Chinese literature, the body of works written in Chinese, including lyric poetry, historical and didactic writing, drama, and various forms of fiction.
Chinese literature is one of the major literary heritages of the world, with an uninterrupted history of more than 3,000 years, dating back at least to the 14th century BCE. Its medium, the Chinese language, has retained its unmistakable identity in both its spoken and written aspects in spite of generally gradual changes in pronunciation, the existence of regional and local dialects, and several stages in the structural representation of the written graphs, or “characters.” Even the partial or total conquests of China for considerable periods by non-Han Chinese ethnic groups from outside the Great Wall failed to disrupt this continuity, for the conquerors were forced to adopt the written Chinese language as their official medium of communication because they had none of their own. Since the Chinese graphs were inherently nonphonetic, they were at best unsatisfactory tools for the transcription of a non-Chinese language, and attempts at creating a new alphabetic-phonetic written language for empire building proved unsuccessful on three separate occasions. The result was that after a period of alien domination, the conquerors were culturally assimilated (except the Mongols, who retreated en masse to their original homeland after the collapse of the Yuan [or Mongol] dynasty in 1368). Thus, there was no disruption in China’s literary development.