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Prose Synopsis


Prose recording historical events emerged along with the development of language during the Yin and Shang dynasties. In the Zhou Dynasty, official historians recorded many historical facts about various kingdoms in simple and concise language, for example in Spring and Autumn Annals. Later, the historical recordings were developed intohistorical literature, which recounted the realities of the period indescriptive language, including Master Zuo'S Spring and Autumn Annals,Discourse of the States and intrigues of the Warring States. Master Zuo' sSpring and Autumn Annals is said to be written by Zuo Qiuming, an officialhistorian of the Lu Kingdom at the end of Spring and Autumn Period.Master Zuo's Spring and Autumn Annals has 180,000 words and recordedthe political, military and diplomatic activities and speeches, as well asdivinatory practices, of various kingdoms during the 240 years of theSpring and Autumn Period. The narration in this book is dramatic and theplots compact, with the description of wars being especially effective.The language in intrigues of the Warring States is Succinct and figurative.

Discourse of the States is a history of individual kingdoms. It recordedhistorical facts of the Zhou Dynasty and its subject kingdoms between1000 BC to 400 BC. There are more speeches than actual events in thisbook, which are mostly by some farsighted and liberal noblemen of thetime.

The author of intrigues of the Warring States is unknown. The editionextant today was compiled by Liu Xiang of the Western Han Dynasty. It isalso the history of individual kingdoms, documenting the events ofWestern and Eastern Zhou dynasties and their subject kingdoms, includingQin, Qi, Chu, and Zhao. The contents is made up of mostly the proposalsand activities of counselors. intrigues of the Warring States isaccomplished in narration and uses many metaphors. The characterizationin this book is very accomplished.

Pre-Qin historical prose established the foundation for Chinesehistorical literature and exerted great influence on historians and writersof classical literature.

It was a time of great social changes at the end of the Spring andAutumn Period and the beginning of the Warring States Period. Manyschools of thought contended with each other and their works furtherpromoted the development of rational prose. Major schools of thoughtat the time included the Confucian School, the Mohist School, the TaoistSchool, the Legalist School, among many others. And their representativeworks are respectively, Analects and Mencius, Mozi Zhuangzi andHanfeiZi.

Analects and Mencius expounded on the ideas of "humaneness" of the Confucian School. Analects recorded the speeches and activities of Kong Qiu and his disciples. The language is sparse and simple, with the book written in the form ofquestion and answer. Mencius recorded the speeches of Meng Ke, who being good at debate, means the language is brisk and convincing.

Morzi represents the Mohist School's advocacy of "loving all equally" The writing is simple but following a strict logic. "Loving All Equally" and"Against Aggression" are representative pieces in this book.

Zhuangzi is the key work of the Taoist School, which advanced onZhuang Zhou's claim of "governing by doing nothing that against nature."The writing in this book holds more appeal than other prose of that time,with a high level of strange imagination, keen observation and the adoptionof folk fables and metaphors. Articles in Zhuangzi have a strong literaryflavor and deep philosophical meaning.

Hanfeizi represents the Legalist School's assertion of "act accordingto circumstances." Prose in this book is characterized by compactstructure and profound reasoning.

Xunzi outlines Xun Kuang's doctrine, in 32 long articles. The featuresof Xun Kuang's prose can be Summarized as: clear arguments, goodarrangement, complete and concise sentences, and extensive vocabulary.

Master Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals was created jointly byfollowers of Lu Buwei, prime minister of the Qin Kingdom. It includes 26articles in three parts, covering a mixture of various schools' doctrines.The book contains a large number of documents and anecdotes of the pre-Qin period. It distinguished itself by its systematic and effective wayof reasoning. Like much other prose then, it also adopted many fablesand metaphors, making it vivid and figurative.

