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Chinese Literature - History

Chinese Literature - History

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During the Ming period a new form of Chinese literature developed. This evolved to become the modern Chinese novel. The stories were vivid, and often told the stories of the poor and downtrodden of the society. In most cases the novel had moral story with the good being rewarded and the bad being punished. Two of the most famous novels of the period were the Golden Lotus and The Dream of the Red Chamber.

Chinese Literature - History

China possesses one of the world's major literary traditions. Its texts have been preserved for over 3,000 years. Reverence for the past has influenced the preservation of these cultural sources, and may have influenced the invention of woodblock printing in the 9th century and moveable type printing in the 12th century. The practice of collecting and reproducing libraries has also played a major role in the transmission of literary tradition. Most important, China can boast an unbroken cultural tradition based on the Chinese script as a language &mdash a written medium &mdash independent of spoken dialectic difference. As literary language became increasingly removed from spoken language, it became less vital and literature took a natural turn toward imitation. Indeed, after the formative classical period that began with Confucius, the literary history of China becomes one of imitation-with-variations of different models. Literature also thus becomes more elitist, for an understanding or appreciation of a text may require familiarity with the models being alluded to.

The principal genre of Chinese literature is poetry early folk songs established the shi (shih) form that crystallized during the Han dynasty and dominated for the next 1,200 years. Beginning with the simple complaints and longings expressed in rhymed couplets of folk songs, this form gradually became more and more complex, or "regulated," until it took years of study to master its formal rules of composition.

The short story, which began to develop during the Tang dynasty, at first emphasized either historical events or supernatural happenings which could not be related in a formal historical work. The notion of fiction as connected to history persisted, yet more imaginative and rationally inexplicable, culminating in China's greatest novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone, which is at once autobiographical and realistic, and at the same time imaginative and mystical.

Drama, one of China's least well-developed genres, had its origins also in popular entertainment. The high point of elite drama was during the Yuan dynasty, when intellectuals dispossessed by the Mongol invaders turned to the composition of drama both to productively employ their taste and erudition and also to covertly criticize the foreign government. During the following centuries, dramas tended to become longer, and the opera dominated. Spoken drama was not generally conspicuous until the 20th century.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the movement to modernize and westernize China's literature became very popular. The formal classical language, which by then survived only in written texts, was replaced by the vernacular spoken language as a literary medium. Experiments with free verse and sonnet forms, short autobiographical stories and interior monologues, spoken drama and radio or film scripts were influenced by western models rather than by classical Chinese tradition. However, the theme of China's plight dominated 20th-century Chinese literature, and for the past six decades the pendulum has frequently swung back and forth between western imitation and modernized styles versus Chinese foundation and conservative techniques. Whereas classical Chinese literature was often valued for its craft and erudition, post-1919 Chinese literature has been evaluated largely in terms of its social and political relevance.

Much Chinese literature of the 1920s and 1930s both exposed national social problems and also expressed writers' doubts about finding viable solutions to these problems.

In 1942 Mao Zedong, in his "Talks at Yenan on Literature and Art," emphasized to his fellow communist revolutionaries that the goal of literature was neither to reflect the dark side of society nor to express the author's own private feelings or artistic inspirations. Instead, he said, literature and art should inspire the masses by presenting positive examples of heroism and socialist idealism. It should also be written in the public voice and style of the workers, peasants, and soldiers, not of the elite intellectuals.

During the Cultural Revolution period (1966-76), Mao's principle that literature and art should serve the people and promote socialism was most rigidly adhered to. The fiction of Hao Ran (Hao Jan) constitutes an excellent example of this tendency.

Literature After 1976

With the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 came the official end of the Cultural Revolution period, and with it increased freedom for writers. During the subsequent decade, Chinese fiction tended to fall into the following five (necessarily overlapping) categories:

1. Literature of the Wounded

The initial impulse of writers was to begin, tentatively at first, to express the profound suffering of the previous decades. Chen Roxi's stories in The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories offer an example of very well-crafted fiction which reveals the physical, psychological and spiritual pain the Chinese people endured under Mao. But finally, Chen Roxi must be considered a foreigner, though she is Chinese and she lived in China during the Cultural Revolution era.

Within China, the "literature of the wounded" movement began in the summer of 1977 when Lu Xinhua, a 23-year-old student at Fudan University, presented a story entitled "The Wounded" as a big-character poster on the walls of the campus. The story was soon published, and it inspired hundreds of others. Another one which became equally famous was Liu Xinwu's "Class Counselor," published in November 1977. In Liu's story, the young girl fails to achieve a reconciliation with her mother, whom she had been forced to denounce during the Cultural Revolution. An open-minded class advisor recognizes that there is still hope for the generation of youth who suffered at the hands of the Gang of Four. For several years, story after story poured out the guilt, regret, and pain over lost lives and ruined careers, betrayal of friends and family members, and the need to seek restitution. Within the "wounded" tradition, though not literature per se, a number of Chinese have written accounts of this tragic period for Western audiences.

2. Humanistic Literature

A related literary trend which began in the late 1970s and early 1980s was fiction which treated the problems of recreating the whole person after the constricting movements of the Cultural Revolution. A large number of women writers predominate in this category.

Since personal feelings were supposed to be subordinate to political action during the Cultural Revolution, writers who reacted in the opposite direction after the death of Mao used the rally cry, "Love Must Not Be Forgotten" — the title of one of Zhang Jie's short stories advocating marriage based only on love and private desire.

Finally allowed once again to treat in fiction the darker side of Chinese society, many writers composed works which addressed post-Cultural Revolution social problems: alienated youth, the loneliness of the elderly and the divorced, the housing shortage, government corruption, dissatisfaction with the system of job assignments, etc. In a bold social indictment, Bai Hua in his screenplay, "Unrequited Love," has the protagonist's daughter ask the fundamental question: "Dad, you love our country. Through bitter frustration you go on loving her . . . But, Dad, does this country love you?" This script first appeared in 1979, and by 1980 it was banned.

Some writers, especially those who live outside the main cities, have turned to local themes and subject matter in their recent fiction. For example, Lu Wenfu describes the customs of the Suzhou region and Gao Xiaosheng depicts agricultural life in his native Hunan province. These people are seeking a meaning in life separate from political movements and urban upward mobility.

