The story Romance of the Three Kingdoms is based on the Three Kingdoms period (AD220 -280) in Chinese history. During the Ming Dynasty, it was written into a novel that has been passed down to this day.
The story starts at the end of the Han dynasty, a time when the Han Emperor lost his authority while warlords expanded their power and influence.
Initially, the mark of power and status was to be a premier or “special minister” to the Emperor effectively ruling on behalf of and in the name of the Emperor.
When one warlord became powerful and ruled in the name of the emperor, the other warlords formed allegiance, also in the name of the emperor, to overthrow him only to have themselves overthrown later by new coalitions.
This political charade ended when Cao Cao’s 曹操, son deposed the Han Emperor leading to the Three Kingdoms period in China. Liu Bei, 刘备, Cao Pi, 曹丕, and Sun Quan, 孙权 proclaimed themselves Emperors; Liu Bei of Shu-Han, 蜀汉, Cao Pi of Wei, 曹魏, and Sun Chuan of Wu, 东吴.
Liu Bei being a member of the Han Royal family attempted to restore the Han dynasty. Cao Pi continued his father Cao Cao’s control over former Han powerbase while Sun Quan inherited southern China where his family clan had ruled for generations.
Other main characters in the story include the sworn brothers and generals of Liu Bei; Guan Yu, 关羽, Zhang Fei, 张飞, Zhao Yun, 赵云, Zhu Ge Liang 诸葛亮 and even Guan Yu’s horse the Red Hare, 赤兔. Other characters include Lu Bu, 吕布, Diao Chan, 貂蝉, one of the four beauties of ancient China, Hua Tuo, 华佗, Sima Yi, 司马懿….
As a very long story, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is seldom told or shown in its entirety. Many of the chapters provide enough ingredients for a story or performance on its own. Well known ones include Brotherhood in the Peach Garden, 桃园结义, Crossing 3 passes and executing 6 generals, 过三关斩六将, Battle at the Red Cliff, 赤壁之战, Diao Chan prays to the moon, 貂蝉拜月, Liu Bei entrust his orphan son, 刘备托孤….
Towards the end of the story, the second generation leaders enters the scene and the story ends with the founding of the Jin dynasty 晋朝. It is an ironic twist as the Three Kingdoms period was ended and China united not by any of the 3 main characters or their children but by Sima Yan, 司馬炎, grandson of Sima Yi, 司马懿, who was a high official of Wei.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms has important influence in Chinese culture; the stories are depicted in art, paintings, presented in plays and has inspired movies. Some of the characters such as Guan Yu, and Hua Tuo are being worshiped as deities and many Guan Yu temples can be found in China and overseas Chinese communities.
There are also a lot of Chinese idioms based on plots and events from the story. Even the popular Chinese food bao and mantuo was weaved into the story!
Generally, the audience’s sympathy is with Liu Bei and his sworn brothers for their moral ambitions and strong loyalties despite its tragic ending.
Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun may not have realized their dreams of restoring the Han Dynasty but they are remembered and celebrated for their integrity and loyalty. Even Guan Yu’s horse the Red Hare is being respected for his loyalty.
Their stories and legends continue to be told by many including Chinatownology who is telling you the story now.
Sculpture of Guan Gong
in shung Lin Monastery, Singapore
Sculpture of Zhu Ge Liang in the Bai Di Cheng
(Now submerged by the Three Gorges Dam project)
The famous physician Hua Tuo
treating Guan Gong's arrow wound
Stone carving in Yokohama Guan Gong temple, Japan
Pavilion where Zhu Ge Liang observed the stars
Now submerged by the Three Gorges Dam project
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