A comprehensive overview of China's 3,000 years of literary history, from its beginnings to the present day

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Table of Contents:

  • pt. I. Introduction. The concept of literature ; Language and writing, paper and printing, education, and literacy ; Traditional Chinese society, especially in the period from the Han to the Qing ; The central tradition in traditional society ; The way and the government, truth and literature ; The study and translation of Chinese literature in the West
  • pt. II. From the earliest times to the invention of paper. Chinese political history before A.D. 100 ; Historical prose ; The philosophers ; Poetry
  • pt. III. From the invention of paper to the spread of the book printing. Chinese political history 100-700
  • Fu, prose, and literary criticism ; Poetry: Shi and Yuefu ; Chinese political history, 700-1000 ; Poetry: Shi ; Tang prose: Ancient-style prose and short stories ; Popular literature: Ci and Bianwen
  • pt. IV. From the spread of book printing to the introduction of Western printing methods. Chinese political history, 1000-1450 ; Poetry: Shi, Shihua and Ci ; Prose: Guwen, Biji, Chuanqi, Pinghua ; Qu: Zhugongdiao, Zaju, and Sanqu, and Xiwen ; Chinese political history, 1450-1915 ; Classical-language poetry and prose ; Drama: Zaju, Chuanqi, and regional drama ; The novel (1450-1650) ; The novella (Huaben) ; The novel (1650-1875) ; Performance texts and oral literature
  • pt. V. Transition to modern literature (1875-1915) The transitional period
  • pt. VI. Modern literature (1915-1990) Chinese political history, 1915-1990 ; Modern literature: an introduction ; Modern literature 1917-1942: the short story and the novel ; Modern literature 1917-1942: Poetry, drama, and essay ; Modern literature: 1942-1990.


For at least three thousand years, literature has played a central role in Chinese culture. Even in the most recent times, literary works and their authors have stood in the spotlight of social and political debates that affected the lives of millions. This great respect for literature, together with China’s long history of writing and printing techniques, has resulted in a vast body of writings from past eras, while present-day literary production is so extensive that even the specialist can hardly keep abreast. A Guide to Chinese Literature provides a broad sketch of this vast terrain. The book is organized into six parts. The first part provides general readers and students of Chinese culture an overview of six crucial features of Chinese literature from beginnings to the early twentieth century. The remaining five parts present a concise overview of the literature itself, arranged into chronological periods: beginnings to 100 CE; 100–1000; 1000–1875; 1875–1915; and 1915 to the present. The development of the major literary genres is traced in each of these periods. The hardcover edition concludes with an annotated bibliography of more than 120 pages covering the most relevant studies and translations in English, French, German, and Dutch. The paper edition has a shorter bibliography and is intended for classroom use.

Wilt L. IDEMA is Professor Emeritus of Chinese Literature at Harvard University.Llyod L. HAFT is Professor Emeritus of Chinese Literature at Leiden University.