Chinese literature began with record keeping and divination on Oracle Bones. The earliest classic work in Chinese, the I Ching or “Book of Changes” was dated to around 1000 BC. Many Chinese concepts such as Yin and Yang, Qi, Four Pillars of Destiny in relation to heaven and earth were all theorized in the dynastic periods. A flourishing of philosophy during the Warring States Period produced such noteworthy works as Confucius’s Analects and Laozi’s Tao Te Ching. The Tang Dynasty witnessed a poetic flowering, while the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literatures were written during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The I Ching 易经 [yì jīng], also known as Book of Changes, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. 易 [yì] indicates “change” or “the exchange or substitution of one thing for another”. 经 [jīng] here means “classic text”. The I Ching is a “reflection of the universe in miniature”. The book contains a divination system that forms a pattern reflecting the forces at work in the Universe at a particular point in time; in Western cultures and modern
1. Simplicity – the root of the substance. The fundamental law underlying everything in the universe is utterly plain and simple, no matter how abstruse or complex some things may appear to be.
2. Variability – the use of the substance. Everything in the universe is continually changing. By comprehending this one may realize the importance of flexibility in life and may thus cultivate the proper attitude for dealing with a multiplicity of diverse situations.
3. Persistency – the essence of the substance. While everything in the universe seems to be changing, among the changing tides there is a persistent principle, a central rule, which does not vary with space and time.
The concept of ‘yin yang’ 阴阳 [yīnyáng] is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. The concept lies at the origins of many classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary principle of traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts and exercise. Everything has both yin and yang aspects as light cannot exist without darkness and vice-versa, but yin and yang are not opposing forces, they are complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole as part of a dynamic system. The interaction of the two gives birth to things. Yin and yang transform each other like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall. The concept of yin and yang is often symbolized by various forms of the Taiji symbol, for which it is probably best known in western cultures.
The Four Great Classical Novels 四大名著 [sì dà míng zhù]:
1. Water Margin 水浒传 [shuǐ hǔ zhuàn] (14th century)
2. Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义 [sān guó yǎn yì] (14th century)
3. Journey to the West 西游记 [xī yóu jì] (16th century)
4. Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦 [hóng lóu mèng] (18th century)
They are among the world’s longest (some consist of over 120 chapters) and oldest novels, and are considered to be the pinnacle of China’s achievement in classical novels, influencing the creation of many stories, theater, movies, games, and other entertainment throughout East Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
The Song Dynasty was also a period of great scientific literature. There were enormous works of historiography and large encyclopedias, such as Sima Guang’s Zizhi Tongjian of 1084 AD or the Four Great Books of Song fully compiled and edited by the 11th century. Notable confucianists, taoists and scholars of all classes have made significant contributions to and from documenting history to authoring saintly concepts that seem hundred of years ahead of time. Many novels such as Four Great Classical Novels spawned countless fictional stories. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese culture would embark on a new era with written vernacular Chinese for the common citizens.
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