Pre-Qin prose exerted great influence, in terms of both content andform on the development of prose in later ages. At the beginning of the Han Dynasty, political prose made a lot ofadvances. Jia Yi (200-168 BC) was a great man of letters in the earlystages of the Western Han Dynasty. His "On the Faults of Qin" madeconclusions on the reason for the demise of the Qin, drew lessons fromthe peasant uprising of the late Qin and developed the idea of "relyingon the people," which became prevalent in the pre-Qin period. Jia Yi'sprose uses many metaphors and is written in figurative language.

Besides Jia Yi, many writers of the early Han Dynasty also wrote proseeither commenting on the Qin Dynasty's success and failure or puttingfotward their own assertions regarding the facts, with Chao Cuo and ZouYangcheng's writings being the most exemplary. Chao Cuo's articles "Onthe importance of Developing Agriculture in the Frontier" and "On theimportance of Grain Production," advocated the storage of ample foodfor the defense of the border.

During Emperor Wu's reign in the Western Han Dynasty, he advocated"banning all ideas except Confucianism." But the feudal dynasty neededto give an explanation for uniting all thinking under Confucianism basedon the end development of ancient culture. Sima Qian's Records of theHistorian emerged out of the necessary historical conditions, which furtherdeveloped pre-Qin prose. Under the influence of Records of the Historian,much historical prose was created in the Eastern Han Dynasty, bestrepresented by Ban Gu's Chronicles of the Han Dynasty.

During the Han Dynasty a new style, fu, emerged. The name fuoriginated from the article "Fu Pian" written by Xun Qing of the ZhaoKingdom in the Warring States Period. Later, fu was designated a formalstyle. Fu is very particular in its literary grace and cadence, and possessesqualities of both poetry and prose. Famous fu of the Han Dynasty included:Jia Yi's "Lament for Qu Yuan" and "Ode to the Roc," and Sima Xiangru's(179-118 BC) "Master Void" and "Shanglin," from the early Western HanDynasty; Yang Xiong's (53-18BC) "On Sweet Spring," "On the PlumeHunt," "Ode to Changyang" and "Ode to Hedong," and Ban Gu's "Odeto the Two Capitals," from the late Western Han Dynasty; and ZhangHeng's (AD 78-139) "Ode to Two Capitals" written in the Eastern HanDynasty. During the period of the Wei,Jin and Northern and Southern dynastiespian wen (rhyming prose characterized by parallelism and ornateness)prevailed and prose declined. But Li Daoyuan's Commentary on theWaterways Classics and Yang Xuanzhi's Temples and Monasteries inLuoyang, both scholarly works, still contained beautiful, unaffectednarration, expression and landscape description.

Han Yu of the Tang Dynasty vigorously opposed the affected pianwen and advocated classical prose. Many writers followed Han's call andbegan to create classical style prose. Later Han Yu's call for classical prosecreation received further support from Liu Zongyuan and thus gainedeven wider influence. For a time, classical prose dominated literarycreativity, in what came to be called the Revival of Classical Prose inChinese literary history. The success of the Revival of Classical Prose ledby Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan established a new style of writing whichdiscarded the conventional pattern of pian wen and gave full play to freeexpression, hence greatly promoting prose's functions of expression,narration, commentary and satire.The Classical Revival Movement declined after the mid-Tang Dynasty,but was advocated again by Ouyang Xiu in the Song Dynasty and followedby Wang Anshi, Zeng Gong, Su Shi, Su Xun and Su Zhe, who all madegreat literary achievements under the influence of Classicism. The sixwriters together with Han Yu and Liu Zouyuan later came to be known asthe "Eight Great Men of Letters of the Tang And Song Dynasties."

Sima Guang, a historical writer of the Northern Song Dynasty,compiled the great work Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government,which is of both great historical and literarry value.

Under the influence of works created in the Northern Song Dynasty, writers of the Southern Song Dynasty produced a number of excellent political prose writings, which explicitly put forward the authors' political views. Representative writers include Hu Quan, Chen Liang and Ye Shi. The emergence of large numbers of essays written in the form of sketches, such as Hong Mai's MiscellaneousNotes from the Tolerant Study and Wang Mingqing's Hui Zhu Lu, are also attributed to the influence of the Revival of Classical Prose.Zhu Xi (1130-1200) was a famous writer of ancient prose at the time, whose works areknown for their rationalism.

