Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Three Kingdoms

The Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280) has always held a special fascination for the Chinese. San Guo Zhi, written by Chen Shou (AD 233-297) not long after this period, is widely considered to be the most historically accurate account of events of the period. But, it was written as a historical text and therefore not accessible by the common people. Instead, it was professional storytellers who popularised the incidents and personalities of the Three Kingdom period. As the stories were passed on orally from one storyteller to another, and from one generation of storytellers to another, they were, inevitably embellished with fictional events and changed.

It was around the Yuan Dynasty (1250-1368) that the classic
San Guo Yan Yi, often known as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, was written by Luo Guanzhong (1330?-1400?). San Guo Yan Yi is a historical novel, with emphasis on novel; as its title suggests, it is unabashedly a dramatisation of historical events. Many events portrayed in the book deviate from generally accepted historical accounts. But, its genius lies precisely in its skilful manipulation of historical events to create heroic characters and repugnant villains; epic encounters and momentous defeats and victories. Most people now consider the tales in San Guo Yan Yi as historical facts.

With the recent increase in interest in this period, due to computer games as well as TV serials, there are now more English-language books on the period. Most are simply translations and adaptations of
San Guo Yan Yi. I shall list a few of these books in another post.

The Three Kingdoms has also become very popular in the west; primarily because of computer games. There is an excellent
website devoted to the Romance of the Three Kingdom.

As the readers of the Three Kingdoms become more sophisticated, there are now a number of popular Chinese-language books focusing on the historical aspects of the period, and some that specifically attempt to highlight the historical inaccuracies in
San Guo Yan Yi. However, we do not know of any English-language books that do the same. So if you do know of any, do drop us an email, so that we can stock it!

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