George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire doesn't need an introduction. It is also widely known among fans that Martin drew a lot of inspiration from history, for example the War of the Roses in England.

However, recently, I have been watching the Chinese TV series 三国 / Three Kingdoms (2010), which is based on the fourteenth-century Chinese novel 三国演义 / Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. This novel is based on historical facts (obviously, with some poetic licence), namely the events at the end of the Han dynasty and the subsequent period of the Three Kingdoms.

The parallels between ASOIAF and Romance of the Three Kingdoms are impossible to ignore. In the Chinese novel, Cao Cao is a warlord who combines the ruthlessness of Tywin Lannister with the cunning of Littlefinger. In fact, the Chinese equivalent of "speaking of the devil" is, "speak of Cao Cao, and there he is". Liu Bei is an honourable man, just like Ned Stark, but he manages to survive longer than Cao Cao. His adviser Zhuge Liang is also known 伏龍 or Crouching Dragon and sometimes makes creative use of fire (so there you have your "dragon"). And people see similarities between the Battle of the Red Cliffs and the Battle of Blackwater Bay.

You can find discussion of parallels between the two novels in several places, e.g. The Cultural Exchange Episode 01: Game of Thrones VS Romance of the Three Kingdoms (though some of the parallels sound a bit forced, e.g. between Red Cliff and the Red Keep) and the Reddit thread A comparison of "A Song of Ice and Fire" and "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Similarities were also briefly mentioned in an answer on SciFi Stack Exchange, where the person who wrote that answer makes the following claim:

Lastly.. Martin admits to being a big fan of the ROTK video game and its sort-of predecessor Bandit Kings of Ancient China.

That statement has no source, so I would like to know when and where George R. R. Martin said that he is a fan of that video game and whether he also read Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

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    I highly doubt it, GRRM has said on occasions he didn't base the Wall off of the Great Wall of China for various reasons but the main one being he's never been to China. If he didn't use such an obvious inspiration for the Wall I doubt he used a book of which most of the parallels you've outlined here sound forced. Jan 30, 2019 at 9:22
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    @TheLethalCarrot The Great Wall of China is totally irrelevant to my question. For most of Chinese history, there was no wall up in the north, and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is about internal power struggles.
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 30, 2019 at 9:57
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    It's a relevant point because he tells us about GRRM's Chinese inspirations. Jan 30, 2019 at 9:58
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    @TheLethalCarrot My question is specifically about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is fiction, not about Chinese history.
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 30, 2019 at 9:59
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    I know, but whether it is Chinese history or Chinese literature the point holds true. GRRM has had no Chinese inspiration that I know of for the main course of the books. Jan 30, 2019 at 10:02

2 Answers 2


While I've been unable to find a source which uses the precise term 'ROTK Video game' G R R Martin's LiveJournal from October 1st 2011 includes this:

I have a history of being swallowed whole by videogames, which is why I don't play much these days. (I swear, I lost a novel to MASTER OF ORION, and at least a novella to BANDIT KINGS OF ANCIENT CHINA and HOMEWORLD).

On May 26th 2014 in a comment on Martin's May 20th LiveJournal entry in the comments pacnic22 asked:

I've always been curious about the historical source material that influences "Song of Ice and Fire." Though I realize there are many different historical records that influenced your work, I'd like to ask about one particular source from Ancient China, "The Romance of the 3 Kingdoms" It could be pure coincidence, but when I read the synopsis for "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms", -- I apologize for not reading the original, or knowing Chinese for that matter -- I immediately thought about some of the politics that are used as plot devices of a similar manner in your stories. Was there any reference to this source in your work?

Martin replied:

I played the game obsessively once upon a time.

That familiarity with the game came up in his discussion with Sina.com:

Tai and George both like the Three Kingdoms game. George likes Lu Bu the most because he is the fiercest, and Tai hates Lu Bu the most, because he defected as long as others give more money to women.

However the curiosity he then expresses about the Chinese medieval period doesn't suggest over familiarity with texts set in the period .

George was very curious about what Chinese "Middle Ages" and castles were like

He also discussed with the journalist the future possibility

of taking Eastern civilization as the main world view in fantasy novels.

Suggesting that he hadn't already done so, at that time.



I would have to say yes. He clearly played the game. And he need not have read the entire epic to be familiar with the plot, characters and narratives. I would imagine a great deal of fantasy over the decades has been somewhat inspired by ROTK along with other classic literature from around the world from the iron age to the enlightenment.

So to the poster who brought up the Great Wall for whatever reason, that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not JRRM was inspired by ROTK. Clearly he was familiar with it. And I would have to say there are clear links within the narratives, plots and characters. Even if he was just familiar with the video game and the general story and characters, I would have to say there is a definitive influence. But I am sure he was "influenced" by 1,000 different stories and cultures. Suggesting he wasn't, because he said the Ice wall wasn't taken from the Great Wall, is well, ridiculous.

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    You say "clearly", but can you support your answer with evidence? On this site, we usually expect answers to be backed up, either by citations and quotes, or by solid arguments. Maybe this is "clear" to you, but it's not so clear to everyone, or the question wouldn't have been asked.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 12, 2021 at 11:56

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