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Chinese literature extends back thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novel that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese. The introduction of widespread woodblock printing during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng (990-1051) during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) rapidly spread written knowledge throughout China like never before. In more modern times, the author Lu Xun (1881-1936) would be considered the founder of modern baihua literature in China.

Classical texts

Chinamarker has a wealth of classical literature, dating from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (256-770 BCE) and including the Classics, whose compilation is attributed to Confucius. Among the most important classics in Chinese literature is the book of changes , a manual of divination based on eight trigrams attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi. The I Ching is still used by adherents of folk religion. The Classic of Poetry is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs; 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities; 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies; and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. The Classic of History is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains the best examples of early Chinese prose. The "Record of Rites" ), a restoration of the original Classic of Rites , lost in the 3rd century BC, describes ancient rites and court ceremonies. The Spring and Autumn Annalsis a historical record of the principality of Lu, Confucius' native state, from 722 to 479 B.C.. It is a log of concise entries probably compiled by Confucius himself. The Analects of Confucius ( is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples. There were also important Daoist classics that were written in later periods, such as the Huainanzi written by Liu An in the 2nd century BC, during the Han Dynasty. The Huainanzi was also one of the earliest Chinese texts to cover topics of Chinese geography and topography.

In the realm of martial classics, the Art of War by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC marks the first milestone in the tradition of Chinese military treatises written in following ages, such as the Wujing Zongyao 1044 AD) and the Huolongjing written before 1375 when Liu Ji died, preface in 1412 AD). Furthermore, the Art of War is perhaps the first to outline guidelines for effective international diplomacy. The other two works, the Wujing Zongyao and Huolongjing, are invaluable written works for the understanding of the gradual development of early Chinese gunpowder warfare.

Historical texts, dictionaries and encyclopedias

The Chinese wrote consistent and accurate records at court after the year 841 BC, with the beginning of the Gonghe regency of the Western Zhou Dynasty. The earliest known narrative history of China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BC, and attributed to the blind 5th century BC historian Zuo Qiuming. The Classic of History is thought to have been compiled as far back as the 6th century BC, and was certainly compiled by 300 BC, the latest date for the writing of the Guodian Chu Slips unearthed in a Hubeimarker tomb in 1993. The Classic of History included early information on geography in the chapter of the Yu Gong. There was also the Bamboo Annals found in 281 AD in the tomb of the King of Wei, who was interred in 296 BC. However, unlike the Zuo Zhuan, the authenticity of the early date of the Bamboo Annals is doubtful. Another early text was the political strategy book of the Zhan Guo Ce, compiled between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC, with partial amounts of the text found amongst the 2nd century BC tomb site at Mawangdui. The oldest extant dictionary in China is the Erya, dated to the 3rd century BC, anonymously written but with later commentary by the historian Guo Pu (276–324). Other early dictionaries include the Fangyan by Yang Xiong (53 BC – 18 AD) and the Shuowen Jiezi by Xu Shen (58–147 AD). One of the largest was the Kangxi Dictionary compiled by 1716 under the auspices of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722); it provides definitions for over 47,000 characters.

Although court records and other independent records existed beforehand, the definitive work in early Chinese historical writing was the Shiji (史記/史记), written by the Han Dynasty court historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC). This groundbreaking text laid the foundation for Chinese historiography and the many official Chinese historical texts compiled for each dynasty thereafter. He is often compared to the Greek Herodotus in scope and method, as he covered Chinese history from the mythical Xia Dynasty up until the contemporary reign of Emperor Wu of Han, while pertaining an objective and non-biased standpoint (which is often difficult for the official dynastic histories who used historical works to justify the reign of the current dynasty). His influence was far and wide and impacted the written works of many Chinese historians, including the works of Ban Gu and Ban Zhao in the 1st and 2nd centuries, or even Sima Guang in the 11th century with his enormous compilation of the Zizhi Tongjian (資治通鑒/资治通鉴) presented to Emperor Shenzong of Song in 1084 AD. The overall scope of the historiographical tradition in China is termed the Twenty-Four Histories, created for each successive Chinese dynasty up until the Ming Dynastymarker (1368-1644), as China's last dynasty, the Qing Dynastymarker (1644-1911), is not included.

