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Zhuge Liang and the Romance of Three Kingdoms

Updated on October 16, 2017
Zhuge Liang (seated in the centre)
Zhuge Liang (seated in the centre) | Source

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi 三国演义) is a literary masterpiece, written in the 14th century and attributed to Luo Guanzhong. It described 113 years of Chinese history, from 168 A.D. to 280 A.D.

This famous Chinese historical novel detailed an interesting dynastic-cycle: the fall of the Han Dynasty, the division of the Empire into three kingdoms, and the reunification of the country under the Jin Dynasty.

The three kingdoms, namely Cao Wei (曹魏), Shu Han (蜀汉), and Eastern Wu (东吴), are usually collectively referred to as “Sanguo” (三国).

The Cultural Tourist Attraction of Zhuge Liang
The Cultural Tourist Attraction of Zhuge Liang | Source

Three visits to thatched cottage (三顾草庐)

This is a very famous event whereby the imperial uncle Liu Bei (刘备) humbled himself and paid three visits to the thatched cottage of Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮). It was only on the third visit that Zhuge Liang agreed to meet him, as he was moved by Liu Bei’s sincerity.

Zhuge Liang was an intelligent and learned scholar, living in relative seclusion. He was nicknamed “Wolong” (卧龙) (Crouching Dragon) or “Fulong” (伏龙) (Hidden Dragon).

He is said to be 1.85 meter tall, with handsome features, and often depicted as in a long robe and holding a crane-feather hand fan.

Longzhong Dialogue (隆中对)

In their initial meeting, Zhuge Liang analysed to Liu Bei the political situation and envisaged a tripartite division of the country. As Cao Cao (曹操) has the strongest army forces, Liu Bei should avoid direct confrontation with him. He should form alliance with Sun Quan (孙权), in order to deter and resist the more powerful and intimidating Cao Cao.

He advised Liu Bei to take advantage of the weaknesses of the provincial governors of Jing (荆) and Yi (益). The occupation of these two provinces as his regional base was vital for success.

Zhuge Liang also outlined the strategies for re-unifying the country.

The discussion between him and Liu Bei later came to be known as the “Longzhong Dialogue”.

Meritorious services and accomplishments

Zhuge Liang (181 – 234 A.D.) is often recognized as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of the Sanguo period.

From 207 A.D., he became the Military Advisor General of Liu Bei and later the Chancellor. He assisted Liu Bei in establishing the Shu Han Kingdom (蜀汉), even though they had only a small army, as compared to that of Cao Cao and Sun Quan.

After Liu Bei’s death in 222 A.D., Zhuge Liang was appointed as Regent, assisting the new Emperor Liu Shan, son of Liu Bei.

He devoted his life to the founding and survival of the Shu Han Kingdom. At the age of 53, he died of exhaustion during the Battle of Wuzhang Plains in 234 A.D.

His greatest achievement was in the sustaining of the tripartite balance of forces of Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu, despite that Shu Han was the weakest among the three rival states.

His mastery of cavalry and infantry formation tactics, based on the I Ching, was described as unrivalled in the historical novel of Three Kingdoms.

Other names and titles

Zhuge Liang is usually addressed by his zi (字) “Kongming” (孔明) or “Zhuge Kongming” (诸葛孔明). He was granted the title of “Marquis of Wu” (武乡侯) at the time of his appointment as Regent.

Emperor Liu Shan posthumously granted him the title of “Loyal and Martial Marquis” (忠武侯).

As such, he is sometimes referred to as Marquis Wu (武侯) or Zhuge Wu Hou (诸葛武侯).

His name is synonymous with loyalty, wisdom and strategy in Chinese culture.

There are many temples to commemorate him. The Temple of the Marquis of Wu in Chengdu and Baidicheng are the two most famous ones.

Literary works

Zhuge Liang was not only an outstanding military strategist and statesman; he was also an accomplished scholar. Some written works, such as the Thirty-Six Stratagems (三十六计) and Mastering the Art of War, are attributed to him. (Note: The book "Mastering the Art of War" is different from Sun Tzu's Art of War.)

His memorial Chu Shi Biao (出师表) moved many to tears. It was written prior to the Northern Expeditions, and fully reflected his unwavering dedication to Shu Han.

He is also the subject of many Chinese literary works, such as the poem “Eight Diagrams Chart“ (八阵图) by the prominent Tang poet, Du Fu.


The Kongming lantern, wooden ox and flowing horse, mantou, and landmine were believed to be the inventions of Zhuge Liang.

The repeating crossbow is also credited to him and named after him as “Zhuge Crossbow”. However, it was not a new invention as the first model appeared during the Warring States Period. It was just an improved version that can shoot faster and farther.

Famous events

There were many events involving Zhuge Liang. Some of the well-known ones are:

Battle of Red Cliffs (赤壁之战 or 火烧连环船)

Straw Boats Borrow Arrows(草船借箭)

Summoning the Eastern Wind (孔明借东风)

Stone Sentinel Maze (Eight Diagrams Chart) (八阵图)

Empty Fort Strategy (空城计)

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, is well-known to most Chinese readers. The above events have been popularized by the novel, but some are considered to be fictitious.

The official and authoritative historical record for the Three Kingdoms Era is Records of Three Kingdoms (三国志) written by Chen Shou in the 3rd century.

© 2012 pinkytoky


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