- LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0116
- LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0116
“Traditional Criticism” is a label that deserves some explanation. By “Traditional China” is meant the linguistic production of pre-imperial and imperial China. During this period, texts which described, commented upon, or established rules of composition were written, published, and transmitted. Nonetheless no realm of literary theory and criticism existed as such until very recently. A similar issue would arise if one was to define literary criticism in the West. Theories such as those which developed in Europe and the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries are essential because they set the tone for this field of study, albeit very late and in a way marginally. As a consequence, the body of texts considered as criticism here includes works of different genres that focus on literature and composition or more loosely deal with these topics. All of them were selected because of their historical importance. Two specificities need to be underlined. The first one is the status of philology. In the West, literary criticism is intimately related to philology. In China, the philological approach is far too broad to be taken into account here. Also, it is more developed as a philosophical than a literary activity. Thus, philology will not appear here. The second is the object of criticism, e.g., literature. Until the Yuan (1273–1368), poetic genres such as fu 賦, shi 詩, and ci 詞 were prominent on the literary scene. Later on, the tradition of composing and commenting upon shi and ci continued. Throughout the period, there is hence a continuous thread of criticism and theory more specifically focused on poetic genres. This will be the object of this bibliography. Criticism dealing with opera/theater and novel are left aside. For those topics, see instead the relevant sections in the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles on Traditional Prose, Ming-Qing Fiction, and Traditional Chinese Drama. The first commentaries on poems that may be found in China were supposedly pronounced or written down by masters whose production is generally classified as philosophy. These labels are misleading, especially if we consider that poems, calligraphy, politics, etc., were all part of one behavior: that of an educated man. When, at the end of the Han (206 BCE–220 CE), literature progressively became a field of its own, short texts in different genres (fu or lun) as well as longer texts (anthologies, longer essays, or even treatises) were composed. It is with the Tang (618–907) that the tradition of writing short and scattered accounts on poems emerged. From then, shihua and cihua collections grow thicker. Despite their variety, all these texts develop on common grounds, such as a technical vocabulary which evolves through centuries and still is generally linked to previous uses within literary criticism, to contemporary schools of thought as well as to discourses on other activities like painting and calligraphy.
General Overviews and Background
It is quite exceptional to find an overview on conceptions of literature in books on Chinese classical literature such as Levy 2001, but Liu 1975, a very famous book, is dedicated to the issue. Outside of this general realm, some texts deserve to be mentioned because they shed light on specific (and cultural) aspects of Chinese criticism. It is interesting to look for the origins of a critical glance on literature as Chen 1951 does. It is also essential to understand with Holzman 1998 that although, as Cai 2000 demonstrates, there is no concept of “literature” as such until recent times, the activity of writing changed during the first centuries of our era and that it gave birth to a peripheral activity—e.g., literary criticism and thought—in the 3rd century CE. Still, it would be romantic and devious to consider literature as sharing identity with “L’art pour l’art” at the time: Idema and Haft 1997 shows that it was closely connected with political activities, whereas Martin 1998 provides us with a case study on the topic. This brings us to underline along with Kōzen 1996 the importance of judgment and hierarchy of authors and poems.
Cai, Zong-qi. “Wen and the Construction of a Critical System in Wenxin Diaolong.” CLEAR 22 (2000): 1–29.
One of two articles that Cai dedicated to the conception of literature in Liu Xie’s (b. c. 465–d. c. 521) work. This one focuses on its anachronistic approach to wen 文. It helps understand why modern readers found roots to early Chinese literary criticism very early—sometimes thinking of “literature” in a similarly anachronistic.
Chen, Shih-Hsiang. “In Search of the Beginnings of Chinese Literary Criticism.” In Semitic and Oriental Studies: A Volume Presented to William Popper. Edited by Walter J. Fischel, 45–63. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1951.
A very original approach to literary criticism which focuses mainly on two periods: the appearance of the word shi 詩 (poetry) and its association with other concepts during the Zhou dynasty and the new ideas associated with it during the 3rd to 5th centuries.
Holzman, Donald. “Literary Criticism in the Early Third Century A.D.” In Chinese Literature in Transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. By Donald Holzman, 113–149. Aldershot, UK, and Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998.
A chapter first published as an article in Etudes asiatiques (1974) which explains the rise of the concept of literature through texts by the Cao brothers (Cao Pi 曹丕 and Cao Zhi 曹植). Includes translations of fundamental texts on literature.
Idema, Wilt, and Lloyd Haft. “The Way and the Government: Truth and Literature.” In A Guide to Chinese Literature. By Wilt Idema and Lloyd Haft, 47–60. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies—The University of Michigan, 1997.
On the relationship between writing, politics, and government.
Kōzen, Hiroshi. “Views of Literature in Medieval China: From the Six Dynasties to the T’ang.” Acta Asiatica 70 (1996): 1–19.
Despite the precise historical framework of its title, this article uses texts of different nature (philosophical texts, fiction, prefaces, literary criticism) and from different periods to show how literature as a field appeared and what were the long-lasting trends of literary criticism that were founded during the Six Dynasties.
Levy, Dore J. “Literary Theory and Criticism.” In The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. Edited by Victor Mair, 916–939. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
A crystal-clear introduction to the forms of writings in which traditional criticism is embedded as well as to the major trends of literary thought through centuries.
