As a result of the long history of Civilisation in China, by the time of the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties there is a huge group of affluent literati in China.
They looked back at the past achievements, admire, and sought to improve on them. It is in this spirit one can see copies made in the later dynasties of famous paintings that were painted in the earlier dynasties.
One that comes to mind is Along the River During the Qingming Festival (Qingming Shanghe Tu) a handscroll painting by the Song dynasty painter Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145) and copied many times in the following centuries. It captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital, Bianjing (present-day Kaifeng) during the Northern Song.
In the same spirit they sought to improve on the past classic novels.
Thus, the concept of sole authorship of a classic novel is unheard of in pre-modern China.
This is unlike Japan where The Tale of Genji is acknowledged as the sole work of Murasaki Shikibu, circa early 11th century; or in the west, where, say, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice is the sole work of an author presumably William Shakespeare, circa 1603.
To illustrate my point, The Water Margin is a novel by Shi Naian [ 1296- 1372] written during the Yuan dynasty. [ 1271- 1368].
It tells a tale of upright rebels rebelling against Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty [ 1100- 1126]. [Huizong has been criticised in history for neglecting affairs of State to indulge in the arts and culture appreciation].
We now have 3 versions of this novel due to editing by subsequent editors.
We have the 120-chapter version edited by Li Zhi published in 1592.
Later it was pruned to 70 chapters by Jin Shengtan published in 1641. He removed the last 50 chapters which talks of the redemption and eventually the forgiveness of the rebels by the emperor. Jin wrote in a time of the last days of the Ming dynasty and thus rebellion was not encouraged.
We also have the 100-chapter version!
All three versions have been translated into English.
The first English translation is by the famous American missionary Pearl S Buck (of The Good Earth fame) who translated the 70-chapter version by Jin Shengtan.
She gave it the title All Men Are Brothers, using a famous saying by Confucius ” Within the Four Seas, All Men are Brothers,”
Lwh 9 Feb 2024
Chinese New Year eve