Records of the Three Kingdoms

The Records of the Three Kingdoms is a Chinese historical text which covers the history of the late Eastern Han dynasty (c. 184–220 CE) and the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 CE). The primary body of the text was written by Chen Shou in the third century and combines the smaller histories of Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu into a single text.

The Records of the Grand Historian, Book of Han and Book of the Later Han, and the Records of the Three Kingdoms make up the four early historical texts of the Twenty-Four Histories canon. The Records of the Three Kingdoms, also known as Sanguo zhi, contains 65 volumes and about 360,000 Chinese characters broken into three books. The Book of Wei contains 30 volumes, the Book of Shu 15 volumes, while the Book of Wu contains 20 volumes. Each volume is organised in the form of one or more biographies.

The author Chen Shou, was born in present-day Nanchong, Sichuan, in the state of Shu Han. After the Conquest of Shu by Wei in 263, he became an official historian under the government of the Jin dynasty, and was assigned the task of creating a history of the Three Kingdoms period. After the Conquest of Wu by Jin in 280, his work received the acclaim of senior minister Zhang Hua. Prior to the Jin dynasty, both the states of Cao Wei and Wu has already composed their own official histories, such as the Book of Wei by Wang Chen, the Weilüe by Yu Huan, and the Book of Wu by Wei Zhao. Chen Shou used these texts as the foundation of the Records of the Three Kingdoms. However, since the state of Shu lacked documents about its history, the Book of Shu in the Records was composed by Chen Shou himself based on his personal memories of his early life in Shu and other primary sources he collected, such as the writings of Zhuge Liang.[1][verification needed] The Records of the Three Kingdoms used the year 220 CE—which marks the end of the Han dynasty—as the year in which the state of Wei was established. The Records refer to the rulers of Wei as 'Emperors' and those of Shu and Wu as 'Lords' or by their personal names.

During the fifth century, the Liu Song dynasty historian Pei Songzhi (372–451) extensively edited and annotated Chen Shou's Records of the Three Kingdoms using a variety of other sources, augmenting the text to twice the length of the original. This work, completed in 429, became the official history of the Three Kingdoms period, under the title Sanguozhi zhu (zhu meaning "notes"). He went about providing detailed explanations to some of the geography and other elements mentioned in the original. More importantly, Pei Songzhi made the effort to include multiple accounts of the same events, some of which contradict each other, since he could not decide which version was the correct one. 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.

If there is something that Chen Shou failed to mention, and if it is something that should be remembered, then I have collected other records to fill in the gap. Sometimes there are two accounts of the same incident, though there may be errors or irrelevancies in the text. Sometimes an event is described in two quite different ways and I do not feel that I can decide between them. In all such cases I have put in the variant versions to show the different traditions. If one account is clearly wrong, and what it says is not logically sound, then I note which is right in order to correct the mistake. On occasion, I argue with Chen Shou in his judgment of events or on minor points of fact.[2]

The Records are important to the research of early Korean (삼국지 Samguk ji) and Japanese history (Sangokushi (三国志)). It provides, among other things, the first detailed account of Korean and Japanese societies such as Goguryeo, Yemaek and Wa, as well as the Yamatai-koku and its ruler Queen Himiko. The Japanese started writing their own records in the early 7th century and the earliest extant native record is the Kojiki of 712.[3]

The text forms the foundation on which the 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms is based. In addition, Chen Shou's literary style and vivid portrayal of characters have been a source of influence for the novel. The text is the last of the "Four Histories" (四史), which together influenced and served as a model for Korean and Japanese official histories.[4]

Due to the biographical rather than primarily annalistic arrangement of the work, assigning dates to the historical content is both imprecise and non-trivial. Certain volumes contain background information about their subjects' forebears which date back centuries before the main record. For example, the biography of Liu Yan begins with discussing his ancestor Liu Yu's enfeoffment at Jingling (present-day Tianmen, Hubei) in around 85 CE.[5] The first event to receive detailed description throughout the work is the Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184. Many biographies make passing mention of the event, but more concrete information such as correspondence and troop movements during the uprising can be found in fragmentary form in at least four volumes: the biographies of Cheng Yu,[6] Yu Jin,[7] Liu Bei,[8] and Sun Jian.[9]

The three books in the Records of the Three Kingdoms end at different dates, with the main section of the Book of Wei ending with the abdication of Cao Huan in 265, the Book of Shu ending with the death of Liu Shan in 271, and the Book of Wu ending with the death of Sun Hao in 284.[10]

The Records of the Three Kingdoms has not been fully translated into English. William Gordon Crowell alludes to a project to translate Chen Shou's work with Pei Songzhi's commentary in full, but it was apparently discontinued.[11] Parts of that project are published by Robert Joe Cutter and William Gordon Crowell under the title (University of Hawaii Press, 1999), which includes the translations for volumes 5, 34, and 50.[12]

Empresses and Consorts: Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States With Pei Songzhi's Commentary

Other translations include Kenneth J. Dewoskin's (Columbia University Press, 1983), which includes a full translation of volume 29. Rafe de Crespigny, in addition to his translation of Sun Jian's biography (Volume 46), also translated excerpts of the Records of the Three Kingdoms in his translation of the Zizhi Tongjian that deals with the last years of the Han dynasty, as does Achilles Fang, who translated the Zizhi Tongjian volumes that deal with the Three Kingdoms period proper. Further excerpts of the Records can be found in various sourcebooks dealing with East Asian history.

Doctors Diviners and Magicians of Ancient China: Biographies of Fang-Shih

Below is a table containing the known English translations of the Records of the Three Kingdoms that have been published in academia: