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The Ming novelist Luo Guanzhong's dexterous mix of facts and fiction, coupled with his imaginative characterization of the individuals and their ingenuity, has played a key role in making the Battle of Red Cliff wonderfully impressive and remarkable. Yet he was not the first one to have told the story of the Three Kingdoms and Red Cliff. The narrative tradition started with Cheng Shou's History of the Three Kingdoms, a historian's account written in the Jin dynasty when China was reunified by the house of Sima. This in combination with oral storytelling scripts later from the Song and Yuan dynasties, formed a rich source of materials from which Luo was able to derive and create his historical novel, the ever popular masterpiece the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Printers of the Ming and Qing dynasties, cognizant of the appealing charm of the Three Kingdoms story, promoted it further with illustrated editions. Some even engaged renowned writers such as Li Zhi, Zhong Xing, Li Yu, and Mao Zonggang for annotation, boosting the social status of the novel and its reading. In the mind of the Ming and Qing literati, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms reigned alone in the novel category. It won such rave review and was so enthusiastically received that Li Yu and Jin Shengtan ranked it as the "Top of the Four Wonder Books", and a "Most Brilliant Writing of Talent and Taste".

The legend of the Three Kingdoms and Red Cliff, a bygone era yet with staying power, as well as its vicissitudes and resonances, are forever related and remembered.

Xinkanjiaozheng gudaziben yinshi sanguozhi tongsuyanyi (A Newly Proofed Edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms)
Written by Luo Quanzhong of Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Ming imprint and proofed by Zhou Yuejiao of Shulin in the 19th year of Wanli reign (1591)

Xinkanjiaozheng gudaziben yinshi sanguozhi tongsuyanyi (A Newly Proofed Edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms) (New Window)This book is the version edited by the owner of the Wanjuanlo Bookshop, Zhou Yue, of the Jinling area during the Ming dynasty. The printing process was extremely careful, having particularly procured ancient editions, made corrections and annotations and cross-checked the references, as well as commissioned the famous type cutters of Nanking - Wan Xiyao and Wei Shaofeng - to cut the type. It can be said to be the highest quality edition of the bookshop.

The book consists of 250 chapters in 12 volumes, and the chapters are set out in accordance with the order adopted in Luo Kuanzhung's original work. The text was then slightly edited to seem more elegant. The preamble "History of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms" set out biographies of the main characters in book, so that readers would better understand their family backgrounds.

Each chapter contains an illustration, so that the total printed illustrations are 240 and are portrayed across the two pages. The illustrations identify the chapter, and on each side of the drawing is a short rhyme composed on the subject of the chapter, which are all written by literati. The function of these rhymes is rather like a theatrical show, where antithetical couplets are used as a hint to the audience. It is worth noting that the lines of the illustrations are energetic, the characters clearly outlined, with vivid and dynamic depictions of action, especially for those climatic chapters. Chapter 36 "Xia Hozun Pulls Out and Eats His Eye", for example, depicted Xia Hozun being injured by a surprise attack by Cao Xing, one of Lü Pu's generals. After he was shot in the left eye, he pulled out the eye with the arrow and called: "One must not waste any drop of blood or essence given by one's parents!" And he promptly put the eye into his mouth and ate it. Luo Kuanzhong used exaggerated, theatrical means to depict Chen Shou's two - dimensional character - the Blind Xia Ho - as a heroic three-dimensional figure, giving the space of imagination for the readers.

Chapter 54 "Guan Yunchang Kills Generals Across Five Barriers", Chapter 94 "Pan Tong Offers the Serial Trick" relating to the Battle of Red Cliff, and Chapter 98 "Zhou Kongjin Wins Battle of Red Cliff" are all vividly depicted by the skillful etching and dramatic style of the Jinling prints. It could be said to be the most popular version of the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" in Nanking at the time.

Sidaqishu diyizhong sanguozhi (First of the Four Wonder Books: History of the Three Kingdoms)
Annotated by Luo Quanzhong of Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Mao Lun and Mao Zonggang of Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Qing imprint in the 14th year of Guangxu reign (1888)

Sidaqishu diyizhong sanguozhi (First of the Four Wonder Books: History of the Three Kingdoms) (New Window)This is the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" critiqued by Mao Lun and Mao Zhonggang, of the Qing dynasty, and is commonly referred to as the "Mao Critique Edition". The front of the volume was entitled "Top of the Four Wonder Books", while the front page and center of the folio are both annotated "Most Brilliant Writing of Talent and Taste", showing that both titles have been adopted by bookstores in general and are used to market the books. In fact, "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" was named "Top of the Four Wonder Books" by Li Yu of the late Ming dynasty, with the other three books, "Water Margin", "Journey to the West" and "Jin Ping Mei"; Mao Zongkang named "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as the "Most Brilliant Writing of Talent and Taste" in imitation of the late Ming literary talent Jin Shentan's critique of the six masterpieces.

Therefore the front page of the book was printed with the brand of the famous Shanghai bookstore, Saoye shanfang, during the reign of Guangxu period, and was entitled "Mao Shenshang's Critique of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms/ Most Brilliant Writing of Talent and Taste/ Saoye shanfang edition". At the top it was annotated "Masterpiece lost by Jin Shengtan", and at the bottom it was impressed in red seal with the words "Published and supervised by Saoye shanfang". Mao Lun, also known as Teyin and Shenshan, and Mao Zongkang, known as Xushi and Juean, both were native of Changzhou in Jiangsu. This brand shows that the Saoye shangfang of Shanghai was using the most popular Mao Critique Edition, and it was the commonly seen printed edition in bookstores at the time.

The entire book consisted of 120 chapters in 19 volumes, and at the commencement of the main volume the individual portraits of the 40 male and female characters appeared in the story, including Liu Bei, Guan Zhuangmo and Zhang Huanho, were depicted; these were followed by a single full page of the illustration of "Three Honorary Brothers in the Peach Garden", and finally the preface by the bookstore upon the reprint. This edition was in line with Li Zhuowu's practice of revising the 240 chapters into 120 chapters, but the main text had been edited by the Maos, not only to make the story more elegant and easier to read, but also added their own critiques and included poetry from the Tang, Song and Qing dynasties. The main text began with the Ming poet Yang Shen's poetic phrase: "The Yantze River rolls east" from "God by the River". All readers praised this edition as being elegant and easy to read, making it the most popular edition to this date.