Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Sabina Knight

Language: English

Pages: 160

ISBN: 019539206X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Perhaps nowhere else has literature been as conscious a collective endeavor as in China, and China's survival over three thousand years may owe more to its literary traditions than to its political history. This Very Short Introduction tells the story of Chinese literature from antiquity to the present, focusing on the key role literary culture played in supporting social and political concerns. Embracing traditional Chinese understandings of literature as encompassing history and philosophy as well as poetry and poetics, storytelling, drama, and the novel, Sabina Knight discusses the philosophical foundations of literary culture as well as literature's power to address historical trauma and cultivate moral and sensual passions. From ancient historical records through the modernization and globalization of Chinese literature, Knight draws on lively examples to underscore the close relationship between ethics and aesthetics, as well as the diversity of Chinese thought. Knight also illuminates the role of elite patronage; the ways literature has served the interests of specific groups; and questions of canonization, language, nationalism, and cross-cultural understanding. The book includes Chinese characters for names, titles, and key terms.

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serves his ruler follows what is right but does not flatter the ruler’s delusions. If the ruler is deluded the people will be misled, and if the people are misled they will abandon virtue.” Though the individual Shensheng dies a tragic devotee of filial piety, the narrative may imply that historical reflection itself, and the role of brave ministers, can check moral decadence and help the pendulum swing back toward virtue. Earlier texts often present moral judgments, possibly added by later

presumed the viability of a harmonious moral Way. But literary sources as early as the eleventh century suggest that only a far more conflicted faith survived the fall of the glorious Tang dynasty (618–906) and the material and social transformations of the Song (960–1279). 8. A refuge from the “world of red dust,” the Chinese garden offers a microcosm of a patterned universe. The rocks in this garden could symbolize mountains, and the pond a sea. By the Song, the growth of cities and a

fan. Illustrating the power of culture to prevail over violence, she sends Fangyu the fan with the bloodstains repainted into peach blossoms. Though the lovers meet again at a mourning ceremony for the last Ming emperor, hopes for a reunion are dashed when Chang, the Daoist overseeing the ceremony, objects to their selfish passion. Rather than betray the Ming court, they agree to withdraw into Daoist reclusion: CHANG: For the male, let the south be his direction. Let Hou Fangyu depart for the

Though many modern leftist scholars claim that such vernacular works reflected the masses, most of the best fiction was literati fiction. From the seventeenth century on, novels tended to rewrite, parody, and subvert earlier works in a kind of literary game. Keeping in mind their authors’ prestige may lead to different conclusions about whether these texts ultimately legitimatize or critique prevailing political and social conditions. Eighteenth-century satire Obsession with status also

concrete scenery expresses intangible feeling. The speaker’s sadness at the end of a beautiful day resonates with a sense of his own mortality and perhaps of foreboding concerning the dynasty’s decline. The Way of benevolence Alongside these naturalist theories, China also developed a powerful tradition of ethical humanism. First expounded by Confucius (lit., “Master Kong,” 551–479 BCE), this classical tradition was developed by a group of scholars who saw themselves as his inheritors.

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