Some writers feel that the most important contribution they can make is to record the facts of Chinese life in a way that illuminates both the problems and strengths of the Chinese people. The most famous journalist who exposes corruption in his sophisticated reporting style is Liu Binyan, whose "People or Monsters?" was acclaimed for its unflinching honesty in confronting deeply rooted government corruption.

In a different tone, Chinese Profiles, compiled by Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, presents interviews with 100 Chinese citizens who tell about their lives in a way similar to people interviewed by Studs Terkel. Their stories are poignant and surprising as individual accounts. They illuminate the rich social fabric of China and indirectly point out major social and political issues implicit in the individual accounts.

Acknowledgment: The consultant for this unit was Dr. Marsha Wagner, Columbia University.


Literature and writing, though connected, are not synonymous. The very first writings from ancient Sumer by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature—the same is true of some of the early Egyptian hieroglyphics or the thousands of logs from ancient Chinese regimes. Scholars have often disagreed concerning when written record-keeping became more like "literature" than anything else the definition is largely subjective.

Moreover, given the significance of distance as a cultural isolator in earlier centuries, the historical development of literature did not occur at an even pace across the world. The problems of creating a uniform global history of literature are compounded by the fact that many texts have been lost over the millennia, either deliberately, by accident, or by the total disappearance of the originating culture. Much has been written, for example, about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria in the 1st century BC, and the innumerable key texts which are believed to have been lost forever to the flames. The deliberate suppression of texts (and often their authors) by organisations of either a spiritual or a temporal nature further shrouds the subject.

Certain primary texts, however, may be isolated which have a qualifying role as literature's first stirrings. Very early examples include Epic of Gilgamesh, in its Sumerian version predating 2000 BC, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which was written down in the Papyrus of Ani in about 1250 BC, but probably dates from about the 18th century BC. Ancient Egyptian literature was not included in early studies of the history of literature because the writings of Ancient Egypt were not translated into European languages until after the Rosetta stone was deciphered in the early 19th century.

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey date to the 8th century BC, and mark the beginning of Classical Antiquity. They also stand in an oral tradition that stretches back to the late Bronze Age.

China Edit

The Classic of Poetry (or Shijing) is the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, comprising 305 works by anonymous authors dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC. The Chu Ci anthology (or Songs of Chu) is a volume of poems attributed to or considered to be inspired by Qu Yuan's verse writing. Qu Yuan is the first author of verse in China to have his name associated to his work and is also regarded as one of the most prominent figures of Romanticism in Chinese classical literature.

The first great author on military tactics and strategy was Sun Tzu, whose The Art of War remains on the shelves of many modern military officers (and its advice has been applied to the corporate world as well). Philosophy developed far differently in China than in Greece—rather than presenting extended dialogues, the Analects of Confucius and Lao Zi's Tao Te Ching presented sayings and proverbs more directly and didactically. The Zhuangzi is composed of a large collection of creative anecdotes, allegories, parables, and fables a masterpiece of both philosophical and literary skill, it has significantly influenced writers and poets for more than 2000 years from the Han dynasty to the present.

Among the earliest Chinese works of narrative history, Zuo Zhuan is a gem of classical Chinese prose. This work and the Shiji or Records of the Grand Historian, were regarded as the ultimate models by many generations of prose stylists in ancient China.

Hebrew Literature Edit

The books that constitute the Hebrew Bible developed over roughly a millennium. The oldest texts seem to come from the eleventh or tenth centuries BCE, whilst most of the other texts are somewhat later. They are edited works, being collections of various sources intricately and carefully woven together.

The Old Testament was compiled and edited by various men [1] over a period of centuries, with many scholars concluding that the Hebrew canon was solidified by about the 3rd century BC. [2] [3] The works have been subject to various literary evaluations (both secular and religious). Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “In the Jewish Old Testament, there are men, things and speeches in so grand a style that Greek and Indian literature have nothing to compare to it. One stands with awe and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what man once was. The taste for the Old Testament is a touchstone of 'greatness' and 'smallness'.” [4]

Classical antiquity Edit

Greek literature Edit

Ancient Greek society placed considerable emphasis upon literature. Many authors consider the western literary tradition to have begun with the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, which remain giants in the literary canon for their skillful and vivid depictions of war and peace, honor and disgrace, love and hatred. Notable among later Greek poets was Sappho, who defined, in many ways, lyric poetry as a genre.

A playwright named Aeschylus changed Western literature forever when he introduced the ideas of dialogue and interacting characters to playwriting. In doing so, he essentially invented "drama": his Oresteia trilogy of plays is seen as his crowning achievement. Other refiners of playwriting were Sophocles and Euripides. Sophocles is credited with skillfully developing irony as a literary technique, most famously in his play Oedipus Rex. Euripedes, conversely, used plays to challenge societal norms and mores—a hallmark of much of Western literature for the next 2,300 years and beyond—and his works such as Medea, The Bacchae and The Trojan Women are still notable for their ability to challenge our perceptions of propriety, gender, and war. Aristophanes, a comic playwright, defines and shapes the idea of comedy almost as Aeschylus had shaped tragedy as an art form—Aristophanes' most famous plays include the Lysistrata and The Frogs.

Philosophy entered literature in the dialogues of Plato, who converted the give and take of Socratic questioning into written form. Aristotle, Plato's student, wrote dozens of works on many scientific disciplines, but his greatest contribution to literature was likely his Poetics, which lays out his understanding of drama, and thereby establishes the first criteria for literary criticism.

The New Testament is an unusual collection of texts--John's Book of Revelation, though not the first of its kind, essentially defines apocalypse as a literary genre.

Latin literature Edit

In many respects, the writers of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire chose to avoid innovation in favor of imitating the great Greek authors. Virgil's Aeneid, in many ways, emulated Homer's Iliad Plautus, a comic playwright, followed in the footsteps of Aristophanes Tacitus' Annals and Germania follow essentially the same historical approaches that Thucydides devised (the Christian historian Eusebius does also, although far more influenced by his religion than either Tacitus or Thucydides had been by Greek and Roman polytheism) Ovid and his Metamorphoses explore the same Greek myths again in new ways. It can be argued, and has been, that the Roman authors, far from being mindless copycats, improved on the genres already established by their Greek predecessors. For example, Ovid's Metamorphoses creates a form which is a clear predecessor of the stream of consciousness genre. What is undeniable is that the Romans, in comparison with the Greeks, innovate relatively few literary styles of their own.