Song Lian (131O-1381) was a founding father of the Ming Dynasty.Some of his biographies possess certain realist significance, including"A Prodigy of Shaanxi," "The Biography of Wang Mian" and "TheBiography of Li Yi." After the mid-Ming Dynasty seven scholars headedby Li Mengyang and He Jingming initiated the Classical Revival Movement,which was meant to free literary creation from the limitations of Cheng Yiand Zhu Xi's idealistic philosophy and the "eight-part essay" (a literarycomposition prescribed for the imperial civil service examinations, knownfor its rigidity of form and poverty of ideas). The Classical RevivalMovement called for imitating pre-Qin prose. Although it played animportant role in sweeping aside the literary style of the "eight-part essay,"the movement, to some degree, exceeded its proper boundaries. Later,Li Panlong, Wang Shizhen and five other scholars led another ClassicalRevival Movement, which again repeated the mistakes made by theprevious one.

The Tang and Song School headed by Gui Youguang first stood up tooppose the Classical Revival Movement, and later it was joined by theGong'an School, in criticizing those scholars who imitated classical writingsblindly.

Representative figures of the Gong'an School are Yuan Zongdao, YuanHongdao and Yuan Zhongdao. Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610) is the most famous of the three. The Gong'an School believed that different times have differentliterature, and objected to the ways the Classical Revival Movement blindly elevated ancient literature and debased current literature. Prose created by theGong'an School broke the yoke of conventional patterns and developed its own individuality. The language in their prose is simple and plain.

Existing simultaneously with the Gong'an Schoolwas also the Jingling School, represented by Zhong Xing and Tan Yuanchun. Like the Gong'an School, the Jingling School also laid claim to expressing the natural character and intelligence of humanity.

Under the influence of the Gong'an School and the Jingling School, alarge number of short essays were created in the late Ming Dynasty,which developed traditional prose. Zhang Dai (1597- ?) was a famouswriter of short essay of that time. His essays cover a wide range of subjects,such as landscape, folk customs and practices, drama, crafts, and evenCurios and toys. The language in Zhang Dai's prose is fresh, lively andfigurative, as exemplified by "Mid July at West Lake" and "Watching Snowin the Huxin Pavilion."Hou Fangyu (1618-1654) was a writer of the late Ming and the earlyQing Dynasty. His prose is known for its artistry, as seen in "The Story ofLi Ji," "Actor Ma" and "The Biography of Ren Yuansui."

Famous prose writers in the early Qing Dynasty include Wang Youdingand Wei xi. Wang Youding (1599-c.1661 ) was good at writing legendaryprose, such as "The Biography of Li Yizu" and "Records of Tang Pipa."Wei Xi (1624-168o) excelled at writing biography, with his most famouswork being "Big iron Cone."

The Tongcheng School is the most distinguished of the mid-Qingdynasty schools. Its representative writers include Fang Bao, Liu Dakuiand Yao Nai, who are all natives of Tongcheng County in Anhui Province.Fang Bao (1668-1749) carried on the tradition of Gui Youguang's worksand made yi fa (yi refers to the central ideas of an article; fa, to literaryforms and artistry) the basic theory of the Tongcheng School's writings.Works created by the Tongcheng School stressed the elucidation of thearticle's purpose and didn't encourage loading the writings with fancyphrases, therefore their writings are concise and natural but lackanimation. Major works of the Tongcheng School include Fang Bao's"prison Notes" and "An incident from the Life of Zuo Zhongyi Esquire,"and Yao Nai's "Ascent to Mount Tai."

In contrast to the Tongcheng School was the Fu She Group, whichadvocated pian wen. Wang Zhong (1744-1794) was the most famous writerof the Fu She Group.

Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao were representative figures of thelate Qing Dynasty, who called for reforming literature. They disregardedtraditional literary forms and expressed their views frankly in their writings.Their essays were actually effective weapons in political struggles. LiangQichao's new style of prose attacked traditional classical prose even morefiercely, which paved the way for the liberation of literary style and thebirth of vernacular writings in the May 4th Movement. His "A Discourseon Youthful China" belongs to this category.

Along with criticism of feudal and classical-style literature, emergednew forms of literature including argumentation, which is the fountainheadof modern prose.

In the early stages of modern literature, the most influential writersof argumentation included Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren,Qian Xuantong and Liu Bannong, of whom Lu Xun made the greatestachievements. Their works were written in the form of jottings andincluded a myriad of subject matters. But the focus of their writings wasideological and literary revolution.

Early argumentation prose played an important role in the anti-feudalist struggles. its aim was concrete and close to life; its form free and flexible; and its language could either be powerful and heroic or humorous and satirical. Following argumentation came forth narrative prose and the sketches, as modernprose entered a stage of vibrant development.

Prose created during this period had different forms and literary styles. Its forms included narration, commentary and expression. And its literary styles were characterized by Lu Xun's dispassionate presentation, Zhou Zuoren'smildness, Zhu Ziqing and Bingxin's freshness and elegance, Guo Moruoand Yu Dafu's boldness and generosity, Ye Shengtao and Xu Dishan'ssimplicity and honesty, and Xu Zhimo's ornate and flowery quality.

Zhou Zuoren was the pathbreaker in literary sketches. Well-knownworks include "Edible Wild Herbs from My Hometown," "The Boat witha Black Sail," "Water Chestnut" and "The Dream of Summer." ZhouZuoren's works were characterized by an easy pace that was yet full ofpassion towards life. His argumentation essays gained a very importantstatus in the literary world at the time. Lin Yutang's works are of a similarartistic style. His most famous work is Jianfu ji- A Collection of Lin Yutang's Prose, which satirized the Current injustices, criticized the traditionalphilosophy of "the middle road" and stressed the struggles with the oldworld. Yu Pingbo's Miscellany and Yanzhicao,both collections of prose,also belong to this category. Though elegant, Yu's works are also a touchobscure.

Both Guo Moruo and Yu Dafu's works are free and easy to read. GuoMoruo's collection of prose poetry Six Sketches is written in beautifuland exquisite language carrying depth of meaning. Yu Dafu was good atwriting travelogues, as exemplified by "Footprints Everywhere" and "ASpring Day at Diaoyutai." "A Spring Day at Diaoyutai" describes thebeautiful landscape around the Fuchunjiang River, with the authorexpressing his indignation toward the current situation throughrecollecting past events.

He Qifang's lyrical prose, which brought him great fame during the1930s, was called "poetic prose." As a modern poet, he incorporatedmodern literary techniques into prose writing in order to facilitate theexpression of feelings. His major work is "Painted Dreams." As in hispoetry, the language in his prose is also elaborate and exquisite. Li Guangtian (1906-1968) was the representative writer of narrativeprose, especially prose writing about people. His narrative prose containsno plot but only snippets of life and lyrical expressions.

Synopsis (2)

After the outbreak of the anti-Japanese War, especially after the NewFourth Army Incident (1941 ), essays with a strong militancy were createdin great numbers. Guo Moruo's "ode to the Nine Muses-A New Poem"and "Refuting Reactionary Art" became important documents in theideological and cultural battlefront in Kuomintang-dominated areas. WenYiduo's "The Last Speech" reflected a dauntless democratic soldier'scourage. Feng Xuefeng's essays particularly focused on the analysis ofpeople's psychology. The works of Nie Gannu (1900-1986) used interesting ancient stories to criticize the current reality and he also madeother useful probes into art. Other writers like Feng Zikai (1898-1975)and Lin Mohan (1909- ) also wrote many essays.

