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International Conference on Classical Literature: East and West

Karaikudi: Department of English and Foreign Languages, Alagappa University,

26-27 March 2008.

Classical Literature:
Chinese and the West

Tee Boon-Chuan, PhD.,

Malaysian Centre for Ethnic Studies,
New Era College-MALAYSIA.

The classical literature in China

Refers broadly to the literature in Pre-Qin
dynasties consisting of Xia, Shan and Zhou
from ca. 2070 BCE to 256 BCE;
But narrowly refers to the literature of two
late periods in Zhou dynasty, that is, The
Spring and Autumn Period (770 BCE-476 BCE)
and Warring States Period (475 BCE-221
The classical literature comprises 1,033
books in 13,029 volumes which makes up
about 0.82% of the 126,649 books with
1,700,000 volumes on traditional literature.

Fourfold division of classification

The classical literature has been classified
into four divisions, classical, historical,
specialised professional and literary:
i. classical (jing) consists of Confucian Six
Classics and finally Thirteen Classics in
ii. historical (shi) iii. specialised professional (zi, often
translated by others as philosophy) includes
Confucianism, Daoism, Legalists,
Agriculturalists, Military Strategists, Novelists
(later, Buddhism, Islam , etc).
iv. literary (ji) -

The dual status of Confucianism

Confucian literature is made up of two
i. specialised professional literature as
well as Daoism, Legalists , etc.;
ii. classical literature;
It means that Confucian rather than
Daoist or other literatures being
considered as a repository of truth for
the Chinese.

The nature of Confucian literature(1)

According to Aristotle (384 BCE-322 BCE),
the Pre-Roman classical literature in the West
could be divided into three divisions:
i. theoretical science, writings related to the
subjects on beings exist by nature, including
theology, philosophy, mathematics and
natural sciences;
ii. practical science, writings on various
human behaviours, including ethics,
economics, political science;
iii. productive science, writings on man-made
crafts and arts, include medicine, building,
rhetoric, poem , etc.

The nature of Confucian literature(2)

Confucian literature related neither to
theoretical nor productive interest, but its
primary concern was mainly practical:
i. The Collection of the Texts and The
Spring and Autumn Annals are historical
classics because it views history as a set of
didactic ideas that could be provided by a
study on the virtuous or evil conduct from the
early kings;
ii. The same practical function could be found
in other Confucian non-historical classics on
lexicology, literature, politics, ethics, rites
and metaphysics.

In comparison with the West

The Chinese classical literature was under the
lead of Confucian practical literature, in
comparison with the West which stresses on
theoretical science literature. This means that:
Under Confucian influence all serious
literature was bound to be didactic, and it
was literature which provided the models of
behaviour which Confucian education taught
men to imitate. Apart from the Classics the
other three branches of literature also had a
didactic function.