An overview over Chinese Literature
Posted 15 September 2006 - 12:44 AM
China has one of the world's richest and earliest literature development. Historians today had not been able to exactly pin-point which year chinese literature actually originated. The most conservative theory is that it began from 1100 BC during western Zhou period, when "Shijing 诗经" (Classics of Poetry) first appeared. From then on, it began to develop into various branches and stems, and the rivers of chinese literature became very broad.
Various forms of chinese literature first appeared during Pre-Qin and Qin-Han period. Prose (散文) can be traced back to Oracle-Bones Divination Dictions (甲骨卜辞); Poetry can be traced back to "Shijing 诗经" (Classics of Poetry), "Chuci 楚辞"(Poetic Diction of Chu) and "Han Yuefu 汉乐府" (Han Rhapsody); Novels can be traced back to legendary stories, historical prose such as "Zuozhuan 左传 (Left Biography)", "Shiji 史记" (Records of the Grand Historians) etc, as well as various fable stories of the 100 schools of thoughts during Spring/Autumn and Warring States period.
As chinese literature developed till age of fragmentation period, the chinese literary language began to undergo great changes: it began to change from the deep archaic language to a shallower middle chinese language. From age of fragmentation till middle of Tang dynasty, the "5 or 7 words classical-style poetry" (五七言古体诗) reached the zenith of its development, which also followed a development of "5 or 7 words contemporary-style poetry" (五七言近体诗). From the "3 Cao (三曹)", "Seven Sage (七子)" till Tao Yuan Ming (陶渊明), Xie Ling Yun (谢灵运), Yu Xin (庾信), 4 Excellence of Early Tang (初唐四杰), Chen Zi Ang (陈子昻), to Wang Wei (王维), Meng Hao Ran (孟浩然), Gao Shi (高适), Cen Can (岑参), Li Bai (李白), Du Fu (杜甫), the lineage of chinese poetry became clear and complete.
After undergoing a peak in the development of chinese poetry during Tang, the chinese poets began to develop on another path. Through the efforts of Bai Juyi (白居易), Han Yu (韩愈), Li He (李贺), Li Shang Yin (李商隐) and other late Tang poets, there began a new wave of development in chinese poetry till Song period: the development of "Lyrics of Song dynasty or Song Lyrics (宋词)". Liu Yong (柳永), Su Shi (苏轼), Zhou Bang Yan (周邦彦), Li Qing Zhao (李清照), Xin Qi Ji (辛弃疾), Jiang Kui (姜夔) etc have all left their marks as Lyricists in the history of Lyrical poetry development.
By Yuan dynasty, the audience for the literature began to change from readers to ordinary viewers and audiences of the public. Chinese literature were not just written on paper, they also began to involve plays and singing, in the form of opera. The lower status of Confucian scholars during Yuan dynasty forced chinese literature to develop towards mass folks literature. This period of time had seen playwrights and writers such as Guan Han Qing (关汉卿) , Wang Shi Fu (王实甫), Ma Zhi Yuan (马致远), Gao Ming (高明) etc. Yuan literature were mostly represented by "Opera (戏曲)" and "Prose Melody (散曲)". Dadu was the capital of Yuan opera while Wen Zhou became the center of Southern opera.
By late Yuan dynasty, "Romance of 3 kingdoms (三国演义)", "Outlaws of the Marshes (水浒传)" were first written as vernacular novels. Their appearance symbolizes the coming of an era of long-passage novels (长篇小说). By Ming era, with the development of commerce and printing, chinese literature began to be commercialized and this ushered a new needs of audiences and the plots and theme of writing began to undergo a series of change.
Ming and Qing dynasty were the harvest period of long passage novels. The "Journey to the West (西游记)" by Wu Cheng En (吴承恩), "Golden Vase Plum (金瓶梅)", "The Scholars (儒林外史)" by Wu Jingzhi (吴敬梓), "Dreams of Red Chamber (红楼梦)" by Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹) were all example of novel works highlighting the pinacle of novel development. "Ghost Stories (聊斋志异)" by Pu Song Ling (蒲松龄) was one of the best chinese classical novel.
By the beginning of 20th century, with the advent of new literature movement in 1918 (May 4th event), vernacular literature (literature written in modern chinese language) began to appear.
All in all, with the changes of the dynasty, chinese literature underwent rise and fall. Han dynasty's pinacle of development was in "Fu 赋 (Rhapsody)", Tang was in "Shi 诗" (poem), Song was in "Ci 词" (lyric), Yuan was in "Qu 曲" (melody/opera), Ming/Qing was in novel.
Summary of the dominant literary forms according to chinese dynasty:
Poetry such as Shijing, Chu Ci etc
Historical Prose such as Zhan Guo Ce, Zuo Zhuan
Prose by Hundred of Schools such as Analects of Confucius, Meng Tzu etc.
Han Rhapsody and Poetry form such as "Han Yuefu 汉乐府" and "Han Fu 汉赋"
3 kingdoms and Age of Fragmentation
Tang poetry - "Tang Shi 唐诗"
Song lyric - "Song Ci 宋词"
Yuan Melody/Opera - "Yuan Qu 元曲"
Ming and Qing dynasty
Modern Novels, poetry
Explanation of Literature Terminology
literary work in metrical form
Ordinary form of writing, without metrical structure, as distinguished from poetry
A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.
"夫君子之行：靜以修身，儉以養德；非淡泊無以明志，非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮
One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang
Posted 29 April 2010 - 12:46 AM
I plan to include a discussion on:
Xiaoshuo (小說) - a discussion of the term, its definition and use, and how that changed over time.
Zhanghui xiaoshuo (章回小說)
This will take me some time to complete, so that's why I'm putting this placeholder post here, so that it will all stay organized.
Posted 11 October 2011 - 09:29 PM
"Chuci 楚辞"(Poetic Diction of Chu) Diction? Try "Verses" or "Lyrics"
"Han Yuefu 汉乐府" (Han Rhapsody); 赋 is translated as rhapsody, yuefu refers to the Han music bureau which collected folk songs and ballads, you should correct this
Novels can be traced back to legendary stories, historical prose such as "Zuozhuan 左传 (Left Biography)" Sorry to sound rude but this translation is just silly. If you just want to translate Zuozhuan (and not the full title) it should be "Zuo's Commentary."
Posted 15 August 2012 - 07:32 PM
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