Chinese Literature

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 27 November 2016

Chinese Literature

1. Shang Dynasty (about 1700-1050 BC)
Development of Chinese Writing
* Historical record and archaeological evidence are present in this era. * Hieroglyphic writing system later evolved into ideographic and partly-phonetic Chinese characters. 2. Zhou Dynasty (1045-255 BC)

Basic Philosophical and Religious Literature
* The great literary works of philosophy and religion that became the basis for Chinese religious and social belief stem from what is called the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476) and the Warring States Period (475-221). * Taoism, Confucian literature, and other prominent religious and philosophical schools all emerged during these two periods or the so called “One Hundred Schools of Thought.” * They say that most of the philosophical and religious works of that time were destroyed. If there were great fictional books created, they have been lost. 3. Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)

Literary Disaster and Legalism
* A big philosophical and religious school then was called Mohism. * An early form of Buddhism was also established in China at that time. * The emperor wanted to reduce and destroy the “One Hundred Schools of Thought” * So the “Book Burning and Burial of Scholars” was a literary disaster. * The Qin Dynasty standardized the written Classical Language. * The Qin Emperor favored a philosophical school that was called Legalism (法家). 4. Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)

Scientific and Historical Texts
* Confucian texts were rewritten and republished. Confucianism was mixed with the Legalism philosophy of Li Si. * Sima Qian wrote Historical Records that is a major history concerning the overall history of China from before the Shang Dynasty until the Han Dynasty. * The Han Dynasty era was one of the two main hotspot eras for scientific and technical advance. * Two or three mathematical texts showing advanced mathematics for the times were written. 5. Tang Dynasty (618-907)

Early Woodblock Printing and Poetry
* This era’s main contribution to Chinese literature was in the poetry of Dufu, Li Bai and many other poets. 6. Song Dynasty (960-1279) Early Woodblock Printing, Travel Literature, Poetry, Scientific Texts and the Neo-Confucian Classics * Has made remarkable scientific and technical advances. * Invention of movable type which helped to spread knowledge since printed material could be published more quickly and cheaply. * Travel literature in which authors wrote about their trips and about various destinations became popular perhaps because the texts could be cheaply bought. * The Confucian Classics were codified and used as test material for the entrance examination into the elite bureaucracy, advanced scientific texts and atlases were published, and important poems were written.

* The Five Classics and Four Books were written in the written Classical Language which include: *
* Five Classics:
* The Book of Changes,
* The Classic of Poetry,
* The Record of Rites
* The Classic of History, and
* The Spring and Autumn Annals
* Four Books:
* The Analects of Confucius
* The Doctrine of the Mean
* The Great Learning
* Analects of Confucius

* .Shen Kuo (1031–1095) is said to have discovered the concepts of true north and magnetic declination towards the North Pole * Su Song (1020–1101) wrote a treatise called the Bencao Tujing with information on medicine, botany and zoology. * Song poet named Lu is thought to have written almost 10,000 poems. Su Tungpo is regarded as a great poet of the Northern Song era. Here is a stanza he wrote: “The moon rounds the red mansion

Stoops to silk-pad doors
Shines upon the sleepless
Bearing no grudge
Why does the moon tend to be full when people are apart?”

7. Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)
Drama and Great Fictional Novels
* An era whereof some historically renowned dramatic playwrights and novelists who wrote in vernacular language. * The Yuan “Zaju” style of opera was similar to their shadow plays. Perhaps the playwrights adopted the plots and the features. The music of the Zaju operas was called Yuan Qu (Yuan Music). * After the Yuan Dynasty, the operatic style developed into the Painted Faces style of Chinese opera that was popular until modern times. * Guan Hanqing is regarded as one of the best playwrights of the times. He wrote Midsummer Snow that was one of the most popular drama pieces. * The Romance of the Western Chamber was written by Wang Shifu. It is considered one of the best romantic dramas ever written in China. * Novels were another outstanding achievement of the Yuan era. 8. Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)


* The Journey to the West is based on the historical journey of a Buddhist to India during the Tang era to learn Buddhist teachings and bring back scriptures and information. 9. Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Novels and Pre-modern Literature

* In the 19th century, foreign literature and the West became better known. In the middle of this era, the last of China’s four great classic novels was written called Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢); and near the end of the era, modernistic literature developed. * Educated Chinese had easier access to foreign literature, and they were more influenced by Western culture.

Chinese Literatures

1. Chinese Classical Prose

* Prose writing in ancient and pre-modern China differed from poetry in that it was less rigidly structured and wasn’t like verses in a song or like one of the common styles of poetry. But compared to English prose, literary prose before the year 1900 was often much more formalized. * Classical prose can be divided into three types called * Piantiwen style or parallel prose style is more formalized style of prose writing * Guwen style is less formal and more ancient style

* Vernacular style which is used in operatic dramas and in the Four Classic Novels of Chinese literature.

