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The Biography of Flowers on the Sea 海上花列传 – Top 100 Books in China

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The first dialect novel in the history of Chinese literature


Chinese Name: 海上花列传

English Name: The Biography of Flowers on the Sea

Other Name: Flowers on the Sea 海上花, Drawing Brothel Treasure Jian 绘图青楼宝鉴, Drawing Sea Brothel Romance 绘图海上青楼奇缘

AuthorHan Bangqing 韩邦庆

Originally Published: 1840-1912 (The late Qing Dynasty 晚清)

Genre: Novel

The Biography of Flowers on the Sea 海上花列传
The Biography of Flowers on the Sea 海上花列传

Brief Introduction of the Biography of Flowers on the Sea

The Biography of Flowers on the Sea 海上花列传 is the first dialect novel in the history of Chinese literature. It is a famous novel written by Han Bangqing 韩邦庆 in the late Qing Dynasty 清朝. It is also called “Drawing brothel treasure Jian 绘图青楼宝鉴”, “Drawing sea Brothel romance 绘图海上青楼奇缘”. Eileen Chang 张爱玲 once translated it into Mandarin and named it “Flowers on the Sea 海上花”.

The Biography of Flowers on the Sea 海上花列传(清末上海租界妓女)
Prostitutes in Shanghai during the late Qing Dynasty 晚清时上海的妓女

The novel has 64 chapters. Its main content is to write about the brothel life in Shanghai上海, China in the late Qing Dynasty, involving the official circles, business circles and the related social level.

It is a novel in the late Qing Dynasty which mainly describes brothels. It follows the story of Zhao Puzhai 赵朴斋 and Zhao Erbao 赵二宝, who come to Shanghai from the countryside, are forced to live, and eventually degenerate. It takes Shanghai brothel as the center, and surrounds officials and businessmen from all walks of life, shaping a batch of prostitutes, procurees, clients and servants who encounter different personalities for us. Its wonderful artistic structure, plain and natural sketch, has always been praised. The dialogue of the characters in the book is all in Suzhou 苏州 dialect, which is vivid and lively, and sets a precedent for dialect novels.

The main line of “The Biography of Flowers on the Sea” is the sinking process of the Zhao siblings in the big flower field in Shanghai, and the middle focuses on the description of five main groups of characters. One is the emotional entanglement of rich home children Wang Liansheng 王莲生 and Shen Xiaohong 沈小红, Zhang Huizhen 张蕙贞. Second, the relationship between Luo Zifu 罗子富, Huang Cuifeng 黄翠凤 and Jiang Yueqin 蒋月琴. The third is the death and death of Tao Yufu 陶玉甫 and Li Shufang 李漱芳. The fourth is the youth Zhu Shuren 朱淑人 and Zhou Shuangyu’s 周双玉 final miss. The fifth is the disgraceful Shi Tianran’s 史天然 standing up to Zhao Erbao 赵二宝.

The Biography of Flowers on the Sea 海上花列传(妓院场景)
Scene of Shanghai brothel 上海妓院场景图

The Biography of Flowers on the Sea has a profound influence on Wu orthography 吴语. As a representative of modern Wu literature, it has little difference from contemporary Wu literature in terms of words and sentences, so later Wu literature works, including Wu research articles, are mostly influenced by it.

Author of the Biography of Flowers on the Sea

Han Bangqing (1856 ~ 1894) was a native of Shanghai.

In the Guangxu period 光绪年间 of the Qing Dynasty, he was selected by the local government to study in the Imperial college. He worked as an aide to local officials in Henan before moving to Shanghai.

His addiction to opium led his family down.

He once wrote articles for Shenbao 申报 and occasionally wrote articles for the newspaper, singing with Qian Xinbo 钱昕伯 and He Guisheng 何桂笙, the main writers of Shenbao.

At the beginning of 1892, he set up his own magazine, “Wonderbook of Shanghai 海上奇书”, which was an early literary magazine with pictures and texts. Most of the contents of the journal are Han Bangqing’s personal works, such as the Biography of Flowers on the Sea, which he wrote himself, as well as his predecessors’ notebook novels, which set the precedent of serializing long chapter novels in newspapers.

Excerpts From the Biography of Flowers on the Sea


A man with ambition will not miss the property left when the family is separated, and a woman with ambition will not miss the wedding clothes sent by her family when she gets married. People should have ambition and earn their own living.


Good things only wait for the opportunity, can not be forced to deliberately seek.


It means to grab a mirror and look at yourself. A man has no knowledge of himself.

Evaluation of the Biography of Flowers on the Sea

Flowers on the Sea is the first masterpiece of Wu literature. It can be said that it has opened a new situation for Chinese literature. The victory of “Flowers on the Sea” is not only a personal victory of the author, but also a victory of the movement of Wu-language literature.

Hu Shih 胡适

“Xingshi Marriage Yuan” and “Flowers on the Sea” one is written strongly, the other is written lightly, but they are also the best realistic works. I often on their behalf, always feel that they should be world classics.

Eileen Chang 张爱玲

The events in the book are factual, with little exaggeration; The characters are also so real.

Lu Xun 鲁迅

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