East Asian Studies 129. The Worlds of the Three Kingdoms





The period of the “Three Kingdoms” at the turn of the third century was a dangerous and violent time; it is also one of the historical periods that have most inspired the Chinese cultural imagination. For more than a millennium, numerous works, from written to visual, have been produced about the Three Kingdoms, and the trend is only growing stronger in the twenty-first century.  The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a masterpiece of classic Chinese novel, has been widely read and reworked in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, making the fascination with the Three Kingdoms not just a Chinese but also an East Asian phenomenon. 

This course examines the nostalgic construction of the many worlds of the Three Kingdoms from medieval through modern times.  We ask these questions: what are the nuances in the phenomenon and sentiments of nostalgia about the Three Kingdoms in different periods throughout Chinese history?  What different interests do different genres and forms serve in the continuous rewriting and reworking of the Three Kingdoms?  In the many alternative universes of the Three Kingdoms, what can we learn about history and fiction, truth and imagination?  Through our study of the “culture of the Three Kingdoms,” we probe the dynamic interface of past and present in Chinese culture, with a special emphasis on understanding the cultural dynamics and meanings of new media forms and Internet fandom in contemporary Chinese society.

The immediate pedagogical goal of this course is for the students to learn about the fascinating historical period of the Three Kingdoms—its history, its literature, its lasting impact—and about the long tradition of the formation of the immensely influential “Three Kingdoms Culture” (sanguo wenhua) in the Chinese context, and, in the process, learn about Chinese history, literature and culture.  Beyond these immediate goals, we will explore and reflect on such general issues as the relation of past and present, the nature of truth and fiction, the interface between culture and technology, and the problems of gender and sexuality as grounded in history and culture.