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Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese. The introduction of widespread woodblock printing during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng (990–1051) during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) rapidly spread written knowledge throughout China. In more modern times, the author Lu Xun (1881–1936) is considered the founder of baihua literature in China.

Classical texts[]

Main article: Chinese classics

There is a wealth of early Chinese literature dating from the Hundred Schools of Thought that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BCE). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science and Chinese history. Note that except for the books of poems and songs, most of this literature is philosophical and didactic; there is little in the way of fiction. However, these texts maintained their significance through both their ideas and their prose style.

The Confucian works in particular have been of key importance to Chinese culture and history, as a set of works known as the Four Books and Five Classics were, in the 12th century CE, chosen as the basis for the Imperial examination for any government post. These nine books therefore became the center of the educational system. They have been grouped into two categories: the Five Classics, allegedly commented and edited by Confucius, and the Four Books. The Five Classics include:

  1. The I Ching, or Book of Changes , a divination manual attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi and based on eight trigrams. The I Ching is still used by adherents of folk religion.
  2. The Classic of Poetry, a collection of poems, folk songs, festival and ceremonial songs, and religious hymns and eulogies.
  3. The Classic of Rites or Record of Rites
  4. The Classic of History, a collection of documents and speeches allegedly written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains the best examples of early Chinese prose.
  5. The Spring and Autumn Annals, a historical record of Confucius' native state, Lu, from 722 to 479 BCE.

The Four Books include: the Analects of Confucius, a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples; Mencius, a collection of political dialogues; the Doctrine of the Mean, a book that teaches the path to Confucian virtue; and the Great Learning, a book about education, self-cultivation and the Dao.

Other important philosophical works include the Mohist Mozi, which taught "inclusive love" as both an ethical and social principle, and Hanfeizi, one of the central Legalist texts.

Important Daoist classics include the Dao De Jing, the Zhuangzi, and the Classic of the Perfect Emptiness. Later authors combined Daoism with Confucianism and Legalism, such as Liu An (2nd century BCE), whose Huainanzi (The Philosophers of Huai-nan) also added to the fields of geography and topography.

Among the classics of military science, The Art of War by Sun Tzu (6th century BCE) was perhaps the first to outline guidelines for effective international diplomacy. It was also the first in a tradition of Chinese military treatises, such as the Wujing Zongyao (Collection of the Most Important Military Techniques, 1044 CE) and the Huolongjing (Fire Dragon Manual, 14th century CE).

Historical texts, dictionaries and encyclopedias[]

Main article: Chinese historiography
File:Si maqian.jpg

Sima Qian laid the ground for professional Chinese historiography more than 2,000 years ago.

The Chinese kept consistent and accurate court records after the year 841 BCE, with the beginning of the Gonghe regency of the Western Zhou Dynasty. The earliest known narrative history of China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BCE, and attributed to the blind 5th century BCE historian Zuo Qiuming. The Classic of History is thought to have been compiled as far back as the 6th century BCE, and was certainly compiled by 4th century BCE, the latest date for the writing of the Guodian Chu Slips unearthed in a Hubei tomb in 1993. The Classic of History included early information on geography in the chapter of the Yu Gong.[1] The Bamboo Annals found in 281 AD in the tomb of the King of Wei, who was interred in 296 BCE, provide another example; however, unlike the Zuo Zhuan, the authenticity of the early date of the Bamboo Annals is in doubt. Another early text was the political strategy book of the Zhan Guo Ce, compiled between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE, with partial amounts of the text found amongst the 2nd century BCE tomb site at Mawangdui. The oldest extant dictionary in China is the Erya, dated to the 3rd century BCE, anonymously written but with later commentary by the historian Guo Pu (276–324). Other early dictionaries include the Fangyan by Yang Xiong (53 BCE – 18 AD) and the Shuowen Jiezi by Xu Shen (58–147 AD). One of the largest was the Kangxi Dictionary compiled by 1716 under the auspices of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722); it provides definitions for over 47,000 characters.

Although court records and other independent records existed beforehand, the definitive work in early Chinese historical writing was the Shiji (史記/史记), written by the Han Dynasty court historian Sima Qian (145 BCE-90 BCE). This groundbreaking text laid the foundation for Chinese historiography and the many official Chinese historical texts compiled for each dynasty thereafter. Sima Qian is often compared to the Greek Herodotus in scope and method, because he covered Chinese history from the mythical Xia Dynasty until the contemporary reign of Emperor Wu of Han while retaining an objective and non-biased standpoint. This was often difficult for the official dynastic historians, who used historical works to justify the reign of the current dynasty. He influenced the written works of many Chinese historians, including the works of Ban Gu and Ban Zhao in the 1st and 2nd centuries, and even Sima Guang's 11th-century compilation of the Zizhi Tongjian (資治通鑒/资治通鉴), presented to Emperor Shenzong of Song in 1084 AD. The overall scope of the historiographical tradition in China is termed the Twenty-Four Histories, created for each successive Chinese dynasty up until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644); China's last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), is not included.

