The first question that we face when attempting to unravel the history of any text is when was it written, and by whom. The identification of authorship for Ming and Qing novels is often problematic, as the writing of vernacular fiction was not generally considered to be a socially acceptable form of literary expression for members of the scholar-official class, and so writers often felt constrained to hide their identity behind opaque pseudonyms. For example we only know the author of the Ming novel Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅 (The Golden Lotus) by the pseudonym "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling" 蘭陵笑笑生, who has been variously identified as Li Kaixian 李開先 (1502-1568), Li Xianfang 李先芳 (1511-1594), Xu Wei 徐渭 (1521-1593), Wang Shizhen 王世貞 (1526-1590), Jia Sanjin 賈三近 (1534-1592), Tu Long 屠隆 (1542-1605) and Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550-1616) amongst others; but without further evidence coming to light we will perhaps never know who "The Scoffing Scholar" really was. In the case of many other pseudonymous or anonymous novels, modern scholars have only been able to put forward a single candidate for authorship, and in the absence of contradictory evidence, such claims have often been accepted uncritically. Thus the Ming novel Xiyou Ji 西遊記 (Journey to the West) is now universally accepted as having been written by Wu Cheng'en 吳承恩 (c.1506-1582), despite the fact that his name never appears on any pre-modern edition of the novel, and there is only limited circumstantial evidence linking him to the novel. Similarly, the Qing novel Rou Putuan 肉蒲團 (The Carnal Prayer Mat) is now generally accepted as having been written by Li Yu 李漁 (1611-1680), although the pseudonyms found on the extant editions ("Master Secrets of Passion" 情隱先生 and "Man of the Way Who, After Being Crazed with Passion, Returned to the True Path" 情痴反正道人) cannot actually be identified as belonging to Li Yu, and there is no direct evidence linking Li Yu to the composition of this novel.
Given the uncertainty entailed by pseudonymous or anonymous authorship, we should count ourselves extremely fortunate that, from the earliest times, the authorship of Sanguo Yanyi has been associated with one man, known by the name of Luo Guanzhong 羅貫中 (his family and courtesy name) or Luo Ben 羅本 (his family and given name). Nevertheless, the veracity of Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Sanguo Yanyi has often been viewed with greater suspicion than have the more tenuous claims to authorship of such as Wu Cheng'en and Li Yu. The evidence for Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Sanguo Yanyi is summarised below.
The primary evidence for Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Sanguo Yanyi is provided by the authorship/publication credits printed at the head of the text of many Ming and early Qing editions of the pre-Mao Zonggang recension of the novel. Most of the early editions of the novel, whether fine official editions or cheap popular editions, advertise themselves as having been written by Luo Guanzhong. However, starting with the publication of the influential Li Zhuowu commentary edition, none of the 120 chapter commentary editions that dominated the transmission history of Sanguo Yanyi from the late Ming through to the end of the Qing dynasty (LZW, BHL, ZBJ, YXT, LLW, and MZG) provided authorship credits, preferring instead to highlight the role of the commentator. Indeed, the Mao Zonggang recension of Sanguo Yanyi that became the standard text of the novel during the Qing dynasty makes no mention of Luo Guanzhong whatsoever in either the credits, preface or commentary.
All the editions of Sanguo Yanyi that do provide authorship credits are unanimous in ascribing the textual composition of the novel to Luo Guanzhong, although the authorship credits are found in these slightly varying forms:
The main difference between the various authorship credits is that in the 12/24 juan format editions (mostly fine, official or private editions), the name of Luo Guanzhong is prefixed by the term "latter-day scholar", whereas as in the 20 juan format popular Jianyang editions, Luo Guanzhong's name is prefixed by the placename Dongyuan 東原, which is an archaic name for the area corresponding to the Yuan dynasty Dongping prefecture 東平府 in Shandong. In the former editions, the credit to Luo Guanzhong is preceded by a parallel credit to Chen Shou 陳壽 (233-297), of the Eastern Jin dynasty, as the author of the dynastic history of the Three Kingdoms period upon which the novel is supposedly based. The term "latter-day scholar" for Luo Guanzhong is thus used in contrast to his third-century predecessor. In the earliest Fujian editions, the credit to Chen Shou precedes an introductory historical verse, and I believe that this credit was only relocated to a position in front of Luo Guanzhong's authorship credit when the introductory historical verse was deleted from the text of the 12/24 juan format editions (see Evolution). Without a parallel credit to Chen Shou, the term "latter-day scholar" in the credit to Luo Guanzhong makes no sense, and so cannot have been present in the original authorship credit. Presumably, the term "latter-day scholar" replaces the reference to Luo Guanzhong's hometown, Dongyuan, that is found in the Fujian editions. This is supported by the 1494 preface preserved in several of the 12/24 juan editions, in which the author of the novel is given as "Luo Guanzhong from Dongyuan").
Only the abridged recension Fujian editions add that Luo Guanzhong lived during the Yuan dynasty, but as these editions have the least reliable text, the veracity of this detail is not to be trusted.
