The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a historical fiction written in the fourteenth century. It chronicles events that occured towards the end of the Han dynasty when China was divided into three competing kingdoms. One of the kingdoms was lead by Liu Bei, a descendant for the Han nobility with the strongest claim to the throne. His arch-enemy is Cao Cao, a powerful general with the soul of a poet. Liu Bei finds allies in Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, a chivalrous soldier and a loyal but rash warrior, respectively. Another main character is Zhuge Liang, a taoist scholar and war strategist with almost supernatural abilities.
Believed by many to be China's greatest work of classical literature, this sweeping historical novel, written some six hundred years ago, provides a stirring account of the upheaval that followed the break up of the mighty Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). From the days of its composition, Three Kingdoms has fascinated the Chinese, and in the centuries since, has inspired millions of people throughout Asia. It is both an accurate chronicle of events in the chaotic period of the Han empire's dissolution, and a compelling drama on a par with the world’s greatest theater and opera. The Chinese have long considered it the definitive guide to life.
A Definitive Guide to Success and Failure
Three Kingdoms, whose supposed author is Luo Guanzhong, portrays the shifting forces of history through the tales of heroic characters who have become as familiar to Chinese readers as if they strode the Earth today. For those who have never encountered it, it can be daunting; but like the Western classics Iliad and Odyssey, it richly rewards even a minimal effort at understanding. Indeed, in recent years the romance, which runs to 105 chapters, has spawned films and television shows, cartoon versions, and role playing games on the Internet, and out of its cast of hundreds of characters, fans all pick their favorites.
In the aftermath of World War II, as he and other farseeing men of his generation helped transform Thailand into a modern, industrial country, Khun Kiarti relied upon the book’s timeless views concerning gaining and using power. Because the novel chronicles the triumphs and failures of the rulers of three kingdoms that struggled for supremacy after the Han Dynasty fell, it can be read as a treatise about how best to sway, motivate, and exercise authority over others. In fact, it is commonly said by Thais that a person who reads the book three times is guaranteed to behave in a more ruthless fashion, given that most of the story is devoted to how to triumph in the no-holds-barred arena of war. [The book’s insights into how one can exploit other people’s strengths and weaknesses strike many readers as being every bit as profound as those contained in another Chinese classic far better known to Westerners, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which in the 1980s served as inspiration for many CEOs who treated business as battle.
Khun Kiarti identified most fully with Kongming, whom he held to be his true teacher. A shrewd political and military tactician who serves as advisor to Liu Xuande, the warlord who becomes leader of the Shu kingdom,* Kongming plots every move with the skill of a chess Grand Master. He makes up for the diplomatic and strategic savvy his liege lacks. Despite the fact that he is not a warrior, Kongming, wielding only his wits and his trademark feather fan, is responsible ultimately for the deaths of thousands upon the battlefield. The business lesson the young Kiarti derived from Kongming’s example was that it was possible to exercise tremendous influence without being at the apex of an organization or having huge sums of money. Instead, one could find ingenious ways to utilize the resources of others, so that both parties gained mutual benefits—what is known in corporate circles as a win-win situation.
In addition to the figure of Kongming, other characters have bearing on Khun Kiarti’s story. As a young man, the Shu ruler Xuande had campaigned on behalf of the then emperor, Ling, against a group of rebels known as the Yellow Scarves. As Xuande rode to join the fight, he encountered two others who had also mustered to the cause, the fugitive Guan Yu and the butcher Zhang Fei. In a peach garden, the three warriors pledged their undying loyalty to one another, and went on to fight many battles shoulder to shoulder. Kiarti himself had three essential right-hand men, a brother and two nephews, to whom he felt fraternally bound.
Three Kingdoms constantly raises issues that anyone who dares to excel in the world must grapple with. The questions it asks regarding loyalty, unity, and the undercurrents of human nature that run through history are as pertinent today as they were when the events it describes took place, some l800 years ago. Thanks to the novel’s abundance of characters and events, each visitor is likely to find parallels with his or her own life, and take away unique lessons.
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