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Chinese Literature


The literature of China is remarkable (1) for its antiquity, coupled with an unbroken continuity down to the present day; (2) for the variety of subjects presented, and for the exhaustive treatment which, not only each subject, but also each subdivision, each separate item, has received, as well as for the colossal scale on which so many literary monuments have been conceived and carried out; (3) for the accuracy of its historical statements, so far as it has been possible to test them; and further (4) for its ennobling standards and lofty ideals, as well as for its wholesome purity and an almost total absence of coarseness and obscenity.

No history of Chinese literature in the Chinese language has yet been produced; native scholars, however, have adopted, for bibliographical purposes, a rough division into four great classes. Under the first of these, we find the Confucian Canon, together with lexicographical, philological, and other works dealing with the elucidation of words. Under the second, histories of various kinds, officially compiled, privately written, constitutional, etc.; also biography, geography and bibliography. Under the third, philosophy, religion, e.g. Buddhism; the arts and sciences, e.g. war, law, agriculture, medicine, astronomy, painting, music and archery; also a host of general works, monographs, and treatises on a number of topics, as well as encyclopaedias. The fourth class is confined to poetry of all descriptions, poetical critiques, and works dealing with the all-important rhymes.

Poetry. - Proceeding chronologically, without reference to Chinese classification, we have to begin, as would naturally be expected, with the last of the above four classes. Man's first literary utterances in China, as elsewhere, took the form of verse; and the earliest Chinese records in our possession are the national lyrics, the songs and ballads, chiefly of the feudal age, which reaches back to over a thousand years before Christ. Some pieces are indeed attributed to the 18th century B.C.; the latest bring us down to the 6th century B.C. Such is the collection entitled Shih Ching (or She King), popularly known as the Odes, which was brought together and edited by Confucius, 551-479 B.C., and is now included among the Sacred Books, forming as it does an important portion of the Confucian Canon. These Odes, once over three thousand in number, were reduced by Confucius to three hundred and eleven; hence they are frequently spoken of as "the Three Hundred." They treat of war and love, of eating and drinking and dancing, of the virtues and vices of rulers, and of the misery and happiness of the people. They are in rhyme. Rhyme is essential to Chinese poetry; there is no such thing as blank verse. Further, the rhymes of the Odes have always been, and are still, the only recognized rhymes which can be used by a Chinese poet, anything else being regarded as mere jingle. Poetical licence, however, is tolerated; and great masters have availed themselves freely of its aid. One curious result of this is that whereas in many instances two given words may have rhymed, as no doubt they did, in the speech of three thousand years ago, they no longer rhyme to the ear in the colloquial of to-day, although still accepted as true and proper rhymes in the composition of verse.

It is noticeable at once that the Odes are mostly written in lines of four words, examples of lines consisting of any length from a single word to eight, though such do exist, being comparatively rare. These lines of four words, generally recognized as the oldest measure in Chinese poetry, are frequently grouped as quatrains, in which the first, second and fourth lines rhyme; but very often only the second and fourth lines rhyme, and sometimes there are groups of a larger number of lines in which occasional lines are found without any rhyme at all. A few stray pieces, as old as many of those found among the Odes, have been handed down and preserved, in which the metre consists of two lines of three words followed by one line of seven words. These three lines all rhyme, but the rhyme changes with each succeeding triplet. It would be difficult to persuade the English reader that this is a very effective measure, and one in which many a gloomy or pathetic tale has been told. In order to realise how a few Chinese monosyllables in juxtaposition can stir the human heart to its lowest depths, it is necessary to devote some years to the study of the language.

At the close of the 4th century B.C., a dithyrambic measure, irregular and wild, was introduced and enjoyed considerable vogue. It has indeed been freely adopted by numerous poets from that early date down to the present day; but since the 2nd century B.C. it has been displaced from pre-eminence by the seven-word and five-word measures which are now, after much refinement, the accepted standards for Chinese poetry. The origin of the seven-word metre is lost in remote antiquity; the five-word metre was elaborated under the master-hand of Mei ShOøΩng, who died 140 B.C. Passing over seven centuries of growth, we reach the T'ang dynasty, A.D. 618-905, the most brilliant epoch in the history of Chinese poetry. These three hundred years produced an extraordinarily large number of great poets, and an output of verse of almost incredible extent. In 1707 an anthology of the T'ang poets was published by Imperial order; it ran to nine hundred books or sections, and contained over forty-eight thousand nine hundred separate poems. A copy of this work is in the Chinese department of the University Library at Cambridge.

It was under the T'ang dynasty that a certain finality was reached in regard to the strict application of the tones to Chinese verse. For the purposes of poetry, all words in the language were ranged under one or the other of two tones, the even and the oblique, the former now including the two even tones, of which prior to the 11th century there was only one, and the latter including the rising, sinking and entering tones of ordinary speech. The incidence of these tones, which may be roughly described as sharps and flats, finally became fixed, just as the incidence of certain feet in Latin metres came to be governed by fixed rules. Thus, reading downward from right to left, as in Chinese, a five-word stanza may run:

Sharp Flat Flat Sharp
sharp flat flat sharp
flat sharp flat sharp
* * * *
flat sharp sharp flat
sharp flat sharp flat

A seven-word stanza may run:

Flat Sharp Sharp
flat sharp sharp flat
sharp flat flat sharp
sharp flat flat sharp
* * * *
flat sharp flat flat
flat sharp sharp flat
sharp flat sharp sharp

The above are only two metres out of many, but enough perhaps to give to any one who will read them with a pause or quasi-caesura, as marked by OøΩ in each specimen, a fair idea of the rhythmic lilt of Chinese poetry. To the trained ear, the effect is most pleasing; and when this scansion, so to speak, is united with rhyme and choice diction, the result is a vehicle for verse, artificial no doubt, and elaborate, but admirably adapted to the genius of the Chinese language. Moreover, in the hands of the great poets this artificiality disappears altogether. Each word seems to slip naturally into its place; and so far from having been introduced by violence for the ends of prosody, it appears to be the very best word that could have been chosen, even had there been no trammels of any kind, so effectually is the art of the poet concealed by art. From the long string of names which have shed lustre upon this glorious age of Chinese poetry, it may suffice for the present purpose to mention the following, all of the very first rank.

MOøΩng Hao-jan, A.D. 689-740, failed to succeed at the public competitive examinations, and retired to the mountains where he led the life of a recluse. Later on, he obtained an official post; but he was of a timid disposition, and once when the emperor, attracted by his fame, came to visit him, he hid himself under the bed. His hiding-place was revealed by Wang Wei, a brother poet who was present. The latter, A.D. 699-759, in addition to being a first-rank poet, was also a landscape-painter of great distinction. He was further a firm believer in Buddhism; and after losing his wife and mother, he turned his mountain home into a Buddhist monastery. Of all poets, not one has made his name more widely known than Li Po, or Li T'ai-po, A.D. 705-762, popularly known as the Banished Angel, so heavenly were the poems he dashed off, always under the influence of wine. He is said to have met his death, after a tipsy frolic, by leaning out of a boat to embrace the reflection of the Moon. Tu Fu, A.D. 712-770, is generally ranked with Li Po, the two being jointly spoken of as the chief poets of their age. The former had indeed such a high opinion of his own poetry that he prescribed it for malarial fever. He led a chequered and wandering life, and died from the effects of eating roast beef and drinking white wine to excess, immediately after a long fast. Po ChOøΩ-i, A.D. 772-846, was a very prolific poet. He held several high official posts, but found time for a considerable output of some of the finest poetry in the language. His poems were collected by Imperial command, and engraved upon tablets of stone. In one of them he anticipates by eight centuries the famous ode by Malherbe, OøΩ Du Perrier, sur la mort de sa fille.

The T'ang dynasty with all its glories had not long passed away before another imperial house arose, under which poetry flourished again in full vigour. The poets of the Sung dynasty, A.D. 960-1260, were many and varied in style; but their work, much of it of the very highest order, was becoming perhaps a trifle more formal and precise. Life seemed to be taken more seriously than under the gay and pleasure-loving T'angs. The long list of Sung poets includes such names as Ssu-ma Kuang, Ou-yang Hsiu and Wang An-shih, to be mentioned by and by, the first two as historians and the last as political reformer. A still more familiar name in popular estimation is that of Su Tung-p'o, A.D. 103-1101, partly known for his romantic career, now in court favour, now banished to the wilds, but still more renowned as a brilliant poet and writer of fascinating essays.

