義 (yì), the Chinese character for righteousness, contains broad inner meaning, encompassing moral values such as justice, honesty, loyalty, and trustworthiness.
When mentioning 義, people might first think of one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (三國演義, pronounced sān guó yǎn yì), literally “three kingdoms demonstrate righteousness.”
The novel dramatizes the events and lives of feudal lords and other historical figures of the turbulent era from the late Han Dynasty to the end of the Three Kingdoms Period (A.D. 169–280).
During this epoch, the profound inner meaning of 義, along with other qualities such as wisdom and resourcefulness, was thoroughly demonstrated through the contest of strength among the three dominant states—the Wei, Shu, and Wu.
Through the tales about Zhuge Liang, who exemplified trustworthiness and loyalty to the nation, and anecdotes of Guan Yu’s sense of justice, among numerous other legends, people came to truly understand the essence of 義, how its surface and inner meanings are related, how it manifests at deeper levels, and how it is exhibited in action.
These stories have exerted tremendous influence on the Chinese people for generations.