Records of Three Kingdoms

Records of Three Kingdoms

Records of Three Kingdoms (simplified Chinese: 三国志; traditional Chinese: 三國志; pinyin: Sānguó Zhì), is regarded as the official and authoritative historical text on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history covering the years 184-280 CE. Written by Chen Shou in the 3rd century, the work combines the smaller histories of the rival states of Cao Wei (曹魏), Shu Han (蜀漢) and Eastern Wu (東吳) of the Three Kingdoms into a single text. Records of Three Kingdoms provided the basis for the later historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written in the 14th century.


Origin and structure

Together with the Records of the Grand Historian, Book of Han and Book of Later Han, the book is part of the early four historiographies of the Twenty-Four Histories canon. It contains 65 volumes and about 360,000 words which are broken into three books. The Book of Wei contains 30 volumes, the Book of Shu contains 15 volumes while the Book of Wu contains 20 volumes. Each volume is organised in the form of one or more biographies. The amount of space a biography takes up is dictated by the importance of the figure.

The original author was Chen Shou, who was born in present day Nanchong, Sichuan, in Kingdom of Shu. After the fall of Shu in 263, he became the Gentleman of Works, and was assigned to create a history of the Three Kingdoms. After the fall of Wu in 280, his work received the acclaim of senior minister Zhang Hua. Earlier to the period, the state of Wei and Wu both had their own histories and it was with these works as basis that he began his work. But since the state of Shu lacked a history of its own, the data was composed by him according to what he could remember, as well as primary documents, such as the works of Zhuge Liang, which he had collected.[1][verification needed] The book used the date after the fall of Han Dynasty in 220 as standard for the state of Wei. The Book of Wei referred the rulers of Wei as emperors, whilst the rulers of Shu were referred to as lords, and rulers of Wu only by their names or with the title 'the Wu ruler'. This is to uphold the legitimacy of the court of Jin as inheritor of the Mandate of Heaven from Wei. The use of title 'lord' for the rulers of Shu shows in part his sympathy towards his native land[verification needed].

Annotations from Pei Songzhi

In the 5th century, the work was further annotated by Pei Songzhi (裴松之) (372-451),[2] who was born in present day Yuncheng, Shanxi. After leaving his native land, he became the Gentleman of Texts under Song of Southern Dynasties, and was given the assignment of editing the book, which was completed in 429. This became the official history of the Three Kingdoms period, under the title Sanguozhi zhu (zhu meaning "notes").[2][verification needed] He went about providing detailed explanations to some of the geography and other elements mentioned in the original. More importantly, he made corrections to the work, in consultation with records he collected of the period. In regard to historical events and figures, as well as Chen Shou's opinions, he added his own commentary. From his broad research, he was able to create a history which was relatively complete, without many of the loose ends of the original. Some of the added material was colorful and of questionable authenticity, possibly fictional.[2] All the additional material made for a book three times the length of the original.[2]

Records of Three Kingdoms as historical record

The romantic and historical traditions for the period of Three Kingdoms have been so confused in the centuries that the Records of Three Kingdoms is often regarded as an invaluable resource. Its information, although contained errors itself, is nevertheless much more accurate than the embellishments of later writers. Many of the political, economic and military figures from the period of Three Kingdoms are included in the work as well as those who contributed to the fields of culture, arts and science. In its nature the work is indeed a chronicle, much like those of early Medieval Europe written much later. The text is bland and little more than a collection of historical facts. A typical extract:

In 219, the Former Lord became King of Hanzhong, and made Guan Yu General of the Vanguard. In the same year, Guan Yu attacked Cao Ren at Fan with his followers. Lord Cao sent Yu Jin to aid Cao Ren. In the autumn, great rains caused the Han River to flood, Yu Jin and the seven armies were lost.

From this we can establish reasonably accurately the flow of events and how history unfolded but almost nothing about society or elements of institutions or policies.

The amount of creative imagination used in ancient Chinese historical narratives - of 'fictionalising', is impossible to estimate precisely. The great historian Sima Qian employed this device in his work and it can be assumed that Chen Shou also did this in his text. It is highly unlikely that various remarks which leaders or soldiers are supposed to have made in the heat of battle could have been taken down stenographically and thus many of them may be false.