The Mongols, A.D. 1260-1368, who succeeded the Sungs, and the Mings who followed the Sungs and bring us down to the year 1644, helped indeed, especially the Mings, to swell the volume of Chinese verse, but without reaching the high level of the two great poetical periods above-mentioned. Then came the present dynasty of Manchu Tatars, of whom the same tale must be told, in spite of two highly-cultured emperors, K'ang Hsi and Ch'ien Lung, both of them poets and one of them author of a collection containing no fewer than 33,950 pieces, most of which, it must be said, are but four-line stanzas, of no literary value whatever. It may be stated in this connexion that whereas China has never produced an epic in verse, it is not true that all Chinese poems are quite short, running only to ten or a dozen lines at the most. Many pieces run to several hundred lines, though the Chinese poet does not usually affect length, one of his highest efforts being the four-line stanza, known as the "stop-short," in which "the words stop while the sense goes on," expanding in the mind of the reader by the suggestive art of the poet. The "stop-short" is the converse of the epigram, which ends in a satisfying turn of thought to which the rest of the composition is intended to lead up; it aims at producing an impression which, so far from being final, is merely the prelude to a long series of visions and of feelings. The last of the four lines is called the "surprise line"; but the revelation it gives is never a complete one: the words stop, but the sense goes on. Just as in the pictorial art of China, so in her poetic art is suggestiveness the great end and aim of the artist. Beginners are taught that the three canons of verse composition are lucidity, simplicity and correctness of diction. Yet some critics have boldly declared for obscurity of expression, alleging that the piquancy of a thought is enhanced by its skilful concealment. For the foreign student, it is not necessary to accentuate the obscurity and difficulty even of poems in which the motive is simple enough. The constant introduction of classical allusions, often in the vaguest terms, and the almost unlimited licence as to the order of words, offer quite sufficient obstacles to easy and rapid comprehension. Poetry has been defined by one Chinese writer as "clothing with words the emotions which surge through the heart." The chief moods of the Chinese poet are a pure delight in the varying phenomena of nature, and a boundless sympathy with the woes and sufferings of humanity. Erotic poetry is not absent, but it is not a feature proportionate in extent to the great body of Chinese verse; it is always restrained, and never lapses from a high level of purity and decorum. In his love for hill and stream which he peoples with genii, and for tree and flower which he endows with sentient souls, the Chinese poet is perhaps seen at his very best; his views of life are somewhat too deeply tinged with melancholy, and often loaded with an overwhelming sadness "at the doubtful doom of human kind." In his lighter moods he draws inspiration, and in his darker moods consolation from the wine-cup. Hard-drinking, not to say drunkenness, seems to have been universal among Chinese poets, and a considerable amount of talent has been expended upon the glorification of wine. From Taoist, and especially from Buddhist sources, many poets have obtained glimpses to make them less forlorn; but it cannot be said that there is any definitely religious poetry in the Chinese language.

History. - One of the labours undertaken by Confucius was connected with a series of ancient documents - that is, ancient in his day - now passing under a collective title as Shu Ching (or Shoo King), and popularly known as the Canon, or Book, of History. Mere fragments as some of these documents are, it is from their pages of unknown date that we can supplement the pictures drawn for us in the Odes, of the early civilization of China. The work opens with an account of the legendary emperor Yao, who reigned 2357-2255 B.C., and was able by virtue of an elevated personality to give peace and happiness to his "black-haired" subjects. With the aid of capable astronomers, he determined the summer and winter solstices, and calculated approximately the length of the year, availing himself, as required, of the aid of an intercalary month Finally, after a glorious reign, he ceded the throne to a man of the people, whose only claim to distinction was his unwavering practice of filial piety. Chapter ii. deals with the reign, 2255-2205 B.C., of this said man, known in history as the emperor Shun. In accordance with the monotheism of the day, he worshipped God in heaven with prayer and burnt offerings; he travelled on tours of inspection all over his then comparatively narrow empire; he established punishments, to be tempered with mercy; he appointed officials to superintend forestry, care of animals, religious observances, and music; and he organized a system of periodical examinations for public servants. Chapter iii. is devoted to details about the Great YOøΩ, who reigned 2205-2197 B.C., having been called to the throne for his engineering success in draining the empire of a mighty inundation which early western writers sought to identify with Noah's Flood. Another interesting chapter gives various geographical details, and enumerates the articles, gold, silver, copper, iron, steel, silken fabrics, feathers, ivory, hides, etc., etc., brought in under the reign of the Great YOøΩ, as tribute from neighbouring countries. Other chapters include royal proclamations, speeches to troops, announcements of campaigns victoriously concluded, and similar subjects. One peculiarly interesting document is the Announcement against Drunkenness, which seems to have been for so many centuries a national vice, and then to have practically disappeared as such. For the past two or three hundred years, drunkenness has always been the exception rather than the rule. The Announcement, delivered in the 12th century B.C., points out that King WOøΩn, the founder of the Chou dynasty, had wished for wine to be used only in connexion with sacrifices, and that divine favours had always been liberally showered upon the people when such a restriction had been observed. On the other hand, indulgence in strong drink had invariably attracted divine vengeance, and the fall and disruption of states had often been traceable to that cause. Even on sacrificial occasions, drunkenness is to be condemned. "When, however, you high officials and others have done your duty in ministering to the aged and to your sovereign, you may then eat to satiety and drink to elevation." The Announcement winds up with an ancient maxim, "Do not seek to see yourself reflected in water, but in others," - whose base actions should warn you not to commit the same; adding that those who after a due interval should be unable to give up intemperate habits would be put to death. It is worth noting, in concluding this brief notice of China's earliest records, that from first to last there is no mention whatever of any distant country from which the "black-haired people" may have originally come; no vestige of any allusion to any other form of civilization, such as that of Babylonia, with its cuneiform script and baked-clay tablets, from which an attempt has been made to derive the native-born civilization of China. A few odd coincidences sum up the chief argument in favour of this now discredited theory.

Annals of the Lu state

The next step lands us on the confines, though scarcely in the domain, of history properly so called. Among his other literary labours, Confucius undertook to produce the annals of Lu, his native state; and beginning with the year 722 B.C., he carried the record down to his death in 479, after which it was continued for a few years, presumably by Tso-ch'iu Ming, the shadowy author of the famous Commentary, to which the text is so deeply indebted for vitality and illumination. The work of Confucius is known as the Ch'un Ch'iu, the Springs and Autumns, q.d. Annals. It consists of a varying number of brief entries under each year of the reign of each successive ruler of Lu. The feudal system, initiated more than four centuries previously, and consisting of a number of vassal states owning allegiance to a central suzerain state, had already broken hopelessly down, so far as allegiance was concerned. For some time, the object of each vassal ruler had been the aggrandizement of his own state, with a view either to independence or to the hegemony, and the result was a state of almost constant warfare. Accordingly, the entries in the Ch'un Ch'iu refer largely to covenants entered into between contracting rulers, official visits from one to another of these rulers, their births and deaths, marriages, invasions of territory, battles, religious ceremonies, etc., interspersed with notices of striking natural phenomena such as eclipses, comets and earthquakes, and of important national calamities, such as floods, drought and famine. For instance, Duke WOøΩn became ruler of Lu in 625 B.C., and under his 14th year, 612 B.C., we find twelve entries, of which the following are specimens: -

2. In spring, in the first month the men of the Chu State invaded our southern border.

3. In summer, on the I-hai day of the fifth month P'an, Marquis of the Ch'i State, died.

5. In autumn, in the seventh month there was a comet, which entered Pei-ton (αβγδ in Ursa Major).

9. In the ninth month a son of the Duke of Ch'i murdered his ruler.

Entry 5 affords the earliest trustworthy instance of a comet in China. A still earlier comet is recorded in what is known as The Bamboo Annals, but the genuineness of that work is disputed.

It will be readily admitted that the Ch'un Ch'iu, written throughout in the same style as the quotations given, would scarcely enable one to reconstruct in any detail the age it professes to record. Happily we are in possession of the Tso Chuan, a so-called commentary, presumably by some one named Tso, in which the bald entries in the work of Confucius are separately enlarged upon to such an extent and with such dramatic brilliancy that our commentary reads more like a prose epic than "a treatise consisting of a systematic series of comments or annotations on the text of a literary work." Under its guidance we can follow the intrigues, the alliances, the treacheries, the ruptures of the jealous states which constituted feudal China; in its picture pages we can see, as it were with our own eyes, assassinations, battles, heroic deeds, flights, pursuits and the sufferings of the vanquished from the retribution exacted by the victors. Numerous wise and witty sayings are scattered throughout the work, many of which are in current use at the present day.

The Historical Record

History as understood in Europe and the west began in China with the appearance of a remarkable man. Ssu-ma Ch'ien, who flourished 145-87 B.C., was the son of an hereditary grand astrologer, also an eager student of history and the actual planner of the great work so successfully carried out after his death. By the time he was ten years of age, Ssu-ma Ch'ien was already well advanced with his studies; and at twenty he set forth on a round of travel which carried him to all parts of the empire. Entering the public service, he was employed upon a mission of inspection to the newly-conquered regions of Ssuch'uan and YOøΩnnan; in 110 B.C. his father died, and he stepped into the post of grand astrologer. After devoting some time and energy to the reformation of the calendar, he took up the work which had been begun by his father and which was ultimately given to the world as the Shih Chi, or Historical Record. This was arranged under five great headings, namely, (l) Annals of Imperial Reigns, (2) Chronological Tables, (3) Monographs, (4) Annals of Vassal Princes, and (5) Biographies.