Large encyclopedias were also produced in China through the ages. The Yiwen Leiju encyclopedia was completed by Ouyang Xun in 624 during the Tang Dynasty, with aid from scholars Linghu Defen and Chen Shuda. During the Song Dynasty, the compilation of the Four Great Books of Song (10th century – 11th century), begun by Li Fang and completed by Cefu Yuangui, represented a massive undertaking of written material covering a wide range of different subjects. This included the Extensive Records of the Taiping Era (978), the Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era (983), the Finest Blossoms in the Garden of Literature (986), and the Prime Tortoise of the Record Bureau (1013). Although these Song Dynasty Chinese encyclopedias featured millions of written Chinese characters each, their aggregate size paled in comparison to the later Yongle Encyclopedia (1408) of the Ming Dynasty, which contained a total of 50 million Chinese characters.[2] Even this size was trumped by later Qing Dynasty encyclopedias, such as the printed Gujin Tushu Jicheng (1726), which featured over 100 million written Chinese characters in over 800,000 pages, printed in 60 different copies using copper-metal Chinese movable type printing. Other great encyclopedic writers include the polymath scientist Shen Kuo (1031–1095) and his Dream Pool Essays, the agronomist and inventor Wang Zhen (fl. 1290–1333) and his Nongshu, and the minor scholar-official Song Yingxing (1587–1666) and his Tiangong Kaiwu.

Classical poetry[]

Main article: Classical Chinese poetry
File:Su shi.jpg

Su Shi (1037–1101), a famous Song Dynasty poet and statesman.

Along with the earlier Classic of Poetry, one of the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was the Chuci (楚辭,楚辞) (Songs of the South), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semi-legendary Qu Yuan (屈原) (c. 340-278 BCE) and his follower Song Yu (宋玉) (4th century BCE). The songs in this collection are lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-CE 220), this form evolved into the fu (賦,赋) , a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the rise of romantic nature poetry, which was heavily influenced by Taoism. The Han Chinese astronomer, mathematician, and inventor Zhang Heng (78–139 CE) was also largely responsible for the early development of Shi (詩,诗) poetry.

Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang Dynasty (CE 618–907), and thus this type of poetry is known as Tang poetry. The early Tang period was best known for its lushi 律诗 (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or seven words in each line; Zi (verse following strict rules of prosody); and jueju (绝句)(truncated verse), a four-line poem with five or seven words in each line. The two best-known poets of the period were Li Bai (701–762) and Du Fu (712–770). Li Bai was known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society. Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism and refined the art of narration. Among the best-known of the later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772–846), whose poems were a critical commentary on the society of his time. Li Yun (789–831) was an eclectic poet, writing mainly "Palace poetry". The Quantangshi, or complete Tang Poems (全唐詩) was not fully compiled until 1705 CE, during the Qing Dynasty.

Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow of their Tang predecessors, and although there were many poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this period.Template:By whom As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a more flexible poetic medium, the ci (詞,词), arrived on the scene. The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs, some of which were of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the poets of the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE). The Song era poet Su Shi (1037–1101 CE) mastered the ci, shi, and fu forms of poetry, as well as prose, calligraphy, and painting.

As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial, Sanqu, a more free form based on dramatic arias, developed. The use of sanqu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature.

Classical prose[]

Early prose[]

Template:Expand section Early Chinese prose was deeply influenced by the great philosophical writings of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770-221 BCE). The works of Mo Zi (墨子), Mencius (孟子) and Zhuang Zi (莊子) contain well-reasoned, carefully developed discourses that reveal much stronger organization and style than their predecessors. Mo Zi's polemic prose was built on solid and effective methodological reasoning. Mencius contributed elegant diction and, like Zhuang Zi, relied on comparisons, anecdotes, and allegories. By the 3rd century BCE, these writers had developed a simple, concise and economical prose style that served as a model of literary form for over 2,000 years. They were written in Classical Chinese, an isolating language spoken during the Spring and Autumn Period.

Later prose[]

Template:Expand section During the Tang period, the ornate, artificial style of prose developed in previous periods was replace by a simple, direct, and forceful prose based on examples from the Hundred Schools (see above) and from the Han period, the period in which the great historical works of Sima Tan and Sima Qian were published. This neoclassical style dominated prose writing for the next 800 years. It was exemplified in the work of Han Yu 韓愈 (768–824), a master essayist and strong advocate of a return to Confucian orthodoxy; Han Yu was later listed as one of the "Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song."

The Song Dynasty saw the rise in popularity of "travel record literature" (youji wenxue). Travel literature combined both diary and narrative prose formats, it was practiced by such seasoned travelers as Fan Chengda (1126–1193) and Xu Xiake (1587–1641) and can be seen in the example of Su Shi's Record of Stone Bell Mountain.

After the 14th century, vernacular fiction became popular, at least outside of court circles. Vernacular fiction covered a broader range of subject matter and was longer and more loosely structured than literary fiction. One of the masterpieces of Chinese vernacular fiction is the 18th-century domestic novel Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢).

Some contributors[]

  • Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song (唐宋八大家)
    • Han Yu (韓愈,韩愈)
    • Liu Zongyuan (柳宗元)
    • Ouyang Xiu (歐陽修,欧阳修)
    • Su Zhe (蘇轍,苏辙)
    • Su Shi (蘇軾,苏轼)
    • Su Xun (蘇洵,苏洵)
    • Wang Anshi (王安石)
    • Zeng Gong (曾鞏,曾巩)
  • Two great scientific authors from the Song period:
    • Shen Kuo (沈括) (1031–1095)
    • Su Song (蘇頌,苏颂) (1020–1101)
  • Ming Dynasty
    • Song Lian (宋濂) (1310–1381)
    • Liu Ji (劉基,刘基) (1311–1375)
    • Jiao Yu (焦玉)
    • Gui Youguang (歸有光,归有光) (1506–1571)
    • Yuan Hongdao (袁宏道) (1568–1610)
    • Xu Xiake (徐霞客) (1586–1641)
    • Gao Qi (高啟,高启)
    • Zhang Dai (張岱,张岱)
    • Tu Long (屠隆)
    • Wen Zhenheng (文震亨)
  • Qing Dynasty
    • Fang Pao (方苞) (1668–1749)
    • Liu Dakui (劉大櫆,刘大魁) (1698–1779)
    • Yao Nai (姚鼐) (1731–1815)
    • Yuan Mei (袁枚) (1716–1798)
    • Gong Zizhen (龔自珍,龚自珍) (1792–1841)
    • Wei Yuan (魏源) (1794–1857)

Selected classical novels and plays[]

  • The Four Great Classical Novels (Si Da Ming Zhu 四大名著):
    • Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢,红楼梦 A Dream of Red Mansions, The Story of the Stone and The Chronicles of the Stone, 石頭記, 石头记 Shítóu Jì), by Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹)
    • Water Margin (水滸傳, 水浒传 All Men Are Brothers and Outlaws of the Marsh), by Shī Nài'ān (施耐庵)
    • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義,三国演义), by Luó Guànzhōng (羅貫中,罗贯中)
    • Journey to the West (西遊記,西游记 Monkey King and Monkey), by Wú Chéng'ēn (吳承恩,吴承恩). This is one of The Four Journeys.
  • Other classic literature:
    • Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異,聊斋志异), by Pú Sōnglíng (蒲松齡,蒲松龄)
    • Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅, 蘭陵笑笑生,兰陵笑笑生 or The Plum in the Golden Vase), by Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (兰陵笑笑生)
    • Fengshen Bang (封神榜, The Investiture of the Gods)
    • Xingshi Yinyuan Zhuan (醒世姻緣傳,醒世姻缘传 or The Story of a Marital Fate to Awaken the World)
    • The Scholars (Chinese novel) (儒林外史 Ru Lin Wai Shi), by Wú Jìngzǐ (吳敬梓)
    • Dijing Jingwulue (帝京景物略 or Survey of Scenery and Monuments in the Imperial Capital), by Liu Tong
    • The Romance of the Eastern Zhou (東周列國志, 东周列国志 dōngzhōu lièguō zhì), by Feng Menglong(冯梦龙), edited by Cai Yuanfang (蔡元放)
  • Drama:
    • Romance of the West Chamber (西廂記,西厢记 Xīxiāngjì), by Wang Shifu (王实甫)
    • The Injustice to Dou E (竇娥冤,窦娥冤 Dou E Yuan), by Guan Hanqing (關漢卿,关汉卿)
    • The Jade Hairpin (Yuzanji 玉簪記,玉簪记), by Gao Lian (高濂)
    • Hui Lan Ji (灰闌記,灰兰记), by Li Xingdao (李行道) became the basis for The Caucasian Chalk Circle
    • The Peony Pavilion (Mudan Ting 牡丹亭), by Tang Xianzu (湯顯祖,汤显祖)

Modern literature[]

Late Qing (1895–1911)[]

Scholars now tend to agree that modern Chinese literature did not erupt suddenly in the New Culture Movement (1917–23). Instead, they trace its origins back at least to the late Qing period (1895–1911). The late Qing was a period of intellectual ferment sparked by a sense of national crisis. Intellectuals began to seek solutions to China's problems outside of its own tradition. They translated works of Western expository writing and literature, which enthralled readers with new ideas and opened up windows onto new exotic cultures. Most outstandingTemplate:By whom were the translations of Yan Fu (严复) (1864–1921) and Lin Shu (林纾) (1852–1924). In this climate, a boom in the writing of fiction occurred, especially after the 1905 abolishment of the civil service examination when literati struggled to fill new social and cultural roles for themselves. Stylistically, this fiction shows signs of both the Chinese novelistic tradition and Western narrative modes. In subject matter, it is strikingly concerned with the contemporary: social problems, historical upheaval, changing ethical values, etc. In this sense, late Qing fiction is modern. Important novelists of the period include Wu Woyao (吴沃尧) (1866–1910), Li Boyuan (李伯元) (1867–1906), Liu E (刘鹗) (1857–1909), and Zeng Pu (曾朴) (1872–1935).

