Three Kingdoms History: Novel Info

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Romance of the Three Kingdoms Book Purchase Information

Authored by James Peirce

Romance of the Three Kingdoms Translations by Moss Roberts
Moss Roberts’ five-volume library binding edition on left
Moss Roberts’ four-volume paperback edition on right

Thinking about buying Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

A common question I have been asked, and that has turned up in this forum, is what copy of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi), attributed to Luo Guanzhong should be purchased? There are multiple choices, and they each have their own merits, so the query is justified. Never read it? Romance of the Three Kingdoms Online features the full Brewitt-Taylor translation.

The first thing to take into consideration is whether or not you want an abridged edition. Full translations are usually around $50 USD in paperback, and run around 2,000 pages or more, while abridged version are as low as $12 USD, and can be as small as 350 pages. From my perspective I strongly suggest paying the extra money for the full edition. Even at around 2,000 the story is actually holds a fast pace (especially when compared to most Western literature), and over the course of the novel countless officers, kingdoms, positions, and other general bits of information are introduced.

Now, when you take this into consideration and imagine shoveling the whole story into only one 400-page book, you might see a problem (and you are right, it doesn’t work). In abridged editions the story speeds up so fast that proper attention is not paid to various elements; many interesting parts are completely removed, and you never get the same chance to associate with the characters and locations. That said, if you simply cannot afford to pay $50 for your full copy, you might want to consider the $15 abridged version. If you don’t mind paying $50 for a great story though, don’t even consider the abridged version a valid option.

ISBN: 0520215850 - Romance of the Three Kingdoms (English)
Author: Moss Roberts, Abridged Edition (1 Volume), 488 pages, $12.03 USD

Want more information on the unabridged editions, or you have already decided that the abridged edition isn’t the right choice for you? You have one more choice ahead. There are two major English translations, the Brewitt-Taylor and the newer Moss Roberts versions. Both make for a wonderful read. For the most part the Moss Roberts translation seems to flow better, has fewer errors, and contains wonderful footnotes and appendixes (more content in more expensive versions, naturally). On the other hand, some people consider the Brewitt-Taylor version to be more interesting in regards to major events; they say it paints a better picture, and in many cases I am inclined to agree. You can read the Brewitt-Taylor version at threekingdoms.com, but the Moss Roberts version is more a purchase of faith (unless it is at a local bookstore where you can thumb through it, which is unlikely).

Unfortunately, because of the limited availability of Brewitt-Taylor translations on the Internet, we will be focusing on Moss Roberts translations (which are easier to purchase). If you would like to see if Brewitt-Taylor translations are in stock you can try this Amazon.com search.

You will also want to consider whether or not you want the Chinese officers names to be printed in Wade-Giles [Ts’ao Ts’ao (Mêng-tê)] or Hanyu Pinyin [Cao Cao (Mengde)]. For the most part Hanyu Pinyin is much easier to read, so I would suggest it over Wade Gilles if you are not already used to that system. Nearly all Brewitt-Taylor translations are presented in Wade Gilles and the Moss Roberts translations are presented in Hanyu Pinyin.

If you are buying an unabridged edition, I would suggest getting either the four-volume paperback or five-volume library binding Moss Robert’s version depending on how you view cost vs. quality.

ISBN: 7119005901 - Romance of the Three Kingdoms (English)
Author: Moss Roberts, Paperback (4 Volumes), 2340 pages, $39.95 USD

ISBN: 7119024086 - Romance of the Three Kingdoms (English/Chinese)
Author: Moss Roberts, Library Binding (5 Volumes), 3115 pages, $149.95 USD

Obviously the price difference is significant, but as an owner of both editions I can assure you that they are both worth their respective prices to a fan of the Three Kingdoms. The four-volume paperback release features a fair font size, but the margins, paper, and quality don’t compare to nicer hardbound books (obviously). If you are used to paperback editions of books, you shouldn’t have a single complaint at all. Furthermore, the relatively low price tag is not something to scoff at, especially for a reader with a limited income for leisure books.

On the other hand, the five-volume library-binding version is complete beauty. Healthy margins, a friendly font size and font face, good quality paper, and a large quantity of footnotes, illustrations, maps, and appendixes are just some of the many merits. Not to mention the fact that this translation also includes the original Chinese text on the left hand pages. If you are a true fan of the series, and can come up with the extra money, this is the translation for you. You can also find it at discount from time to time on the Amazon page from an independent seller. Make sure you buy new if you don’t want to take risks.

Some additional useful information

If you cannot make your novel purchase online, you will have to check local bookstores and colleges. Major university bookstores can usually order the version you want (just give them the ISBN). Sometimes stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders can also make an order (same case, give them the ISBN and book information). You will probably have difficulty if you attempt to find it in the local bookstore, however.

Looking to sell an old copy of the Three Kingdoms novel?

Why not post information regarding the copy you are selling here in this thread? There are probably other members looking for their own copy, and a discount may be welcomed. In the name of honor please include complete book details (pages, whether it is hardbound or paperback, etc.) and any damage (dog-eared pages, tears, stains, water damage, wear and tear, etc.).

What is the Romance of the Three Kingdoms Novel?

From Kongming’s Archives and authored by Lady Wu and James:
Luo Guanzhong, a writer from the fifteenth century, combined historical information found in the Sanguozhi, commentaries on it by Pei Songzhi, and popular folk tales about various officers of the Three Kingdoms era and turned them into a wonderful novel called the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi). Later, in the late 17th Century, Mao Lun and Mao Zhong Gang edited the original novel.

The Maos’ contribution to the text was the establishment of an authoritative edition out of all the different versions of the SGYY currently available on the market. They did some minor editing, but also wrote commentaries, added some poetry, corrected historical inconsistencies, additional details such as the story of Lady Wu committing suicide. For these reasons we can say that “the modern Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi) cannot be seen as completely written by Luo Guanzhong himself.”

Because the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (SGYY) is a fictional novel it cannot be used as a historical reference, even though the events presented within are usually derived from historical people, places, and events. To learn more about this history behind the Romance of the Three Kingdoms we suggest reading the Sanguozhi biography translations presented on this site and made available by several dedicated and knowledgeable members of the Three Kingdoms online community.

Although the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (SGYY) has been claimed to be “7 parts history, 3 parts fiction”, most would agree that this masterpiece is the most enjoyable ways to learn about people and events of the Three Kingdoms era. After reading it you may find yourself much more interested in the actual historical documents.

Copyright © 2003 James Peirce
Contact for written reproduction permission