Records of the Three Kingdoms – Biography of Zhuge Liang – Friendship Between Fish and Water

Friendship of Water and FishThe Records of the Three Kingdoms (三國志, 삼국지) is a collection of the biographies of various generals and emperors during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-228 AD) in Chinese History. It was composed by Chen Shou (陳壽, 진수, 233-297) during the Jin Dynasty (晉, 진, 265-420). The work has been influential as more than just a historical record, having a significant cultural impact not just in China but also Japan and Korea. One historically popular adaptation is The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國志演義, 삼국지원의), composed in a mix of Classical Classical and vernacular Mandarin sometime during the Yuan dynasty (元, 원, Weon).  Other more recent adaptations of the work are still popular and there are many children’s books in Korean based on these works. In the Korean language, there are also a number of Hanja Idioms (漢字成語, 한자성어, which reference The Records of the Three Kingdoms. One of them is “friendship between fish and water” (水魚之交, 수어지교), which describes a very close friendship and the friendship between Zhuge Liang  (諸葛亮, 제갈량, Jegallyang) and the king.

先主遂詣亮, 凡三往, 乃見. 因屛人曰: “漢室傾頹, 姦臣竊命, 主上蒙塵.
선주수예량, 범삼왕, 내견. 인병인왈: “한실경퇴, 간심절명, 주상몽진.

The previous king, in the end, found Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮, 제갈량, Jegallyang). Generally, one goes thrice, but he saw him at once. Therefore, he dismissed his servants, saying, “The Royal House of Han is waning and falling; its disloyal subjects have stolen its life; and the lord has fled his realm.

孤不度德量力, 欲信大義於天下, 而智術淺短, 遂用猖獗, 至于今日. 然志猶未已, 君謂計將安出?”
고불도덕중력, 욕신대의어천하, 이지술천단, 수용창궐, 지우금일. 연지유미이, 군위계장안출?”

I, alone, cannot count my power and strength, and would like to extend my great cause in all our realm, but my wisdom and talents are sparse and short. In the end, I have been with misfortunes and epidemics up to this very day. However, my will has not yet been stopped. Where do you say you will venture out to?

亮答曰: “自董卓已來, 豪傑并起, 跨州連郡者不可勝數.
량답왈: “자동탁이래, 호걸병기, 과주련군자불가승수.

Zhuge Liang replied, “Since Dong Zhou (董卓, 동탁, Dong Tak) [betrayed us], heroes have risen all at once. Those who have traversed the states and connected counties cannot be counted.

曹操比於袁紹, 則名微而眾寡, 然操遂能克紹, 以弱為強者, 非惟天時, 抑亦人謀也.
조조비어원소, 즉명미이중과, 연조수능극소, 이약위강자, 비유천시, 억역인모야.

Comparing Cao Cao (曹操, 조조, Jojo) to Yuan Shao (袁紹, 원소, Weon So), his name-recognition was small and the number of troops few, but Cao Cao was able to defeat Yuan Shao. For the weak to become strong, it is not only by Heaven’s time, but also that of by man’s stratagem.

今操已擁百萬之眾, 挾天子而令諸侯, 此誠不可與爭鋒.
금조이옹백만지중, 협천자이령제후, 차성불가여쟁봉.

Now, Cao Cao has amassed an army of million men, has threatened the Emperor and rules over all the feudal lords. This truly cannot be disputed with a sharp sword.

孫權據有江東, 已歷三世, 國險而民附, 賢能為之用, 此可以為援而不可圖也.
손권거유강동, 이력삼세, 국험이민부, 현능위지용, 차가이위원이불가도야.

Sun Quan (孫權, 손권; Son Gweon) is based in East of the River, already for three generations. The country is in rugged terrain and its people have been attached there. As a benevolent and talented leader has been appointed for them, this place can be made into a refuge, but cannot be aimed at.

荊州北據漢, 沔, 利盡南海, 東連吳會, 西通巴, 蜀,
형주북거한, 면, 리진남해, 동련오회, 서통파, 촉,

Jingzhou lies in the North and is based in the Han (漢, 한, Han) and Mian Rivers (沔, 면, Myeon). Prosperity reaches to the South Sea. In the East, Wu (吳, 오, O) is connected to Hui (會, 회, Hoe), and in the West Ba (巴, 파, Pa) passes through Shu (蜀, 촉, Chok).

此用武之國, 而其主不能守, 此殆天所以資將軍, 將軍豈有意乎?
차용무지국, 이기주불능수, 차태천소이자장군, 장군기유의호?

This is a country that uses weapons, but its lord cannot protect it. This is almost as if Heaven commissioned the general. How does the general have his will?

