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When you are waiting at an airport, do you ever pick up one of those trashy potboiler novels at a newsagent? Not exactly highbrow literature, but usually far more popular than some rarefied books of fiction that are accorded great acclaim by intellectuals. So too it went in Imperial China. They had their mandarins, educated in Classical Chinese, who favoured certain works in that style or language. But to most Chinese, stories written in vernacular Chinese were often more popular. If only because they were more easily read.
What Hanan does here is show us this glimpse into centuries past. Giving accounts of famous and popular authors. Where possible, there are short bios of each. Reading these also gives some sense about the societies they inhabited. There is a summary of the types of writings that made each famous. Feng Menglong and Ling Mengchu are 2 such authors. You might appreciate that in their times, they were the equivalent of Charles Dickens or H G Wells in Victorian Britain.
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