->''"Should you wish to take the overlordship, you will yield the Heaven's favor to Cao Cao in the north, and you will relinquish the Earth's advantage to Sun Quan in the south. You, General, will hold the Human's heart and complete the trinity."''
-->-- '''Zhuge Liang''', to '''Liu Bei'''

The ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' (''Sāngu Yǎny'', 三國演義) is a 14th-century Chinese epic novel about the century of war, turmoil, and bloodshed known as the Three Kingdoms Period (188-280 AD). It is considered one of [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Great_Classical_Novels the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature]] -- for good reason. This epic is renowned for its beautiful style, complex and heroic characters, and enduring motifs and themes that remain relevant even in modern society. It not only left its influence throughout the Chinese culture, language, and literature, but also spawned many, many derivative works in various media (some more derivative than others) throughout the world.

The tale begins in the last days of the corrupt [[DynastiesFromShangToQing Han Dynasty]], showing how the government and Emperor lost the "Mandate of Heaven" (天命), and the land fell into anarchy, with various warlords carving out their own territories in a struggle for supremacy. Gradually, out of the chaos, three kingdoms take shape: the kingdom of Shu, led by the virtuous Liu Bei (a distant cousin of the Emperor) and his sworn brothers, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei; the kingdom of Wei, led by the scheming Cao Cao; and the kingdom of Wu, led by the ambitious Sun family. All seek to unify the nation for one reason or another, and claim the right to rule for their own. And so the three kingdoms contend with one another over the century, and heroes rise and fall in the strife, until the nation is finally reunified.

And, as you'd expect from a pivotal work like this, it's managed to gather quite a collection of tropes. Interested tropers can find the full text of an older English translation, now in the public domain, [[http://www.threekingdoms.com/ here]]; the site has added [[TheAnnotatedEdition some annotations]] to help readers keep track of events and characters.
!!Tropes pertaining to the novel itself:

* DividedForPublication: Most publishers break the novel up into multiple parts, thanks to its length...
* {{Doorstopper}}: ...800,000 words and 120 chapters.
* {{Dramatization}}: One early editor referred to it as 70% fact and 30% fiction, which is more or less accurate: Luo Guanzhong's sources included not only historical records, but period Chinese operas, poetry and folktales as well. Some of the most memorable scenes in the book never really happened; ThatOtherWiki has [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictitious_stories_in_Romance_of_the_Three_Kingdoms a list]], of course.
** Even 70% fact and 30% fiction is probably being overly generous. As a guideline: the actual events, characters, and battles are true. What the characters are like... Not so much.

* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters: And as ThatOtherWiki also mentions, over 1000 characters.
* StealthParody: Despite having been written to satisfy the Imperial guidelines, Luo Guanzhong managed to sneak in a few subversions on the nature of loyalty. Blink and you'll miss them, though.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: The Chinese are generally faithful [[Manhua/RavagesOfTime to]] [[Series/ThreeKingdoms their]] [[Film/RedCliff adaptations]] of the novel; [[VideoGame/DynastyWarriors the Japanese]], [[KoihimeMusou less]] [[IkkiTousen so]], with [[Anime/RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms a notable exception]].
!!Tropes within the novel:
* AbnormalLimbRotationRange: Sima Yi. (Though unusually compare him to a Wolf rather than an Owl)
* AbusiveParents: Liu Bei's infant son, Liu Shan, was lost at Chang Ban, so Zhao Yun made a selfless charge into enemy lines to bring the kid back. So what does Liu Bei do? He ''throws his kid to the ground'', pissed that he nearly lost a great general. [[spoiler: The kid later grows up and loses the kingdom, and is considered by most readers to be completely useless.]] Probably because he was dropped on his head as a kid. In a major example of ValuesDissonance, ''no one'' in the story calls Liu Bei out on this. Then again, he's the one who quoted lore as saying that "[b]rothers are as hands and feet; wives and ''children are as clothing''. You may mend your torn dress, but who can reattach a lost limb?"
* ActionGirl: Not a lot of them, but...
** Zhurong is the only female character to actually fight. She manages to capture a couple of Shu generals, then gets captured herself several times, but compared to the other female characters (who sometimes regard ''themselves'' as [[DisposableWoman disposable]]) she does pretty well.
** Sun Quan's sister (named Sun Shang Xiang in most opera adaptations - and ''VideoGame/DynastyWarriors'') who practices swordplay, has an entourage of a hundred maids decked out in armor and weapons, scares Liu Bei half to death on his wedding night, and scolds her brother's generals into submission when she eventually elopes with her husband. Historically, she raised havoc on a regular basis and had to be monitored by Zhao Yun. Not that she ever does any fighting, but that's enough ...
** Lady Wang, Zhao Ang's wife, also fought, both historically (in fact, she was the only woman to actually historically be recorded as fighting in that period, when she took up arms and attempted to murder Ma Chao after he slaughtered her husband) and in the novel, though that part's far less prominent.
* AlasPoorVillain: Cao Cao receives one of the longest poems in the book upon his death, almost entirely complimentary. The final lines run:
-->Ah! The ancients' splendid deeds or secret thoughts
-->We may not measure with our puny rule.
-->But criticize them, pedants, as ye may
-->The mighty dead will smile at what you say.
* AlwaysChaoticEvil: When you find an eunuch, they're never going to be portrayed as decent. Case in points: Huang Hao (the one who brought downfall to Shu by influencing the already SuckSessor Liu Shan) or Cen Hun (stated to be the 'Huang Hao' for Wu's last emperor Sun Hao, although this is novel-exclusive).
* AnAesop: The first part of ''Romance'' that any Chinese-language elementary student will learn in school is the "Seven Steps Poem", a story about Cao Cao's successor Cao Pi and his more popular son Cao Zhi. It's often presented as an {{anvilicious}} fable about sibling rivalry.
