SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Ch 306: Traditional Chinese Language and Literature

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3, Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Full Year

In addition to offering a survey course on the development of traditional Chinese literature, this module introduces pre-Han and Han prose writings, the major poetic forms and some of the important poets from different periods, and aspects of literati culture through close reading of texts.

This module consists of the following modules:
  • 306S: Survey course of traditional literature (1 hpw - full year)
  • 306C: Classical Chinese (2 hpw - term 1)
  • 306L: Literary Chinese (2 hpw - term 2)

Modules 306C and 306L are based on original texts.  Module 306S is based on translations.


Years 1 and 2 of the BA Chinese programme or equivalent (1,500-2,000) characters.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this module, a student will have read and discussed sample writings from philosophical and poetic traditions, as well as sample writings on the cultural and scholastic activities of the literati. Students should also be able to deal with classical texts on a reasonable level, to identify problematic passages and to be able to clarify them with the help of secondary reference material. Students should also be able to appreciate some of the civilizing aspects of Chinese culture as well as literary and poetic devices such as tonal patterns, rhyme schemes, structure and writing techniques, and discussion of the poets and their work, and have an understanding of the main genres in classical Chinese literature and philosophy.


Total of 20 weeks of teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week consisting of 1 hour lecture and 2 hours tutorial.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination (70%) taken in May/June; one essay of 3,000 words due on day one, week 1, term 3 (30%).

Suggested reading

  • Bol, Peter K.: “This Culture of Ours”: Intellectual Transitions in T’ang and Sung China. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.
  • Birch, Cyril: Scenes for Mandarins: The Elite Theater of the Ming. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
  • Cai, Zong-qi: How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
  • Chang, Kang-I Sun & Stephen Owen: The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Cheng, Anne: Histoire de la Pensée Chinoise. Paris: Seuil, 1997.
  • Clunas, Craig: Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China. London: Reaktion Books, 1996.
  • Fung Yu-Lan, transl. by Derk Bodde: A history of Chinese philosophy. 2 vols.; Princeton: Princeton UP, 1952. 
  • Graham, Angus C.: Poems of the Late T’ang. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.
  • Graham, Angus C.: Disputers of the Tao. Philosophical Argumentation in Ancient China. La Salle: Open Court, 1989
  • Hsiao Kung-chuan, transl. by F.W. Mote: A History of Chinese Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979.
  • Li, Chu-Tsing & James C. Y. Watt: The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period. New York: Thames and Hudson, The Asia Society Galleries, 1987.
  • Lin Shuen-fu & Stephen Owen: The Vitality of the Lyric Voice. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986.
  • Liu, James J. Y.: The Art of Chinese Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  • Loewe, Michael & Edward L. Shaughnessy (eds.): The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.
  • Mair, Victor H.: The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
  • Mair, Victor H.: The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 2002.
  • Murck, Alfreda & Wen C. Fong: Words and Images: Chinese Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.
  • Owen, Stephen: The Great Age of Chinese Poetry: The High T’ang. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981.
  • Owen, Stephen: An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996.
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G.: Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1995.
  • Sima Qian: Shiji . 10 vols., Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1959] 1982.
  • Schwartz, Benjamin I.: The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1985.
  • West, Stephen H. & Wilt L. Idema: Monks, Bandits, Lovers, and Immortals: Eleven Early Chinese Plays. Indianapolis and Cambridge, Mass., Hackett Publishing Company, 2010.
  • Yang Bojun : Mengzi Yizhu . 2 vols.; Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1960] 1988.
Essential research tools include:
  • Cihai . 3 vols. + 1 vol. addenda; Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju / Shanghai Cishu chubanshe, 1980
  • Ciyuan . 4 vols.; Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1980
  • Gu, Charles Wei-hsun & Wing-tsit Chan: Guide to Chinese Philosophy. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1978
  • Gu Hanyu Changyongzi Zidian Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1979
  • Gu Hanyu Xuci Yongfa Cidian . Xi’an: Shaanxi Renmin chubanshe, 1998 (or equivalent) 
  • Gudai Hanyu Cidian . Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1998 
  • Huang Kaiguo et al. (main eds.): Zhuzi Baijia Da Cidian . Chengdu: Sichuan Renmin chubanshe, 1999
  • Hucker, Charles O.: A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1985
  • Lin Qingzhang (main ed.): Jingxue Yanjiu Lunzhu Mulu , 1912-1987 . 2 vols.; Taibei: Hanxue Yanjiu Zhongxin, 1989
  • Loewe, Michael: Early Chinese Texts. A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and The Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1993
  • Luo Zhufeng : Hanyu Da Cidian .12 vols.; Shanghai: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe, [1990] 1994
  • Unger, Ulrich: Grundbegriffe der altchinesischen Philosophie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2000
  • Wang Li : Hanyu Shilüxue . Hong Kong: Zhonghua shuju, 1957, 1973 
  • Wang Li : Gudai Hanyu [xiudingben] . 4 vols.; Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1981] 1995
  • Wang Li (main ed.): Wang Li Gu Hanyu Zidian Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2000
  • Wei Zhengtong (main ed.): Zhongguo Zhexue Cidian Daquan


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules