*WARNING: Spoiler alert for Game of Thrones/Romance of the Three Kingdoms*
The Han dynasty was once a glorious empire united under the Han family that spread across a landmass the size of 2.3 million square miles. By the year 2025, it is on the verge of collapse. The Imperial family is plagued by infighting. Roving bandits pillage the country. Violent rebellions threaten the empire. Eunuchs (imperial advisors in ancient China) endlessly supply the emperor with bad advice. Various warlords seize the opportunity to vie for control of the throne. In the chaos, no one is safe as the power-hungry warlords attack friends and foes alike. Eventually, the smaller and weaker factions are picked off leaving the three most powerful clans, Wu, Wei and Shu interlocked in a power struggle.
I recently stumbled across this China Simplified article discussing the similarities between the popular series, Game of Thrones, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms(三国时代), a Chinese classical epic story. Similar to the ongoing struggle between noble houses in Game of Thrones, the article used examples of struggles for power and the frequency of the throne changing hands to illustrate how the plot of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Game of Thrones were actually quite similar. However, in my opinion, what makes RotTK stand out is that the story is based on historical truth.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is an embellished account of the historical Three Kingdoms Era, c.220-280 AD China and is one of the most popular novels in Chinese culture, not only for its historic significance, but also for the loyalty, commitment to country, and personal sacrifice. Chinese generals are also known to have kept copies of the book, for its insights on military stratagems.
Game of Thrones may have magic and dragons, but the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is equally as epic…and real. We’re talking the third bloodiest period in history here, behind WWII and Mongolian conquests, and this tale of conquest has many insights into Three Kingdoms Era China. If you haven’t heard of it you might even be familiar with one of the many adaptations that make this historic tale come to life, like the video game series Dynasty Warriors.
Game of Thrones may have magic and dragons, but the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is equally as epic…and real.
As most of you are probably familiar, Game of Thrones is a series revolving around a similar power struggle. The late king of Westeros, Robert Baratheon, has just died, and every powerful noble house is now competing for control of the iron throne. Alliances are made and broken and lords turn on each other at the opportunity of political power.
When kingdoms fall, the strong and cunning rise to the top, making their mark on history. Although it’s doubtful that Game of Thrones is based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, on closer inspection, there are quite a few similarities between historical figures and the fantastical ones. Here are a few characters that may sound familiar….
1. Daenerys / Liu Bei
There couldn’t be any character as hungry for justice as the mother of dragons…right? Wrong. Daenerys Targaryen, is the rightful heir to the throne of Westeros, though she is exiled due to usurpers claiming the throne and seeking her untimely end. She is a leader of the people, using her morals to gain the hearts, and support of the people, not unlike Liu Bei. As a member of the Imperial family, Liu Bei is the leader of Shu, and rules with moral virtue seeking to restore the Han Dynasty to end the struggle for the sake of the people. Unfortunately for both Liu Bei, and Daenerys Targaryen, they must both face reality and part with their virtues, as Daenerys must kill her brother for sole legitimacy, and Liu Bei conquers his relative’s lands for a base of his own.
2. Tywin Lannister / Cao Cao
Every strong house has a strong leader at its head. Tywin Lannister, the head of House Lannister, one of the most powerful families in Westeros, may have met his match in Cao Cao. The Prime Minister of the shattered Han Dynasty, and ruler of faction Wei. Just like the Lannisters in GoT, Cao Cao seizes the throne after the fall of the former ruler. They are both master tacticians, to similar faults. Tywin chooses to rule his family and holdings through cold logic, alienating his family to the point of death at the hands of his own son. Cao Cao strictly follows the arts of war, and often punishes failure, and disobedience or disloyalty with death, which allows him to be manipulated by enemies seeking to eliminate his finest officers, like at the Battle of Red Cliffs.
