Romance Novels of Ancient China

China has the distinction of being the only country in the world that has a literary tradition written in one language and that has been around for more than 3,000 years. As a literary form, the Chinese novel was believed to have emerged during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The ancient Chinese novels of old typically revolved around supernatural events and historical themes. They also emphasized character development.

There is some difficulty in distinguishing the Chinese romance novel as a genre because most novels of this era dealt with a myriad of themes ¾ themes that are not exclusive to love and romance. There are five novels that are generally acknowledged as “classics” and two of these can be said to have mostly revolved around the theme of love, and, as such, can be categorized as a Chinese romance novel.

  • A Dream of the Red Chamber. (Also known as “Dream of the Red Mansions” and “The Story of the Stone”). Written by Cao Xueqin in the 18th century, this love romance is perhaps the most famous Chinese romance novel in China. It describes the waning of two wealthy and interrelated households in Nanking. At the core of the story is the love between a randy but fainthearted playboy and his cousin.
  • The Plum in the Golden Vase. (Also known as “The Golden Lotus” and The Adventurous History of Hsi-men and His Six Wives). Attributed to Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng, this love romance was written during the late Ming Dynasty or between 1368-1644. Frankly sexual in nature, the story focuses on the amorous adventures of Ximen Qing, a lustful and corrupt businessman from the mercantile class and the downfall of his clan. He takes on six wives who constantly battled it out to gain ascendancy in his favors.


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