The Records of the Three Kingdoms is a Chinese historical text which covers the history of the late Eastern Han dynasty (c. 184–220 AD) and the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD). It is widely regarded as the official and authoritative historical text for that period. Written by Chen Shou in the third century, the work combines the smaller histories of the rival states of Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu in the Three Kingdoms period into a single text. The Records of the Three Kingdoms provided the basis for the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century.
|Records of the Three Kingdoms|
|Subject||History of the Three Kingdoms period|
|Records of the Three Kingdoms|
Together with the Records of the Grand Historian, Book of Han and Book of the Later Han, the Records of the Three Kingdoms is part of the early four historiographies of the Twenty-Four Histories canon. It contains 65 volumes and about 360,000 Chinese characters which are 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 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 the state of Shu. After the fall of Shu in 263, he became an official historian under the government of the Jin dynasty, and was assigned to create a history of the Three Kingdoms period. After the fall of Wu in 280, his work received the acclaim of the senior minister Zhang Hua. Prior to the Jin dynasty, both the states of Wei and Wu already had their 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 created the Records of the Three Kingdoms with these preexisting works as a foundation. However, since the state of Shu lacked documents about its history, the Book of Shu in the Records of the Three Kingdoms 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. The Records of the Three Kingdoms used the year 220 AD — which marked the end of the Han dynasty — as the year in which the state of Wei was established. The Records of the Three Kingdoms referred the rulers of Wei as 'Emperors' and those of Shu and Wu as 'Lords' or by their personal names. This was to uphold the legitimacy of the Jin dynasty as the inheritor of the Mandate of Heaven from Wei — because Wei must first be "designated" as the true successor to the Han dynasty in order for Jin's claim to be effective.
The romantic and historical traditions for the Three Kingdoms period have been so confused over the centuries that the Records of the Three Kingdoms is often regarded as an invaluable resource. Although it contains errors, it is nevertheless more historically accurate than the embellishments of writers in later periods. Many of the political, economic and military figures from the Three Kingdoms period have their own biographies in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, as are 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, roughly translated, is as follows:
In the 24th year (of Jian'an), the Former Lord became the King of Hanzhong, and he appointed (Guan) Yu as the General of the Vanguard. In the same year, (Guan) Yu led his men to attack Cao Ren at Fan. Lord Cao sent Yu Jin to aid (Cao) Ren. In 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. Sima Qian employed this device in his Records of the Grand Historian and it can be assumed that Chen Shou also did the same in the Records of the Three Kingdoms. 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 Shu subject, favoured his state over Wu in the work, but this preference was subordinate to the Jin dynasty's point of view, which saw Wei as the legitimate successor to the Han dynasty. He referred to the Wei rulers as 'Emperors', the Shu rulers as 'Lords', and the Wu rulers by their personal names. He also never referred to the Wu empresses as "empresses", instead calling them "Ladies".
The book is also important to the research of Japanese history (where it is known as Sangokushi (三国志)), for its volume on Wa is the first historical document to make explicit mention of Japan. It describes the ancient country of Yamatai and its queen Himiko.
The text includes biographies of historical figures such as Cao Cao and Guan Yu who feature prominently in the 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. 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.
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 AD. 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, Yu Jin, Liu Bei, and Sun Jian.
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.
|Volume 1||武帝紀||Annals of Emperor Wu||Cao Cao|
|Volume 2||文帝紀||Annals of Emperor Wen||Cao Pi|
|Volume 3||明帝紀||Annals of Emperor Ming||Cao Rui|
|Volume 4||三少帝紀||Annals of the three young emperors||Cao Fang, Cao Mao, Cao Huan|
|Volume 5||后妃傳||Biographies of empresses and concubines||Lady Bian, Lady Zhen, Guo Nüwang, Empress Mao, Empress Guo|
|Volume 6||董二袁劉傳||Biographies of Dong, the two Yuans, and Liu||Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu, Liu Biao|
|Volume 7||呂布臧洪傳||Biographies of Lü Bu and Zang Hong||Zhang Miao, Chen Deng|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 9||諸夏侯曹傳||Biographies of the Xiahous and Caos||Xiahou Dun, Han Hao, Xiahou Yuan, Cao Ren, Cao Chun, Cao Hong, Cao Xiu, Cao Zhen, Cao Shuang, Xiahou Shang, Xiahou Xuan|