* AnnoyingArrows: Guan Yu and Xiahou Dun - but {{averted}} by the large number of characters who actually ''do'' get killed by arrows. And while even Guan Yu plays this trope straight most of the time, he does get knocked off his horse by an arrow, requiring extensive surgery to heal the wound.
* ArrangedMarriage: A staple of the times, not uncommonly forced, but Liu Bei's marriage to Sun Quan's sister is a hilarious subversion of the trope:\\
[[spoiler: Zhou Yu convinces Sun Quan to do it as a pretext to capture Liu Bei]]. Liu Bei makes [[MayDecemberRomance an attempt to get out of it]] since he's bright enough to realize the danger, but is compelled to agree on grounds of political expediency (and since Zhuge Liang promises to protect him). When he arrives, it turns out that the Sun family's queen mother hadn't been told -- and Zhuge Liang, having predicted that, got Zhao Yun to publicize the proceedings before the whole town. The mother of the bride is prepared to exercise her ParentalMarriageVeto (by letting the groom be attacked) despite Liu Bei's high reputation, until she and the "State Patriarch" (father of the Qiao sisters and thus Zhou Yu's father-in-law) actually meet Liu Bei and change their minds, blessing the marriage. In the meantime, Liu Bei is scared to death of his new ActionGirl wife, and is stuck in Wu for a whole year after Sun Quan and Zhou Yu switch plans (deciding to keep him "drunk and happy" in hopes of dissolving his force)... When he decides to return, ''his wife'' is the one who proposes the idea of eloping, and then ''[[CrowningMomentOfAwesome scolds four Wu generals into backing down in the course of their escape]]''. And throughout the whole proceedings, Sun Quan and Zhou Yu are put through a massive HumiliationConga:\\
1.) Sun Quan's mother and Zhou Yu's father-in-law curse them for ruining the girl, since if the plan succeeds the story will follow her ("what man would want her now?!")\\
2.) Then they curse them for trying to kill Liu Bei after meeting him and giving their approval (despite Sun Quan's mother having been prepared to allow the plot).\\
3.) Then ''the bride'' curses them -- her brother and brother-in-law -- for trying to stop her escape.\\
4.) And just when Liu Bei and his bride escape, Zhuge Liang's chorus line of soldiers is conveniently lined up on the other side of the river ''just to mock Zhou Yu''.\\
5.) To top it off, even to this day, the Chinese people use the phrase 賠了夫人又折兵 - "to lose the lady and have the army crippled" - as a synonym for EpicFail.\\
Of course, Liu Bei (somewhat), Zhou Yu and Sun Quan are all left holding the IdiotBall, and Zhuge Liang wins... yet again.
* ArrowCatch: Jiang Wei. See below for more details.
* ArrowsOnFire: A staple of any fire attack.
* AscendToAHigherPlaneOfExistence: Following Guan Yu's death, he gets promoted to minor deity by a later emperor. [[spoiler:But not before scaring Sun Quan by possessing and killing Lu Meng... who "fell over dead with blood gushing from the seven orifices of his body."]] To this day, you can still find altars to Guan Yu in many Chinese-speaking areas... and he's even in the Celestial Bureacracy pantheon in ''TabletopGame/{{Scion}}''.
** Clarification, he's the (Current) head deity in the Celestial Bureacracy pantheon in ''TabletopGame/{{Scion}}''
* AssInAmbassador: Mi Heng manages to take this to the next level. [[spoiler: Until he crosses the line and gets executed.]]
* AutomaticCrossbows: Zhuge Liang is credited in-novel with inventing these.
* {{Badass}}: So, ''so'' many characters.
* BadassGrandpa:
** Huang Zhong gets singled out for his advanced age, despite the fact that he can still kick ass with the best of them - and you ''have'' to be able to do that to stay alive for that long. {{Lampshaded}} when, in his first fight against Guan Yu, his horse suddenly keels over and Guan Yu lets him retreat. His excuse? "''The horse'' is too old."
** Later on, Zhao Yun at age 70 when he personally kills three generals and captures one, all of them brothers, in the same engagement and rendering an army of 80,000 Qiang tribesmen (working for Wei) frozen with fear, then kills their father in a second engagement and winning that skirmish too. The reason? "[T]he Prime Minister thought me too old and did not wish to employ me. I had to give him a proof."
** Zhang He fought the Yellow Turban Uprising, which began in 184. During Zhuge Liang's fourth Northern Expedition in 231, he decides that Zhang He (fighting for the other side) is too dangerous and must die, and arranges for this to happen. Zhang He must have been close to seventy by then, if not even older.
* BadassCape: The "battle gown" worn with the armor of the time, wide enough to cover the arms.
* BalanceOfPower: The kingdoms of Wei and Shu develop a rivalry, while Wu functions as the WildCard, allying with one or other of the realms as is convenient to keep either of them from getting powerful enough to overwhelm Wu.
* BatmanGambit: Zhuge Liang, who shows a near-psychic ability to predict people's actions based on their character.
* BigBookOfWar: The Art of War, and various contemporary texts, naturally. Oddly enough, it's treated somewhat sceptically - while a worthwhile strategist will study the texts, he should also be able to improvise. Meanwhile, characters who rely exclusively on theories and ideas they derive from ancient texts are more likely than not to be GeneralFailure.
* BeardnessProtectionProgram: Cao Cao loses his cape and beard in quick succession after Ma Chao's men start looking for "that guy in the red cape" and (soon after) "that guy with the long beard". [[RuleOfThree And then they start looking for "that guy with the shaved beard"...]] [[VillainExitStageLeft whereupon he decides to give up on the disguises and just run.]]
* BetterToDieThanBeKilled: Several examples. Notably, [[spoiler: Guan Yu's subordinates Zhou Cang and Wang Fu after Guan's capture and execution.]]
* BewareOfHitchhikingGhosts: Mi Zhu picked up a woman in his carriage who was actually a spirit of fire, sent to burn his house down. [[ChasteHero His kindness]] towards her caused her to warn him of this, however, early enough that he was able to hurry home and save his valuables and his family's lives.
* BladeOnAStick: TONS of warriors in the book are decked with such weapons. From the average spears and halberds (the mainstay battlefield equipment of the time) of your average {{Mooks}}, to those big fancy pole-blades used by generals (Zhang Fei's spear with a snake-shaped blade, [[{{Badass}} Lu Bu]]'s halberd, and Xu Huang's [[AnAxeToGrind battle-axe]] to name a few) used by the author as a symbol of each character's personalities and as [[RuleOfCool making action scenes appear more flashy]] to the readers, since most of those weapons didn't even exist at the time. But among these, the most famous would be Guan Yu's "[[NamedWeapon Green Dragon Crescent Blade]]". He's the reason why the Chinese glaive is called the "Guan Dao".
* BloodBrothers: The Oath at the Peach Garden between Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu is one of the most famous incidents in the novel. Note though that they're not the only such brotherhood (Sun Ce and Zhou Yu are as well), just the most famous and celebrated.
* BoisterousBruiser: Zhang Fei - and {{subverted}} when he used his enemies' knowledge of his love for wine to lure them into a trap. (Unfortunately both before and after this, his love for wine -- or rather, the UnstoppableRage that could come about -- did cause negative consequences for Liu Bei, the last one being [[spoiler:his death when his last two victims had their revenge]]. That, and there's the time that in [[spoiler:stealing Lu Bu's war horses, he single-handedly broke an alliance that Lu Bu might have actually kept]].)
* BurnTheWitch: Taoists. Sun Ce hates superstitions, and Cao Cao just hates people who speak against him. As seen later on, things don't turn out too well for either of them.
* CallToAgriculture: Subverted, when Liu Bei had to share temporary lodging in the same city as Cao Cao, he deflected suspicion from himself by taking up gardening in his yard ''as a disguise''.
* CatchAndReturn: Jiang Wei (having accidentally spilled his quiver) catches an arrow fired at him by Guo Huai and then fires it back at the shooter, killing him.
* ChasteHero: Multiple characters either directly or by proxy in ensuring that their charges aren't violated.
** The most fortunate to do so may have been civil official Mi Zhu (who served Tao Qian and Liu Bei)... since the woman revealed herself to be the Goddess of Fire and that she had a command to burn his house down that night. Thanks to her early warning, he kept his life, health, and his valuables.
** And there's Zhao Yun, who turned down an offer to marry a beautiful woman in favor of serving his lord. Of course, what complicated matters was: 1.) [[ComfortingTheWidow She was the widow of the brother of]] 2.) [[FakeDefector a recently conquered vassal]] who 3.) [[BrotherSisterIncest had recently sworn brotherhood with him]]. Though it is not depicted in the novel itself, that move paid off later when said recently conquered vassal fled from Liu Bei, and Zhao Yun avoided considerable trouble.
** And Liao Hua, who refused to take Liu Bei's captured wives for himself, killed his partner (who did want to take them) and then promptly turned himself and his partner's head over to Guan Yu. An excellent career choice, as he outlives most of the other characters -- an accomplishment for one who turns up that early in the novel.
** The probably most famous example is Guan Yu refusing to sleep with Liu Bei's wives while in Cao Cao's custody, as one of his three conditions for surrendering to Cao Cao was the protection of Liu Bei's wives. Then again, the incident -- and all of his privileges -- were attempts to sway his loyalty to Liu Bei, and Guan Yu was probably aware of this. (Later, when presented with ten maids Guan Yu turned them over to his sisters-in-law.)
* ChronicBackstabbingDisorder: Multiple characters, but Lu Bu stands out among them. Lu Bu's penchant for treachery was well-known, having betrayed his two adoptive fathers Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo. This eventually comes back to haunt him, courtesy of Liu Bei. [[spoiler: Lu Bu once saved Liu Bei from an encroaching invasion and told him, "I hope you will not forget that when you come into your own." But when Lu Bu was captured by Cao Cao, Liu Bei pointed out Lu Bu's past betrayals, and as a result, Lu Bu got the rope while Liu Bei [[KarmaHoudini got off scot-free]]... for a while.]]
** Liu Bei also stands out. [[spoiler: Not repaying Lu Bu, planning to assassinate Cao Cao, claiming he had no interest in Yi province, backstabbing Liu Zhang who asked for Liu Bei's help in fighting Cao Cao to take over Yi province, refusing to return the cities Sun Quan lent him...]]
* CliffHanger: Every single chapter ending, which fits with the oral tradition similarly to the ''Literature/ArabianNights'' - so that the storyteller could keep the audience hooked and coming back for more.
* CombatByChampion
* CoolHorse: Red Hare, said to be faster and stronger than the horses of its day (the Chinese term is "thousand-''li'' horse"), and whose body and hair are ''entirely'' [[LawOfChromaticSuperiority "glowing-sun red."]] [[MobileSuitGundam May or may not go three times as fast as a regular horse.]]
* ConservationOfNinjitsu : Woe betide any soldier not identified by name.
* CycleOfRevenge: [[spoiler: Guan Yu gets executed by the kingdom of Wu. Liu Bei, enraged, renews hostilities with Sun Quan leading to a disastrous military campaign and his eventual death after the failure. In the meantime, Guan Yu's ghost comes back to kill Lu Meng, the general who planned the trap that caused Guan Yu's death. And Liu Bei's wife - who is also Sun Quan's sister - drowns herself on hearing the news.]]
* DarkHorseVictory: The eventual unifier of the Three Kingdoms? [[spoiler: The Jin Dynasty, founded by the descendants of Sima Yi - Cao Cao's [[TreacherousAdvisor strategist]].]]