Luo Guanzhong's role as author of Sanguo Yanyi is corroborated by the earliest extant witness to the existence of the novel, a preface preserved in a number of the early editions (1522, XZY, ZYJ, LZW) that is dated at Hongzhi 7  and signed by "Vulgar and Foolish" (Yongyuzi 庸愚子), who is identified as a certain Jiang Daqi 蔣大器 from his seal at the end of the preface. This preface gives the following account of the composition of the novel:
In an earlier time someone once compiled from unofficial histories a popular narrative text (pinghua) [of the history of the Three Kingdoms] for performance by blind story-tellers. However, it was written in a vulgar and corrupt idiom, and furthermore erred on the side of the spurious, so that scholars and gentlemen generally abhorred it. As for Luo Guanzhong from Dongyuan, based on the historical chronicle of Chen Shou of Pingyang (i.e. the dynastic history Sanguozhi), and referring to the various dynastic histories, he carefully compressed and expanded the events of the period starting in the first year of the Zhongping reign period of Emperor Ling of Han  and ending in the first year of the Taikang reign period of the Jin dynasty , entitling the result Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi (A Popular Elaboration of the History of the Three Kingdoms). The language was not overly abstruse, nor was the wording overly vulgar; the events were recorded truthfully, so that it seemed almost like history. … When the book was completed scholars and gentlemen who were interested in such things fought with each other to make copies in order to facilitate their reading of it.
This account would, at first sight, seem to indicate that Jiang Daqi had first-hand knowledge about the composition of Sanguo Yanyi, and the role of Luo Guanzhong as author. However, the details relating to Luo Guanzhong would all have been easily deducible from the text of Sanguo Yanyi for which the preface was written: Luo Guanzhong's name and his native place would have been found in the authorship credit at the head of the text; the use of Chen Shou's Sanguozhi as a source material would have been evident from the title to the initial historical verse, which in extant editions clearly states "Based on the historical chronicle of the Marquis of Pingyang, Chen Shou, of the Jin dynasty" 按晉平陽侯陳壽史傳; the upper and lower time limits for the period of history that Luo Guanzhong rewrote could have been simply derived from the statement of chronological extent that would have been attached to each volume of Sanguo Yanyi. As to the comment that early readers of Sanguo Yanyi fought with each other to make manuscript copies, this is probably merely based upon conjecture. Thus, we cannot accept the 1494 preface as reliable first-hand evidence for Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Sanguo Yanyi. Nevertheless, the 1494 preface is of great importance, as it does tell us that Luo Guanzhong's name was firmly attached to the text of Sanguo Yanyi by as early as 1494.
In addition to being credited with the authorship of Sanguo Yanyi, Luo Guanzhong's name is also associated with the composition of several other historical or quasi-historical Ming novels, principally:
The evidence for Luo Guanzhong's composition of the first three of these novels is limited to their authorship credits, which all ascribe their "textual compilation" to Luo Guanzhong of Dongyuan, and references within their respective prefaces. I argue elsewhere that Sui-Tang Liangchao Zhizhuan and Can-Tang Wudaishi Yanyi Zhuan were written by the same author during the mid-Ming in deliberate imitation of Sanguo Yanyi, and that the attribution of authorship to Luo Guanzhong for these two novels was merely an attempt to fool the reading public into believing that they were written by the author of the famous Sanguo Yanyi. In the absence of any evidence of the existence of Pingyao Zhuan prior to the mid-Wanli period, and given the lack of any corroborating evidence, there is little reason to suppose that the attribution of authorship of this novel to Luo Guanzhong was not also a publication ploy intended to cash in on the success of Sanguo Yanyi.
Several Qing dynasty novels which deal with the history of the Tang dynasty, such as Shuo Tang Quanzhuan 說唐全傳 (The Complete Oral Tale of the Tang Dynasty) and Fenzhuang Lou 粉粧樓 (The Rouge Tower), also give Luo Guanzhong as their author, but this can explained as being due to Luo Guanzhong's putative authorship of the earlier novels of Tang history (Sui-Tang Liangchao Zhizhuan and Can-Tang Wudaishi Yanyi Zhuan) upon which the Qing novels were ultimately based.
Some modern scholars have even credited Luo Guanzhong with the authorship of the prosimetric narrative Da-Tang Qinwang Cihua 大唐秦王詞話 (The Verse Narrative of the Prince of Qin [Li Shimin] of the Great Tang), as well as a non-extant novel, Jintong Can-Tang Ji 金統殘唐記 (A Record of the Jintong period [880-884, established by Huang Chao] at the End of the Tang Dynasty), which the Ming author Qian Xiyan 錢希言 claims was the source for an unspecified prosimetric text. However, as far as I am aware Luo Guanzhong's name is not directly linked to either the extant prosimetric narrative or the lost novel in any contemporary source, and his association with these texts would again seem to stem from his putative authorship of Sui-Tang Liangchao Zhizhuan and Can-Tang Wudaishi Yanyi Zhuan. Indeed, Da-Tang Qinwang Cihua is probably based directly on Sui-Tang Liangchao Zhizhuan, and from Qian Xiyan's description of Jintong Can-Tang Ji, this novel may be nothing more than an alternate name for Can-Tang Wudaishi Yanyi Zhuan.
It may be noted that the author of the preface to the novel Shuo Tang Quanzhuan puts forward the anomalous, and no doubt spurious, claim that Luo Guanzhong was a native of Luling 廬陵 (modern Ji'an in Jiangxi).
The case of Shuihu Zhuan is somewhat more complicated. The Jianyang editions of this novel concur with the Jianyang editions of Sanguo Yanyi in ascribing the "textual compilation" to Luo Guanzhong from Dongyuan. However, the 100 and 120 chapter editions of Shuihu Zhuan ascribe the authorship jointly to Shi Nai'an 施耐庵 and Luo Guanzhong, but giving the two authors different roles ("Collected and composed by Shi Nai'an; Edited and revised by Luo Guanzhong" 施耐庵集撰，羅貫忠纂修). The bibliography Baichuan Shuzhi 百川書志 (The Hundred Rivers Bibliography) compiled by Gao Ru in Jiajing 19  also gives an entry for a 100 chapter edition of Shuihu Zhuan with an authorship credit that reads "Source text by Shi Nai'an from Qiantang; Compiled by Luo Guanzhong".
