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China's literary tradition extends back to ancient times. 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, China's first great poet born in 339 B.C. during the Warring States Period, wrote Li Sao (The Lament), an extended lyric poem. The Book of Songs and Li Sao are regarded as the two peaks of the earliest Chinese literary history. In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- A.D. 220) Sima Qian wrote Records of the Historian, respected as a model of biographical literature, and the magnificent yuefu (ballads), best represented by "The Peacock Flies to the Southeast," were written. The Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420) were a great period for the production of poetry, with end uring works produced by Cao Cao, Cao Pi, Cao Zhi, Yuan Ji, Ji Kang and Tao Yuanming. Tao Yuanming excelled at the description of natural scenery and rural life. Literature in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589) is noted for folk ballads. Those from the south tend toward lyricism while those from the north sing of the boldly robust spirit of the nomads. "The Ballad of Mulan" is an outstanding example, telling the story of the young girl Hua Mulan, who armed herself as a soldier to go to war in her father's place. The Tang Dynasty gave birth to a great number of men of letters. The Complete Tang Poetry anthologizes more than 50,000 poems composed by more than 2,200 poets. Representative poets include Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi. The greatness of Li Bai ( 701-762), known as the "poet immortal," ranks with that of Qu Yuan. His poetic voice was fantastical and boldly unrestrained, drawing inspiration from folk songs, myths and legends. Du Fu's (712-770) pithy poems are profoundly solemn and deeply moving. As many of his poems reflect the complete historic course of the Tang from prosperity to decline, they are known as the "poetic history." Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan led the reform of Tang prose style in both tone and language. They advocated the abandonment of the parallel prose style characteristic of Wei, Jin and the periods after with their regulated tones, antithesis and repeated allusions, in favour of a much looser form, developing a style that was simple, lucid and vigorous. The Song Dynasty is well known for its ci (lyric). The ci is a style of poetry written in lines of unequal length and set to music. Song Dynasty lyricists may be divided into two groups. The first, best represented by Liu Yong and Li Qingzhao, is known as the "gentle school." These poets most often speak of love affairs and sorrow at parting. The second, the "bold and unconstrained school," is best represented by Su Shi and Xin Qiji, who describe mountains and rivers and reflect on past events in an untrammeled style written in sweeping strokes. The Song Dynasty also witnessed the appearance of huaben (the recorded texts of folk storytellers), which later exerted a great influence on literary development. The most notable achievement of Yuan literature was the zaju, poetic drama set to music. This comprehensive dramatic form was jointly created by actors, musicians and playwrights - a single story unfolds through arias, dialogue, stage action and dance, all performed to musical accompaniment. The celebrated playwright Guan Hanqing (c. 1213-1297) wrote 63 zaju in his life, including his masterpieces Snow in Midsummer (also known as The Wrongs of Dou E). Wang Shifu, another master of the zaju, is well remembered for Romance of the Western Bower. The Ming and Qing dynasties saw the development of the novel. Four masterpieces produced in this form during this period are Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai'an, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en, and A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin. A Dream of Red Mansions depicts the corruption of the feudal system and its inevitable collapse through the tragic love stories of Jia Baoyu and his beautiful cousins Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai and the changing fortunes of the aristocratic Jia family. Richly vital, deeply profound, minutely drawn, A Dream of Red Mansions stands at the apex of the traditional Chinese novel. Other famous literary works of the Ming and Qing dynasties include Golden Lotus (Jin Ping Mei) by the pseudonymous "Laughing Scholar of Lanling," Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio by Pu Songling (1640_1715), and The Scholars by Wu Jingzi (1701-1754). The May 4th Movement that broke out in 1919 was an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal movement as well as a new culture movement, which inspired a group of progressive intellectuals to use literature as a weapon to challenge the decayed evil forces, thereby giving birth to modern Chinese literature. The most outstanding representatives of this era are Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Mao Dun and Ba Jin. Lu Xun, the pioneer standard-bearer of modern Chinese literature, created a vast body of novels, essays and prose works. He moreover translated in excess of 200 works by more than 90 writers from 14 countries, providing their first introduction to Chinese readers. His The True Story of AH Q is a world-renowned masterpiece and has been translated into 40 languages. The poetry anthology The Goddesses and the play Qu Yuan, both by Guo Moruo, had an enormous influence on the history of modern Chinese literature. Mao Dun wrote 6 novels, 6 novelettes, 50-odd short stories and a dozen collections of prose. Written in the l930s, his novel Midnight is among his most outstanding works. Other celebrated works include the "Torrent" trilogy (Family, Spring and Autumn) by Ba Jin, Camel Xiangzi and Teahouse by Lao She and Thunderstorm and Sunrise by Cao Yu.

The founding of New China in 1949 serves as a signpost for the beginning of contemporary Chinese literature. The literary experiences distilled in the years following the May 4th Movement, the direction (that literature and art should serve the people) pointed out by Mao Zedong in Talks at the Yan 'an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942, and the basic principle of "letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend" formulated in 1956 created favorable conditions for the establishment and development of contemporary literature. In the 17 years from 1949 to 1965, the most outstanding novels produced were Defend Yan'an by Du Pengcheng, Sanliwan village by Zhao Shuli, Builders of a New Life by Liu Qing, Great Changes in a Mountain Village by Zhou Libo, Keep the Red Flag Flying by Liang Bin, Red Crag by Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiyan, The Song of Youth by Yang Mo, Tracks in the Snowy Forest by Qu Bo and Three Family Lane by Ouyang Shan. In the 10-year "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), literature was deliberately severely hamstrung, leaving a desolate literary wasteland. In the years since the "cultural revolution," however, literature has been rejuvenated and a large number of literary works have appeared. The works of the early period in the new era's literature mainly described the emotional wounds the people suffered during the "cultural revolution" and their struggle against the Gang of Four (a counter-revolutionary group consisting of Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen during the "cultural revolution"). Mid-length novels are noticeable in this period : The Blood-stained Magnolia by Cong Weixi, Mimosa by Zhang Xianliang, A Tale of Tianyun Mountain by Lu Yanzhou, and The Snowstorm Tonight by Liang Xiaosheng, etc. are full of artistic appeal and deeply emotional. Later, a diversifying tendency appeared in mid-length novels as far as aesthetic style is concerned. Major works include Red Sorghum by Mo Yan, The Black Steed by Zhang Chengzhi, Na Wu by Deng Youmei, At Middle Age by Chen Rong, King of Chess by Ah Cheng, The Butterfly' by Wang Meng, Life by Lu Yao, Scenery by Fang Fang, Besieged by Liu Heng, Troubled Life by Chi Li, The Sesame Oil Mill by the Pond by Zhou Daxin and Phoenix Guitar - the Story of Some Rural Teachers by Liu Xinglong. The short story form in the new era started from The Wound by Lu Xinhua and The Form Master by Liu Xinwu. Influential works in this genre include Flowing Colored Scarf by Chen Jiangong, The Log Cabin Overgrown with Creepers by Gu Hua, Love Must Not Be Forgotten by Zhang Jie, A Land of Wonder and Mystery by Liang Xiaosheng, My Distant Qingpingwan by Shi Tieshgng, A Soul in Bondage by Zhaxi Dawa, Eight Hundred Meters Below by Sun Shaoshan, Grain by Liu Heng and Pagoda Depot by Liu Zhenyun. A large number of full-length novels also appeared in the new era, including A Town Called Hibiscus by Gu Hua, Xu Mao and His Daughters by Zhou Keqin, Mobile Figures by Wang Meng, Black Snow by Liu Heng, Muslim Funeral by Huo Da, Old Ship by Zhang Wei, Heavy Wings by Zhang Jie and The Common People by Hao Ran. Accomplished novels with historical themes include Li Zicheng by Yao Xueyin, The Earth's Red Ribbon by Wei Wei, Ten-thousand-Ii Pictures of the Great Wall by Zhou Erfu, The Young Son of Heaven and The Evening Drum and the Morning Bell by Lin Li, Zeng Guofan by Tang Haomin and Emperor Yongzheng by Eryue He. In addition, many high-quality poems, essays, features and reportages have been produced.

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