Chen Shou, a former subject of Shu Han, favored his state over Eastern Wu in the work, but this preference was subordinate to the Jin Dynasty viewpoint, which saw Cao Wei as the legitimate successor of the Han. He referred to the Cao Wei emperors as emperors, the Shu Han emperors as lords, and the Eastern Wu emperors by name or as "rulers", and never referred to the Wu wives as empresses, instead referring to them as ladies.[2][verification needed]

The book is also important to the research of Japan's history (where it is known as Sangokushi (三国志?)), for its volume on the Wa people is the first historical document to make explicit mention of Japan. It describes the ancient country of Yamataikoku and its queen, Himiko.


Book of Wei (魏書)

# Title Translation Notes
1 武帝紀 Biography of Emperor Wu Cao Cao
2 文帝紀 Biography of Emperor Wen Cao Pi
3 明帝紀 Biography of Emperor Ming Cao Rui
4 三少帝紀 Biography of the three young emperors Cao Fang, Cao Mao, Cao Huan
5 后妃傳 Biographies of empresses and concubines Empress Dowager Bian, Lady Zhen, Guo Nüwang, Empress Mao, Empress Guo
6 董二袁劉傳 Biographies of Dong, the two Yuans, and Liu Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu, Liu Biao
7 呂布臧洪傳 Biographies of Lü Bu and Zang Hong Lü Bu, Zhang Miao, Chen Deng, Zang Hong
8 二公孫陶四張傳 Biographies of the two Gongsuns, Tao, and the four Zhangs Gongsun Zan, Tao Qian, Zhang Yang, Gongsun Du, Zhang Yan, Zhang Xiu, Zhang Lu
9 諸夏侯曹傳 Biographies of the Xiahous and Caos Xiahou Dun, Han Hao, Xiahou Yuan, Cao Ren, Cao Hong, Cao Xiu, Cao Zhen, Xiahou Shang
10 荀彧荀攸賈詡傳 Biographies of Xun Yu, Xun You, and Jia Xu
11 袁張涼國田王邴管傳 Biographies of Yuan, Zhang, Liang, Guo, Tian, Wang, Bing, and Guan Yuan Huan, Zhang Fan, Liang Mao, Guo Yuan, Tian Chou, Wang Xiu, Bing Yuan, Guan Ning
12 崔毛徐何邢司馬傳 Biographies of Cui, Mao, Xu, He, Xing, and Sima Cui Yan, Mao Jie, Xu Yi, He Kui, Xing Yong, Bao Xun, Sima Zhi
13 鍾繇華歆王朗傳 Biographies of Zhong Yao, Hua Xin, and Wang Lang
14 程郭董劉蔣劉傳 Biographies of Cheng, Dong, Guo, Liu, Jiang, and Liu Cheng Yu, Sun Xiao Guo Jia, Dong Zhao, Liu Ye, Jiang Ji, Liu Fang
15 劉司馬梁張溫賈傳 Biographies of Liu, Sima, Liang, Zhang, Wen, and Jia Liu Fu, Sima Lang, Liang Xi, Zhang Ji, Wen Hui, Jia Kui
16 任蘇杜鄭倉傳 Biographies of Ren, Su, Du, Zheng, and Cang Ren Jun, Su Ze, Du Ji, Zheng Hun, Cang Ci
17 張樂于張徐傳 Biographies of Zhang, Yue, Yu, Zhang, and Xu Zhang Liao, Yue Jin, Yu Jin, Zhang He, Xu Huang
18 二李臧文呂許典二龐閻傳 Biographies of the two Lis, Zang, Wen, Lü, Xu, Dian, the two Pangs, and Yan Li Dian, Li Tong, Zang Ba, Wen Ping, Lü Qian, Xu Chu, Dian Wei, Pang De, Pang Yu, Yan Wen
19 任城陳蕭王傳 Biographies of the princes of Rencheng, Chen, and Xiao Cao Zhang, Cao Zhi, Cao Xiong
20 武文世王公傳 Biographies of nobles in Emperors Wu and Wen's time Cao Ang, Cao Shuo, Cao Chong, Cao Ju, Cao Yu, Cao Lin, Cao Gun, Cao Xuan, Cao Jun, Cao Ju, Cao Gan, Cao Shang, Cao Biao, Cao Qin, Cao Cheng, Cao Zheng, Cao Jing, Cao Jun, Cao Ji, Cao Hui, Cao Mao, Cao Xie, Cao Mao, Cao Lin, Cao Li, Cao Yong, Cao Gong, Cao Yan
21 王衛二劉傳 Biographies of Wang, Wei, and the two Lius Wang Can, Wei Ji, Liu Yi, Liu Shao, Fu Jia
22 桓二陳徐衛盧傳 Biographies of Huan, the two Chens, Xu, Wei, and Lu Huan Jie, Chen Qun, Chen Jiao, Xu Xuan, Wei Zhen, Lu Yu
23 和常楊杜趙裴傳 Biographies of He, Chang, Yang, Du, Zhao, and Pei He Qia, Chang Lin, Yang Jun, Zhao Yan, Pei Qian
24 韓崔高孫王傳 Biographies of Han, Cui, Gao, Sun, and Wang Han Ji, Cui Lin, Gao Rou, Sun Li, Wang Guan
25 辛毗楊阜高堂隆傳 Biographies of Xin Pi, Yang Fu, and Gaotang Long
26 滿田牽郭傳 Biographies of Man, Tian, Qian, and Guo Man Chong, Tian Yu, Qian Zhao, Guo Huai
27 徐胡二王傳 Biographies of Xu, Hu, and the two Wangs Xu Miao, Hu Zhi, Wang Chang, Wang Ji
28 王毌丘諸葛鄧鍾傳 Biographies of Wang, Guanqiu, Zhuge, Deng and Zhong Wang Ling, Guanqiu Jian, Zhuge Dan, Deng Ai, Zhong Hui
29 方技傳 Biographies of fangshis and artisans Hua Tuo, Du Kui, Zhu Jianping, Zhou Xuan, Guan Lu
30 烏丸鮮卑東夷傳 Biographies of the Wuhuan, Xianbei, and Dongyi Wuhuan, Xianbei, Buyeo, Goguryeo, Okjeo, Yilou, Yemaek, Samhan, Wa; and a long footnote at the end containing the chapter on the Xirong, or ‘Peoples of the West’ from the Weilüe, or “Brief Account of the Wei Dynasty,” composed by Yu Huan in the second third of the 3rd century CE.

