YellowBridge Chinese Language & Culture
Chinese Language Center

Chinese Literature Classic Non-fiction Literature

Compared to the voluminous nature of all the four greatest classical novels, the non-fiction works recommended here are surprisingly compact, especially considering the impact of these works on Chinese society, government, and warfare.  The more accessible works of Taoism are the "Tao Te Ching" and "Chuang Tzu". Confucianism is represented by the "Analects" and "Mencius". The "I Ching", which predated Confucius by several hundred years, was adopted by Confucianists as one the dozen or so texts that make up the Confucian canon. The canon also includes the "Analects" and "Mencius", which were written by disciples of Confucius or later followers.

  Title Mini Review
The Art of War

Written by Sun Tzu, 500-320 BCE
Translated by Samuel B. Griffith
Oxford University Press, 1984
197 pages

See also: Online Literature: Sunzi's Art of War.

Rating: ★★★★★

This 2,500 year-old book proves that while the weaponry has changed over time, the rules for successful warfare strategies have not. It is a surprisingly compact distillation of strategic principles that is still as useful today as it was when Sun Tzu first wrote it. Its principles were applied by the combatants of the "Three Kingdoms" period, Mao Tse-Tung, and the corporate warriors in the sales and marketing departments of today.
Tao Te Ching

Written by Lao Tzu, 5th century BCE

The Tao of Power
Translated by R. L. Wing
Doubleday, 1986
192 pages

See also: Online Literature: Dao De Jing.

Rating: ★★★★★

Its many riddle-like poems are famously obscure, even spawning a few nerdy jokes that emulate its style. However, once you can interpret them you'll find that it is actually a very practical philosophy book that dispenses timeless wisdom about leadership qualities and interpersonal relationships ...and maybe the Theory of Everything. Perhaps Steven Hawkins is looking in the wrong place...

The R.L. Wing translation greatly helps in the understanding by providing highly readable interpretation and commentary.

Chuang Tzu

Written by Chuang Tzu, 4th century BCE

The Essential Chuang Tzu
Translated by Sam Hamill and J.P.Seaton
Shambala Publications, 1999
192 pages
Rating: ★★★★★

Chuang Tzu fell asleep and dreamt that he was a butterfly. On waking up, he wondered whether he had just woken up from the dream or whether he was actually a butterfly still dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu. This story and many other parables, dialogues, and essays form the core of the Chuang Tzu, which together with the Tao Te Ching are pillars of Taoist thought.
The I Ching or Book of Changes

Written in 8-10th century BCE

The Illustrated I Ching
Translated by R.L.Wing
Doubleday, 1982

See also: Online Literature: Yi Jing [I Ching].

Rating: ★★★★★

The ancient classic of Chinese Mysticism can be enjoyed even if you are not be a New Age fan. The I Ching may be the oldest book in the world. Confucius himself wrote commentaries about it and later Confucianists included it as one of the 13 works of the Confucian canon. Readers are often struck by the poignancy of the answers it gives. You only need three coins to access the oracle.

Confucius: The Analects

Written by disciples of Confucius, ca 551-479 BCE
Translated by D.C. Lau
Penguin USA, 1998
160 pages

See also: Online Literature: The Analects.

Confucius was China's greatest sage. Confucianism is a a thoroughly practical philosophy about human interaction and society whose strong influence can still be seen in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. Confucianism is arguably the world's original secular humanist philosophy but it is often wrongly categorized as a religion. Confucius didn't say any of the silly jokes you can read in Chinese fortune cookies. To find out what he really did say one must read the Analects.

Written by Mencius, 371-289 BCE
Translated by D.C. Lau
Viking Press, 1970
280 pages
This work is a collection of sayings and dialogues by Mencius, Confucianism's second greatest sage. Unlike Western religious teachings, Mencius was a strong proponent of the idea that human nature was innately good and that it only turned bad through environmental influence.