The Battle of Chibi

Rated 4.14/5 based on 7 reviews
This book retells selections (translated by the author) from the great classic, the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." This novel combines fascinating characters in action as well as classic ideas in conflict, battle scenes, deception and earnest debate; there is even a marriage arranged to entrap the Loyalist leader. More

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  • Category: Fiction » Historical » Ancient
  • Words: 100,120
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 9781476396057
About Hock G. Tjoa

Hock was born in Singapore to Chinese parents. He studied history and classics at Brandeis and Harvard and taught the History of Modern Europe and of Asian Political Thought at the University of Malaya. He has published George Henry Lewes, a Victorian mind and "The Social and Political ideas of Tan Cheng Lock." He is married with two adult daughters and now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. In 2010, he published a selection and translation of the Chinese classic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms under the title "The Battle of Chibi." In 2011, he is publishing an adaptation of Lao She's "Teahouse" as "Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play." He published "The Chinese Spymaster," the first of a planned three volume series, and "The Ingenious Judge Dee" in 2013

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Also by This Author


Marco Peel reviewed on Nov. 23, 2017

Well worth the effort.

This book comprises a selection of chapters translated and annotated from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an 800,000 word 14th century novel set in a turbulent period of Chinese history more than a thousand years earlier. Part historical, part mythological, it is one of the classics of Chinese Literature. And like most literary classics, not exactly a quick or easy read.

While the author´s introduction and comments do much to place the story in context, the first chapters of the book, summing up the events leading up to the actual Battle of Chibi, or Red Cliffs, is such a litany of minor events and characters that it almost reads like a telephone book. A bit of a cold shower to start off with, but once you get into it, or past it, it all comes nicely together, picking up pace and gaining color to reveal a fascinating, epic world of intrigue, strategy and treachery akin to that of Game of Thrones.
(reviewed 46 days after purchase)
Cecily Wolfe reviewed on Nov. 22, 2017

This seems overwhelming at first - but is definitely worth sticking with it for the treasure inside. This story is a blend of genres that speaks across culture and time, really making connections with readers who can see that people are, on an emotional and social level, the same no matter when or where we live. Politics and war seems so large and impersonal, but the personal shows through in this sweeping saga. I am not familiar with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and this seems like a fantastic introduction to a classic that should be more well-known and hopefully, with Tjoa's work here, will be. A very readable, enjoyable way to absorb some fascinating history.
(reviewed 51 days after purchase)
Augustine Sam reviewed on Nov. 8, 2017

An Epic War saga

Though The Battle of Chibi is an abridged version of the historical Chinese novel: “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” it is still undeniably a daunting read, mainly because it leaves out many human elements of the saga, focusing principally on the battle. For example, it introduces the three main protagonists, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei at the point where they take their famous oath, swearing to die together. The original saga—The Romance—on the other hand, gives more insight into the life story of these men as well as indications on how they first met, offering the reader, not only clarity but interest as well. Knowledge of the back-story—of Liu Bei as an impoverished young man who made a living selling straw sandals and weaving grass mats, or of Zhang Fei as a wine-seller and butcher, seems at once more appealing than the intimidating story of war. But, of course, the battles are an integral part of The Romance and focusing on them does not in any way dilute the power of the work. It, in fact, offers an accessible and stirring glimpse into the dramatic lives of feudal lords who held sway in China in an era sheathed in myth, magic, and deadly power struggles. It is undeniably a fascinating epic.
(reviewed 37 days after purchase)
Mark Laporta reviewed on Dec. 1, 2013
(no rating)
Whatever the origin of the saying “All politics is personal,” it makes an apt description of the series of quicksilver alliances and multi-layered betrayals depicted in THE BATTLE OF CHIBI (RED CLIFFS), as translated and retold by Hock G. Tjoa.

Whether it was the vastness of the Chinese countryside, its majestic beauty, its immense wealth or a peculiarly Chinese penchant for all-or-nothing gambles, the characters we meet in these ancient tales of conquest are compulsively driven to seek glory in battle. As such, they stop at nothing to map their personal vendettas onto “the will of the gods” or “the good of the people.”

While accounts of such exploits can make for gripping reading, the ancient texts this retelling is based on share characteristics with other epics of similar vintage. Undoubtedly first heard in poetry and song, this saga spins out an unending stream of events without the shaping structures of metacommunication and summation we take for granted in modern prose.

As a result, many segments of this epic trace a familiar cycle as:

“A smites B, who is avenged by C, who is dissuaded from further retribution by an alliance with D, who earns a jump in rank and privilege for his leadership in a time of crisis.”

From that point on all is well—until E besmirches the honor of D and the cycle begins again. Despite the action, gore and high-flown emotion they imply, a lengthy series of such cycles can have a numbing effect on the imagination.

That said, you only need to adjust your expectations to appreciate Tjoa’s work on its own terms. Read without false assumptions, the battle scenes, counsels of war and tales of palace intrigue have an appeal of their own, each imbued with elements unique to the collective consciousness of ancient Chinese culture. In light of that, I’m sure this volume will be of particular interest to anyone already versed in the culture of that period.