2. Chinese Poetry

* Poetry has been a favorite literary genre for thousands of years. Poetry isn’t taken very seriously in the West, especially in the last two hundred years, but Chinese ancient poetry is still read and ancient Chinese poets are honored. * There are Five Major Kinds of Major Ancient Poetic Styles * Shi 詩 poems are composed of couplets. They are poems of two more coupled lines. The two lines of a couplet usually rhyme and match rhythmically and complement each other tonally. Modern Mandarin only has five tones, but ancient languages usually had more, so the tonal rhythms are generally lost. * Ci 詞 poetry can be described as poems that have patterns of syllables and tonal patterns. In making a Ci poetry, a poet chooses words that fit a specific pattern. These patterns may have once been part of a song. But the music has been lost. There are various patterns that provided affective settings for various effects or moods.

* Ge 歌 means song. Ge poems are the words to a song that can be sung. There were folk songs as well as songs composed by the literate and educated composers. * Qu 曲 is the style of music and song in the operas or Mongol Music. The songs from the operas and popular songs were a poetic style that was also popular in later eras. The poetic style is freer of form. * Fu賦 is the fifth major style of poetry . These are descriptive poems that contain both prose and couplets. These were popular about 1,500 years to 2,000 years ago. Often poets included rare or unusual written characters from preceding eras in their poems.

* The greatest ancient poets are thought to lived in the Tang, Song, and Han eras. The following were considered to be the exemplary poets: * Du Fu (712-770) liked to write in a structured form of poetry that was called Lu Shi 律詩 or regulated poetry. He is thought of as one of the greatest realist poets of China. His poems reflect the hard realities of war, people dying next to rich rulers, and primitive rural life. Here is a famous ‘couplet: “Behind redden doors stink wine and meat;

But upon the road die frozen men.”

* Li Bai (701-762) liked to write in a free form poetry like that of more ancient times. This kind of poetry was called Gu Shi (古詩). He wrote about places he visited and things he saw. He is described as a romantic poet. * Su Tungpo (1037-1101) is also called Su Shi. He is regarded as a great poet of the Northern Song era (960-1127). More than 2,000 of his poems survive. Here is a stanza he wrote: “The moon rounds the red mansion

Stoops to silk-pad doors
Shines upon the sleepless
Bearing no grudge
Why does the moon tend to be full when people are apart?”

3. Chinese Scientific Texts
* Chinese science texts give an idea of the state of knowledge in the dynastic eras. During several eras,Chinese scientists and inventors led the world in various fields. * Suan Shu Shu (Computation and Numbers Book). It shows how to solve arithmetic problems that officials or people doing business face. * Jiuzhang Suanshu (Nine Chapter Computation Book). The book features basic algebra such as finding cube roots and square roots. Negative numbers are also used.

* Zhoubi Suan Jing (The Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon and the Circular Paths of Heaven) about astronomical problems. It is said text has a mathematical proof for the “Gougu Theorem” (勾股定理; a2 + b2 = c2) that is known as the Pythagorean Theorem in the West. A method of determining the distance of the sun from the earth by using a right angled triangle is described. * The second period of rapid scientific and technological advancement was the Song era. Two men in particular stand out: Shen Kuo (1031–1095) and Su Song (1020–1101) both wrote scientific treatises about their research and about various fields.

4. China’s Classic Novels
* Four long fictional novels are usually thought to be the best novels in Chinese literature. And the following two novels set a standard for classical literary works.

* The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a semi-historical work said to be written by Luo Guan Zhong. It is historical fiction about the lives and struggles of rulers and the wars at the end of the Han Dynasty and in the Three Kingdoms Period. The novel describes the machinations, court intrigues, and the shifting alliances of the three kingdoms that emerged from the Han Empire. * Water Margin

Water Margin is about the lives and ideals of a group of characters who fought against the corrupt Song Dynasty that the Mongols conquered. It is said it was written in vernacular language by Shi Nai An. The setting of the novel is during the Northern Song Dynasty era before the northern part of the Song Empire was overrun by a northern tribe and before the Mongols conquered the whole area. Water Margin is reminiscent of the story of Robin Hood. Likewise, there may have been actual outlaws, and popular legends and stories later grew. But Water Margin is probably more fictional and less historically accurate than The Romance of the Three Kingdoms * The other two novels.

* Journey to the West
The long tale about a fantastic journey to the west of a group that went to India was written at a time that the Silk Road land routes were blocked by Mongol and Muslim countries. Perhaps one of the reasons the novel was popular was that people during the Ming era wanted to travel to the west, but they couldn’t. The latter Ming Dynasty was isolationist. In the novel, a great intelligent monkey and a small band of characters protects a defenseless monk during his journey. Buddha commissioned the monk to help India that had fallen into gross sin and immorality. The monkey and other characters have magical skills. Journey to the West is thought to have been published anonymously by Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century though scholars have doubt about the authorship. * The Dream of the Red Chamber

The fourth major novel that made an impact on Chinese history and literature is The Dream of the Red Chamber. It was the last of the Four Classic Novels to be written. It is about the fortunes and lives of the people of two branches of a clan in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) era. The two families had adjacent compounds. It is appreciated because it gives a view into the lives of two ruling families of that time. One of the members of the clan was made a concubine of an emperor. But then the imperial court turned against the two families.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 27 November 2016

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