13-chapter treatise of military methods, famous for its brevity and wide applications.


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