Early Chinese literature, beginnings through Western Han

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

34 Scopus citations


The Chinese language and writing system. The earliest evidence for the Chinese language, and for the Chinese script as its writing system, is found in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions from the site of the Late Shang (ca 1250-ca 1046 bc) royal capital near modern Anyang, located in the northernmost part of modern Henan Province. From there to the present day, a continuous line of development can be drawn for both language and script that has served the expression of Chinese literature over the last three millennia. The Chinese script is one of only a handful of instances in human history where writing was invented independently, and it is the only originally invented writing system still in use today. Over time, it was adopted to write not just Chinese but also other East and Southeast Asian languages such as Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese, thereby extending the reach of the Chinese literary tradition significantly beyond the boundaries of its spoken language. The Late Shang oracle inscriptions (jiaguwen) scratched into bovine shoulder bones and turtle plastrons were records of communications with the royal ancestral spirits. Since their initial discovery in 1899, more than 150,000 fragments of such inscriptions have been found. They range in length from just a few to several dozen characters and preserve accounts of royal divinations on a wide range of topics - the well-being of the king, military success, the timeliness of sacrifices, the weather, and so on - that affected both the person of the ruler and the prosperity of his state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Chinese Literature
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages115
ISBN (Electronic)9781139095419
ISBN (Print)9780521855587
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Early Chinese literature, beginnings through Western Han'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this