I may not have finished reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms yet, but I’ve seen enough of it to know whether it’s any good. Of the four great classics, my personal ranking is:

1. Romance of the Three Kingdoms
2. Water Margin (a.k.a. Outlaws of the Marsh)
3. Journey to the West
4. Dream of the Red Chamber (a.k.a. A Dream of Red Mansions)

Now, I know many consider that Dream of the Red Chamber is the pick of the bunch, but truth be told, it’s the most boring and insipid book about the most banal and vapid characters. I mean they cry like babies all the frickin’ time, especially the men. Grow a pair and get on with it. Yes, there might be a little bit of satire in it, but really, the whole book is a giant waste of time, and unless you enjoy watching daily soap operas, you should steer clear of this book. For a more interesting read, might I suggest War and Peace?

Now, I kind of wish that Journey to the West resonated a bit better with me, because it really is quite a funny and engrossing adventure. But, the trouble with this book is its episodic and repetitive nature. It feels a little bit like episodes of The Simpsons, but instead of the good earlier stuff, I mean the most recent seasons with its crude attempts at ridiculous and over the top comedy.

Finally, we get to the top two, Water Margin and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. These deal with heroes and villains, political machinations, loyalty and betrayal. Plus a whole lot of war and violence. The fact that George R. R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire is so popular, shows that we love reading about realistic characters and engrossing storylines in our times, just as much as our ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

In summary, the four great novels of China actually form three great novels and one complete dud, which I presume is only included because they needed one that was able to put people to sleep. If you are also interested in taking up the challenge of reading these four books with at least 100 chapters each, I can highly recommend three.

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