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Thread: Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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    Senior Member shen diao xia's Avatar
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    Default Romance of the Three Kingdoms

    I am ethnically and culturally Chinese but unfortunately not skillful enough to read novels in Chinese. I know that ROTK is one of the 4 greatest chinese novels and have been trying to read a translation done by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor found on a Vietnamese site.

    To my dismay, I actually find it quite hard to read/follow and could hardly continue reading unlike wuxia novels. There are way too many characters from too many sides at different periods. Few questions.

    (1) Is it 100% history or rather what percentage/parts is actually history?
    (2) Is the original in Chinese good and somehow not translated well?
    (3) Or is it just me?? I am quite a fan of Chinese history but somehow find it a chore to read this book.

    Comments welcomed.

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    Senior Member Tom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shen diao xia View Post
    (2) Is the original in Chinese good and somehow not translated well?
    It is good enough to be one of the FOUR GREAT CLASSICS, with the other three being:


    水浒传 - Water Margin

    西游记 - Journey To The West

    红楼梦 - Dream Of The Red Chamber

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    Quote Originally Posted by shen diao xia View Post
    (1) Is it 100% history or rather what percentage/parts is actually history?
    it's "romance" of the three kingdoms. simply put, it's like the hollywood version of history . bascially, it reads between the lines of recorded history.

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    OT: is that a shih tzu in your avatar? he's soooo cute...i love puppies and small dogs.
    if you have the time and enthusiasm, please join in on the new and fabulous wuxia rpg fic /rpg discussion. (<--- click here)

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    Senior Member shen diao xia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by patricia n View Post
    OT: is that a shih tzu in your avatar? he's soooo cute...i love puppies and small dogs.
    it's actually a Pekingese, once upon a time only the Imperial family during the Qing dynasty can own one. Makes me feel like an emperor
    Last edited by shen diao xia; 03-26-08 at 10:26 AM.

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    Senior Member Candide's Avatar
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    Romance Of The Three Kingdoms (a 14th century novel) is about 70% truthful, and 30% romanticized. It's a great read, but you should also check out Records Of The Three Kingdoms (San Guo Zhi, or Tam Quoc Chi in Vietnamese), a real historical account written shortly after that period.

    Romance Of The Three Kingdoms IMO is the most well written one out of the 4 classics. Luo Guanzhong had an amazing talent for creating multi-dimensional and multi-layered characters via just a few simple lines.

    I haven't read the English translation so I can't give any comparison, but the first time I read the novel was when I was 6 or 7, so if I could follow the story then, you shouldn't have any trouble. Unless you have ADD like most kids these days do.
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    Senior Member shen diao xia's Avatar
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    Romance Of The Three Kingdoms (a 14th century novel) is about 70% truthful, and 30% romanticized. It's a great read, but you should also check out Records Of The Three Kingdoms (San Guo Zhi, or Tam Quoc Chi in Vietnamese), a real historical account written shortly after that period.
    Thanks, will definitely check this out.

    I haven't read the English translation so I can't give any comparison, but the first time I read the novel was when I was 6 or 7, so if I could follow the story then, you shouldn't have any trouble. Unless you have ADD like most kids these days do.
    Hard to follow; meaning, needing to revisit previously read pages. My original thoughts were much directed to the writer/translator's inability to maintain interest. Being able to read and understand the book at 6/7 (or do you mean 67 ) means that you are either a genius at that age or the writer thrives in books for children . And no, I do not have ADD, thank you very much.

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    Senior Member Vic_Viper's Avatar
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    If one is having problems with "Romance", he probably won't understand "Record" as "Record" wasn't written in Bai Hua Wen(duno what it's called in Eng, maybe Morden Langauge Format) to my understanding.
    仁。智。义。信。礼。忠。孝。悌。忍
    慈。慧。气。念。仪。实。心。情。耐

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    Senior Member Candide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shen diao xia View Post
    Hard to follow; meaning, needing to revisit previously read pages. My original thoughts were much directed to the writer/translator's inability to maintain interest. Being able to read and understand the book at 6/7 (or do you mean 67 ) means that you are either a genius at that age or the writer thrives in books for children . And no, I do not have ADD, thank you very much.
    6 or 7 years old, just starting school. I read 3 of the classics (except the Red Chamber because it's full of estrogen-driven sissy dudes and not enough fighting) between 5-7. I just like reading novels.

