BY HERBERT A. GILES, Hon. LL.D. (Aberdeen)
Professor of Chinese in the University of Cambridge
Revised and greatly enlarged
Belly and Walsh, limited


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 December, 1922


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 efficiently explored.

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 wine.
H. A. G. 16th October, 1883.



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 premisses. 
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.


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.


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


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.