益州險塞, 沃野千里, 天府之土, 高祖因之以成帝業.
익주험새, 옥야천리, 천부지토, 고조인지이성제업.

Yizhou (益州, 익주, Ikju) is a steep castle, has fertile fields there for thousand Li, and is a land that Heaven’s village. Gaozu (高祖, 고조, Gojo), because of this, succeeded in becoming Emperor.

劉璋闇弱, 張魯在北, 民殷國富而不知存恤, 智能之士思得明君.
류장암약, 장로재북, 민은국부이불지존휼, 지능지사사득명군.

Liu Zhang (劉璋, 유장, Yu Jang) was stupid and weak. Zhang Lu (張魯, 장로) was in the North. The people were wealthy and the country prosperous, but he did not know how to protect or administer them. Wise and talented scholars think to obtain a bright lord.

將軍既帝室之冑, 信義著於四海, 總攬英雄, 思賢如渴,
장군개제실지주, 신의저어사해, 총람영웅, 사현여갈,

The generals are descendants of the Imperial Household. Their faithfulness and righteousness are apparent in the Four Seas. They all have obtained heroic status and think benevolently as if thirsty.

若跨有荊, 益, 保其巖阻, 西和諸戎, 南撫夷越,
약과유형, 익, 보기엄저, 서화저융, 남무이월,

If they cross over Jingzhou and Yizhou, they will protect their boulders and impasses. In the west, they will pacify all the Western Barbarians; in the South, they will press down on the Barbarian Yue (越, 월, Weol).

外結好孫權, 內修政理, 天下有變, 則命一上將將荊州之軍以向宛, 洛,
외결호손권, 내수정리, 천하유변, 즉명일상장장형주지군이향완, 락,

On the outside, they have mended their liking of Son Quan; on the inside, they have cleansed their logic of their governance. In all their realm, if there is trouble, there will be an order to the chief general so that the soldiers of Yizhou will face Wan (宛, 완, Wan) and Luo (洛, 락, Rak),

將軍身率益州之眾出於秦川, 百姓孰敢不簞食壺漿以迎將軍者乎?
장군신솔익주지중출어진천, 백성숙감불탄사호장이영장군자호?

The generals themselves will take of the soldier amassed in Yizhou and depart to Qinchuan (秦川, 진천, Jincheon). Among the commoners, who will dare not to take their lunchboxes and bottles to greet the generals?

誠如是, 則霸業可成, 漢室可興矣.”
성여시, 즉패업가성, 한실가흥의.”

Truly, if it like this, then we can rule as lords and the Royal House of Han can rise again.”

先主曰: “善!” 於是與亮情好日密.
선주왈: “선!” 어시여량정호일밀.

The previous king said, “Good!” From now on, with Zhuge Liang, there will be intimate friendship and every day grow close.

關羽, 張飛等不悅, 先主解之曰: “孤之有孔明, 猶魚之有水也. 願諸君勿復言.”
관우, 장비등불열, 선주해지왈: “고지유공명, 유어지유수야. 원제군물부언.”

Guan Yu (關羽, 관우, Kwan U), Zhang Fei (張飛, 장비, Jang Bi), and others were not pleased. The previous king, understanding the situation, said, “For me, to have Kong Ming (孔明, 공명, Gong Myeong) is akin to a fish having water. I wish all the lords to not repeat these words.”


  • Mentioned are various geographical and personal names. I have linked them to their Wikipedia pages.
  • Kong Ming (孔明, 공명, Gong Myeong) is Zhuge Liang’s courtesy name (字, 자).


  • 詣(예) – To reach or arrive (도달하다).
  • 蒙塵(몽진) – Refers to when a King flees his country because of a panic.
  • 猖獗(창궐) – An infectious disease or epidemic (傳染病, 전염병); or because of disease or other misfortunes, being unable to act swiftly.
  • 孤(고) – Here it is used as a first person pronoun. It is used often in melancholy and sad settings (e.g., referring to oneself after having lost a parent).
  • 董(동) – To supervise (감독하다).
  • 跨(과) – To cross over (넘어가다).
  • 挾(협) – To put or insert (끼우다); to threaten (협박하다).
  • 鋒(봉) – Sword (칼날).
  • 璋(장) – Jade (옥돌).
  • 闇(암) – To be dark (어둡다); to be dim (어렴풋하다).
  • 殷(은) – To be prosperous (성하다).
  • 冑(주) – Descendants (손자); helmet (투구).
  • 攬(람) – To pull by hand (손에 잡아당기다); to obtain (취하다).
  • 阻(저) – To block (막히다).
  • 撫(무) – To stroke or pluck (어루만지다).
  1. 스님 said:


    • 歸源 said:

      I transliterate as how it is spelled in Hangul, not how it is pronounced in Korean speech.

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