China has its fair share of ancient Chinese literature. Below, we have compiled a list of some of the most noteworthy works, otherwise known as the best Chinese literature books ever.
They explore various themes, from love to history to family, and successfully capture the true essence of what it means to be alive and human.
- The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
The Dream of the Red Chamber is unarguably one of China’s greatest gems in its realm of literature. The book was published in the 18th century and followed the rise and decline of a Chinese noble family, believed to be Cao Xueqin’s own. It is noted to be a memorial to the young women who graced his younger years, whether they were friends, relatives, or even servants in his home.
The novel is a memoir and serves to remind its readers of the simple yet chaotic understanding of the human mind and how families work. By extension, this piece of literature mirrors the saga of the royal Qing dynasty, too. It is said to be one of the best forms of ancient Chinese literature ever written.
2. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
This novel by Luo Guan Zhong is one of the staples in Chinese literature and was written to follow the stories of the rules who graced the stage during the “Three Kingdoms Period” in ancient Chinese history.
In this semi-historical masterpiece, the battles are recounted in intriguingly detailed language. Special attention is paid to the shifting alliances. However, how much of this work is true and how much fiction cannot be verified. Nevertheless, The Romance of Three Kingdoms still stands today as one of the greatest literary works in all of Chinese history.
3. Water Margin by Shi Nai An
Water Margin tails the lives and ideologies of a band of intellectuals who waged war against the Song Dynasty, which is known to be one of the most corrupt dynasties in Chinese history. While the general claim is that the author of this novel is Shi Nai An, scholars still argue over the real ownership of the text. Some also believe that the story is not pure fiction, and perhaps is an account of a group of forty Chinese rebels who fought against Song legionaries.
4. Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en
Journey to the West is a 16th century Chinese novel about a group of travelers and a monkey who set out to visit the great, unknown west as they travel through the Silk Road, India, Mongolian lands, and Muslim empires. Journey to the West is one of the most important novels in China because it highlights the nation’s rich historical past, which involved travel, trade, and the evergreen Silk Route. It is, to date, one of the best Chinese literature forms ever.
5. Fengshen Yanyi by Xu Zhonglin
Loosely translated as “Tales of the Teahouse Retold: Investiture of the Gods,” Fengshen Yanyi is a 16th-century fantasy novel about how a group of Chinese gods waged civil war amongst themselves after splitting into two opposing parties. One party supported King Zhou, whereas the other was in favor of his opponent, King Wu. The book is known across China as one of the best fantasy novels ever written.
6. Flower in the Mirror by Li Ruzhen
Flower in the Mirror spans across 100 chapters. It goes into great detail about the age-old myths of Tang Ao, Duo Jiugong, and their companions, as well as that of Tang Xiaoshan and another set of 100 female artists who were magically blessed with talents that helped them pass an imperial election. The story is dotted with interesting characters, like flower fairies and strong female leads. Unlike most notable Chinese works, this one does not recount true historical tales, making it one of the few traditional Chinese books to do so. Hence, it is seen as a valid example of the best Chinese literature out there.
Because this novel spans over 100 chapters, critics still argue over when exactly it was written. Modern readers wonder how a single person managed to write it all, asking how he had the time. In present-day scenarios, students don’t have the time to write even a single paper, let alone 100 chapters. To overcome this challenge, many students hire an online freelance art writer to write their paper for them, with certified low percentage plagerism. Some students even sign up to become one themselves as a side hustle.
7. Nie Hai Hua by Zeng Pu
Nie Hai Hua was written during the reign of the Qing Dynasty. The title translates into “Flower in the Sea of Evil” and is one of the Late Qing Four Condemned Novels because of the radical ideas it promoted, especially against the evils of the ruling party. It takes on China’s social and political policies headfirst with little regard for what others might think, making it one of the finest pieces of literature not only in China but globally, too.
This novel was banned in China for some time. A similar case is seen with students in the modern age who submit plagiarized work. To beat plagiarism, students and teachers alike use online plagiarism checkers. It’s smart to check with a plagiarism checker free online before handing in any assignment to avoid getting into trouble. Using a tool like this can help in checking the exact percentage of plagiarism in a text.
All in all, these are the best Chinese literature books ever penned and can be found in any Chinese library. They’re certainly worth the read and offer much-needed insight into the workings of tradition, power, and humanity.