* DeathByDespair: Zhuge Liang managed to [[spoiler: irritate Zhou Yu to death]]. He managed to HannibalLecture two other Wei officials into a fatal fit later on as well. Happens to others as well. [[spoiler: Ironically, Zhuge Liang himself is victim to this at the very end, after the freak rainstorm at Mount Qi that saved Sima Yi's butt from a trap that quite literally took ten years for Zhuge Liang to be able to force him into. This wound up being the thing that finally pushes Zhuge Liang's already fragile health at the time over the edge.]]
* DefeatMeansFriendship: Huang Zhong, Xu Chu, and Taishi Ci amongst others.
* DefensiveFeintTrap: If you think you're winning against Zhuge Liang, that means it's time for the ambush to come out. Other characters use this as well.
* DisposableWoman: Thanks to a colossal helping of ValuesDissonance, female characters tend to end up as collateral damage, examples to discourage others, or, in one case, [[ImAHumanitarian emergency rations]].
* DisproportionateRetribution: When his father is robbed and killed by one of Tao Qian's officers who went bandit, Cao Cao raises an army and ravages Tao Qian's territories. Tao Qian only managed to escape personal injury thanks to Cao Cao withdrawing his armies when his home territories came under attack by Lu Bu.
* DoesNotKnowHisOwnStrength: Sun Ce crushed Yu Mi to death while trying to take him prisoner.
* TheDragon: Basically Lu Bu while in Dong Zhuo's service, as his defection eliminates the last check on Dong Zhuo's rise to power and he's recognized as the linchpin that holds the regime together even moreso than the army and other officers.
* DrivenToSuicide: Xun Yu opposed Cao Cao's ascension to the rank of Duke. When Xun Yu pled illness to get out of being sent on an expedition, Cao Cao sent him a box like those that normally hold presents. Opening the box to find it empty, Xun Yu took the hint and committed suicide.
* EvenBadMenLoveTheirMamas: Dong Zhuo. That's pretty much his only positive trait.
* EyepatchOfPower: Xiahou Dun gets hit in the eye with an arrow - and ''eats it''.
* EyeScream: (Xiahou Dun: see the above.)
* FakingTheDead: Played straight by Cao Cao against Lu Bu, and by Sun Ce against Liu Yao. Invoked and subverted by Zhuge Liang: [[spoiler: [[ThanatosGambit he really was dead]], but manages to convince Sima Yi that he was only FakingTheDead to cause him to retreat.]]
* FalseFlagOperation: Done several times by various sides. Cao Cao's raid at Wuchao is a particularly important one.
* FearOfThunder: {{Inverted}}: Liu Bei uses it as an ''excuse'' to cover up his shock when Cao Cao predicts that the two of them are the only true heroes of the age.
* {{Flanderization}}: '''EVERYBODY.''' The scary thing is, it's not clear which is more deviant from the truth: this or ''VideoGame/DynastyWarriors''.
* FirstNameBasis: It was common practice for men to take "style names": Guan Yu was Yunchang ("Long Cloud"), Zhao Yun was Zilong ("Young Dragon"), Zhuge Liang was Kongming, Zhang Liao was Wenyuan, and so on. [[ChineseSiblingTerminology Relationship titles]] may also be substituted for names. How one character addresses another one can indicate a great deal about their relationship.
* ForgingScene: At least one LiveActionAdaptation show Liu Bei and his BloodBrothers receiving their signature weapons after such a montage.
* FourStarBadass: Too many to count -- generals routinely lead their troops from the front and meet on the battlefield. Probably the best example is Lu Bu, whose knowledge of military tactics and strategy, and in fact any talent he may have as a military leader, is dwarfed by his personal combat ability.
* GambitPileup: With that many factions opposing each other, this is unavoidable.
* GenghisGambit: How Yuan Shao took Han Fu's territory.
* GentleGiant: Xu Chu. He was at least 6 foot 5, with a 52 inch belly, but he was known by names such as Sleeping Tiger, Tiger Fool, etc because while in battle, Xu was like a tiger, while outside of battle he was known as being simple-minded and honest.
* GoodHairEvilHair: Guan Yu's beard was reputedly ''fabulous'' to the point where Cao Cao gave him a beard bag. Oh, and when confronted by bandits, his taking off the bag caused them to promptly surrender and their leaders to beg to join him -- albeit this was probably also because they recognized him for the BadAss that he was.
* GrievousHarmWithABody: Dian Wei's last stand had him using enemy soldiers as bludgeons.
* HistoricalHeroUpgrade:
** Guan Yu, although this is more of the fault of traditional opera and certain biased emperors.
** Likewise Liu Bei... and Zhuge Liang ''to a point''. (It's actually a historical inversion, as Zhuge Liang was considered the top political and domestic administrator, not the supreme tactician and strategist he is in the novel... ''on top'' of his political and administrative prowess. Liu Bei himself is also a slight inversion; he was actually a competent commander and not the weeping wreck we most often see, and some of the strategies in the novel attributed to Zhuge Liang were actually his own.)
** Zhang Fei gets hit with a [[InvertedTrope Historical Hero Downgrade]], going from historically being the most strategically accomplished of Liu Bei's main generals to a blundering drunkard. While he's still smart enough to utilize some war strategies such as during the battle to take Cheng Du, he's portrayed as more of a BoisterousBruiser Battle God in the novel. However it still applies with the real life Zhang Fei being nowhere near heroic.
** Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's sons Guan Xing and Zhang Bao are portrayed in the novel to be some of the greatest warriors of Shu in their later years. In reality, Guan Xing never entered a battlefield, and Zhang Bao died young without proving himself - he got outlived by his father.
* HistoricalVillainUpgrade: While historically, it's hard to say if anyone was the real villain, Cao Cao and the kingdom of Wei end up being cast as the main villains, while the kingdom of Wu is relegated to a secondary position because they're fighting the DesignatedVillain half the time and the DesignatedHero the rest of it.
