The Three Kingdoms era is one of the most turbulent in Chinese history. Though relatively short, lasting from AD 168 to 280, its influence on Chinese culture remains profound. Operas, films, anime and even computer games recall the bloody struggle between the kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu. Stories from the era have been passed from one generation to the next; today they are imprinted on the Chinese national consciousness. The preservation of this history owes much to an epic novel written in the 14th century and attributed to one Luo Guanzhong. Three Kingdoms is a work of staggering proportions: 734,321 Chinese characters long, with almost 1,000 narrative characters, each one of them distinctive. Intricate, lively and punctuated with vibrant poetry, it is roughly 70 per cent history and 30 per cent fiction. It is, arguably, the most widely read novel in late imperial and modern China, and is regarded as one of the Great Classics of Chinese literature.
The four-volume Folio edition of this extraordinary work uses the acclaimed translation by Moss Roberts and features 280 integrated woodcuts from a 19th-century edition. Chinese novelist-in-exile Ma Jian is our introducer. His reflections on the novel touch on his experiences of growing up amid the Cultural Revolution - and the irony that Three Kingdoms was banned even though it was Mao Zedong's favourite book.
The books are bound in shimmering cloth, blocked with four key ﬁgures redrawn by Neil Gower, and are presented in a pictorial slipcase. Three Kingdoms is essential reading for anyone interested in the history and foundations of Chinese culture, but its relevance is also much broader. As Ma says, 'It teaches us about human nature, philosophy, morality, and the underlying patterns of human history.’
Also newly available is Masterpieces of Classical Chinese Painting - a wonderful complement to Three Kingdoms. This opulent book comes from fine book publisher Abbeville Press. Produced using traditional Chinese techniques, it has an unusual hand-sewn binding and is printed on folded sheets of silk-like paper. With 105 paintings beautifully reproduced, five of them across spectacular four-page foldouts, this is a marvellous chronicle of classical Chinese art as it evolved over 15 centuries.