The classics of Chinese literature

A long time ago, before I went to Taiwan or developed an interest in Chinese culture, I read one fifth of the massive Dream of The Red Chamber (the first volume of the Penguin Classics edition, renamed The Story of the Stone) and found it surprisingly enjoyable, like a Chinese Downton Abbey. I only gave up on it because I found all the Chinese names difficult to keep up with.

Aside from the obvious books like Dream of The Red Chamber and Journey to the West, what are some of the classics of Chinese literature that anybody trying to understand the culture should read? And, crucially, which of them shouldn’t be too difficult for a foreigner without a deep understanding of Chinese culture and history to follow?


You listed 西遊記 & 紅樓夢, so, maybe 水滸傳 & 三國演義?

I read kids version, and I enjoyed them, though many names.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Explains why China is so concerned with territorial integrity.

Or you can just watch the Anime adaptation, Brave Battle Warriors.

I consider Flashman and the Dragon to be a classic. Ending could have been better.

I read Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum recently, a pretty interesting read for the early to mid 20th. c. That is, however, not an answer to your question.

But as for foundational works of modern literature, maybe Lu Xun?

P.S. I think “Story of the stone” is an alternate title (石頭記) seen on Qing manuscripts of Dream of the Red Chamber, so it’s not really that the book was renamed.



OK, jeez…everybody’s a critic.


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I actually read The Tao of Pooh when I was a teenager. I’m sure if I read it now I’d find it embarrassing, but I remember finding it quite profound when I was a teenager.

It isn’t strictly a “classic”, but Mo Yan is a good suggestion!

How about 儒林外史/Rulin waishi or The Scholars? Anyone read it? Is it interesting?

I found some threads.

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I was supposed to read that my sophomore year in high school (Ethnic Experience Lit).

Of course, I didn’t read anything assigned in high school, with a few exceptions.

I find Flowers in the Mirror (鏡花緣) and The Travels of Lao Can (老殘遊記) greatly enjoyable.

If you like some fantasy in your historical novel, Investiture of the Gods (封神榜) can be fun.

For romance novels from Quanzhou Fijian, Tale of the Lychee Mirror (荔鏡記) is a good one.

Too bad you missed out on that “ethnic” experience. :grin:

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Don’t miss 聊齋 & 封神榜
Tho my favorite is 西遊記 but seems like you’ve read it
There’s a manga based on 封神榜 called 封神演義
Also a good one

And the film’s not bad. :2cents:

No, it’s actually a really well-written book.

This site has some famous classics.

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How about Mao’s Little Red Book?

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On my list:
Taiwan Theory by Yoshinori Kobayashi
Sun Yat Sen by Marie-Claire Bergere
Three Principles of the People by Sun Yat-sen
Progress and Poverty by Henry George

Manual for Control of Wuhan Pneumonia Victims and their Families.

Kind of like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but darker.

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