The Three Kingdoms and me
answer is no, never.
    What makes me write this article is a new movie coming to U.S. theaters at the end of November, John Woo’s movie “Red Cliff.” The battle
of Red Cliff was the greatest and the most dramatic battle that involved all the three forces — Wei, Shu, and Wu. To be accurate, at the time, the
three kingdoms had not yet been established. But for the sake of telling the story, let me call them Wei, Shu, and Wu.
    Wei’s ruler, Cao Cao, was a genius in many fields. He was a decent fighter when he was young. He became a military genius who
conquered almost half of China. Cao Cao was cruel and killed many innocent people. But he was not a tyrant. He brought prosperity to the
people. Cao Cao was shrewd and a frequent liar who often lied to his enemies and sometimes to his allies as well. But he was also
exceptionally honest sometimes. He dared to tell the truths that no other politicians dared to tell. One thing that made Cao Cao stand out among
all historical figures is his talent in literature. He was arguably the best poet in his time. His poems are still widely appreciated today and are
taught in middle schools. Cao Cao was admired and feared. He was different from anyone else.
    Liu Bei, who later became the ruler of Shu, was the opposite of Cao Cao. He was the protector of the poor. His idealist color was in sharp
contrast to Cao’s pragmatism. For many years, he wasn’t successful as a warlord. When Cao Cao had unified China’s north, Liu Bei served
under the command of a provincial warlord. Yet there must be some extraordinary characteristics in him. He was followed by the most loyal
and powerful generals including Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Zhao Yun. And the most wise and noble strategist ever in Chinese history, Zhuge
Liang, joined his force. All these people believed only this man, Liu Bei, could bring the world peace and light. Liu Bei was also respected by
other notable people. Cao Cao had long identified Liu Bei as his only worthy rival.
    And of course, there was the Wu, a people who had great traditions and the toughest bones. They wouldn’t give up anything without a fight,
even in front of Cao Cao’s unstoppable army.
    The story of Red Cliff began with the conflict between Cao Cao and Liu Bei. Cao Cao’s massive army easily overwhelmed Liu Bei’s force. Liu
Bei fled to the south, where they would meet the talents of the Wu people and convince them to join forces against Cao Cao’s aggression. To
win the war, they would need the most brilliant schemes, the strongest and bravest warriors, and a little magic moment.
With the timely debut of the movie “Red Cliff,” it’s a good time for me (a Three Kingdom fan among many others), to explain, after all, why we are
so attracted by the story. In short, I like it because it’s the most inspiring story. It’s more inspiring than many fictional stories, yet it is real
history. Any story with one or two characters I care about and like is a good story to me. But in Three Kingdoms, I find more than a dozen people
I heartily care about and like. That’s why I call it a great book, a true classic.
    Actually, I can’t really claim to be a true fan, because I have never thoroughly read the classic novel ROTK. However, the Three Kingdoms is
not only a book, but more importantly, a culture. I think every Chinese, even those who can’t read, can name at least three names from the
book. I first learned about the Three Kingdoms on radio when I was a kid. Traditionally, there were folk storytellers who told oral historical
fictions called “
ping shu.” The storytellers were a kind of street performers, like street acrobats or magicians. Ping shu, like operas, carried out
basic education of history and moral teaching to common people. Today, I don’t know if folk storytellers still exist. At least I don’t see them in
big cities. But they’re on air now. Radio has them telling
ping shu everyday. Ping shu usually covers a period in history and is very long. A ping
show can run nearly a year.
    Listening to
ping shu everyday, I fancied the story. I couldn’t believe it actually happened in history and these people existed. As I grow up,
the more I think about them and what they had done, the more I understand them and admire them. I think many people have had the same
experience with the Three Kingdoms like me.
    A typical fan is like this: he learned the story from
ping shu when he was a kid. He can’t even count the number of Three Kingdom video
games he has played, and he can easily name over 100 people in the book. It may sound incredible to others, but it’s a predictable result,
considering how many hours he has invested into it. He likes watching Three Kingdoms TV series, even though he knows every detail of the
story. He watches the familiar story only to see how it’s done. When it’s done right, he enjoys and feels relieved and gratified. When it’s not
done right, he feels insulted, irritated, and outraged. What does it mean to be classic? The feeling evoked by the Three Kingdoms is a good
    So, did John Woo do a good job directing “Red Cliff”? According to American film reviewers, this is a movie that you cannot miss. But
according to many fan groups, the movie is almost irrelevant. The movie irritated a lot of people, mostly because it changed the classic too
much and lost its spirit.
    I understand that people have different needs. I may not like the movie but I’m glad many others do. As for me, I’m going to watch it. I just
like watching people like Sun Shangxiang and Zhuge Liang talking to each other. Even if it’s made up by John Woo, I just can’t resist seeing
these people back to life again. I’m counting the days of this movie’s release.
Shang Zuo's column
By Shang Zuo

    There is no doubt about it, the Three Kingdoms is the most beloved historical period that people like to
watch about (programs or movies), to read about, to study and discuss. It spans the second century into the
third century. The almighty Han Dynasty was declining and China was in endless wars. Three forces
eventually rose to power, building their kingdoms. Their stories were told in folklore and were finally
written into a classic novel, the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (ROTK) by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th
century during the Ming Dynasty. To be sure, ROTK is not real historical records. It’s a novel based on
history, in which characters largely remain their true color.
    The Chinese made an 84-episode TV series based on ROTK 15 years ago, two movies last year, one
animated series this year, and they’re filming another TV series for next year. Online history discussion
forums often give this relatively short period a dedicated place for discussion.
The Japanese’s devotion is no less than the Chinese. They draw serious manga books and write numerous
fantasy stories. They even print a fake newspaper  based on the Three Kingdoms. KOEI, a video game
company, releases Three Kingdoms games every year. I used to play Dynasty Warriors a lot, which is very
popular in Japan and also elsewhere, including the U.S. The never-ending enthusiasm about the Three
Kingdoms in Asia seems to have puzzled the American game industry. I once read a game review in which
the author wondered why the Japanese company keeps telling the same story. Isn’t it boring by now? The