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Old 01-02-2010, 17:28   #1
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Four Great Classical Novels of China


I was wondering if anyone has read any of the great four Chinese classical novels, Journey to the West (Monkey), Outlaws of the Marsh (The Water Margin), Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber?

I enjoyed watching Monkey on tv, and I never really caught The Water Margin but it sounds interesting.

I have been tempted to purchase these books for many years but their length and the numerous versions has put me off. I feel as if I am stepping into a minefield because there are many different translations and abridged and unabridged versions. Their incredible length (over 2000 pages!) intimidates me too. It amazes me that someone can write that much. Perhaps this is what attracts me, the concepts, themes and style are so foreign.

So has anyone read any of these in their numerous incarnations, what are your thoughts and comments of these stories?

I have also been looking at the Hindu epic poems of Mahabharata and Ramadan. I read The Odyssey, The Iliad and The Aeneid while at school and enjoyed them. In theory I suppose I should like Beowulf but it does not seem as exciting (to me) as these others. 1001 (Arabian) Nights is also interesting.

Last edited by Saber; 01-02-2010 at 20:37.
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Old 02-02-2010, 13:18   #2
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The Water Margin was good but having watched episode one on a free dvd from a magazine its a case of memories are better than the reality. Not just the dubbing but the sets put it in the cheese genre and it's not sufficently popular for the price to be reduced enough (perverse as that may sound)

Likewise the books at about Ł20 a volume are a tad expensive.
I have a four volume box set of 1001 Arabian Nights gathering dust on the shelf.
If you've managed the Illiad and Odyssey have you considered The Kalevala, the finnish sagas in epic poem form ? The Tom Bombadil material by Tolkien was in the style of that book.
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Old 05-02-2010, 13:19   #3
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The Arthur Waley translation of Monkey is certainly worth a look, and you can probably find a copy of a Penguin edition at a reasonable price. This edition is not the full text of Journey to the West (excerpts only), but may be worth a dip to see if you want to commit to the fully monty or not.

I did read Outlaws of the Marsh in translation in its full glory about 20 years ago and remember enjoying it hugely. I lost track of which spirit was which character after a while, but Li Kui (chap with the two axes) was fun. Bit mroe of a psycho-killer than in the water Margin TV series.

I do have a translation of Dream of the Red Chambers from 1978 by Gladys Yang and Yang Xian-yi (forerign languages press, Beijing). Nice pictures, but the Penguin editions (Story of the Stone) may be better (there might be several transations published by Pengion).
Storywise, it's a family household saga set in the early Qing dynasty (1600-1700) and is focused on the treasured son of the house - I think his name is Bao Yu. It's good for understanding Chinese mores, customs and traditions of the time, and there's plenty of activity along the lines of composing poems in garden settings plus a few drinking games (where the object is NOT to get trolleyed and lose face a la Withnail & I drinking games).
Frankly, I hated the lead character - who needed frequent good slaps - but don't let that get in your way.

There is another novel called The Golden Lotus (or Plum in the Gold Vase, Jin Ping Mei) set in the Ming dynasty with - apparently - some good filth. Unfortunately, the only translation around at the time (back in college) translated the fruity parts into Latin (in the interests of scholarship and moral integrity). Things may have changed, will probably check it out myself.


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