The ancient written standard was Classical Chinese. It was used for thousands of years, but was mostly used by scholars and intellectuals which forms the "top" class of the society called "shi da fu (士大夫）". It is difficult but possible for ordinary people to become the "top" class by passing written exams. Calligraphy later became commercialized, and works by famous artists became prized possessions. Chinese literature has a long past; the earliest classic work in Chinese, the I Ching or "Book of Changes" dates to around 1000 BC. A flourishing of philosophy during the Warring States period produced such noteworthy works as Confucius's Analects and Laozi's Tao Te Ching. (See also: the Chinese classics.) Dynastic histories were often written, beginning with Sima Qian's seminal Records of the Grand Historian.
The Tang Dynasty witnessed a poetic flowering, while the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature were written during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Printmaking in the form of movable type was developed during the Song Dynasty. Academies of scholars sponsored by the empire were formed to comment on the classics in both printed and handwritten form. Royalty frequently participated in these discussions as well. Chinese philosophers, writers and poets were highly respected and played key roles in preserving and promoting the culture of the empire. Some classical scholars, however, were noted for their daring depictions of the lives of the common people, often to the displeasure of authorities.
At the start of the 20th century, most of the population were still illiterate, and the many mutually-unintelligible language spoken (Mandarin, Wu, Yue (Cantonese), Min Nan (Ban-lam-gu), Jin, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Hui, Ping etc.) in different regions prevented communication with people from other areas. Nevertheless, the written language keeps the communication open and passing the official orders and documentations throughout the entire region of China. Reformers set out to establish a national language, settling on the Beijing-based Mandarin as the spoken form. After the May 4th Movement, Classical Chinese was quickly replaced by written vernacular Chinese, modeled after the vocabulary and grammar of the standard spoken language.
Tags:Language & Culture
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