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Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Vol. 2 by Lo…

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Vol. 2

by Lo Kuan-Chung

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This second volume made more sense to me than the first. The story was easier to follow, and fewer important characters died. This second volume details the establishment of the Shu and the struggle between Wei, Wu, and Shu to rule the entire land. If this was a story in English, Shu would certainly have overcome long odds to win back the Empire for the Hans. Alas, this is a Chinese saga, and the underdog does not win.

This volume suffers from the same problems as the first: poor editing and poor formatting. ( )
  Pferdina | Mar 27, 2012 |
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is possibly the world's oldest historical novel. It is certainly one of the grandest. Written in the 14th century, it depicts a critical period in Chinese history corresponding roughly with our 3rd century. For four centuries the Han dynasty had taken Chinese civilization to heights of culture and power comparable to the contemporaneous Roman Empire. Then, as the Han's leadership faltered, everything collapsed. Revolt tore the countryside apart, local rulers seized power for themselves, and the emperor became little more than a figurehead under the control of a series of ambitious ministers and eunuchs. Gradually three kingdoms emerged, roughly equal in size and strength, each determined to conquer the others and restore the empire.

The principal character is Liu Pei, a man of the imperial bloodline dedicated to restoring the legitimate Han monarch. Liu, a man of impeccable honor and modesty, has sworn a bond of duty and friendship with two mighty warriors, Kuan Yu and Chang Fei. Their principal opponent is the crafty and resourceful Ts'ao Ts'ao, a minister who has seized the reins of power from the weakling emperor. But these are only a few of the hundreds of characters who people the Romance, and, as the story spans more than a century, they will have long left the stage by the time the novel comes to an end.

For the most part, the characters in the novel are monarchs and military leaders, and the plot consists almost entirely of military campaigns and political intrigue. (The word "romance," by the way, refers to a fictional form, not to love, and there are no major female characters in the novel.) Think of the Iliad on a vastly grander scale. Most battles begin in the same fashion: The two armies take formation opposite one another, each sends out its champion, the two fight until one is killed or runs away, the loser's army loses heart and falls back, the victors pursue and slaughter the losers. But within this formula there is infinite variety. Every campaign features some new stratagem or deception. Cunning and trickery almost always win out over mere strength and courage. Generations of military and political leaders have used the Romance as a guidebook for strategy and tactics.

Fifteen hundred pages of military campaigns and palace revolt sounds incredibly repetitious, but the author manages to surprise and delight us with some new twist in every chapter. Anyone with an interest in Chinese history or literature should definitely read this novel. Those who are fond of classical epics and Arthurian legends will probably enjoy it as well.

The edition I read was the translation by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor published by Tuttle. There may be newer and better versions. The prose is highly readable, but there are numerous typographical errors in the text. And the romanization of Chinese names is based on the Wade-Giles system, which has since given way to the Pinyin. This makes it difficult in some cases to relate historical characters and places to modern texts and maps. (For example, the name spelled "Ts'ao Ts'ao" in this translation is now rendered as "Cao Cao" in Pinyin.) So I would recommend that you read the reviews of other translations before deciding which edition to buy. ( )
  StevenTX | Dec 20, 2010 |
Battles, rivalry, espionage, subterfuge, love, filial honour, tradition, strategies, mysticism, kingdoms, suicide, plots, intrigue, betrayal, loyalty, cunning, wisdom, wealth, corruption, conquest, weaponry, tactics, plots, debauchery, virtue, memorials, poetry… if any of these are what you’re looking for in a novel then The Romance of the Three Kingdoms might interest you.

Most of those do interest me and Romance did not disappoint. For the most part, this 1360 page epic held me in its grasp not too loosely at all. At times, yes, it was all a bit much, but the story ebbs and flows as unpredictably as the fates of the three kingdoms. Just hanging in there for a couple of the brief chapters and I was back into it again.

The writing is amazing for being nigh on 500 years old. The translation isn’t perfect, but it certainly isn’t as laborious as I’d have expected in an ancient epic. It’s very readable. The first line (below) sets the stage masterfully. Structurally, it’s a vast saga of the Shu (Han), Wu and Wei kingdoms who vie for power right until the very last 100 pages. But within this huge storm of power, there are literally hundreds of smaller stories that range from the fantastic, to the criminal, to the romantic, to the downright gruesome.

And some of the characters I won’t forget in a hurry: Liu Pei (also, confusingly, known as Yuan Te) the spurned Han Emperor; his fantastically wise advisor Kung Ming (also, confusingly, known as Chuko Liang) who no one can outwit in battle or in magic; the tryannical and traitorous Tsao Tsao who plays a central role in making the Wei kingdom a real player in the political realm; Kuan Yu who is so innured to fear that he plays a board game while a surgeon scrapes an infection off a bone in his arm. That some of these are not more well-known in the west is a telling sign of our ethnocentricity.

In terms of its influence it ranks up there alongside Shakespeare, the Bible and Harry Potter. You can’t interpret any subsequent text in Chinese culture without reference to it and that goes for a large part of East Asian literature too. In fact, there’s a Korean proverb that says something like you can’t talk about life until you’ve read it. Well, I have now so…

I’ve rated it “superb” because of this legacy of influence and also because it has given me a completely new perspective on China, revealing the nation to me like nothing I’ve ever read from there. I now want to watch some films or read other novels that have been influenced by or based on it. And next time I meet someone from China, I’m looking forward to talking about it and its influence in their country.

It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea though. Unless you are really into military history, you’ll probably find the endless descriptions of battles and conflict quite tedious. There are so many characters you have to just abandon any hope of remembering any more than a handful and that may prove daunting. And there’s a fair bit of gore: “The arrow hit Hsiahou Tun full in the left eye. he shrieked, and putting up his head, pulled out the arrow and with it the eye. “Essence of my father, blood of my mother, I cannot throw this away,” cried he, and he put the eye into the mouth and swallowed it.”

Finally, my translation (Brewitt-Taylor) is cram full of typos: “I have been slam [slain] by that dastard [bastard] Sun Hsun” and “Lu Hsun knows the rat [art] of war even as did Sun Wu.” Many of these seem to be because the editors seems to have relied on OCR of the text at some point which could interpret an unclear “slain” as “slam.” They probably scanned the original translation, which was done in the ’20s, did the OCR and ran a spell-check and thought, that’ll do. Shame they didn’t actually read it.

Glad I did though. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Jan 29, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0804834687, Paperback)

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is Lo Kuan-chung's retelling of the events attending the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 A.D., one of the most tumultuous and fascinating periods in Chinese history. It is an epic saga of brotherhood and rivalry, of loyalty and treachery, of victory and death. As important for Chinese culture as the Homeric epics have been for the West, this fourteenth-century masterpiece continues to be loved and read throughout China as well as in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:01 -0400)

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"Containing the last 60 chapters of this epic Chinese work, ably translated by Brewitt-Taylor. In this second volume, we learn more of the rise of Jin, the fates of Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, and how the near-century of strife caused by the fall of Han came to a close."--Back cover.… (more)

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