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Four great classical novels of China


The Four Great Classical Novels of China are the four novels commonly regarded by scholars to be the greatest and most influential of pre-modern Chinese fiction. The four novels are translated to Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, Dream of the Red Mansions, and Outlaws of the Marsh respectively.


The Four Great Classical Novels are among the world's longest and oldest novels, and considered to be the pinnacle of China's achievement in classical novels. The four novels widely influence the creation of many stories, plays, movies, games, and other forms of entertainment throughout East Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.


Romance of the Three Kingdoms was written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century. The novel was written based on the background of the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history which started in 169 AD and ended in 280 AD. The story (part historical, part legends, and part myth) romanticizes and dramatizes the lives of feudal lords and their retainers. The novel deals with the plots, personal and army battles, intrigues, and struggles of these states to achieve dominance for almost 100 years. The famous opening lines of the novel is, it is a general truism of this world that anything long divided will surely unite, and anything long united will surely divide.


Journey to the West was written in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty by Wu Cheng'en. The novel tells a series of the legendary pilgrimage to India of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, he travelled to the "Western Regions" during the Tang Dynasty, to obtain sacred texts. Monkey King, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing, together with a dragon prince helped Xuanzang along the road to “Western Regions”.


Dream of the Red Mansions was composed by Cao Xueqin in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. The novel provides a detailed, episodic record of the two branches of the wealthy and aristocratic Rongguo House and the Ningguo House. The main character of the novel is the carefree adolescent male heir of the family Jia Baoyu. He was born with a magical piece of jade in his mouth. Baoyu has a special bond with his sickly cousin Lin Daiyu, who shares his love of music and poetry. Baoyu, however, is predestined to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai, whose grace and intelligence makes an ideal woman. The romantic rivalry and friendship among the three characters against the backdrop of the family's declining fortunes forms the main story in the novel.


Outlaws of the Marsh was written based on historical events and folklore by Shi Nai'an. The novel is usually translated into Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh in English. Among many translated versions, All Men Are Brothers by Ms. Pearl Buck in the mid and late 1920s is the first translation. The novel describes an insurgence led by Song Jiang. The novel depicts that the heroes in the country gathered in the Liangshan Mountain to start an uprising. After conquered the state of Liao and Fangla, they were murdered by treacherous court officials. Outlaws of the Marsh describes a total of 787 characters, and these figures have complicated characteristics and detailed description. The novel has created a common, concise, vivid, and expressive literary language on the basis of folk spoken language.


The four novels feature combining classical and vernacular Chinese in written styles. They manipulated the conventions of popular story telling in an ironic way. The four novels highly influence the development of vernacular works in Chinese literary history.

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