3. Ned Stark / He Jin
Even in the midst of chaos are those who loyally serve with honor and virtue. Two of the most straight-forward, and honest characters in these stories would be He Jin, a regent and military commander for the Han dynasty, and Ned Stark, lord of Winterfell. They both serve their kings loyally, and follow their orders by the book to their respective ends. Ned Stark failed to seize power after the former king’s deaths, allowing the empire collapse after his execution. He Jin fails to remove his political opponents by force, which leads to his death and the fall of Han. Though Ned Stark quells the Iron Isle rebellion, and He Jin the Yellow Turban Rebellion, both met their ends due to their straightforwardness and refusal to play the game of politics.
4. Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) / Lu Bu
Sir Gregor Clegane, better known as ‘The Mountain’ and Lu Bu, are the penultimate warriors of their respective realms and are seemingly unbeatable in regular combat. The Mountain is known as Tywin Lannister’s attack dog, who will pillage and ransack wherever he travels, while Lu Bu is feared across the lands for being unrivaled in single combat, atop the fabled steed Red Hare, known for its speed and endurance. Both warriors are defeated through unconventional means: the Mountain by poison in a duel, and Lu Bu through deception by a concubine, and eventually his own despair and alcoholism.
5. Bronn / Gan Ning
Even in the most tumultuous of times, there are still individuals capable of making the most of things. Both Bronn, Tyrion Lannister’s trusty sworn sword, and Gan Ning, a general of Wu, have similar rags to riches stories. Bronn served as a mercenary, until being employed by Tyrion Lannister, and is eventually raised to knighthood for his services. Gan Ning was a notorious river pirate, until being captured by Wu forces, at which point he was employed as an officer for his wit. While these men come from humble beginnings, they are able to put their fighting skills, and resourcefulness to good use in the employ of larger factions.
6. Petyr Baelish (aka Littlefinger) / Sima Yi
Behind every battlefield operate brilliant minds, such as Petyr Baelish (better known as Littlefinger,) and Sima Yi. Petyr Baelish is the cunning master of coin for Westeros, and few are able to withstand the economic costs of ruling a kingdom, or waging war, without his help. Sima Yi is a head strategist of Wei, and leads several successful campaigns, and when not in direct command, efficiently handles administrative affairs and supply trains. Both men have informants everywhere, helping them towards their ultimate goal…conquering their own empire.
7. Melisandre / Zhang Jiao
Religion plays a large role in both Game of Thrones, and the Three Kingdoms, though to various degrees. Most notably are Melisandre, a priestess of R’hllor (Lord of Light), and Zhang Jiao, leader of the Daoist cult of the Yellow Turbans. Melisandre drastically affects the battle for Westeros’ throne by killing the former king’s younger brother Renly Baratheon, in support of the elder brother Stannis Baratheon, while Zhang Jiao leads the rebel movement that starts the beginning of many armed revolts ending the Han Dynasty, which then unfolds into the power struggle between Wu, Wei, and Shu.
Who knew just how similar these characters actually were. So if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you should definitely get into Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in any form, as they are both full of action, betrayal, and the desire to control the throne. Romance of Three Kingdoms is as enthralling as Game of Thrones and a highly entertaining way to learn a bit more of Chinese history.
“History is….better than 90 percent of what the fantasists make up” – George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin himself said, “History is….better than 90 percent of what the fantasists make up”, so if you are looking for an epic with more fact than fiction, look no further than Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Check out the book at: http://www.threekingdoms.com/
Check out the show at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1514753/
Check out one of the game series based off Dat: http://www.koeitecmoamerica.com/dw8/#home
Map of the Three Kingdoms courtesy of dannytaylor02.hubpages.com
Game of Thrones images courtesy of http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Game_of_Thrones_Wiki
Romance of the Three Kingdoms images courtesy of http://threekingdoms.wikia.com/wiki/Romance_of_the_Three_Kingdoms
There’s a Chinese folk tale about a frog who lived in a well. Having never left the well before, he believed it was a paradise, preferring his small circle of sky to the unknown world outside.
