Chinese literature dates back thousands of years and has helped shape the culture and ideology of many Chinese people over the centuries. Many of the most famous Chinese literary works fall into three groups: classical literature, historical texts, and poetry.
The most eminent Chinese classic texts were written before 221 BCE. Many of the classics written during this time had a profound impact on
Chinese religion and philosophy
. Out of this time period came the Four Books
and Five Classic
s, which were required to be read and studied by all Confucian scholars.
The Four Books include:
- Great Learning: chapter from the Classic of Rites
- Doctrine of the Golden Mean: chapter from the Classic of Rites
- Analects of Confucius: collection of dialogues between
Confucius and his disciples
- Mencius: collection of conversations between the famous philosopher Mencius and kings
The Five Classics include:
- I Ching: also known as the Book of Changes, it describes the cosmology and philosophy that has shaped Chinese beliefs
- Classic of Poetry: collection of poems, folk songs, festal songs, hymns and eulogies
- Three Rites: ancient ritual texts including Classic of Rites, Rites of Zhou, and Etiquette and Ceremonials
- Classic of History: collection of documents and speeches from the Xia, Shang, and Western Zhou dynasties
- Spring and Autumn Annals: official chronicle of the State of Lu
Other classics include the Classic of Filial Piety, the Classics of Taoism, the Classic of Mohism, the Classics of Legalism, the Classics of Military Science, and the Classics of the History of China. Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War, a military treatise that defines military strategies and tactics of its time.
Though court records were written beginning in the ninth century BCE, the definitive historical text is attributed to Sima Qian, the Han Dynasty court historian. He wrote the Shiji
, which was a compilation of historical writings from the Xia Dynasty through the Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.
One of the earliest collections of poems was the Chuci
, poems attributed to Qu Yuan and his follower Song Yu. Poetry reached its height during the Tang Dynasty and two of the most well-known poets from this time were Li Bai and Du Fu.