There were also large encyclopedias produced in China throughout the ages. The Yiwen Leiju encyclopedia was completed by Ouyang Xun in 624 during the Tang Dynasty, with aid from scholars Linghu Defen and Chen Shuda. In the Song Dynasty alone, the compilation of the Four Great Books of Song (10th century - 11th century) begun by Li Fang and finalized by Cefu Yuangui represented a massive undertaking of written material covering a wide range of different subjects. This included the Extensive Records of the Taiping Era (978), the Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era (983), the Finest Blossoms in the Garden of Literature (986), and the Prime Tortoise of the Record Bureau (1013). Although these Song Dynasty Chinese encyclopedias featured millions of written Chinese characters each, their aggregate size paled in comparison to the later Yongle Encyclopedia (1408) of the Ming Dynastymarker, which had a total of 50 million Chinese characters. Yet even this size was trumped with later Qing Dynastymarker encyclopedias, such as the printed Gujin Tushu Jicheng (1726). This Qing encyclopedic compilation features over 100 million written Chinese characters in over 800,000 pages, printed in 60 different copies using copper-metal Chinese movable type printing. Other great encyclopedic writers and content include the polymath scientist Shen Kuo (1031–1095) and his Dream Pool Essays, the agronomist and inventor Wang Zhen (fl. 1290–1333) and his Nongshu, and the minor scholar-official Song Yingxing (1587–1666) and his Tiangong Kaiwu.

Classical Poetry

Among the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was the Chuci (楚辭,楚辞) (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semi-legendary Qu Yuan (屈原) (ca. 340-278 B.C.) and his follower Song Yu (宋玉) (fourth century B.C.). The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), this form evolved into the fu (賦,赋) , a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the rise of romantic nature poetry heavily influenced by Taoism. The Han Chinese astronomer, mathematician, and inventor Zhang Heng (78-139 AD) was also largely responsible for the early development of Shi (詩,诗) poetry.

Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The early Tang period was best known for its "lushi" 律诗 (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or seven words in each line; Zi (verse following strict rules of prosody); and jueju (绝句)(truncated verse), a four-line poem with five or seven words in each line. The two best-known poets of the period were Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770). Li Bai was known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society. Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism and refined the art of narration. One of the best known of the later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772-846), whose poems were an inspired and critical comment on the society of his time. Li Yun (789-831) was an eclectic poet, writing mainly "Palace poetry". The great compilation of Tang poetry is the Quantangshi, or complete Tang Poems , though this was not achieved until 1705 CE, during the Qing Dynasty.

Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow of their great Tang predecessors, and although there were many fine poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this period. As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a more flexible poetic medium, the ci (詞,词), arrived on the scene. The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs, some of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the poets of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The Song era poet Su Shi (1037-1101 AD) mastered ci, shi, and fu forms of poetry, as well as prose, calligraphy, and painting.

As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial after Song times, Chinese Sanqu poetry, a more free form, based on dramatic arias, developed. The use of sanqu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature.

Classical Prose

Early prose

The proponents of the Hundred Schools of Thought in the Warring States Period and Spring and Autumn periods made important contributions to Chinese prose style. The writings of Mo Zi (墨子) (Mo Di, 470-390 B.C.), Mencius (孟子) (Meng Zi; 372-289 B.C.), and Zhuang Zi (莊子) (369-286 B.C.) contain well-reasoned, carefully developed discourses and show a marked improvement in organization and style over what went before. Mo Zi is known for extensively and effectively using methodological reasoning in his polemic prose. Mencius contributed elegant diction and, along with Zhuang Zi, is known for his extensive use of comparisons, anecdotes, and allegories. By the third century B.C., these writers had developed a simple, concise prose noted for its economy of words, which served as a model of literary form for over 2,000 years.

Later prose

The Tang period also saw a rejection of the ornate, artificial style of prose developed in the previous period and the emergence of a simple, direct, and forceful prose based on Han and pre-Han writing. The primary proponent of this neoclassical style of prose, which heavily influenced prose writing for the next 800 years, was Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824), a master essayist and strong advocate of a return to Confucian orthodoxy. The literary category of 'travel record literature' that became popular during the Song Dynasty employed the use of prose (as well as diary and narrative format), and included such seasoned veterans of travel experience as Fan Chengda (1126-1193) and Xu Xiake (1587-1641). A great literary example of this would also be Su Shi's Record of Stone Bell Mountain from the 11th century.

