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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Written in the 14th century by Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is set during the turbulent decades of civil war that followed the collapse of the Han Dynasty in the late 2nd century AD. The novel is vast in scope and populated by hundreds of characters, but this guide will focus on several key episodes and characters within the Romance

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Romance of the Three Kingdoms.   


The events of Romance of the Three Kingdoms begin with the outbreak of the Yellow Turban Rebellion. The Yellow Turban Rebellion was a peasant uprising that broke out in 184 AD against the Han Emperor Ling. The rebellion took over 20 years to fully suppress, and it fatally weakened the Han Dynasty. In The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the rebellion’s leader Zhang Jiao is invested with magical powers after studying “The Book of Heaven.” 


Following the outbreak of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, we are introduced to the character Liu Bei (more on him later). Liu Bei wants to join the Han army, and while drinking he meets two like-minded men: the butcher Zhang Fei and Guan Yu. The three are in such agreement that they decide to swear an oath of brotherhood to each other in the peach garden behind Zhang Fei’s house. As part of their oath, they swear that they will all die together on the same day. 


Liu Bei is one of the main protagonists of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. After joining the Han army, Liu Bei rapidly distinguishes himself as a commander and eventually becomes a leading general. Liu Bei competes with various warlords in the chaotic period following the Han Dynasty’s dissolution, warring with Lü Bu and eventually Cao Cao. By the end of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Liu Bei manages to establish his own kingdom in China, the Shu Han


One of the major battles dramatized in Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the Battle of Red Cliffs. This naval battle on the banks of the Yangtze was fought between Liu Bei and Cao Cao. Cao Cao lost, ensuring the continued survival of Liu Bei’s kingdom of Shu Han. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms fictionalized certain aspects of the battle, including one instance in which Liu Bei’s advisor sends straw boats down the Yangtze. Enemy archers fire on the boats, providing Liu Bei’s men with much-needed arrows to use in their own bows. 


Some level of stability would eventually emerge in China following the collapse of the Han dynasty. This stability came in the form of three kingdoms: the aforementioned Shu Han, the Cao Wei, and the Eastern Wu. 


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out: 

  • Read this article to learn more about the three kingdoms of the Three Kingdoms period. 

  • Many factors led to the demise of the Han dynasty. Read this article to learn more about some of them. 

  • Check out this article to learn more about the Yellow Turban Rebellion and its connections to Taoism.

  • Red Hare is the name of a famous horse in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms who may or may not have existed.

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