Cover image for Chinese literature, ancient and classical
Chinese literature, ancient and classical
Lévy, André, 1925-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Littérature chinoise ancienne et classique. English
Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 168 pages ; 22 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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PL2266 .L48 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Andre Levy sets out in this slim volume to provide a picture of Chinese literature of the past. He does so not in lengthy dissertations on literature, but by blending the colors of approximately 120 vivid translations with his personal insights on these works, and then framing these readings in innovative historical accounts. The result is a brilliant illustration of the four basic literary groups of traditional China: the classics, poetry, prose, and the literature of entertainment. Although Levy relates literary evolution to parallels in political and social history, he is less dependent on the political chronology of dynasties than were previous histories of Chinese literature. His generic approach, moreover, provides a greater insight into how these literary types developed and why they became the foundations of Chinese literature.

In the first chapter, Levy sees the classics as a response to troubled times and argues for modern parallels. His treatment of prose as the second of these literary types reflects both Chinese taste and historical fact. Aware that Chinese critics have long argued their literature was essentially lyric, Levy offers 50 translations of various verse genres and reveals how they supplanted one another in popularity. The emphasis he accords the major genres of entertainment literature, drama, and the novel is a refreshing acknowledgment of the importance of these forms over the past seven or eight centuries. This emphasis also serves to illustrate the breadth of Chinese literature, tracing the origins of the novel, for example, to its semi-oral predecessors, or exploring the popular origins of various lyric forms. Levy provides an ideal introduction to thethree millennia of traditional Chinese literature.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Eminent sinologist Levy attempts an almost impossible task: to provide a general picture of ancient Chinese literature within the confines of a small book. First published in French (La litterature chinoise ancienne et classique, Paris, 1991), Levy's book is unique among the numerous published histories (in Western languages) of traditional Chinese literature because it is organized according to genres (classics, prose, poetry, drama, narrative literature, and so on) rather than according to the customary dynastic-political divisions. By following this approach Levy (Univ. of Bordeaux, France) is able to provide greater insight into how and why various types of literary forms developed in old China. At the same time, the author shows how and why literature was an essential part of ancient Chinese culture and civilization. Levy includes more than 100 translations, each of which is accompanied by commentary. His observations deserve close attention because they reveal numerous insights. This superb English translation by Nienhauser (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison; ed. of the two-volume The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, CH, Jul'87, Apr'99), one of the US's most accomplished China scholars, will make an ideal core text for undergraduate courses on traditional Chinese literature and culture as well as an excellent addition to all undergraduate and graduate library collections. J. M. Hargett; SUNY at Albany

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Antiquity
I Origins
II ""Let one hundred flowers bloom, Let the hundred schools of thought contend!""
1 Mo zi and the Logicians
2 Legalism
3 The Fathers of Taoism
III The Confucian Classics
Chapter 2 Prose
I Narrative Art and Historical Records
II The Return of the ""Ancient Style""
III The Golden Age of Trivial Literature
IV Literary Criticism
Chapter 3 Poetry
I The Two Sources of Ancient Poetry
1 The Songs of Chu
2 Poetry of the Han Court
II The Golden Age of Chinese Poetry