Vernacular fiction became popular after the fourteenth century, although it was never esteemed in court circles. Covering a broader range of subject matter and longer and less highly structured than literary fiction, vernacular fiction includes a number of masterpieces. The greatest is the 18th century domestic novel Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢).

List of some of the contributors

List of selected notable classical novels and plays

Modern Literature

Late Qing (1895-1911)

Scholars now tend to agree that modern Chinese literature did not erupt suddenly in the New Culture Movement (1917-23). Instead, they trace its origins back at least to the late Qing period (1895-1911). The late Qing was a period of intellectual ferment sparked by a sense of national crisis. Intellectuals began to seek solutions to China's problems outside of its own tradition. They translated works of Western expository writing and literature, which enthralled readers with new ideas and opened up windows onto new exotic cultures. Most outstanding were the translations of Yan Fu (严复) (1864-1921) and Lin Shu (林纾) (1852-1924). In this climate, a boom in the writing of fiction occurred, especially after the 1905 abolishment of the civil service examination when literati struggled to fill new social and cultural roles for themselves. Stylistically, this fiction shows signs of both the Chinese novelistic traditional and Western narrative modes. In subject matter, it is strikingly concerned with the contemporary: social problems, historical upheaval, changing ethical values, etc. In this sense, late Qing fiction is modern. Important novelists include Wu Woyao (吴沃尧) (1866–1910), Li Boyuan (李伯元) (1867–1906), Liu E (刘鹗) (1857–1909), and Zeng Pu (曾朴) (1872–1935).

The late Qing also saw a "revolution in poetry" (诗界革命), which promoted experimentation with new forms and the incorporation of new registers of language. Yet the poetry scene was still dominated by the adherents to the Tongguang School (named after the Tongzhi and Guangxu reigns of the Qing), whose leaders — Chen Yan (陈衍), Chen Sanli (陈三立), Zheng Xiaoxu (郑孝胥), and Shen Zengzhi (沈曾植) — promoted a Song style in the manner of Huang Tingjian. These poets would become the objects of scorn by New Culturalists like Hu Shi, who saw their work as overly allusive, artificial, and divorced from contemporary reality.

In drama, the late Qing saw the emergence of the new "civilized drama" (文明戏), a hybrid of Chinese operatic drama with Western-style spoken drama. Peking opera and "reformed Peking opera" were also popular at the time.

Republican Era (1911-1949)

The literary scene in the first few years after the collapse of the Qing in 1911 was dominated by popular love stories, some written in the classical language and some in the vernacular. This entertainment fiction would later be labeled "Mandarin Ducks and Butterfly" fiction by New Culturalists, who despised its lack of social engagement. Throughout much of the Republican era, Butterfly fiction would reach many more readers than its "progressive" counterpart.

In the course of the New Culture Movement (1917-23), the vernacular language largely displaced the classical in all areas of literature and writing. Literary reformers Hu Shi (胡適) (1891-1962) and Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀) (1880-1942) declared the classical language "dead" and promoted the vibrant vernacular in its stead. Hu Shi once said : " A dead language can never produce a living literature". It should be said, however, that Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu were not the first to promote the vernacular, which had its proponents in the late Qing. In terms of literary practice, Lu Xun (1881-1936) is usually said to be the first major stylist in the new vernacular prose that Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu were promoting.

Though often said to be less successful than their counterparts in fiction writing, poets also experimented with the new vernacular in new poetic forms, such as free verse and the sonnet. Given that there was no tradition of writing poetry in the vernacular, these experiments were more radical than those in fiction writing and also less easily accepted by the reading public. Modern poetry flourished especially in the 1930s, in the hands of poets like Zhu Xiang (朱湘), Dai Wangshu (戴望舒), Li Jinfa (李金发), Wen Yiduo (闻一多), Ge Xiao (葛萧)etc. Other poets, even some of the May Fourth radicals (e.g., Yu Dafu), continued to write poetry in classical styles.

May Fourth radicalism, as well as changes in the education system, made possible the emergence of a large group of women writers. To be sure, there were women writers in the late imperial period and in the late Qing, but nowhere near on the scale as during the May Fourth. These writers generally tackled "domestic" issues, such as relations between the sexes, family, and friendship, but they were revolutionary in giving direct expression to female subjectivity. Ding Ling's (丁玲) story "Diary of Miss Sophie" (莎菲女士日记) exposes the thoughts and feelings of its female diarist in all their complexity.

