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The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (TV-online) A novel about wars during the period of the Three Kingdoms 70% of the narrative is regarded as fact and 30% is fiction. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

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The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (TV-online)

A novel about wars during the period of the Three Kingdoms

70% of the narrative is regarded as fact and 30% is fiction

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Intended to proves the validity of the cyclical view of history, which argues the alternation of unification and division

    • “the empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide”

Expresses author's view on the fleeting times, events, and human existence (lives of nobles and commoners)

dynastic cycle
Dynastic Cycle
  • The author advocated the theory of Alternation/cycle of division and unification
    • Warring states (Zhou)—Qin—Chu & Han—Han—Three Kingdoms
  • Historical development follows this cyclical pattern

Prefatory poem

On and on the Great River rolls, racing east.

Of proud and gallant heroes its white-tops leave no trace.

As right and wrong, pride and fall turn all unreal.

Yet ever the green hills stay

To blaze in the west-waning day.

Fishers and woodmen bomb the river isles.

White-crowned, they’ve seen enough of spring autumn tide

To make good company over the wine jar,

Where many a famed event

Provides their merriment.

issue of legitimacy
Issue of Legitimacy
  • Was the new dynasty a legitimate successor of the failing regime/empire?
  • How could the new regime justify its status of legitimacy?
  • Is the justification accepted by historians?

Gaozu of he Han, Woodblock, Qing

Han regarded Qin as illegitimate, thus claiming that it displaced Zhou as its successor and possessed the virtue of fire that overpowered Zhou, whose virtue was wood
  • What is the position of the author of Three Kingdoms?
the three kingdoms forum
The Three Kingdoms Forum
  • The Three Kingdoms, both Chen Shou’s history and Luo Guanzhong’s novel, provided a forum for discussion and debate over the issue of legitimacy
  • Criteria for dynastic legitimacy:
    • Moral virtue of the ruler? Why or why not?
    • “Mandate of Heaven” ?
defining virtue
Defining Virtue
  • Who were virtuous/virtueless leaders?
  • What are criteria on which to base one’s differentiation?
  • Is virtue enoughfor one to claim legitimacy? Any other considerations?
    • Lineage?
    • Power?
    • Political success?
    • Territorial control?
    • Lineal descent?
scholars positions
Scholars’ positions
  • Chen Shou: Wei was legitimate successor of the Han
    • Its political success
  • Xi Zuochi: Shu was legitimate
    • Liu Bei’s virtue, defined loosely as trustworthiness, sense of humor, and compassion
  • Sima Guang: Wei was legitimate
    • Control “Northern China, Central Plain”
  • Zhu Xi: Shu was legitimate
    • Liu Bei was symbol of Han nationalism
liu bei and sworn brotherhood

Initiated “sworn brotherhood” through a solemn ritual

Many episodes stress brothers’ relationship


No mention of the “sworn brotherhood”

Depiction of their sharing a bed and their being kind to each other as brother

Liu Bei and Sworn Brotherhood
liu bei s character
Caring, benevolent, humane, righteous.

considerate, modest, understanding, forgiving

leader who cared about the welfare of people, worthy of esteem

Inconsistent, changeable, unpredictable,vain, and insincere

Not hesitate to compromise

Lacked moral scruples


Liu Bei’s Character
liu bei and his ambitions

Unwilling to take advantage of friends to fulfill his goals

Showed great reluctance to ascend the throne and become emperor of the Riverlands


Had little compunction in sacrificing moral principles for fulfilling life-long dream

Intensely interested in realizing his political ambitions

Liu Bei and His Ambitions
liu bei s respect for zhuge liang

Three visits much dramatized and elaborated into long episodes in chapter 37

Zhuge’s analysis of the situation and his strategy described in detail


Three visits briefly mentioned

Zhuge’s writings indicate Liu’s visits and lavish honor given to Zhuge

Liu Bei’s Respect for Zhuge Liang
liu bei and his vow novel
Liu Bei and His Vow (Novel)
  • Insisted to lead a large force to attack Wu to avenge Guan Yu’s death
  • Ignored Zhao Zilong’s opposition and mobilized his armies to attack Wu
    • “If I should fail to avenge my brother, the possession of these thousand li of mountains and rivers would make an unworthy prize.”
liu bei s death
Death scene (pp. 374-376) much dramatized

Novelist stresses further the close tie between him and his military councilor

Liu’s hypocrisy is suggested

Death scene no historical foundations

Liu Bei’s Death
liu s testament novel
Liu’s testament (novel)
  • Liu to Kong:“If my heir proves worthy of support, support him. If he proves unfit, take the kingship of the Riverland yourself.”
  • Kong to Liu: “ Could I do otherwise than serve him as aide and vassal, preserving in loyalty unto death?”He knocked his forehead to the ground until blood showed.
liu bei vs cao cao novel
Liu Bei

A contrast to Cao

True hero

Showed profound grief over the rumored death of Emperor Xiandi

Cao Cao

Evil, disloyal, lacked virtue, unscrupulous, suspicious, ruthless

Talented villain

Cruel, brutal, killed kinsman and anyone standing in his way

Liu Bei vs. Cao Cao (novel)