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Medieval Armies

Three Kingdoms Chinese (189-620 AD)
DBA 72

By Jonathan Lim

The Han Dynasty was the first great Chinese dynasty, equal in size, strength and cultural advancement to the Roman Empire. It also lasted almost as long as the Roman Empire. However, when it fell in 189 AD, it really fell with a crash. Like a mass of ants, rebellions and "barbarians" began to impinge on the once great Empire. When these ebbed away, China was left in three parts, the famous Three Kingdoms.

KINDOM OF WEI: Led for much of the period by the horribly cruel but cowardly Cao Cao (pronounced Chao Chao), Wei was the strongest of the three kingdoms - the equivalent of the Seleucids in the Macedonian successor states. About 60% of China's population and much of its resources were in this kingdom, which lay in the north of China. It was bordered on the northwest by the barbarian horsemen states, so a Wei army would have more LH than the other states.

Although powerful and ruled by an excellent king, Wei had trouble beating the other two states. Shu Han's ingenious Minister of war, Zhuge Liang (pronounced Zshoo-Ge Liang, but also spelt Chuko-Liang) kept outfoxing the Wei king Cao Cao. And the third state of East Wu was guarded by great rivers, and a powerful navy.

KINGDOM OF SHU HAN: This is definitely the most famous. Led by the famous three "brothers", Liu Bei the kind and gracious, Zhang Fei (or Chiang Fei, pronounced Zshang-fay) the hotheaded and brutal, and Guan Yu (or Kuan Yu) the loyal and martial, the characters of Shu Han are familiar to virtually every chinese man in the street. These three brothers were abetted - and eventually succeeded - by Zhuge Liang or Chuko Liang, who "had a mind that surpassed the gods". His tactics kept the other two larger kingdoms at bay until he died.

Shu Han would be assisted by the western Ch'iang and Ti barbarians, who count as Aux.

KINGDOM OF EAST WU: This is the eastern kingdom, with a powerful navy perfect for the constant river battles. The most famous chap from East Wu was probably Zhao Yu, the hotheaded ambitious man who broke with Zhuge Liang and then became so enraged at his continual failure to outfox him, that he died. East Wu's alliances changed many times.


Well, what do you know. The Three Kingdoms (#72) army can fight itself. What a surprise. They also fought the Kushans (#21b), the Chinese Border Nomads (#62), the Koreans (#78), and the Khmers (#110).

Army Composition

2x3/4Kn or 3Cv These are the heavy cavalry who were the "gentlemen" of the battlefield. Be sure to include a figure of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei!! The Cv option represents the current claim that cataphract tactics weren't used at this time.
2x3Cv These are the lesser cavalry, in full armour but without horse armour.
2x2LH Only for Wei, who had contacts with the Hsiung-nu and other horse peoples.
3x4Cb or 2Ps Ahhh, the Chinese crossbow. Need one say more. Who would want Ps instead of Cb??! This is for masochists - or people who can't afford 12 crossbows - only.
2x4 Sp The staple of every early imperial Chinese army was the Spear, or rather, the Chinese Pole Weapon-Thingy which was allegedly used as a spear. I myself think there should be an option to count them as Bd, but such is life.

Something missing is the Ch'iang and Ti Aux., who definitely exist in the DBM list.


Cataphract tactics weren't apparantly used at this stage. The crossbows would line up a la the Terracotta Army, guarding flanks or sortening the enemy up. Spears would have been used in the regular manner, with outflanking and feigned retreats being common.


Ahhh, if you want a Shu Han army, you really, really must have a figure of Zhuge Liang in his wheeled chair and umbrella, with his fan in his hand and the funny lotus hat. He had two young servants. Or wheelbarrows, which he introduced. As for Wei, Cao Cao didn't fight in the front, the coward, so he'll be in a chariot with parasol in the camp. As for East Wu, well....how about a few boats, or Zhao Yu's tent.

Miniatures Sources

Han miniatures do nicely for Three Kingdoms Chinese. A good thing too, because no one makes them specially. For Han figs, try Chariot, Gladiator, or Gallia. DO NOT try Essex, they're nauseating.

Other Resources

I don't know about the Net, but for visual reference you can't beat the Three Kingdoms Comics by Asiapac Productions, available at Macquarie Uni Library if you're a student....but I have books 3 4 and 5, so don't borrow them yet!

Of course you could try to read the book (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), but I haven't seen any translation that is modern enough to be good - there's one translated in the 1920's but I dislike the old-style language and obviously crappy attempts to translate poetry. No more!!! I believe there is an even worse translation available on the internet that "changes" all the names to Watson, Gerald, James etc....sacrilege!!

If all else fails, talk to anyone who has grown up in Asia. You'll be regaled by endless tales from the novel.

[CJB: Through the De Bellis Bookstore, you can find Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 2 Vol. by Lo Kuan-Chung, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor. I'm not sure if this is the 1920s translation referred to above.]

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Last Updated: April 12, 1999

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.