Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong, is a historical novel set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in 280.


English translations are taken from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, trans. C. H. Brewitt-Taylor (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1925), unless otherwise noted.
We three will swear brotherhood and unity of aims and sentiments.
  • 話說天下大勢,分久必合,合久必分。
    • The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.
    • Chapter 1, opening lines (trans. Moss Roberts)
    • Variant translations:
      • Unity succeeds division and division follows unity. One is bound to be replaced by the other after a long span of time. This is the way with things in the world.
        • trans. Yu Sumei
      • The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide. This has been so since antiquity.
  • "The peach trees in the orchard behind the house are just in full flower. Tomorrow we will institute a sacrifice there and solemnly declare our intention before Heaven and Earth, and we three will swear brotherhood and unity of aims and sentiments: Thus will we enter upon our great task."
  • "When saying the names Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, although the surnames are different, yet we have come together as brothers. From this day forward, we shall join forces for a common purpose: to save the troubled and to aid the endangered. We shall avenge the nation above, and give peace to the citizenry below. We seek not to be born on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. We merely hope to die on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. May the Gods of Heaven and Earth attest to what is in our hearts. If we should ever do anything to betray our friendship, may heaven and the people of the earth both strike us dead."
    • Chapter 1; the Oath of the Peach Garden (Wikisource translation).
  • 運籌决算有神功,二虎還須遜一龍。
    • Though fierce as tigers soldiers be,
      Battles are won by strategy.
      A hero comes; he gains renown,
      Already destined for a crown.
    • Chapter 1
  • 子治世之能臣,亂世之奸雄也。
    • In peace you are an able subject; in chaos you are a crafty hero!
    • Chapter 1; Xu Shao to Cao Cao.
  • 欲除君側宵人亂,须聽朝中智士謀。
    • To get rid of wicked men from your king's side,
      Then seek counsel from the wise men of the state.
    • Chapter 2 (trans. Yu Sumei)
  • 揚湯止沸,不如去薪;潰痈雖痛,勝於養毒。
    • Now to stop the ebullition of a pot the best way is to withdraw the fire; to cut out an abscess, though painful, is better than to nourish the evil.
    • Chapter 3
  • 良禽擇木而棲,賢臣擇主而事。
    • The clever bird chooses the branch whereon to perch; the wise servant selects the master to serve.
    • Chapter 3
  • 天地易兮日月翻,棄萬乘兮退守藩。
    • The heaven and earth are changed,
      Alas! the sun and the moon leave their courses,
      I, once the center of all eyes, am driven to the farthest confines,
      Oppressed by an arrogant minister my life nears its end,
      Everything fails me and vain are my falling tears.
    • Chapter 4
  • 皇天將崩兮后土颓;身為帝姬兮命不随。
    • Heaven is to be rent asunder, Earth to fall away,
      I, handmaid of an emperor, would grieve if I followed him not.
      We have come to the parting of ways, the quick and the dead walk not together;
      Alas! I am left alone with the grief in my heart.
    • Chapter 4
Rather we let down the world than the world let us down!
  • 寧教我負天下人,休教天下人負我。
    • Rather we let down the world than the world let us down!
    • Chapter 4
  • 吾有上將潘鳳,可斬華雄。
    • I have a brave warrior among my army. Pan Feng is his name, and he could slay this Hua Xiong.
    • Chapter 5
  • 人中呂布,馬中赤兔。
    • Lu Bu was the man among humans, as Red Hare was the horse among horses.
    • Chapter 5
  • 天下動之至易,安之至難。
    • It is easy to alarm them but difficult to pacify them.
    • Chapter 6
  • 舉杯暢飲情何放,拔劍捐生悔已遲!
    • He raised the cup in pledge,
      None might say nay;
      Remorseful, drew the sword,
      Himself to slay.
    • Chapter 14
  • 屈身守分,以待天時,不可與命争也。
    • One must bow to one's lot. It is the will of Heaven, and one cannot struggle against fate.
    • Chapter 15
  • 溫侯神射世間稀,曾向轅門獨解危。
    • O Lu Bu was a wonderful archer,
      And the arrow he shot sped straight;
      By hitting the mark he saved his friend
      That day at his camp gate.
      Hou Yi, the archer of ancient days,
      Brought down each mocking sun,
      And the apes that gibbered to fright Yang Youji
      Were slain by him, one by one.
      But we sing of Lu Bu that drew the bow,
      And his feathered shaft that flew;
      For one hundred thousand soldiers could doff their mails
      When he hit the mark so true.
    • Chapter 16
  • 勢弱只因多算勝,兵强却為寡謀亡。
    • In feeling over confident, that's where one's weakness lay;
      The other bettered him by plans which never went astray.
    • Chapter 30
  • 勝負兵家之常,何可自隳其志!
    • Victory and defeat are but ordinary events in a soldier's career, and why should you give up?
    • Chapter 31
  • 淡泊以明志,寧静而致遠。
    • By purity inspire the inclination;
      By repose affect the distant.
    • Chapter 37
  • 豈亦效書生,區區於筆硯之間,數黑論黃,舞文弄墨而已乎?
    • Would you liken them to your rusty students of books, whose journeyings are comprised between their brush and their inkstone, who spend their days in literary futilities, wasting both time and ink?
    • Chapter 43