Like that frog at the bottom of the well, you aren’t capable of fully understanding the culture that you come from unless you step outside of it. Entering a different environment really shows you how much your own culture shapes your reality. Once you leave your bubble, you start realizing how valuable (or meaningless) certain things in your life are. You may go from rushing home from work to catch your favorite sport team’s game on a Friday night to finding a passion for Heyrobics! with the international community in your new city. Instead of Facebook messenger, you might be more likely to check your WeChat messages.
On a macro level, studying abroad in China will also allow you to develop a more international awareness of global issues. My time in China has broadened my perspective and allowed me to reflect on my beliefs and values. If amazing adventures, life-changing experiences, and meaningful personal growth are for you, here are seven reasons you should choose to study in China instead of Europe.
1. China: where ancient and modern cultures collide.
China is a place where culture is not relegated to an old building or a museum. Unlike Western culture, in the average American classroom, Chinese culture is only briefly discussed. Old and new traditions permeate every aspect of society here and it’s impossible to look away (not that you’d want to).
Imagine celebrating the fourth of July, and instead of watching fireworks at set location, like your community park, you can have your own epic firework shows, wherever you want. The entire skyline fills with countless explosions, as people launch fireworks from in between high-rises, and on every street corner. This is Chinese New Years in a typical Chinese city, where all night, fireworks go off in the middle of the street and literally no one cares. Cultural traditions such as this go back thousands of years, but there are also much younger traditions such as the recently famous Ice Festival in Harbin, where you can have snowball fights while riding bumper cars. You will be surrounded by Chinese culture, wherever you turn, regardless if you decide to try on a traditional dress or not, so be sure to open your mind to soak it all in.
2. Street Food. Family-style Dining. Nothing like Panda Express.
Trust me on this; if you try nothing else in China, Chinese food is one aspect of the culture you need to dig into.
You will be constantly on the hunt for the best 包子 (baozi) shop, or a new favorite 四川 (Sichuan) restaurant. Once you find your spot, you will find yourself coming back day after day for the same oily goodness. Don’t worry, Panda Express has nothing on the real deal: with eight regional cuisines, each with their own unique dishes and flavors, there is something for everyone (even vegetarians). In fact, some of the best places to eat are the ‘mom-and-pop’ shops along the road. Don’t let appearances deceive you; they may look nondescript, but some of my favorite places to eat lunch are on street corners, a little shack with tables, and extra seating outside.
As an added perk, the exchange rate is roughly 6 RMB to 1 USD, and the average meal can be as cheap as only two or three dollars. In case you crave a taste of home don’t worry; there are many decent international restaurants (and even microbreweries,) to enjoy here if you are ever craving a decent burger or beer…Great Leap Brewery anyone?
3. Explore cities of ice and steel. Wind through hutongs. Get lost in the countryside.
If you enjoy traveling, make sure you have a good pair of hiking shoes. China boasts a land mass of roughly 3.71 million square miles, and twenty-six provinces, each with their own local specialties and flavor. See the ‘Venice of China’ in Suzhou, the terracotta warriors in Xi’an, walk along the ‘Dragon’s Spine’ in Guilin, or numerous other scenic places.
China’s expansive rail system is roughly equal to the rest of the world’s operating high speed rail systems combined. Frequent travelers can get most places within the country quite conveniently and affordably traveling by train. I recommend taking the regular sleeper car at least once, if only for the experience of getting up close and personal with numerous locals who will be your bunk-mates. Of course, you can always fly to get around the country, which can be much more convenient, timely, and sometimes similarly priced as train tickets.
Regardless of how you get around, you will definitely miss out if you don’t take the time to explore China as much as possible; New York City is not representative of the entire United States, nor is Shanghai or Beijing representative of China.
4. Chinese is spoken by over 15% of the world’s population.
While potentially the most daunting aspect of living in China, it is also one of the most rewarding aspects. Learning Chinese opens the gateway to communicate with over 1.3 billion other Chinese speakers world-wide; that’s quite a large community to be part of.