The late Qing also saw a "revolution in poetry" (诗界革命), which promoted experimentation with new forms and the incorporation of new registers of language. However, the poetry scene was still dominated by the adherents to the Tongguang School (named after the Tongzhi and Guangxu reigns of the Qing), whose leaders — Chen Yan (陈衍), Chen Sanli (陈三立), Zheng Xiaoxu (郑孝胥), and Shen Zengzhi (沈曾植) — promoted a Song style in the manner of Huang Tingjian. These poets would become the objects of scorn by New Culturalists like Hu Shi, who saw their work as overly allusive, artificial, and divorced from contemporary reality.

In drama, the late Qing saw the emergence of the new "civilized drama" (文明戏), a hybrid of Chinese operatic drama with Western-style spoken drama. Peking opera and "reformed Peking opera" were also popular at the time.

Republican Era (1911–1949)[]

The literary scene in the first few years after the collapse of the Qing in 1911 was dominated by popular love stories, some written in the classical language and some in the vernacular. This entertainment fiction would later be labeled "Mandarin Ducks and Butterfly" fiction by New Culturalists, who despised its lack of social engagement. Throughout much of the Republican era, Butterfly fiction would reach many more readers than its "progressive" counterpart.

In the course of the New Culture Movement (1917–23), the vernacular language largely displaced the classical in all areas of literature and writing. Literary reformers Hu Shi (胡適) (1891–1962) and Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀) (1880–1942) declared the classical language "dead" and promoted the vibrant vernacular in its stead. Hu Shi once said, "A dead language can never produce a living literature."(Citation needed) In terms of literary practice, Lu Xun (1881–1936) is usually said to be the first major stylist in the new vernacular prose that Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu were promoting.

Though often said to be less successful than their counterparts in fiction writing, poets also experimented with the vernacular in new poetic forms, such as free verse and the sonnet. Given that there was no tradition of writing poetry in the vernacular, these experiments were more radical than those in fiction writing and also less easily accepted by the reading public.Template:By whom Modern poetry flourished especially in the 1930s, in the hands of poets like Zhu Xiang (朱湘), Dai Wangshu (戴望舒), Li Jinfa (李金发), Wen Yiduo (闻一多), and Ge Xiao (葛萧). Other poets, even among the May Fourth radicals (e.g., Yu Dafu), continued to write poetry in classical styles.

May Fourth radicalism, combined with changes in the education system, made possible the emergence of a large group of women writers. While there had been women writers in the late imperial period and the late Qing, they had been few in number. These writers generally tackled domestic issues, such as relations between the sexes, family, and friendship, but they were revolutionary in giving direct expression to female subjectivity. Ding Ling's (丁玲) story "Diary of Miss Sophie" (莎菲女士日记) exposes the thoughts and feelings of its female diarist in all their complexity.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the emergence of spoken drama. Most outstanding among playwrights of the day are Ouyuang Yuqian (欧阳予倩), Hong Shen (洪深), Tian Han (田汉), and Cao Yu (曹禺).Template:By whom More popular than this Western-style drama, however, was Peking Opera, raised to new artistic heights by the likes of Mei Lanfang (梅蘭芳).

In the late 1920s and 1930s, literary journals and societies espousing various artistic theories proliferated. Among the major writers of the period were Guo Moruo (郭沫若) (1892–1978), a poet, historian, essayist, and critic; Mao Dun (茅盾) (1896–1981), the first of the novelists to emerge from the "League of Left-Wing Writers" and one whose work reflected the revolutionary struggle and disillusionment of the late 1920s; satirist and novelist Lao She (老舍) (1899–1966); and Ba Jin (巴金) (1904–2005), a novelist whose work was influenced by Ivan Turgenev and other Russian writers. In the 1930s Ba Jin produced a trilogy that depicted the struggle of modern youth against the ageold dominance of the Confucian family system. Comparison often is madeTemplate:By whom between Jia (Family), one of the novels in the trilogy, and Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦). Many of these writers became important as administrators of artistic and literary policy after 1949. Most of those authors who were still alive during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) were either purged or forced to submit to public humiliation.

The League of Left-Wing Writers founded in 1930 included Lu Xun (魯迅) among its leadership. By 1932 it had adopted the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism; that is, the insistence that art must concentrate on contemporary events in a realistic way, exposing the ills of nonsocialist society and promoting a glorious future under communism.

Other styles of literature were at odds with the highly-political literature being promoted by the League. The "New Sensationists" (新感觉派) – a group of writers based in Shanghai who were influenced, to varying degrees, by Western and Japanese modernism—wrote fiction that was more concerned with the unconscious and with aesthetics than with politics or social problems. Most important among these writers were Mu Shiying (穆时英), Liu Na'ou (刘呐鸥), and Shi Zhecun (施蛰存).Template:By whom Other writers, including Shen Congwen (沈从文) and Fei Ming (废名), balked at the utilitarian role for literature by writing lyrical, almost nostalgic, depictions of the countryside.

The Communist Party of China had established a base after the Long March in Yan'an. The literary ideals of the League were being simplified and enforced on writers and "cultural workers." In 1942, Mao Zedong gave a series of lectures called "Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Art and Literature" that clearly made literature subservient to politics via the Yan'an Rectification Movement. This document would become the national guideline for culture after the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Maoist Era (1949–1976)[]

After coming to power in 1949, the Communists gradually nationalized the publishing industry, centralized the book distribution system, and brought writers under institutional control through the Writers Union. A system of strict censorship was implemented, with Mao's "Yan'an Talks" as the guiding force. Periodic literary campaigns targeted figures such as Hu Shi and Hu Feng (胡风) who did not toe the Party line on literature. Socialist realism became the uniform style. Conflict, however, soon developed between the government and the writers. The ability to satirize and expose the evils in contemporary society that had made writers useful to the Communist Party of China before its accession to power was no longer welcomed. Even more unwelcome to the party was the persistence among writers of what was deplored as "petty bourgeois idealism," "humanitarianism", and an insistence on freedom to choose subject matter. This conflict came to a head in the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956–57). Mao Zedong encouraged writers to speak out against problems in the new society. Having learned the lessons of the anti-Hu Feng campaign, they were initially reluctant; soon, however, a flurry of newspaper articles, films, and literary works drew attention to such problems as bureaucratism and authoritarianism within the ranks of the party. Now aware of the level of discontent toward the new regime by intellectuals, Mao decided to reverse the Hundred Flowers liberalization, a crackdown now referred to as the Anti-Rightist Movement (反右运动). Many intellectuals were attacked. At the time of the Great Leap Forward, the government increased its insistence on the use of socialist realism and combined with it so-called revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism. Authors were permitted to write about contemporary China, as well as other times during China's modern period——as long as it was accomplished with the desired socialist revolutionary realism.

Despite the draconian measures instituted by Mao's regime to instill literary uniformity, novels of great qualityTemplate:By whom were produced. Examples of this new socialist literature include The Builder ( Chuanye Shi 创业史) by Liu Qing 柳青, The Song of Youth (Qing Chun Zhi Ge 青春之歌) by Yang Mo 杨沫, Tracks in the Snowy Forest (Lin Hai Xue Yuan 林海雪原 ) by Qu Bo (novelist) 曲波, Keep the Red Flag Flying (Hong Qi Pu 红旗谱) by Liang Bin 梁斌, The Red Sun ( Hong Ri 红日) by Wu Qiang 吴强, and Red Crag ( Hong Yan 红岩) by Luo Guangbin 罗广斌 and Yang Yiyan (杨益言).

During the Cultural Revolution, the repression and intimidation led by Mao's fourth wife, Jiang Qing, succeeded in drying up all cultural activity except a few "model" operas and heroic novels, such as those by Hao Ran (浩然). Although it has since been learned that some writers continued to produce in secret, during that period no significant literary work was published.

Post-Mao (1976–present)[]

The arrest of Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four in 1976, and especially the reforms initiated at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, led writers to take up their pens again. Much of the literature in what would be called the "new era" (新时期) discussed the serious abuses of power that had taken place at both the national and the local levels during the Cultural Revolution. The writers decried the waste of time and talent during that decade and bemoaned abuses that had held China back. At the same time, the writers expressed eagerness to make a contribution to building Chinese society. This literature, often called "the literature of the wounded," contained disquieting views of the party and the political system. Intensely patriotic, these authors wrote cynically of the political leadership that gave rise to the extreme chaos and disorder of the Cultural Revolution. Some of them extended the blame to the entire generation of leaders and to the political system itself. The political authorities were faced with a serious problem: how could they encourage writers to criticize and discredit the abuses of the Cultural Revolution without allowing that criticism to go beyond what they considered tolerable limits?

During this period, a large number of novels and short stories were published. Literary magazines from before the Cultural Revolution were revived, and new ones were established to satisfy the appetite of the reading public. There was a special interest in foreign works. Linguists were commissioned to translate recently published foreign literature, often without carefully considering its interest for the Chinese reader. Literary magazines specializing in translations of foreign short stories became very popular, especially among the young.

These dramatic changes brought objections from some leaders in the government, literary and art circles who feared it was happening too fast. The first reaction came in 1980 with calls to combat "bourgeois liberalism," a campaign that was repeated in 1981. These two difficult periods were followed by the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign in late 1983.

At the same time, writers remained more free to write in unconventional styles and to treat sensitive subject matter. A spirit of literary experimentation flourished in the second half of the 1980s. Fiction writers such as Wang Meng (王蒙), Zhang Xinxin (张辛欣), and Zong Pu (宗璞) and dramatists such as Gao Xingjian (高行健) experimented with modernist language and narrative modes. Another group of writers—collectively said to constitute the Roots (寻根) movement—including Han Shaogong (韩少功), Mo Yan, and A Cheng (阿城) sought to reconnect literature and culture to Chinese traditions, from which a century of modernization and cultural and political iconoclasm had severed them. Other writers (e.g., Yu Hua (余华), Ge Fei (格非), Su Tong (苏童) experimented in a more avant-garde (先锋) mode of writing that was daring in form and language and showed a complete loss of faith in ideals of any sort.Template:By whom

In the wake of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 and with the intensification of market reforms, literature and culture turned increasingly commercial and escapist. Wang Shuo (王朔), the so-called "hooligan" (痞子) writer, is the most obvious manifestation of this commercial shift, though his fiction is not without serious intent.Template:By whom Some writers, such as Yan Lianke 阎连科, continue to take seriously the role of literature in exposing social problems; his novel Dreams of Ding Village (丁庄梦) deals with the plight of HIV-AIDS victims.

As in the May Fourth Movement, women writers flourish in present-day China. Many of them, such as Chen Ran (陈然), Wei Hui (卫慧), Wang Anyi (王安忆), and Hong Ying (虹影), explore female subjectivity in a radically changing society. Neo-realism (e.g., Liu Heng (刘恒), Chi Li (池莉), Fang Fang (方方), He Dun (何顿), and Zhu Wen (朱文) is another important current in post-Tian'anmen fiction.

China's state-run General Administration of Press and Publication (新闻出版总署) screens all Chinese literature intended to be sold on the open market. The GAPP has the legal authority to screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China. Because all publishers in China are required to be licensed by the GAPP, that agency also has the power to deny people the right to publish, and completely shut down any publisher who fails to follow its dictates.[3] As a result, the ratio of official to pirated books is said to be 2:3.[4] According to a report in ZonaEuropa, there are more than 4,000 underground publishing factories around China.[3] The Chinese government continues to hold public book burnings[5] on unapproved yet popular "spiritual pollution" literature, though critics claim this spotlight on individual titles only helps fuel booksales.[6] Many new-generation Chinese authors who were the recipients of such government attention have been re-published in English and success in the western literary markets, namely Zhou Weihui's Shanghai Baby, Anchee Min's controversial memoir Red Azalea, Time Magazine banned-book covergirl Chun Sue's Beijing Doll, and Mian Mian's Candy. Online bestseller Ghost Blows Out the Light had to be rewritten to remove references to the supernatural before it could be released in print.[7]

After the liberal 1980s, the 1990s saw a strong commercialization of literature due to an opening of the book market. According to Martin Woesler trends were 'cult literature' with Guo Jingming (郭敬明), 悲伤逆流成河 Cry me a sad river, vagabond literature with Xu Zechen (徐则臣), 跑步穿过中关村 Peking double quick, Liu Zhenyun (刘震云), 我叫刘跃 The pickpockets, underground literature Mian Mian (棉棉), 声名狼籍 Panda Sex, 'longing for something' literature, divided in historicizing literature with Yu Dan 于丹, 《论语》心得 Confucius in your heart, Yi Zhongtian (易中天) and in Tibetan literature with Alai, literature of the mega cities, women's literature with Bi Shumin (毕淑敏), 女儿拳 Women’s boxing, 女心理师 The female psychologist, master narratives by narrators like Mo Yan 莫言 with 生死疲勞 Life and Death are Wearing me out.[8]

However Chinese literature at the beginning of the 21st century shows signs of overcoming the commercialization of literature of the 1980s and 1990s. An example is Han Han's (韩寒) novel 他的国 His land (2009), which was written in a social critical surrealistic style against the uncritical mainstream, but ranked 1st in 2009 Chinese bestseller list.[9]

In the new millennium, online literature in China plays a much more important role than in the United States or in the rest of the world.[10] Almost any book is available online, novels finding millions of readers, being available at 2 Yuan in average, a tenth of the average prize of a printed book.[11] Online literature stars are, amongst others, again Han Han and Guo Jingming.[12]

Chinese language literature also flourishes in the diaspora—in South East Asia, the United States, and Europe. China is the largest publisher of books, magazines and newspapers in the world.(Citation needed) In book publishing alone, some 128,800 new titles of books were published in 2005, according to the General Administration of Press and Publication. There are more than 600 literary journals across the country. Living and writing in France but continuing to write primarily in Chinese, Gao Xingjian became the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000.

Book market[]

File:VM 4652 Wuchang Chongwen Book City.jpg

Inside Chongwen Book City, a large bookstore in Wuhan

China buys many foreign book rights; nearly 16 million copies of the sixth book of the Harry Potter series were sold in Chinese translation. As China Book Review reported, the rights to 9,328 foreign titles – including many children's books – went to China in 2007. China was nominated as a Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Bookfair in 2009. [2][3]

The book market in China traditionally orders books during bookfairs, because the country lacks a national book ordering system. In 2006, 6.8 million titles were sold, not including an unknown number of banned titles, bootleg copies and underground publishing factories. Seven percent of all publishers are located in Shanghai. Because the industry lacks a national distribution system, many titles from publishers in the provinces can only be found there.

The central publishing houses belonging to ministries or (other) government institutions have their main seat at Beijing (40 percent of all publishers). Most regional publishing houses are situated in the capitals of the provinces. Universities also have associated presses. Private publishing is tolerated. 220,000 books were published in 2005. Among 579 publishers – almost five times more than thirty years ago – 225 are supervised by ministries, commissions or the army; 348 are controlled by agencies; and six are even more independent. On the other hand 100,000 private bookstores bring in the half of the income of the book industry.[13]

According to The Guardian, the cultural life of the 1.3 billion people who live and work in this economic superpower remains a closed book to many in the west – their bestselling authors unfamiliar, their most exciting writers untranslated. However, in 2005, the Chinese government started a sponsoring program for translations of government-approved Chinese works, which has already resulted in more than 200 books being translated from Chinese into another language.

Shanda Literature Ltd. is an online publishing company that claims to publish 8,000 Chinese literary works daily.

Women and Chinese literature[]

Early female writers[]

Cai, or literary talent, is an attribute describing profound lyricism, deep intellectuality and analytic skill.[14] Although it was acknowledged that both women and men possessed cai, the phrase nuren wucai bian shi de 女人無才便是德(for women, lack of literary talent is a virtue[14] summarizes the dominant sentiment that the literary field was traditionally a domain for men. Despite this belief, works authored by women play an integral part throughout Chinese history. There were a number of women writers prior to the 20th century who were respected by the intelligentsia of their era, even if much of their work was considered less important than men's work in general.[15] Female writers helped to bring forth themes such as romance, marriage, gender roles and the politics surrounding women.

The first women recorded in biography and bibliography were poets.[15] The aesthetic nature of poetry was highly regarded, while fiction was viewed as an avenue taken because of a failed career or commercial venture.[15] A marked increase in female literacy took place during the Late Imperial Era. One of the more notable poets of this time was Mao Xiuhui, a 16th century poet that used the plight of her husband's failed attempt at gaining a position as civil servant to write a poem that draws parallels between the male and female as they suffer hardships in the political and domestic arenas respectively. Other notable female poets in Chinese history were Gao Zhixian, Xue Tao, and Li Qingzhao

20th century writers and feminism[]

The beginning of the century marked a period of growing unrest for women as the feminist movement took hold. Women of this period were faced with the dilemma of protesting oppressive ideals stemming from Confucian ideology or remaining true to their family and maintaining peace and order. Literary discourse at the time was highly influenced by this social movement. Women writers of the time authored works reflecting the feminist sentiment and the issues that came with revolution.[16] Zhang Ailing, Lu Yin, Shi Pingmei and Ding Ling, were four of the most influential feminist writers of the time. In the 1920s and 1930s, Freudian psychoanalysis gained favor with Chinese feminists looking to study gender relationships, thus becoming a topic of many feminist writers throughout the early and mid portions of the 20th century.[16]

When Mao came to power in 1949, he addressed the issue of women's rights and tried to establish women's equality through the "iron girls" of national development ideal.[16] Through this philosophy, long-standing practices such as foot binding, prostitution and trafficking of women were abolished. Women were given the opportunity to own land, divorce, and join the military and other employment fields.[17] The establishment of this ideology, however, did not liberate women; instead, it undermined the feminine voice by forcing women to take a male-oriented stance on public and domestic policy.[16] Literature authored during this time reflects the restrictive and masculine perspective of women writers during this period.[16] This "Mulanian" style of writing submerged true feminine identity, rendering the female perspective neglected and hidden in the male dominated political and aesthetic arenas.[18] There were some exceptions to this rule, such as Yuan Qiongqiong, who wrote about women’s issues and how much women could accomplish without men.

Some modern Chinese writers[]

  • Wang Tao (王韜) (1828–1897)
  • Yan Fu (嚴復) (1853–1924)
  • Liu E (劉鶚) (1857–1909)
  • Liang Qichao (梁啟超) (1873–1929)
  • Wang Guowei (王國維) (1877–1927)
  • Hu Shi (胡適) (1891–1962)
  • Su Manshu (蘇曼殊) (1894–1918)
  • Lu Xun (魯迅) (1881–1936)
  • Liang Shiqiu (梁實秋) (1903–1987)
  • Xu Dishan (許地山) (1893–1941)
  • Ye Shengtao (葉聖陶) (1894–1988)
  • Lin Yutang (林語堂) (1895–1976)
  • Mao Dun (茅盾) (1896–1981)
  • Xu Zhimo (徐志摩) (1896–1936)
  • Yu Dafu (郁達夫) (1896–1945)
  • Wang Tongzhao (王統照) (1897–1957)
  • Guo Moruo (郭沫若) (1892–1978)
  • Lao She (老舍) (1897–1966)
  • Zhu Ziqing (朱自清) (1898–1948)
  • Tian Han (田漢) (1898–1968)
  • Feng Zikai (豐子愷) (1898–1975)
  • Wen Yiduo (聞一多) (1899–1946)
  • Bing Xin (冰心) (1900–1999)
  • Ba Jin (巴金) (1904–2005)
  • Shen Congwen (沈從文) (1902–1988)
  • Cao Yu (曹禺) (1905–1996)
  • Qian Zhongshu (錢鍾書) (1910–1988)
  • He Qifang (何其芳) (1912–1977)
  • Lin Haiyin (林海音) (1918–2001)
  • Eileen Chang (張愛玲) (1920–1995)
  • Qu Bo (novelist) (曲波) (1922–2002)
  • Wang Xiaobo (王小波) (1952–1997)
  • Wang Zengqi (汪曾祺) (1920–1997)
  • Bai Xianyong (白先勇) (1937—)
  • Bei Dao (北島) (1949—)
  • Cong Weixi (從維熙) (1933—)
  • Jinyong (金庸), The pen name of living Chinese author Louis Cha, has sold over 100 million copies.[19](1924—)
  • Mo Yan (莫言) (1955—)
  • Su Tong (蘇童) (1963—)
  • Ma Jian (馬建) (1953—)
  • Tie Ning (鐵凝) (1957—)
  • Gao Xingjian (高行健), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2000 (1940—)
  • Yang Mu (楊牧) (1940–)
  • Zhang Xianliang (張賢亮) (1936—)
  • Chiung Yao (琼瑶) (1938—)
  • Chen Zhongshi (陳忠實) (1942—)