That Shi Nai'an was responsible for the composition of a proto-version of the novel, and that Luo Guanzhong was responsible for the finished text, as implied by the non-Jianyang editions, is a theory echoed by Lang Ying 郎瑛 (1487-1566), who states that Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan were compiled by Luo Ben (courtesy name Guanzhong) from Hangzhou, and that Shuihu Zhuan was based upon a source text written by Shi Nai'an from Qiantang 錢塘 (i.e. Hangzhou). However the source for Lang Ying's remarks is very likely to have been either the authorship credits for editions of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan that Lang Ying had seen in person or else Gao Ru's bibliography. The only additional information that Lang Ying provides is that Luo Guanzhong was a native of Hangzhou. This goes against the authorship credits to the Jianyang of editions of Sanguo Yanyi, the 1494 preface to Sanguo Yanyi, and the authorship credits to the Jianyang editions of Shuihu Zhuan, all of which give Luo Guanzhong's native place as Dongyuan. The most likely explanation for the anomalous reference to Hangzhou is that Lang Ying mistakenly assumed that the place-name Qiantang in the authorship credits for Shuihu Zhuan referred to both Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong. Nevertheless, a number of other Ming sources also refer to Luo Guanzhong as the author of Shuihu Zhuan, and a native of Qiantang or Hangzhou. Tian Rucheng 田汝成 (1500-1563) tells us that Luo Guanzhong was a native of Qiantang during the Southern Song, and that he composed a large number of novels, including Shuihu Zhuan, but that because Shuihu Zhuan extolled the deeds of bandits, Heaven punished him by striking dumb his descendants for three generations. The late Ming author Xu Zichang 許自昌, quoting an earlier source, echoes Tian Rucheng's remarks, but specifies that Luo Guanzhong was a loyalist survivor from the Southern Song, that is to say, that he lived during the late Song through to the early Yuan.
A different theory is advanced by Hu Yinglin 胡應麟 (1551-1602), who accepts Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Sanguo Yanyi, but denies Luo Guanzhong a role in the composition of Shuihu Zhuan as he considers Sanguo Yanyi to be vastly inferior to that novel. He therefore suggests that Shuihu Zhuan was written by the Yuan author Shi Nai'an from Wulin 武林 (i.e. Hangzhou), and that Sanguo Yanyi was a poor emulation of Shuihu Zhuan by Shi Nai'an's disciple, Luo Guanzhong. However, as Hu Yinglin's opinion about authorship seems to have been determined by his critical position on the relative merits of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan, he cannot be accepted as a reliable source of information about Luo Guanzhong.
Whilst the Ming sources cited above tell us that Luo Guanzhong lived during the late Song or early Yuan, the preface to Shuihu Zhuan written by "Tiandu Waichen" 天都外臣 (i.e. Wang Daokun 汪道昆) states that Luo Guanzhong was a native of Yue 越 (the area of eastern Zhejiang which includes Hangzhou) who lived during the Hongwu period (1368-1398) at the beginning of the Ming dynasty.
From all the above-mentioned Ming and Qing sources we can glean virtually no reliable information about Luo Guanzhong. Almost all the sources refer to Luo Guanzhong primarily as the author of Shuihu Zhuan, and those few sources (Lang Ying and Hu Yinglin) that do refer to Luo Guanzhong as the author of Sanguo Yanyi would seem to derive their information from the authorship credits of Sanguo Yanyi rather than from any independent tradition. However, as the sources that treat Luo Guanzhong as the author of Shuihu Zhuan are of a comparatively late date (none pre-date the mid-sixteenth century), and may have been influenced by the authorship credits found in contemporary editions of Shuihu Zhuan, they do not provide strong independent evidence of Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Shuihu Zhuan either. As to when and where he lived, about all we can say is that there was an unsubstantiated tradition that Luo Guanzhong was a native of Hangzhou and was born during the Southern Song. However, as this tradition was built around the popular legend that Luo Guanzhong's descendants were struck dumb as a punishment for his writing a novel that was perceived of as advocating banditry, there is good reason to doubt the authenticity of this tradition.
Thus, until modern times, Luo Guanzhong was little more than a semi-legendary figure who might or might not have lived in Hangzhou any time from the late Southern Song through to the early Ming. Luo Guanzhong would still be no more than just a name if it were not for the discovery in 1931 of an anonymous sequel to Zhong Sicheng's 鍾嗣成 (c.1277-1345+) catalogue of Yuan dramatists, Lugui Bu 錄鬼簿 (A Register of Ghosts). The sequel to Lugui Bu gives biographies for sixty late Yuan and early Ming dramatists not listed in Zhong Sicheng's original work, and includes the following entry for Luo Guanzhong:
Luo Guanzhong: A native of Taiyuan, who uses the sobriquet "The Wanderer Among Lakes and Seas". He rarely associates with other people, but his non-dramatic songs and riddles are extremely fresh and invigorating. He is an older generation friend of mine, but due to the tumultuous events of these times we became separated. We met again in the cyclical year jiachen of the Zhizheng reign period , but since departing some sixty years have passed, and I do not know what became of him.
This entry also records that Luo Guanzhong authored three zaju plays, Fengyun Hui 風雲會 (The Meeting of Wind and Clouds), Feihuzi 蜚虎子 (The Flying Tiger) and Lianhuan Jian 連環諫 (The Linked Ring Remonstration). There are a number of points of interest about Luo Guanzhong's biography.