Burning of the Books

The Historical Record begins with the so-called Yellow Emperor, who is said to have come to the throne 2698 B.C. and to have reigned a hundred years. Four other emperors are given, as belonging to this period, among whom we find Yao and Shun, already mentioned. It was China's Golden Age, when rulers and ruled were virtuous alike, and all was peace and prosperity. It is discreetly handled in a few pages by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, who passes on to the somewhat firmer but still doubtful ground of the early dynasties. Not, however, until the Chou dynasty, 1122-255 B.C., had held sway for some three hundred years can we be said to have reached a point at which history begins to separate itself definitely from legend. In fact, it is only from the 8th century before Christ that any trustworthy record can be safely dated. With the 3rd century before Christ, we are introduced to one of the feudal princes whose military genius enabled him to destroy beyond hope of revival the feudal system which had endured for eight hundred years, and to make himself master of the whole of the China of those days. In 221 B.C. he proclaimed himself the "First Emperor," a title by which he has ever since been known. Everything, including literature, was to begin with his reign; and acting on the advice of his prime minister, he issued an order for the burning of all books, with the exception only of works relating to medicine, divination and agriculture. Those who wished to study law were referred for oral teaching to such as had already qualified in that profession. To carry out the scheme effectively, the First Emperor made a point of examining every day about 120 lb weight of books, in order to get rid of such as he considered to be useless; and he further appointed a number of inspectors to see that his orders were carried out. The result was that about four hundred and sixty scholars were put to death for having disobeyed the imperial command, while many others were banished for life. This incident is known as the Burning of the Books; and there is little doubt that, but for the devotion of the literati, Chinese literature would have had to make a fresh start in 212 B.C. As it was, books were bricked up in walls and otherwise widely concealed in the hope that the storm would blow over; and this was actually the case when the Ch'in (Ts'in) dynasty collapsed and the House of Han took its place in 206 B.C. The Confucian books were subsequently recovered from their hiding-places, together with many other works, the loss of which it is difficult now to contemplate. Unfortunately, however, a stimulus was provided, not for the recovery, but for the manufacture of writings, the previous existence of which could be gathered either from tradition or from notices in the various works which had survived. Forgery became the order of the day; and the modern student is confronted with a considerable volume of literature which has to be classified as genuine, doubtful, or spurious, according to the merits of each case. To the first class belongs the bulk, but not all, of the Confucian Canon; to the third must be relegated such books as the Tao Te Ching, to be mentioned later on.

Ssu-ma Ch'ien, dying in 87 B.C., deals of course only with the opening reigns of the Han dynasty, with which he brings to a close the first great division of his history. The second division consists of chronological tables; the third, of eight monographs on the following topics: (1) Rites and Ceremonies, (2) Music, (3) Natural Philosophy, (4) The Calendar, (5) Astronomy, (6) Religion, (7) Water-ways, and (8) Commerce. On these eight a few remarks may not be out of place, (1) The Chinese seem to have been in possession, from very early ages, of a systematic code of ceremonial observances, so that it is no surprise to find the subject included, and taking an important place, in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's work. The Li Chi, or Book of Rites, which now forms part of the Confucian Canon, is however a comparatively modern compilation, dating only from the 1st century B.C. (2) The extraordinary similarities between the Chinese and Pythagorean systems of music force the conclusion that one of these must necessarily have been derived from the other. The Jesuit Fathers jumped to the conclusion that the Greeks borrowed their art from the Chinese; but it is now common knowledge that the Chinese scale did not exist in China until two centuries after its appearance in Greece. The fact is that the ancient Chinese works on music perished at the Burning of the Books; and we are told that by the middle of the 2nd century B.C. the hereditary Court music-master was altogether ignorant of his art. What we may call modern Chinese music reached China through Bactria, a Greek kingdom, founded by Diodotus in 256 B.C., with which intercourse had been established by the Chinese at an early date. (3) The term Natural Philosophy can only be applied by courtesy to this essay, which deals with twelve bamboo tubes of varying lengths, by means of which, coupled with the twenty-eight zodiacal constellations and with certain calendaric accords, divine communication is established with the influences of the five elements and the points of the compass corresponding with the eight winds. (4) In this connexion, it is worth noting that in 104 B.C. the Chinese first adopted a cycle of nineteen years, a period which exactly brings together the solar and the lunar years; and further that this very cycle is said to have been introduced by Meton, 5th century B.C., and was adopted at Athens about 330 B.C., probably reaching China, via Bactria, some two centuries afterwards. (5) This chapter deals specially with the Sun, moon and five planets, which are supposed to aid in the divine government of mankind. (6) Refers to the solemn sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, as performed by the emperor upon the summit of Mt. T'ai in Shan-tung. (7) Refers to the management of the Hoang Ho, or Yellow river, so often spoken of as "China's Sorrow," and also of the numerous canals with which the empire is intersected. (8) This chapter, which treats of the circulation of money, and its function in the Chinese theory of political economy, is based upon the establishment in 110 B.C. of certain officials whose business it was to regularize commerce. It was their duty to buy up the chief necessaries of life when abundant and when prices were in consequence low, and to offer these for sale when there was a shortage and when prices would otherwise have risen unduly. Thus it was hoped that a stability in commercial transactions would be attained, to the great advantage of the people. The fourth division of the Shih Chi is devoted to the annals of the reigns of vassal princes, to be read in connexion with the imperial annals of the first division. The final division, which is in many ways the most interesting of all, gives biographical notices of eminent or notorious men and women, from the earliest ages downwards, and enables us to draw conclusions at which otherwise it would have been impossible to arrive. Confucius and Mencius, for instance, stand out as real personages who actually played a part in China's history; while all we can gather from the short life of Lao Tzu, a part of which reads like an interpolation by another hand, is that he was a more or less legendary individual, whose very existence at the date usually assigned to him, 7th and 6th centuries B.C., is altogether doubtful. Scattered among these biographies are a few notices of frontier nations; e.g. of the terrible nomads known as the Hsiung-nu, whose identity with the Huns has now been placed beyond a doubt.

Ssu-ma Ch'ien's great work, on which he laboured for so many vears and which ran to five hundred and twenty-six thousand five hundred words, has been described somewhat at length for the following reason. It has been accepted as the model for all subsequent dynastic histories, of which twenty-four have now been published, the whole being produced in 1747 in a uniform edition, bound up (in the Cambridge Library) in two hundred and nineteen large volumes. Each dynasty has found its historian in the dynasty which supplanted it; and each dynastic history is notable for the extreme fairness with which the conquerors have dealt with the vanquished, accepting without demur such records of their predecessors as were available from official sources. The T'ang dynasty, A.D. 618-906, offers in one sense a curious exception to the general rule. It possesses two histories, both included in the above series. The first of these, now known as the Old T'ang History, was ultimately set aside as inaccurate and inadequate, and a New T'ang History was compiled by Ou-yang Hsiu, a distinguished scholar, poet and statesman of the 11th century. Nevertheless, in all cases, the scheme of the dynastic history has, with certain modifications, been that which was initiated in the 1st century B.C. by Ssu-ma Ch'ien.

The Mirror of History

The output of history, however, does not begin and end with the voluminous records above referred to, one of which, it should be mentioned, was in great part the work of a woman. History has always been a favourite study with the Chinese, and innumerable histories of a non-official character, long and short, complete and partial, political and constitutional, have been showered from age to age upon the Chinese reading world. Space would fail for the mere mention of a tithe of such works; but there is one which stands out among the rest and is especially enshrined in the hearts of the Chinese people. This is the T'ung Chien, or Mirror of History, so called because "to view antiquity as though in a mirror is an aid in the administration of government." It was the work of a statesman of the 11th century, whose name, by a coincidence, was Ssu-ma Kuang. He had been forced to retire from office, and spent nearly all the last sixteen years of his life in historical research. The Mirror of History embraces a period from the 5th century B.C. down to A.D. 960. It is written in a picturesque style; but the arrangement was found to be unsuited to the systematic study of history. Accordingly, it was subjected to revision, and was to a great extent reconstructed by Chu Hsi, the famous commentator, who flourished A.D. 1130-1200, and whose work is now regarded as the standard history of China.

Biography. - In regard to biography, the student is by no means limited to the dynastic histories. Many huge biographical collections have been compiled and published by private individuals, and many lives of the same personages have often been written from different points of view. There is nothing very much by which a Chinese biography can be distinguished from biographies produced in other parts of the world. The Chinese writer always begins with the place of birth, but he is not so particular about the year, sometimes leaving that to be gathered from the date of death taken in connexion with the age which the person may have attained. Some allusion is usually made to ancestry, and the steps of an official career, upward by promotion or downward by disgrace, are also carefully noted.

