A masterpiece from the Ming dynasty, Wu Ching-tzu’s The Scholars ranks with Dream of the Red Chamber, Journey to the West, and the Water Margin as one of the greatest classic novels of China. The Scholars is the first Chinese novel of its scope not to borrow any characters from history or legend and it is the first work of satiric realism to achieve an almost complete disassociation from the religious beliefs of the people. Departing from the impersonal tradition of Chinese fiction, Wu abandons such established narrative formulas as folk songs and poetic verse in favor of autobiographical experiences, descriptive realism, and characters modeled after his friends and relatives — elements that combine to give this critique of the Confucian civil service system an unprecedented immediacy and humor.

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