    It's true that the opening part of Romance has a lot of small background stories of various characters, which you might not be used to, growing up reading western novels as they're simpler and more focused. I'd say keep at it, it's very much worth the read. It's still by far the best novel I've ever read (and I've read a lot). Once you've finished it, take some time to think about it, and reread it again. I've read Romance many many times and everytime, I learned something new. I'm about to read it again!
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    Default Man Books

    Quote Originally Posted by shen diao xia
    (3) Or is it just me?? I am quite a fan of Chinese history but somehow find it a chore to read this book.
    You're not alone. I read San Guo in translation (the well-regarded, unabridged version by Moss Roberts) too, and found that it really isn't my sort of thing. There's a certain majesty about it, and I'm sure it's captivating to fans of military strategy/history, but to me, it was pretty disappointing. The subject matter might be complex, but as a piece of literature, San Guo is terribly primitive. At times, it reads more like a series of newspaper reports than a novel. I looked briefly at other translations and also at the original Chinese to see if poor translation was the reason, but I'm not sure it is; I think both San Guo and Shui Hu ("Water Margin") were quite deliberately written in a 'historiographical' fashion, as this was the privileged mode of discourse back then.

    Nevertheless, San Guo is so highly-praised that I feel I must give it a second chance and have a crack at reading it in Chinese. I suspect this'll just end up confirming my opinion of it, but you never know.

    Personally, the only book out of China's Four Great Novels that really impresses me is Hong Lou Meng ("Dream of the Red Mansion"). From a literary perspective, it's light years ahead of the other three, and I contend that it's one of the greatest novels ever written, in any language. If you like wuxia, though, you might not find it to your taste. Admittedly there are a lot of "estrogen-driven sissy dudes" and only a bit of "fighting", but give me that girlie stuff over the testosterone-pumped, homoerotic male-bonding of Luo Guanzhong (Chinese literature's answer to director Joel Schumacher, who filmed a totally gay version of Batman) anyday!

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    Senior Member shen diao xia's Avatar
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    Hi owbjhx,

    Thanks for the note. With the previous replies, I was beginning to think that I have a problem with appreciating "higher-level" material. I have read some of your previous posts, impressed with your line of thinking/reasoning and am honoured that you share your thoughts that you feel the same way. At least, we can say that we are brave enough to go against convention and say that we don't appreciate these well known works amongst the masses.

    It's good to challenge the norm at times!
    Last edited by shen diao xia; 03-26-08 at 10:29 AM.

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    Romance and San Guo Zhi should probably be read in a different mindset because the former is, well, romance. That said, every history book will have its own bias. Some Chinese history books even incorporate mystical/supernatural accounts. Think Song Shi - General Yue Fei's bio.

    Count me as another in finding Romance a chore. And I consider myself a lover of Chinese history.

    IMO Chinese novel has remained underdeveloped compared to other languages, possibly because its poetry is so superbly overdeveloped to overshadow its novels. It might have to do with the characteristic of the language and the subtleness distinctive of Chinese culture => perfect for poetry.

    The 4 Classics are probably the best within China, but looks primitive in the face of say, English novels in terms of plot, character development, style, narrative mode... etc. Not to mention the Latin novelists. Red Chamber is great, but stripped of its poetic strength in English translation it seems merely like some cloying story. Mr. Lu Xun wrote thoughtful satires but the progress was never followed through. We have our strength in poetry and weakness in novels. Accept it and move on.

    And I'll also risk my life saying this, but wuxia novels are a laugh in terms of "literary content". They are perhaps fun for entertainment, but literature they are not. But there has been a disturbing wave in recently years to hail wuxia novels as the "new-generation LITERATURE". Excerpts of Jin Yong novels replacing Lu Xun's Ah Q in high-school education? Where are we heading?
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    Default The Masses vs The Classes

    Quote Originally Posted by shen diao xia
    At least, we can say that we are brave enough to go against convention and say that we don't appreciate these well known works amongst the masses.
    Thanks. Actually I think that the masses don't appreciate these works as much as might be assumed, so we're not really all that brave!

    Quote Originally Posted by expression
    Red Chamber is great, but stripped of its poetic strength in English translation it seems merely like some cloying story.
    I disagree. The Chinese prose in HLM is almost entirely vernacular and in any case not particularly intensive from a linguistic standpoint (bar the occasional pun). The prose thus translates into English pretty well. The poetry doesn't, but even if you remove it, I still feel HLM (if we ignore the last 40 chapters for a moment) is at least comparable with the novels that are considered traditional 'classics' in the English literary canon, from Richardson and Austen in the 18th century and any of the Victorians in the 19th, to Joyce in the 20th. The story itself is only "cloying" if it's read that way (which unfortunately is how most people - including Chinese people - seem to read it).

    Quote Originally Posted by expression
    And I'll also risk my life saying this, but wuxia novels are a laugh in terms of "literary content". They are perhaps fun for entertainment, but literature they are not.
    I agree. I consider myself a fan of JY, but as literature, his works are pretty mediocre in the scheme of things.

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    Senior Member shen diao xia's Avatar
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    The 4 Classics are probably the best within China, but looks primitive in the face of say, English novels in terms of plot, character development, style, narrative mode... etc.
    I have not read all four classics but I guess its' a bit about comparing ancient chinese music to western classical music. IMO, Chinese composers are nowhere near their western counterparts when it comes to churning out works in terms of sophistication and musical value. I am Chinese and proud to be one, but unfortunately this is not something we are very good at compared to others amongst other things that we excel in.

    And I'll also risk my life saying this, but wuxia novels are a laugh in terms of "literary content". They are perhaps fun for entertainment, but literature they are not. But there has been a disturbing wave in recently years to hail wuxia novels as the "new-generation LITERATURE". Excerpts of Jin Yong novels replacing Lu Xun's Ah Q in high-school education?
    Novels are novels and they should be entertaining and that's why they were written in the first place. Their reason for existence is very different compared to historical books or other factual documents. However, using wuxia novels for high school education is definitely questionable.

    Thanks. Actually I think that the masses don't appreciate these works as much as might be assumed, so we're not really all that brave!
    Maybe, I should say confident instead of brave. I get pissed off when others don't accept or even listen to differing opinions, followed by hastily drawn conclusions and criticisms based on their need to conform.

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    Senior Member Candide's Avatar
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    I think you guys put way too much stock into "literary content". To me, a novel's value is what you can learn from it. I've learned more from ROTK than HLM, and I've learned more from Jin Yong's wuxia than Nobel prize winning novels. Most of the crap they make high school kids read just bore their brains out. Sure, they're well written, but that's about it for most of them.
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    Default What does one learn from wuxia?

    I used to be a JY-fanatic myself, but when I FINALLY started growing up I realized wuxia fanaticism is one of the main factors that prevented me from WANTING to grow up. A very painful face to face with reality. Took me quite a while.

    What does one "learn" from Mr. JY's wuxia?

    Don't tell me reading LOCH's Guo Jing makes one want to get drafted into the Armed forces to protect the country. Don't tell me reading DGSD teaches one how to forgive and move on - poor Xiao Feng went around trying to find out the main culprit, while his old pa went around killing every suspect/liaison and placing the blame on Xiao Feng without blinking. In the end Murong Bo is the bad guy, but lol, he and old pa reconciled and became nice monks and Xiao Feng went to Liao. END of story. All the casualties in the process were forgotten. No apologies to their friends and families. No recognition that they have been wronged (Oops I made a mistake killing you, my bad!). Not a word about them anymore. As if their sole purpose was to stir up this "tragedy" to make Xiao Feng a "tragic hero". In the end XF killed himself. Why? For the country? No, because he cannot live on. He carried his tragedy to the underworld. What does one learn from this melodrama?? Forgiveness and resolution?!

    Oh and PLEASE, don't tell me reading ROCH teaches one how to love. The twisted kind of love between Yang Guo and XLN filled them with destructive self-centredness, selfishness and anger. They only see each other, the rest of the world doesn't matter - actually it does matter. They spit on people's treasured tradition in their face and force them to approve of their defiance. Is that necessary? Why don't they just go back to their Gu Mu or somewhere quiet? Nobody wants or needs them fooling around anyway. YG says they don't care what others think, then why did he go nuts when they don't give approval? Isn't that a bit of a dilemma? YG has no qualms setting out to kill Guo Jing (whom he knows loves him as a son) for XLN (what a lover). XLN doesn't shudder at the thought - as long as beloved Guo'r is safe, the whole world can perish (how cold and sexy). In the end it was not their "love" that prevented YG from the killing. It was GY's role model of sacrificing for the country. But then again even our good GJ failed to influence the readers that way.

    Because this was not the reason why people love wuxia.

    They love it for GJ and XF's powerful 18 Dragon Palms. They love it for the cool Top Five. They love it for GJ and YG's (and most of the other main protagonists) lucky chances piling one over another that pushed them to become Grand Masters of martial arts. They love it for XLN's extreme beauty and sexy "coldness". They love it for the many rare beauties who all fall for the same protagonist, some dying for him like flies while others wasting their whole lives yearning for him alone.

    Oh yeah, that is what we love wuxia for. It is a fun and comfortable world, filled with lust, passion and danger that never spill into our monotonous lives. We are lazy; we just want to get through school/work. Change the world? Influence people? Help the need? Nah, we learn to escape into wuxia, where the nameless serve to die like flies or yell out our heroes names. But no, don't say we are cowards, because we like Dai Hups and chat about them in air-conditioned rooms. That's all we needed to buff our Dai Hup ego.
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    Senior Member sarakoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by expression View Post
    Romance and San Guo Zhi should probably be read in a different mindset because the former is, well, romance. That said, every history book will have its own bias. Some Chinese history books even incorporate mystical/supernatural accounts. Think Song Shi - General Yue Fei's bio.

    Count me as another in finding Romance a chore. And I consider myself a lover of Chinese history.

    IMO Chinese novel has remained underdeveloped compared to other languages, possibly because its poetry is so superbly overdeveloped to overshadow its novels. It might have to do with the characteristic of the language and the subtleness distinctive of Chinese culture => perfect for poetry.

    The 4 Classics are probably the best within China, but looks primitive in the face of say, English novels in terms of plot, character development, style, narrative mode... etc. Not to mention the Latin novelists. Red Chamber is great, but stripped of its poetic strength in English translation it seems merely like some cloying story. Mr. Lu Xun wrote thoughtful satires but the progress was never followed through. We have our strength in poetry and weakness in novels. Accept it and move on.

    And I'll also risk my life saying this, but wuxia novels are a laugh in terms of "literary content". They are perhaps fun for entertainment, but literature they are not. But there has been a disturbing wave in recently years to hail wuxia novels as the "new-generation LITERATURE". Excerpts of Jin Yong novels replacing Lu Xun's Ah Q in high-school education? Where are we heading?
    Unlike you, I find the plot, character development, and narrative mode in Chinese literature to be far ahead of its western counterpart in the same time period. Novels were primitive everywhere a few centuries ago because they were just invented. However, I don't think anything written in Europe in the 14th century could compare to ROTK in terms of plot, character development, and style. Also, very little western literature from any time period could compare to Dream of the Red Mansion in character development and narrative mode.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Candide
    I think you guys put way too much stock into "literary content". To me, a novel's value is what you can learn from it.
    That's a perfectly reasonable viewpoint. I also like to learn things from novels, but personally it's not the Number 1 reason why I read them. I find that novels are a poor medium for conveying factual data; if I want to learn history, I'd rather read a textbook. What they are good for is conveying human experience, and you can learn a lot from that.

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    expression, it's all about how you view it. You're only focusing on the popular views of those novels.

    Guo Jing the character taught me a few things:

    - The price for seeking revenge is huge.
    - The world is lots of shades of grey and not black & white, but take a stance and believe in it.
    - If you're stupid enough to get married, find a woman who can cook (which basically excludes most modern women).

    ROCH taught me:

    - Don't be a whiny pu$$y like Yang Guo when he was young.
    - Do not waste your youth for a melodramatic socially retarded starfish.

    DGSD:

    - Duan Yu: preaching is only effective if you have the fire power to back it up.
    - Xu Zhu: sins are awesome. That's why religions don't want you to commit them.
    - Xiao Feng: don't let yourself be manipulated or emotionally attached to women. Even great men like Xiao Feng get destroyed that way.

    HSDS:

    - The more beautiful a woman is, the better she is at manipulation (what ZWJ's mum told him).
    - A beautiful woman is dangerous to have around, even if you're the best fighter in wulin (ZWJ nearly got killed many times indirectly because of Zhao Min and Zhou Zhi Ruo).
    - Best way to make a girl attracted to you is to be mean: bite her hand (young Yin Li), humiliate her sifu in public (Zhou Zhi Ruo), torture her by tickling her feet (Zhao Min), treat her indifferently as if she's a little girl (Xiao Zhao).
    - Best way to make a girl lose her attraction for you is to be nice to her and promise you'd take care of her and marry her (adult Yin Li).

    That's just off the top of my head.

    And my life is far from monotonous.

    owbjhx, I agree. I don't learn historical stuff through novels. It's like using wikipedia for a research paper, which kids do these days. You're right, it's the human experience that counts. For me, beautifully written lines are just fluff.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Candide View Post
    - Xiao Feng: don't let yourself be manipulated or emotionally attached to women. Even great men like Xiao Feng get destroyed that way.
    You mean don't let other women be attached to you?
    Or more specifically: don't let other women hate you.
    Or more generally: get along with everybody.
    Assuming you're talking about Madam Ma of course.
    Quote Originally Posted by CC
    So what if 1000 arrows are targetted at our wuxia hero? LHC's missile breaking stance can deflect thousands of projectiles in 1 stance and send them back to the enemy. The more arrows the better!

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