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Chinese Literature Romance of the Three Kingdoms: China's Greatest Epic

The "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (三國志演義) is a historical fiction of epic proportions written in the fourteenth century. It narrates events occurring in the second half of the second century when the ruling Han dynasty was crumbling and China was divided into three competing kingdoms. One of the kingdoms was lead by Liu Bei, a descendant for the Han nobility with the strongest claim for legitimacy in the pursuit for power. His archenemy is Cao Cao, a ruthless but brilliant, poem-writing general. Liu Bei is aided by Guan Yu, the epitome of chivalry, and Zhang Fei, a fiercely loyal but rash warrior. Rounding out the top players is Zhuge Liang, a taoist scholar and master strategist with almost supernatural abilities.

Many fans consider this to the greatest novel ever written. Anywhere. The novel is popular not just in China but also in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The heroes and villains are vividly portrayed, their inner motivation and passions made clear. This is a fascinating novel about military supremacy, a flesh-and-blood game of Risk played with the whole of China as the gameboard. There are many encounters between fierce warriors, brilliant military strategies, and suspenseful intrigues but ultimately the novel is about human motivation, loyalty, and greed for power.

The following table lists various translations available for this novel.

  Title Mini Review
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Written by Luo Guanzhong, 1360
Translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Charles E. Tuttle Co, 2002
2 volumes (sold separately)
Rating: ★★★★★

Time-tested translation that uses a more erudite English that is a good match for the epic. The only negative is that it uses the now obsolete Wade romanization system.
Three Kingdoms: Chinese Classics
Written by Luo Guanzhong, 1360
Translated by Moss Roberts
Unioversity of california Press, 2004
2 volumes (sold separately)
Rating: ★★★★★

Newer, more readable translation uses Pinyin romanization and adds maps as well as extensive footnotes in the back of each volume, a definite improvement for the Western reader with little knowledge of Chinese history or geography . The only downside of this edition is the extremely thin paper on which the book was printed.
Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel (Abridged Edition)
Translated by Moss Roberts
University of California Press, 1999
488 pages
Rating: ★★★★

We find it hard to recommend reading the abridged version of anything, and especially this novel, which in spite of its hefty length does not waste any word. Every plot turn and character is there for a reason. However, it might not be such bad idea as a starter for anyone who would otherwise not even try reading this novel.
Library of Chinese Classics: Three Kingdoms Chinese-English
Translated by Moss Roberts
Foreign Language Press, 2000
5 volumes, 3115 pages, hardcover
Rating: ★★★★★

This hardcover 5-volume edition might be of interest to hardcore Three Kingdoms fans and bilingual households.
  Romance of the Three Kingdoms in Comics
Asiapac Books
10 volumes
High-quality comic book version of the novel by a Singaporean company that specializes in creating comic book version of various Chinese classics. The books are a bit expensive but not as much as they might look at first glance since the prices listed in the vendor site are in Singapore dollars (S$).