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Classical Chinese Prose

Classical Chinese Prose

In traditional concept about classical literature inChina, prose is the two authentic literature forms together with poetry.

In ancient time of Shang Dynasty (1600BC- 1100BC), there are historical prose to record events with concise words. In Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (770BC- 221BC), matured historical prose and philosophers’ prose are flourishing to provide ideas and strategies for the governors. The Book of History (Chinese:《尚书》), a record of documents and stories of ancient times, is the first collection of narrative and argumentative prose in China. Other important proses are historical collections Zuo Zhuan (Chinese:《左传》), the first complete historical work, and philosophers’ prose collected in The Analects of Confucius (Chinese:《论语》), Mencius (Chinese:《孟子》) and Zhuang-zi (Chinese:《庄子》).

In two Han dynasties (202BC- 220BC), biography was developed unprecedentedly with the great Records of Historian (Chinese:《史记》) by Sima Qian (Chinese:《司马迁》), which is a grand work and regarded as the model of biography. During this period, various forms of prose also appeared, and Fu (Chinese:) is the most important one which is polish with much antithesis sentences; and the best known works are Zi Xu Fu (Chinese:《子虚赋》) and Shang Lin Fu (Chinese:《上林赋》) by Sima Xiangru (Chinese: 司马相如).

In Tang Dynasty (618- 907), there is a ancient literature movement advocated by Han Yu (Chinese:韩愈) and later supported by Liu Zongyuan (Chinese:柳宗元). The purpose of this movement is to promote veritable ancient style prose and opposite flashy rhythmical prose popular in Southern and Northern dynasties (420- 589). In Song Dynasty (970-1279), great writers Su Shi, Su Xun, Su Zhe, Ouyang Xiu, Wang Anshi and Zeng Kong (Chinese:苏轼,苏洵,苏辙,欧阳修,王安石,曾巩) are following this movement with masses of prose. Together with Tang writers Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan, they are called “eight great essayists of the Tang and Song dynasties” (Chinese:唐宋八大家). Their writings, both lucid and smooth in style, had a profound effect on later prose writing.

Essays is a major form of pure literature in Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) which possess unique charm that absorbed quintessence of all past dynasties. In Qing Dynasty, proses are developed in a higher level and even detailed classified into 13 types by a best known school Tong Cheng School (Chinese:桐城派), and each type are well developed.

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