Chinese Literature

Chinese literature covers a period of over than 2,000 years. The following article therefore covers only some of the most important Chinese literary works and authors through time and outlines only a few of many influential Chinese literary forms of international importance.

Hundred Schools of Thought

The earliest Chinese literary works date to the period of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770-256 BCE) during which were created some of the most significant and influential Chinese literary works of all times. It was during the period of the Hundred Schools of Thoughts when the Classics of Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism and Legalisms were written. The period of the Hundred Schools of Thought was also the era of poetry although this was also the time of great military classics including the famous Art of War (6th century BCE) by Sun Tzu.

Prominent authors from the period of early Chinese literature include Mozi, Li Kui, Shen Dao, Qu Yuan and of course, Confucius.

Historical Texts and Encyclopedias

The Chinese are also famous for keeping accurate historical records from as early as the mid-9th century BCE. The earliest known Chinese historical text was compiled by Zuo Qiuming not later than 389 BCE, while the Classic of History that is attributed to Confucius is thought to have been compiled as early as 6th century BCE. The most praised Chinese historical work titled the Records of the Grand Historian, however, was written by the historian Sima Qian in the 2nd century BCE.

Extensive encyclopedias were also produced very early in China with the Ouyang Xun’s Yiwen Leiju being compiled as early as 624.

Chinese Poetry

Poetry was produced in China from the ancient times. Its golden age began with the Classic of Poetry or Shijing that was compiled between 10th and 7th century BCE in northern China and the Chuci that was created independently in southern China. The Chuci is traditionally attributed to Qu Yuan and Song Yu. The two collections formed the basis of the so-called shi poetry which was the dominant form of poetry until the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE.

Chinese Prose

Chinese prose was influenced greatly by the simple and concise style that was developed by the early Chinese authors. During the Han period (206 BCE-220 CE), an ornate prose was developed but it was soon replaced the simple and direct model from the time of the great Chinese philosophers. During the Song dynasty (960-1279), travel literature rise to prominence, while fiction developed into novel.

Modern Chinese Literature

Modern Chinese literature encompasses all literary works that were created after the New Culture Movement in the 1910s and 1920s although the transition to modern Chinese literature took place gradually. The 1920s and 1930s also saw the first novels by the League of Left-Wing Writers who adopted the so-called socialist realism that was developed in the Soviet Union. Socialist literature also dominated the Maoist Era from 1949 to 1976. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) saw little literary activity with the exception of heroic novels, while Chinese literature also went through difficult times during the 1980s campaigns to combat Western-inspired ideas. Contemporary Chinese literature remains highly controlled and regulated by the state-run administration called General Administration of Press and Publication with the authority to screen and ban any print in China. Despite that, many contemporary authors achieved a great success in both China and abroad such as Zhou Weihui, Mian Mian, Mo Yan and many others. Gao Xingjian, the only Chinese who won the Nobel Prize for Literature lives and works in France since 1987.