Ancient China Literature

There are many different types of literature that are known to have originated in Ancient China.

Many of these types of literature include books, poetry, history, religion and many other classical works.

Ancient Chinese Books

Even though there is proof that many things were written, during early Ancient China, there was not a way for people to copy or print writings and so most of these texts that were written only had one copy.

Some of the first books that were recorded were the Shih Ching books or the “Book of Songs.”

These books had over 300 different lyrics, folk songs and other types of songs.  Most of these songs were sung during festivals or ceremonies.

One book was called “The Book of Changes.”  This book was used to teach philosophy and to predict what was going to happen in the future.  This book was written to the Fu Xi emperor.

The Book of Changes

The “Classic of History,” is a book that was originally from the Han dynasty.  This book helped to tell people about the history of Ancient China.

The book had hundreds and hundreds of articles and it talked about the four dynasties:  Yu Shun, Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties.

“Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” was a book that was written during the Yuan Dynasty and it talks about the Chinese empire.  This book covered how the Chinese empire was divided.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Books About Education

Historical and education books were known throughout Ancient China.  These books were written so that people could learn and so they could learn and understand the world around them.

Some of the books of history were written to even teach people new words.  These books look similar to the dictionaries that we have today.

Confucius and Lao-tzu

Most of the books and documents that were written in Ancient Chinese were based around the words and works of Confucius and Lao-tzu.

Confucius and Lao-tzu were known to try to teach the Chinese how they should act and how they should behave.

They believed that people should follow the rules of the society and that they should be organized.

Confucius wrote “The Spring and Autumn Annals,” which was a journal that talked about the different states that he traveled in from the age of 14 years old and on.

Classic of Rites

The Classic of Rites was literature that was written so that the Chinese would know and understand the different ceremonies that would take place in China.

These writings helped to describe what the ceremonies were and what would happen during them.


The Huainanzi is one of the earliest writings in Ancient China.  These writings were used to help people in China to understand topography and geography.

The book was used to help people study these different subjects and it was written by Prince of Huainan.


Because poetry was considered to be such an important art and part of the Ancient Chinese culture, it is not surprising that many of the ancient texts that have been found were poetry books.

Those that had any type of education were required to read poetry and to be able to write it.  This was considered one of the most important works of art.

Some of the earliest poetry that has been discovered was written by Qu Yuan and Song Yu from the Chu state.  One book is called “Songs of the South,” and it was different Chinese poems.

Other poetry was written by people and it helped to influence the way that people wrote poetry.

Some interesting poetry works include: “Classic of Poetry,” “Nineteen Old Poems,” and “Five Classics of Confucianism.”

Classic of Poetry

Even though poetry was considered an art, many people would get in trouble for what kinds of poetry they wrote.

The group called, Seven Sages, got in trouble for writing poems against the leaders that were part of the Jin Dynasty.

Facts About Ancient Chinese Literature:

  • Cai Lun was the first person to create writing paper.
  • The Tang Dynasty was one of the biggest dynasties for writing poetry and many great poets came from this dynasty.
  • There are four different forms of writing from Ancient China.  These are codes, conversations, mandates and pledges.
  • Codes are laws and statutes that the Ancient Chinese were meant to follow.
  • Conversations were written words between the ministers and the emperors.
  • Mandates were rules to elect officials.
  • Pledges were promises made from the emperors.
  • The book called Great Learning, was a book that talked about the beliefs of Confucius.
  • The “Book of Changes,” was written to try and predict the future for the Ancient Chinese.
  • Some of the best Ancient Chinese novels include: “Water Margin,” “Journey to the West,” and “Dream of Red Chamber.”

What Did You Learn?

  • What were many of the Ancient Chinese texts written about?  Many of the Ancient Chinese texts were written to help others understand and learn about the beliefs of Confucius.
  • What was one type of important art that was also writing?  Poetry was an important art that was also writing.  This is considered one of the most important types of art and most people had to know how to write and to understand poetry.
  • What books were used to help people learn about geography?  Huainanzi literature was writing to help people learn about geography and topography of China.
  • What book was written to help the Ancient Chinese know about different ceremonies?  The “Classic of Rites,” was written to help the Chinese understand about different ceremonies that would take place.
  • What were the four different forms of writing that were mentioned?  Codes, Conversations, Mandates and Pledges were the four forms of writing that were mentioned.