Liu, James J. Y. Chinese Theories of Literature. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
Maybe the only book in a Western language analyzing traditional criticism per se. The perspective is not chronological: Liu presents different aspects of literary thought (metaphysical, deterministic and expressive, technical, aesthetic, pragmatic, interactive and synthetical dimensions). One particular work may include different dimensions of course. A foretaste of the input of Western concepts on the study of Chinese literary thought.
Martin, François. “Les joutes poétiques dans la Chine médiévale.” Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 20 (1998): 87–109.
Through a series of examples, this article shows what was the status and role of poetic composition at court and also demonstrates that most pieces were lost after a critical glance made a selection among them.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- 1989 People's Movement
- Agriculture, Origins of
- Ancestor Worship
- Anti-Japanese War
- Architecture, Chinese
- Assertive Nationalism and China's Core Interests
- Buddhist Monasticism
- Central-Local Relations
- Chiang Kai-shek
- Children's Culture and Social Studies
- China and Africa
- China and Peacekeeping
- China and the World, 1900-1949
- China's Agricultural Regions
- China’s Soft Power
- China’s West
- Chinese Communist Party Since 1949, The
- Chinese Communist Party to 1949, The
- Chinese Diaspora, The
- Chinese Nationalism
- Chinese Script, The
- Christianity in China
- Classical Confucianism
- Confucius Institutes
- Consumer Society
- Contemporary Chinese Art Since 1976
- Criticism, Traditional
- Cross-Straits Relations
- Cultural Revolution
- Daoist Canon
- Deng Xiaoping
- Dialect Groups of the Chinese Language
- Disability Studies
- Drama (Xiqu 戏曲) Performance Arts, Traditional Chinese
- Dream of the Red Chamber
- Economic Reforms, 1978-Present
- Economy, 1949-1978
- Economy, 1895-1949
- Emergence of Modern Banks
- Environmental Issues in Contemporary China
- Environmental Issues in Pre-Modern China
- Establishment Intellectuals
- Ethnicity and Minority Nationalities Since 1949
- Ethnicity and the Han
- Examination System, The
- Fall of the Qing, 1840-1912, The
- Falun Gong, The
- Family Relations in Contemporary China
- Fiction and Prose, Modern Chinese
- Film, Chinese Language
- Film in Taiwan
- Financial Sector, The
- Folk Religion in Contemporary China
- Folklore and Popular Culture
- Foreign Direct Investment in China
- Gender Issues in Traditional China
- Great Leap Forward and the Famine, The
- Guomindang (1912-1949)
- Han Expansion to the South
- Health Care System, The
- Heritage Management
- Heterodox Sects in Premodern China
- Historical Archaeology (Qin and Han)
- Hukou (Household Registration) System, The
- Human Origins in China
- Human Rights in China
- Imperialism and China, c. 1800-1949
- Intellectual Trends in Late Imperial China
- Islam in China
- Journalism and the Press
- Landscape Painting
- Language, The Ancient Chinese
- Language Variation in China
- Late Imperial Economy, 960-1895
- Law, Traditional Chinese
- Li Bai and Du Fu
- Liang Qichao
- Literati Culture
- Literature Post-Mao, Chinese
- Literature, Pre-Ming Narrative
- Local Elites in Ming-Qing China
- Local Elites in Song-Yuan China
- Management Style in "Chinese Capitalism"
- Mao Zedong
- Marketing System in Pre-Modern China, The
- Material Culture
- May Fourth Movement
- Media Representation of Contemporary China, International
- Medicine, Traditional Chinese
- Medieval Economic Revolution
- Middle Period China
- Migration Under Economic Reform
- Ming Dynasty
- Ming-Qing Fiction
- Modern Chinese Drama
- Music in China
- Needham Question, The
- Neolithic Cultures in China
- New Social Classes, 1895–1949
- One Country, Two Systems
- Opium Trade
- Orientalism, China and
- Poetics, Chinese-Western Comparative
- Poetry, Early Medieval
- Poetry, Traditional Chinese
- Political Art and Posters
- Political Dissent
- Political Thought, Modern Chinese
- Polo, Marco
- Population Dynamics in Pre-Modern China
- Population Structure and Dynamics since 1949
- Poverty and Living Standards since 1949
- Printing and Book Culture
- Prose, Traditional
- Qi Baishi
- Qing Dynasty up to 1840
- Regional and Global Security, China and
- Religion, Ancient Chinese
- Renminbi, The
- Republican China, 1911-1949
- Revolutionary Literature under Mao
- Rural Society in Contemporary China
- School of Names
- Sino-Hellenic Studies, Comparative Studies of Early China ...
- Sino-Japanese Relations Since 1945
- Social Welfare in China
- Sociolinguistic Aspects of the Chinese Language
- Su Shi (Su Dongpo)
- Sun Yat-sen and the 1911 Revolution
- Taiping Civil War
- Taiwanese Democracy
- Technology Transfer in China
- Television, Chinese
- Terracotta Warriors, The
- Tertiary Education in Contemporary China
- Texts in Pre-Modern East and South-East Asia, Chinese
- Township and Village Enterprises
- Traditional Historiography
- Tribute System, The
- Unequal Treaties and the Treaty Ports, The
- United States-China Relations, 1949-present
- Urban Change and Modernity
- Warlords, The
- Water Management
- Yan'an and the Revolutionary Base Areas
- Yuan Dynasty