** Han Xuan gets turned into a loud, rude and cruel person, while he historically was known to be quiet and kind... and he gave up instead of getting slain.
* HollywoodHealing: Huang Gai, who had himself whipped [[spoiler: as part of a plot against Cao Cao as a FakeDefector]]. He healed fast enough to participate in the battle... only to get wounded again!
* HoneyTrap: Diao Chan, with Lu Bu and Dong Zhuo, the latter eventually coming to his downfall because of her.
* HonorBeforeReason: Following the battle at Chi Bi, Guan Yu trapped Cao Cao in one of Zhuge Liang's ambushes. But because Cao Cao had treated him well previously when he was in service, Guan Yu lets him go. (Supposedly [[spoiler:Zhuge Liang had actually accounted for this when he sent Guan Yu]], though.)
* HorribleJudgeOfCharacter: Chen Gong, who believes that first [[MagnificentBastard Cao Cao]], then [[BloodKnight L Bu]] are righteous heroes worthy of ruling the land.
* HumiliationConga: Meng Huo's seven defeats and Cao Cao's retreat from Chi Bi, among others.
* HypocriticalHumor: Perhaps unintended. But for some reason every time one of the characters plots a conspiracy or a civil war, or other such things, it is "for the good of the State".
* ImAHumanitarian: Liu Bei, on the run and starving, is given some meat by a local peasant. The source? ''The peasant's wife.'' (He is ignorant at the time, but [[ValuesDissonance ''grateful'' when he finds out]]... not to mention the fact that [[spoiler:when he tells Cao Cao about it, Cao Cao ''rewards the peasant with a hundred ounces of silver'']].)
* ImportantHaircut: It should be noted that it was [[ValuesDissonance against the filial piety values of the time to cut one's hair,]] so any haircut could be viewed as exceptional.
** Played straight by Cao Cao, cutting his hair to show loss of face after he lost control of his horse, which trampling over some crops after he'd issued an edict that any soldier who trampled over crops would lose his head.
** Subverted by Zhou Fang, who cut off his hair to impress Cao Xiu with his trustworthiness. He was lying, and it really shows how far he's willing to go for his true lord, Sun Quan.
* IncendiaryExponent: Most famously, the Fire Ship attack at the battle of Chi Bi. Legendary and effective.
* IronicEcho: "I trust you have been well since we last parted?" First spoken by Guan Yu, taunting Cao Cao about his escape back to his sworn brothers. Later [[spoiler:Cao Cao says it upon being presented with Guan Yu's severed head.]]
* IShallTauntYou: Zhou Yu, Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi were all fond of doing this... and usually with each other. Zhuge Liang, however, ''kills'' people via taunting.
* JustJokingJustification: The most common excuse for changing your mind about executing people/handing your concubine to your adoptive son/threatening to expose an assassination plot. [[DudeNotFunny Honestly, they need to work on their routine a little.]]
* KillEmAll: Redundant, but all the famous characters are dead by the end of the novel. It lasted a hundred years - should you be surprised?
* LaserGuidedKarma:
-->''Sun Jian pointing toward the heavens as an oath said, "If I have [[spoiler:the Imperial seal]] and am hiding it myself, [[spoiler: may my end be unhappy and my death violent!]]"''
-->[[spoiler: He dies in an ambush ''in the next chapter'' from [[RocksFallEveryoneDies rocks crushing his head.]]]]
* LivingLegend: The generals in general.
* LoveRuinsTheRealm: {{Inverted}} by the whole Diao Chan incident, where the realm was at a nadir anyway and getting rid of the tyrant was an attempt at making things better. (Unfortunately, it inadvertently trades the tyranny of Dong Zhuo for the chaotic rivalries of the regional warlords, while his puppet emperor simply comes "under new management.") {{Invoked}} in the buildup to the battle of Chi Bi, where Zhuge Liang provokes Zhou Yu (and the kingdom of Wu) into fighting by claiming that Cao Cao was lusting after the Qiao sisters, one being Zhou Yu's own wife and the other, [[spoiler: his late best friend and sworn brother Sun Ce's widow]].
* MacGuffin: The Imperial Seal is supposed to signify the Mandate of Heaven and the right to rule the land. People fights for it, [[spoiler: Sun Jian dies on account of it]], and then its use is {{subverted}} when Sun Ce trades it off for an army which he uses to found the kingdom of Wu, although Yuan Shu (who had made that trade with Sun Ce) ended up using it as the basis for founding his stillborn dynasty. The seal eventually passes to the kingdom of Wei, and while it's still used to claim the right to rule, nobody really cares at that point.
* MadeOfIron: Several characters, including Zhou Tai (who takes twelve wounds defending Sun Quan from bandits when Quan was a child) and Dian Wei.
* TheMagnificent: Sun Ce became known as the "Little Conqueror", after scaring one enemy officer to death and crushing another one between his arm and torso.
* MakeMeWannaShout: While Zhang Fei's shout wasn't superpowered, it reputedly killed at least one general at Chang Ban. From ''fright''. Sun Ce managed to pull this off as well.
* TheMan: One of Cao Cao's many official titles. [[http://www.kongming.net/encyclopedia/officers/Cao-Cao Really.]]
* {{Manly Tears}}: If Xuande is in a chapter, odds are somebody is going to weep in gratitude.
** It's not just him either though. Whenever you read any given chapter in the book, chances are ''someone'' is going to 'weep' or 'cry', and sometimes more then once. Heck, you can probably make a drinking game out of it. Every time you seed any of the words 'Weep', 'wept', 'shed', 'tear(s)', or cry/cried, take a shot. Of course if you ''did'' do that, you'd probably die of alcohol poisoning.
* {{Melee A Trois}}
* {{Mooks}}: Galore, of course, with special mention going to the poor messengers. Those poor, ''poor'', messengers...
