The Immortal Novel? ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms,’ First Chinese Novel, Celebrates 500 Years

Spread the love (Jan. 19, 2023)–As China celebrates the Lunar New Year, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” the first (great) Chinese novel, first printed in 1522, eighty-three years earlier than “Don Quixote,” the first great western novel.

Commonly attributed to the Chinese playwright Luo Guanzhong, this timeless and sweeping epic is a singular masterpiece with vast influence in today’s Chinese and East Asian civilization.

After five centuries, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is still as popular, as beloved, and as revered as ever. Not only in China but all throughout East Asia. It has been read by more mortals, and has exerted vastly more influence on them than Miguel Cervantes’ magnum opus “Don Quixote.”

Unlike ‘Don Quixote,’ a satire about the delusional misadventures of a demented old knight who had read a bit too much of chivalric romances , the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is based mostly on a turbulent era in Chinese history. The year 220 C.E., when the great Han dynasty, after ruling China for four centuries, collapsed and split into three warring states.

Strictly speaking, 2022 was the 500th anniversary. But since we’re still in the last gasp of the old lunar year and the Chinese new year is not yet, we say it’s fine to celebrate this great milestone for this profound, riveting, and awe-inspiring novel. Indeed, for this seemingly eternal novel, a few days here or there won’t make any real difference.

May we be able to say that about our own mortal lives.

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