Satire is one of the few Roman additions to literature—Horace was the first to use satire extensively as a tool for argument, and Juvenal made it into a weapon.

Augustine of Hippo and his The City of God do for religious literature essentially what Plato had done for philosophy, but Augustine's approach was far less conversational and more didactive. His Confessions is perhaps the first true autobiography, and it gave rise to the genre of confessional literature which is now more popular than ever.

India Edit

Knowledge traditions in India handed down philosophical gleanings and theological concepts through the two traditions of Shruti and Smriti, meaning that which is learnt and that which is experienced, which included the Vedas. It is generally believed that the Puranas are the earliest philosophical writings in Indian history, although linguistic works on Sanskrit existed earlier than 1000 BC. Puranic works such as the Indian epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata, have influenced countless other works, including Balinese Kecak and other performances such as shadow puppetry (wayang), and many European works. Pali literature has an important position in the rise of Buddhism. Classical Sanskrit literature flowers in the Maurya and Gupta periods, roughly spanning the 2nd century BC to the 8th century AD. Classical Tamil literature also emerged in the early historic period dating from 300 BC to 300 AD, and is the earliest secular literature of India, mainly dealing with themes such as love and war.

Europe Edit

After the fall of Rome (in roughly 476), many of the literary approaches and styles invented by the Greeks and Romans fell out of favor in Europe. In the millennium or so that intervened between Rome's fall and the Florentine Renaissance, medieval literature focused more and more on faith and faith-related matters, in part because the works written by the Greeks had not been preserved in Europe, and therefore there were few models of classical literature to learn from and move beyond. What little there was became changed and distorted, with new forms beginning to develop from the distortions. Some of these distorted beginnings of new styles can be seen in the literature generally described as Matter of Rome, Matter of France and Matter of Britain.

Although much had been lost to the ravages of time (and to catastrophe, as in the burning of the Library of Alexandria), many Greek works remained extant: they were preserved and copied carefully by Muslim scribes.

In Europe, hagiographies, or "lives of the saints", are frequent among early medieval texts. The writings of Bede—Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum—and others continue the faith-based historical tradition begun by Eusebius in the early 4th century. Playwriting essentially ceased, except for the mystery plays and the passion plays that focused heavily on conveying Christian belief to the common people. Around 400 AD the Prudenti Psychomachia began the tradition of allegorical tales. Poetry flourished, however, in the hands of the troubadours, whose courtly romances and chanson de geste amused and entertained the upper classes who were their patrons. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote works which he claimed were histories of Britain. These were highly fanciful and included stories of Merlin the magician and King Arthur. Epic poetry continued to develop with the addition of the mythologies of Northern Europe: Beowulf and the Norse sagas have much in common with Homer and Virgil's approaches to war and honor, while poems such as Dante's Divine Comedy and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales take much different stylistic directions.

In November 1095, Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. The crusades would affect everything in Europe and the Middle East for many years to come and literature would, along with everything else, be transformed by the wars between these two cultures. For instance the image of the knight would take on a different significance. Also the Islamic emphasis on scientific investigation and the preservation of the Greek philosophical writings would eventually affect European literature.

Between Augustine and The Bible, religious authors had numerous aspects of Christianity that needed further explication and interpretation. Thomas Aquinas, more than any other single person, was able to turn theology into a kind of science, in part because he was heavily influenced by Aristotle, whose works were returning to Europe in the 13th century.

Islamic world Edit

The most well known fiction from the Islamic world was The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), which was a compilation of many earlier folk tales told by the Persian Queen Scheherazade. The epic took form in the 10th century and reached its final form by the 14th century the number and type of tales have varied from one manuscript to another. [5] All Arabian fantasy tales were often called "Arabian Nights" when translated into English, regardless of whether they appeared in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, in any version, and a number of tales are known in Europe as "Arabian Nights" despite existing in no Arabic manuscript. [5]

This epic has been influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland. [6] Many imitations were written, especially in France. [7] Various characters from this epic have themselves become cultural icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba. However, no medieval Arabic source has been traced for Aladdin, which was incorporated into The Book of One Thousand and One Nights by its French translator, Antoine Galland, who heard it from an Arab Syrian Christian storyteller from Aleppo. The popularity of the work may in part be due to greater popular knowledge of history and geography since it was written. This meant that the plausibility of great marvels had to be set at a greater distance of time ("long ago") and place ("far away"). This is a process that continues, and finally culminates in fantasy fiction having little connection, if any, to actual times and places. A number of elements from Arabian mythology and Persian mythology are now common in modern fantasy, such as genies, bahamuts, magic carpets, magic lamps, etc. [7] When L. Frank Baum proposed writing a modern fairy tale that banished stereotypical elements he felt the genie, dwarf and fairy were stereotypes to avoid. [8]

A number of stories within the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) also feature science fiction elements. One example is "The Adventures of Bulukiya", where the protagonist Bulukiya's quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, journey to the Garden of Eden and to Jahannam, and travel across the cosmos to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic science fiction [9] along the way, he encounters societies of jinns, [10] mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life. [9] In another Arabian Nights tale, the protagonist Abdullah the Fisherman gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater submarine society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land, in that the underwater society follows a form of primitive communism where concepts like money and clothing do not exist. Other Arabian Nights tales deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them. [11] "The City of Brass" features a group of travellers on an archaeological expedition [12] across the Sahara to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon once used to trap a jinn, [13] and, along the way, encounter a mummified queen, petrified inhabitants, [14] lifelike humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings, [15] and a brass horseman robot who directs the party towards the ancient city. "The Ebony Horse" features a robot [16] in the form of a flying mechanical horse controlled using keys that could fly into outer space and towards the Sun, [17] while the "Third Qalandar's Tale" also features a robot in the form of an uncanny boatman. [16] "The City of Brass" and "The Ebony Horse" can be considered early examples of proto-science fiction. [18]

Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, considered the greatest epic of Italian literature, derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter directly or indirectly from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology: the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before [19] as Liber Scale Machometi, "The Book of Muhammad's Ladder") concerning Muhammad's ascension to Heaven, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi. The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele's The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Othello, which featured a Moorish Othello as its title character. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century. [20]

Arabic literature Edit

Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288) were pioneers of the philosophical novel. Ibn Tufail wrote the first fictional Arabic novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus) as a response to al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and then Ibn al-Nafis also wrote a novel Theologus Autodidactus as a response to Ibn Tufail's Philosophus Autodidactus. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a desert island, both being the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story in Philosophus Autodidactus, the story of Kamil extends beyond the desert island setting in Theologus Autodidactus, developing into the earliest known coming of age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel. [21] [22]

Theologus Autodidactus deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, the end of the world and doomsday, resurrection, and the afterlife. Rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using the scientific knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology known in his time. His main purpose behind this science fiction work was to explain Islamic religious teachings in terms of science and philosophy through the use of fiction. [23]

A Latin translation of Ibn Tufail's work, Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations. These translations later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, a candidate for the title of "first novel in English". [24] [25] [26] [27] Philosophus Autodidactus also inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist. [28] The story also anticipated Rousseau's Emile: or, On Education in some ways, and is also similar to Mowgli's story in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book as well as Tarzan's story, in that a baby is abandoned but taken care of and fed by a mother wolf. [ citation needed ]

Among other innovations in Arabic literature was Ibn Khaldun's perspective on chronicling past events—by fully rejecting supernatural explanations, Khaldun essentially invented the scientific or sociological approach to history. [ citation needed ]

Persian literature Edit

Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. It is the longest epic poem ever written.

From Persian culture the book which would, eventually, become the most famous in the west is the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The Rubáiyát is a collection of poems by the Persian mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyám (1048–1122). "Rubaiyat" means "quatrains": verses of four lines.

Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan.

Examples of early Persian proto-science fiction include Al-Farabi's Opinions of the residents of a splendid city about a utopian society, and elements such as the flying carpet. [29]

Ottoman literature Edit

The two primary streams of Ottoman written literature are poetry and prose. Of the two, divan poetry was by far the dominant stream. Until the 19th century, Ottoman prose did not contain any examples of fiction that is, there were no counterparts to, for instance, the European romance, short story, or novel (though analogous genres did, to some extent, exist in both the Turkish folk tradition and in divan poetry). Until the 19th century, Ottoman prose never managed to develop to the extent that contemporary divan poetry did. A large part of the reason for this was that much prose was expected to adhere to the rules of sec' (سجع, also transliterated as seci), or rhymed prose, [30] a type of writing descended from the Arabic saj' and which prescribed that between each adjective and noun in a sentence, there must be a rhyme.

Jewish literature Edit

Medieval Jewish fiction often drew on ancient Jewish legends, and was written in a variety of languages including Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Liturgical Jewish poetry in Hebrew flourished in Palestine in the seventh and eighth centuries with the writings of Yose ben Yose, Yanai, and Eleazar Kalir [31] Later Jewish poets in Spain, Provencal, and Italy wrote both religious and secular poems in Hebrew particularly prominent poets were the Spanish Jewish poets Solomon ibn Gabirol and Yehuda Halevi. In addition to poetry and fiction, medieval Jewish literature also includes philosophical literature, mystical (Kabbalistic) literature, ethical (musar) literature, legal (halakhic) literature, and commentaries on the Bible.

India Edit

Early Medieval (Gupta period) literature in India sees the flowering of Sanskrit drama, classical Sanskrit poetry and the compilation of the Puranas. Sanskrit declines in the early 2nd millennium, late works such as the Kathasaritsagara dating to the 11th century, to the benefit of literature composed in Middle Indic vernaculars such as Old Bengali, Old Hindi.

China Edit

Lyric poetry advanced far more in China than in Europe prior to 1000, as multiple new forms developed in the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties: perhaps the greatest poets of this era in Chinese literature were Li Bai and Du Fu.

Printing began in Tang Dynasty China. A copy of the Diamond Sutra, a key Buddhist text, found sealed in a cave in China in the early 20th century, is the oldest known dated printed book, with a printed date of 868. The method used was block printing.

The scientist, statesman, and general Shen Kuo (1031–1095 AD) was the author of the Dream Pool Essays (1088), a large book of scientific literature that included the oldest description of the magnetized compass. During the Song Dynasty, there was also the enormous historical work of the Zizhi Tongjian, compiled into 294 volumes of 3 million written Chinese characters by the year 1084 AD.

The true vernacular novel was developed in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD). [ citation needed ] Some commentators feel that China originated the novel form with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong (in the 14th century), although others feel that this epic is distinct from the novel in key ways. [ citation needed ] Fictional novels published during the Ming period include the Water Margin and the Journey to the West, which represent two of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Japan Edit

Classical Japanese literature generally refers to literature produced during the Heian Period, what some would consider a golden era of art and literature. The Tale of Genji (early 11th century) by Murasaki Shikibu is considered the pre-eminent masterpiece of Heian fiction and an early example of a work of fiction in the form of a novel. It is sometimes called the world's first novel, the first modern novel, the first romance novel, or the first novel to still be considered a classic.

Other important works of this period include the Kokin Wakashū (905), a waka-poetry anthology, and The Pillow Book (990s), the latter written by Murasaki Shikibu's contemporary and rival, Sei Shōnagon, as an essay about the life, loves, and pastimes of nobles in the Emperor's court. The iroha poem, now one of two standard orderings for the Japanese syllabary, was also written during the early part of this period.

The 10th-century Japanese narrative, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, can be considered an early example of proto-science fiction. The protagonist of the story, Kaguya-hime, is a princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter in Japan. She is later taken back to the Moon by her real extraterrestrial family. A manuscript illustration depicts a disc-shaped flying object similar to a flying saucer. [32]

In this time the imperial court patronized the poets, most of whom were courtiers or ladies-in-waiting. Editing anthologies of poetry was a national pastime. Reflecting the aristocratic atmosphere, the poetry was elegant and sophisticated and expressed emotions in a rhetorical style.

Had nothing occurred to change literature in the 15th century but the Renaissance, the break with medieval approaches would have been clear enough. The 15th century, however, also brought Johann Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press, an innovation (for Europe, at least) that would change literature forever. Texts were no longer precious and expensive to produce—they could be cheaply and rapidly put into the marketplace. Literacy went from the prized possession of the select few to a much broader section of the population (though by no means universal). As a result, much about literature in Europe was radically altered in the two centuries following Gutenberg's unveiling of the printing press in 1455.

William Caxton was the first English printer and published English language texts including Le Morte d'Arthur (a collection of oral tales of the Arthurian Knights which is a forerunner of the novel) and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. These are an indication of future directions in literature. With the arrival of the printing press a process begins in which folk yarns and legends are collected within a frame story and then mass published.

In the Renaissance, the focus on learning for learning's sake causes an outpouring of literature. Petrarch popularized the sonnet as a poetic form Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron made romance acceptable in prose as well as poetry François Rabelais rejuvenates satire with Gargantua and Pantagruel Michel de Montaigne single-handedly invented the essay and used it to catalog his life and ideas. Perhaps the most controversial and important work of the time period was a treatise printed in Nuremberg, entitled De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium: in it, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus removed the Earth from its privileged position in the universe, which had far-reaching effects, not only in science, but in literature and its approach to humanity, hierarchy, and truth.

A new spirit of science and investigation in Europe was part of a general upheaval in human understanding which began with the European discovery of the New World in 1492 and continues through the subsequent centuries, even up to the present day.

The form of writing now commonplace across the world—the novel—originated from the early modern period and grew in popularity in the next century. Before the modern novel became established as a form there first had to be a transitional stage when "novelty" began to appear in the style of the epic poem.

Plays for entertainment (as opposed to religious enlightenment) returned to Europe's stages in the early modern period. William Shakespeare is the most notable of the early modern playwrights, but numerous others made important contributions, including Molière, Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson. From the 16th to the 18th century Commedia dell'arte performers improvised in the streets of Italy and France. Some Commedia dell'arte plays were written down. Both the written plays and the improvisation were influential upon literature of the time, particularly upon the work of Molière. Shakespeare drew upon the arts of jesters and strolling players in creating new style comedies. All the parts, even the female ones, were played by men (en travesti) but that would change, first in France and then in England too, by the end of the 17th century.

The epic Elizabethan poem The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser was published, in its first part, in 1590 and then in completed form in 1597. The Fairie Queen marks the transitional period in which "novelty" begins to enter into the narrative in the sense of overturning and playing with the flow of events. Theatrical forms known in Spenser's time such as the Masque and the Mummers' Play are incorporated into the poem in ways which twist tradition and turn it to political propaganda in the service of Queen Elizabeth I.

The earliest work considered an opera in the sense the work is usually understood dates from around 1597. It is Dafne, (now lost) written by Jacopo Peri for an elite circle of literate Florentine humanists who gathered as the "Camerata".

The 17th century is considered the greatest era of literature both in Spain, where it is called the Spanish Golden Age (Siglo de Oro), and in France, where it is known as the Grand Siècle (Great Century). The most famous French authors, beside playwrights, include Jean de La Fontaine and Charles Perrault known primarily for their fables.

Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote has been called "the first novel" by many literary scholars (or the first of the modern European novels). It was published in two parts. The first part was published in 1605 and the second in 1615. It might be viewed as a parody of Le Morte d'Arthur (and other examples of the chivalric romance), in which case the novel form would be the direct result of poking fun at a collection of heroic folk legends. This is fully in keeping with the spirit of the age of enlightenment which began from about this time and delighted in giving a satirical twist to the stories and ideas of the past. It's worth noting that this trend toward satirising previous writings was only made possible by the printing press. Without the invention of mass-produced copies of a book it would not be possible to assume the reader will have seen the earlier work and will thus understand the references within the text.

The new style in English poetry during the 17th century was that of the metaphysical movement. The metaphysical poets were John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell and others. Metaphysical poetry is characterised by a spirit of intellectual investigation of the spiritual, rather than the mystical reverence of many earlier English poems. The metaphysical poets were clearly trying to understand the world around them and the spirit behind it, instead of accepting dogma on the basis of faith.

In the middle of the century the king of England was overthrown and a republic declared. In the new regime (which lasted from 1649 to 1653) the arts suffered. In England and the rest of the British Isles Oliver Cromwell's rule temporarily banned all theatre, festivals, jesters, mummers plays and frivolities. The ban was lifted when the monarchy was restored with Charles II. The Drury Lane theatre was favorite of King Charles.

In contrast to the metaphysical poets was John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic religious poem in blank verse. Milton had been Oliver Cromwell's chief propagandist and suffered when the Restoration came. Paradise Lost is one of the highest developments of the epic form in poetry immediately preceding the era of the modern prose novel.

Other early novelists include Daniel Defoe (born 1660) and Jonathan Swift (born 1667).

Journey to the West

Perhaps the most influential of the four classic novels of Chinese literature, and certainly the most widely known beyond China’s borders, Journey to the West was written in the 16th century by Wu Cheng’en. It depicts the pilgrimage of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang to India, and his resultant travels through the Western provinces of China, accompanied by his three disciples. Whilst the framework of the story is based on Buddhism, the novel draws on a host of Chinese folk tales and mythology, as well as pantheism and Taoism to create its fantastical cast of characters and creatures. These creatures include various demons who Xuanzang encounters along his travels, and a variety of animal-spirits who assume human form. This latter category includes the three disciples, who are characterised as a monkey, a pig and a river ogre, and who are bound to Xuanzang as they attempt to atone for their past sins. An early and partial English translation of Journey to the West by Arthur Waley was entitled Monkey and focused on the exploits of this character, which has also been the case with many subsequent adaptations. Journey to the West was an early example of the Shenmo genre, which incorporated a range of fantastical fiction focusing on the exploits of gods or demons, and was very prominent in the rise of vernacular Chinese literature during the Ming dynasty, as the centuries old folk tales were written and disseminated for the first time. Journey to the West was the most famous example of the Shenmo, and remains omnipresent in China, in a huge variety of adaptations. The novels continued relevance is a reflection of its paradigmatic qualities, as with the Greek myths of Homer, it set down the ancient myths of Chinese culture for the first time, and remains a repository for those myths even today.