Geography and Travel. - There is a considerable volume of Chinese literature which comes under this head; but if we exclude certain brief notices of foreign countries, there remains nothing in the way of general geography which had been produced prior to the arrival of the Jesuit Fathers at the close of the 16th century. Up to that period geography meant the topography of the Chinese empire; and of topographical records there is a very large and valuable collection. Every prefecture and department, some eighteen hundred in all, has each its own particular topography, compiled from records and from tradition with a fullness that leaves nothing to be desired. The buildings, bridges, monuments of archaeological interest, etc., in each district, are all carefully inserted, side by side with biographical and other local details, always of interest to residents and often to the outside public. An extensive general geography of the empire was last published in 1745; and this was followed by a chronological geography in 1794.

Fa Hsien

The Chinese have always been fond of travel, and hosts of travellers have published notices, more or less extensive, of the different parts of the empire, and even of adjacent nations, which they visited either as private individuals or, in the former case, as officials proceeding to distant posts. With Buddhism came the desire to see the country which was the home of the Buddha; and several important pilgrimages were undertaken with a view to bring back images and sacred writings to China. On such a journey the Buddhist priest, Fa Hsien, started in A.D. 399; and after practically walking the whole way from central China, across the desert of Gobi, on to Khoten, and across the Hindu Kush into India, he visited many of the chief cities of India, until at length reaching Calcutta he took ship, and after a most adventurous voyage, in the course of which he remained two years in Ceylon, he finally arrived safely, in A.D. 414, with all his books, pictures, and images, at a spot on the coast of Shantung, near the modern German port of Kiao-chow.

HsOøΩan Tsang

Another of these adventurous priests was HsOøΩan Tsang (wrongly, YOøΩan Chwang), who left China on a similar mission in 629, and returned in 645, bringing with him six hundred and fifty-seven Buddhist books, besides many images and pictures, and one hundred and fifty relics. He spent the rest of his life in translating, with the help of other learned priests, these books into Chinese, and completed in 648 the important record of his own travels, known as the Record of Western Countries.

Philosophy. - Even the briefest rOøΩsumOøΩ of Chinese philosophical literature must necessarily include the name of Lao Tzu, although his era, as seen above, and his personality are both matters of the vaguest conjecture. A number of his sayings, scattered over the works of early writers, have been pieced together, with the addition of much incomprehensible jargon, and the whole has been given to the world as the work of Lao Tzu himself, said to be of the 6th century B.C., under the title of the Tao Te Ching. The internal evidence against this book is overwhelming; e.g. one quotation had been detached from the writer who preserved it, with part of that writer's text clinging to it - of course by an oversight. Further, such a treatise is never mentioned in Chinese literature until some time after the Burning of the Books, that is, about four centuries after its alleged first appearance. Still, after due expurgation, it forms an almost complete collection of such apophthegms of Lao Tzu as have come down to us, from which the reader can learn that the author taught the great doctrine of Inaction - Do nothing, and all things will be done. Also, that Lao Tzu anticipated the Christian doctrine of returning good for evil, a sentiment which was highly reprobated by the practical mind of Confucius, who declared that evil should be met by justice. Among the more picturesque of his utterances are such paradoxes as, "He who knows how to shut, uses no bolts; yet you cannot open. He who knows how to bind uses no ropes; yet you cannot untie"; "The weak overcomes the strong; the soft overcomes the hard," etc.

Chuang Tzu

These, and many similar subtleties of speech, seem to have fired the imagination of Chuang Tzu, 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., with the result that he put much time and energy into the glorification of Lao Tzu and his doctrines. Possessed of a brilliant style and a master of irony, Chuang Tzu attacked the schools of Confucius and Mo Ti (see below) with so much dialectic skill that the ablest scholars of the age were unable to refute his destructive criticisms. His pages abound in quaint anecdotes and allegorical instances, arising as it were spontaneously out of the questions handled, and imparting a lively interest to points which might otherwise have seemed dusty and dull. He was an idealist with all the idealist's hatred of a utilitarian system, and a mystic with all the mystic's contempt for a life of mere external activity. Only thirty-three chapters of his work now remain, though so many as fifty-three are known to have been still extant in the 3rd century; and even of these, several complete chapters are spurious, while in others it is comparatively easy to detect here and there the hand of the interpolator. What remains, however, after all reductions, has been enough to secure a lasting place for Chuang Tzu as the most original of China's philosophical writers. His book is of course under the ban of heterodoxy, in common with all thought opposed to the Confucian teachings. His views as mystic, idealist, moralist and social reformer have no weight with the aspirant who has his way to make in official life; but they are a delight, and even a consolation, to many of the older men, who have no longer anything to gain or to lose.


Confucius, 551-479 B.C., who imagined that his Annals of the Lu State would give him immortality, has always been much more widely appreciated as a moralist than as an historian. His talks with his disciples and with others have been preserved for us, together with some details of his personal and private life; and the volume in which these are collected forms one of the Four Books of the Confucian Canon. Starting from the axiomatic declaration that man is born good and only becomes evil by his environment, he takes filial piety and duty to one's neighbour as his chief themes, often illustrating his arguments with almost Johnsonian emphasis. He cherished a shadowy belief in a God, but not in a future state of reward or punishment for good or evil actions in this world. He rather taught men to be virtuous for virtue's sake.


Mo Ti

Yang Chu

HsOøΩn Tzu

Yang Hsiung

The discourses of Mencius, who followed Confucius after an interval of a hundred years, 372-289 B.C., form another of the Four Books, the remaining two of which are short philosophical treatises, usually ascribed to a grandson of Confucius. Mencius devoted his life to elucidating and expanding the teachings of the Master; and it is no doubt due to him that the Confucian doctrines obtained so wide a vogue. But he himself was more a politician and an economist (see below) than a simple preacher of morality; and hence it is that the Chinese people have accorded to him the title of The Second Sage. He is considered to have effectually "snuffed out" the heterodox school of Mo Ti, a philosopher of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. who propounded a doctrine of "universal love" as the proper foundation for organized society, arguing that under such a system all the calamities that men bring upon one another would altogether disappear, and the Golden Age would be renewed. At the same time Mencius exposed the fallacies of the speculations of Yang Chu, 4th century B.C., who founded a school of ethical egoism as opposed to the exaggerated altruism of Mo Ti. According to Mencius, Yang Chu would not have parted with one hair of his body to save the whole world, whereas Mo Ti would have sacrificed all. Another early philosopher is HsOøΩn Tzu, 3rd century B.C. He maintained, in opposition to Mencius, who upheld the Confucian dogma, and in conformity with Christian doctrine, that the nature of man at his birth is evil, and that this condition can only be changed by efficient moral training. Then came Yang Hsiung, 53-18 B.C., who propounded an ethical criterion midway between the rival positions insisted on by Mencius and HsOøΩn Tzu, teaching that the nature of man at birth is neither good nor evil, but a mixture of both, and that development in either direction depends wholly upon circumstances.

There is a voluminous and interesting work, of doubtful age, which passes under the title of Huai-nan Tzu, or the Philosopher of Huai-nan. It is attributed to Liu An, prince of Huai-nan, who died 122 B.C., and who is further said to have written on alchemy; but alchemy was scarcely known in China at the date of his death, being introduced about that time from Greece. The author, whoever he may have been, poses as a disciple of Lao Tzu; but the speculations of Lao Tzu, as glorified by Chuang Tzu, were then rapidly sinking into vulgar efforts to discover the elixir of life. It is very difficult in many cases of this kind to decide what books are, and what books are not, partial or complete forgeries. In the present instance, the aid of the Shuo Wen, a dictionary of the 1st century A.D. (see below), may be invoked, but not in quite so satisfactory a sense as that in which it will be seen lower down to have been applied to the Tao Te Ching. The Shuo Wen contains a quotation said to be taken from Huai-nan Tzu; but that quotation cannot be found in the work under consideration. It may be argued that the words in question may have been taken from another work by the same author; but if so, it becomes difficult to believe that a book, more than two hundred years old, from which the author of the Shuo Wen quoted, should have been allowed to perish without leaving any trace behind. China has produced its Bentleys in considerable numbers; but almost all of them have given their attention to textual criticism of the Confucian Canon, and few have condescended to examine critically the works of heterodox writers. The foreign student therefore finds himself faced with many knotty points he is entirely unable to solve.