* MurderTheHypotenuse: [[spoiler: Lu Bu eventually kills his patron and adoptive father, Dong Zhuo, for the sake of Diao Chan]].
* MyGodWhatHaveIDone: Quite a few people and moments.
** For Cao Cao, it was when he had Ju Shou executed ("I just killed the one guy who ''isn[='=]t'' a backstabbing freak... even if his loyalty was for the other guy and he tried to run away!"), and when he had his leading admirals executed for treason early during the campaign against Sun Quan, only to realize right afterward that he'd been had.
** Earlier, when Cao Cao was on the run following a failed assassination attempt against Dong Zhuo, his father's sworn brother gives him shelter. Cao Cao and Chen Gong (a magistrate who'd freed Cao Cao) hide in a back room, overhear something about to getting out the knives killed, assumes its him, and jumps out and slaughters the entire household, including the wife and children of the person who promised to give him safety. Turns out that they were talking about killing a PIG as part of the feast they were having to honor Cao Cao. Cao Cao runs, meets the family friend outside, and then stabs him in the back because he didn't want the authorities knowing about him. This is however {{subverted}} that shortly after, Cao Cao lets out his famous quote that excuses his actions and defines his character:
--->''Better I betray the world rather than have the world betray me!''
This is likely actually the author's misinterpretation of the original quote, "Is it that I wronged the world rather than the world wronged me?"
** It seems to run in the family, with two examples in Cao Pi's case:
*** Trying to execute his poetic intellectual brother Cao Zhi (who at worst was ''merely'' a layabout with his drinking buddies), but gives him a chance by challenging him to compose a poem, then another, without using certain words. Both poems reminds him what a {{Jerkass}} he's being, and having been called to account, he lessens Zhi's punishment to exile.
*** When taking his son Cao Rui to a hunt, [[{{Bambification}} he kills a deer's mother]] and tells Rui to kill the child, but Rui asks why he should kill the son when the mother is already killed. This led to Cao Pi possibly remembering about that he'd ordered Rui's mother (Lady Zhen) to commit suicide, and he eventually named Rui his successor.
* NotMyDriver: Meng Huo, fleeing from Shu forces, jumps on what appears to be a Nanman boat. You can guess what happens next.
* OffWithHisHead: Many characters, notably [[spoiler: Guan Yu, both committing (with the most named victims!) and falling victim to this trope. {{Subverted}} when his [[LosingYourHead head starts talking]] and his ghost starts killing people]]. In a rather funny {{lampshading}}, [[spoiler:after he possesses Lu Meng, throws Sun Quan around and sits on his throne before leaving/killing Lu Meng's body, then animates his own head in Cao Cao's presence, his disembodied ghost goes off calling for the return of his head... only for a priest who he met while alive to ask him: "[W]ho will also return the heads of your several victims---Yan Liang, Wen Chou, and the commanders of the five passes?" Guan Yu]] takes the hint.
* OneManArmy: Zhang Fei scares off an entire army at the bridge of Chang Ban. Also possible TruthInTelevision, since most fights tended to be decided by duels between the generals.
* OneSteveLimit: {{Averted}}, sort of. There are a lot of characters with similar sounding names, most of which have distinct characters which have the same romanisation. Plus, many character names sound just like place names. Much of the novel is filled with lines like "Zhang Fei fought at Chang Ban". It's easy to get confused after a while.
* OnlySmartPeopleMayPass: Cao Cao was fond of word games, even going so far to give inconsequential instructions (the disposition of some cheese, his opinion on a door) in codes. Yang Xiu solved both those mentioned, but in a subversion his intelligence (along with his support of one of Cao's younger sons for succession) made Cao fear him and would eventually lead to Yang's downfall.
* OnlyTheChosenMayRide: Red Hare, a huge CoolHorse so named because "it can run fast as a hare and is colored red", only ever allowed [[WorldsStrongestMan Lu Bu]] and later--after the Lu Bu's disposal-- [[WarGod Guan]] [[DeityOfHumanOrigin Yu]] to ride him, as no one else could tame him.
* OracularUrchin: Luo Guanzhong liked to put street children in just for the sake of singing ominous songs, usually hinting at subsequent events. However, there's at least one time where it's a character (who needs to steer his mark towards a certain course of action) merely ''claiming'' that such children exist and are singing such songs... GenreSavvy, perhaps?
* PerfectlyArrangedMarriage: Liu Bei and Lady Sun (at least as far as the novel is concerned).
* PleaseSpareHimMyLiege: Fairly common, the most famous being Guan Yu's and Liu Bei's intercession on Zhang Liao's behalf after the fall of Xiapi Castle, ironically just after [[spoiler:Liu Bei had thrown Lu Bu under the bus]]. (Zhang Liao would end up being the envoy who would convince Guan Yu to surrender to Cao Cao.) Inverted when Zhuge Liang ordered Guan Yu's execution for [[spoiler:sparing Cao Cao in Huarong Valley]] -- at which point Zhuge Liang's own lord Liu Bei begged for his sworn brother's life.
* PortentOfDoom: In the first few chapters, the end of the Han dynasty is seen in some very bad portents (a horrible plague among one of those things), kicking of the chain of events that leads to decades of war.
* PowerTrio: Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu - at least in tradition. Also, if you want to stretch the definition a little, the Three Kingdoms themselves.
* ProfessionalButtKisser: Guo Jia, who lays out the ten ways in which Cao Cao is better than Yuan Shao. [[TheSimpsons Smithers]] could take lessons in ass-kissing from this guy. However, Guo Jia was also a gifted strategist (smart enough to set off a MyDeathIsJustTheBeginning plot) and not above questioning his boss from time to time (when he let Liu Bei go to take on Yuan Shu, for instance).
* RainOfArrows: {{Subverted}} when Zhuge Liang "borrowed" Cao Cao's arrows by sailing out dummy ships laden with straw.
