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Old 2011-09-27, 13:21   Link #1
Puddingman
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Favorite Traditional Asian Literature

Hey all! I was thinking that since this site is dedicated to some aspects of modern Asian culture why not explore the traditional stuff? In particular I'm thinking of Literature. Let's offer some cool books we've read and a short explanation about them!

Tale of Genji-A story about a boy growing up in ancient royalty. The book mostly follows his adventures, mostly running around trying to get the ladies . It's very poetic though.

Dream of Red Chamber- Haven't read this yet actually but it's supposed to be a famous piece of Chinese Literature.

Tales of Ise-A collection of about 100ish short stories (very short, some a paragraph long) where a narrative is usually given and then a poem is recited by the character.

Dao de Jing- Chinese philosophy book. Pretty cool, uses kind of circular language. It's discusses methods for feeling content in the world. It's isn't technically a religious text but that's sort of the idea (as in how Bible=Catholicism, Dao De Jing= Daoism). Or maybe it's Christianity, I don't know much about religion .
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Old 2011-09-27, 13:23   Link #2
Haak
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I tried reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms once but gave up half way through the second volume. It was just impossible to understand...

I read a translation of Musashi once. That was pretty cool. It's about the famous samurai that develops the two sword technique and his love affair with the Way of the Sword.

That's about as much as I know of Asian literature.
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Old 2011-09-27, 14:45   Link #3
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I read a French academic translation of Journey to the West once, to be frank I had a hard time reading the whole thing in verse...
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Old 2011-09-27, 16:44   Link #4
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Quote:
I read a French academic translation of Journey to the West once, to be frank I had a hard time reading the whole thing in verse...
OH YEA! There's a copy of that in my local library but it's so freaking long! Have you played the video game based on that story?? It's a PS1 game called "Saiyuki: The Journey West" something like that, it's really fun!

Quote:
I tried reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms once but gave up half way through the second volume. It was just impossible to understand...
I hear you on that. I felt that way with Genji a lot of the time; keeping track of the royal titles and different characters is tough, additionally so if the names are in other languages.

This is a nice compilation everyone!
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Old 2011-09-27, 17:02   Link #5
MakubeX2
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Originally Posted by Haak View Post
I tried reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms once but gave up half way through the second volume. It was just impossible to understand...
Wait, which version of the book did you picked to read ? It's original archaic text or one of it's English translation ? If it's the later, I suggest getting the Moss Roberts literation with it more contemporary choice of words in it's interpretation instead of the more widely avaliable Brewitt-Taylor edition.
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Old 2011-09-27, 17:59   Link #6
ChainLegacy
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The Man'yoshu would probably be my favorite. I read Genji and Heike and some others all for various Japanese related classes I've taken. The Man'yoshu is a collection of ancient poems; it is fascinating from a historical perspective (as poetry can have an interesting way of making one understand a culture), but additionally the poetry itself is just cool to read.
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Old 2011-09-27, 19:52   Link #7
DonQuigleone
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Tried reading Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, but it was pretty hard. So many names, and so long.

For now I'm sticking to the good auld Greek Classics. They don't go over 500 pages in length either.
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Old 2011-09-27, 20:00   Link #8
james0246
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Would Ugetsu Monogatari count? It's not quite as old as some of the other titles, but it is a great collection of short stories from 1776.
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Old 2011-09-27, 21:19   Link #9
Irenicus
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Haak
I tried reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms once but gave up half way through the second volume. It was just impossible to understand...
Quote:
Originally Posted by DonQuigleone View Post
Tried reading Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, but it was pretty hard. So many names, and so long.
Yes, but that's epic.

I guess Westerners just approach this one differently. To me -- and other East/SE Asians -- it's a special sort of story, a mythology. It's war, it's history, it's politics and glory and the lens from which you make sense of the chaos in your world. You know them, you grow up with them. You make proverbs, snappy sayings, political metaphors from them. The Peach Garden Oath is how you swear a brotherhood; Red Cliff is where hubris gets served; Liu Bei visits Kong Ming three times to win over the genius man; Cao Cao takes to cruel actions to end chaos. Good kids want to be Liu Bei, bad kids want to be Cao Cao. Boys who think they're big and tough want to be Zhang Fei. Smart kids want to grow up to be Zhuge Liang. The grownups think the kids should act like Guan Yu, the honorable God of War. Nobody likes Sima Yi, the sonofabitch.

The girls are...kind of left out. There's Diao Chan and that's...that.

