First, I should point out that I am writing this post six months after finishing the novel; and while I took some notes when reading it, details are starting to get a bit hazy and I apologise if what follows is even more vague than usual. As with the previous Great Chinese Classics, both date of composition and author of The Three Kingdoms (also known as Romance of the Three Kingdoms) are not known with certainty. It is generally assumed that it was written by Luo Ghuanzong (who also may have edited and maybe even written parts of Outlaws of the Marsh) and assumed to have been written in the latter half of the 14th century, but neither of those appears to be quite uncontested.
The Outlaws of the Marsh (Shui Hu Zhuan) is the third of the Six Classic Chinese novels I have read so far, and the earliest one: it was written in the 14th century, but like The Scholars and The Plum in the Golden Vase, it is set several centuries before that time, specifically in the 12th century during the Song dynasty – there does seem to be a distinct pattern here, with each of the three novels referring to their particular present only by way of writing about the ostensible past; which is all the more remarkable as the novels are otherwise quite different from each other. (Not in all respects, however, as one thing I have learned from this reading project is that the ancient Chinese liked their novels not only very long but also with lots and lots of characters – The Outlaws of the Marsh may not be quite as sprawling in that regard as The Scholars, but again we get a veritable host of protagonists which make War and Peace look like an intimate drama in comparison.)