* RegentForLife: Between the eunuchs, Dong Zhuo and Cao Cao, emperors had absolutely no power and even less luck. (Heck, Dong Zhuo overtly has one emperor deposed and then forced to drink poison, while his mother is literally thrown out the window.)
* ReligionIsMagic: As Cao Cao and Sun Ce learnt, do ''not'' under any circumstances screw around with Taoist mystics. {{Subverted}} by Zhuge Liang who claimed to summon the east wind at the battle of Chi Bi... but really just did the whole ritual to waste time since he'd predicted the change in weather previously. (Historically, Zhou Yu just consulted a local fisherman.)
* RevengeBeforeReason: Liu Bei marches on Sun Quan to seek revenge for the death of [[spoiler: Guan Yu]]. Everyone besides Guan Yu's immediate relatives and Zhang Fei tries to convince him to focus on Wei, but Liu Bei insists on invading Wu. Even after Sun Quan makes a large number of concessions, he refuses to back off and focus on Wei. The result is a massive defeat for Shu.
** Also, Cao Cao attacking Tao Qian, when he had other, more serious enemies (such as Lu Bu and Yuan Shao) to deal with.
* RuleOfCool: Most of the liberties taken with history in the novel.
* SatelliteCharacter: Whilst even the most minor officers often get their own motives and little details fleshing them out, this is the default personality template for female characters. [[ValuesDissonance Female agency wasn't much of a thing in literature back then.]]
* ShootTheMessenger: If you were the bearer of bad news in the novel, expect your life to be nasty, brutish and short.
* SiegeEngines
* SmugSnake: Cao Cao never really gets a chance to shine in the novel, despite being the designated villain of the story. (Ironically {{subverted}} by the eulogy poem that immediately follows his death basically declaring him above good and evil.)
* SpeakOfTheDevil: Or, as the Chinese say, "Speak of Cao Cao and he appears." Parodied (by being taken to its logical extreme) [[http://san.paulguo.com/?id=100 here]].
* StealthInsult: Cao Cao weeping for Guo Jia's death after his defeat at Chi Bi. All of his advisors realize that he is making fun of the fact that none of them was able to see through the fire attack in time.
* ThanatosGambit: As an old Chinese saying goes, [[spoiler: a dead Zhuge Liang scared a live Sima Yi in the battle of Wuzhang Plains.]]
* TheHorde: The Yellow Scarves.
* TheStrategist: Everyone's got at least one, but Zhuge Liang is ''the'' King of Strategists in the novel, routinely
* TheThirtySixStratagems: TropeNamer for several; see the trope entry for details.
* TreacherousAdvisor:
** Chen Deng advised Lu Bu very poorly, as [[spoiler:he was plotting to sell him out anyway]].
** Sima Yi too [[spoiler:against Wei after Cao Rui's death]], although in ''VideoGame/DynastyWarriors 6'' [[spoiler:it's against Cao Cao specifically]]. One of his descendants even has the reigning Wei emperor [[spoiler: ''murdered in broad daylight'']].
** There's also Xu Shu (for Cao Cao), although he did so by neglect [[spoiler:since he had "familial obligation" to leave Liu Bei's service, but promised not to help his new lord Cao Cao]], and he keeps quiet upon discovering that [[spoiler:Pang Tong (which makes him the ''heroic'' - in a sense - version of this trope) was involved in the Liu Bei-Sun Quan alliance's plot leading up to the Battle of Chi Bi]].
* UnfortunateNames: Cao Cao's given name consists of a character that, when pronounced slightly differently, is also used to write one of the many Chinese words for "fuck," and is the "grass" of the infamous "grass mud horse" meme. The "mud horse" part just sounds similar to "Your mother."
** Additionally, "Cao" is usually mispronounced as "Cow" by some english speakers instead of correct "Tsaow". Hence, Cao Cao is refered as "Cow Cow" and his son, Cao Pi, is regrettably refered as "Cow Pee".
** In addition, there are some names that are unfortunate for English speakers, such as He Man, who lasts only two or three paragraphs in Chapter 12. (His only line of dialogue: "[[ByThePowerOfGreyskull I am]] [[Franchise/MastersOfTheUniverse He Man]], the devil who shoots across the sky. Who dare fight with me?" Unfortunately for him, the relatively minor character Cao Hong does, faking retreat before cutting him down.) Note that this name is not [[UsefulNotes/WhyMaoChangedHisName pronounced even remotely like the English]] "He Man", but more like "Huh Mahn".
** There is also the case of Du Yu, a Jin general near the end of the book, which leads to many a poor joke. Of course, no list is complete without mentioning the most unfortunate one of all, a very obscure man who served Gongsun Zan: Wang Men.
* UnspokenPlanGuarantee: Done several times. Might be the reason for Zhuge Liang's habit of handing his plans to his subordinates in brocade sacks, to be revealed only at the very last minute. The most famous example in the novel would be Zhuge Liang's three instructions to Zhao Yun regarding the Lady Sun affair.
* VillainousGlutton: Dong Zhuo. [[spoiler: An official lit a wick in his corpse, and it burnt for days]].
* YouRebelScum : Everyone calls everyone else this. It makes sense in an odd way. If you claim to be rightful emperor by extension you claim opponents are rebels.
* WarriorPoet: Cao Cao and his sons were renowned poets, and founded one of the major styles of poetry of the time.
* WorthyOpponent: When Cao Cao and Liu Bei were both in the capital, they held a famously-depicted "talk of heroes" in Cao Cao's garden where Cao Cao discounted several "heroes" that Liu Bei suggested before declaring that "the only two heroes in the world under heaven are you and I!" Causes Liu Bei to have an OhCrap moment as he realizes that Cao Cao just implicitly declared him the only real threat to his rule, and Liu Bei's own famous "afraid of lightning" moment.
