By the time of the setting of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, paper had already been invented. Why do kings often (according to the movies) receive letters on bamboo sticks?

Is this historically accurate?

  • 14
    The UK government was still keeping all its financial records on tally sticks (literally, pieces of wood) until 1826. In fact, disposing of them led to the fire in 1834 which destroyed most of the medieval building, and resulted in the current Houses of Parliament being built between 1839 and 1870. The Chinese were 1400 years ahead of the UK in abandoning this system!
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 17:57
  • 7
    So, an interesting factoid I know of is that the majority of paperwork done by the US immigration service was done on typewriters on 9/11 (2001). 2001, of course, was decades after the invented and widespread adoption of computers. Just because a new, superior product comes along, doesn't mean that the old products and ways vanish from existence immediately. (The reasons for the adoption rate of new things are varied and interesting, and have had countless books devoted to the topic... something to consider/keep in mind.) Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 2:13
  • @alephzero can you explain why?
    – Hao S
    Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 3:08
  • 2
    Just want to point out Romance of Three Kingdoms is a fiction written based on history but not exact history record so technically era of the Romance of Three Kingdoms don't exist in reality. It's better to call it Late-Han era or be more identical, Three Kingdoms era.
    – tweray
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 19:18
  • @tweray, fair enough that it's much simpler to say "during the Three Kingdoms Period" but OP was obviously asking their question based on the fiction. I've rephrased it a bit per your complaint, but I think it came across clear enough originally.
    – lly
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


Yes, this is historically accurate. Writing on bamboo slips was not entirely abandoned until the 4th century CE---over a century after the Romance of the Three Kingdoms takes place. As the Wikipedia article on the history of paper that you linked to states, the primary use of ancient Chinese paper before this was for wrapping things, not writing. One of the largest collections of bamboo and wooden slips to be found (140,000 pieces from Zoumalou) dates to the Three Kingdoms period.

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