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Sun Ce was so formidable. After having Zhou Yu, he laid the foundation of his great design by a cluster of successful battles.

Shown here: Sun Ce combats with Taishi Ci (who has two darts on his back).

The San Guo (Three Kingdoms) is distinctly eastern, a book adapted for the storytellers; once can almost hear them. It abounds in names and genealogies, which seem never to tire the readers or listeners.

Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Malay, Indonesian, and possible other versions of the San Guo have been made, and now to these I have attempted to add one in English. With what measure of success I leave to curious readers qualified to compare my rendering with the original.

In conclusion, I wish to put on record my gratitude to Mr. Chen Ti Tsen, who typed the text, and Mr. E. Manico Gull, who has read the proofs.

C. H. Brewitt-Taylor


Romance of Three Kingdoms is a rolling panorama of human passions and ambitions. What makes the book fascinating is its wide appeal to many kinds of readers. In Asia, children read the book like they do with fairy tales, whereas politicians embrace it for strategies, scholars wisdoms, parents guidelines, everyday people entertainment. A Korean saying goes: "You can discuss life after reading Romance of Three Kingdoms." And the most famous Chinese commentator, Mao Zonggang, who lived in the 17th century at the start the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), had chosen "Seven Beautiful Books", and he ranked Romance of Three Kingdoms the first among them.

Several reasons can be explained here on why the historical novel has such a large group of fans.

Romance of Three Kingdoms is based closely on historical events (7 parts of facts and 3 parts of fiction); it is considered a mainstream history work, not a product of pure imagination or fabrication. Hence, it is extraordinary by itself, because history is the best storyteller.

But, one may ask, China with its rich civilization has produced many historical novels, why is Romance of Three Kingdoms the first masterpiece among them all?

First, the strife for mastery over the empire in the Three Kingdoms period is the most outstanding struggle. Never before has the world seen so many talents appearing in one same era; a large number of them are important figures who have left permanent impressions in several fields such as military, politics, literature, morality, and pop culture; their names are mentioned in numerous records.

Second, the author of the book is one of the most talented novelists China has ever seen. Writing a novel with a main theme is much more difficult than writing the annals. In the annals, each topic is dealt with separately; but in Romance of Three Kingdoms, arranging a huge amount of details into a continuous epic, and the epic being consistent and captivating, is the author's greatest achievement.

According to tradition, Luo Guanzhong is said to be the author of the modern edition of the book. Born at the beginning of the 14th century, he was a scholar in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but did not take office. Instead he traveled throughout with the tittle "The Man of All Lakes and Seas". Some three hundred years after Luo Guanzhong, Mao Zonggang edited the original work and made popular the new edition. This English translation is based on the Mao edition, which is also the most widely read edition in China and Asia.

But the birth of the book can be traced back to the Jin dynasty (265-316 AD). Chen Shou was believed to be the first to pen Three Kingdoms History (Sanguozhi). He was an official in Shu-Han court, and later worked for Jin as historian after Shu-Han's submission. This first edition had 61 chapters---26 stories of Wei, 15 stories of Shu, and 20 stories of Wu.

A century after Chen Shou, Emperor Wen of the Liu-Song dynasty commissioned Pei Songzhi to edit the work. Pei Songzhi collected a great amount of tales and historical facts and added them to the book, and this new edition of 65 chapters became mainstream history source for the Three Kingdoms period. The book went through various changes and inventions, until Luo Guanzhong combined the many sources and rewrote the masterpiece that gave birth to the Mao edition, which has been handed down until today.

Not only does Romance of Three Kingdoms has a rich history in the making, but indeed is it also picturesque in contents:

Reading the book is like contemplating clouds passing through mountaintops or storms pouring down the forest, the moon glowing in autumn or flowers blooming in spring. The evolution of all elements is infinite. Sometimes, the writing is as serene as a shooting star; other times, it is as rousing as tidal waves or earthquakes.

Romance of Three Kingdoms is cherished also due to its perfect cause-and-effect technique: Before a storm, thunders would be heard; after it, cold air can be felt. Every detail is traced to its origin and projected beyond its conclusion; one thing leads to another, so the various focuses relate to each other, making the main theme whole. The author did not merely record events, but he helped explain them in a style that all readers love.

Tradition has several guidelines for reading the masterpiece. To avid fans of history, being able to identify who had a legitimate claim to the empire is essential. But opinions vary and are subject to changing believes. Some agree with the ancient, whereas others have their own conclusions. As the result, this online edition of Romance of Three Kingdoms tries to give the readers as much information as possible, so that they can judge for themselves.

However, we encourage the readers to do a few things before reading the novel. First, take a look at the small and big maps of ancient China. Being familiar to the maps is important for appreciating the many military campaigns in the book. Second, you can warm up by reading the outlines of Chinese history from mythology to Three Kingdoms. This section of about 60 pages will acquaint you to the ancient society and its customs and thoughts.

After that, readers can choose either to read the lecture of Dr. Rafe de Crespigny about Three Kingdoms, or begin to read the book. The lecture of Dr. Rafe de Crespigny (about 30 pages) is the most informative writing about Romance of Three Kingdoms on the Internet. It will give you a complete understanding of old society in the Three Kingdoms period. This commentary can also serve as a perfect afterword. The main book has 120 chapters (about 1,400 pages).

Having finished the book, readers can enjoy the many other writings about Romance of Three Kingdoms in the Discussion section. You can also enjoy the wisdom of war strategy through a reading of The Art of War by Suntzu (or Sunzi), a 13-chapter treatise of military methods, famous for its brevity and wide applications. The Art of War is available freely on the web.

With all these writings, we believe you will come to understand and appreciate the First Masterpiece.

The online Romance of Three Kingdoms is the collaboration of many people. We want to thank them all for their contributions in writings, ideas, energy, and resources. Special thanks to:

This online Romance of Three Kingdoms is in its fifth edition. We have the zip file available for you to download the whole book to your hard drive. There are readers in the countries where Internet connection is expensive. Reading offline is therefore a good option. A zip file will simplify your download to one instead of 150+ files.

In this edition the readers can enter their own thoughts and notes into the book, so that all readers can share their views with each other. We also include a sound feature in the book. Now you can have a computer voice read the book for you. Some of the friends told us when they were children, they listened to Romance of Three Kingdoms on radio, and they enjoyed this format. So, we implement the audio feature. The visually impaired can greatly benefit in this feature, too. And those who want to learn English will find this feature very helpful. In order to use the audio feature, users will need Microsoft Internet Explorer. You will download the audio software from Microsoft.com web site. Microsoft makes this technology free to Internet users, and we want to thank them for that. See Help.

ThreeKingdoms.com makes the novel available to all readers, to whom we dedicate.

Khang Nguyen

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