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June 20, 2003

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Classics from Ancient China

Sanyat Sattar

Most of the Chinese literary works are based on the ancient wars; heroic struggle of the great warriors, and the villainies of evil spirits.


Three Kingdoms
Luo Guanzhong
Translator: Moss Roberts
Foreign Language Press
January, 2001

Echoing the rhythms of Chinese history, the monumental tale Three Kingdoms begins. As important for Chinese culture as the Homeric epics have been for the West, this fourteenth-century masterpiece continues to be loved and read throughout China today.
Three Kingdoms portrays a fateful moment at the end of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), when the future of the Chinese empire lay in the balance. Fearing attacks by three rebellious states, the emperor sent out an urgent appeal for support. In response, three young men -- the aristocratic Liu Xuande, the fugitive Lord Guan and the pig butcher Zhang Fei -- met to swear eternal brotherhood and fealty to their beleaguered country. Their vow set in motion the series of events that ultimately resulted in the collapse of the Han. Writing centuries later, Luo Guanzhong drew on, often-told tales of this turbulent period to fashion a sophisticated narrative of loyalty and treachery, triumph and defeat, which came to epitomise all that was best and worst in the life of his country.

The Plum in the Golden Vase
Translator: David Tod Roy
Princeton University Press
March, 1997

This first masterful volume of a projected five-volume translation of one of China's most important classical novels will be its most complete rendition in English.
Originally published around 1618, this 100-chapter novel unravels the greed and political and sexual exploits of a Sung dynasty merchant. Infused with eroticism and high irony, the story is often seen to be a microcosm of 17th-century Chinese society. With its 40 period woodblock illustrations, this book is essential in any collection of world literature. The copious notes, scholarly and philosophical introduction, 60-page cast of characters, and commentary render it indispensable for the scholar of Chinese literature as well.

A Dream of Red Mansions
Cao Xueqin & Gao E
Translator: Yang Xianyi
Foreign Language Press
January, 1999

The celebrated Chinese classic novel is a masterpiece of realism written in the middle of the-eighteenth century. Taking the decline of several big families as its background and drawing much from his own experiences, the author Cao Xueqin focused on the tragic love between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu. Meantime he provides a panorama of the lives of people of various levels in the degenerating empire. But he left the work unfinished (or the last 40 chapters lost). Gao E (c.1738-c.1815) completed the work some years later in much of Cao's spirit and also put in his own revelation, which aroused protracted controversy throughout centuries.
Exposing social evils, the book denounces the feudal system. It stands out in the world literature ranking with Hamlet and War and Peace.



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