The late 1920s and 1930s were years of creativity in Chinese fiction, and literary journals and societies espousing various artistic theories proliferated. Among the major writers of the period were Guo Moruo (郭沫若) (1892-1978), a poet, historian, essayist, and critic; Mao Dun (茅盾) (1896-1981), the first of the novelists to emerge from the "League of Left-Wing Writers" and one whose work reflected the revolutionary struggle and disillusionment of the late 1920s; and Ba Jin (巴金) (1904-2005), a novelist whose work was influenced by Ivan Turgenev and other Russian writers. In the 1930s Ba Jin produced a trilogy that depicted the struggle of modern youth against the ageold dominance of the Confucian family system. Comparison often is made between Jia (Family), one of the novels in the trilogy, and Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦). Another writer of the period was the gifted satirist and novelist Lao She (老舍) (1899-1966). Many of these writers became important as administrators of artistic and literary policy after 1949. Most of those authors who were still alive during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) were either purged or forced to submit to public humiliation.

The 1920s and 1930s also saw the emergence of spoken drama. Most outstanding among playwrights of the day are Ouyuang Yuqian (欧阳予倩), Hong Shen (洪深), Tian Han (田汉), and Cao Yu (曹禺). More popular than this Western-style drama, however, was Peking Opera, raised to new artistic heights by the likes of Mei Lanfang (梅蘭芳).

The League of Left-Wing Writers was founded in 1930 and included Lu Xun (魯迅) in its leadership. By 1932 it had adopted the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism, that is, the insistence that art must concentrate on contemporary events in a realistic way, exposing the ills of nonsocialist society and promoting the glorious future under communism.

Though it might have liked to, the League did not control the entire literary field in the 1930s. Indeed, there were many styles of literature at odds with the highly political literature being promoted by the League. The "New Sensationsists" (新感觉派) - a group of writers based in Shanghai who were influenced, to varying degrees, by Western and Japanese modernism--wrote fiction that was more concerned with the unconscious and with aesthetics than politics or social problems. Most important among these writers were Mu Shiying (穆时英), Liu Na'ou (刘呐鸥), and Shi Zhecun (施蛰存). Other writers, most famously Shen Congwen (沈从文) and Fei Ming (废名), balked at the utilitarian role for literature by writing lyrical, almost nostalgic, depictions of the countryside.

The Communist Party of China had established a base after the Long March in Yan'anmarker. The literary ideals of the League were being simplified and enforced on writers and "cultural workers." In 1942, Mao Zedong gave a series of lectures called "Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Art and Literature" that clearly made literature subservient to politics via the Yan'an Rectification Movement. This document would become the national guideline for culture after the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Maoist Era (1949-1976)

After coming to power in 1949, the Communist gradually nationalized the publishing industry, centralized the book distribution system, and brought writers under institutional control through the Writers Union. A system of strict censorship was implemented, with Mao's "Yan'an Talks" as the guiding force. Periodic literary campaigns (e.g., against Hu Shi, Hu Feng (胡风) targeted certain literary figures who did not toe the Party line on literature. Socialist realism became the uniform style. Conflict, however, soon developed between the government and the writers. The ability to satirize and expose the evils in contemporary society that had made writers useful to the Communist Party of China before its accession to power was no longer welcomed. Even more unwelcome to the party was the persistence among writers of what was deplored as "petty bourgeois idealism," "humanitarianism," and an insistence on freedom to choose subject matter. This conflict came to a head in the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956-57). Mao Zedong encouraged writers to speak out against problems in the new society. Having learned the lessons of the anti-Hu Feng campaign, they were initially reluctant; soon, however, a flurry of newspaper articles, films, and literary works drew attention to such problems as bureaucratism and authoritarianism within the ranks of the party. Now aware of the level of discontent toward the new regime by intellectuals, Mao decided to reverse the Hundred Flowers liberalization to crack down. This crackdown is referred to as the Anti-Rightist Movement (反右运动). Many intellectuals were attacked. At the time of the Great Leap Forward, the government increased its insistence on the use of socialist realism and combined with it so-called revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism. Authors were permitted to write about contemporary China, as well as other times during China's modern period--as long as it was accomplished with the desired socialist revolutionary realism.

