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The Australian National University

ASIA 2003 Chinese Literature

Course convenor: Professor John Minford
Thursdays starting on 19 February until 28 May, 11:00am – 1:00pm
Seminar Rooms, China in the World Building #188

This course of lectures will explore the extraordinarily rich tradition of Chinese literature from its beginnings to the end of the Tang dynasty (tenth century, CE). It will observe the spirit in which the Chinese have written and read, the ways in which they have commented on, creatively participated in and borrowed from, quoted, adapted, stolen, and copied their own literary heritage, and how they continue to do so. Above all it will discover how central literature is to the whole culture and society of China, perhaps more so than is the case with any other of the world’s cultures. Chinese literature remains as vital in the Chinese world today, for its creators, thinkers, writers, politicians and readers, as at any time in that country’s long history.

Chinese literary creativity is a different way of doing things, of viewing the written word and the Art of Letters. The legacy of literature binds together the Chinese present and its past. It also challenges many of our own, Western, preconceptions, and offers an inspiration to today’s writers and students of literature throughout the world, opening up exciting new possibilities.

These lectures are part of the undergraduate course labeled ASIA2003, offered by the Department of East Asian Studies, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific, and are concurrently run as an open seminar series hosted by the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW).

John Minford was educated at Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1968 with a degree in Chinese Studies. Over the subsequent fifteen years he worked closely with David Hawkes on the Penguin Classics version of the eighteenth-century novel The Story of the Stone. He came to Canberra in 1977 and studied for his PhD under the late Liu Ts’un-yan. He went on to translate for Viking/Penguin a selection from Pu Songling’s Strange Tales and Sunzi’s The Art of War. His most recent book is a new translation, with commentary, of The Book of Changes. Since 2006 he has been Professor of Chinese at the ANU.

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Course Schedule - Semester 1

Week Date Summary of Activities Readings

19 February

Introduction: The Chinese Language and script as a vehicle for literature; early Chinese concepts of literature, the Rhapsody on Literature.

A literary masterpiece is that which restores the secret relationship between things, and the breath that animates them as well. Through wen man may come to understand the mystery of nature, and hereby his own nature.

- Francois Cheng

pp. 267-281, 307-311.


26 February

The Earliest Poetry: The Book of Songs, beginning with twenty different versions and interpretations of the first Song ‘The Ospreys’, Guan Ju.
The Songs of the South. Qu Yuan, China’s first poet.

Throughout his work he bares his breastto us, examines his motives, admits his doubts, reveals his aspirations…

- David Hawkes

Location: CIW Library

pp.  69-97, 237-259.


5 March

Special Lecture - The Story of the Stone

Stone Chapter 1


12 March

The Rhapsody: Ballads, Folksongs, Poets of the Han dynasty, lyric poetry, nineteen old poems.

pp. 267-281, and 307-311.


19 March

Early Prose Narrative: the Zuo zhuan of Zuo Qiuming, the Shiji / Records of the Grand Historian of Sima Qian, Zhuangzi, and Liezi.

pp. 165-177, 212-219, 226-234, 330-351.


26 March

Coteries: The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, and The Orchid Pavilion pp. 445-474, 479-488.

2 April

Two Nature Poets: The ‘Gentleman of the Five Willow Trees’: Tao Yuanming; 'The Murmuring Stream': Xie Lingyun. pp. 493-519, 524-530.

6-17 April

Teaching Break  

23 April

Spirits and Humours: Miniature Strange Tales of Men and the Supernatural.

pp. 652-665, 665-673.


30 April

Poetry of the High Tang I:
1.Wang Wei, ‘Alone in the Bamboo Grove’ 2. Zhang Ruoxu, ‘Spring River, Flowers, Moon, Night.’

pp. 699-713, 820-823.

7 May

Poetry of the High Tang II:

1.Li Bai, ‘Only the drinkers have left behind a name’

2.Du Fu, ‘The state may fall, but the hills and streams remain.’

pp. 721-742, 765-799.

21 May

Poetry of the Mid and Late Tang: Bai Juyi; ‘Madly Singing in the Mountains.’ and: ‘The Patterned Lute’, Li Shangyin and Li He.

Location: CIW Library

pp. 871-883, 894-899, 903-914, 920-928, 930-932.

21 May

Classical Tales of the Tang: ‘The World in a Pillow.’ pp. 1020-1024, 1047-1057, 1067-1072.

28 May

Among the Flowers: The Singsong-houses of Chang’an. The Birth of Lyric Verse. pp. 1118-1122, 1124-1131.

Updated:  15 December 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, China in the World /Page Contact:  China in the World