Book of Shu (蜀書)

# Title Translation Notes
31 劉二牧傳 Biographies of the two Governor Lius Liu Yan, Liu Zhang
32 先主傳 Biography of the Former Lord Liu Bei
33 後主傳 Biography of the Later Lord Liu Shan
34 二主妃子傳 Biographies of concubines and sons of the two Lords Lady Gan, Empress Wu, Empress Zhang (former), Empress Zhang (later), Liu Yong, Liu Li, Liu Xuan
35 諸葛亮傳 Biography of Zhuge Liang
36 關張馬黃趙傳 Biographies of Guan, Zhang, Ma, Huang, and Zhao Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, Huang Zhong, Zhao Yun
37 龐統法正傳 Biographies of Pang Tong and Fa Zheng
38 許麋孫簡伊秦傳 Biographies of Xu, Mi, Sun, Jian, Yi, and Qin Xu Jing, Mi Zhu, Sun Qian, Jian Yong, Yi Ji, Qin Mi
39 董劉馬陳董呂傳 Biographies of Dong, Liu, Ma, Chen, Dong, and Lü Dong He, Liu Ba, Ma Liang, Chen Zhen, Dong Yun, Lü Yi
40 劉彭廖李劉魏楊傳 Biographies of Liu, Peng, Liao, Li, Liu, Wei, and Yang Liu Feng, Peng Yang, Liao Li, Li Yan, Liu Yan, Wei Yan, Yang Yi
41 霍王向張楊費傳 Biographies of Huo, Wang, Xiang, Zhang, Yang, and Fei Huo Jun, Huo Yi, Wang Lian, Xiang Lang, Xiang Chong, Zhang Yi, Yang Hong, Fei Shi, Wang Chong
42 杜周杜許孟來尹李譙郤傳 Biographies of Du, Zhou, Du, Xu, Meng, Lai, Yin, Li, Qiao, and Xi Du Wei, Zhou Qun, Du Qiong, Xu Ci, Meng Guang, Lai Min, Yin Mo, Li Zhuan, Qiao Zhou, Xi Zheng
43 黃李呂馬王張傳 Biographies of Huang, Li, Lü, Ma, Wang, and Zhang Huang Quan, Li Hui, Lü Kai, Ma Zhong, Wang Ping, Zhang Yi
44 蔣琬費禕姜維傳 Biographies of Jiang Wan, Fei Yi, and Jiang Wei
45 鄧張宗楊傳 Biographies of Deng, Zhang, Zong, and Yang Deng Zhi, Zhang Yi, Zong Yu, Yang Xi

