Monday, November 19, 2012

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

One of the most exciting discoveries in recent weeks is the book Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood, a book of translations of Chinese plays. I was very lucky, back in the day, to attend several performances of Beijing Opera, and even got to take part in a series of performances as a musician. I became interested in Romance of the Three Kingdoms at about that time.

Basically, there were a bunch of civil wars (c. AD 180 220). The Han empire was divided into the Wei, Shu-Han, and Wu states. In AD 280 these three states were reunified under the Western Jin. A popular history, Sanguo zhi pinghua, recorded many of the incidents, and in the 14th century Luo Guanzhong wrote the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms based on these events.

RTK is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature and the stories and legends it contains are hugely popular in China and East Asia, and have been for centuries. Artists have been producing plays, legends, books, manga, films, TV shows, paintings and more based on the RTK for a long, long time, so the lack of materials available in English is truly shocking. Other than a couple translations, a couple movies (notably ‘Red Cliffs’ and ‘The Lost Bladesman’), and the only tangentially-related computer game series, materials are very hard to come by.

So the book Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood is very welcome. These dramas show incidents from the wars, and how the heroes of the Three Kingdoms were portrayed on the Yuan and Ming stage. The swearing of brotherhood in the Peach Orchard, the battles and betrayals, all make for interesting reading. Also, since the RTK has a total of 800,000 words and nearly a thousand dramatic characters in 120 chapters, Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood is indispensable as a companion to this classic novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment