31103 - Chinese Literature 1

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Gaia Perini

  • Credits 9

  • SSD L-OR/21

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language Italian

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme First cycle degree programme (L) in Foreign Languages and Literature (cod. 0979)

  • Course Timetable from Feb 12, 2024 to May 16, 2024

Academic Year 2023/2024

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course the attendants will have acquired a thorough knowledge of Chinese classical literature and its critical debates. They will be able to approach critically the texts (in Chinese when it is possible, or in English/Italian), to identify and classify literary works and to develop analytical investigations of the written sources. 

Course contents

In China, the practice of writing (named wen 文) has shaped the cultural and political identity of the country over the centuries, deeply affecting the social life and the way of thinking, to the extent that even today words like “culture”, or “civilization”, contain the character “wen”. “Wen” implies the mastery of a powerful, magical art that, from time to time, belonged to the class of shamans, to the great philosophers, and then to the state officials, the court historians, the calligraphers, up to the most heterodox artists, the storytellers and the novelists.

This course is intended to explore the different genres which form part of this millennial literary heritage; the four classical categories of Jing 经, Shi 史, Zi 子, Ji 集 will be surveyed in the first half of the course, while the second half will deal with the literary forms that had been excluded from the canon: the short story, the novel and the theatrical texts.

What follows is a list of the main issues covered during the lessons:

  1. The Book of Songs: how it became a “Classic”?
  2. The philosophical tradition and its different discoursive forms: the logical argument, the aphorism, the allegoric fable;
  3. Writing history: what was the relationship between reality and narrative, who could deserve the title of "historian"?
  4. When “wen” turned itself into “literature”;
  5. Tang Poetry: its periodization, themes, stylistic procedures;
  6. “What the Master would not discuss”: the evolution of the Chinese fiction


Excerpts from: 

  • Cheng, Anne, “Storia del Pensiero Cinese” (vol. I), Torino: Einaudi, 2000;
  • Cheng, François, “La Poesia T’ang”, Napoli: Guida, 1987;
  • Hsia, Chih-tsing, “The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction”, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1980;
  • Lu Xun, “A Brief History of Chinese Fiction”, Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1964;
  • Masi, Edoarda, “Storie del Bosco Letterario”, Milano: Libri Scheiwiller, 2002;
  • Owen, Stephen, "An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911", Norton, 1996;
  • Sabattini Mario, Santangelo Paolo, "Il Pennello di Lacca. La narrativa cinese dalla dinastia Ming ai giorni nostri", Laterza, Bari, 2008;
  • Materials provided by the teacher. 



Teaching methods

Close reading; text-context analysis; reception theory (a special emphasis is given to the reader and his/her role in bringing the text to life by reading it)

Each lesson is divided in two parts: besides the introduction to each literary work and the description of its historical context along with the close reading under the teacher’s guide, an open discussion among the students will be held (both about the linguistic aspects and the content). The students are required to read by themselves the texts that will be discussed in class and prepare some comments (the assignment shall consist of few pages per week: from 5 to 30 at most). The active participation of each attendant is strongly recommended and can affect the final exam. 

Assessment methods

An oral examination will verify the students' ability to orient themselves in the scanning of the events covered during the course, and to grasp continuity and discontinuity in the main historical, literary and artistic contexts and on the subjects dealt with during the course.

Students who cannot attend the classes should follow a reading program previously arranged with the teacher, moreover they should write a short paper (+ Notes and bibliography).

The student's achievement of an organic vision of the topics dealt with in class and the knowledge required for the discipline combined with their critical use, the demonstration of possession of an expressive mastery and specific language will be evaluated with marks of excellence.

A mnemonic knowledge of the subject and the ability to synthesize and analyze articulated in a correct language, but not always appropriate, will lead to discrete evaluations.

Training gaps and / or inappropriate language, even in a context of minimal knowledge of the exam material, will lead to votes that will not exceed sufficiency. Formal gaps, inappropriate language, lack of orientation in the bibliographic materials foreseen by the course will be negatively evaluated.

Teaching tools

Powerpoint, PDF and other teaching materials provided by the teacher;

Online sources:

Chinese Text Project (ctext.org) [https://ctext.org/]

Chinese Poems (chinese-poems.com) [http://www.chinese-poems.com/]

Office hours

See the website of Gaia Perini