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Characteristics of Chinese Ancient Literature

China has one of the earliest civilizations in the world. The brilliance of Chinese literature, with its long history, and diversified genres and forms, rivals any great literature in the world. The Book of Poetry, the earliest anthology of poetry in China, a collection of poems created between 11 BC and 6 BC, reflects the depth and profundity of social life. The special expressive methods used in The Book of Poetry, i.e. fu(descriptive prose interspersed with verse), bi (metaphor), and xing (evocation, starting off a song by evoking images quite apart from the central subject), are praised by many foreign scholars.

Drama emerged in China before the 13th century, when Yuan Drama was at its prime. The representative figure in Yuan Drama was Guan Hanqing, who created altogether 70 dramas, including Snow in Midsummer Rescued by a Coquette The Wife-Snatcherand Lord Guan on His way to the Feast. These works not only demonstrate the richness and maturity of Chinese drama, but also integrate the merits of shi poetry of the Tang Dynasty and ci poetry of the Song Dynasty (song lyrics). Guan Hanqing set the lines in his dramas to music, hence expanding the performance of poetry from being recited to being sung.

The unique modes of expression and artistic charm of shi and ci poetry bring full play to its language potential. Shi and ci are written in varied ways following strict forms, and are read sonorously and forcefully.Mao Zedong, the great man of our times, while carrying on the excellenttradition of shi and ci, also promoted the art to new heights.

The novel first came into being in the Song Dynasty about 1,000 years ago. It was called "storytelling script" at the time. In the early Ming Dynasty there emerged two great novels: Outlaws of the Marsh written by Shi Nai'an, and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong. The two novels have won great fame worldwide for their magnificent stories and vivid portrayal of a galaxy of distinctive characters.

Chinese literature has formed five distinctive characteristics during more than 3,000 years of development:

1. Literature's role and significance have always been given great emphasis in its long course of development. Confucius (551' 479 BC) first claimed that "poetry may serve to inspire, to reflect, to communicate and to admonish." Cao Pi, Emperor of the Kingdom of Wei in the Three Kingdoms period, also attached great importance to creative writing. He believed that written works could help rule a country, and said: "Writing is a great undertaking beneficial to the management of the country. Life is short and the fame never lasts, but writings are immortal." Du Fu, a great poet of the Tang Dynasty was more direct in elaborating on the role of poetry. He said that the fundamental purpose of poetry was to purify social morals. And Bai Juyi, another famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, said: "Writings are created in order to point out the errors of current ills and offer curative advice."

These remarks by ancient poets, writers and literary critics produced profound influences on the later development of Chinese literature. Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, assimilating with discernment the rational parts of these assertions on literature's role, put fotward a more definitive slogan: "Art serves workers, peasants and soldiers; art serves the people and socialism." Under this guidance, literature in the liberated areas made memorable achievements. And modern Chinese literature, especially the new literature, has attained unprecedented development and prosperity.

2. Chinese literature is an open literature which constantly brings in new ideas in literary forms and styles. For example, the form of poetry was developed from the four-character poem to the five and seven-character poem, and its style was developed from classical style to modern style, Lushi (standard form of poetry), and free verse poetry; and prose was developed from pre-Qin prose to Han rhyming prose, parallel prose and classical prose (as emerged in the movement for "The Revival of Classical Prose"). The kinds and forms of modern prose today are even more diversified. In terms of genres, Chinese literature encompasses shi poetry of the Tang Dynasty, ci poetry of the Song Dynasty, Yuan drama, and novels of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Several thousands years of development shows that Chinese literature is always in a state of change and innovation.

One thing needs to be pointed out is that China is a nation of high rationality and can treat the changes and revolutions in literature forms dialectically. A new form of literature does not necessarily cancel out the previous one. For example, after the seven-character octave and seven-character quatrain occupied the dominant place in the poetry world, five- and four-character poems did not become extinct; on the contrary, they have Survived even till today. Another example, the creation of moden verse is encouraged these days, but there still is great enthusiasm for writing classical-style poems among modern writers. Moreover, shi poetry and ci poetry co-exist peacefully in today's literary field. In Song Dynasty, ci poetry took an overwhelming place, but many other poems also gained great popularity.

3. Chinese literature pays great attention to learning from, and converges with, the world's advanced and progressive literature. The Chinese nation has always been enthusiastic towards foreign culture. As early as in the Southern and Northern dynasties, Chinese began to translate Buddhist scriptures. In the Tang Dynasty, the eminent monk Xuan Zang went thousands of miles to India to search for and translate Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. In the Qing Dynasty, Lin Shu, who was a juren (a successful candidate in the imperial examination at the provincial level in the Ming and Qing dynasties) during the Guangxu's reign, translated more than 170 European and American novels into Chinese. After new China was founded, many marvelous Soviet and Eastern European novels were translated and introduced to China. Since China began to institute reform and opening, a powerful upsurge has taken place in the publishing of excellent international literary works and literary theory.

Chinese intellectuals, especially writers and artists, have shown amazing wisdom and creativity in learning from the world's progressive literature, reflected in the following aspects:

(1) The introduction of new art forms, as demonstrated by the short stories of Lu Xun and novels of Mao Dun, the modern poetry of Guo Moruo, Wen Yiduo and Xu Zhimo, and the stage plays of Cao Yu.

(2) Learning from foreign art forms and carrying out reforms in traditional Chinese literary forms, i.e. the modernization of old Chinese literary forms. For example, Zhao Shuli's new storytelling-style novel, Liu Shaotang's legend-style novel and Liji's folksong narrative poems.

(3) The creation of new forms through absorbing useful efements from both Chinese and Western literary forms. For example, the opera White-haithed Girl is a combination of western opera, stage play, traditional Chinese opera and yangko dance (a popular rural folk dance); while many skits, suddenly popular on stage and television are a hybrid of special expressive methods borrowed from the one-act play, Chinese crosstalk, as well as artistic styles from film and TV, giving them strong vitality.

4. A diversity of literary schools have developed freely and compete on an equal basis with each other. This has always been a positive tradition of Chinese literature. As early as the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, Chinese ideological and Cultural circles had witnessed a situation of "a hundred schools" of thought contending with each other. During this period four famous schools emerged: Confucianism,

Mohism, Taoism, and the Legalist School. A number of important works representative of ancient human civilization came forth in this period, including: Analects, Mencius, XunZi,LaoZi,Zhuangzi, and Hanfeizi. Later, during more than 2,000 years of history, many more literary schools appeared, such as the "Gentle-' School, the "Heroic" School, the JiangXi School, the Chaling School, the Gong'an School, the Parallelism School, the "Tfue Colors" School, the Wujiang School, the Linchuan School, the jingling School, the Tongcheng School, the ChangZhou School, and the yuanyang hudtie pai ("Mandarin Duck and Butterfly" School).

In the development of the modern novel, there has also been the New Sensualism School, the Native School, the Social Analysis School, the Beijing School, and the july School. in the development of modern poetry there have emerged the july School and the Nine-leaf Poets.

"The Potato School" and the "Hehuadian School" came up after the founding of new China. It is the nature of literary creation that gives rise to a situation of many literature genres vying with each other And this kind of phenomenon also marks the prosperity and vitality of literary undertakings.

Chairman Mao, observing the law of literary creation, further put forward, in his important work, "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People" (published in February of 1 957), the guideline: "Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend." In expounding this guideline, Chairman Mao said: "Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. Different forms and styles in art should develop freely and different schools in science should contend freely. We think that it is harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another Questions of right and wrong in the arts and sciences should be settled through free discussion in artistic and scientific circles and through practical work in these fields. They should not be settled in an over-simplistic manner"

In contemporary times Chinese literary schools with nationwide influences include: the Native School represented by Liu Shaotang, and the Urban Life School represented by Deng Youmei and others. The formation and flourishing of diversified genres in contemporary Chinese literary circles shows that the massive potential of Chinese writers and artists have been brought into full play, which also provides great momentum for propelling forward the development of Chinese socialist literature.

5. In the development of Chinese literature, folk literature has always developed side by side with scholarly literature and greatly driven the development and prosperity of Chinese literature as a whole. Taking The Book of Poetry as an example, feng(songs) belongS to folk literature while song (hymns) belongs to scholarly literature, and ya (odes and epics) has characteristics of both folk and scholarly literature. Therefore, The Book of Poetry is a perfect blending of both folk literature and scholarly literature. Ci poetry and san-qu songs (lyrical poems set to music) started as forms of folk literature and were later developed into scholarly literature. "Storytelling scripts" also appeared as a form of folk literature in its early stages. It changed to a novel form during the Ming and Qing dynasties, to become the leading form of Chinese literature ever since.

The close relationship between folk literature and scholarly literature has been further reinforced and developed during the socialist period. Every year the state has organized writers and artists to learn about the common people's lives all over the country, with the aim of leading Chinese writers and artists to build and maintain close links with folk literature and folk Culture.

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