Even the most basic grasp of the language will make your interactions with Chinese culture, and Chinese people, immensely more satisfying. If you’ve ever been at a bar or a club and at least been able to have a decent conversation in broken Chinese, you probably found yourself with a few drinks, and maybe some new WeChat contacts. A minimal grasp of Mandarin also makes ordering food tremendously easier; say goodbye to the days of rushing to pleco the food menu. Furthermore, if you are brave enough to use your Chinese, locals will be brave enough to talk with you! Through language practice you will be able to view China in a nuanced way, opening up a plethora of doors as you develop deeper connections with Chinese culture.
5. China is developing quickly. You will literally be able to watch the city grow around you.
This is an exciting time to live in China. The entire country is continuing to develop at an astounding rate and you have the ability to see this nation’s growth first hand. Things are developing so fast here, that after only a couple weeks away from Beijing, I found certain shop streets completely replaced with other businesses. Your favorite restaurants can also go from a tiny ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type place to doubling in size…in the span of a week.
Years of economic prosperity and a growing middle class has given China’s youth new-found wealth, and considerable amounts of free time. They are now able to pursue all sorts of activities that were unavailable to their parents and grandparents in the past. Across the country there is a growing interest in sports (China even has it’s own American Football league). With so much change happening in China at such unbelievable speeds, you will feel the shift in history first-hand.
6. You can tell your parents you feel safe in your adopted home.
Simply put, it feels safer here.
It is surprising how many people have the misconception that China is ‘dangerous’, but I actually feel safer here. No matter what time of night it is, and what part of town you’re in, you don’t feel the need to constantly look over your shoulder. However, petty theft is common, and with so many people on the streets, especially in popular tourist locations, pickpockets are able to disappear quickly into the crowd. This precaution is not limited to China; it is no different than other big cities. Locals are typically peaceful and friendly. In fact, the only thing you need to be afraid of is your host mother loving you to death, and fattening you up with “多吃， 多吃“ (eat more, eat more).
7. The Pengyous you meet in China will be for life.
Spending four months with the same group of people while studying abroad allows you to become much closer, especially so when in China. Your first few weeks abroad can be a rough adjustment period for some, but your fellow study abroad students, (or in the case of independent studies, your other foreign classmates,) will relate to your struggles, and can be a great source of comfort. We can all laugh off the peculiar situations we find ourselves in here, like the ‘celebrity treatment’ by locals who want to take pictures with us, and even the occasional sandstorm that we like to joke simply ‘clears out our sinuses’.
The relationships you make here in China are going to last for the rest of your life. These are people I truly want to see again. No matter where we might end up in the world, I know we will always make time for each other.
China has so much to offer…
Roughly 300,000 Americans study abroad each year, over 50% of them study abroad in Europe, while less than 5% of those students opt to study abroad in China. This means that 95% of Americans who study abroad are missing out on the time of their lives. We are already exposed to primarily Western narratives through our education, popular culture, and mainstream media. In China you can shed your biases and re-evaluate what is important to you, while also realizing cultural differences can be overcome. Although the media focuses on US-China relations as a power struggle between rivals, in reality we are quite similar.
Living in China, you will make connections between your academic and daily life. Instead of being shocked and taken aback by cultural differences, you will start to appreciate that every nation has its own unique history, and cultural views. Staying in the ‘well’ of Western ideas limits your potential to see the world from different perspectives. Like the frog in the story, people simply need to climb out to broaden their horizons.
Face the unknown, adapt to life in China and you will learn to approach any new situation with confidence. Compared to Europe, studying abroad in China might seem like a challenge; it’s different, fresh, and at times a little crazy, but trust me, its going to be worth it.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up to study abroad in China today.
Calligraphy image courtesy of studyinchina.universiablogs.net
Construction image courtesy of stockrockandroll.com
Street image courtesy of rebeccacao.files.wordpress.com