Despite the draconian measures instituted by Mao's regime to instill literary uniformity, novels of great quality were produced. It was a vibrant literary genre that has sought, explored and reflected historic changes in the lives of the Chinese people. Works emerging in these periods have had tremendous impact on subsequent generations. They are regarded as "textbooks on life" written by "engineers of people's souls". The most outstanding examples of this new socialist literature are The Builder ( Chuanye Shi 创业史) by Liu Qing 柳青, The Song of Youth (Qing Chun Zhi Ge 青春之歌) by Yang Mo 杨沫, Tracks in the Snowy Forest (Lin Hai Xue Yuan 林海雪原 ) by Qu Bo 曲波, Keep the Red Flag Flying (Hong Qi Pu 红旗谱) by Liang Bin 梁斌, The Red Sun ( Hong Ri 红日) by Wu Qiang 吴强, and Red Crag ( Hong Yan 红岩) by Luo Guangbin 罗广斌 and Yang Yiyan (杨益言).

During the Cultural Revolution, the repression and intimidation led by Mao's fourth wife, Jiang Qing, succeeded in drying up all cultural activity except a few "model" operas and heroic novels, such as those by Hao Ran (浩然). Although it has since been learned that some writers continued to produce in secret, during that period no significant literary work was published.

Post-Mao (1976-present)

The arrest of Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four in 1976, and especially the reforms initiated at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, led more and more older writers and some younger writers to take up their pens again. Much of the literature in what would be called the "new era" (新时期) discussed the serious abuses of power that had taken place at both the national and the local levels during the Cultural Revolution. The writers decried the waste of time and talent during that decade and bemoaned abuses that had held China back. At the same time, the writers expressed eagerness to make a contribution to building Chinese society. This literature, often called "the literature of the wounded," contained some disquieting views of the party and the political system. Intensely patriotic, these authors wrote cynically of the political leadership that gave rise to the extreme chaos and disorder of the Cultural Revolution. Some of them extended the blame to the entire generation of leaders and to the political system itself. The political authorities were faced with a serious problem: how could they encourage writers to criticize and discredit the abuses of the Cultural Revolution without allowing that criticism to go beyond what they considered tolerable limits?

During this period, a large number of novels and short stories were published. Literary magazines from before the Cultural Revolution were revived, and new ones were added to satisfy the seemingly insatiable appetite of the reading public. There was a special interest in foreign works. Linguists were commissioned to translate recently published foreign literature, often without carefully considering its interest for the Chinese reader. Literary magazines specializing in translations of foreign short stories became very popular, especially among the young.

It is not surprising that such dramatic changes brought objections from some leaders in the government, literary and art circles, who feared it was happening too fast. The first reaction came in 1980 with calls to combat "bourgeois liberalism," a campaign that was repeated in 1981. These two difficult periods were followed by the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign in late 1983.

At the same time, writers were more free than ever before to write in unconventional styles and to treat sensitive subject matter. A spirit of literary experimentation flourished, especially in the second half of the 1980s. Fiction writers, such as Wang Meng (王蒙), Zhang Xinxin (张辛欣), and Zong Pu (宗璞), and dramatists, such as Gao Xingjian 高行健, experimented in modernist language and narrative modes. Another group of writers--collectively said to constitute the Roots (寻根) movement sought to reconnect literature and culture to Chinese traditions, from which a century of modernization and cultural and political iconoclasm had severed them. Han Shaogong (韩少功), Mo Yan, and A Cheng (阿城) are exemplary. Other writers (e.g., Yu Hua (余华), Ge Fei (格非), Su Tong (苏童) experimented in a more avant-garde (先锋) mode of writing that was daring in form and language and showed a complete loss of faith in ideals of any sort.

In the wake of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989marker and with the intensification of the market reforms, literature and culture turned commercial and escapist. Wang Shuo (王朔), the so-called "hooligan" (痞子) writer, is the most obvious manifestation of this commercial shift, though his fiction is not without serious intent. Though not all writing in China today is commercial. Yan Lianke 阎连科, for example, takes seriously the role of literature in exposing social problems, such as the plight of HIV-AIDS victims in his novel Dreams of Ding Village (丁庄梦). As in the May Fourth, women writers flourish in present-day China. Many of them, such as Chen Ran (陈然), Wei Hui (卫慧), Wang Anyi (王安忆), and Hong Ying (虹影), explore female subjectivity in a radically changing society. Neo-realism (e.g., Liu Heng (刘恒), Chi Li (池莉), Fang Fang (方方), He Dun (何顿), and Zhu Wen (朱文) is another important current in post-Tian'anmen fiction. In short, contemporary literature in the PRC is multifarious and cannot be reduced to any single school or trend.

