"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been." Echoing the rhythms of Chinese history itself, the monumental tale Three Kingdoms begins. As important for Chinese culture as the Homeric epics have been for the West, this fourteenth-century masterpiece continues to be loved and read throughout China today. Three Kingdoms portrays a fateful moment at the end of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) when the future of the Chinese empire lay in the balance. Fearing attacks by three rebellious states, the emperor sent out an urgent appeal for support. In response, three young men - the aristocratic Liu Xuande, the fugitive Lord Guan, and the pig butcher Zhang Fei - met to swear eternal brotherhood and fealty to their beleaguered country. Their vow set in motion the series of events that ultimately resulted in the collapse of the Han. Writing centuries later, Luo Guanzhong drew on, often-told tales of this turbulent period to fashion a sophisticated narrative of loyalty and treachery, triumph and defeat, that came to epitomize all that was best and worst in the life of his country. Illustrated.