There are four novels in Chinese literary history seen as so excellent they deserve their own category: the 四大名著. In chronological order these are 水浒传 (Water Margin or Bandits of the Marsh, Ming, 14th Century), 三国演义 (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ming, 14th Century), 西游记 (Journey to the West, Ming, 16th Century) and 红楼梦 (Dream of the Red Chamber, Qing, 18th Century). Each one offers a window into a different aspect of Chinese society. Water Margin deals with political ethics and the margins of state power, with people on the periphery of the Song state gathering in difficult terrain where state power is hardest to enforce (a common theme in Chinese history), then resisting and overcoming the state before eventually switching sides to help the state ward off the invasions of neighboring dynastic forces and fight rebels. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms describes a tumultuous period in Chinese history after the dissolution of the Han Dynasty and includes some of its most well known characters: Zhu-Ge Liang, Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Guan Yu among many others. For those wishing to understand what “cunning” means to the Chinese, the Romance should be the first choice along with Sunzi's Art of War (孙子兵法). Journey to the West describes the pilgrimage of a Tang Dynasty monk to India to bring classical Buddhist texts to China. The monk is accompanied by the Monkey King Sun Wukong (shout-out to our Lianyungang AYCers!), half-man half-pig Zhu Bajie, and the monstrously ugly Sha Wujing. This a must-read for those interested in the impact of Buddhism on Chinese society, and the 80’s TV series made from this novel is one of China’s most entertaining and most accessible series.The Dream of the Red Chamber details the complexities and subtleties of Chinese emotional life. The story, which involves a staggering cast of nearly 40 main characters and over 500 supporting characters, describes the decline of an aristocratic family. If your Chinese reading skills aren’t quite up to snuff, these novels are all available in translation.