Firstly, Luo Guanzhong is known primarily as an author of drama, and no mention is made of his authorship of Sanguo Yanyi, Shuihu Zhuan, or any other work of fiction, despite the fact that his other literary talents (non-dramatic songs and riddles) are alluded to. Moreover, as the author of the sequel to Lugui Bu refers to the dramatists by their courtesy names, Luo Guanzhong's given name is not provided, and thus we cannot be absolutely certain that this Luo Guanzhong is indeed Luo Guanzhong (given name Ben), putative author of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan, and not just somebody with the same family and courtesy names. Nevertheless, Luo is not a particularly common family name and Guanzhong is not a stock courtesy name, so it would be a very great coincidence to find two men both called Luo Guanzhong. Furthermore, fiction and drama were closely associated branches of "low literature", and very frequently authors of fiction were also writers of drama, so for Luo Guanzhong to have written three dramas is perfectly consistent with him being the author of Sanguo Yanyi and/or Shuihu Zhuan. It is thus reasonable to accept that the Luo Guanzhong referred to in the authorship credits to Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan is indeed the Luo Guanzhong known to the author of the sequel to Lugui Bu. If this is the case, why then does the author of this biography fail to mention Luo Guanzhong's important accomplishments in the field of fiction? As he claims to have been a friend of Luo Guanzhong, he should have known if Luo had written or was in the process of writing a long novel such as Sanguo Yanyi. His silence on this subject strongly suggests that as of 1364, when they last met, Luo Guanzhong had not yet embarked on the composition of Sanguo Yanyi, or was still only in the preliminary stages of writing.
Secondly, Luo Guanzhong is given as a native of Taiyuan (in modern Shanxi), which neither accords with the popular tradition that Luo Guanzhong was a native of Hangzhou, nor the authorship credits for the Jianyang editions of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan, which place his home at Dongyuan (i.e. Dongping) in Shandong. The probable explanation for this discrepancy is simply that Taiyuan 太原 (a well-known city) is a transcription error for Dongyuan 東原 (an obscure archaic place-name). During the Jin and Yuan dynasties, Dongping was one of the main political and cultural centres of northern China, and during the early Yuan, when zaju drama was largely restricted to the north of China, it was the home town of many dramatists. From the mid-Yuan onwards, the centre of Northern Drama shifted south to Hangzhou, and many dramatists who were born in the north emigrated to the south. That Luo Guanzhong may also have lived in the south for some time is strongly suggested by the fact that he knew the author of the sequel to Lugui Bu. It is clear from his biographies of other dramatists that the writer of the sequel to Lugui Bu lived in Hangzhou during the Zhizheng period (1341-1368), and as the writer does not specify that he travelled somewhere else to meet with Luo Guanzhong, it is reasonable to assume that they must have met in Hangzhou. If Luo Guanzhong did indeed live in Hangzhou for a period, this would perhaps explain why during the Ming dynasty there was a tradition that Luo Guanzhong came from Hangzhou.
Thirdly, the writer of the biography says that Luo Guanzhong was an older generation friend of his, whom he last met sixty odd years ago in Zhizheng 24 , four years before the downfall of the Yuan dynasty. On this basis, Luo Guanzhong's dates are generally given as circa 1330-1400, although most recent scholarship has suggested that somewhat earlier dates would be more consistent with Luo Guanzhong being a member of a senior generation in 1364. Suggested dates have included circa 1295-1379, circa 1300-1370, circa 1310-1380,  and circa 1314-1394. Although these dates are little more than rough guesses, it is clear that Luo Guanzhong must have lived during the late Yuan into the early Ming, and it is highly improbable that he could have been born during the Southern Song (1127-1279) as many of the Ming sources referred to earlier state.
Further information about Luo Guanzhong appears to be provided in the Baishi Huibian 稗史彙編 (A Compilation of Anecdotal Literature) compiled by Wang Qi 王圻. This work, which is largely a compilation of anecdotes from earlier books, includes one snippet about Luo Guanzhong that suggests first-hand knowledge of his life:
As to Luo Guanzhong of the Song dynasty, and Ge Kejiu who lived at the beginning of this dynasty, they both aspired to princedom (i.e. hoped to be rewarded with a feudal title for military services rendered to their liege lord). However they encountered a true lord [who took the empire, and put an end to their hopes for glory], and so Ge put his heart into medicine, and Luo put his energy into writing fiction.
