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Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  109 ratings  ·  17 reviews
Perhaps nowhere else has literature been as conscious a collective endeavor as in China, and China's survival over three thousand years may owe more to its literary traditions than to its political history. This Very Short Introduction tells the story of Chinese literature from antiquity to the present, focusing on the key role literary culture played in supporting social ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published February 3rd 2012 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 27th 2011)
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Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended. The author wears her vast knowledge lightly, and without one's being expressly taught, one learns quite a lot about not only Chinese Literature, but also its History. Well, I finally learned that Laozi is not a man but the name of the compilation of the Dao! I always thought Lao Tse was someone like Confucius. Oh well. I also appreciated the author's passion for Chinese Poetry, which is truly unique and one of the wonders of humankind. ...more
Justin Evans
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
A surprisingly good little book. Every time I think I'm done with the VSI series, I find something like this. Knight tries to have a narrative; she deals with contemporary hot-buttons without letting said hot-buttons overwhelm the fact that a VSI has to actually, you know, introduce its subject matter rather than just complain about it; she deals with most of the books you've heard of and probably a few you haven't. Also, it's nicely written. I have no idea why people are complaining about it so ...more
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Very brief summary. Really too brief to be useful.
Feb 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The author was given an impossible task to summarize more than 2000 years of Chinese literature in about 150 pages. But I nevertheless learned a lot. I found the chapter on Chinese poetry, however, difficult to understand. That subject alone probably merited a separate book. As always, the books in this series have an excellent bibliography and suggestions for further reading.

This is the third book I have read in the series. I would recommend this series to any serious student who wants to get "
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Perfect if the reader tries to understand classical Chinese lit, as the main focus of the book is related to that. Very few books published after 1949 are presented there, which is somewhat understandable if we think in the longue durée of the Chinese history.
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a delightful summary of the entire history of Chinese Literature. It is a great place to start as it covers philosophy, poetry, drama, and modern fiction with sensitivity and intelligence.
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it
My interest in Chinese literature is primarily contemporary fiction, but I still found this little book very interesting. As you can see from the table of contents, it traces the foundations of modern literature in an intriguing way:
1.Foundations: ethics, parables and fish
2.Poetry and poetics: landscapes, allusions and alcohol
3.Classical narrative: history, jottings, and tales of the strange
4.Vernacular drama and fiction: gardens, bandits and dreams
5.Modern literature: trauma, movements and bus
Oct 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
The author has a wide-ranging knowledge of historical Chinese literature and explains trends, movements, and the intersection of history with literature so easily one isn’t aware of how difficult this task is. The final chapter is the lone exception. The author does not seem able to gain enough distance from the 20th century to describe it with a sufficiently cool eye, probably because the 20th century political categories overlap too much with our own. Yet the treatment of Chinese history and l ...more
Ray Du
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author does a good job of compressing three thousand years' Chinese literature into one little book, but the last chapter, which is about literature in modern China, seems to have been hastily composed, leaving out many notable authors like 贾平凹, 陈忠实,海子, etc. ...more
Amy Sturgis
Knight's book is very short (as the title suggests), and with a subject as vast as this one, that means a lot of important material doesn't get covered. For my specific purposes, however, I found this work to be very useful despite its brevity and broad strokes. ...more
Warren Tutwiler
Dec 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: translations
Good general overview up to the beginning of the 21st Century.
Ximing Dai
Ranging from traditional literacy like Five Classics to modern literature, this short introduction covers numerous Chinese literature forms. I especially favor the way he interprets "Climbing Stock Tower" in the Preface and the examples he gives (Debating alongside the Hao River and Reed Bank and Fishing Boat) in the first two Chapters. ...more
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Is it possible to survey one of the oldest bodies of world literature in barely 120 pages? No, of course it isn't. There are some strange gaps here (the 19th century is weirdly absent) and parts of the book appear rushed, but overall this book does its job of providing an efficient and intriguing survey of Chinese literature - it's certainly put a few new books on my reading list. ...more
Nov 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Simplified characters would have been appreciated. In the eBook version, the characters are pictures and when expanded to try to view them, they are blurred beyond distinction.

No poetry by Li Bai? The excerpts of two plays also seemed arbitrary and not illustrative. On the whole, a useful introduction for the interested and uninitiated.
Jackson Cyril
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
Life is much too short and there are far too many good books. While this is a wonderful survey of Chinese literature from its beginnings to the present, I do lament that I will probably never get to read many of these beautiful works (heck I haven't read most of the great works of Tamil and English literature). ...more
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: china
It is very short, and it touches on most of the basic works, but the coverage is so superficial as to render it barely above a wikipedia-level of understanding. I would seek another introduction if I have any further interest in this topic.
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Sabina Knight (桑稟華) seeks to bring Chinese literatures to broader audiences. Her _Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction_ (2012) tells the story of literary culture’s key role in the development and resilience of Chinese social and political institutions. From ancient historical records through the region’s early modernization and globalization, the ...more

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