|Volume 10||荀彧荀攸賈詡傳||Biographies of Xun Yu, Xun You, and Jia Xu|
|Volume 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, Zhang Cheng, Liang Mao, Guo Yuan, Tian Chou, Wang Xiu, Bing Yuan, Guan Ning|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 13||鍾繇華歆王朗傳||Biographies of Zhong Yao, Hua Xin, and Wang Lang||Zhong Yu, Wang Su|
|Volume 14||程郭董劉蔣劉傳||Biographies of Cheng, Dong, Guo, Liu, Jiang, and Liu||Cheng Yu, Cheng Xiao, Guo Jia, Dong Zhao, Liu Ye, Jiang Ji, Liu Fang|
|Volume 15||劉司馬梁張溫賈傳||Biographies of Liu, Sima, Liang, Zhang, Wen, and Jia||Liu Fu, Liu Jing, Sima Lang, Liang Xi, Zhang Ji (Derong), Zhang Ji (Jingzhong), Wen Hui, Jia Kui|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 19||任城陳蕭王傳||Biographies of the princes of Rencheng, Chen, and Xiao||Cao Zhang, Cao Zhi, Cao Xiong|
|Volume 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 (Prince of Pengcheng), Cao Yu, Cao Lin (Prince of Pei), Cao Gun, Cao Xuan, Cao Jun (Prince of Chenliu), Cao Ju (Prince of Fanyang), Cao Gan, Cao Zishang, Cao Biao, Cao Ziqin, Cao Zicheng, Cao Zizheng, Cao Zijing, Cao Jun (Duke of Fan), Cao Ziji, Cao Hui, Cao Mao (Prince of Laoling), Cao Xie, Cao Rui (Prince of Beihai), Cao Jian, Cao Lin (Prince of Donghai), Cao Li, Cao Yong, Cao Gong, Cao Yan|
|Volume 21||王衛二劉傳||Biographies of Wang, Wei, and the two Lius||Wang Can, Wei Ji, Liu Yi, Liu Shao, Fu Jia|
|Volume 22||桓二陳徐衛盧傳||Biographies of Huan, the two Chens, Xu, Wei, and Lu||Huan Jie, Chen Qun, Chen Tai, Chen Jiao, Xu Xuan, Wei Zhen, Lu Yu|
|Volume 23||和常楊杜趙裴傳||Biographies of He, Chang, Yang, Du, Zhao, and Pei||He Qia, Chang Lin, Yang Jun, Du Xi, Zhao Yan, Pei Qian|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 25||辛毗楊阜高堂隆傳||Biographies of Xin Pi, Yang Fu, and Gaotang Long|
|Volume 26||滿田牽郭傳||Biographies of Man, Tian, Qian, and Guo||Man Chong, Tian Yu, Qian Zhao, Guo Huai|
|Volume 27||徐胡二王傳||Biographies of Xu, Hu, and the two Wangs||Xu Miao, Hu Zhi, Wang Chang, Wang Ji|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 29||方技傳||Biographies of fangshis and artisans||Hua Tuo, Du Kui, Zhu Jianping, Zhou Xuan, Guan Lu|
|Volume 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 AD.|
|Volume 31||劉二牧傳||Biographies of the two Governor Lius||Liu Yan, Liu Zhang|
|Volume 32||先主傳||Biography of the Former Lord||Liu Bei|
|Volume 33||後主傳||Biography of the Later Lord||Liu Shan|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 35||諸葛亮傳||Biography of Zhuge Liang||Zhuge Qiao, Zhuge Zhan, Dong Jue|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 37||龐統法正傳||Biographies of Pang Tong and Fa Zheng|
|Volume 38||許麋孫簡伊秦傳||Biographies of Xu, Mi, Sun, Jian, Yi, and Qin||Xu Jing, Mi Zhu, Mi Fang, Sun Qian, Jian Yong, Yi Ji, Qin Mi|
|Volume 39||董劉馬陳董呂傳||Biographies of Dong, Liu, Ma, Chen, Dong, and Lü||Dong He, Liu Ba, Ma Liang, Ma Su, Chen Zhen, Dong Yun, Chen Zhi, Huang Hao, Lü Yi|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 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, Zhang Yu, Du Qiong, Xu Ci, Hu Qian, Meng Guang, Lai Min, Yin Mo, Li Zhuan, Qiao Zhou, Xi Zheng|
|Volume 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 Ni|
|Volume 44||蔣琬費禕姜維傳||Biographies of Jiang Wan, Fei Yi, and Jiang Wei|
|Volume 45||鄧張宗楊傳||Biographies of Deng, Zhang, Zong, and Yang||Deng Zhi, Zhang Yi, Zong Yu, Liao Hua, Yang Xi|
|Volume 46||孫破虜討逆傳||Biographies of Sun Who Destroys Barbarians, and Sun Who Attacks Rebels||Sun Jian, Sun Ce|
|Volume 47||吳主傳||Biography of the Lord of Wu||Sun Quan|
|Volume 48||三嗣主傳||Biographies of the three heirs||Sun Liang, Sun Xiu, Sun Hao|
|Volume 49||劉繇太史慈士燮傳||Biographies of Liu Yao, Taishi Ci, and Shi Xie||Ze Rong, Liu Ji|
|Volume 50||妃嬪傳||Biographies of concubines and ladies||Lady Wu, Wu Jing, Lady Xie, Lady Xu, Bu Lianshi, Empress Dayi, Empress Jinghuai, Empress Pan, Quan Huijie, Empress Zhu, Empress Dowager He, Teng Fanglan|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 52||張顧諸葛步傳||Biographies of Zhang, Gu, Zhuge, and Bu||Zhang Zhao, Zhang Cheng, Zhang Xiu, Gu Yong, Gu Shao, Gu Tan, Gu Cheng, Zhuge Jin, Bu Zhi|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 54||周瑜魯肅呂蒙傳||Biographies of Zhou Yu, Lu Su, and Lü Meng|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 56||朱治朱然呂範朱桓傳||Biographies of Zhu Zhi, Zhu Ran, Lü Fan, and Zhu Huan||Shi Ji, Zhu Yi|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 58||陸遜傳||Biography of Lu Xun||Lu Kang|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 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|
|Volume 61||潘濬陸凱傳||Biographies of Pan Jun and Lu Kai|
|Volume 62||是儀胡綜傳||Biographies of Shi Yi and Hu Zong|
|Volume 63||吳範劉惇趙達傳||Biographies of Wu Fan, Liu Dun, and Zhao Da|
|Volume 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 Chen, Puyang Xing|
|Volume 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|
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 contemporary sources, and the completed work made the book close 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, 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.
