Sanguo zhi yanyi, fourteenth century (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 1925)
Almost nothing is known of the life of Luo Guanzhong (loh gwahn-juhn), credited as the author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a novelistic synthesis of historical accounts and folk stories that became China’s primary prose epic. Jia Zhongming, in his list of contemporary libretto writers (Xu Lugui Bu) speaks of Luo Guanzhong as “a friend of disparate years” (that is, an older friend) and of a reunion in 1364 after what must have been a long separation. This would place Luo’s birth around 1320. His native home is given as Taiyuan in Shanxi, but there is good reason to believe that he was a native of Shandong and worked in Hangzhou in Zhejiang, which was from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries an important center of the theater and of the storytellers’ guilds. Most sources are agreed that his real name was Pen, Guanzhong being his zi or derived name.
Jia lists three plays by Luo Guanzhong and speaks of him as a lyricist of great originality. One of these works, dealing with the life of the founder of the Sung dynasty, has come down to modern times. It must be noted, however, that the version of this story, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which has been translated into English and which has been generally read in China, was extensively revised and enlarged by Mao Zonggang in the latter part of the seventeenth century and that even the earliest known version (1494) probably bears little resemblance to Luo’s work–if indeed he did write such a romance at all. All available evidence indicates that works of fiction published in the fourteenth century were more in the nature of prompt-books than well-developed compositions intended for the reading public. Luo is also sometimes credited with the authorship of three or four other historical romances in addition to the Shuihu zhuan (all men are brothers), which is more often attributed to Shi Naian.