Chinese Literature - History

Ancient literature is a precious cultural heritage of China's several thousand years of civilization. The Book of Songs, a collection of 305 folk ballads of the Western Zhou Dynasty and the Spring and Autumn period, compiled in the sixth century B.C., is China's earliest anthology of poetry.

Qu Yuan of the Warring States Period, China's first great poet, write Li Sao (The Lament), and extended lyric poem. The Book of Songs and Li Sao are regarded as classics in Chinese literary history. Later, different literary styles developed in subsequent dynasties.

There were pre-Qin prose, magnificent Han fu (rhymed prose), and the yuefu folk songs of the end of the Han Dynasty. Records of the Historian, written by Sima Qian of the Han Dynasty, is respected as a model of biographical literature, and The Peacock Flies to the Southeast represents the magnificent yuefu folk songs. These are all well known among the Chinese people.

The Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420) were a great period for the production of poetry. The poems written by Cao Cao, a statesman and man of letters of that time, and by his sons Cao Pi and Cai Zhi, are fervent and vigorous. They are outstanding forerunners of the progressive literature of later generations. The Tang Dynasty gave birth to a great number of men of letters. The Complete Tang Poems is an anthology of more than 50,000 poems.

Representative poets include Li Bai, Du Fu, and Bai Juyi, who are the pride of the Chinese people. The Song Dynasty is well known for its ci (lyric). Song lyricists may be divided into
two groups. The first, best represented by Liu Yong and Li Qingzhao, is known as the "gentle school" the second, the "bold and unconstrained school," is best represented by Su Shi and Xin Qiji.

The most notable achievement of Yuan Dynasty literature was the zaju, poetic drama set of music. Snow in Midsummer by celebrated playwright Guan Hanqing and The Western Chamber written by another zaju master, Wang Shipu, are masterpieces of the ancient drama.

The Ming and Qing dynasties saw the development of the novel. The Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Outlaws of the Mars by Shi Nai'an, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en, and A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin are the four masterpieces produced in this form during this period. They have been celebrated for centuries for their rich historical and cultural connotations and unique style.

The new cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s was an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal movement. Progressive writers, represented by Lu Xun, gave birth to modern Chinese literature. The most outstanding representative works of this era are the novels The Diary of a Madman and The True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun, the poetry anthology The Goddesses by Guo Moruo, the novel Midnight by Mao Dun, the trilogy novels Family, Spring and Autumn by Ba Jin, the novel Camel Xiangzi by Lao She, and the plays Thunderstorm and Sunrise by Cao Yu.

The founding of New China in 1949 serves as a signpost for the beginning of contemporary Chinese literature. Works of this period reflect the hard struggle and tremendous sacrifices during the long War of Liberation, and eulogize the selflessness displayed in the building of socialist New China.

The representative works are the novels Red Crag by Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiyan, Song of Youth by Yang Mo, The Hurricane by Zhou Libo and Builders of a New Life by Liu Qing. During the 10-year "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), literature was deliberately hamstrung, leaving a desolate literary wasteland.

But since the reform and opening to the outside world started in 1978, literary creation has entered a new period. Some works of the early period of the new era mainly described the emotional wounds the people suffered during the "cultural revolution." The main works include The Wound by Lu Xinhua, The Blood-stained Magnolia by Cong Weizi, Mimosa by Zhang Xianliang, A Small Town Called Hibiscus by Gu Hua and The Snowstorm Tonight by Liang Xiansheng.

Some works are called works "seeking the roots," for example, Red Sorghum by Mo Yan, Black Steed by Zhang Chengzhi and Troubled Life by ChiLi. In recent years, a diversifying tendency has appeared in literary works. Those with historical themes include The Young Son of Heaven by Lin Li, Zeng Guofan by Tang Haoming, Emperor Yongzheng by Eryue He and Mending the Crack in the Sky by Huo Da. Making a Decision by Zhang Ping and Farewell to the Bitter Winter by Zou Yuezhao reflect current real life.

Indian Literature and Historical Epics

Among the most developed in length of narrative and in chronological literature are the literary epics from the Indian subcontinent. Sheldon Pollock’s study of the origins and development of Sanskrit literature as both an administrative language and as an ideology is a pioneering work (Pollock 2006). The rise of the Veda and Vedic literature dates to the end of the BCE period and among its successors, is the Mahābharāta historical epic of conquest and battle and the later Rāmāyana literature and other texts based on the Sanskrit language and writing system introduced by the landowning elite and their court society who dominated power (Pollock, 78).

Several studies note that before the codification of laws, the warrior class or caste developed their sense of ideology and ethics from stories and epics (McGrath 2004).

Tag: Chinese History

Who owned the 1930’s: the author who gave us talking Martian cats, or the one who gave us a sentient decapitated head? Yes, it was a weird decade, was the 1930’s. Join us to learn more!

The study and stature of Chinese literature died a slow death following the country&rsquos economic resurgence. But there are signs of a revival that would strengthen the form&rsquos most traditional aspects.

Young people have traditionally stood at the front-line of modern Chinese literature, but with the untimely death of the 1990s writer Wang Xiaobo, no new standard for young intellectuals has emerged. Significant side-traditions in the story of modern Chinese literature have continued to grow, for instance in wuxia novels, in the dime-book romances of Sanmao and others, and in chatty fictionalizations of court-intrigues such as &ldquoMingchao naxie shier&rdquo (&ldquoGossip from the Ming Court&rdquo), now quicker than before with the rise of China&rsquos internet community. But what has disappeared is a serious literature, written by contemporary Chinese authors that engages with and challenges the reader.

This is perhaps surprising when the writer played a truly significant role in shaping public opinion from the inception of Communist Party rule until the 1990s. Though this role was strictly curtailed during the Mao years, for many it was still possible to produce good, essentially nationalist literature that both supported policy and urged people to be proactive in their role in a revolution that made many feel increasingly impotent. This was evident in the profusion of poetry and short stories dealing with the harrowing &rsquo60s and &rsquo70s by those writing in the 1980s, the so-called &ldquoscar generation&rdquo.

