This is more of a recommendation than a review, as I have nothing negative to say.
Those of us educated in the west really don’t know much about Chinese history unless we went out of our way to study it independently. You’ll hear about the 6 gorillion from 2nd to 12th grade, yet might go that same period of time without even hearing the names of some entire eras in Japanese or Chinese history. Our liberal education has become brainwashing in liberalism.
Because of these intentional deficiencies in basic education it can be challenging to even find a place to begin to study either subject. There is material on each end of the spectrum, with books being made simple enough for children with little information and those written with the expert scholar in mind, but the adult looking to expand his horizons has fewer places to look. I have a rather thick book that looks fascinating about one year from the Ming dynasty, and it might as well have been written in Chinese with how incomprehensible most of it is to me. And I have a Ph.D. in history.
The Four Classic Novels are books almost anyone will enjoy…with the proper understanding of what is happening. Despite the books being available in English, there are other challenges in reading and appreciating them.
Take ROTK for instance. For someone who grew up in Japan or China this era of history was taught in school, and there is a familiarity with the people and conflicts. For the westerner without that, it is a jumbled mess of similar-looking names one does not know how to pronounce (most Chinese names do not romanize as easily as Japanese names and it’s a complex system to decrypt until mastered) in places he can’t find on a map, arguing about things he doesn’t understand for a few pages before it all happens again with new unknown names and unknown places.
Enter John Zhu. He grew up with the ROTK stories as a child and read the book by the time he was 10. Fast forward a few years, he marries an American woman, gets her an English copy of the book and notices a lot of the same things I’ve been saying, with some dry descriptions of military campaigns thrown in for good measure. He knew this was not the experience the book was meant to give.
Zhu took it upon himself to do a podcast conveying what the book is supposed to be. Far more than an audiobook, he explains the historical context of what is happening for someone who is not an expert in Chinese history while going through the story in order. I selfishly hope this will inspire others to the give the same treatment to the rest of the Six Classic Novels.
Even as someone with a much greater grasp on Chinese history than the average westerner, I find myself learning more, and appreciating the novel even more, with every episode. Just having the names pronounced properly without going back and forth to a pronunciation chart 10 times in as many sentences is extremely valuable for a westerner.
Sporadically he will do supplemental episodes, which give additional information beneficial to listener. Just another example of how this series goes above and beyond.
The man does an absolutely incredible job and I cannot recommend his podcast enough. Anyone with the slightest interest in ROTK or any anime, game, etc. that ties into it owes it to themselves to listen.
While this should be obvious, make sure you start at the beginning i.e. the first episode of the series. As this is written episode 1 is located here, but that will change over time as new episodes are added:
It is available on iTunes as well: