More and more foreigners start to learn Chinese. Writing in China dates back to the hieroglyphs that were used in the Shang Dynasty of 1700 – 1050 BC. Chinese literature is a vast subject that spans thousands of years. One of the interesting things about Chinese literature is that much of the serious literature was composed using a formal written language that is called Classical Chinese.
The best literature of the Yuan Dynasty era and the four novels that are considered the greatest classics are important exceptions.
However, even during the Qing Dynasty of two hundred years ago, most writers composed in a literary stream that extended back about 2,400 years. They studied very ancient writings in more or less the original written language. This large breadth of time with so many writers living in the various eras and countries makes Chinese literature complex.
Chinese literary works include fiction, philosophical and religious works, poetry, and scientific writings. The dynastic eras frame the history of Chinese literature and are examined one by one.
The grammar of the written Classical Language is different than the spoken languages of the past two thousand years.
This written language was used by people of many different ethnic groups and countries during the Zhou, Qin and Han eras spanning 1050 BC to 220 AD. After the Han Dynasty, the written language evolved as the spoken languages changed, but most writers still based their compositions on Classical Chinese.
However, this written language wasn’t the vernacular language even two thousand years ago. The empires and groups of kingdoms of all these eras were composed of people speaking many different native languages. If Europe had a literary history like China’s, it would be as if most European writers until the 20th century always tried to write in ancient Classical Greek that became a dead language more than two millennia ago.