Prose that combined narration and lyrical expression made greatachievements in Kuomintang-dominated areas. Mao Dun's "In Praise ofthe White Poplar" and "On Scenery" and Ba Jin's "Lamp" and "Dragon"are excellent Pieces. Shen Congwen's "Sketches of Western Hunan"beautifully narrates natural and human conditions. In the early stages after new China was founded, professional andamateur writers from all walks of life created a vast amount of prosereflecting the new era, new people, new happenings and new life .These works were in many artistic styles and touched on wide aspects of life.For example, Ba Jin's works are full of great passion; Bing Xin and Jin Yi'swritings are gentle and restrained; Liu Baiyu's works are intense andvehement; while Hua Shan's pieces are humorous. Though different instyle, these writers all sang the praises of a new life with sincere andhonest feeling.

Prose created during this period concentrated on two major Subjects:socialist economic construction and the Korean War .Works reflectingthe war include: Liu Baiyu's "Korea Makes Progress in the War," Jin Yi's"My Motherland," Han Zi's "Museum of Peace" and Ba Jin's "Living AmongHeroes." Works reflecting socialist economic construction include: LiuQing's "In Huangpu Village in 1955," Qin Zhaoyang's "Wang Yonghaui,"Sha Ting's "Lu Jiaxiu,"Jin Yi's "Going To Foziling," Hua Shan's "The Age ofFairy Tales," Li Ruobing's "In the Qaidam Basin," Zang Kejia's "ChairmanMao Zedong Smiles at the Yellow River," and Yang Shuo's The. PetroleumCity."

Prose of this period was also marked by diversified forms. Travelogues, sketches, jottings and essays all gave full play to their function in new times and were welcomed extensively by readers. Travelogues include: He JingZhi's "Return to Yan'an- Embrace of the Mother," Fang Ji's "Song and Flute ,"Yang Shuo's "Red Leaves in the Fragrant Hills," Bi Ye's "Scenery of Tianshan Mountain," Ye Shengtao's "Vsit to Three Lakes,"Mao Dun's "Essays on Stockholm," and Jun Qing's "Letters from a Trip toEurope." Jottings include Han Zi's "Newborn Calf" and He Wei's "TwoSisters." Essays include Mao Dun's "Ugly Features of the Bandits," Ba Ren's "KuangZhong's Pen," and Ma Tieding's "Tittle-Tattle on Thought." Although the creation of prose made considerable advances during this period,compared with other types of literature, prose, and especially the essay, was not given due attention. Due to the influence of excessive politics, writers werehesitant to present the real conflicts and struggles in their work, which was also reflected In prose creation.

Since 1957, prose creation has received extensive attention from all circles. Works, whether In terms of quantity or in quality, have far surpassed those of the previous period. Famous writers and their significant works include: Ye Shengtao's "Two Caves in Jinhua," which was another travelogue following "Visit to Three Lakes;" Bing Xin's "Ode to the Cherry Blossom" and Ba Jin's "Photos Brought Back fromKamakura," both paeans to international solidarity; Wu Boxiao's "Song"and "A Spinning Wheel," recollections of the hardships, in Yan'an; FangJi's "Waving Hands" records Chairman Mao's composure at a time ofhistorical crisis; Tao Zhu's "The Style of the Pine Tree" expresses his ownsentiment through the praises of pine trees; Bi Ye's "Travel among Snowand Clouds" and "Mount Wudang" depict beautiful landscapes; ChenCanyun's "On the Banks of the Zhujiang River" and "Beautiful Shatian"describe the changes in people's lives along the Zhujiang River; Yu Min's"Scenery of the West Lake" and Li Jianwu's "Ascending Mount Tai in theRain" create artistic and poetic imagery in their works ;Jian Bozan's "VsitingCultural Ruins in inner Mongolia" describes scenic spots from theperspective of an historian; Shen Congwen's "Trip to Hunan - A NewComposition" describes the new life in his hometown; and Han Shaohua's"Overture" and Xu Kailei's "Legend of a Sculptor" excel at portrayingpeople. Other writers' works such as Han Zi's "Huangshan Mountains,"Yan Zhen's "The Peony Garden," Feng Mu's "Along the Torrents of theLancang River," Zong Pu's "About West Lake," Jun Qing's "On AutumnScenery" and Li Ruobing's "Heavy Snow on Qilian Mountain" are allmasterpieces.

