Three Kingdoms is a classic historical novel. It was also the first Chinese novel with each chapter headed by a couplet giving the gist of the content. It describes the power struggles among the kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu, headed by Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, respectively, in the period known to Chinese history as that of the Three Kingdoms (220 – 280). It highlights the sharp and complicated political and military conflicts of that time, and had a far-reaching influence on the political and military strategies of later ages. The novel vividly portrays the individuality of the historical characters, including Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Besides being a work of epic grandeur, its literary merit has had a great impact on China ‘s literature and art, and social life as well.
Three Kingdoms was first published in the period which saw the demise of the Yuan Dynasty and the rise of the Ming Dynasty. Many stories about the three kingdoms had circulated among the people before the appearance of the book. Many editions of Three Kingdoms have appeared, and the novel has been translated into foreign languages since the end of the 17th century. This English edition, by US sinologist Moss Roberts, is based on the Mao Zonggang edition published during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).