At the same time, for many readers, the monumental effort required to render this work in English will be wasted. That’s because, for the most part, the book is inaccessible to anyone not yet immersed in the study of ancient cultures. Given that, Tjoa might well consider spinning off a few strands from the vast, Romance of the Three Kingdoms into a series of novellas that develop the themes of the larger work through the actions of selected characters.

Whether by throwing us in the saddle with the brave He Jin or letting us see a few episodes from this tumultuous time through the eyes of his servants, the author might consider presenting the fruits of his painstaking work in a more accessible format.

Regardless, this compilation makes an important contribution to our general knowledge of Chinese history and literature. If nothing else, it ought to also serve as a cautionary tale for our own age—as it continues to be torn apart by self-aggrandizement, greed, tortuous ideology and unspeakable violence.
(reviewed 15 days after purchase)
Amber Butler reviewed on Aug. 23, 2013

The Battle of Chibi is an historical war novel much in the spirit of the Old Testament. It is written in such a way that the tone is indistinguishable from books like Chronicles and Kings. Since I don't normally read books like this, I am going to review it on the merit of the writing and the story, as reviewing it on my emotional experience while reading would be unfair.

The beginning was slow, laborious, and frequently pointless. Too many extra characters were named who did not need to be named, the history of Chinese names could have been drastically shortened, and the explanation of characters (as at the beginning of a play) could have been easily left out, as it was meaningless since we didn't yet know the characters.

At about the 25% mark, and then again at the 50% mark, it picked up quite a bit and became pretty epic. Most of the characters named were side characters and so it took a while to figure out who actually mattered and how they related to the story; I'm still not sure on several accounts. However, it felt very grand, and it was interesting and even at times fascinating to watch how these major storylines and battles unfolded through deceit, trickery, familial obligation, magic, and a certain prophetic Daoist. By the end of the story I felt pretty connected to half a dozen of the characters. I loved the way the woman warrior at the end handled herself and the obvious emphasis on family and honor, which felt authentic instead of obnoxiously stereotypical (as one would expect from a native writing an actual legend, as opposed to an old white guy writing about ninjas).

If you like historical legends or war novels, pick up this unique epic. You're sure to enjoy it.
(reviewed 62 days after purchase)
Ubiquitous Bubba reviewed on June 28, 2013

The Battle of Chibi may appear at first to be a daunting read, but it is well worth the effort. The book offers an abridged version of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. For those who are not acquainted with this revered saga, The Battle of Chibi is an excellent introduction.

The introductory sections of the book are extremely helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with the story or the culture. The reading advice presented here is excellent and helps to make the entire book more accessible. The Battle of Chibi is well written, presenting not only the actions of warriors but insight into the culture and thoughts of those involved.

This is not just a story of war. It is a tale of honor, betrayal, strategy, heroism, love and sacrifice. The characters are shrouded in legend and myth, but they are still intrinsically human.

Readers who are not accustomed to this type of literature may have difficulty at first with making sense of the seemingly unending battles, beheadings, plots and characters. In the end, persistence pays off. The story unfolds and primary figures emerge. To me, the story became intriguing when master strategists matched wits. Those who enjoy tales of schemes within plots veiled in subterfuge will love this book.

A complimentary copy of this book was received in exchange for a non-reciprocal review.
(reviewed 7 days after purchase)
Jennifer Moreland reviewed on June 24, 2013

I love that this book is so welcoming to those of us with limited knowledge of Chinese history -- the "Note About Reading This Book" that starts the book is a graceful, opening door that draws all readers in, and I thought that was well done.

Of course, that would be wasted if the rest of the book weren't top-notch -- but The Battle of Chibi reads like the very best combination of old world fairy tales and historical adventure stories. Anyone who remembers reading a Brothers Grimm collection knows that those tales were not the fluff conjured by the worlds "fairy tale" -- they were searing adventure stories and moralistic fables told in language that got straight to the action. The Battle of Chibi does the same, planting the reader firmly in the story but creating a sense of formal otherworldliness with careful use of words and pacing.

In places, the different pieces of the work read almost like a screenplay, with conversational back-and-forth introduced with a name and a colon. In another work this might bother me, but it fit here. We are seeing action as it unfolds, and the quick exposition helped me feel the urgency.

I would recommend this work to any student of history -- Chinese or not -- but also to anyone who loves a good tactical fairy tale (I assuire you there is such a thing). Hock Tjoa brings history to life in The Battle fo Chibi.
(reviewed 17 days after purchase)
Renita Bryant reviewed on June 2, 2013

Initially, I was skeptical that The Battle of Chibi would be a book I'd actually enjoy. The fact that it requires a "how to read this book"section made me nervous and feel overwhelmed from the start. However, after reading through the first few chapters I not only understood the need for the introduction and helpful hints, I appreciated the guidance. For example, the authors explains the importance of not focusing on remembering every character because most are only involved in a few scenes. It is more important to understand the key figures as well as the overall significance of the battle/interaction.

The author does a great job of exploring an intriguing time in Chinese history. He simplifies the story in a way that makes it easy to digest and worthwhile to read. I became engrossed in the story quickly and at one point, took my iPad to the gym and read it while on the bike! When I got to the last page, I was somewhat sad because I wanted to know more about the lives of Bei, Cao, and Liang and the unfolding of the three kingdoms.

Great read! Great work!

I was given this in exchange for my honest review.
(reviewed 6 days after purchase)

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