Chinese prose creation entered a time of maturation during thisperiod. Old writers such as Bing Xin, Ba Jin and Ye Shengtao had gaineda high degree of professionalism in their artistic skills. Young and middle-aged writers represented by Yang Shuo, Liu Baiyu and Qin Mu had alsoformed their own artistic styles. Yang Shuo's prose is fresh, gentle andbeautiful; Liu Baiyu's works are effusive and passionate; while Qin Mu'swritings perfectly combine knowledge and interest. Other prose writersalso had their own distinctive styles - for example, Bi Ye's works weremoving, Chen Canyun's writing light and graceful, Deng Tuo's worksincisive and profound, Wu Boxiao's concise and sincere, Cao Jinghua'sprose simple and easy, Jun Qing's works deep and far-sighted, Li Ruobing's earnest and heroic, Tao Zhu's writing frank, Han Zi's gentle, while Zong Pu's works were elegant each showed his or her own solid craft. During the Cultural Revolution Culture was greatly impaired. Thecreation of prose also ceased for the time being.

After the Cultural Revolution, people's feelings, which had been suppressed for ten years, burst forth. In the field of prose creation a large number of articles of lament arose. Works expressing people's yearning for Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Zhou Enlaiand others from the older generation of revolutionaries include: He Wei's"The Lin Jiang Building," Mao Anqing and Shao Hua's "Beautiful RedAzaleas in Shaoshan Mountain," Liu Baiyu's "Towering Taihang Mountain,"Yuan Ying's "Fly," Zhang Chang's "Reminiscence on the Water-SprinklingFestival," Han Zi's "Across the Yangtze River," Xue Ming's "A Report tothe Party and the People," and Tao Siliang's "A Finally Sent-out Letter."Works commemorating persecuted writers, artists, scientists and otheroutstanding figures include: Ding Ning's "A Poet's Soul, "lamenting YangShuo; Huang Zongying's "Star," for Shangguan Yunzhu;Jin Shan's "NeverForget the Blood Debt," remembering dramatist Sun Weishi; Ding Yilan's"Recalling Deng Tuo"; Huang Mei's "Recalling He Qifang"; Ba Jin's"Recalling Xiao Shan," lamenting his beloved wife; and Lou Shiyi's"Recalling Fu Lei," and "Recalling Liu Qing."

The figures in those works were familiar to and respected by people,but their deeds described had been rarely known to readers. Thesentiments expressed in the works are not only moving but also inspiring.

Since China began to practice reform and opening up, the newexuberance of social life was first reflected in prose. Prose recollectingthe writer's own experiences and feelings or revealing a philosophy oflife also gained great momentum, such as: Ding Ling's "Life in Cowshed,"describing her and her husband's life in cowshed; Yan Zhen's "Daffodil,"recollecting a woman professor's noble character; Zhang Kangkang's"Fragmentary Thought on the Underground Forest," praising the infiniteforces contained among the people; and Guan Hua's "Bamboo"and DingNing's "Fairy Bloom," expressing the authors' spirit and yearnings throughpraising flowers and trees. Travelogues also flourished during this period. They mainly continuedthe traditional expressive techniques of using scenery to express theauthor's feelings. Among these, those taking exotic scenery andlandscapes as the subject are original in style- for example, Ding Ling's"America as I See it," Xiao Qian's "A Trip to America," Wang Meng's"Jottings from a Trip to Germany and America," Mu Qing's "Under theLeaning Tower," Liu Baiyu's "Beautiful Seine," and Wei Junyi's"Homesickness"- all were written with great craftsmanship.

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