Wang Ch'ung

Of Wang Ch'ung, a speculative and materialistic philosopher, A.D. 27-97, banned by the orthodox for his attacks on Confucius and Mencius, only one work has survived. it consists of eighty-four essays on such topics as the nature of things, destiny, divination, death, ghosts, poisons, miracles, criticisms of Confucius and Mencius, exaggeration, sacrifice and exorcism. According to Wang Ch'ung, man, endowed at birth sometimes with a good and sometimes with an evil nature, is informed with a vital fluid, which resides in the blood and is nourished by eating and drinking, its two functions being to animate the body and keep in order the mind. It is the source of all sensation, passing through the blood like a wave. When it reaches the eyes, ears and mouth, the result is sight, hearing and speech respectively. Disturbance of the vital fluid leads to insanity. Without the fluid, the body cannot be maintained; without the body, the fluid loses its vitality. Therefore, argues Wang Ch'ung, when the body perishes and the fluid loses its vitality, each being dependent on the other, there remains nothing for immortality in a life beyond the grave. Ghosts he held to be the hallucinations of disordered minds, and miracles to be natural phenomena capable of simple explanations. His indictments of Confucius and Mencius are not of a serious character; though, as regards the former, it must be borne in mind that the Chinese people will not suffer the faintest aspersion on the fair fame of their great Sage. It is related in the Lun YOøΩ that Confucius paid a visit to the notoriously immoral wife of one of the feudal nobles, and that a certain disciple was "displeased" in consequence, whereupon the Master swore, saying, "If I have done any wrong, may the sky fall and crush me!" Wang Ch'ung points out that the form of oath adopted by Confucius is unsatisfactory and fails to carry conviction. Had he said, "May I be struck dead by lightning!" his sincerity would have been more powerfully attested, because people are often struck dead by lightning; whereas the fall of the sky is too remote a contingency, such a thing never having been known to happen within the memory of man. As to Mencius, there is a passage in his works which states that a thread of predestination runs through all human life, and that those who accommodate themselves will come off better in the end than those who try to oppose; it is in fact a statement of the principle. On this Wang Ch'ung remarks that the will of God is consequently made to depend on human actions; and he further strengthens his objection by showing that the best men have often fared worst. For instance, Confucius never became emperor; Pi Kan, the patriot, was disembowelled; the bold and faithful disciple, Tzu Lu, was chopped into small pieces.

Book of Changes

But the tale of Chinese philosophers is a long one. It is a department of literature in which the leading scholars of all ages have mostly had something to say. The great Chu Hsi, A.D. 1130-1200, whose fame is chiefly perhaps that of a commentator and whose monument is his uniform exegesis of the Confucian Canon, was also a voluminous writer on philosophy. He took a hand in the mystery which surrounds the I Ching (or Yih King), generally known as the Book of Changes, which is held by some to be the oldest Chinese work and which forms part of the Confucian Canon. It is ascribed to King WOøΩn, the virtual founder of the Chou dynasty, 1122-249 B.C., whose son became the first sovereign and posthumously raised his father to kingly rank. It contains a fanciful system of divination, deduced originally from eight diagrams consisting of triplet combinations of a line and a broken line, either one of which is necessarily repeated twice, and in two cases three times, in the same combination. Thus there may be three lines , or three broken lines , and other such combinations as and . Confucius declared that he would like to give another fifty years to the elucidation of this puzzling text. Shao Yung, A.D. 1011-1077, sought the key in numbers: Ch'OøΩng I., A.D. 1033-1107, in the eternal fitness of things. "But Chu Hsi alone," says a writer of the 17th century, "was able to pierce through the meaning and appropriate the thoughts of the inspired man who composed it." No foreigner, however, has been able quite to understand what Chu Hsi did make of it, and several have gone so far as to set all native interpretations aside in favour of their own. Thus, the I Ching has been discovered by one to be a calendar of the lunar year; by another, to contain a system of phallic worship; and by a third, to be a vocabulary of the language of a tribe, whose very existence had to be postulated for the purpose.

Political Economy. - This department of literature has been by no means neglected by Chinese writers. So early as the 7th century B.C. we find Kuan Chung, the prime minister of the Ch'i state, devoting his attention to economic problems, and thereby making that state the wealthiest and the strongest of all the feudal kingdoms. Beginning life as a merchant, he passed into the public service, and left behind him at death a large work, parts of which, as we now possess it, may possibly have come direct from his own hand, the remainder being written up at a later date in accordance with the principles he inculcated. His ideal State was divided into twenty-one parts, fifteen of which were allotted to officials and agriculturists, and six to manufacturers and traders. His great idea was to make his own state self-contained; and accordingly he fostered agriculture in order to be independent in time of war, and manufactures in order to increase his country's wealth in time of peace. He held that a purely agricultural population would always remain poor; while a purely manufacturing population would risk having its supplies of raw material cut off in time of war. He warmly encouraged free imports as a means of enriching his countrymen, trusting to their ability, under these conditions, to hold their own against foreign competition. He protected capital, in the sense that he considered capitalists to be necessary for the development of commerce in time of peace, and for the protection of the state in time of war.

Mencius (see above) was in favour of heavily taxing merchants who tried to engross for the purpose of regrating, that is, to buy up wholesale for the purpose of retailing at monopoly prices; he was in fact opposed to all trusts and corners in trade. He was in favour of a tax to be imposed upon such persons as were mere consumers, living upon property which had been amassed by others and doing no work themselves. No tax, however, was to be exacted from property-owners who contributed by their personal efforts to the general welfare of the community. The object of the tax was not revenue, but the prevention of idleness with its attendant evil consequences to the state.

Wang An-shih

Wang An-shih, the Reformer, or Innovator, as he has been called, flourished A.D. 1021-1086. In 1069 he was appointed state councillor, and forthwith entered upon a series of startling reforms which have given him a unique position in the annals of China. He established a state monopoly in commerce, under which the produce of a district was to be used first for the payment of taxes, then for the direct use of the district itself, and the remainder was to be purchased by the government at a cheap rate, either to be held until there was a rise in price, or to be transported to some other district in need of it. The people were to profit by fixity of prices and escape from further taxation; and the government, by the revenue accruing in the process of administration. There was also to be a system of state advances to cultivators of land; not merely to the needy, but to all alike. The loan was to be compulsory, and interest was to be paid on it at the rate of 2% per month The soil was to be divided into equal areas and taxed according to its fertility in each case, without reference to the number of inhabitants contained in each area. All these, and other important reforms, failed to find favour with a rigidly conservative people, and Wang An-shih lived long enough to see the whole of his policy reversed.

Military Writers. - Not much, relatively speaking, has been written by the Chinese on war in general, strategy or tactics. There is, however, one very remarkable work which has come down to us from the 6th century B.C., as to the genuineness of which there now seems to be no reasonable doubt. A biographical notice of the author, Sun Wu, is given in the Shih Chi (see above), from which we learn that "he knew how to handle an army, and was finally appointed General." His work, entitled the Art of War, is a short treatise in thirteen chapters, under the following headings: "Laying Plans," "Waging War," "Attack by Stratagem," "Tactical Dispositions," "Energy," "Weak Points and Strong," "Manœuvring," "Variation of Tactics," "The Army on the March," "Terrain," "The Nine Situations," "The Attack by Fire," and "The Use of Spies." Although the warfare of Sun Wu's day was the warfare of bow and arrow, of armoured chariots and push of pike, certain principles inseparably associated with successful issue will be found enunciated in his work. Professor Mackail, in his Latin Literature (p. 86), declares that Varro's Imagines was "the first instance in history of the publication of an illustrated book." But reference to the Art Section of the history of the Western Han dynasty, 206 B.C.-A.D. 25, will disclose the title of fifteen or sixteen illustrated books, one of which is Sun Wu's Art of War.

Agriculture. - In spite of the high place accorded to agriculturists, who rank second only to officials and before artisans and traders, and in spite of the assiduity with which agriculture has been practised in all ages, securing immunity from slaughter for the ploughing ox - what agricultural literature the Chinese possess may be said to belong entirely to modern times. Ch'OøΩn Fu of the 12th century A.D. was the author of a small work in three parts, dealing with agriculture, cattle-breeding and silkworms respectively. There is also a well-known work by an artist of the early 13th century, with forty-six woodcuts illustrating the various operations of agriculture and weaving. This book was reprinted under the emperor K'ang Hsi, 1662-1723, and new illustrations with excellent perspective were provided by Chiao Ping-chOøΩn, an artist who had adopted foreign methods as introduced by the famous Jesuit, Matteo Ricci. The standard work on agriculture, entitled Nung ChOøΩng Ch'OøΩan Shu, was compiled by HsOøΩ Kuang-ch'i, 1562-1634, generally regarded as the only influential member of the mandarinate who has ever become a convert to Christianity. It is in sixty sections, the first three of which are devoted to classical references. Then follow two sections on the division of land, six on the processes of husbandry, none on hydraulics, four on agricultural implements, six on planting, six on rearing silkworms, four on trees, one on breeding animals, one on food and eighteen on provision against a time of scarcity.

Medicine and Therapeutics. - The oldest of the innumerable medical works of all descriptions with which China has been flooded from time immemorial is a treatise which has been credited to the Yellow Emperor (see above), 2698-2598 B.C. It is entitled Plain Questions of the Yellow Emperor, or Su WOøΩn for short, and takes the form of questions put by the emperor and answered by Earl Ch'i, a minister, who was himself author of the Nei Ching, a medical work no longer in existence. Without accepting the popular attribution of the Su WOøΩn, it is most probable that it is a very old book, dating back to several centuries before Christ, and containing traditional lore of a still more remote period. The same may be said of certain works on cautery and acupuncture, both of which are still practised by Chinese doctors; and also of works on the pulse, the variations of which have been classified and allocated with a minuteness hardly credible. Special treatises on fevers, skin-diseases, diseases of the feet, eyes, heart, etc., are to be found in great quantities, as well as veterinary treatises on the treatment of diseases of the horse and the domestic buffalo. But in the whole range of Chinese medical literature there is nothing which can approach the POøΩn Ts'ao, or Materia Medica, sometimes called the Herbal, a title (i.e. POøΩn Ts'ao) which seems to have belonged to some book of the kind in pre-historic ages. The work under consideration was compiled by Li Shih-chOøΩn, who completed his task in 1578 after twenty-six years' labour. No fewer than eighteen hundred and ninety-two species of drugs, animal, vegetable and mineral, are dealt with, arranged under sixty-two classes in sixteen divisions; and eight thousand one hundred and sixty prescriptions are given in connexion with the various entries. The author professes to quote from the original POøΩn Ts'ao, above mentioned; and we obtain from his extracts an insight into some curious details. It appears that formerly the number of recognized drugs was three hundred and sixty-five in all, corresponding with the days of the year. One hundred and twenty of these were called sovereigns (cf. a sovereign prescription); and were regarded as entirely beneficial to health, taken in any quantity or for any time. Another similar number were called ministers; some of these were poisonous, and all had to be used with discretion. The remaining one hundred and twenty-five were agents; all very poisonous, but able to cure diseases if not taken in over-doses. The modern POøΩn Ts'ao, in its sixteen divisions, deals with drugs classed under water, fire, earth, minerals, herbs, grain, vegetables, fruit, trees, clothes and utensils, insects, fishes, crustacea, birds, beasts and man. In each case the proper name of the drug is first given, followed by its explanation, solution of doubtful points, correction of errors, means of identification by taste, use in prescriptions, etc. The work is fully illustrated, and there is an index to the various medicines, classed according to the complaints for which they are used.

Divination, etc. - The practice of divination is of very ancient date in China, traceable, it has been suggested, back to the Canon of Changes (see above), which is commonly used by the lettered classes for that purpose. A variety of other methods, the chief of which is astrology, have also been adopted, and have yielded a considerable bulk of literature. Even the officially-published almanacs still mark certain days as suitable for certain undertakings, while other days are marked in the opposite sense. The spirit of Zadkiel pervades the Chinese empire. In like manner, geomancy is a subject on which many volumes have been written; and the same applies to the pseudo sciences of palmistry, physiognomy, alchemy (introduced from Greek sources) and others.

Painting. - Calligraphy, in the eyes of the Chinese, is just as much a fine art as painting; the two are, in fact, considered to have come into existence together, but as might be expected the latter occupies the larger space in Chinese literature, and forms the subject of numerous extensive works. One of the most important of these is the HsOøΩan Ho Hua P'u, the author of which is unknown. It contains information concerning two hundred and thirty-one painters and the titles of six thousand one hundred and ninety-two of their pictures, all in the imperial collection during the dynastic period HsOøΩan Ho, A.D. 1119-1126, from which the title is derived. The artists are classified under one of the following ten headings, supposed to represent the line in which each particularly excelled: Religion, Human Figures, Buildings, Barbarians (including their Animals), Dragons and Fishes, Landscape, Animals, Flowers and Birds, The Bamboo, Vegetables and Fruits.

Music. - The literature of music does not go back to a remote period. The Canon of Music, which was formerly included in the Confucian Canon, has been lost for many centuries; and the works now available, exclusive of entries in the dynastic histories, are not older than the 9th century A.D., to which date may be assigned the Chieh Ku Lu, a treatise on the deerskin drum, said to have been introduced into China from central Asia, and evidently of Scythian origin. There are several important works of the 16th and 17th centuries, in which the history and theory of music are fully discussed, and illustrations of instruments are given, with measurements in each case, and the special notation required.

Miscellaneous. - Under this head may be grouped a vast number of works, many of them exhaustive, on such topics as archaeology, seals (engraved), numismatics, pottery, ink (the miscalled "Indian"), mirrors, precious stones, tea, wine, chess, wit and humour, even cookery, etc. There is, indeed, hardly any subject, within reasonable limits, which does not find some corner in Chinese literature.

Collections. - Reprints of miscellaneous books and pamphlets in a uniform edition, the whole forming a "library," has long been a favourite means of disseminating useful (and other) information. Of these, the Lung Wei Pi Shu may be taken as a specimen. In bulk it would be about the equivalent of twenty volumes, 8vo, of four hundred pages to each. Among its contents we find the following. A handbook of phraseology, with explanations; a short account of fabulous regions to the N., S., E. and W.; notes on the plants and trees of southern countries; biographical sketches of ninety-two wonderful personages; an account of the choice of an empress, with standard measurements of the height, length of limb, etc., of the ideal woman; "Pillow Notes" (a term borrowed by the Japanese), or jottings on various subjects, ranging from the Creation to an account of Fusang, a country where the trees are thousands of feet high and of vast girth, thus supporting the California, as opposed to the Mexico, identification of Fusang; critiques on the style of various poets, and on the indebtedness of each to earlier writers; a list of the most famous bronze vessels cast by early emperors, with their dimensions, inscriptions, etc.; a treatise on the bamboo; a list of famous swords, with dates of forging and inscriptions; an account of the old Mongol palace, previous to its destruction by the first Ming emperor; notes on the wild tribes of China; historical episodes; biographical notices of one hundred and four poets of the present dynasty; notes on archaeological, supernatural and other topics, first published in the 9th century; notes for bibliophiles on the care of books, and on paper, ink, pictures and bric-OøΩ-brac; a collection of famous criminal cases; night thoughts suggested by a meteor. Add to the above, numerous short stories relating to magic, dreams, bilocation, and to almost every possible phase of supernatural manifestation, and the reader will have some idea of what he may expect in an ordinary "library" of a popular character. It must always be remembered that with the Chinese, style is of paramount importance. Documents, the subject-matter of which would be recognized to be of no educative value, would still be included, if written in a pleasing style, such as might be serviceable as a model.

Individual Authors. - In a similar manner it has always been customary for relatives or friends, sometimes for the trade, to publish the "complete works" of important and often unimportant writers; usually, soon after death. And as literary distinction has hitherto almost invariably led to high office under the state, the collected works of the great majority of authors open with selected Memorials to the Throne and other documents of an official character. The public interest in these may have long since passed away; but they are valued by the Chinese as models of a style to be imitated, and the foreign student occasionally comes across papers on once burning questions arising out of commercial or diplomatic intercourse with western nations. Then may follow - the order is not always the same - the prefaces which the author contributed from time to time to the literary undertakings of his friends. Preface-writing is almost a department of Chinese literature. No one ever thinks of publishing a book without getting one or more of his capable associates to provide prefaces, which are naturally of a laudatory character, and always couched in highly-polished and obscure terms, the difficulty of the text being often aggravated by a fanciful and almost illegible script. Prefaces written by emperors, many examples of which may be seen, are of course highly esteemed, and are generally printed in coloured ink. The next section may comprise biographical notices of eminent men and women, or of mere local celebrities, who happened to die in the author's day. Then will follow Records, a title which covers inscriptions carved on the walls of new buildings, or on memorial tablets, and also notes on pictures which the author may have seen, places which he may have visited, or allegorical incidents which he may have imagined. Then come disquisitions, or essays on various subjects; researches, being short articles of archaeological interest; studies or monographs; birthday congratulations to friends or to official colleagues; announcements, as to deities, a cessation of whose worship is threatened if the necessary rain or fair weather be not forthcoming; funeral orations, letters of condolence, etc. The above items will perhaps fill half a dozen volumes; the remaining volumes, running to twenty or thirty in all, as the case may be, will contain the author's poetry, together with his longer and more serious works. The essential of such a collection is, in Chinese eyes, its completeness.

Fiction. - Although novels are not regarded as an integral part of literature proper, it is generally conceded that some novels may be profitably studied, if for no other reason, from the point of view of style. With the novel, however, we are no longer on perfectly safe ground in regard to that decency which characterizes, as has been above stated, the vast mass of Chinese literature. Chinese novels range, in this sense, from the simplest and most unaffected tale of daily life, down to low - not the lowest - depths of objectionable pornography. The San Kuo Chih, an historical romance based upon a period of disruption at the close of the 2nd century A.D., is a delightful book, packed with episodes of battle, heroism, self-sacrifice, skilful strategy, and all that goes to make up a stirring picture of strenuous times. Its author, who might almost have been Walter Scott, cannot be named for certain; but the work itself probably belongs to the 13th century, a date at which the novel begins to make its appearance in China. Previous to that time, there had been current an immense quantity of stories of various kinds, but nothing like a novel, as we understand the term. From the 13th century onwards, the growth of the novel was continuous; and finally, in the 17th century, a point was reached which is not likely to be surpassed.The Hung Lou Meng, the author of which took pains, for political reasons, to conceal his identity, is a creation of a very high order. Its plot is intricate and original, and the dénouement startlingly tragic. In the course of the story, the chief clue of which is love, woven in with intrigue, ambition, wealth, poverty, and other threads of human life, there occur no fewer than over four hundred characters, each one possessed of a distinctive personality drawn with marvellous skill. It contains incidents which recall the licence tolerated in Fielding; but the coarseness, like that of Fielding, is always on the surface, and devoid of the ulterior suggestiveness of the modern psychological novel. But perhaps no work of fiction has ever enjoyed such vogue among literary men as a collection of stories, some graceful, some weird, written in 1679 by P'u Sungling, a disappointed candidate at the public examinations. This collection, known as the Liao Chai, is exceedingly interesting to the foreign student for its sidelights on folklore and family life; to the native scholar, who professes to smile at the subject-matter as beyond the pale of genuine literature, it is simply invaluable as an expression of the most masterly style of which his language is capable.

Drama. - Simultaneously with the appearance of the novel, stage-plays seem to have come into existence in China. In the earliest ages there were set dances by trained performers, to the accompaniment of music and singing; and something of the kind, more or less ornate as regards the setting, has always been associated with solemn and festive occasions. But not until the days of the Mongol rule, A.D. 1260-1368, can the drama proper be said to have taken root and flourished in Chinese soil. The probability is that both the drama and the novel were introduced from Central Asia in the wake of the Mongol conquerors; the former is now specially essential to the everyday happiness of the Chinese people, who are perhaps the most confirmed playgoers in the world. There is an excellent collection of one hundred plays of the Mongol dynasty, with an illustration to each, first published in 1615; there is also a further large collection, issued in 1845, which contains a great number of plays arranged under sixty headings, according to the style and purport of each, besides many others. There is one famous play of the Mongol period which deals largely in plot and passion, and is a great favourite with the educated classes. It is entitled Hsi Hsiang Chi, or the Story of the Western Pavilion; and as if there was a doubt as to the reception which would be accorded to the work, a minatory sentence was inserted in the prolegomena: "If any one ventures to call this book indecent, he will certainly have his tongue torn out in hell." So far as the written play is concerned, its language is altogether unobjectionable; on the stage, by means of gag and gesture, its presentation is often unseemly and coarse. What the Chinese playgoer delights in, as an evening's amusement, is a succession of plays which are more of the nature of sketches, slight in construction and generally weak in plot, some of them based upon striking historical episodes, and others dealing with a single humorous incident.

Dictionaries. - The Erh Ya, or Nearing the Standard, is commonly classed as a dictionary, and is referred by native scholars generally to the 12th century B.C. The entries are arranged under nineteen heads, to facilitate reference, and explain a large number of words and phrases, including names of beasts, birds, plants and fishes. The work is well illustrated in the large modern edition; but the actual date of composition is an entirely open question, and the insertion of woodcuts must necessarily belong to a comparatively late age (see Military Writers).

With the Shuo Wen, or Explanation of Written Words, we begin the long list of lexicographical works which constitute such a notable feature in Chinese literature. A scholar, named Hsu Shen, who died about A.D. 120, made an effort to bring together and analyse all the characters it was possible to gather from the written language as it existed in his own day. He then proceeded to arrange these characters - about ten thousand in all - on a system which would enable a student to find a given word without having possibly to search through the whole book. To do this, he simply grouped together all such as had a common part, more or less indicative of the meaning of each, much as though an English dictionary were to consist of such groups as






and so on.






and so on.

Hsu Shen selected five hundred and forty of these common parts, or Radicals (see Language), a number which, as will be seen later on, was found to be cumbrously large; and under each Radical he inserted all the characters belonging to it, but with no particular order or arrangement, so that search was still, in many cases, quite a laborious task. The explanations given were chiefly intended to establish the pictorial origin of the language; but whereas no one now disputes this as a general conclusion, the steps by which Hsu Shen attempted to prove his theory must in a large number of instances be dismissed as often inadequate and sometimes ridiculous. Nevertheless, it was a great achievement; and the Shuo Wen is still indispensable to the student of the particular script in vogue a century or two before Christ. It is also of value in another sense. It may be used, with discretion, in testing the genuineness of an alleged ancient document, which, if an important or well-known document before the age of Hsu Shen , would not be likely to contain characters not given in his work. Under this test the Tao Te Ching, for instance, breaks down (see Huai-nan Tzu).

Passing over a long series of dictionaries and vocabularies which appeared at various dates, some constructed on Hsu Shen's plan, with modifications and improvements, and others, known as phonetic dictionaries, arranged under the finals according to the Tones, we come to the great standard lexicon produced under the auspices, and now bearing the name of the emperor K'ang Hsi, A.D. 1662-1723.

But before proceeding, a rough attempt may be made to exhibit in English terms the principle of the phonetic as compared with the radical dictionary described above. In the spoken language there would occur the word light, the opposite of dark, and this would be expressed in writing by a certain symbol. Then, when it became necessary to write down light, the opposite of heavy, the result would be precisely what we see in English. But as written words increased, always with a limited number of vocables (see Language), this system was found to be impracticable, and Radicals were inserted as a means of distinguishing one kind of light from another, but without altering the original sound. Now, in the phonetic dictionary the words are no longer arranged in such groups as




Sun-god, etc.

according to the Radicals, but in such groups as




Gas-light, etc.

according to the phonetics, all the above four being pronounced simply light, without reference to the radical portion which guides towards the limited sense of the term. So, in a phonetic dictionary, we should have such a group as







and so on, all the above six being pronounced simply bound. To return to "K'ang Hsi," as the lexicon in question is familiarly styled, the total number of characters given therein amounts to over forty-four thousand, grouped no longer under the five hundred and forty Radicals of Hsu Shen, but under the much more manageable number of two hundred and fourteen, as already used in earlier dictionaries. Further, as the groups of characters would now be more than four times as large as in the Shuo Wen, they were subdivided under each Radical according to the number of strokes in the other, or phonetic part of the character. Thus, adopting letters as strokes, for the purpose of illustration, we should have "dog-nap" in the group of Radical "dog" and three strokes, while "dog-days" and "dog-meat" would both be found under Radical "dog" with four strokes, and so on. The two hundred and fourteen Radicals are themselves arranged in groups according to the number of strokes; so that it is not a very arduous task to turn up ordinary characters in a Chinese dictionary. Finally, although Chinese is a monosyllabic and non-alphabetic language, a method has been devised, and has been in use since the 3rd century A.D., by which the sound of any word can be indicated in a dictionary otherwise than by simply quoting a word of similar sound, which of course may be equally unknown to the searcher. Thus, the sound of a word pronounced ching can be exhibited by selecting two words, one having the initial ch, and the other a final ing. E.g. the sound ching is given as chien ling; that is ch[ien l]ing = ching.

The Concordance. - Considering the long unbroken series of years during which Chinese literature has always, in spite of many losses, been steadily gaining in bulk, it is not astonishing to find that classical, historical, mythological and other allusions to personages or events of past times have also grown out of all proportion to the brain capacity even of the most brilliant student. Designed especially to meet this difficulty, there are several well-known handbooks, elementary and advanced, which trace such allusions to their source and provide full and lucid explanations; but even the most extensive of these is on a scale incommensurate with the requirements of the scholar. Again, it is due to the emperor K'ang Hsi that we possess one of the most elaborate compilations of the kind ever planned and carried to completion. The P'ei Wen Yen Fu, or Concordance to Literature, is a key, not only to allusions in general, but to all phraseology, including allusions, idiomatic expressions and other obscure combinations of words, to be found in the classics, in the dynastic histories, and in all poets, historians, essayists, and writers of recognized eminence in their own lines. No attempt at explanation is given; but enough of the passage, or passages, in which the phrase occurs, is cited to enable the reader to gather the meaning required. The trouble, of course, lies with the arrangement of these phrases in a non-alphabetic language. Recourse has been had to the Rhymes and the five Tones (see Language); and all phrases which end with the same word form one of a number of groups which appear under the same Rhyme, the Rhymes themselves being distributed over five Tones. Thus, to find any phrase, the first point is to discover what is its normal Rhyme; the next is to ascertain the Tone of that Rhyme. Then, under this Tone-group the Rhyme-word will be found, and under the Rhyme-word group will be found the final word of the phrase in question. It will now only remain to run through this last group of phrases, all of which have this same final word, and the search - so vast is the collection - will usually yield a satisfactory result. The P'ei Wen Yen Fu runs of course to many volumes; a rough estimate shows it to contain over fifteen million words.

