Early in the third Century, China's mighty Han kaya collapsed. Native the wreckage arised three kingdoms and also competing warlords through an eye ~ above the throne. Centuries later their struggle to be turned right into China's favourite warfare epic - a story that underlines the sejarah fragility of the empire, and still provides an object lesson in good management.

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The romantic of the three Kingdoms is because that China roughly what Homer is for Europeans, a swashbuckling adventure story, with lots of blood, excitement and craftiness on the battlefield.

Chinese guys live and breathe the story, through its hundreds of personalities in cloaks and long robes and also multiple sub-plots, covering a century the convulsion before the kerajaan was reunited.

"It is a basic truism the this dunia that something long divided will surely unite, and anything lengthy united will surely divide."

These are the opened words the the romantic of the 3 Kingdoms. The action begins hanya as the Han empire is around to break up.


The federal government is struggling come suppress a rebellion through peasants called the Yellow Turbans. The is forced to do what it hates to do: outsource convoy recruitment - and also that provides an opportunist dubbed Liu Bei his big break.

"He had actually fallen ~ above hard waktu and that was produksi a living hanya selling straw sandals and mats," recounts Chinese batu musician Kaiser Kuo, who loved the story of Liu Bei as a child.

"In the cerita he was standing looking in ~ the poster that's been placed up calling because that the brave men of the kingdom to increase up. And he sighs. And also behind him over there is a big burly male by the surname of truong Fei, a butcher, who chastises the for merely sighing and not actually doing something around it."

The two of them go off to have a drink in the warung and come across a man with a red face, a very long beard and a green fight gown, Guan Yu. The 3 of them kemudian swear one oath of eternal brotherhood in a menggali orchard and set about trying to save the Han dynasty.

Our trio stand for the south-west kingdom. Lock face, in the utara kingdom, the cunning and ruthless Cao Cao, and in the south-east the vacillating and also deceitful sun Quan. A mindboggling lot of fighting and double-crossing follows.

"This is the first time the an imperial collapse has actually happened v a strength vacuum ensuing," explains Frances Wood, curator of the eastern Asia mengumpulkan at the brothers Library.

"The Han had actually overthrown the Qin . The was a straightforward regime change, if friend like. However at the end of the Han you obtain fragmentation.

"The major nightmare of every the Chinese in ~ all times is the if there's no main power, kemudian the bangsa is going to split up and that's an extremely much maafkan saya was happening in ~ this time. You get berbeda generals in different parts of China setup up different regimes, and kemudian fighting each other."

The romantic of the 3 Kingdoms is a an excellent corrective to the hypnotising cerita of harmony the Chinese rulers choose to tell when they room in control and trying to stay there.

China is no a readily stable and harmonis country. In fact, federal governments need a an effective narrative of unit precisely due to the fact that China has seperti a tendency to fall apart.

"It's full of fighting. And I mental looking at some historical sites and you watch so numerous remains - weapons, headless bodies. Over there is actually a lot of blood in history, i beg your pardon of course currently we don't typically see in textbooks."

The Confucian password insists that the superior male achieves his sasaran without resort to force. Liu Bei and his enemies menjadi certainly prepared to use intelligence, diplomacy and downright lied if it got them what they wanted. After ~ all, they had actually no shortage of military classics choose Sun Tzu's arts of War.

"A leader leader by instance not by force," he wrote, number of centuries earlier. "To know your enemy, friend must ini adalah your enemy. Avenues multiply as they room seized. Victorious warriors win an initial and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war very first and kemudian seek to win. Develop your enemy a keemasan bridge come retreat across. All war is based on deception."

The film Red Cliff by director john Woo, the paling expensive ever before made in China, retells the cerita of a battle on the Yangtze river, as Cao Cao's navy is moored ~ above one bank ketika Liu Bei and his accomplices room plotting top top the other.

"It's really much hanya about warfare but juga cunning strategy. There are wily generals that do very clever things," states Frances Wood.

"If they run out of arrows, castle send a boat turun the river previous the adversary camp, and the foe thinks, 'Goodness me apa is this?' and they api a million arrows into the side of the boat. And they capture them in straw, and also so that's just how you gain spare arrows.

"So it's penuh of story that room not just about slaying or acquisition territory, but tambahan about gift clever, and also outwitting her enemy."

It is deception not force of numbers that wins the battle of Red Cliff. However there is more scheming come come native Liu Bei and friends.

"Knowing that the adversary has a spy in dari mereka camp, lock publicly beat and humiliate one of the paling important generals so that this is reported bagian belakang and his defection kemudian looks fully authentic," defines Kaiser Kuo.

Consequently, when Cao Cao's military sees the defector's delivery heading toward them, they carry out not carry out anything around it. They space expecting him.

"In fact his ship is laden v flammable materials and also he sets the on api and manages to set a an excellent part that the enemy armada afire. Lock say that the Red Cliffs, the cliffs the give their name to both the famous battle and the john Woo movie are still charred warna hitam to this day due to the fact that of smoke indigenous the burn fleet."

Two thousand years on, the romantic of the 3 Kingdoms is not just a scorch mark and also an escapist adventure story.

Kaiser Kuo says he to be once presented to the Chinese-American founder the a Silicon Valley computing firm, that was born and also raised through these stories and saw them as straight relevant to the company's business.

"He had his senior management team meet every Monday morning to talk about a halaman of 3 Kingdoms," states Kuo.

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"The real story is about how to deploy people of talent. It's really all about management and when I read these story today, ns still find hanya tremendous relevance."

So if you are trying come understand exactly how China works, execute not hanya rely top top pieties from the party leadership. Check out the romantic of the three Kingdoms and awal looking the end for the Liu Beis and the Cao Caos in real life.