The Three Kingdoms period was one of unparalleled bloodshed and turmoil in Chinese history, as the three states in question, the Wei (魏), Shu (蜀) and Wu (吴), waged decades-long war for control of China.
Strictly speaking, the period started from 220 A.D. with the establishment of the first Wei Kingdom, and ended in 280 A. D. with the conquest of the last Wu Kingdom. However, some historians include the previous 36-year period, during which the three states rose to power amid the collapse of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220A.D.).
Unsurprisingly, the Three Kingdom period has left a lasting mark on Chinese language and culture, including a number of four-character idioms based on famous stories from the conflict.
For instance, 三顾茅庐 (sāngù-máolú, three visits to the cottage) relates to the story of Liu Bei (刘备), the leader of the Shu Kingdom, who visits Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮) three times in a bid to recruit him as a strategist. Thus the idiom came to mean that you should call on someone repeatedly to show sincerity. Another saying is: “说曹操到，曹操就到（Shuō cáocāo dào, cáocāo jiù dào, speaking of Cao Cao [the Wei leader], he is already here）,” which is basically equivalent to saying “speak of the devil.”
The Three Kingdoms period is probably the most read about historical period in China and East Asia, as the historical events manifested in classic literature as well as popular culture. Many people are introduced to this history by one of the four great classics, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义),” a fictional work written by Luo Guanzhong (罗贯中) in the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.-1644 A.D.), more than a thousand years after the events it relates to.
In the novel, Luo is generally acknowledged to have adopted a pro-Shu (蜀) stance, and consequently depicted the other two states in a negative light.
Those who are more interested in the actual historical events can refer to “The Record of the Three Kingdoms (三国志),” which was written by Chen Shou (陈寿) right after the fall of the Wu Kingdom.
However, there are more accessible routes to understanding the period, including the handful of popular TV, movie and game adaptions listed below:
1. Movie: The Assassins (铜雀台), 2012
An upcoming movie due for release later this summer that depicts Cao Cao (曹操), founder of the Wei Kingdom, in his old age, trying to unify the country and stop war. The movie claims to entirely reinterpret Cao Cao’s character in contrast to his portrayal in the classic novel.
2. Movie: Red Cliff (赤壁), 2008
In the early third century, the land of Wu is invaded by the warlord Cao Cao with an army of millions at his back. The Wu ruler, Sun Quan (孙权), calls on rival warlord Liu Bei for help, but their two armies are still hopelessly outnumbered. However, the Wu strategist Zhou Yu (周瑜) sees that Cao Cao’s army is unused to maritime warfare, offering a glimmer of hope if the pair can exploit this weakness properly.
3. TV Series: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 1995
Classic TV series adapted from the novel of the same title. Produced by CCTV (China Central Television), this series consisted of 84 episodes, each 45 minutes long. Involving a cast and crew of more than 400,000, the show also features live-action battle scenes.
For the full series: http://www.iqiyi.com/dianshiju/sgyy.html?src=alddsj
4. TV Series: Three Kingdoms, 2010
The latest TV adaption of the classic novel. Consisting of 95 episodes, the series was planned by the Television Production Center of China Communication University. First aired on four different channels, the series won an audience vote as the most popular of the year.
For the full series: http://www.iqiyi.com/dianshiju/sg.html?src=alddsj
5. Card Game: Killers of the Three Kingdoms (三国杀), 2006
A popular card game set in the Three Kingdoms period featuring 40 characters, each with special skills that conform to their roles in the classic novel. In addition to the character cards they hold, each player has a secret identity (ruler, loyalist, rebel or defector), which the other players must attempt to guess based on their moves and strategy.