The history of Chinese literature begins with the Shih Ching or Book of Songs, an anthology of 305 lyrics of various types, compiled ca. 600 B. C. Most of the songs probably were composed and sung between 1000 and 700 B. C., mostly at Chou court ceremonies (and thus provide a cross-section of early-Chou culture). Some Sinologists have suggested, however, that certain lyrics from the Book of Songs may represent much earlier work, dating from the Shang dynasty (as early as ca. 1700 B. C.). Written Chinese emerged in its embryonic form of carved symbols approximately 6,000 years ago. The Chinese characters used today evolved from those used in bone and tortoise shell inscriptions more than 3,000 years ago and the bronze inscriptions produced soon after. Chinese literature extends back thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novel 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 like never before. In more modern times, the author Lu Xun (1881-1936) would be considered the founder of modern baihua literature in China.
China has a wealth of
classical literature, dating from the Eastern
(770-256 BCE) and including the Classics, whose compilation is
attributed to Confucius. Among the most important classics in Chinese
literature is the book of changes (易經，易经), a manual of divination based
on eight trigrams attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi. The I
Ching is still
used by adherents of folk religion. The Classic
(詩經，诗经) is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs; 74 minor
festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities; 31 major festal
songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies; and 40 hymns and eulogies,
sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house.
The Classic of History (書經，书经) is a
collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by
rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains
the best examples of early Chinese
prose. The "Record of Rites" (禮記，礼记), a
restoration of the original Classic of Rites (禮記), lost in the 3rd
century BC, describes ancient rites and court ceremonies. The Spring
and Autumn Annals (春秋) is a historical
record of the principality of Lu, Confucius' native state, from 722 to
479 B.C.. It is a log of concise entries probably compiled by Confucius himself. The Analects
(論語，论语) is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his
disciples. There were also important Daoist classics that were written
in later periods, such as the Huainanzi （淮南子）written by Liu An in the
2nd century BC, during the Han Dynasty. The Huainanzi was also one of the
earliest Chinese texts to cover topics of Chinese geography and
historiography refers to the study of
methods and assumptions made in studying Chinese history.
Compiled by: Glenn Welker This site has been accessed 10,000,000 times since February 8, 1996.
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
This site has been accessed 10,000,000 times since February 8, 1996.