Ge Kejiu is the courtesy name of Ge Qiansun 葛乾孫 (1304-1353), and as he was born during the early Yuan, the use of the words "at the beginning of this dynasty" would seem to indicate that the author of this statement was writing in the Yuan dynasty. Therefore it may be that these remarks are an extract by Wang Qi from a Yuan dynasty source, and thus far more credible than later Ming sources. The meaning of this passage is, however, extremely uncertain, and open to diverse interpretations. It has been suggested that the curious words "aspired to princedom" refer to Luo Guanzhong joining up with the late Yuan rebel Zhang Shicheng 張士誠 (1321-1367) in the hope of being given a feudal title when the Mongols had been overthrown and Zhang Shicheng was the new emperor of China. Unfortunately for Luo Guanzhong, Zhang Shicheng was defeated in 1367 by the "true lord" Zhu Yuanzhang, founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, and the only avenue left open to Luo Guanzhong was fiction. Conversely, it has been suggested that Luo Guanzhong was a reactionary supporter of the Yuan dynasty, and that he joined the local militia in order to help suppress the rebellions that rocked the late Yuan, and so be rewarded with a feudal title. Unfortunately for Luo Guanzhong, the rebels (under the "true lord" Zhu Yuanzhang) won, and the Yuan dynasty was overthrown. However, in suggesting that "aspired to princedom" refers to Luo Guanzhong fighting either with or against Zhang Shicheng, the "true lord" that confounded his aspirations can only be interpreted as Zhu Yuanzhang, which would mean that the passage must have been written during the Ming, not the Yuan, which clashes with the statement that Ge Kejiu lived "at the beginning of this dynasty". If a Yuan date for this passage is to be accepted, the "true lord" must presumably refer to Kublai Khan (r.1260-1294), first Mongol emperor of all China, and Luo Guanzhong's military aspirations must have been during the wars preceding the reunion of China under the Mongols. One way of cutting the Gordian knot of confusion relating to when Luo Guanzhong lived and to whom he was loyal, is to read the passage metaphorically, referring to Luo Guanzhong's literary aspirations not his military ambitions. Thus "aspired to princedom" would mean that Luo Guanzhong originally hoped to establish a name for himself in "high literature" (i.e. poetry), but that as a "true lord" (i.e. a great literary talent) already dominated the literary world, Luo Guanzhong was forced to turn to "low literature" (i.e. fiction and drama) in order to make a name for himself. Unfortunately, none of these interpretations of this intriguing passage are ever likely to gain universal acceptance without corroborating evidence from a reliable early source, and so this passage remains of limited value in attempting to understand who Luo Guanzhong was and when he lived.
In recent years one more primary source relating to Luo Guanzhong has come to light. This is a list of thirty-one disciples of the neo-Confucian scholar Zhao Baofeng 趙寶峰 (Zhao Xie 趙偕) that made a sacrifice to their deceased master during the twelfth month of Zhizheng 26 : Wu Benliang 烏本良, Zheng Yuanyin 鄭原殷, Feng Wengong 馮文恭, Luo Gong 羅拱, Fang Yuan 方原, Xiang Shou 向壽, Li Shan 李善, Wu Sidao 烏斯道 (1314-?), Wang Zhen 王真, Gu Ning 顧寧, Luo Ben 羅本, Weng Xu 翁旭, Wang Huan 王桓, Hong Zhang 洪璋, Xu Jundao 徐君道, Fang Guan 方觀, Qiu Shanji 裘善緝, Li Heng 李恒, Weng Fang 翁肪, Cen Ren 岑仁, Wang Shen 王慎, Tong Hui 童惠, Wang Quan 王權, Gao Kerou 高克柔, Gu Xun 顧勛, Wang Zhi 王直, Ye Xin 葉心, Qiu Zhong 裘重, Zhou Shishu 周士樞, Zheng Shen 鄭慎, and Mao Fusheng 茅甫生. It has been suggested that the Luo Ben in this list is in fact Luo Guanzhong the dramatist and putative author of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan. Unfortunately, this list only gives the given names of Zhao Baofeng's disciples, and does not provide their courtesy names, so we cannot be absolutely certain that Luo Ben is in fact Luo Guanzhong, and not just somebody who coincidentally shares the same family and given names as Luo Guanzhong. Moreover, as Luo Ben is just a name on a list, there is no evidence that this Luo Ben was a writer of drama or fiction. It has further been objected that this Luo Ben could not be the same Luo Ben (courtesy name Guanzhong) who wrote drama and fiction for a living, as no follower of the neo-Confucian Zhao Baofeng would engage in such "unconfucian" activities. However, this is clearly a dubious premise on which to reject the claim that Luo Ben is Luo Guanzhong. It is not only conceivable that a follower of a neo-Confucian scholar (and possibly only a follower in the sense of someone who admired and respected Zhao Baofeng) could write "low literature", but it is evident that the author of Sanguo Yanyi must have been a man of some considerable erudition who had undergone a traditional Confucian schooling, and who would thus have been comfortable in the company of men such as Zhao Baofeng. Despite the lack of solid facts relating to this Luo Ben, there is some circumstantial evidence that tends to support the identification of Zhao Baofeng's disciple, Luo Ben, as the dramatist-novelist Luo Guanzhong.
Firstly, the list of names appears to be in order of seniority (thus the two brothers Wu Benliang and Wu Sidao are separated from each other), with the oldest disciple at the head of the list and the youngest at the bottom. As Wu Sidao was born in Yanyou 1 , and because the large number of names on the list would seem to preclude a large age gap between any two disciples, this means that Luo Ben was probably born soon after 1314. This date fits in well with the dates for Luo Guanzhong's birth as calculated according to the entry in the sequel to Lugui Bu (dates ranging from 1295 to 1330).
Secondly Zhao Baofeng lived and died in Cixi, which is just a short distance east of Hangzhou. For Luo Guanzhong to have been present at Zhao Baofeng's funeral at Cixi in 1366 fits in well with his final meeting with the author of the sequel to Lugui Bu at Hangzhou in 1364.
Thirdly, an important disciple of Zhao Baofeng who was not at the sacrifice was Chen Wenzhao 陳文昭 (Chen Lin 陳麟 1312-1368), who was the magistrate of Cixi county where Zhao Baofeng dwelt. The name Chen Wenzhao appears in chapter 27 of Shuihu Zhuan, where he is represented as being the kind, honest and enlightened prefect of Dongping prefecture. Is it just coincidence that one of the few local officials who is singled out for praise in Shuihu Zhuan has the same name as Zhao Baofeng's distinguished disciple? And that Chen Wenzhao is made prefect of Dongping prefecture, Luo Guanzhong's home prefecture? Possibly, but for Luo Guanzhong to honour Chen Wenzhao in his novel would certainly be consistent with him being a disciple of Zhao Baofeng.
