Three Ming Literary Classics
The social and economic development of the Ming Dynasty fostered a boom in novel writing. The Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Journey to the West, three of the four best-known classics of Chinese literature, were created during this period.
Luo Guanzhong, author of The Three Kingdoms, was a native of Taiyuan, Shanxi (although others claim ofQiantang, Zhejiang). The Three Kingdoms depictes the corrupt politics of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), when people rose up in succession to set up separate regimes. The Three Kingdoms, Wei, Shu and Wu, ruled by Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan respectively, gradually emerged as the three largest powers, leading to a three-way confrontation. In the end, Wei was succeeded by the Western Jin Dynasty (265-317), which later eliminated the Shu and Wu. China was reunified and came under the control of the Sima family. The Three Kingdoms recounts tortuous yet fascinating historical stories in succinct language, featuring vivid dialogue. It had a tremendous influence on the historical novels of later ages.
Outlaws of the Marsh, by Shi Naian, has enjoyed equal fame to The Three Kingdoms. It presents a full view ofthe rise and fall of the peasant revolts led by Song Jiang in the late Northem Song Dynasty (960-1127). The novel molded a large number of archetypal characters, such as the upright, outspoken and intrepid Li Kui and righteous, unconstrained and unyielding Lu Zhishen, each displaying a distinctive and impressive personality. Outlaws of the Marsh was very popular among the common people due to its vivid, easy-to-understand language.
Journey to the West, a combination of popular and scholarly literature, appeared after the earlier two novels in the mid- to late Ming Dynasty. Journey to the West is a great work of imagination, telling stories of combat between deities and evil spirits. It focuses around the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who escorted the Tang monk Xuanzang to fetch the Buddhist scriptures in India, overcoming 81 challenges along the way. Journey to the West became a much-loved romantic novel for its grand structure and miraculous tales full of rich imagination.