Chinese literature is one of the oldest in the world. Its early works ranged from elegant poetry to Confucian orthodoxy prose. Translating Chinese literature into other languages is extremely difficult. Therefore, it is hard to truly enjoy the art of their work. The oldest and perhaps most widely known Chinese literature is their poetry.

Poems of the ancient Chinese told colorful tales of their heroes. Lyrical and romantic, the artistry of these poetic songs was designed to be enjoyed on many levels. The poetic anthology, Chuci (also known as Songs of Chu), greatly influenced later writings. The semi-legendary Qu Yuan was the focal point of this collection of poems. Song form eventually evolved into what is known as fu, which is a poem with rhymed verses and an introduction and conclusion in prose. Usually fu asked questions. Growing from a rise in romantic nature poems, fu was heavily influenced by Taoism. Chinese authors started to stray from romantic poetry to a logical form of writing--but why? Because of impure form of song that fu poetry had produced, there was a shift in their interest to a more straight forward style: prose.

Reason-based prose became the focus of China’s intellectuals. These writings were normally in the form of carefully developed discourses. Mo Zi was especially known for the methodological reasoning in his polemic prose. On the other hand, Mencius contributed elegant diction. Together, these and other writers developed a simple and concise yet graceful form of prose which has served as a model for literature for over two thousand years. Neoclassical Chinese prose contained essays. Most were based on Confucian orthodoxy. Pushing past cultural barriers, even vernacular fiction became popular. But, the prose of this genre was never fully esteemed in circles of high education.

Chinese intonation renders translating difficult. In Chinese writing--especially poetry--different pitches are used in a phrase to convey different meanings or order. Furthermore, these poems contain, in their original form, a strict structure of syllabic limits and rhyme requirements. True enjoyment and appreciation of these writings are reached when readers recognize how skillfully the laws of Chinese composition are used. The conglomeration of all these prerequisites, along with the customary ambiguities endemic to each language, makes proper translating extremely difficult.

Although the translating of Chinese literature was complicated, we now have surprisingly accurate versions of early Chinese works. Of all their literature, we appreciate Chinese poetry the most. Thankfully its elegance was not obscurred in translation. Once again, we can gain knowledge of ancient civilizations from the literature they produced.