Mighty flow of Chinese literature

Updated: May 21 2008(GMT+08:00)

The mighty flow of Chinese literature resembles the forever flowing Yangtze River. This flow of literature has been surging on for millennia. Dating back o 1,000 B.C. the four ancient civilizations of China, India, Israel and Greece produced simultaneously lyrics in different forms and for different purposes. The lyrics in India and Greece told tales like lengthy novels and dramas. The lyrics in India and Greece told tales like lengthy novels and dramas. The lyrics in china and Israel centered on topics of human life and religion. Like the three the other ancient civilizations, the first lyrics in China forecast the track of the development of its literature in the succeeding millennia. Henceforth, poems—lyrical poems have been the orthodox genre of the Chinese literature. In the surging Chinese literary flow, the Chinese ancestors selected the concise, reverberating lyric poems as a medium to give vent to their na?ve sentiments and unsophisticated ideals. The lyric-poem type literary works have become the mainstream of the course of progress of Chinese literature. The lyrical tradition has permeated also the Chinese prose, drama and novel, and has become the common literary consciousness of generations of Chinese literati. So, this can be credited as the foremost characteristic of Chinese literature.


Furthermore, this lyrical characteristic has also permeated other art forms. Poetry has not only dominated the field of literature , but also affected the modeling art , painting, decoration of architecture (e.g. , the couplets put up on the pillars of edifices and the doors of households during the Spring Festival ) , and handicraft . (from the “Complete works of Wen Yiduo”.) At the same time, the Chinese language cannot but be affected by the general background of the Chinese culture. The Chinese philosophy is of the political-ethical type, emphasizing how to behave properly and how to “govern the country”. The Chinese literature emphasizes the behaviors of the people, “how to support the good conduct of the people.” The “Introduction to the Book of Poems” stated. “Nothing is as effective as poetry for commending merits, for moving Heaven and Earth, and for influencing ghosts and deities. The virtuous ancestral kings used poems to encourage proper relations between husbands and wives, filialness of children to parents and to promote ethics, education and good customs.” These words stressed clearly the use of poems in politics and ethics. Liu Xie also said that literature had three social functions, viz, “Literature is good for political teachings.” “Literature is good for recording history.” And “Literature is good for cultivating the moral character.” Liu Die’s words represented the essence of the traditional Chinese literature. The mutual permeation of literature and philosophy often caused the literary men in the ancient days to be at the same time ideologists and statesmen.

This mutual permeation also caused the interdependence between he philosophical and political theories on the one hand, and the methods for creating literary works and for founding the literary schools on the other hand. For instance, realism in literature is often connected with Confucianism as its philosophical basis. Romanticism in literature is based partly on the Doctrine of Master Lao and partly on Buddhism. Both the metaphysical poems and the wandering-deity poems in the Eastern Jin Dynasty emerged under the influence of the Yellow Emperor-Master Lao Doctrine. A number of anti-feudalist novels and dramas emerged in the Ming and Qing Dynasties under the influence of the theories of the left win of the Wan Yangming School. The narrative literature that flourished in the Tan Dynasty emerged under the direct influence of the Buddhist scriptures. Many deity dramas in the Yuan Dynasty derived directly from the Daoist legend. The other art forms also influenced literature very remarkably. The primeval art form in China was a unification of poetry, music and dance. Later although the Chinese classic poetry progressed on the way of independent development, yet it incorporated the vividity of the painting and the fluidity of the music. The Chinese literature also absorbed the multi-perspective method of painting and sculpture to express the characteristics of things. This contributes to the traditions of literary creation and literary appreciation, including depicting the subjective through the perspectives of the objective, and depicting emotions and sentiments through the perspectives of the circumstance. In fine, the unique characteristic of the Chinese culture results from the mutual influences among the various forms of art. It is the aggregation of their different characteristics, which is also the national characteristic of the Chinese literature.


The Chinese literature “has not only left a mark of its characteristics and its spirit of blending thought and form” (words by Bielinsky), but also is known in the world for their continuity. The Chinese literature surges on like the mighty Yangtze River and gives a lasting artistic charm. It began with primitive legends, and proceeded with the “Book of Poems”. The “Songs of the South” , the essays of the Pre-Qin scholars , the “rhyme prose” of the Han Dynasty , the poems and essays in the Wei-Jin period , the Tang poems , the Song poems , the Yuan dramas and the Ming and Qing novels . In the course of several thousand years, one literary form rose and fell; another literary form loomed and submerged, as a series of successive surges of a flowing river, forming a quite resplendent phenomenon in the history of literature in the world. As there were o many literary forms, only a few most important form are selected for explanation below.

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