21G.044 | Fall 2011 | Undergraduate

Classics of Chinese Literature


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

This course is an introduction to three of the major genres of traditional Chinese literature—poetry, fiction and drama, with a focus on vernacular fiction. We will read translations of a number of the “masterworks” of Chinese literature. We will also examine the intertextuality between these genres — how poetry blends into narrative, how fiction becomes drama, and drama inspires fiction. Through reading these selected works of traditional Chinese literature, we will examine some of the major features of traditional Chinese society: religious and philosophical beliefs, the imperial system and dynastic change, gender relations, notions of class and ethnicity, family, romance and sexuality. All works are read in translation; no language background is necessary.

This course seeks not only to introduce students to highlights from the canon of traditional Chinese literature, but also secondarily to consider the idea of this literary canon as a “living tradition,” both in contemporary Chinese societies and in the global Chinese diaspora. Student projects will focus on contemporary media adaptations of famous Chinese literary works (in film, anime, comic books, computer games, web sites, music, theater, art, and other media).

This course includes two field trips: one to the Boston MFA, and one to the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.


In this course, you will be required to complete the following activities, graded as follows:

Class participation 30%
Final project/presentation 30%
Weekly journal submissions 15%
Informal presentations 10%
Annotated bibliography and project proposal 15%

Required Texts

Shi, Nai’an, and Guanzhong Luo. Outlaws of the Marsh: An Abridged Version. Translated by Shapiro Sidney. Commercial Press, 1986. ISBN: 9789620710674.

Wang, Shi-fu. The Story of the Western Wing. Edited and translated by Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema. University of California Press, 1995. ISBN: 9780520201842. [Preview with Google Books]

Wu, Ch’eng-en. Monkey: Folk Novel of China. Translated by Arthur Waley. Grove/Atlantic, 1994. ISBN: 9780802130860.

Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, Vol. 1: The Golden Days. Translated by David Hawkes. Penguin Group, 1974. ISBN: 9780140442939.

Owen, Stephen. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. Edited and translated by Stephen Owen. W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. ISBN: 9780393038231.

Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone, Vol. 2: The Crab-Flower Club. Edited by E. Gao and translated by David Hawkes and John Minford. Penguin, 1977. ISBN: 9780140443264.

Suggested Texts

Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng [pseud.]. Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P’ing Mei. Vol. 1–4. Translated by David To Roy. Princeton University Press, 1997-2011. ISBN: 9780691150437.

Fu, Shen. Six Records of a Floating Life. Edited and translated by Leonard Pratt and Su-Hui Chiang. Penguin Group, 1983. ISBN: 9780140444292.

Tang, Xianzu. The Peony Pavilion: Mudan ting. 2nd ed. Translated by Cyril Birch. Indiana University Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780253215277. [Preview with Google Books]

Lo, Kuan-chong. Three Kingdoms: China’s Epic Drama. Translated by Moss Roberts. Pantheon Books, 1977. ISBN: 9780394733937.

Wu, Cheng’en. The Monkey and the Monk: An Abridgment of the Journey to the West. Edited and translated by Anthony C. Yu. University of Chicago Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780226971568. [Preview with Google Books]


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee, 2000.

Hong Niang, directed by Tu Long, 1958.

Red Cliffs, directed by John Woo, 2008.

Water Margin: True Color of Heroes, directed by Billy Chan, 1993.

Monkey Goes West, directed by Meng Hua Ho, 1966.

Chinese Odyssey Part One: Pandora’s Box, directed by Jeffery Lau, 1994.

Princess Iron Fan, directed by Guchan Wan and Laiming Wan, 1941.

Dream of the Red Chamber, directed by Han Chin, 1978.

A Chinese Ghost Story, directed by Siu-Tung Ching, 1987.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2011
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments