Chinese Literature and Poetry
Literature in China
The Chinese Library is located at the Manchester City Library. This library was set up in 1986 when Chinese immigrants in Manchester had become an important part of Greater Manchester’s social, economic and cultural life. It remains the first comprehensive public Chinese library service in the UK and comprises newspapers, fiction and nonfiction for all ages.
Several mainstream Chinese and British-
As well as housing the Chinese Library, Manchester’s Central Library Service has supported smaller projects such as “Dim Sum Little Pieces of Heart”, an anthology of British-
Any remains of early Chinese writing generally fall into the categories of either philosophy or religious writings. During the Tang Dynasty (618-
Book Burning in the Qin Dynasty
Between 213 BCE and 206 BCE, a large book-burning programme was implemented by the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang (259 BCE – 210 BCE). Before the book burning, the different regions in what we now know as China were warring, and Emperor Qin unified China for the first time. His chancellor, Li Si (280 BCE – 208 BCE), advised him that to maintain stability, a China unified in ideals and expression, as well as by political rule, was necessary. This led to most of the classic philosophical schools, named the Hundred Schools of Thought, that had flourished over the centuries and suddenly became censored.
The only work from the Hundred Schools of Thought that survived was that of the school of legalism, which taught that men were inherently evil and needed strict laws and regulations to moralise them. The school of legalism was written by Li and the philosopher Han Fezi (280 BCE – 233 BCE). The only other schools that were spared were those written by the Qin scholars, such as history and war, medicine, agriculture and prophecy. These were the only disciplines not deemed to undermine Qin’s legitimacy as Emperor.
The main method of censorship was book burning and executing those who kept, read or used the “Classic of Poetry” or the “Classic of History”, two of the oldest Chinese texts. Individuals who used these texts to study, teach, or for leisure were punished or executed.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and Book Burning
The Cultural Revolution (1966-
In 1966, the Red Army (the Communist army of the People’s Republic of China composed of its youth) was ordered to find and destroy ‘The Four Olds’. These were old customs, old ideas, old culture and old habits. The residences and workplaces of those groups of people deemed rightist and anti-
During the 1990s large steps in China were taken to rebuild cultural sites destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Literature on liberal trends surfaced, for example, texts on feminism such as those by noted scholar Dai Jinhua (1959 – present), a Marxist feminist scholar.
The ancient Chinese organised their literature according to four categories. This system was called the sibu system and organised literature according to its content. Its origins are unclear, but its history is vast; it is used to organise the books in the Imperial Library at the beginning of the Later Han period (25-
The Manchester Museum at The University of Manchester and Manchester City Archives house the Thomas Bellot Chinese collections, which contain letters, books and manuscripts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including early examples of Chinese calligraphy, illustrated embroidery pattern books and books of Buddhist and Christian content. Bellot was a naval surgeon from Oldham Street, Manchester, who acquired many items from Hong Kong during his visit at the end of the Opium Wars in 1843. The collection came to the museum after Bellot’s death from yellow fever in 1857.
Other Chinese collections in Manchester are housed at the John Rylands Library. The bulk of the printed books and manuscripts was acquired in 1901 with the purchase of the Crawford collection. The foundation of Lord Crawford's collection was laid by his purchase en bloc of the library of Pierre Leopold van Alstein in 1863. After that, Crawford made further acquisitions from booksellers in Britain and Continental Europe and via agents in Beijing. The books are dated mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, although 28 items are dated before 1600. They include histories, biographies, ceremonials, dictionaries, grammar books, paintings and calligraphy.
See a selection of watercolours depicting everyday life in China in the John Rylands Library online Image Collection -
Almost every aspect of Chinese life and culture is represented with the omission of science and technology. There are roughly 1,000 watercolour paintings, mostly 18th-
Other collections include Tibetan and Mo-
Poetry in Manchester
In Manchester, Chinese poetry is flourishing. Mr Zhang Guo Qiang is a Chinese-
As well as poetry Mr Zhang had also written an autobiography (2008), describing his experiences of the wars and politics he was involved in whilst fighting for China between 1946 and 1949 when Chairman Mao established the People’s Republic of China and supported Korea against America.
“Poetry is one of the best ways to get to the heart of any language in a few words.”
~ Jenny Wong, Director MCC
Today, the Manchester Chinese Centre’s hugely successful annual North West Poetry Festival in May has stoked the creative fires of all Manchester and the UK interested in learning about the Chinese arts. Last year the festival comprised 122 entries, totalling more than 240 participants. Also participating in the festival was the Royal Northern College of Music, whose performance of ‘The Red Knot’, the true story of the Morecambe Bay tragedy where the incoming tide drowned more than 24 Chinese cockle pickers, presented many different Chinese art forms to a new audience.
The Book of Songs was compiled in the Zhou Dynasty (1122-
In the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-
During this time, a standardised form of creative writing emerged and flourished. Emperor Wu (156-
This evolved into what we recognise as the shi or classical style of poetry. This style has five or seven characters in a line, with a pause before the last three. Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, the ci style rose in popularity. This style expressed feelings of desire but addressed a wide range of topics. The next popularity shift saw the san qu form of poetry, a freer form, take the spotlight. With the invention of printing in the Tang Dynasty, poetry became much more easily accessible to all China’s rapidly increasing and literate population.