Encyclopaedias. - In their desire to bring together condensed, yet precise, information on a large variety of subjects, the Chinese may be said to have invented the encyclopaedia. Though not the earliest work of this kind, the T'ai P'ing Yu Lan is the first of any great importance. It was produced towards the close of the 10th century A.D., under the direct supervision of the emperor, who is said to have examined three sections every day for about a year, the total number of sections being one thousand in all, arranged under fifty-five headings. Another similar work, dealing with topics drawn from the lighter literature of China, is the T'ai P'ing Kuang Chi, which was issued at about the same date as the last-mentioned. Both of these, and especially the former, have passed through several editions. They help to inaugurate the great Sung dynasty, which for three centuries to follow effected so much in the cause of literature. Other encyclopaedias, differing in scope and in plan, appeared from time to time, but it will be necessary to concentrate attention upon two only. The third emperor of the Ming dynasty, known as Yung Lo, A.D. 1403-1425, issued a commission for the production of a work on a scale which was colossal even for China. His idea was to collect together all that had ever been written in the four departments of (1) the Confucian Canon, (2) History, (3) Philosophy and (4) General Literature, including astronomy, geography, cosmogony, medicine, divination, Buddhism, Taoism, arts and handicrafts; and in 1408 such an encyclopaedia was laid before the Throne, received the imperial approval and was named Yung Lo Ta Tien, or The Great Standard of Yung Lo. To achieve this, 3 commissioners, with 5 directors, 20 sub-directors and a staff of 2141 assistants, had laboured for the space of five years. Its contents ran to no fewer than 22,877 separate sections, to which must be added an index filling 60 sections. Each section contained about 20 leaves, making a total of 917,480 pages for the whole work. Each page consisted of sixteen columns of characters averaging twenty-five to each column, or a total of 366,992,000 characters, to which, in order to bring the amount into terms of English words, about another third would have to be added. This extraordinary work was never printed, as the expense would have been too great, although it was actually transcribed for that purpose; and later on, two more copies were made, one of which was finally stored in Peking and the other, with the original, in Nanking. Both the Nanking copies perished at the fall of the Ming dynasty; and a similar fate overtook the Peking copy, with the exception of a few odd volumes, at the siege of the legations in 1900. The latter was bound up in 11,100 volumes, covered with yellow silk, each volume being 1 ft. 8 in. in length by 1 ft. in breadth, and averaging over ½ in. in thickness. This would perhaps be a fitting point to conclude any notice of Chinese encyclopaedias, but for the fact that the work of Yung Lo is gone while another encyclopaedia, also on a huge scale, designed and carried out sonic centuries later, is still an important work of reference.

The T'u Shu Chi Ch'OøΩng was planned, and to a great extent made ready, under instructions from the emperor K'ang Hsi (see above), and was finally brought out by his successor, Yung ChOøΩng, 1723-1736. Intended to embrace all departments of knowledge, its contents were distributed over six leading categories, which for want of better equivalents may be roughly rendered by (l) Heaven, (2) Earth, (3) Man, (4) Arts and Sciences, (5) Philosophy and (6) Political Science. These were subdivided into thirty-two classes; and in the voluminous index which accompanies the work a further attempt was made to bring the searcher into still closer touch with the individual items treated. Thus, the category Heaven is subdivided into four classes, namely - again, for want of better terms - (a) The Sky and its Manifestations, (b) The Seasons, (c) Astronomy and Mathematics and (d) Natural Phenomena. Under these classes come the individual items; and here it is that the foreign student is often at a loss. For instance, class a includes Earth, in its cosmogonic sense, as the mother of mankind; Heaven, in its original sense of God; the Dual Principle in nature; the Sun, Moon and Stars; Wind; Clouds; Rainbow; Thunder and Lightning; Rain; Fire, etc. But Earth is itself a geographical category; and all strange phenomena relating to many of the items under class a are recorded under class d. Category No. 6, marked as Political Science, contains such classes as Ceremonial, Music and Administration of Justice, alongside of Handicrafts, making it essential to study the arrangement carefully before it is possible to consult the work with ease. Such preliminary trouble is, however, well repaid, the amount of information given on any particular subject being practically coextensive with what is known about that subject. The method of presenting such information, with variations to suit the nature of the topics handled, is to begin with historical excerpts, chronologically arranged. These are usually followed by sometimes lengthy essays dealing with the subject as a theme, taken from the writings of qualified authors, and like all the other entries, also chronologically arranged. Then come elegant extracts in prose and verse, in all of which the subject may be simply mentioned and not treated as in the essays. After these follow minor notices of incidents, historical and otherwise, and all kinds of anecdotes, derived from a great variety of sources. Occasionally, single poetical lines are brought together, each contributing, some thought or statement germane to the subject, expressed in elegant or forcible terms; and also, wherever practicable, biographies of men and women are inserted.

Chronological and other tables are supplied where necessary, as well as a very large number of illustrations, many of these being reproductions of woodcuts from earlier works. It is said that the T'u Shu Chi Ch'OøΩng was printed from movable copper type cast by the Jesuit Fathers employed by the emperor K'ang Hsi at Peking; also that only a hundred copies were struck off, the type being then destroyed. An 8vo edition of the whole encyclopaedia was issued at Shanghai in 1889; this is bound up in sixteen hundred and twenty-eight handy volumes of about two hundred pages each. A copy of the original edition stands on the shelves of the British Museum, and a translation of the Index has recently been completed.

Manuscripts and Printing. - At the conclusion of this brief survey of Chinese literature it may well be asked how such an enormous and ever-increasing mass has been handed down from generation to generation. According to the views put forth by early Chinese antiquarians, the first written records were engraved with a special knife upon bamboo slips and wooden tablets. The impracticability of such a process, as applied to books, never seems to have dawned upon those writers; and this snowball of error, started in the 7th century, long after the knife and the tablet had disappeared as implements of writing, continued to gather strength as time went on. Recent researches, however, have placed it beyond doubt that when the Chinese began to write in a literary sense, as opposed to mere scratchings on bones, they traced their characters on slips of bamboo and tablets of wood with a bamboo pencil, frayed at one end to carry the coloured liquid which stood in the place of ink. The knife was used only to erase. So things went on until about 200 B.C., when it would appear that a brush of hair was substituted for the bamboo pencil; after which, silk was called into requisition as an appropriate vehicle in connexion with the more delicate brush. But silk was expensive and difficult to handle, so that the invention of paper in A.D. 105 by a eunuch, named Ts'ai Lun, came as a great boon, although it seems clear that a certain kind of paper, made from silk floss, was in use before his date. However that may be, from the 1st century onwards the Chinese have been in possession of the same writing materials that are in use at the present day.

In A.D. 170, Ts'ai Yung, who rose subsequently to the highest offices of state, wrote out on stone in red ink the authorized text of the Five Classics, to be engraved by workmen, and thus handed down to posterity. The work covered forty-six huge tablets, of which a few fragments are said to be still in existence. A similar undertaking was carried out in 837, and the later tablets are still standing at a temple in the city of Hsi-an Fu, Shensi. With the T'ang dynasty, rubbings of famous inscriptions, wherein the germ of printing may be detected, whether for the style of the composition or for the calligraphic excellence of the script, came very much into vogue with scholars and collectors. It is also from about the same date that the idea of multiplying on paper impressions taken from wooden blocks seems to have arisen, chiefly in connexion with religious pictures and prayers. The process was not widely applied to the production of books until the 10th century, when in A.D. 932 the Confucian Canon was printed for the first time. In 981 orders were issued for the T'ai P'ing Kuang Chi, an encyclopaedia extending to many volumes (see above) to be cut on blocks for printing. Movable types of baked clay are said to have been invented by an alchemist, named Pi ShOøΩng, about A.D. 1043; and under the Ming dynasty, 1368-1644, these were made first of wood, and later of copper or lead, but movable types have never gained the favour accorded to block-printing, by means of which most of China's great typographical triumphs have been achieved. The process is, and always has been, the same all over China. Two consecutive pages of a book, separated by a column containing the title, number of section, and number of leaf, are written out and pasted face downwards on a block of wood (Lindera tzu-mu, Hemsl.). This paper, where not written upon, is cut away with sharp tools, leaving the characters in relief, and of course backwards, as in the case of European type. The block is then inked, and an impression is taken off, on one side of the paper only. This sheet is then folded down the middle of the separating column above mentioned, so that the blank halves come together, leaving two pages of printed matter outside; and when enough sheets have been brought together, they are stabbed at the open ends and form a volume, to be further wrapped in paper or pasteboard, and labelled with title, etc. It is almost superfluous to say that the pages of a Chinese book must not be cut. There is nothing inside, and, moreover, the column bearing the title and leaf-number would be cut through. The Chinese newspapers of modern times are all printed from movable types, an ordinary fount consisting of about six to seven thousand characters.

See J. Legge, The Chinese Classics (1861-1872); A. Wylie, Notes on Chinese Literature (1867); E. Chavannes, MOøΩmoires historiques (1895-1905); H.A. Giles, Chuang Tzu (1889), A Chinese Biographical Dictionary (1898), and A History of Chinese Literature (1901); A. Forke, Lun-HOøΩng (1907); F. Hirth, The Ancient History of China (1908); L. Giles, Sun Tzu (1910).

(H. A. GI.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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