WLIT 110
Chinese Literature in Translation
Thousands of years of Chinese civilization have produced a uniquely rich Chinese literature. This course offers a brief introduction to the classical Chinese literature that is translated into English. Students learn to appreciate some of the most influential Chinese literary works and gain insight into the Chinese culture by reading and discussing translated samples in the following literary forms: poetry and prose before the Tang Dynasty, poems in the Tang Dynasty, lyric verses in the Song Dynasty, dramas in the Yuan Dynasty, and novels in the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. Readings and discussions are in English. This course enables students to "revisit" their interested area and do some in-depth study on their own in the future.

The following are the topics to be covered in the course:

China's Oldest Anthology of Poems: The Classic of Poetry

The Orthodox Doctrines of Old China: Confucianism and Daoism

China's First Great Poet Known by Name: Qu Yuan in the Warring States Period

China's First Comprehensive History in the Form of Biographical Records: Records of the Historian by Sima Qian

The Originator of the Chinese Pastoral Poetry: Tao Qian

The Golden Age of Chinese Poetry: Poetry in the Tang Dynasty

The Golden Age of Chinese Lyric Verses: Lyric Verses in the Song Dynasty

The Golden Age of Chinese Drama: Drama in the Yuan Dynasty

The Golden Age of Chinese Novel: Fiction in the Ming and the Qing Dynasties

Here are some sample classical Chinese literary works for you to enjoy.

A Poem from the Classic of Poetry (11th-6th centuries BC)

If you will love me dear, my lord,
I'll pick up my skirts and cross the ford,
But if from your heart you turn me out …
Well, you' re not the only man about,
You silly, silly silliest lout!

Single-Hearted Devotion

--A Passage by Mencius (372-289 BC)

Now, playing chess as a skill is insignificant. However, if one does not give single-hearted devotion to it, it won't be learned, just like any other skills.

Yi Qiu was known as an expert at the game throughout the land. Once he gave lessons on chess to two men. One of them was completely absorbed in his teaching, listening attentively to Yi Qiu while the other, who seemed to be listening, had his mind on something else. In fact, he was having a fancy that a swan was flying towards him and he had in his hands a bow and an arrow adorned with a long trailing silk tape, ready to shoot. As a result, though he was having the same lesson together with the first man, yet he turned out a much inferior pupil.

Should we say that the second man had a lower intelligence? No, that would not be true.

Call a Stag a Horse

--A Story from the Records of the Historian by Sima Qian (145-87? BC)

Zhao Gao, eager to usurp power, made a test to see if the officials would obey him or not. He presented a stag to the Second Emperor of Qin, describing it as a horse.

The emperor said with a laugh, "Haven't you made a mistake, prime minister? This is a stag, not a horse." But when he appealed to the officials present, some remained silent, other said it was a horse to please Zhao Gao, and yet others said it was a stag. Then Zhao Gao secretly impeached and punished those who had said it was a stag, after which all the officials were afraid of him.

Drinking Along under the Moon

--A Poem by Li Bai (701-762)

Amid the flowers, from a pot of wine
I drink alone beneath the bright moonshine.
I raise my cup to invite the Moon who blends
Her light with my Shadow and we're three friends.
The Moon does not know how to drink her share;
In vain my Shadow follows me here and there.
Together with them for the time I stay
And make merry before spring's spent away.
I sing and the Moon lingers to hear my song;
My shadow's a mess while I dance along.
Sober, we three remain cheerful and gay;
Drunken, we part and each may go his way.
Our friendship will outshine all earthly love,
Next time we'll meet beyond the starts above.

Hut among the Bamboos

--A Poem by Wang Wei (701-761)

Sitting among bamboos alone,

I play my lute and croon carefree.

In the deep woods where I'm unknown,

Only the bright moon peeps at me.

The Lantern Festival

--A Lyric Verse by Xin Qiji (1140-1207)

Lanterns look like thousands of flowers aglow;
Later like stars, from the skies, fallen below.
On main streets, horses and carriages ply.
There, ladies shed perfume, as they pass by.
Orchestral music and song greet our ears,
As the moon, slow and steady, eastward veers.
Of the Spring Festival, this night marks the end.
The whole night, capering, carps and dragons spend.

Adorned with ribbons or paper flowers on their head,
Clad in their best raiment, something bright or red,
Women squeeze their way among the festive crowd,
As they talk and laugh; even giggle aloud.
Rouged and powdered; perfumed to their heart's content,
They cannot but leave behind a subtle scent.
Up and down the main streets, I must have run—
A thousand times or more in quest of one,
Who I have concluded, cannot be found;
For, everywhere, no trace of her can be seen,
When, all of a sudden, I turned about,
That's her, where lanterns are few and far between.