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Chinese Literature Masters

A number of literature masters have distinguished themselves for their outstanding contributions to the rich pool of Chinese literature, and are entitled to being acclaimed as “masters”.

Qu Yuan, Chinese Poet
Qu Yuan, author of Li Sao (离骚), credited for initiating the romanticist tradition in Chinese classic literature.
Qu Yuan (340~278 BC) is the earliest poetry master and is often credited for having initiated the romanticist tradition in Chinese classic literature. Poetry blossomed in full scale in Tang Dynasty when more poets were to be remembered by later generations. Presently, three Tang poets are hailed as the “top three poets” in Chinese literature: Li Bai (701~762), Du Fu (712~770), and Bai Juyi (772~846), though more poets had enjoyed equal fame: Wang Wei (701~761), Wang Bo (650~675), Li Shangyin (812~858), Du Mu (803~852), Li He (790~816), etc. The Chinese would crown some of these poets with special titles according to their poetic styles. For example, Li Bai is called “the God of Poetry”, Du Fu “the Sage of Poetry”, Bai Juyi “the Monster of Poetry”, Wang Wei “the Buddha of Poetry”, Li He “the Ghost of Poetry”, etc. Poetry was to be enriched by poets of later dynasties, too, though generally considered with lesser achievements (because, as some would explain mockingly, the Tang poets have almost exhausted the Chinese poetic inspirations!). Ouyang Xiu (1007~1073), Wang Anshi (1021~1086), Su Shi (1037~1101), and Lu You (1125~1201) of the Song Dynasty, Gao Qi (1336~1373) of the Ming, and Zheng Banqiao (1693~1765) of the Qing are among the best-known poets.

Drama has been relatively younger then other literature genres. Guan Hanqing (1220~1300), Bai Pu (1226~1306), Ma Zhiyuan (1250~1321), and Zheng Guangzu (?~?) are collectively called the “Four Great Playwrights of the Yuan Dynasty”. Another playwright worthy of note in roughly the same period is Wang Shifu (1260~1336) whose Romance of the West Chamber (Xi Xiang Ji) has remained a most popular Chinese classic drama. The Most notable Chinese classic dramatic playwright is indisputably Tang Xianzu (1550~1616) of the Ming Dynasty, who is sometimes styled as “Shakespeare of the Orient”. The Peony Pavilion (Mu Dan Ting) by Tang Xianzu is the most frequently piece played in Chinese Kunqu Opera.

Sima Qian, author of Si Ji 史记, The Records of the Grand Historian
Sima Qian, author of Si Ji (史记, The Records of the Grand Historian)
In the aspect of prose literature, masters emerged in each and every dynasty. Sima Xiangru (179~118 BC) of the Han Dynasty was largely responsible for establishing fu (rhymed prose) as a literary genre which were to remain a longstanding style of Chinese classic literature. Sima Qian (145~87 BC), famed for his Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji), was to exert profound influence on prose literature of later dynasties, as the Records not only laid the foundation for later Chinese historiography, but also served as model texts for various types of later Chinese prose, for instance, within the neo-classical prose literature movement of the Tang-Song period. Eight literature masters of the Tang-Song period were to be collectively called the “Eight Great Prose Master of the Tang and Song”: Han Yu (768~824), Liu Zongyuan (773~819), Ou Yangxiu (1007~1073), Wang Anshi (1021~1086), Su Shi (1037~1101), Su Xun (1009~1066), Su Zhe (1039~1112), and Zeng Gong (1019~1083). The dominant prose style of Qing Dynasty was the Tongcheng School, represented by Fang Bao (1668~1749) and Yao Nai (1731~1815). And perhaps, another writer worth noting in the same period is Cao Xueqin (1715~1763), whose The Dreams of the Red Mansions represents the summit of Chinese classic novels.

Chinese modern literature (in Chinese contexts referring to the literature of the era of the Republic of China (1912~1949) mainly) was like the sky dotted with numerous literature stars: Lu Xun (1881~1936), Zhou Zuoren (1885~1967), Hu Shi (1891~1962), Shen Congwen (1902~1988), Yu Dafu (1896~1945), Xu Zhimo (1897~1931), Guo Moruo (1892~1978), Mao Dun (1896~1981), Ba Jin (1904~2005), Zhu Ziqing (1898~1948), Shu Qingchun (1899~1966), Cao Yu (1910~1966), etc.


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