This podcast is my attempt to tell the story of the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a way that’s more accessible to an audience who did not grow up in the culture and society that it has permeated for hundreds of years.
Here are a couple media appearances where I discuss the podcast, my motivation for starting it, and the significance of the novel in Chinese culture:
You can learn more about me at john-zhu.com.
I started this project in spring 2014. I try to stick to a schedule where I release one episode a week for three straight weeks, then take a week off before starting the cycle again. This built-in break helps keep me from getting burned out. It’s a LONG novel, so I’m trying to pace myself for the long haul.
Several years ago, a friend recommended The History of Rome podcast to me. That got me interested in podcasts, especially ones about history. As time went on, I started thinking about what I would do a podcast on if I were to attempt one. As it turned out, I had a tough time coming up with a topic that I was an expert in and wasn’t already covered in detail elsewhere on the web.
Then the idea to do a podcast retelling ROTK came to me. I may not be an expert in Chinese history or literature, but I had grown up immersed in the tales from the novel. I still remember my grandfather’s copy of the novel, which had a tea-stained page in the first volume (when I got my own copy later in life, I made sure to get one with the same cover as my grandfather’s). I read the full novel for the first time before I turned 10. I listened to the novel on the radio. I knew the name of every warrior of note on every side. Surely I can retell the story.
More importantly, I want to retell the story because I want to make it accessible to a Western audience. One year, I got my wife — a native-born American — an English translation of the novel as a gift. When I flipped through a few pages, however, it quickly struck me how boring it was. It seemed like a continuous onslaught of strange and similar sounding names of people and places, mixed with often dry descriptions of military campaigns. It may be a faithful translation of the text, but it was not the ROTK that I grew up with.
So I’m going to try to tell the story in a style that’s easier to understand and, hopefully, more interesting than just reading a straight translation. I want to do this because I want to introduce people to a key piece of Chinese history and culture. Put simply, understanding ROTK is akin to understanding Shakespeare, and I would hate for it to remain beyond the reach or patience of the majority of the Western audience simply because of what’s lost in translation.
A few caveats: I’m no professional storyteller or voice actor. In fact, I’m not even that good a public speaker. Also, I’ve done very little audio recording and editing before this. So the early episodes will likely be a bit rough as I try to find my way both in terms of style and techniques. But it’s a novel with 120 chapters, so there is ample time for me to figure it out. Bear with me, and I’ll try hard to make it worth your while. (2015 update: After 50-some episodes, I can confirm that both my style and my recording setup have improved over the course of the podcast.)