This then is the full extent of our knowledge about the putative author of Sanguo Yanyi. From the various sources we can construct a tentative skeleton biography for Luo Guanzhong. Luo Ben, courtesy name Guanzhong, was probably born in Dongping circa 1315, and lived in the greater Hangzhou region around 1364-1366. He probably fled the Hangzhou region during the civil war that marked the downfall of the Yuan dynasty, and eventually died elsewhere sometime during the early Ming.
Although we can establish that Luo Guanzhong lived during the late Yuan into the early Ming, there is no credible evidence linking Luo Guanzhong to the authorship of Sanguo Yanyi or Shuihu Zhuan other than the authorship credits present in the earliest extant editions of these novels, and so his authorship of these novels remains contentious. Given the lack of any evidence from Yuan or early Ming sources directly linking Luo Guanzhong's name to the authorship of either Sanguo Yanyi or Shuihu Zhuan, some modern scholars have doubted the authenticity of this attribution. However, if neither Sanguo Yanyi nor Shuihu Zhuan were actually written by Luo Guanzhong, then why would either of them falsely borrow Luo Guanzhong's name for their authorship? We could envisage a novel such as Sanguo Yanyi being falsely attributed to a famous historian in order to improve its historical credibility, or a novel such as Shuihu Zhuan being falsely attributed to a famous vernacular author, such as the Yuan dramatists Guan Hanqing 關漢卿 or Wang Shifu 王實甫. But as Luo Guanzhong was neither a famous historian, nor a particularly well-known dramatist, there would be no reason to attach Luo Guanzhong's name to a novel written by someone else. At the very least Luo Guanzhong must have written one of these two novels for there to have been any motive for an author or editor to falsely attribute the other one to him. In the absence of any contradictory evidence, I believe that we must accept that Luo Guanzhong was indeed the author of either or both Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan.
We are thus left with the question of whether Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan came from the same hand. If the two novels can be shown to share a common authorship, then in all probability that author would have been Luo Guanzhong. If however, they can be shown to have been written by different authors, then only one of them could have been composed by Luo Guanzhong, and in all likelihood the composition of the novel that was not written by Luo Guanzhong would have postdated the appearance of the one that was written by Luo Guanzhong. Conversely, if it can be demonstrated that Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan have widely different dates of composition, inconsistent with common authorship, then the earliest text should be accepted as having been written by Luo Guanzhong, and the later text as having been written by someone else borrowing Luo Guanzhong's name.
Unfortunately, it is not at all easy to determine whether Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan were or were not written by the same author. The principle reason for this uncertainty is the fact that these two novels are written in very different linguistic styles. Whereas Shuihu Zhuan is written in an earthy, colloquial language which largely represents the everyday speech of common folk, Sanguo Yanyi is written in an only semi-vernacularized form of the literary language which does not represent actual spoken language. There is thus no basis for a meaningful comparison of linguistic usage in the two novels. Whilst it could be argued that the different linguistic styles of the two novels indicates separate authorship, it could equally be argued that Luo Guanzhong conceived Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan as belonging to different genres of fiction, and so deliberately fostered different linguistic styles: Sanguo Yanyi, as popularized history, was written in a more formal language with the minimum of intrusion from colloquial speech; Shuihu Zhuan, as an extended vernacular story, was written in a lively colloquial language intended to bring the characters to life.
Whilst we cannot determine if Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan were written by the same author or not from internal textual evidence, the differing authorship credits for these two novels does cast some doubt on the theory of common authorship. Unlike the authorship credits for Sanguo Yanyi, which unanimously ascribe the authorship to Luo Guanzhong, only the Jianyang editions of Shuihu Zhuan give Luo Guanzhong as the sole author, whilst the non-Jianyang editions mention both Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong jointly. There are a number of possible explanations for the dual authorship credits to Shuihu Zhuan. Firstly, Shi Nai'an was the author of the earliest version of Shuihu Zhuan, and Luo Guanzhong was merely a later editor and revisor of Shi Nai'an's original text. Secondly, as Jin Shengtan claims, Shi Nai'an was responsible for the original text (chs.1-71), and Luo Guanzhong was responsible for a continuation (ch.72 and beyond) of the original novel. Thirdly, Shi Nai'an was the author of an antecedent pinghua version of the Song Jiang legend which Luo Guanzhong used as a major source for the writing of an essentially original novel. Fourthly, Shi Nai'an was the real author of Shuihu Zhuan, but as his name was unknown to Ming readers, the name of the author of Sanguo Yanyi (Luo Guanzhong) was added to the authorship credits by a publisher seeking to increase the salability of the novel. In some editions credits to Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong went hand-in-hand, whilst in the recension of the novel published in Jianyang Luo Guanzhong's name completely displaced that of Shi Nai'an.
I personally feel that the latter of these hypotheses is the most convincing explanation for the differing authorship credits in the various editions of Shuihu Zhuan, and I will tentatively reject Luo Guanzhong's authorship of Shuihu Zhuan. There is no similar question surrounding the authorship credits for Sanguo Yanyi, and in the absence of any contradictory evidence, I see no reason not to accept the assertion that Luo Guanzhong wrote Sanguo Yanyi.
If Luo Guanzhong was indeed the author of Sanguo Yanyi, then he cannot have written (or at least completed) his novel until sometime after his last meeting with the author of the sequel to Lugui Bu in Zhizheng 24 , as there is no mention of Luo Guanzhong's fiction-writing activities in his biography. Assuming that Luo Guanzhong did not write during the turmoil of civil war that marked the downfall of the Yuan dynasty, this would mean that Sanguo Yanyi would have achieved completion sometime during the Hongzhi period (1368-1398) of the Ming dynasty. How this date fits in with the internal textual evidence for the composition of the novel is dealt with in Date of Composition.
