David R. Knechtges


Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature

This publication is intended as a guide to the study of ancient and early medieval Chinese literature. The period covered includes pre-Qin through the Sui dynasty. This work is the product of over forty years of my study of classical Chinese literature. During my career I have accumulated a large number of notes and bibliographies on various Chinese literary figures, genres, works, and the like. Much of this work has been provided to students of a history of Chinese literature that I have taught at the University of Washington since 1972. I also have given copies of these materials to colleagues and friends some of whom have urged me to publish them.

Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature is also the byproduct of another project in which I was involved for some years. In 1994, Dr. James Peck approached me about the possibility of compiling a handbook for classical Chinese literature. The entries were to be written by Chinese literature specialists in China. Tai ping Chang and I were entrusted with overseeing the translation of these entries into English. The English version of the handbook was to be published by Yale University Press as part of their Culture and Civilization series. Through the largess of a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, we made good progress on this project. However, in 2004, the focus of the Culture and Civilization project changed to focus on the arts, and it was no longer possible to include the handbook in this series. Shortly thereafter, Taiping Chang proposed to compile a reference guide based on my materials. She prepared a list of proposed entries, and we began to compose individual entries. We discovered in the process that there were gaps in our coverage. Taiping Chang and I along with several of our graduate students wrote the missing entries.

We envision Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature as an aide to scholars and students who wish to obtain information about ancient and medieval Chinese literature. We also hope that Chinese scholars and students will also find this work useful, for there is an increased need in this age of internationalization of scholarship for Chinese scholars to know what has been written about classical Chinese literature outside of China.

This reference guide contains some 800 entries that provide important information about literary figures, genres, literary trends, dating, literary schools, and where pertinent, technical terms. The entries are based on a variety of sources. We have relied to a limited extent on the unpublished entries prepared for the original Companion volume, but the bulk of the entries have been written through consultation of primary Chinese sources and where available, authoritative modern scholarly studies in Chinese, Japanese, and Western languages. There are two entries that we have preserved from the unpublished Chinese project: the entry on the Han fu by the late Cao Daoheng 曹道衡 (1928–2005), the premier world authority of his generation on Han through Sui dynasty literature, and the entry on Tao Yuanming by Yuan Xingpei 袁行霈 of Peking University, who has written extensively on this important writer. We thought the inclusion of these two entries was important as a means of introducing the best of modern Chinese scholarship to a Western readership.

We have attempted to emulate the format of the Brill biographical dictionaries compiled by Michael Loewe and Rafe de Crespigny. Many of the entries contain biographies of literary figures, some of whom are also treated in the Loewe and de Crespigny volumes. However, since our emphasis is on literature, we provide new information about literature that is often not included in the Loewe and de Crespigny works.


The work is arranged in alphabetical order based on the Romanized form of a name, work title, literary genre, or literary period name. Examples:

Guo Pu, Lunyu, qiyan poetry, Jian’an literature.

For literary figures, we provide the following information in the heading:

Surname and personal name, dates (if known), and zi (style or courtesy name).

Within the entry itself, we give in the first sentence information about the person’s natal and/or ancestral place. We have attempted as much as possible to provide information about family background and the person’s connection with other literary figures from that same family. We hope that this information will be useful to students of literary sociology.

Although the entries provide detailed information about a person’s career, because the emphasis of this work is on literature, we have tended to focus more on events that pertain to literary matters. Nevertheless, many of the biographies, especially those from the period from the Wei to the Sui dynasties, can stand on their own as a supplement to the Loewe and de Crespigny dictionaries.

We provide dates for all persons upon the first occurrence in each entry. We have heavily relied on the careful dating done by Cao Daoheng and Shen Yucheng in Zhongguo wenxuejia dacidian and their Zhonggu wenxue shiliao congkao.

For official titles, we have mostly used the equivalents given in Charles Hucker’s A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China. However, one of our innovations is “professor” for boshi 博士. We have also devised the rendering “Eastern Institute” for Dongguan 東觀.

WeWe have tried to be meticulous about identifying all place names upon first occurrence in an entry. We repeat this information for each occurrence in subsequent entries. Our primary sources for geographical information are the standard history dictionaries published by the Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe.

Because this is a guide to literature, for some figures and works that are important for other than literary reasons (e.g., politics, thought, or religion), we have not provided full discussion or bibliography, but have tended to focus on literary matters. Thus, although we include entries for such works as Lun yu, Laozi, Han Feizi, or Shen Dao, we have not devoted as much detail to them as we have in most of the more “literary” entries.

In the bibliographies we do not pretend to be exhaustive. They are basically what I have accumulated over a forty-year period. There are undoubtedly many omissions.


There are many persons who have contributed in various ways to the preparation of this reference guide. Our first tribute is to James Peck, who initiated the Culture and Civilization project of which the earlier version of the reference guide was to be a part. Without Jim’s vision, the reference guide would never have come to fruition.

We also express gratitude to the Henry Luce Foundation for its generous support of the project for many years. We especially wish to single out Helena Kolenda, Program Director for Asia, for her strong interest in the project from the outset. We also extend our profound thanks to the Institute of East Asian Studies, Berkeley, and especially Linda Hsu, for overseeing the Luce Foundation grant for someone who was not a member of the Berkeley faculty.

On the University of Washington campus we wish to pay tribute to the China Program and the various directors including David Bachman, Kent Guy, and Dong Yue, who have generously provided funds over the years to support the reference guide project and especially the work of Dr. Christopher Dakin, Dr. Wu Jie, and Shih Hsiang-lin. Mark Pitner also did an able job of proof-reading part of the reference guide during the summer of 2009.

At Brill, words cannot adequately convey our gratitude to Albert Hoffstädt and Patricia Radder for their kindness, good humor, and efficient administration of the publication of these volumes.

We also wish to acknowledge a generous subvention provided by the Henry Luce Foundation for the publication of this work.

David R. Knechtges

Bellevue, Washington

David R. Knechtges