Real Reads are retellings of great literature from around the world, each fitted into a 64-page book. Based in the United Kingdom, Real Reads Ltd makes classic stories, dramas and histories available to intelligent young readers as a bridge to the full texts, to language students wanting access to other cultures, and to adult readers who are unlikely ever to read the original versions.
Real Reads bring great books to a wider readership, while always honouring the context and structure of the original. Each Real Read reflects the depth and power of the original story, and retains much of the author’s vocabulary, style and tone. Illustrators are carefully chosen for their ability to convey the mood of the original text.
Real Reads embody cultural values and traditions from around the world. They foster cross-cultural understanding and help the reader connect with the world’s most important literature and history. Each book has a section called "Taking things further" which provides historical and human context, suggests links to useful resources, and asks the reader challenging and insightful questions relating to the story.
While re-telling the four "great classics" of Chinese literature in English, Real Reads introduce the four Chinese authors as the following:
Wu Cheng'an wrote Journey to the West in the 1590s. The Chinese government at that time was not very efficient, unable to protect its citizens against natural disasters and widespread turmoil caused by rebels, bandits and pirates. It must have been a sad time to live in, especially for Wu, who failed the national examination and thus lost the opportunity to become a government official and look after his fellow people. In writing Journey to the West, Wu was inspired by the legends of a Chinese monk named Xuanzang who, in the seventh century, travelled to India and spent thirteen years studying Buddhism there. After returning to China, he dedicated his life to translating and teaching the Buddhist scriptures he had brought back.
Luo Guanzhong wrote The Three Kingdoms in the fourteenth century, which coincided with the defeat of the Mongols by the Chinese at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. The desire of Luo and his fellow citizens for the newly established government of the Ming Dynasty to create a civilised, strong and prosperous nation is reflected in Luo's book. It is based on events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of China, starting in 169CE and ending with the reunification of the nation in 280CE. In The Three Kingdoms, Luo successfully combines historical records with folk tales about that era, creating a rich tapestry of personalities. Also introduced in the book are materials created by previous generations of poets, writers, playwrights and composers, as well as Luo's personal interpretation of concepts such as virtue and legitimacy.
Shi Nai'an wrote The Water Margin in the fourteenth century. It is based on the exploits of the historical outlaw Song Jiang and his thirty-six companions during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). The group was active in the marshlands surrounding Mount Liang in eastern China, attacking government troops and sustaining citizens in need. In Shi's book, the number of Song's outlaws has been expanded to one hundred and eight. The author successfully combines historical records with folk tales about the Mount Liang outlaws, and adds a flavour of myth and magic to their stories, describing them as manifestations of thirty-six heavenly spirits and seventy-two earthly demons. This, together with Shi's rich and often humorous portrayal of the outlaws, has made The Water Margin one of the most popular Chinese books ever written.
Cao Xueqin wrote Dream of the Red Chamber in the mid-eighteenth century. Commonly acknowledged as the highest peak of classic Chinese writing, the book is remarkable both for its huge cast of characters and for its detailed description of the life and social structures of the Chinese aristocracy of the time, especially the women. To a large extent, the main character Baoyu's fiery passion for love and beauty reflects Cao's life as a highly intelligent and talented artist. In the same way that Baoyu's family slowly loses its fame and fortune, Cao's family properties were confiscated by the government of his time, forcing him to live in poverty. It is clear that Dream of the Red Chamber is a semi-autobiographical work, a literary tribute to all the important women in Cao's life.
These four "noble Chinese classics" are re-told in English by Australian Chinese author Christine Yunn-Yu Sun, with colourful and dynamic illustrations by Taiwanese artist Shirley Chiang.