It's probably not unlike Greece, circa 5th century B.C.E. Everybody and their dog knew the Iliad by heart, and even the radical Athenian democrats had in their heart of hearts a bit of a yearning for the Homeric hero (hence how Alcibiades totally dazzled them). This stuff is culture. This is how epics worked.
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Old 2011-09-28, 01:14   Link #10
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Originally Posted by MakubeX2 View Post
Wait, which version of the book did you picked to read ? It's original archaic text or one of it's English translation ? If it's the later, I suggest getting the Moss Roberts literation with it more contemporary choice of words in it's interpretation instead of the more widely avaliable Brewitt-Taylor edition.
I actually did read Robert's translation. I don't think it's the translation that was bothering me. It was just that there was about a million things happening at a time and I just couldn't keep track of what was going on. It was more like reading summary of a story than an actual story. A summary of a story that's five volumes long...
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Old 2011-09-28, 03:47   Link #11
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Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo -- in its day those books were subversive reading, when the country was still under Spanish rule. Rizal wrote them not because he wanted the Spaniards out, but he wanted them to give Filipinos at least some recognition as citizens as much as the colonizers. However, the authorities thought otherwise, who feared that the novels could be used to destabilize Spain's hold on the country.

If read just like a typical paperback today, the Noli and the Fili are interesting windows into another era.

Biag ni Lam-ang -- I came across this while in high school, and with my imagination at work I found myself laughing between this and early episodes of DBZ and North Star (one example was the hero hitting a villain in the jaw with a strong fist, sending the latter over a range of hills). Actually, this was an Ilocano epic poem, and I'll not be surprised if someone decides to adapt it to a popular TV audience.
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Old 2011-09-28, 04:18   Link #12
Tom Bombadil
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Dream of Red Chamber- Haven't read this yet actually but it's supposed to be a famous piece of Chinese Literature.
The book is a masterpiece of Chinese literature. From my point of view, it is kind of unfair to group it with the other 3 classical Chinese novels (Romance of 3 kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Journey to the west), since it far surpasses the others in all fields: sharp and well-rounded character building, intricacy in its story telling, excellency of its poems, etc.. The height that DoRC was able to achieve is unprecedented in Chinese history, and it is unlikely to be surpassed ever again.

But it takes a real effort to appreciate such works. The novel is rather long (twice of that War and Peace, I was told), and like Romance of 3 kingdoms, it also has many many characters. The daily life of 18th century aristocratic life is not easily associated by a modern reader. Besides, the many fine points of the novel is lost in translation. But for a serious reader, there is hardly a better challenge, and once you have read it, the words will find their own ways to be carved fever in your mind. It will not be just another novel one has read, but a huge stone in the world that exists.
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Old 2011-09-28, 07:11   Link #13
MakubeX2
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Originally Posted by Haak View Post
I actually did read Robert's translation. I don't think it's the translation that was bothering me. It was just that there was about a million things happening at a time and I just couldn't keep track of what was going on. It was more like reading summary of a story than an actual story. A summary of a story that's five volumes long...
A shame. I first read Roberts' translation when I was 16 and I was all confused at first. But I took my time to digest everything, referring to the notes Roberts painstakingly jotted for the reader and by Chapter 10, I was hooked.

In today's context, I would put ROTK as a Seinen for matured readers. Water Margin as a Shounen for Teenagers. Red Chamber Shojo Romance and finally Journey To The West as Kodomomuke.

Then there's the fifth lesser known classic Jin Ping Mei which I will dump under Ero

So here, you have your pick of Chinese Classics in case ROTK isn't you cup of tea.
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Old 2011-09-28, 08:12   Link #14
DonQuigleone
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I'll probably go back to RoTK at some point. I just think it would be easier as a foreigner if I had an Ebook form of the book, with easily acessibly anotates Notes, and ready access to a map.

Instead I'm always flipping to the back of the book for the notes, or to the map in front, in order to determine what's going on.

I don't view that as a criticism of RoTK itself, as any Chinese person would have few issues with those things, they wouldn't need notes, and they'd probably know where all the locations are.

That and being able to search the book when a character appears, to determine if he's already appeared, would also make it easier.

I will, however, criticize RoTK for length. 120 Chapters is Looooong. The Iliad, a comparable work, is only 24 books ("Chapters") long. Not only that but the cast of characters is smaller, and more intimate. Obviously it's still going to be hard to keep track of everyone if you're only starting out, but I don't think it would be as hard as RoTK. There's really only 20 or 30 characters in the Iliad (and a whole slew of others who die shortly after being introduced), RoTK has hundreds!

RoTK has a lot of good points, the subject matter is interesting, and it's a good book. But I think the Iliad is better. But I am a tad biased, I grew up on the Iliad. Diomedes the Panic maker for the win.

As for Irenicus's characters: Good kids want to be Hector, bad kids want to be Agamemnon. Boys who think they're big and tough want to be Ajax. Smart kids want to grow up to be Odysseus. The grownups think the kids should act like Achilles. Nobody likes Paris, the sonofabitch.


The girls are...kind of left out. There's Helen and Hekabe and that's...that. Though there are the goddesses.

The Iliad rocks. "Man, supposing you and I, escaping this battle, would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal, so neither would I myself go on fighting in the foremost, nor would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory. But now, seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us in their thousands, no man can turn aside or escape them, let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others. "
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Old 2011-09-28, 08:55   Link #15
SaintessHeart
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What I find interesting about Dream of the Red Chamber is that it brings in the topic of incest between a father-in-law and his son's wife - a supposedly taboo topic in Chinese culture, even worse than that of between Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu in the 2nd part of the Condor Trilogy.

Read the original Chinese version but I can't remember most of the content, I was too focused on wuxia styled works like Water Margin. With regards to Chinese literature, I find the idea of Journey to the West being the most hilarious, where Tang Seng = Food to almost everybody in the world.

Wuxia is probably the only other kind of fictional literature I read other than J/K-manga. My favourite is Jin Yong's 天龙八部 (Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils), followed by 白发魔女传 (The Bride With White Hair*), but none of these works matches up to 鹿鼎记 (Duke of Mount Deer) - which is probably the best piece of Chinese literature in the 20th century. Not only is it hilarious, but the way the story turns out it humourous. Perhaps even more interesting is the concept of Dugu Nine Swords as mentioned in 笑傲江湖 (Smiling Proud Wanderer) - the fighting style of that somewhat follows the idea of rock-paper-scissors.

* - It could be better named as Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned.
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Old 2011-09-28, 08:58   Link #16
kona~chan
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for asian lit my fav still goes to One Thousand and One Nights/ arabian night, and Mahabharata.
i tried read chinese classics before (journey to the west, Outlaws of the Marsh, and rotk) but never finish its, maybe because it has large cast and massive amount of pages which shomewhat very difficult to me to understand all of it.
and now still struggles to find the translation of ramayana, Dream of Red Chamber and Fengshen Yanyi.
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Old 2011-09-28, 09:38   Link #17
Tom Bombadil
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Originally Posted by SaintessHeart View Post
What I find interesting about Dream of the Red Chamber is that it brings in the topic of incest between a father-in-law and his son's wife - a supposedly taboo topic in Chinese culture, even worse than that of between Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu in the 2nd part of the Condor Trilogy.
Why are you mixing the top class cognac with some bathtub vodka together?

Before someone get the wrong idea that DoRC is about aforementioned incest, that was merely alluded to involving minor side characters in some passing paragraphs . There are discussions that one chapter on such topic was planned but was not included in the later version, but we never know the truth behind it now.


Quote:
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I will, however, criticize RoTK for length. 120 Chapters is Looooong.
I think the underlying goal of the the two novels (comparing with Iliad) determines their difference. RotK covers the political and military events that went for about 70-80 years. The nation went through dramatic changes from the fall of a dynasty, to the struggle between the warlords, to the consolidation of powers under the three kingdoms, the war between them, and then the eventual re-unification under a completely new dynasty. Iliad on the other hand, is one war (a very epic one, no doubt). One can debate whether such grand plan of RoTK is too ambitious for a novel. But I feel that something is lost when one compare the two without their different circumstances. Just my 2 cent.

Last edited by Tom Bombadil; 2011-09-28 at 10:38.
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Old 2011-09-28, 10:00   Link #18
SaintessHeart
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Why are you mixing the top class cognac with some bathtub vodka together?

Before someone get the wrong idea that DoRC is about aforementioned incest, that was merely alluded to involving minor side characters in some passing paragraphs . There are discussions that one chapter on such topic was planned but was not included in the later version, but we never know the truth behind it now.
I do remember a Chinese Literature teacher (I was doing my 'A's when it first got introduced as a subject itself) telling me about the components of "forbidden love" in Chinese culture, and she was using DoRC and Condor 2 / 3 (Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre) as references.

From what I can remember, she mentioned that DoRC's minor characters allude to certain concepts of "love gone wrong", like the forbidden love of Qin Zhong, we is supposedly an uke to the MC, then later loves a nun (whom my teacher interprets it as "he is trying to act normal in front of others"). Then there is also You Er Jie as the secret concubine, and the incestous head of the family. It is a bloody tedious book to read and I don't think I can remember enough to really bring out all the nitty-gritty pieces.

Moreover, I personally felt that the word "樓" could mean alot of types of buildings, be it a brothel, a restaurant, or even the theme of "red" could mean the auspicious predetermination wrought in certain mysteries and unforeseen events (in blood), since red is known to be the colour of choice should something good happen.

This could make a good H-manga/game if the main characters are casted well, but I think China would immediately invade Japan if such a manga is ever drawn and published.
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Old 2011-09-28, 10:37   Link #19
Tom Bombadil
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Originally Posted by SaintessHeart View Post
I do remember a Chinese Literature teacher (I was doing my 'A's when it first got introduced as a subject itself) telling me about the components of "forbidden love" in Chinese culture, and she was using DoRC and Condor 2 / 3 (Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre) as references.

From what I can remember, she mentioned that DoRC's minor characters allude to certain concepts of "love gone wrong", like the forbidden love of Qin Zhong, we is supposedly an uke to the MC, then later loves a nun (whom my teacher interprets it as "he is trying to act normal in front of others"). Then there is also You Er Jie as the secret concubine, and the incestous head of the family. It is a bloody tedious book to read and I don't think I can remember enough to really bring out all the nitty-gritty pieces.
There is a quote along the veins that a thousand different eyes hold a thousand different Hamlet. Enough to say that I am of a different opinion.

Quote:
Moreover, I personally felt that the word "樓" could mean alot of types of buildings, be it a brothel, a restaurant, or even the theme of "red" could mean the auspicious predetermination wrought in certain mysteries and unforeseen events (in blood), since red is known to be the colour of choice should something good happen.
I am not sure what you are trying to say here. Another title of the book was supposed to be 石頭記, or "the story of the stone". That's a possibility that's a more authentic title than the most popular one.

Quote:
This could make a good H-manga/game if the main characters are casted well, but I think China would immediately invade Japan if such a manga is ever drawn and published.
There is a story that in the time of Republic of China, a tea house was open with the name of "瀟湘舘"(which is the name of the house that the female main character lives in), an old literature professor immediately went there to protest: how dare they defile the sacred name of the abode of the goddess. 焚琴煮鶴 is one phrase he used (it is kind of hard to translate it).
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Old 2011-09-28, 10:49   Link #20
Xagzan
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Originally Posted by Irenicus View Post
Yes, but that's epic.

I guess Westerners just approach this one differently. To me -- and other East/SE Asians -- it's a special sort of story, a mythology. It's war, it's history, it's politics and glory and the lens from which you make sense of the chaos in your world. You know them, you grow up with them. You make proverbs, snappy sayings, political metaphors from them. The Peach Garden Oath is how you swear a brotherhood; Red Cliff is where hubris gets served; Liu Bei visits Kong Ming three times to win over the genius man; Cao Cao takes to cruel actions to end chaos. Good kids want to be Liu Bei, bad kids want to be Cao Cao. Boys who think they're big and tough want to be Zhang Fei. Smart kids want to grow up to be Zhuge Liang. The grownups think the kids should act like Guan Yu, the honorable God of War. Nobody likes Sima Yi, the sonofabitch.

The girls are...kind of left out. There's Diao Chan and that's...that.

It's probably not unlike Greece, circa 5th century B.C.E. Everybody and their dog knew the Iliad by heart, and even the radical Athenian democrats had in their heart of hearts a bit of a yearning for the Homeric hero (hence how Alcibiades totally dazzled them). This stuff is culture. This is how epics worked.
ROTK is similar in spirit to Greek epic? If so, then my confidence in reading it just increased. The closest I ever came to that story was the Ravages of Time series, and I couldn't follow it after about 20 chapters I'm hoping it was just a translation issue.

Aside from that, I've had Genji resting on my shelf for a while, but I still have a ton of other lit to get through before I dust it off. What other traditional Asian lit do I have though...

Oh, a book of Japanese Tales translated by Royall Tyler, they're quite enjoyable. Also have a couple of versions of Art of War, I want to read both eventually and pick which one is better when it comes to footnotes, translation, etc. And I have the Tao Te Ching around here somewhere.

I've also read bits of the Analects, although it was so long ago I can't really remember much of it. Same goes for Zhuangzi unfortunately And are we counting Buddhist and Hindu texts here? If so, then I can add the Dhammapada to my list, as well as parts of the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads. And also there was a certain play I've read, think it was called Sakuntala but I'm not 100% positive. Wait, are we counting play texts as lit too? If so, then I have to mention Matsukaze to the list, a lovely and haunting Noh drama.

What else...hm, nothing else I think would fit what we're calling "traditional" here. All the other Asian lit examples I've read are more modern, so I don't believe they count.
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