HERBERT A. GILES, Hon. LL.D. (Aberdeen)
A SECOND edition of this book has been long overdue, blocked,
like many other enterprises, by the war. Its aim will be found
fully set forth in the extract, given below, from the preface to
the first edition. That edition has been carefully revised,
and by many additional translations has been doubled in size and
brought down to the present day. Short biographical notices will
now be found with all the authors quoted, whose names have further
been given in an English-Chinese index, as a means of easy
identification by students. Poems have been omitted; they are to
appear in a separate volume.
HERBERT A. GILES
The present volume is a venture in a new direction. English
readers will search in vain for any work leading to an acquain-
tanceship, however slight, with the general literature of China.
Dr. Legge's colossal labours have indeed placed the canonical books
of Confucianism within easy reach of the curious; but the immense
bulk of Chinese authorship is still virgin soil and remains to be
I have therefore ventured to offer an instalment of short
extracts from the works of the most famous writers of all ages,
upon which time has set an approving seal. These are chrono-
logically arranged, and cover a period extending from 550 B.C. to
A.D. 1650 -- two thousand two hundred years. Short biographical
and dynastic notices will be found scattered through the volume in their proper places; also such brief foot-notes as seemed to me
necessary to the occasion.
" Untold treasures," says Professor G. von der Gabelentz,
" lie hidden in the rich lodes of Chinese literature." Now without
committing myself to exaggeration or misdirection as to the practical
value of these treasures, I dare assert that the old pride, arrogance,
and exclusiveness of the Chinese are readily intelligible to any one
who has faithfully examined the literature of China and hung
over the burning words of her great writers. I do not flatter
myself that all the extracts given will be of equal interest to all
readers. I have not catered for any particular taste, but have
striven to supply a small handbook of Chinese literature, as complete
as circumstances would permit.
In the process of translation I have kept verbal accuracy
steadily in view, so that the work may be available to students of
Chinese in one sense as a key. But with due regard to the
requirements of a general public, impatient of long strings of
unpronounceable names and of allusions which for the most part
would be shorn of all meaning and point, I have eliminated these,
wherever it was possible to do so without obscuring or otherwise
interfering with the leading idea in the text. I have also been
compelled sometimes to expand and sometimes to compress; -- on
the one hand, by an extreme grammatical terseness, intelligible
enough in the original ; on the other, by a redundancy of expression,
which, while offering wide scope for literary tours de force
(compare Psalm cxix.), contrasts strangely with the verbal
condensation aforesaid. It must however always be borne in mind
that translators are but traitors at the best, and that translations
may be moonlight and water while the originals are sunlight and
H. A. G.
16th October, 1883.
NOTE ON CHINESE LITERATURE
THE CHOU AND CH'IN DYNASTIES: 550-200 B.C.
The texts of this period may be described as rude and rugged in style,
but full of vigorous expression, and unmatched in dramatic power. Many
scenes in the Tso Chuan are brought as vividly before the mind of the
reader as are the incidents of the Iliad and Odyssey. Unfortunately, such
excellences depend upon something beyond the reach of a translator, who has
to be content with a barely approximate result.
In poetry, excluding the Odes, we have the beautiful but in some cases
terribly obscure Rhapsodies, chiefly from the pen of Ch'u P'ing, who might
not inaptly be compared with Pindar in diction and wealth of words. In
philosophy, the subtle speculations of Mo Ti, Yang Chu, and Chuang Tzu
the great exponent of the doctrines enunciated by Lao Tzu, would beyond all
doubt have commanded a hearing in the contemporary schools of Greece.
THE HAN DYNASTY : 200 B.C. TO A.D. 200.
The literature of the Hans reflects the stateliness of the age. It is
further distinguished by a tone of practical common sense, strikingly and
logically expressed. The meanings of words were still however by no means
accurately fixed, neither had the written language reached that degree of
stylistic polish it was ultimately destined to acquire. Consequently, the
scrupulous translator often finds himself involved in a maze of impossible
collocations, from which he has to extricate himself by the clue of logic alone.
Yet it was under such conditions that Ssu-ma Ch'ien -- truly named the
Herodotus of China -- committed to writing his most splendid history, and
Ch'ao Ts'o drew faithful conclusions from long and elaborately worded
The poetry of the period may be dismissed as wanting in that esssential
which differentiates poetry from didactic verse. The philosophers of the day
occupied themselves chiefly in editing and commenting upon the sacred books.
Their interpretations were duly accepted for many centuries until at length
doomed to pale in the flood of a brighter light. (See Chu Hsi). This was
also the age of forgery on a grand scale, extending even to the end of the 3rd
century a.d. To the labours of forgers of this time we are probably indebted
for the bulk of the Tao Te Ching, the work of Lieh Tze, many chapters of
Chuang Tzu, etc.
iv GEMS OF CHINESE LITERATURE.
THE SIX DYNASTIES: A.D. 200-600.
This period was virtually an interregnum, an age of literary stagnation.
Though covering no fewer than four centuries, it produced but one really great
writer, in consequence, probably, of the disturbed and unsatisfactory state of
public affairs, so unfavourable to the development of literary talent. It was
during these years that Buddhism took the firm grip upon the religious
susceptibilities of the Chinese people which it holds at the present day.
THE T'ANG DYNASTY: A.D. 600-900.
With the final establishment of the above dynasty authorship rapidly
revived. It was the epoch of glittering poetry (untranslatable, alas!), of
satire, of invective, of irony, and of opposition to the strange and fascinating
creed of Buddha. Imagination began to come more freely into play, and the
language to flow more easily and more musically, as though responsive to the
demands of art.
THE SUNG DYNASTY: A.D. 900-1200.
This was admittedly the Elizabethan age of Chinese literature. More
great writers in all branches flourished under this than under any other
dynasty before or since. Their styles are massive and grand, without gram-
matical flaw, exquisitely cadenced, and thrilling the reader with an inexpressible
thrill. They exhibit to perfection what the Rev. Arthur Smith, a most
accurate writer on Chinese topics, calls "an indescribable loftiness of style,
which resembles expression in music."
The poetry of the age is second only to that of the T'angs. The
historians rank with, but after, their famous predecessor of the Han dynasty.
But Chu Hsi swept away the existing interpretations of Confucianism, and
established his own for ever.
THE YUAN AND MING DYNASTIES: A.D. 1200-1644.
Under the Yuan (Mongol) and Ming dynasties, literary execution
remained stationary as regards accuracy of structure and balance of sentences.
Imaginative power became visibly weaker, to decline later on to a still lower
level of rule-and-line mediocrity. These two dynasties have been bracketed
together ; partly because it is impossible to say exactly when the Mongol dynasty
either began or ended, and partly because the dates so far assigned have been
NOTE ON CHINESE LITERATURE.
more nominal than exact. Further, the Mongols, detested aliens, held sway
for such a comparatively short period that they hardly left any characteristic
mark on the face of Chinese literature.
THE CH'ING (MANCHU) DYNASTY: a.d. 1644-1912.
The first edition of this book ended with the collapse of the Ming
dynasty and the establishment of Manchu rule. I then contented myself by
saying that the literature of the present dynasty has hardly passed beyond
the limits of essayism and artificial verse. The book-market is flooded with
collections of essays and poems on themes chosen from the sacred books,
logically worded and correctly constructed, but wanting in the chief feature of
the work of genius -- originality of thought. Still from a literary point of
view, there have been not a few elegant composers both of poetry and of prose.
Chief among these we may reckon LAN LU-CHOU, author of the Whole Duty
of Woman, and of a vast number of essays on a variety of subjects; also
Tseng Kuo-fan, the hero of the T'ai-p'ing rebellion, and father of the present
Ambassador to Western Powers. As an actual specimen of the best style of
modern composition, I may draw the reader's attention to the Chinese preface,
in cursiv-schrift, which adorns the cover of the first edition of this book.
It was very kindly written for me by a rising young graduate of Foochow,
named Nien Yun-ting, through the medium of my friend, Mr. Ku Hung-Ming (M.A., Edinburgh), to whose wide acquaintance with the literatures
and philosophies of China, England, France, Germany, and Ancient Greece and
Rome, I am indebted for many luminous suggestions. This preface runs as
follows : --
"For sixteen years past I have been a diligent student of the language
and literature of the Chinese people. I have now attempted to render into
the English tongue specimens of their standard authors of past ages, in the
hope that my countrymen may thereby learn something of the literary
achievements of a great empire, whose inhabitants held learning in high
esteem when our own painted forefathers were running naked and houseless
in the woods and living on berries and raw meat." *
In this second edition I have included extracts from the two writers
mentioned above, as well as others from the pens of distinguished men of this
dynasty, down to quite recent times, concluding with specimens of the matter
and style of a brilliant Republican author and statesman who is still working
for his country's good. It is usual to make light of Manchu scholarship; perhaps because of the ease with which they were allowed to obtain the coveted degrees. I have not been able to insert any specimen of Manchu style or imagination in the following collection ; it should always be remembered, how- ever, that the two Emperors, K'ang Hsi and Ch'ien Lung, by their production of most important works of reference, -- the standard lexicon of the Chinese language, more than one huge encyclopaedia, an enormous dictionary of literary phraseology of all ages, new editions of classical and historical works, etc., etc. -- have placed Chinese scholars, native and foreign, under a deeper obligation than all the other Emperors of China put together.
* "My poor friend, the young master of arts who indited the preface for your Gems,
is dead, and has not left his peer." -- Letter of 12th August, 1883.