Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature vernacular fiction novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty. The introduction of woodblock printing during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) spread written knowledge throughout China. The author Lu Xun (1881–1936) is considered the founder of baihua literature (literature in the vernacular Chinese).
- Chinese literature in the twentieth century time and again was worn out and indeed almost suffocated because politics dictated literature: both the revolution in literature and revolutionary literature alike passed death sentences on literature and the individual. The attack on Chinese traditional culture in the name of the revolution resulted in the public prohibition and burning of books. Countless writers were shot, imprisoned, exiled or punished with hard labour in the course of the past one hundred years.
- As a foreign literature it is studied also by the Coreans, the Japanese, and the Annamites; and it may therefore be quite appropriately called the Classic Literature of the Far East. The civilization of all these nations has been affected by its study, perhaps even in a higher degree than that of the nations of Europe has been by the literatures of Greece and Rome. Millions received from it, in the course of centuries, their mental training. The Chinese who created it have through it perpetuated their national character and imparted some of their idiosyncrasies of thought to their formerly illiterate neighbors.
- The Chinese have no epic, and the drama did not originally exist in China. It was introduced by the Mongols, who held the throne of China for a century (1264-1368), and during this time all the best works were written for the stage. Novels, too, were not indigenous in China, but are said to have been introduced from Central Asia. Both novels and theatrical plays are written in a style approaching the colloquial language and are, therefore, not considered to form part of serious Literature. Nevertheless novels are devoured by the people, and plays are performed all the year round.
- Metaphor is frequently to be met with in their writings, and similes are abundant. They are fond of alliteration, and attention to rhythm is with them an essential part of composition. Gradation and climax are sometimes well sustained, while in description and dialogue they seem quite at home. But the most remarkable feature of Chinese composition, is the antithesis. Most of the principal words are classed in pairs, such as heaven and earth, beginning and end, day and night, hot and cold, &c. From antithetical words, they proceed to contrast phrases and sentences, and draw up whole paragraphs upon the same principle. In these antithetical sentences, the number of words, the class of expressions, the meaning and intonation, together with the whole sentiment, are nicely and exactly balanced, so that the one contributes to the perspicuity and effect of the other. Such a counting of words, and such a mechanical arrangement of sentences, would be intolerable in European composition, but are quite elegant and almost essential in Chinese.