Philosophy of Literature by Dian LI
In China, as in many civilizations, literature started with poetry. What is unique about Chinese poetry is its supremacy over other literary forms, as well as how long that supremacy has been maintained. For centuries, poetry has been at the top of the hierarchy of genres and the center of Chinese literary life, rarely challenged by other genres, such as drama and fiction. Although each of these genres had its own golden age within the history of Chinese literature, none could match the expanse and continuity of poetry or its influence on Chinese culture. Poetry is, to put it simply, the epitome of Chinese literature and the crown jewel of Chinese civilization. It is no wonder, therefore, that writing about Chinese literature-particularly in early China, when ideas were formulated and entered the canon rapidly-starts and ends with poetry. In effect, the philosophy of poetry has become the philosophy of literature as a whole. References to other genres will be made when relevant, but this essay is mainly concerned with the philosophy of poetry. The time line is from antiquity to the end of the nineteenth century, when Chinese literature underwent a drastic reform in the presence of western intervention. The term “philosophy of Chinese literature” might need clarification. Although “philosophy of Chinese literature” is appropriate as an entry in this encyclopedia of Chinese philosophy, more commonly known terms are “criticism” and “theories of Chinese literature.” I will use all of them interchangeably throughout this essay.