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Chinese Literature - Notes

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LIT103 - NOTES |1
LI T E R A TU R E O F AN CI EN T C HIN A
Historical Background
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Chaos, invasion, and civil wars
Animism attempted to explain the connections and complexities of nature, the universe, and man
India’s influence on China was through Buddhism, which had the most dramatic long-term effect.
Inventions: paper, block printing, and gunpowder
Historical Periods
A. Ancient
1. Xia
2. Shang
3. Zhou (Chou)
– Spring and Autumn
– Warring States
B. Imperial
1. Qin (Ch’in)
2. Han
3. Three Kingdoms
4. Jin
5. Six Dynasties
6. Sui
7. T’ang (Second Zhou)
8. Five Dynasties and Ten States
9. Song
10. Yuan
11. Ming
12. Qing (Ch’ing)
C. Modern
1. Manchu
2. Republic of China
3. Red China (People’s Republic of China)
Confucianism
• Confucius (Kong Fuzi), Spring and Autumn Period
• Human relationships create practical social structures, questions moral nature
• Basic doctrines include filial piety and propriety
• Analects and the classic “Golden Rule”
Five Classics
1. Shu Ching (Book of History) – 100 books in total
2. Shih Ching (Book of Odes) – Ballads and songs for feudal state events
3. I Ching (Book of Changes) – Themes of moral, social, political character
4. Li Chi (Book of Rites) – Ch’un Ch’iu (Spring and Autumn Annals)
Taoism
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Lao Tzu (Laozi), Warring States Period
Tao Te Ching (“The Book of the Way of Virtue”)
Favored self-discipline and looked at nature as the architect of essential laws
Myths and reality became indistinguishable with the mixing of facts and fiction
Buddhism
• Siddhārtha Gautama, 4th – 6th century BCE, modern-day Nepal
LIT103 - NOTES |2
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Life on earth is filled with suffering, characterized by emptiness and illusions
Can be overcome through self-discipline, meditation, and moral conduct
Appealed to the people and gave them renewed hope
Characteristics of Chinese Literature
1. Authority – Everything on earth was subject to divine authority
2. Antiquity – More than 5,000 years old, which reflects the age of their civilization
3. Amount – Voluminous and vast, includes every know form
4. Anonymity – Imitation as flattery, “It is the work that matters, not the name”
T’ang Dynasty
• Golden age of Chinese poetry—filled with romance of love and war, wealth, frivolity, extravagance.
• Dissemination of poetic works and scholarly writings benefitted from block printing.
• T’ang poets: Li Po (growth), Po I-Chu and Tu Fu (decline)
• Tzu is an old poetic form where the number of words corresponds with the notes of the music, albeit
irregular.
Song Dynasty
• The great age of Chinese literature, only T’ang poetry surpasses the best of Song poetry (cf. Herbert
Giles)
• Hua Pen, storytelling in the marketplace and teashops
• Shih, lyrics are centered on love and parting
• San Ch’u, new type of poetry that was free in rhythm, less literary in language, sometimes lyrical or
narrative
Poetry
• Chu Yuan, China’s first known poet
• Brevity, the soul of the poem
• Subtlety, the gift of circumlocution
• Suggestive, the aim and the end of the poet
• Three-fold appeal to readers and listeners: emotion, imagination, and intellect
(4) Great Folk Tales
1. “The Legend of the White Snake”
2. “Butterfly Lovers”
3. “The Cowherd and the Weaver Maiden”
4. “Lady Meng Jiang”
Myths and Legends
1. “Pangu and the Cosmic Egg” - Ying and Yang
2. “The Great Race” – Origin of the Chinese Zodiac
3. “Four Great Beauties”
 Xi Shi sinks fish
 Diaochan eclipses the moon
 Wang Zhaojun entices birds into falling
 Yang Guifei shames flowers
Postscript
• The Formal Essay (Ch’uan Chi) and Philosophical Discourse (P’ing Hua) were given high importance.
• Narratives were not considered literature, said to be mere diversions at the level of folk tales.
• Drama became a new style of storytelling.
• Fragmentation of China after the Qing Dynasty led to the transference of court prestige from literary
scholarship to visual arts (i.e. painting).