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October 24, 2011

The canon of Chinese literature is so huge and intimidating that it's hard to know where to start. And thanks to the difficulty of the Chinese language, only the most serious scholars can read the classics in their original form. Luckily there are some excellent English translations of great Chinese novels, offering you the chance to widen your reading horizons and learn about the culture of the country you're living in. Here are five must-reads, and a suggestion of which translation to get your hands on.

Literary Legacy: Five Must-Read Chinese Novels for Foreigners
Photo: douban.com

1) The Real Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun
Left wing writer Lu Xun is heralded as the “father of modern Chinese literature”, and is an important figure in 20th century history. Mao was a big fan of his work, even though Lu was never a member of the Communist Party. Nevertheless, his stories and essays are held up as modern classics. Symbolising the shift from the courtly classic mode of writing to the contemporary vernacular form, Lu Xun's work also embodies the move from the excesses of imperial times to the austerity of the revolution. Lu's most famous and enduring work is The Real Story of Ah Q (阿Q 正传), which appears in the 2010 Penguin Classic translation of his complete works by Julia Lovell. If you only read one modern Chinese book, make it this one.

2) Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en
Probably the most culturally influential work in Chinese history, Journey to the West (西游记) tells the story of a great pilgrimage by a Buddhist monk and a motley crew of creatures who help him along the way. The epic was published in 1590 during the Ming dynasty, but its actual date of completion is not certain. Known in the West as Monkey after the English translation by Arthur Waley, the story revolves around Xuanzang the monk and his journey to India inspired by the goddess Guanyin. With him are the monkey king Sun Wukong, the pig Zhu Bajie, the river beast Sha Wujing, and the dragon prince Yulong Santaizi. Journey to the West is a weighty tome in several volumes, but the 2003 English edition from the Foreign Language Press is easily accessible.

3) Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
Like Journey to the West, this book is one of the four great classics of Chinese literature. Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦) was written by Cao Xueqin in the middle of the 18th century. Also known as Story of the Stone, it tells the many sagas and dramas of the two branches of the noble Jia family in Beijing. With literally hundreds of characters and chapters, it's a complex read both in terms of scope and psychology, but it's worth ploughing through for its historic and cultural significance. The red chamber of the title refers to the female quarters in old noble residences, and the novel has some great women characters. The best translation is the Tuttle Classics version from 2010 by H. Bencraft-Joly.

4) Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong
Another epic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义) is counted among the four great Chinese classics. As a historic novel, it's a lengthy tome covering the years between 169 and 280 when the Han Dynasty fell and the Three Kingdoms rose. Over 1000 figures from history appear among the pages, as the feudal lords of the Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu kingdoms battle it out for supremacy. The book is a great depiction of feudal China and has some famous stock characters like Liu Bei the liege, Zhuge Liang the minister and Cao Cao the villain. The Moss Roberts translation from 2004 is your best bet if you're looking to add it to your collection.

5) Water Margin by Shi Nai'an
The fourth of the great classic Chinese novels, Water Margin (水浒传) was written by Shi Nai'an and finished by his pupil Luo Guanzhong (author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms) in the 1500s. It gathers the Song Dynasty folk stories of the outlaws of Mount Liang. The antics of the bandits and their leader Song Jiang have inspired many dramas and movies down the ages. The work was translated into Japanese under the title Suikoden and forms the basis of countless animé and video games. The best English translation to read is the Tuttle version from 2010 by J.H. Jackson.

More entries: What Do You Do? “Strange” Jobs in China, Same Name, Different Game: 5 Ugly Facets of the Chinese Workplace, Can the Chinese Still Eat Bitterness? Hardship and Personal Crisis in Modern China (2), The Cost of Preferential Treatment: Hong Bao in China, Guide to Popular Street Food in China, Got a Light? The Status of Smoking in China, The Bewitching World of China’s Ghost Stories, Literary Legacy: Five Must-Read Chinese Novels for Foreigners (1), Help Thy Neighbor: Explaining Civic Apathy in China, Top 10 Things to Do Before Leaving China (1)

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03:51 AM Oct 25 2011

lufo du

lufo du

yeah,all these four books is very excellent, and many Chinese have read this when they was young, so which u like best ?Laughing