Category Archives: About ROTK

Interview on Podcasting Smarter

I was recently interviewed for an episode on Podbean’s “Podcasting Smarter” podcast. My conversation with the host, Jennifer Crawford, wasn’t particularly ROTK-centric, but rather focused more on the nuts and bolts of podcasting. Check it out if you are interested.

On a related note, we are currently one of Podbean’s featured podcasts, as well as its Podcast of the Week. Thanks to Podbean for the honor and for its efforts to help listeners discover its shows. Such exposure is particularly meaningful to independent podcasts like this one.


If You Need A List of All the Characters …

A commenter requested a list of all the characters with pictures. If that’s something you’re looking for as well, check out the searchable, sortable character bios database over at The really cool thing about this database is that for many characters, it includes not only biographical info from the novel, but also from other historical sources, including the Records of the Three Kingdoms.

A note on pictures: The reason you don’t see many images on this site is that I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to copyrights. While there are some public-domain images for some of the major characters, for most of the supporting cast, the images available are from either the video game series or the TV shows and movies. While there may be a fair-use justification for using some of these, it’s a big hassle and not at all clear-cut, so I just steer clear of that headache altogether.

Differences Between ROTK and Records of the Three Kingdoms

Records of the Three Kingdoms

A listener asked me recently if I could provide a point-by-point comparison of the differences between Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Records of the Three Kingdoms. My answer is that I am not enough of a historian to be able to do that. For those who are not familiar with it, Records is an actual historical document written by an official who lived in the tail end of the Three Kingdoms period, while ROTK, written about 1,000 years later, is often called 70 percent history and 30 percent fiction.

If you are interested, I did come across an article (PDF) that looks at a few of the differences between the two works. And of course, if you know of other resources on this topic, please do share.

Pictured: A reprint of the Records of the Three Kingdoms (Source: Wikipedia)

Explaining the Children’s Song from Episode 011

At the end of episode 011, Dong Zhuo heard the lyrics to a children’s song, which went:

“A thousand li of green green grass,
Beyond the tenth day, one cannot last.”

When Dong Zhuo asked Li Su what this meant, Li Su gave him some hogwash about it signifying the wane of the Liu clan (the house of Han) and the rise of the Dong clan. To explain what these words really mean, we need to delve into a visual exploration of the Chinese characters in the song. So it’s better to do it here on the blog than in a podcast episode.

Here are the lyrics in Chinese, with the literal English translation underneath:

dong zhuo childrens song 1

  • 里 (li): A Chinese unit of measurement for distances. According to Wikipedia, during the Han dynasty, one li equaled 415.8 meters or about 0.25 miles.
  • 卜 (prediction): This means prediction in the context of fortune-telling.

Now, take the first three characters of the first line, put them in reverse order, stack them vertically, and keep only the top part of the character 草 (grass), and this is what you get:

dong zhuo childrens song 2

Do the same with the first three characters of the second line:

dong zhuo childrens song 3

Get it? Now you can guess the rough true meaning of the lyrics.

A few other relevant notes:

  • In most such Chinese wordplay, the convention is to stack the characters from top to bottom in the order they appear. In this case, though, the order is reversed, going from bottom to top. This flip is symbolic of Dong Zhuo’s disregard for the proper order — bullying the emperor (who sits at the top) from the position of a servant of the throne (the bottom).
  • The words 青青 (green green) signify “eruption” or “explosion”, which refers to Dong Zhuo’s abuse of power.
  • This song originally came from the Book of the Later Han, a history of the Eastern Han Dynasty that was written some 200 years after the period.


About the Opening Poem

The poem at the beginning of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (see episode 001) was not part of the original version of the novel. In fact, it was written by a poet named Yang Shen, who lived almost a century AFTER Luo Guanzhong, the man usually credited with writing ROTK.

So how did it end up at the beginning of the novel and become so closely associated with the book? In the 1660s, during the Qing dynasty, the father-and-son team of Mao Lun and Mao Zonggang made significant edits to Luo Guanzhong’s version, and the result of their work is the basis of the version of ROTK that has become known to readers today. As part of their edits, they added Yang Shen’s poem to the beginning of the novel. If you are interested, here is an in-depth analysis of the myriad changes made by the Maos.


Painting with calligraphy of the poem