Records of the Three Kingdoms

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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
A Fragment of Biography of Bu Zhi History Books of Three Kingdoms 01 2012-12
A fragment of the biography of Bu Zhi from the Records of the Three Kingdoms, part of the Dunhuang manuscripts
Author Chen Shou
Original title 三國志
Country China
Language Classical Chinese
Subject History of the Three Kingdoms period
Publication date
3rd century
Records of the Three Kingdoms
Traditional Chinese 三國志
Simplified Chinese 三国志
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyin Sān guó zhì
Wade–Giles San1 kuo2 chih4
IPA [sán kwǒ ʈʂɨ̂]
Yue: Cantonese
Yale Romanization Sāam gwok ji
Jyutping Saam1 gwok3 zi3
Southern Min
Hokkien POJ Sam-kok-chì
Tâi-lô Sam-kok-tsì

Origin and structure

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.[1]‹The template Verify source is being considered for deletion.›  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.

Historical record

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.[2]

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".[3]‹The template Verify source is being considered for deletion.› 

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.



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.[4] 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,[5] Yu Jin,[6] Liu Bei,[7] and Sun Jian.[8]

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.[9]

Book of Wei (魏書)

# Title Translation Notes
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.

Book of Shu (蜀書)

# Title Translation Notes
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, 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, Luo Xian, 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

Book of Wu (吳書)

# Title Translation Notes
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 Fen, 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 Xu Xiang
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

See also



  1. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 946
  2. ^ (二十四年,先主為漢中王,拜羽為前將軍,假節鉞。是歲,羽率眾攻曹仁於樊。曹公遣於禁助仁。秋,大霖雨,漢水汎溢,禁所督七軍皆沒。) Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  3. ^ Roberts 1991, pg. 947
  4. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 31.
  5. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 14.
  6. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  7. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 32.
  8. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 46.
  9. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 28.


  • Chen, Shou (1977) [280s or 290s]. Pei, Songzhi, ed. 三國志 [Records of the Three Kingdoms]. Taipei: Dingwen Printing.
  • Cutter, Robert Joe (2015). "San guo zhi 三國志". In Chennault, Cynthia L.; Knapp, Keith N.; Berkowitz, Alan J.; Dien, Albert E. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. pp. 250–57. ISBN 1-55729-109-8.
  • Roberts, Moss, tr. Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel (1991) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22503-1
  • Zhang, Xiuping; et al. (1993). 100 Books That Influenced China: Sanguo Zhi (in Chinese). Nanning: Guangxi People's Press. ISBN 9787219023396.

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