1. Liu Ts'un-yan discusses Luo Guanzhong's authorship of the various novels ascribed to him in his "Lo Kuan-chung and his historical romances" (Chinese version under the title "Luo Guanzhong jiangshi xiaoshuo zhi zhenwei xingzhi").
2. See his Tong Xin 桐薪 juan 3; quoted in Sun Kaidi, Zhongguo Tongsu Xiaoshuo Shumu p.54.
3. The only scholar who seriously accepts this dubious reference is Meng Fanren, who uncritically accepts all references to Luo Ben or Luo Guanzhong as genuine, and based on them constructs an imaginative itinerary for Luo Guanzhong's travels around China (from Taiyuan to Dongyuan to Hangzhou to Luling), the primary purpose of which was genealogical research into the Luo clan! See his "Luo Guanzhong shilun" and "Lugui Bu Xubian yu Luo Guanzhong zhongzhong".
4. As with the commentary editions of Sanguo Yanyi, the 100 chapter commentary editions of Shuihu Zhuan emphasize the role of commentator, and so omit authorship credits. The "Roster of Heroes" combined edition of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan (YXP) is unique in ascribing the authorship solely to Shi Nai'an ("Compiled by Shi Nai'an from Qiantang"). This may have been in order to deliberately juxtapose Luo Guanzhong and Shi Nai'an as the authors of Sanguo Yanyi and Shuihu Zhuan respectively.
5. See Qixiu Leigao 23/352-353 (also quoted in Zhu and Liu, Sanguo Yanyi Ziliao Huibian p.226).
6. See Xihu Youlan Zhiyu 25/468 (also quoted in Zhu and Liu, Sanguo Yanyi Ziliao Huibian p.228). This account is repeated by a number of Ming and Qing authors (see Sanguo Yanyi Ziliao Huibian pp.228-236), including Wang Qi, who introduces the error that the author of Shuihu Zhuan was a certain "Luo Guan" whose courtesy name was "Benzhong" (see his Xu Wenxian Tongkao 續文獻通考 juan 177 as given in Mingshi Yiwenzhi, Bubian, Fubian p.441; also quoted in Zhu Yixuan and Liu Yuchen, Shuihu Zhuan Ziliao Huibian p.132). Some Qing authors even substitute the name of Shi Nai'an for Luo Guanzhong in this story (see Shuihu Zhuan Ziliao Huibian p.140).
7. See Chuzhai Manlu 樗齋漫錄 juan 6 (quoted in Zhu and Liu, Shuihu Zhuan Ziliao Huibian p.215).
8. See Shaoshi Shanfang Bicong 41/571 (also quoted in Zhu and Liu, Sanguo Yanyi Ziliao Huibian pp.231-232).
9. This account is repeated by Zhou Lianggong (1612-1672) in Shuying 1/15 (also quoted in Zhu and Liu, Sanguo Yanyi Ziliao Huibian pp.233-234).
10. This sequel is found as an appendix to a Ming dynasty manuscript copy of a revised edition of the original Lugui Bu with a postscript written by the Ming dramatist Jia Zhongming 賈仲明 (1343-?) which is dated at Yongle 20 . Jia Zhongming was responsible for the revision of the original Lugui Bu, but there is no indication as to who was responsible for the compilation of the sequel section. It has been suggested that Jia Zhongming also compiled the sequel to Lugui Bu, but this is unlikely. From internal evidence, such as the use of the Yongle Emperor's posthumous title (Wen Huangdi), it is clear that the sequel was composed after the end of the Yongle reign period (1403-1424), and thus could not have been contemporaneous with Jia Zhongming's revision of the original Lugui Bu. Moreover, the sequel to Lugui Bu includes a biography for Jia Zhongming which lacks the modesty to have been written by Jia Zhongming himself.
11. Jiaoding Lugui Bu Sanzhong p.171.
12. Only the first of these three dramas is still extant (see Guben Xiqu Congkan series 4 part 3 no.54), but it does indeed include a credit at the head of the text to Luo Guanzhong of the Yuan dynasty.
13. Almost all modern scholars do in fact accept that Luo Guanzhong the dramatist is the same person as Luo Guanzhong the novelist. About the only scholar to deny this is Zhou Cun, who believes that Luo Guanzhong (the author of Shuihu Zhuan) lived during the late Song and early Yuan, and so could not have been the same person who the author of the sequel to Lugui Bu met two years before the end of the Yuan (see "Shu Yuanren suojian Luo Guanzhong Shuihu Zhuan he Wang Shifu Xixiang Ji" p.78.
14. We only know the text of the sequel to Lugui Bu from a single manuscript copy, and this copy is riddled with transcription errors, apparently mostly due to the source text having been written in cursive characters which the copyist often misread. It is possible that tai 太 was the copyist's best guess for an unclear or damaged dong 東 written in a cursive hand.
15. See Feng Qiyong, "Lun Luo Guanzhong de shidai" p.85.
16. See Yuan Shishuo, "Ming Jiajing kanben Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi nai Yuanren Luo Guanzhong yuanzuo" p.106.
