Places: Romance of the Three Kingdoms

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: San kuo chih yen-i, fourteenth century (English translation, 1925)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: c. 180-c. 280

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWei kingdom

Wei Romance of the Three Kingdomskingdom. First among the three kingdoms in northern China, under the control of Ts’ao Ts’ao. The first sections of the work are narratives that chronicle various battles as Ts’ao Ts’ao conquers, then eliminates, numerous political rivals. The most important conquest is that of the Han empire.

Shu Han kingdom

Shu Han kingdom. Kingdom in which Liu Pei eventually succeeds in ruling from his throne in Szechwan and in which a second thread of narratives interwoven in the novel is set.

*Wu kingdom

*Wu kingdom. Third and most wealthy kingdom, located south of the other two kingdoms, along the banks of the Yangtze River. This kingdom is controlled by Sun Ch’uan, who joins forces with Liu Pei to defeat Ts’ao Ts’ao. Thus the three kingdoms are for a while at peace. Later chapters in the work tell of military imbroglios between Kuan Yu, governor of a territory known as Hupeh, and Sun Ch’uan. Ultimately, Liu Pei conquers both Kuan Yu and Sun Ch’uan. However, the peace is unstable and various power struggles continue for another two generations until Ssu-ma Yen establishes control over the various kingdoms to make them into one nation.

As a novel that is both “historic” and “romantic,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms is not always necessarily given to geographic accuracy; moreover, the novel was written more than one thousand years after the events it purports to record. Therefore, while most of the main characters are historical figures whose lives can otherwise be validated, many of the geographical settings cannot. Dozens of villages and cities, several rivers, numerous mountain ranges and lakes provide the backdrop for battles or other activities of the plot. In writing the story, Lo Kuan-chung generally sets these events in cities of his own time. Generally, these correspond to names of places that were in use a millennium earlier.

Wen-te Hall

Wen-te Hall. Residence of Emperor Ling, in the period immediately preceding the beginning of the narrative. This residence is the scene of supernatural occurrences, such as monstrous black snakes floating down from the heavens as a warning that the divine powers are displeased and that changes will occur in the royal family, and provides the setting for the opening chapter of the novel.

Wuch’ang palace

Wuch’ang palace. Residence of the evil emperor Sun Hao and the location of his wicked life and corrupt management of government affairs. Given to every kind of debauchery, it is Sun Hao who is finally overthrown. Ssu-ma Yen then takes over the throne at Wu to complete unification of the Chins into one country; that is, it becomes the country of China as it has continued to be known since that time.

BibliographyHsia, C. T. The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968. Contains an introductory analysis of Romance of the Three Kingdoms that is the best starting point for appreciation of this novel. Insightful regarding the conflict between the claims of statecraft and of personal loyalties.Lu Hsün. A Brief History of Chinese Fiction. Translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976. The section on Romance of the Three Kingdoms includes an interesting comparison of the early version of the novel with the finished version.Plaks, Andrew H., ed. Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Two essays compare Romance of the Three Kingdoms with other Chinese literary masterpieces.Plaks, Andrew H. The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987. Insightful and in-depth interpretations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the other three novels of the Ming dynasty.Rolston, David L., ed. How to Read the Chinese Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. A pioneering collection of translated essays by major premodern Chinese critics. The essay on Romance of the Three Kingdoms provides a vivid sense of how the Chinese interpreted this novel centuries ago.
Categories: Places