Book of Wu (吳書)

# Title Translation Notes
46 孫破虜討逆傳 Biographies of Sun Who Defeats Barbarians, and Sun Who Attacks Rebels Sun Jian, Sun Ce
47 吳主傳 Biography of the Lord of Wu Sun Quan
48 三嗣主傳 Biographies of the three heirs Sun Liang, Sun Xiu, Sun Hao
49 劉繇太史慈士燮傳 Biographies of Liu Yao, Taishi Ci, and Shi Xie Liu Yao, Ze Rong, Liu Ji, Taishi Ci, Shi Xie
50 妃嬪傳 Biographies of concubines and ladies Lady Wu, Lady Xie, Lady Xu, Bu Lianshi, Lady Wang, Lady Wang, Empress Pan, Quan Huijie, Empress Zhu, Empress Dowager He, Teng Fanglan
51 宗室傳 Biographies of nobles Sun Jing, Sun Yu, Sun Jiao, Sun Huan, Sun Ben, Sun Fu, Sun Yi, Sun Kuang, Sun Shao, Sun Huan
52 張顧諸葛步傳 Biographies of Zhang, Gu, Zhuge, and Bu Zhang Zhao, Zhang Fen, Zhang Cheng, Zhang Xiu, Gu Yong, Gu Shao, Gu Tan, Gu Cheng, Zhuge Jin, Bu Zhi
53 張嚴程闞薛傳 Biographies of Zhang, Yan, Cheng, Kan, and Xue Zhang Hong, Yan Jun, Cheng Bing, Kan Ze, Xue Zong
54 周瑜魯肅呂蒙傳 Biographies of Zhou Yu, Lu Su, and Lü Meng
55 程黃韓蔣周陳董甘淩徐潘丁傳 Biographies of Cheng, Huang, Han, Jiang, Zhou, Chen, Dong, Gan, Ling, Xu, Pan, and Ding Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, Han Dang, Jiang Qin, Zhou Tai, Chen Wu, Dong Xi, Gan Ning, Ling Tong, Xu Sheng, Pan Zhang, Ding Feng
56 朱治朱然呂範朱桓傳 Biographies of Zhu Zhi, Zhu Ran, Lü Fan, and Zhu Huan
57 虞陸張駱陸吾朱傳 Biographies of Yu, Lu, Zhang, Luo, Lu, Wu, and Zhu Yu Fan, Lu Ji, Zhang Wen, Luo Tong, Lu Mao, Wu Can, Zhu Ju
58 陸遜傳 Biography of Lu Xun
59 吳主五子傳 Biographies of the five sons of the Lord of Wu Sun Deng, Sun Lü, Sun He, Sun Ba, Sun Fen
60 賀全呂周鍾離傳 Biographies of He, Quan, Lü, Zhou, and Zhongli He Qi, Quan Cong, Lü Dai, Zhou Fang, Zhongli Mu
61 潘濬陸凱傳 Biographies of Pan Jun and Lu Kai
62 是儀胡綜傳 Biographies of Shi Yi and Hu Zong Shi Yi, Hu Zong, Xu Xiang
63 吳範劉惇趙達傳 Biographies of Wu Fan, Liu Dun, and Zhao Da
64 諸葛滕二孫濮陽傳 Biographies of Zhuge, Teng, the two Suns, and Puyang Zhuge Ke, Teng Yin, Sun Jun, Sun Lin, Puyang Xing
65 王樓賀韋華傳 Biographies of Wang, Lou, He, Wei, and Hua Wang Fan, Lou Xuan, He Shao, Wei Zhao, Hua He


  1. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 946
  2. ^ a b c d e Roberts1991, pg. 947


  • Roberts, Moss, tr. Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel (1991) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22503-1
  • (Chinese) Zhang Xiuping et al. (1993). 100 Books That Influenced China: Sanguo Zhi. Nanning: Guangxi Renmin Press. ISBN 7-219-02339-1. 

See also

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