Romance of the Three Kingdoms

by Luo Guanzhong

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Through his fictionalized history of China, Luo Guanzhong traces the ascent of Ssu-ma Yen, ending with his becoming the first emperor of a unified nation. The book begins soon after the Yellow Turban rebellion failed and follows those of its adherents who vowed to continue their struggle. Among these is Ts’ao Ts’ao, who defeats numerous rivals to become the king of Wei in the north, challenging the Han empire. In addition, Liu Pei, aided especially by Chu-ko Liang, becomes the Szechwan ruler as king of Shu.

Ts’ao Ts’ao does not progress unimpeded, however; in particular, Sun Ch’üan of the southern kingdom of Wu challenges him. After Sun Ch’üan allies with Liu Pei, their combined forces defeat those of Ts’ao Ts’ao at the Battle of Red Cliff. This event initiates the establishment of a delicate, short-lived balance among the powers of the Three Kingdoms. Kuan Yü, who governs the Hupeh province that borders Wu, dies in battling Sun Ch’üan’s forces. Liu Pei is soon defeated when he tries to conquer Wu. After Liu Pei dies, the leadership is left in the hands of his incompetent son.

To compensate, the military leader Chu-ko Liang assumes a stronger role; his combined diplomatic and bellicose efforts finally generated a strained, temporary peace between Shu and Wu; however, his strength gives out and he dies. After Ts’ao Ts’ao also dies, Ssu-ma I assumes command of the Wei forces; he and his followers vigorously punish and finally push out Ts’ao Ts’ao’s descendants. Chiang Wei directs the opposing Shu forces but are no match for the stronger Wei forces that invade under the command of T’eng Ai and Chung Hui. Chiang Wei also dies, leading the Shu and Wu forces to surrender. The combined territories will now be ruled by a new emperor Ssu-ma Yen, who is Ssu-ma I’s grandson.

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