"We thank you, Sir Prime Minister, for the arrows!"
  • The naval forces were then lined up shooting on the bank to prevent a landing. Presently the soldiers arrived, and ten thousand and more soldiers were shooting down into the river, where the arrows fell like rain. [...] The whole twenty boats were bristling with arrows on both sides. As they left, Zhuge Liang asked all the crews to shout derisively, "We thank you, Sir Prime Minister, for the arrows!"
  • 江山雨霁擁青螺,境界无憂樂最多。
    • From the riverside hills the rain clears off,
      And the black clouds roll away,
      And this is the place of joy and mirth
      And never can sorrow stay.
      And here two heroes of ages past
      Decided their parts to play,
      And the lofty heights flung back wind and wave
      Then, as they do today.
    • Chapter 54
  • 既生瑜,何生亮!
    • O God, since you made Zhou Yu, why did you also create Zhuge Liang?
    • Chapter 57
  • 蒼天既已生公瑾,塵世何須出孔明?
    • Since, O Azure Heaven, ye made Zhou Yu,
      Why needed Yellow Earth produce a Zhuge Liang?
    • Chapter 57
  • 良药苦口利于病,忠言逆耳利于行。
    • Good medicine is bitter in the mouth but good for the disease; faithful words offend the ear but are good for the conduct.
    • Chapter 60
  • 人主幾番存厚道,才臣一意進權謀。
    • Their lord, by argument, they tried
      From rectitude to turn aside.
    • Chapter 60
  • 生子當如孫仲謀!
    • That is the sort of son to have!
    • Chapter 61
  • 三軍易得,一將難求。
    • An army is easily raised; a leader is hard to find.
    • Chapter 70
  • 卿不負孤,孤亦必不負卿也。
    • If you do not turn your back on me, I shall not on you.
    • Chapter 74
  • 治病須分内外科,世間妙藝苦無多。
    • Here as surgeons, there physicians, all boast their skill;
      Bitter few are those that cure one when one's really ill.
      As for superhuman valor rivals Guan Yu had none,
      So for holy touch in healing Hua Tuo stood alone.
    • Chapter 75
  • 玉可碎而不可改其白,竹可焚而不可毀其節。
    • Jade may be shattered, but its whiteness remains; bamboo may be burned, but its joints stand straight.
    • Chapter 76
  • 身雖殞,名可垂於竹帛也。
    • My body may be broken, but my name shall live true in history.
    • Chapter 76
  • 龍游溝壑遭蝦戲,鳳入牢籠被鳥欺。
    • The dragon in a puddle is the sport of shrimps,
      The phoenix in a cage is mocked of small birds.
    • Chapter 76
  • 功首罪魁非两人,遺臭流芳本一身。
    • A man may stand the first in merit; then
      His crimes may brand him chief of criminals.
      And so his reputation's fair and foul.
    • Chapter 78
  • 煮豆燃豆萁,豆在釜中泣。本是同根生,相煎何太急!
    • They were boiling beans on a beanstalk fire;
      Came a plaintive voice from the pot,
      "O why, since we sprang from the selfsame root,
      Should you press me with anger hot?"
    • Chapter 79; poem attributed to Cao Zhi.
  • 朝廷養軍千日,用在一時。
    • The state feeds and trains soldiers a thousand days for one hour's service.
    • Chapter 100
  • 鞠躬盡瘁,死而後已!
    • To achieve this end, he would use the last remnant of his strength and could die content.
    • Chapter 102
  • 伏願陛下清心寡欲,約己愛民。
    • I desire Your Majesty to cleanse your heart and limit your desires, to practice self-control and to love the people.
    • Chapter 104
  • 紛紛世事無窮盡,天數茫茫不可逃。
    • All down the ages rings the note of change,
      For fate so rules it; none escapes its sway.
      The kingdoms three have vanished as a dream,
      The useless misery is ours to grieve.
    • Chapter 120, Final Poem

Quotes about Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

  • The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is by design a historical narrative rather than a historical novel as we understand the term in the West. Hardly a single character in the book is ahistorical, and there is no plot to speak of beyond the plot of history. Though it borrows from the oral tradition of storytelling, it is clearly far more an epic than a romance. ... It attains the condition of good literature precisely because its slight fictional elaboration of history has restored for us the actuality of history.
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (1968), pp. 34–35

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