The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a historical fiction (based on “real” characters and events) of epic proportions written in the fourteenth century. It narrates events occurring in the second century ce when China was divided into three competing kingdoms. Main characters include Liu Bei, a descendant for the Han nobility, his archenemy Cao Cao, a ruthless but brilliant, poem-writing general, and Zhuge Liang, the master strategist.


Besides several partial translations starting at the early 20th century, there are two full-length translations into English available.

Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor. (Trans.). (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. 2 vols. Tuttle Publishing. Originally published in 1959. $27.95/29.95. 708/680 pages.  ISBN: 9780804834674/9780804834681

The Brewitt-Tayler translation was originally published in 1925 without notes or maps. Reprinted in 1959 with maps/notes and introduction by Roy Andrew Miller. This translation is praised for its literary style that matches the original epic. It might come off as a little “old fashioned” now. It also uses Wade-Giles romanization.

Moss Roberts. (Trans.). (2004). Three Kingdoms. 2 vols. University of California Press. Originally published in 1991 and 1995 (Foreign Language Press).  552 pages. $32.95. ISBN: 9780520224780. (Also available in abridged version.)

The abridged version of the Roberts translation was first published in 1976 with maps and illustrations. The full translation appeared in 1991 (1995, Foreign Languages Press), and included afterword, maps, list of characters, titles, terms, and offices, and notes and commentaries from other scholarly sources.  This translation uses pinyin Romanization, and is considered more modern and easier to read than the Brewitt-Taylor translation.

Online Resources

Website: Although the site is somewhat outdated, it does still offer some interesting features. In addition to an online version of the Brewitt-Taylor translation (with pinyin instead of Wade-Giles transliteration) and some fixes to typographical errors, it includes a commentary on the novel by Professor Rafe de Crespigny, some maps, and links to places where you can buy hard copies of the novel.

Read the article on Romance of the Three Kingdoms from the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, or learn more about the historical background of this novel,  Han dynasty.