Reading Chinese Classics: ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Guanzhong

True to form, I’ve continued with my endeavour to read some Chinese classics. Since reading Six Records of a Floating Life, I decided to bump the standard Four Chinese Classics up my list.  I started with Dream of the Red Chamber, but I had a wee mishap with my edition not being complete.

However, I had Romance of the Three Kingdoms sitting on my shelf, so thought I may as well hurry along with that. I’d picked up the editions printed by Tuttle. They’re split into two volumes, both translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor. 

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It’s a historical novel, set near the end of the Han dynasty. The dynasty is totally falling apart, and this novel is a dramatisation of all the people who rushed in with their desperate attempts to restore or replace it. It deals with personal drama, family drama, and a lot of battling.

I read the first volume fairly quickly, but I have to admit that it certainly felt like darn hard work to get through. It’s a war novel, y’know? There were a thousands of characters that I only barely remember, all immersed in the complex world of politics and battle.

…it just wasn’t for me. It lacked something that appealed to me. I don’t know enough about the time period and its politics to care enough the historical aspects. I could hardly keep up, let alone actually connect with the characters.

I decided to take the second volume a little more slowly. I read maybe 200 pages a day, and really took the time to make sure I knew exactly what was going on. I reread, I googled… and to be honest? It was still just as confusing as the first volume. I still really struggled. There were times when I didn’t really know who was doing what or why they were doing it.

That being said, I did enjoy the second volume more than I enjoyed the first. I even laughed at one point. Shocking, I know. But I still faced all the problems that I faced with the first volume, and the whole book just felt like a massive (mostly unenjoyable) slog. Most frustrating for me was the translation. I understand that translating is difficult, but there were so many moments in this when the English was just plain awkward.

…a more negative review, I suppose. But this is a classic for a reason. If you are more inclined the books that do have a massive focus on battles and politics (and have an astonishing ability to keep up with thousands of characters), you’re probably going to like this a lot.

But me? I’m just excited to be done and am 110% ready to get on with my next pick.


Let me know if you’ve read this! Did you enjoy it more than I did?

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