Chinese fiction in classical literature originated in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) and lasted until the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), 'Hua Ben' as the draft or records of actors became popular. This was the rudiment of fiction and the use of the vernacular catered for ordinary people. In the Yuan Dynasty, novels had chapters and greater attention was attached to the detail depicted. At the peak of the development of fiction, Four Famous Classical Chinese Literatures were born in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Legends in the Tang Dynasty underwent a change from the previous form where only snatches of conversation were recorded and they began to be structured. The authors of legends delved into life and told stories with wit and beauty, as well those about pixies and fairies, paving the way for works that came after.
Hua Ben in the Song Dynasty is actually a fashionable kind of monologue for actors to tell stories to the lower-classes who would have been unable to read for themselves. The portrayal of figures and plots were thus illuminating and vivid. This formed the interim period of classical fiction.
Fiction in the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties continued and reached an artistic zenith during this period in ancient China. Many excellent works appeared in various forms, collating practically all of the former skills and arts. Among them, there are historical novels like San Guo Yan Yi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), and Shui Hu Zhuan (The Water Margin), fairy fictions like Xi You Ji (The Pilgrim to the West) and Liao Zhai Zhi Yi (Strange Stories from a Scholar's Studio), satiric stories like The Travels of Lao Tsan by Liu E, The Schoolars by Wu Jingzi, as well as the realistic novel Hong Lou Meng (A Dream of Red Mansions). The Romance of Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin, The Pilgrim to the West and A Dream of Red Mansions are known as 'The Four Famous Classical Chinese Literatures'.
The Four Famous Classical Chinese Literatures
Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong tells of the military events that happened during 169 - 280 in the reign of Eastern Han Dynasty. The three states Wei, Shu and Wu, each occupied a territory until finally the State Wei unified the whole. In this work, three figures are prominently portrayed - Zhu Geliang, Guan Yu and Cao Cao. Zhu Geliang's wit has always been admired and his name now has become a byword for inexhaustible resourcefulness. Guan Yu was depicted as a loyal general and Cao Cao as a man of duplicity.
The Water Margin by Shi Nai'an is a heroic legend spread over many generations. Historically, official books would regard the insurrection of farmers as rebellion. However this book revealed that it was the ruling class that was pernicious to society. The plot of the story was a tragedy in which the righteous heroes died through the machinations of government. Each of the characters was really detailed and vivid.
The Pilgrim to the West by Wu Cheng'en attached a greater center of attention on the figures. It tells a story of the pilgrimage of the honorable Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang to ancient India, together with his three disciples. From the novel you can experience the bravery and wit of Sun Wukong, the piety of Xuanzang, the greed of Zhu Bajie, and the kindness of Sha Cen. In fact this story prevailed for a long time before it was finally written down in its entirety. When Wu Cheng'en wrote it, he combined shadow land and reality into an artistic world.
A Dream of Red Mansions is the pinnacle of ancient Chinese literature. The authors, Cao Xueqin and Gao E artfully told the sorrowful love story of Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu, by weaving a tale of the wealthy and prosperous life as well as the degeneration of the Jias and other royal families. Reading the day to day detail expressed in the book, you will be dazzled by the minute detail of Chinese customs such as traditional attitudes of different statues, the art of Chinese snacks, ladies' jewelry, etc. By reading the philosophical events in the work, you will also attain an insight into the society of the day. This is truly a perfect composition of the realistic and romantic art form.