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National Epics in Ancient China


German philosopherHegel believed that Chinese people had no national epic, because their way of observing and thinking was like prose. So China really has no national epic? The answer is yes.

InShangsong(song lyrics mostly collected from the Shang Dynasty) andDaya(The Major Festal Odes) ofThe Book of Songs, one can find a good number of memorial songs to ancestors and odes to heroes who established the Shang (17th- 11thcentury BC) and Zhou (11thcentury BC - 256BC) dynasties, such asLiezu, Xuanniao, Changfa, Ying Wu, Shengmin, Gong Liu, Wenwang, Daming, and so on. As ancient ballades produced in childhood of human beings that record the birth of one's own nation or heroic exploits are called epics, the poems mentioned just now can be recognized as the earliest epics in China.

FromBianwen, Sufu, Ciwenin the Tang Dynasty (618-907),Guzici, Zhugongdiao, Qiatanciin the Song, Liao and Jin dynasties (960-1234), toGushutanciin the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), after long period of development, long narrative poems (likeIliadandOdyssey)became mature.

Minorities had created numerous narrative ballads of folk legends since the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279), some of which were real long national epics such as Mongolians'King Gesar,Kirgizs'Manas,Naxis'Creation of the World,Mongolians'Geser,and so on. Put in the grove of world's classical literature, they are not second to any ancient Greek or Indian epics.

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