17. See Meng Fanren, "Lugui Bu Xubian yu Luo Guanzhong zhongzhong" p.43.
18. See Meng Fanren, "Luo Guanzhong shilun" p.341.
19. The meaning of the word zongxiu 宗秀 that precedes Luo Guanzhong's name is not evident. Zhou Cun takes zongxiu to mean "the distinguished clan member", suggesting that this passage was written by a later member of the Luo clan (see his "Shu Yuanren suojian Luo Guanzhong Shuihu Zhuan he Wang Shifu Xixiang Ji" p.78). Other authors tacitly assume this to be the name of someone called Zong Xiu (cf. Wang Liqi, "Luo Guanzhong yu Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi" p.246; Diao Yunzhan, "Luo Guanzhong de yuanji zai nali?" p.35), even though there would seem to be no room for a third person in this passage. I follow Liu Youzhu in taking zongxiu to be a transcription error for the homeographic compound songji 宋季 meaning "Song dynasty" (see his "Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi shi Yuandai zuopin" pp.300-301). This would thus parallel the use of the word guochu 國初 "at the beginning of this dynasty" before Ge Kejiu's name.
20. Baishi Huibian 103:26b-27a (also in Zhu and Liu, Sanguo Yanyi Ziliao Huibian p.229). The text continues "Now when I read Luo's Shuihu Zhuan …". However, the remainder of the passage does not appear to be a quote from the same source as the statement about Luo Guanzhong and Ge Kejiu, but rather Wang Qi's own discourse arising from the initial quotation. That the remainder of the passage is Wang Qi's own discourse is further evidenced by mention of the legend recorded by "the Recorder of the Western Lake" (i.e. Tian Rucheng) that Luo Guanzhong's descendants were struck dumb (Tian Rucheng's original remarks are quoted by Wang Qi in his other work, Xu Wenxian Tongkao).
21. See Zhou Cun, "Shu Yuanren suojian Luo Guanzhong Shuihu Zhuan he Wang Shifu Xixiang Ji" pp.71-76; Feng Qiyong, "Lun Luo Guanzhong de shidai" pp.81-83.
22. See Wang Liqi, "Luo Guanzhong yu Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi p.246; Diao Yunzhan, "Luo Guanzhong de yuanji zai nali?" pp.35-36; Meng Fanren, "Lugui Bu Xubian yu Luo Guanzhong zhongzhong" pp.46-48. The only "evidence" that Luo Guanzhong was actually associated with Zhang Shicheng are remarks to that effect made by the Qing author Gu Ling 顧苓 in his postface to a book of illustrations to Shuihu Zhuan (see Taying Yuan Ji 4:9a-b; also in Zhu and Liu, Shuihu Zhuan Ziliao Huibian p.693). However, Gu Ling is far too late a source to be considered of any real value, and his linking of Luo Guanzhong to Zhang Shicheng seems to be based on his interpretation of the "continuation chapters" (post-ch.71) of Shuihu Zhuan as a satire on Zhang Shicheng.
23. See Li Lingnian, "Luo Guanzhong wei Zhao Xie menren bianlüe" pp.57-60.
24. See Zhou Cun, "Shu Yuanren suojian Luo Guanzhong Shuihu Zhuan he Wang Shifu Xixiang Ji" pp.71-76.
25. See Liu Youzhu, "Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi shi Yuandai zuopin" pp.301-303.
26. See Wang Liqi, "Luo Guanzhong yu Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi" pp.240-247; Ouyang Jian, "Shilun Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi de chengshu niandai" pp.288-292.
27. See Zhang Peiheng, "Guanyu Luo Guanzhong de shengzunian" pp.124-126. The list of Zhao Baofeng's disciples quoted by later authors such as Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610-1695) excludes the names of Luo Ben and Gao Kerou. Some scholars have suggested that Gao Kerou is a transcription error for Gao Rouke, who they would identify as Gao Ming 高明 (jinshi graduate of 1345), author of the famous southern drama, Pipa Ji 琵琶記 (The Lute), on the basis that the lost collected works of Gao Ming was entitled Roukezhai Ji 柔克齋集 (Collected Works of Rouke Studio). Even if this identification is not valid, Huang Zongxi might have believed that Gao Kerou was indeed Gao Ming, and have deliberately omitted his name and that of Luo Ben because he felt that the authors of popular works of literature such as Sanguo Yanyi and Pipa Ji were not suitable disciples for a Confucian scholar.
28. Ouyang Jian calculates that Wang Huan was born pre-1319, and so limits Luo Ben's date of birth to the period 1315-1318 (see "Shilun Sanguozhi Tongsu Yanyi de chengshu niandai" p.291). However, it is far from certain that Ouyang's calculation of Wang Huan's date of birth is correct.
29. We have no reliable evidence as to who Shi Nai'an was and when he lived, and with the exception of Hu Yinglin, Ming authors are almost all silent regarding him. However, a number of Qing sources suggest that Shi Nai'an was in fact another name for the Yuan dramatist Shi Hui 施惠 (see Zhu and Liu, Shuihu Zhuan Ziliao Huibian pp.140, 145-146). This is a plausible theory, but without corroborating evidence from Yuan or early Ming sources it cannot be accepted. The only documentary evidence relating to Shi Nai'an is a "tomb inscription" for Shi Nai'an, supposedly written in the Ming dynasty by a certain Wang Daosheng, that is included in the Xianfeng 4  clan register for the Shi family of Xinghua county in Jiangsu (see Zhu and Liu, Shuihu Zhuan Ziliao Huibian pp.133-139 for this and other related documents). The tomb inscription claims that Shi Nai'an lived from Yuanzhen 2  until Hongwu 3 , and was buried in Xinghua. However, this document is clearly a Qing dynasty forgery, and would seem to represent an attempt by the local branch of the Shi clan to lay claim to a famous ancestor.
Contents | Bibliography
BabelStone Home Page