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April 2, 2017 4:02 PM   Subscribe

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms podcast is an epic retelling by John Zhu of the Chinese novel of the same name. 123 episodes in, it is still going strong.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the Four Great Classic Novels of ancient China. Covering the span of close to a century, the novel discusses the events that occur between the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty and the rise of the three states of Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. Widely read in China, it's been the subject of numerous Chinese-language retellings and adaptations.

The podcast itself is dedicated to retelling the novel from start to finish. To quote the opening episode:
"I want to do this podcast to help a Western audience understand a key piece of Chinese culture and history. Now, there ARE several English translations of the book. I got one of them for my wife a few years back. But when I flipped through the book, it struck me how boring a faithful translation of the novel was to read. It was just a neverending barrage of strange and similar-sounding names of people and places, mixed with dry accounts of military campaigns. That is not the novel I remember growing up with. And I think the reason is that by the time I started reading the novel, I had already become so well acquainted with the main characters, because they had become a part of popular culture and taken on a life of their own, which is not necessarily reflected in the text of the novel.

So I’m going to try to tell the story with more color instead of just reading straight from a translation of the novel. I think this will make the story more interesting and help my listeners gain a better understanding of the various characters."
John Zhu explains the context of the podcast in a little more depth in an appearance on Sinica podcast.

A translation of the novel is also available online.
posted by steady-state strawberry (11 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
This is thoroughly excellent! I am a terrible perfectionist when it comes to wanting to find translations of novels I want to read, and this seems so much more accessible to me. Thanks!
posted by yueliang at 4:46 PM on April 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Excellent. I have fond memories of RoTK2, but never got around to reading the source material.
posted by zamboni at 5:20 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Does he explain why one should not pursue Lu Bu?

There's some speculation that the next Total War game will be set in China, which would be epic in the extreme.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:38 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Does he explain why one should not pursue Lu Bu?

Probably has something to do with that halberd bonus.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:47 PM on April 2, 2017

I really should reread The Ravages of Time (bestest R3K manhua ever), but every time I reach chapter 70 I forget who is half of the cast.
posted by sukeban at 11:56 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just passed the link on to my friend and I think it pretty much made his day, or possibly month, because he loves longform epic stuff like this, especially when it involves military stuff.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:35 AM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a lovely three-volume English translation of the original and had precisely the same problem as the podcast creator describes: so many similar-sounding names and place-names, and in such dry prose. I should give this a try, thanks!
posted by WaylandSmith at 10:44 AM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of those stories I always intended to read but have never gotten around to because trying to figure out what the "good" translations were was so intimidating. Definitely going to give this a try, thanks so much!
posted by bettafish at 11:48 AM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I read it a couple of years ago even though it took me a good amount of time. It can both be dry and very evocative and Chinese classics tend to have some amazing vignettes interspersed throughout.
posted by ersatz at 3:09 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ersatz: I realized after I posted that this comes off more negative than it should be about the original. I suspect the experience is somewhat like trying to read Homer or some such without context.

Either way, the podcast is rather sarcastic at times, but it's a labor of love -- having read a bit more, I'm stunned at the amount of preparation and effort he's put into the retelling.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:53 PM on April 3, 2017

I didn't think it was negative and arguably each great translation needs a great writer, which is only harder when the intended audience lacks the context of the book. No one does a hundred podcasts without love for the book they cover and it's worth being reminded that the translations we can find may not offer the same experience as the original (I mean this as a value-neutral statement).

Posts about books are always great in my, well, book. I find it very interesting how books can be classics in a region and unknown in another even by people who consider themselves well read.
posted by ersatz at 12:48 PM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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