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. Parts of that project are published by Robert Joe Cutter and William Gordon Crowell under the title Empresses and Consorts: Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States With Pei Songzhi's Commentary (University of Hawaii Press, 1999), which includes the translations for volumes 5, 34, and 50.
Other translations include Kenneth J. Dewoskin's Doctors Diviners and Magicians of Ancient China: Biographies of Fang-Shih (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.
Below is a table containing the known English translations of the Records of the Three Kingdoms that have been published in academia:
|Volume||Title of translation||Translator(s)||Publish year||URL/page numbers||Notes|
|5 (Wei 5)||Empresses and Consorts: Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States With Pei Songzhi's Commentary||Robert Joe Cutter and William Gordon Crowell||1999||pp. 89–114||Lady Bian, Lady Zhen, Guo Nüwang, Empress Mao, Empress Guo|
|8 (Wei 8)||Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 2nd Ed||Patricia Buckley Ebrey||2009||pp.84-5||The section titled "Heterodox Bandits" is an unannotated translation of the Dianlüe footnote of the Zhang Lu chapter, about Zhang Xiu (張脩)|
|9 (Wei 9)||Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook||Timothy M. Davis||2013||pp. 135-46||Translation of the correspondence between Xiahou Xuan and Sima Yi from the biography of Xiahou Xuan|
|29 (Wei 29)||Doctors Diviners and Magicians of Ancient China: Biographies of Fang-Shih||Kenneth J. Dewoskin||1983||Hua Tuo, Du Kui, Zhu Jianping, Zhou Xuan, Guan Lu|
|30 (Wei 30)||Sourcebook of Korean Civilization: Volume One: From Early Times to the 16th Century||Michael C. Rogers||1993||pp.13-24||Buyeo, Goguryeo, Okjeo, Yemaek, Samhan (abridged, Yilou omitted)|
|Japan in the Chinese dynastic histories: Later Han through Ming dynasties||Ryūsaku Tsunoda and Luther Carrington Goodrich||1951||pp. 8–16||Wa (Japan) only|
|The Peoples of the West from the Weilüe 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE.||John E. Hill||2004||||Translation of the long Xirong footnote from the Weilüe, includes descriptions of the Western Regions including Rome|
|31 (Shu 1)||Record of The Three Kingdoms: The History of Shu - Fascicle One: “The Two Shepherds Liu”||William Gordon Crowell||2005||||Liu Yan, Liu Zhang|
|32 (Shu 2)||Record of The Three Kingdoms: The History of Shu - Fascicle Two: “The Former Lord”||William Gordon Crowell||2006||||Liu Bei|
|34 (Shu 4)||Empresses and Consorts: Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States With Pei Songzhi's Commentary||Robert Joe Cutter and William Gordon Crowell||1999||pp. 115-21||Lady Gan, Empress Wu, Empress Zhang (former), Empress Zhang (later), Liu Yong, Liu Li, Liu Xuan|
|39 (Shu 9)||Record of The Three Kingdoms: The History of Shu - Fascicle Nine: Biographies of Dong He, Liu Ba, Ma Liang, Chen Zhen, Dong Yun, and Lü Yi||William Gordon Crowell||2006||||Dong He, Liu Ba, Ma Liang, Ma Su, Chen Zhen, Dong Yun, Chen Zhi, Lü Yi|
|42 (Shu 12)||Sanguo Zhi Fascicle 42: The Biography of Qiao Zhou||J. Michael Farmer||2017||||Qiao Zhou only|
|46 (Wu 1)||The Biography of Sun Chien: Being an Annotated Translation of Pages 1 to 8a of Chüan 46 of the San-kuo Chih of Ch'en Shou in the Po-na Edition||Rafe de Crespigny||1966||Sun Jian only|
|49 (Wu 4)||Men of Hu, Men of Han, Men of the hundred man: the biography of Sī Nhiêp and the conceptualization of early Vietnamese society||Stephen O'Harrow||1986||pp. 259-65||Shi Xie only|
|50 (Wu 5)||Empresses and Consorts: Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States With Pei Songzhi's Commentary||Robert Joe Cutter and William Gordon Crowell||1999||pp. 122-36||Lady Wu, Wu Jing, Lady Xie, Lady Xu, Bu Lianshi, Empress Dayi, Empress Jinghuai, Empress Pan, Quan Huijie, Empress Zhu, Empress Dowager He, Teng Fanglan|