Chinese Lit: Four Great Classical Novels

Dream of the Red Chamber artwork

Dream of the Red Chamber scene by Xu Baozhuan (1810-1873). Photo: Wiki Commons

Among China’s greatest and oldest literary achievements are the so-called “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature. In Chinese, these are known as 四大名著 or sì dà míng zhù (“four big masterpieces”).

The novels traditionally included on this list are:

Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai’an
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
by Luo Guanzhong
Journey to the West
by Wu Cheng’en
Dream of the Red Chamber
by Cao Xueqin

The last on this list, Dream of the Red Chamber, is also the most recent, written in the 18th century. Before its time, another book called The Plum in the Golden Vase by Lanling XiaoXiao Sheng was considered the fourth great novel. However, the book’s sexually explicit content led to it being replaced by Dream of the Red Chamber and it has subsequently been banned in China for some time.

Of these four classical Chinese novels, both Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber are considered to be the best and are beloved by their fans. Many of these books’ avid readers like to suggest that they are among the best classic works of literature ever written, both in China and anywhere else. Read the rest of this entry »