Saturday, October 08, 2005

ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS - ILLUSTRATED VERSION


THIS novel, a perennial favourite among the Chinese for about seven
centuries, has recently journeyed from the print pages to cartoon panels.
Written in the 13th Century, an era when Kublai Khan roamed the plains
of China, it is deemed, arguably, the number one historical novel of the
Han race.
Any Chinese worth his rice bowl would have at least heard of the title,
even if he does not know the story.
Asiapac Books has done the literary world a favour by rendering it in a
form which facilitates understanding of a long meandering tale that weaves
its way through the three ancient states of Wei, Shu and Wu that rose from
the ashes of the fallen Han Empire.
In the ensuing struggle for power that dragged on for almost a hundred
years, the entire country was plunged into a confusing era of chaos.
Peace only settled on the land with the unification of the China by the
Jin Dynasty in 280 AD.
The chief protagonists of Romance of the Three Kingdoms are Liu Bei, a
relative of the fallen Han Emperor; Cao Cao who dethroned the emperor; and
warlord Sun Quan.
Liu Bei later becomes the King of Shu, Cao Cao is crowned King of Wei,
and Sun Quan lords over Wu.
Other characters who play prominent roles are Zhuge Liang, legendary
brilliant adviser to Liu Bei, Guan Yu who epitomises loyalty, Zhao Yun who
stands for courage, and Zhang Fei, a sworn warrior brother of Liu Bei.
One of the novel's greatest strengths is its descriptions of tactics and
clashes on the battlefield. The famous battles of Guandu, Red Cliff
(Chibi) and Yiling are described in great detail.
Asiapac has set itself a formidable task in re-creating this large
canvas of more than 400 characters.
Packed into 10 volumes from the original 120 chapters, it shows signs of
obvious inconsistency on the part of the artists and translators whose
creativity and translation abilities must have been severely taxed by such
an ambitious project.
And because the Chinese language can communicate on different levels
such that a single Chinese written character can conjure a meaning that
would need an entire passage in English, economy of expression suffers and
nuances get lost.
In numerous chapters, it is apparent that the significance of a
particular situation has escaped the translators.
This is but one of the glaring flaws in this comicbook version of the
epic.
Another flaw is the inadequate description of the battle scenes.
Watered down, they sometimes fail to convey the intensity and length of
the clashes between generals, labelled here as "rounds" without
explanation as to what is meant by "one round" or several. This only gives
rise to confusion. The quality of the drawings is also not sustained.
With so many characters to depict, the artists are eventually reduced to
rendering deadpan expressions even on the faces of principal players.
Even so, Asiapac's courageous attempt has to be commended for, if
nothing else, providing an entry to this ancient magnum opus for those who
want an accessible version and in English at that.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms in depth and scope is as good as or even
better than many Western literary masterpieces, in my opinion.
It also espouses time-honoured values such as loyalty, courage, wisdom,
and social responsibility.
So any rendition of the book in any form to reach a wider audience
deserves some encouragement.
The ancient saying goes: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a
single step."
Asiapac has bravely taken several steps in the right direction.

2 comments:

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garuda said...

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