* YouKilledMyFather:
** Subverted by Ling Tong, who intended to kill Gan Ning for killing his father Ling Cao (before Gan Ning's surrender to Sun Quan). Sun Quan interceded during Ling Tong's attempt and forbade any further attempts, and the two eventually became friendly rivals.
** After Ma Teng is executed for his involvement in an assassination plot against Cao Cao, his son Ma Chao declares war for this very reason.
** After Cao Cao's father (and many other relatives) are killed by a subordinate of Tao Qian who turned bandit, Cao wages a brutal war of vengeance against Tao, only to be stopped by Lu Bu's attack on his own territory.
* YouShallNotPass:
** Dian Wei holding off Zhang Xiu's forces.
** Zhang Fei at the Battle of Chang Ban, where he shouts a challenge for anyone in Wei's army to come and pass, and no one comes forward, allowing Liu Bei time to escape.
!Derivative works:


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''FistOfTheNorthStar'': It turns out that the invincible Hokuto Shinken School of Martial Art has three brother schools that inherit the names of the Sun, Cao and Liu factions that their ancestors served and protected in the Three Kingdoms period, and FistOfTheBlueSky is the story of their rivalry in 1935 Shanghai.
* ''IkkiTousen'' (''Extremely'' loosely based, seeing as it has the major characters reincarnated as top-heavy PantyFighter schoolgirls. However, the story exists in-universe and thus some of the plot revolves around this fact.)
* ''KoihimeMusou'': A GenderFlip of just about the [[ImprobablyFemaleCast entire cast]] set in a version of Ancient China mainly ruled by women that includes somehow bazookas and maid cafes. Notably light-hearted compared to many adaptations and source materials.
* Anime with Creator/MamoruMiyano as main star:
** ''KoutetsuSangokushi'': With Wu as the main kingdom, and have the CastFullOfPrettyBoys ratio dialled UpToEleven. Main star: Lu Xun (Rikuson).
** ''SoutenKouro'': Focuses on Cao Cao as a sympathetic protagonist, since it (and the manga it's adapted from) are based on the "Record of the Three Kingdoms" (''Sanguozhi''), which also portrays Liu Bei even less flatteringly.
* ''Toys/BBSenshiSangokuden'', the latest incarnation of Bandai's SD Gundam model line.
* ''Anime/RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms'' (An anime series)

[[folder: Board and Card Games]]
* Believe it or not, the makers of ''MagicTheGathering'' released a card set based on the novel, ''Portal Three Kingdoms'', as part of an outreach program to players in Asia and the Pacific. It was only released in China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

* ''RedCliff'', a movie by John Woo.
* ''Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon'' focuses on the last stand of Zhao Yun.
* ''TheLostBladesman'' is Guan Yu-centric, with the titular character played by DonnieYen of ''IpMan'' fame, the plot an ''extremely'' different recounting of the end of his tenure with Cao Cao.
* In an inversion of SturgeonsLaw, ''Just Another Pandora's Box'', from the director of Creator/StephenChow's ''Chinese Odyssey'' movies, takes a SeltzerAndFriedberg approach.

* ''Series/ThreeKingdoms'': A Chinese live-action retelling made in 2010, focusing almost equally on Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan. Best known for its greater characterization than the novels.
* ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K.O.3an_Guo KO 3anguo]]'', a Taiwanese HighSchoolAU take on the story.[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdFL7QxCFPI Title sequence here]].

* The ''Manhua/RavagesOfTime'', a Chinese ''manhua'' which deserves note for taking AlternateCharacterInterpretation, GreyAndGrayMorality and GambitPileup, and ''then'' cranking all of the above UpToEleven. And, of course, throwing in healthy doses of OneManArmy for good measure.
[[folder:Video Games]]
* From {{Koei}}:
** ''VideoGame/RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms'' (11 in this series of strategy games and counting since 1985)
** ''VideoGame/DynastyWarriors''
** ''Dynasty Tactics'' (More closely related to ''Kessen'' than ''Dynasty Warriors'')
** ''VideoGame/KessenII''. ''Kessen II'' is ''extremely'' loosely tied to the source material. It starts with the Imperial Seal being entrusted to Diao Chan, who falls in love with Liu Bei.
* ''Destiny of an Emperor,'' an RPG for the NintendoEntertainmentSystem by Creator/{{Capcom}}, as well as a Japan-only sequel. These were actually based on the manga ''Tenchi wo Kurau'', which Capcom also adapted into the arcade action games ''Dynasty Wars'' and ''Warriors of Fate''.
* ''VideoGame/SangoFighter'', and its sequel, ''Sango Fighter 2'' (1995), a fighting game for DOS by Panda Entertainment Software. The first game pits the Five Tiger Generals of Shu against five generals of Wei (Xiahou Dun, Xiahou Yuan, Dian Wei, Xu Chu, Xu Huang), in addition to Lu Bu and Cao Cao as bosses; while the second game adds in the forces from Wu (Sun Ce, Taishi Ci, Gan Ning, Huang Gai), and Zhang Liao.
* ''KoihimeMusou'': Kazuto, an OrdinaryHighSchoolStudent, is transported to a version of Ancient China where most of the characters from the novel have been [[GenderFlip genderflipped]] into cute girls. With his ChickMagnet powers and his foreknowledge of the original novel, Kazuto helps the kingdom he is aligned with unite China. In the original VisualNovel, this was the Kingdom of Shu but subsequent installments in the franchise opened up other playable factions. [[spoiler: Kazuto is a victim of CipherScything in the animated adaptations.]]

* ''SanThreeKingdomsComic''
* ''TalesFromTheMiddleKingdom'': A webcomic based on the novel. Find it [[http://middlekingdomtales.com/ here]].

* You know what, there's a large list over at [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_of_the_Three_Kingdoms#Cultural_references The Other Wiki]].