Overseas Chinese literature[]

  • You Jin, Singapore


Chinese writers writing in English:

  • Ha Jin (金雪飞) (1956—)
  • Lien Chao () (1950—)

Chinese writers writing in French:

  • Chen Jitong (陳季同) (1852—1907)
  • François Cheng (程抱一) (1929—)
  • Dai Sijie (戴思杰) (1954—)
  • Shan Sa (山飒) (1972—)

Chinese writer writing in Indonesian:

  • Kho Ping Hoo (1926–1994)

See also[]

Template:Portal Template:Sister Template:Contains Chinese text

  • Classical Chinese poetry
  • Censorship in the People's Republic of China
  • Chinese dictionary
  • Chinese encyclopedias
  • Chinese classic texts
  • List of Chinese authors
  • List of Hong Kong poets
  • Huainanzi
  • Chinese language
  • Chinese mythology
  • Chinese culture
  • Literature of Hong Kong
  • Tea Classics
  • Dream Pool Essays
  • Society and culture of the Han Dynasty
  • Chen prophecy


  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall, James B. Palais. (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-13384-4.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.
  • Nienhauser, William H., Jr. (1986 and 1998). The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. 2v. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32983-3, 0-253-33456-X.
  • Kang-i Sun Chang, Stephen Owen, eds., The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature 2 volume set (Hardcover), 1704 pages, Cambridge University Press; 1st ed. March 31, 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-11677-0
  • China



  1. Needham, Volume 3, 500–501.
  2. Ebrey (2006), 272.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "General Administration of Press and Publication". CECC. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  4. "The Underground Publishing Industry in China". ZoneEuropa. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  5. Sheng, John. "Afterthoughts on the Banning of "Shanghai Baby"". Archived from the original on 2008-04-20. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  6. "Naughty CHINA". Amazon.Com. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  7. "The Chinese Novel Finds New Life Online", Aventurina King, Wired, August 17, 2007
  8. Martin Woesler, Chinese contemporary literature - authors, works, trends – A snap-shot 2007/2008, Munich 2008, 267 pp.
  9. Martin Woesler, Chinese cultic literature 2008/2009 - authors, works, trends, Munich 2009, 127 pp.
  10. [1]
  11. Isabel Xiang, “Chinese Popular Author Eyes Profits Online”, in: APPREB (December 2008); 彭文波 Peng Wenbo, 赵晓芳 Zhao Xiaofang, “新媒体时代的博客传播与图书出版研究 Blogs and Book Publication in New Media Era”, 《出版科学》 Publishing Journal, 2007年 第15卷 第04期, 期刊 ISSN : 1009-5853(2007)04-0068-04, 2007, issue 4, page 68-70, 84; 2007-04
  12. Michel Hockx, in: Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, 2010; Martin Woesler, in: European Journal of Sinology (2010) 88-97
  13. Zeitung zur Buchmesse,FAZ 19.10.2008, S. 22 (PDF; 12,15 MB)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Larson, W. (1998). Women and Writing in Modern China. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Chang. K.S. & Saussy. H. (Eds.). (1999). Women writers of traditional china: An anthology of poetry and criticism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp.1–44.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 Schaeffer, Kay & Xianlin, Song. (2007). Unruly Spaces: Gender, Women'’ Writing and Indigenous Feminism in China. Journal of Gender Studies, 16 (1), 17–30
  17. Laurence, S. (2008.) Mao’s ghost. The Boston Phoenix. Retrieved from the web December 8, 2009.
  18. Jinhua, Z. (2009). Womens' Culture and Writing in 1990s: Illusions and Breakout. (Y. Qinfa & J. Shan, Trans.). Retrieved November 5, 2009
  19. A Book Battle in China to Make the Critics Blush – International Herald Tribune

External links[]

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