China's state-run General Administration of Press and Publication (新闻出版总署) screens all Chinese literature that are intended to be sold on the open market. The GAPP has the legal authority to screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China. Because all publishers in China are required to be licensed by the GAPP, that agency also has the power to deny people the right to publish, and completely shut down any publisher who fails to follow its dictates. Resultingly, the ratio of official-to-pirated books is said to be 2:3. According to a report in ZonaEuropa, there are more than 4,000 underground publishing factories around China. The Chinese government continues to hold public book burnings on unapproved yet popular "spiritual pollution" literature, though critics claim this spotlight on individual titles only helps fuel booksales. Many new-generation Chinese authors who were the recipients of such government attention have been re-published in English and success in the western literary markets, namely Zhou Weihui of Shanghai Baby fame, Anchee Min and her controversial memoir Red Azalea, Time Magazine banned book covergirl Chun Sue (Beijing Doll) and "Candy" authoress Mian Mian.See also: Censorship in the People's Republic of China

Chinese language literature also flourishes in the diaspora--in South East Asia, the United Statesmarker, and Europe. China is the largest publisher of books, magazines and newspapers in the world. In book publishing alone, some 128,800 new titles of books were published in 2005, according to the General Administration of Press and Publication. There are more than 600 literary journals across the country. Living and writing in Francemarker but continuing to write primarily in Chinese, Gao Xingjian became the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000.

Book Market

China buys many foreign book rights; nearly 16 million copies of the Sixth book of the Harry Potter were sold in Chinese translation. As China Book Review reported, the rights to 9,328 foreign titles - many children's books - went to China in 2007. China was nominated as a Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Bookfair in 2009. [23608][]

The book market in China traditionally orders books during bookfairs, as the country lacks a national book ordering system. In 2006, 6.8 million titles were sold, not including an unknown number of banned titles, bootleg copies and underground publishing factories (3.3 % less than 2005). There are no fixed prices, although prices are printed on the books.

Private publishing is tolerated. Private publishing can collect authors and themes. This is also the new role in China of a Literary agent and literature scout. [23609]

According to The Guardian (British newspaper), the cultural life of the 1.3 billion people who live and work in this economic superpower remains a closed book to many in the west - their bestselling authors unfamiliar, their most exciting writers untranslated. However, in 2005, the Chinese government started a sponsoring program for translations of government-approved Chinese works - which has already resulted in more than 200 books being translated from Chinese into another language.

220,000 books were published in 2005 as the middle class becomes more economically viable. Beijing Book City, for example, which are the size of department stores, employs about 700 people and carries 230,000 titles on the shelves.

From altogether 579 publishers - which is almost five times more than thirty years ago - today 225 are supervised by ministries, commissions or the army; agencies control 348 publishers; six are even more independent. On the other hand 100 000 just private bookstores bring in the half of the income for the bookindustry.

The central publishing houses belonging to ministries or (other) government institutions have their main seat at Beijing (40 percent of all publishers). Most regional publishers are situated in the capitals of the provinces: each has one per subject, such as STM, school books etc. Also on the national line there are specialisations by subject - and: universities do have publishing connected, often for science. Seven percent of all publishers are at Shanghai. Many titles from the publishers at the provinces can only be found there: a national distribution system is lacking. But - also many of the large number of publishers at the provinces belong to the very big, successful ones. Their deep reformes such as in marketing, selling, advertisement improved the market situation. While traditionally, in the command economy, just the editorial office was extremely strong.

Shanda Literature Ltd. puts 8.000 new manuscripts online per day and does earn with that kind of stuff...

Some modern Chinese writers

Overseas Chinese Literature


Chinese writers writing in English:

Chinese writers writing in French:

See also


  1. Needham, Volume 3, 500–501.
  2. Ebrey (2006), 272.
  3. Zeitung zur Buchmesse,FAZ 19.10.2008, S. 22 (PDF; 12,15 MB)
  4. [1] Börsenblatt China Blog
  5. A Book Battle in China to Make the Critics Blush - International Herald Tribune


  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall, James B. Palais. (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-13384-4.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.
  • China

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