So what happened? Firstly, there was a general deterioration of trust between intellectuals/students and the state, the rebuilding of which remains one of China&rsquos most severe internal problems, and will no doubt grow more pressing with the government&rsquos attempt to spread its &ldquosoft power&rdquo. Secondly, my impression is that many parents &ldquoforesaw&rdquo nothing coming for future writers and so actively discouraged their children from engaging with contemporary writing. With the unprecedented turn in Chinese education towards the study of western languages and business, such skills seemed like a waste anyway.

The writer was abandoned by his natural friends and supporters and was left with very few roads to take. Chinese art generally has shown a regrettable tendency towards extreme or just shocking behaviour, the origins of which all seem to lie in the 1990s. Ma Liuming&rsquos body-art managed to be risqué without being tasteless to so many, but there is a direct line between this school and the later extreme artistic creations of Zhu Yu, famous for his &ldquoeating-people&rdquo photo series. Jia Pingwa has produced saucy tales galore for his limited public, but the tendency was inevitably taken too far in Annie Baobei&rsquos stories, which once described a sex act with a European on university campus, right in front of the mandatory and, in many respects, sacred Mao Zedong statue.

Chinese authors have also managed to commit partial self-destruction by making alliances with western academics and often consciously pandering to western ideals of what a writer in China should be like. This is no doubt seen as an act of treachery by the government and others in China, but interestingly enough has proved so ineffective in raising an author&rsquos cultural cache amongst their own people that publishing parties for English translations of banned books have been held right in the centre of Beijing.

So have all the three actors discussed above &ndash politicians, proletariat and writers &ndash combined to make Chinese literature as good as gone, pure history?

I think the answer is that this holds more or less true for the current generation, which has no reason to become excited about its own nation&rsquos literature. But the generation that follows, perhaps those Chinese being born today or within the last, say, ten years, will quite naturally find something, even if it is simply an economic incentive in hauling Chinese literature out of its self-dug grave.

I think we can be confident in this assertion because of the parents of this new generation, especially urban parents. Many of these people already have the funds and contacts to allow a child freedom from the gruelling Darwinian grind that has been the spectre of so much of their own lives. This is not to mention the simple fact of property, which they want quite justifiably to simply hand down to their children in joint living arrangements. These children will be free to develop a range of interests, and we will see a surge in demand for those attributes which, in Chinese society, can differentiate two people of equal wealth &ndash their level of culture. Informal clubs are already sprouting up over campuses and across suburbs for sketching, film discussions and reading groups. The implications of this for a resurgence of literature should not be underestimated, and perhaps it will come sooner than we think.

Of course, this needs a breakthrough figure, and we almost saw one a few years ago in the shape of Han Han, that rally-driver turned dispassionate blog-artist whose comments and opinions were better known than anyone else&rsquos in China from 2008-9. Han Han has rather regrettably been led to understand that he should no longer blog in &ldquoinflammatory&rdquo terms, but that might ultimately be an unwise move on the part of those elements. A small example was Han Han&rsquos posting on the train-disaster that rocked China last summer, a simple pair of closed speech marks, indicative of how much the young in China are finding what they want to say, and what they now see as the extreme and outdated thought directed against them: &ldquo&rdquo. This provocative non-comment was itself commented upon several tens of thousands of times within a few hours, and was the subject of two Masters degree theses in the United States. Even Mo Yan&rsquos recent winning the Nobel Prize of Literature has caused nothing like the stir caused by this solitary rally driver.

But there remain enough people able to see both sides of the coin with Han Han for me to doubt his continuing influence or that of any contemporary blogger. The danger here is that government interference with the Internet will succeed in turning people who sit in this middle zone towards protest, but the result will not be literature so much as the continuing working out of the regrettable growing pains of China&rsquos literature-less generation. International support for these communities will probably continue to have the opposite effect in alienating those who do speak out, much in the way that Chen Guangcheng&rsquos recent decision to go into self-imposed exile in the US has done nothing but to give the average Chinese person the impression that his noble cause has become a device used by western nations to shame China.

This is perhaps all rather sad, but I think the resurgence we can look forward to is sure to be in a more traditional form of literature. Once the Chinese youth teach themselves instead of simply being taught what is their literature and what their role as writers should be, as was impressed consciously or sub-consciously on the minds of anybody writing between 1949 and the 1990s once the international community grants them certain breathing spaces and removes the Pyrrhic victory of escape to a western nation then they are on the way towards redefining the literati community&rsquos fundamental position of independence, rather than supporting pillar of the state. This seems a stage in the growth of a mature Chinese society for what lies ahead, balancing the bureaucracy of education with its purely intellectual alternative, the passion for service to family, country, and people with the human need for proper distance from other humans, and the need for forces and minds to stand in something approaching harmony as a result. This is what so much of the best Chinese poetry, such as Yuanming, manages to show, and it is also a better reflection of how the stakes have stood in China for at least 500 years.

In short, we are witnessing the death of modern Chinese literature, but traditional Chinese literature may rise again in its place.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer's editorial policy.

Image: Copyright © Shutterstock . All rights reserved.

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Chinese literature

People from different parts of China sometimes cannot understand each other’s speech, but they all can read Chinese literature. That is because the Chinese language is written using thousands of complicated characters that stand for things or ideas instead of sounds. Chinese is one of the world’s oldest written languages, with a history dating back more than 3,000 years.

Ancient Writings

The philosopher Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 bce , is regarded as one of the most important people in ancient Chinese civilization. His own writings have not survived. His followers, however, wrote down a collection of his sayings in Lun yü (Analects). It is the best single source for Confucian wisdom.

The books called the Five Classics are among the most important works of ancient Chinese literature. They were brought together in about the time of Confucius, and he may have had something to do with editing them. They have been used for more than 2,000 years as guides for personal behavior, good government, and religious conduct. They have also provided models for good writing.

Probably the most famous of the Five Classics is the Yi jing (sometimes written as I ching Classic of Changes). It is a fortune-teller’s manual and guide to philosophy that was written down long before Confucius’ time. The Shu jing (Classic of History) is a collection of documents and speeches. The Li ji (Record of Rites) is a book of rituals, and the Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Annals) is a history of the state of Lu, where Confucius was born. The classic that is most interesting as literature is the Shi jing (Classic of Poetry), a collection of 305 songs. Among them are folk ballads, courtly songs, and songs of praise. Most were already hundreds of years old at the time they were compiled.

