>> Ancient China
The history of Ancient Chinese Literature spans thousands of years. It includes collections of poetry, historical works, religious writings, and novels. We will list and discuss some of the classical works of Chinese literature below.
Four Books and Five Classics
The Four Books and Five Classics
were perhaps the most influential written works in Ancient Chinese history. They outlined the philosophies and ideas of Confucianism. Knowledge of these works was very important in order to pass the civil service exams.
- Great Learning (Confucius and Zeng Zi) - This book outlines the main themes of Confucianism.
- Doctrine of Mean (Zisi) - This book describes the "Way" that people must live focusing on learning and teaching as a way of life.
- Analects - A number of Confucius' speeches and discussions written down by his disciples.
- Mencius - A collection of discussions and stories from the Confucian philosopher Mencius.
Four Great Classical Novels
- Classic of Poetry - A collection of 305 poems written between the 11th and the 7th centuries BC.
- Book of Documents - A collection of very ancient documents said to be from early dynasties including the Xia, Shang, and Zhou.
- Book of Rites - This book contains a number of texts that describe things like ceremonial rituals and ways people should behave.
- I Ching - The I Ching is also called the Book of Changes. It was a book of divination that people used to try and tell the future.
- Spring and Autumn Annals - This is a historical book covering the history of the State of Lu. It is the state where Confucius was born.
These novels are considered the greatest and most influential novels of Ancient China. They were written during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Their stories are very popular in China and have been retold many times in Chinese opera, movies, and modern books.
History and Education
- Water Margin (Shi Nai'an) - This book is sometimes called the Outlaws of the Marsh. It tells the story of 108 outlaws during the Song Dynasty who gather together to do good.
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guanzhong) - This book tells a romanticized story of the Three Kingdoms including such real historical characters as Liu Bei and Cao Cao. It also includes historical events such as the Battle of Red Cliffs.
- Journey to the West (Wu Cheng'en) - This story tells the adventures of a Buddhist monk who travels to India in search of sacred books.
- Dream of the Red Chamber (Cao Xueqin) - This is a complex book with many characters covering the rise and fall of a Chinese family during the Qing Dynasty.
- Records of the Grand Historian (Sima Qian) - This history book was written during the Han Dynasty around 109 BC. It gave detailed accounts of China's history to that point and is considered one of the great history books of all time. It is called Shiji in China.
- Bamboo Annals - An early history of Ancient China written some time before 296 BC.
- Kangxi Dictionary - A dictionary of over 47,000 Chinese characters compiled under the orders of Emperor Kangxi and published in 1716.
Poetry was a very important part of Ancient Chinese life. All educated people wrote and read poetry and it was taken very seriously as a major art form.
Interesting facts about Ancient Chinese Literature
- Classic of Poetry (Shijing) - A collection of poetry that is part of the Five Classics of Confucianism (see above). It is also called the Shijing or the Book of Songs.
- Songs of the South (Chu ci) - Another collection of early Chinese poetry with poems mostly written by southern poets Qu Yuan and Song Yu from the state of Chu.
- Nineteen Old Poems - This is a compilation of 19 poems put together during the Han Dynasty. This poetry had a great influence on poets during later dynasties.
- Chinese inventions such as paper, woodblock printing, and movable type helped to spread Chinese literature throughout the Chinese Empire.
- A group of legendary poets called the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove got into trouble around 260 AD when they wrote poems criticizing the leaders of the Jin Dynasty.
- One of the world's most famous military books, The Art of War, was written by Sun Tzu around 500 BC.
Take a ten question quiz
about this page.
For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:
>> Ancient China