What books do Chinese students read?

December 25, 2010, 10:20 PM posted in General Discussion

Are there any set books that all Chinese students have to read? In America, we have reading lists of famous books that most educated Americans should have read, such as Brave New World, The Scarlet Letter, or Hatchet. Do they have anything like that in China?

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December 26, 2010, 05:33 AM

Here's a list I found on a blog by querying Baidu, "高中学生应该看的书". Here are the top ten.

1、《论 语》The Analects of Confucius

2. 《论三国》Romance of the Three Kingdoms

3《红 楼 梦》 Dream of the Red Chamber

4.《呐 喊》 Don't Know, but included a link to the essay

5.《女 神》 Chinese means "Goddess," but not sure about the literary work

6.《 子 夜》 茅 盾: Midnight, a novel about Shanghai circa 1930's

7.《巴 金: Family, a novel set in 1920's Chengdu

8.《雷 雨曹 禺 Thunderstorm, a play set in pre-war China

9.《围 城钱钟书 Besieged City, another pre-war novel

10.《谈 美 书 简》 朱光潜: Not sure about the title, but the author was a well-known scholar in pre-war China

I'm not sure how applicable this is in China, since the complete list includes many foreign works and all the Chinese is pre-1949.

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December 26, 2010, 08:37 AM

um...in my junior high school,these book have finished.by the way,many people think The Story of the Stone is better than Dream of the Red Chamber,because of the latter is literal translation.and 《呐喊》 is written by Lu Xun(1881.9.25~1936.10.19),pseudonym of Zhou Shuren,Chinese modern great writer, thinker and revolutionary.and his first story A Madman's Diary'(狂人日记)。

some of Lun Xun's words:when i was young,i too,had many dreams.most of them i later forgot,but i see nothing in this to regret,for although recalling the past may bring happiness,at times it cannot bring but loneless,and what is the point of clinging in spirit to lonely beyond days?however my trouble is that i cannot forget completely,and these stories stem from thoese things which i have been unable to forgot,etc

Chinese literature, Lu Xun is an immortal monument to do his pen knife, directed at the enemy's heart.

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December 26, 2010, 11:41 AM

Aaah @only1234just, thank you. So entry #4 should be translated as "A Call to Arms," at least per Wiki.

Would you add any books to these works as standard readings for Chinese students?

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December 27, 2010, 03:23 AM

um...thanks too,and i am sorry that i am not sure that the translated as A Call to Arms is right or not,but i search in the internet,it translated as that. by the way,For Chinese students,like《论语》,poems in tang and song dynasty,etc.we study these from begin to end.on the other hand,these seem to be hard for foreigner.so do Chinese students,because these are great masterpieces.and sometimes,their background we cannot understand completely.like customes,personal character,the class level,feudal,etc.sorry maybe i do wander off the point.

excuse me,please can you tell me how much you know about the Chinese?if you like,i can give you a hand.um...by the way,my major is english.


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December 27, 2010, 03:40 AM


this is a song of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127),i hope you can read it,however,in my opinion,i think that if it was translated with othe language,it would lost her sense of original.anyway,it is just my opinion.

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December 29, 2010, 02:58 AM

Thanks for the suggestions you two! That was exactly what I wanted. I can read some classical Chinese, but I certainly am not at the level of appreciating it. When Chinese say that their language is "deep" it seems like they are referring to Song and Tang dynasty poems. They are very difficult to understand, even for the Chinese themselves (or so I hear).

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December 29, 2010, 10:21 AM

yeah,for Chinese students,they are hard.and thanks you,on the other hand,sooner or later,you will be well.good luck

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Well, its not sooner or later - because its not really a question of skill in modern Chinese. Study for 20 years, and unless you've specifically studied literary Chinese, you'll only be able to make sense of a small minority of pretty basic stuff. Which is pretty much the same for native Chinese - unless they are interested in reading literary Chinese, they end up largely forgetting the bit they learned in high school. The relationship of literary Chinese to modern Chinese is somewhat like the relationship of Latin to Italian - so its not a matter of someone's Chinese not being advanced enough, but rather a matter of it being a different (but highly related) language.

Here's a short passage from the end of Liu Zongyuan's 小石城山記 in which he, after seeing beautiful natural scenery, begins pondering the existence of god. I'd say its a fairly straightforward, not too difficult example of literary Chinese, and yet I doubt any amount of training in the modern vernacular language would allow a learner to accurately understand it (they might get the general idea by guessing in a few places, but would miss a great deal of the meaning).

噫! 吾疑造物者之有無久矣!及是愈以為誠有, 又怪其不為之於中州, 而列是夷狄, 更千百年不得一售其伎。是固勞而無用, 神者儻不宜如是, 則其果無乎! 或曰: 以慰夫賢而辱於此者。或曰: 其氣之靈, 不為偉人, 而獨為是物, 故楚之南少人而多石。是二者余未信之。

Not that it really matters for most - I consider myself a well educated English speaker, and yet I can't read Beowulf in its Old English. Learning to read literary Chinese only makes sense if you like reading these old texts, or are conducting research in it - but, in the same vein, you can't expect it to be an ability that you naturally gain in the course of studying modern Chinese.

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well,different things to different people.so in your opinion,which part do you like it?by the way,even you learn modern Chinese,you do need to study the old Chinese,but i have noted that Old Chinese is powerful than modern Chinese,compared to old people,we are stupid,lack thoughts,very much concernd with theme of the vanity of human wishes.maybe,after a wholelife,you donot know what you want to get,or never get something,maybe we take less attention about inner need.anyways,in word,this is just my opinion,and i am not Chinese literature major.i cannot give it 'proper words in proper places',so sorry.on the other hand,you seems gain a good point of studying Chinese.i hope you can achieve your goal.

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面朝大海春暖花开 (by 海子)

















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I agree that learning classical Chinese is very useful. It might not be as useful as entirely focusing on modern Chinese, but it has a subtlety of its own that one can appreciate. For instance, I have friends who have told me how much more the Chinese respected them when they quoted Mencius, or recited a Tang dynasty poem. Some have even gotten job offers because the company or organization saw them as sincere individuals, rather than people who learn Chinese strictly for making money off of China.

Thank you for the many book recommendations! :D

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Ah, the myth of the enlightened, wiser past - you might point 1000 years back to the Song or Tang dynasty, times when Zhu Xi and Han Yu would condemn virtually all contemporary writings and point another 1500 years back to Confucius, who of course was seeking to return to the wisdom of the further past of the Zhou dynasty...

I love reading old texts too, but I don't buy into the 2500 year old Chinese tradition of myth-making and imagining a better, glorious past. There was plenty of ignorance in any age, and plenty of insight and enlightenment too.


We are in complete agreement that its a very interesting thing to do. Also, I'd agree that it has some spillover benefits to your knowledge of modern Chinese, though its not terribly efficient in that regard. But I disagree on the 'practical benefit' that you mentioned - learning literary Chinese is not a matter of memorizing some quotes from a few well known texts, and it isn't even needed or particularly useful in that regard. Just go memorize a few poems. And I doubt your friend would get much out of quoting Mencius at length - more likely he used 以五十步笑百步 or some similar little quote/expression at an appropriate point. That's the difference between being able to use the Chengyu 入主出奴 and being able to understand the part of Han Yu's letter 原道 that it comes from:

周道衰,孔子沒。火于秦,黃老于漢,佛于晉、魏、梁、隋之間。其言道德仁義者,不入于楊,則入于墨。不入于老,則入于佛。入于彼,必出于此。入者主之, 出者奴之;入者附之,出者汙之。噫!後之人其欲聞仁義道德之說,孰從而聽之?

Which also has the virtue of being part of Han Yu's condemnation of the lack of enlightenment in his time...;)


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Good points, and I agree that the practical benefits are certainly not worth the work involved with learning classical Chinese. You could very easily memorize a few saying, poems, etc and just read the main texts in English. I have had one class on classical Chinese and I found that it has helped my modern Chinese a little, but again, it's all an issue of efficiency.

On another note, the whole "the ancients did it better" seems to be a recurring, almost comical, method of argument throughout Chinese history. "You make a good point, but my ideas are even OLDER than yours," hahaha! I think there was a Tang thinker who referred to a king from so long ago, that he couldn't have possible existed--let alone have been so concerned with the philosophical topics of the time.

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There's something similar in that to legal argument - you always search everywhere to find someone who said something similar, and then cite it - you never want to express an original thought. ;)

So I'm reading a textbook, and by pure coincidence the article in the lesson I studied today was an argument for the usefulness of literary Chinese to achieving eloquence in writing formal modern Chinese. It makes a decent enough argument, though it depends on how high you set your goals. It also gives some examples of mistakes one might make absent knowledge of literary Chinese - but in my opinion most are fixed at the level of understanding the expression you are saying, and don't really require facility in literary Chinese. Here's a link to an electronic copy, or you can just search for the article's name on google, 行文借鉴 - http://www.yuwenonline.com/yuji/wenyan/200803/5098.html

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well,to some extend,i am ashamed of myself.and the truth is that both you are learning well.as for me,i am not well know.by the way,朋友excuse me,how you think a kind of language?