A 1994 TV series, starring Tang Guoqiang (left) as Zhuge Liang, is adapted from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. CCTV
An epic about the pursuit of power among an empire at war, Romance of the Three Kingdoms features great heroes, as well as tales of loyalty, betrayal and master plans. Written by Ming Dynasty author Luo Guanzhong (1330-1400), this historical novel is one of the four classics of Chinese literature and arguably one of the greatest and most influential stories of all time. Many operas, films, games and proverbs have sprung from this masterwork.
The story – which is part history, legend and myth – spans over a century from the end of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) to the Three Kingdoms (220-280) period. At this turbulent time, the states of Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu all competed for dominance of China.
The book’s impact on military strategies is nearly on par with Art of War by Sun Zi of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). “Romance of the Three Kingdoms is actually another great era of excellent military strategies and negotiations that we can all learn from,” wrote Christopher Quek from the Alp News. “It’s very rich in strategies and many are applicable today.”
One notable tactic from the story is the Empty Fort Strategy by famous strategist Zhuge Liang. It involves using reverse psychology to trick the enemy into believing that an empty location is full of traps, causing the enemy to retreat.
Of more than 1,000 characters in this extensive novel, Zhuge Liang, a mechanical and mathematical genius, is still cited by many around the world in their daily conversations on strategies.
In fact, the story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms has spread beyond the borders of China in other media as well. It has been adapted into a long-running video game series of the same name that first came out in 1985, with its 15th version released this year. In the game, players participate in role-playing war games in which they must consider the best strategies to not only manage cities, but successfully wage war and pursue diplomacy.
Adaptations of Luo’s epic don’t end there: Chinese, Japanese and South Korean comics, endless TV series and movies, and even a podcast have adapted Romance of the Three Kingdoms for young generations and likely many more to come.