Another of the great works of ancient China is the Daode jing (Classic of the Way of Power). This book presents the teachings of Laozi, the founder of Daoism, an Eastern philosophy and religion. Laozi was only slightly older than Confucius, and the two philosophers may have met each other.

Literature of the Early Dynasties

In 221 bce China was united under the rule of Shi Huangdi, who started the Qin Dynasty. He was determined to govern with absolute authority. Shi Huangdi often found himself at odds with the Confucian scholars, who did not approve of his harsh rule. In 213 bce he ordered the destruction of all texts that he thought threatened his power.

After the Qin Dynasty came the Han Dynasty (206 bce –220 ce ). The Han rulers actively promoted literature. The Five Classics were restored to favor, a music bureau was formed to collect folk songs, and traditional poetry flourished. The masterpiece of the period was the Shi ji (Historical Records), by Sima Qian. Completed in about 85 bce , it is a vast record of about 2,000 years of Chinese history.

After the Han rulers, China experienced nearly 400 years of civil war. This period is called the Six Dynasties. Folk songs were popular during this time. Among the folk songs of northern China was “Mu-lan shi” (Ballad of Mu Lan), which tells of a girl who disguised herself as a warrior and won glory on the battlefield.

During the Sui Dynasty (581–618 ce ) that followed, China was finally reunited under one ruler. The major poet of the period was Tao Qian, a government official who retired from his duties to live with his family in a farming village. He became China’s first great nature poet, and his plain style influenced many later writers.

As Confucian standards were challenged, first by Daoism and then by Buddhism, prose writers stressed individuality. Their revolt was reflected in the 5th-century style called “pure conversation,” which was used for essays discussing important ideas.

Golden Age of Poetry

The period from 681 to 960 was the time of the Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties. This was China’s golden age of poetry. The works of more than 2,000 poets from the period have been preserved. Poets followed traditional verse forms but also adopted new ones. Among these was the popular ci, a song form. The ci was made up of lines of irregular length (as short as one syllable or as long as 11 syllables). It remained a major style of poetry for hundreds of years.

Two of the greatest poets of Chinese literature lived in the 8th century, during the Tang Dynasty. Li Bo was a romantic whose verse celebrates merriment, friendship, and nature. Du Fu delighted in the beauties of nature, but he also was a critic and humorist. He condemns war and injustice in his writings.

The great prose writer of the time was Han Yu. He brought Chinese prose writing back to the free and simple style of the ancient philosophers. His essays, among the most beautiful written in Chinese, became models for later writers. At his death in 824 he was given the honored title Prince of Letters.

Sung, Mongol, and Ming Dynasties

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) the ci form of poetry and song reached its greatest heights. One of the greatest poets of this period was a woman, Li Qingzhao. Although only fragments of her many poems survive, it is clear that she wrote very personal verse about the joys of love and the despair of being separated from her husband. Prose writers of this time began to tell stories in the everyday speech of the common people. These narratives were mostly fictionalized versions of history.

The period of Mongol rule over China is called the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368). During this time more than 1,700 musical plays were written by more than 100 dramatists. Perhaps the greatest playwright of the time was Guan Hanqing. He wrote about common experiences in a simple manner. Among his best works is Doue yuan (Injustice Suffered by Doue), a drama about a luckless widow. Wang Shifu’s drama Xi xiang ji (Romance of the Western Chamber) remains popular today. Many long works of fiction were also written during this time. One important novelist was Luo Guanzhong. His best-known work is San guo yan yi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), a historical novel written in an ordinary, everyday style.

After the Mongols, China was ruled by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), which restored old traditions in literature. Writers tended to imitate past forms and styles. But they did produce some outstanding works of fiction. For example, Jin ping mei (Gold Vase Plum), written by an unknown author, was the first realistic novel about Chinese society. It describes the shameful behavior of a well-to-do businessman. It became one of the most popular Chinese novels.

Qing Dynasty

China’s last dynasty was the Qing. The Qing emperors were Manchus from the region north of China. During most of the period Chinese literature tended to be old-fashioned. Genuine creativity was rare. But in the 17th century the writer Cao Zhan produced Hong lou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber), which is usually considered to be China’s greatest novel. It tells of the decline of a powerful family.

Toward the end of the Qing Dynasty China had its first meaningful contact with Europe, and ideas from the West began to influence Chinese writers. The novel Lao Can you ji (1904–07 The Travels of Lao Can) by Liu E pointed out the problems of the weakening dynasty, which was soon overthrown by revolution.

Modern Times

The Nationalist revolution of 1911–12 did away with China’s imperial government, ending the control of the dynastic leaders. For about the next 40 years China was in a state of disorder. Writers used everyday language to champion bold new ideas about government and literature. One of the leading literary figures of the period was Chen Duxiu, a founder of China’s Communist Party. Another was Zhou Shuren, who is better known as Lu Xun. His “Kuangren riji” (1918 “Diary of a Madman”) was the first Western-style short story written in Chinese.

To readers outside of China, the country’s best-known 20th-century author was Lin Yutang, who lived from 1895 to 1976. After writing essays and editing periodicals in China, Lin traveled widely in foreign countries. He wrote many works in English about his country.

In 1949 China experienced another revolution, led by the Communist Mao Zedong. Mao launched programs to control every aspect of Chinese life, including art and literature. Countless written works were produced reflecting Communist policies and ideas. Novels such as Taiyang zhao zai Sangganhe shang (1949 The Sun Shines over the Sangkan River) by Ding Ling deal with issues of land reform. In 1966 Mao began the Cultural Revolution, a period of turmoil during which writers and other intellectuals were attacked.

In 2000 Gao Xingjian became the first writer in the Chinese language to win the Nobel prize for literature. Gao’s best-known works were modern-style plays such as Chezhan (1983 The Bus Stop). Gao’s writings stirred up controversy in China and were eventually banned. He left China in 1987 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature as a citizen of France.

Watch the video: Chinese History in 5 minutes. Literature (July 2022).


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  5. Abhimanyu

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