A Chinese Text Sampler

Modern Literature | Classical Literature | Popular Culture | History, Ethics, and Politics | Language and Linguistics

As with any foreign language, the single best way to improve or maintain one's skills in reading Chinese is to get lots of practice on a regular basis. This is an easier and more enjoyable task if you've got ready access to a variety of interesting texts at an appropriate level of difficulty. The sampler of short Chinese texts collected here is intended as a resource for students of Chinese from the advanced beginner level onward. The selections represent a diverse mix of periods and genres, but all are well known in modern-day China and are worth reading in their own right for their literary, historical, linguistic, or other cultural significance.

Each text can be displayed in your browser window or downloaded for use with Chinese text reading software such as Clavis Sinica. Clicking on "View Text" opens an HTML version of the file. If the Chinese characters do not display correctly, you may have to manually change the character encoding setting on your brower. In Netscape 6+, choose View - Character Coding - Chinese Simplified. In Microsoft Internet Explorer 5+, choose View - Encoding - Chinese Simplified (GB2312). Clicking on "Download Text" opens a plain GB-coded version of the Chinese text file which you can download for later use.

The numerical ratings next to each title provide a rough measure, on a scale from one to seven, of the relative difficulty of the text based on the usage frequency of the characters it contains in modern Chinese. A low number indicates a relatively accessible text, with a low percentage of less commonly used characters. A higher number indicates a more difficult text, with a higher percentage of such characters. This measure does not, obviously, take into account the additional challenges posed by texts written in the traditional literary style.

This resource is constantly being expanded, and new contributions are welcome. Please send comments, suggestions, and corrections to dporter@umich.edu.

Modern Literature

Eagle Shooting Heroes (2.5) - A representative chapter from the best-known novel by the contemporary writer Jin Yong (English pen name Louis Cha). The author's fourteen novels, written between 1955 and 1972, have been reprinted in countless editions and exert a continuing influence on modern popular culture. One of the characters featured in the selected chapter is Cheng Ji Si Han, the first emperor of Yuan dynasty. (View Text | Download Text)

The Family (1.9) - Ba Jin, a prolific writer and outspoken anarchist, was the most popular novelist of the early 20th century. Published in 1931, his autobiographical novel Jia (The Family) recounts the lives of the three sons of a powerful family and offers a powerful critique of contemporary society. The author's preface and the first two chapters are provided here. (View Text | Download Text)

Hands (2.2) - Xiao Hong (1911-1942) was a writer of essays, fiction, and poetry active primarily during the period of the Japanese occupation in the 1930s. A close friend of Lu Xun, she is best known for her political satire and her depictions of life under Japanese rule and in small towns still governed by feudal customs. Published in 1936, this short story--one of her best known--is about a dye-worker's daughter who is ostracized at school because of her darkened hands. Her personal suffering becomes an emblem of her society's assaults on the dignity and integrity of the working class. (View Text | Download Text)

In the Depths of the Old Courtyard (2.1) - A prolific writer of modern sentimental romance novels, Qiong Yao is widely read among contemporary Chinese readers, particularly the younger generation. Ting Yuan Shen Shen, which has been adapted as a popular television series in Taiwan, tells the story of a young couple whose relationship is complicated by a difference in their social classes. The two chapters selected here depict the first encounter of the pair. (View Text | Download Text)

Love in a Fallen City (2.4) - Zhang Ailing (1921-1995), known in the West as Eileen Chang, was one of the leading Chinese novelists of the 1940s and 50s. A friend of Bertolt Brecht, she published three novels about life under communist rule that are known for their depictions of upscale urban life and their sceptical portrayals of Europeans and upper-class Chinese.This well-known piece, published in her first collection of short stories in 1944, combines familiar elements of war, the decline of a prominent family, and a romance between a wealthy widow and a divorcee. A film adaptation of the story was produced by Ann Hui in 1984. (View Text | Download Text)

Medicine (2.2) - A short story written 1919 by Lu Xun, widely considered China's greatest modern writer. The story's description of a family's desperate attempts to cure a consumptive son provides both a critique of traditonal medical practices and a damning, deeply pessimistic allegory of recent Chinese history and the failed promise of the revolution. (View Text | Download Text)

Midnight (2.5) - One of the most successful of pre-war novelists, Mao Dun (1896-1981) was perhaps the best representative of the naturalist school that thrived in this period. His massive and immensely popular novel Midnight (1933) depicts the conflicts among different social forces amidst the chaos of post-depression Shanghai. This novel was important in the evolution of revolutionary realism in China and provided insight into the complex social relations at the time of emerging labor movement. The twelfth chapter of the novel, presented here, describes how the owner of an enterprise encroached on workers' rights for the sake of competing against his rivals, which, in turn, triggered a labor strike. (View Text | Download Text)

Moonlight in the Lily Pond (2.8) - Zhu Ziqing is a well-known modern literary critic and writer. Educated in England, he taught Chinese classical literature at Tsinghua University in Beijing. As one of the pioneers of modern Chinese literature, Zhu Ziqing is best remembered for prose works that depicted the life and landscape of China with grace and subtlety. "Moonlight in the Lily Pond" is one of his best-known pieces. (View Text | Download Text)

Poetry of Xu Zhimo (2.4) - Xu Zhimo (1896-1931) was leader in the modern poetry movement in China. His studies in the US and UK exposed him to the Western poetic tradition, and inspired his own experiments with vernacular poetry in both free style and traditional forms. His work is known for its expressiveness and imagination, its assertive use of the first-person voice, and its iconoclastic exploration of themes of love, beauty, and freedom. Twelve of his best-known poems are included here. (View Text | Download Text)

Remembrance (2.3) - Sometimes described as modern China's foremost man of letters, Qian Zhongshu (1910-1999) was a prominent novelist, essayist, and scholar of classical Chinese literature. He studied European literature at Oxford and the University of Paris before returning to China and beginning a teaching career at Tsinghua University. "Remembrance," a story of broken youthful love, is one of four pieces that appeared in his collection of short stories, Ren, Shou, Gui ("People, Animals, and Ghosts"). (View Text | Download Text)

The Rhymes of Li Youcai (1.9) - Zhao Shuli (1906-1970) is best remembered for his early novels and short stories depicting rural society in early 20th-century China. Coming from a peasant background himself, Zhao employed forms of expression and story-telling that were rooted in this society, contributing to the emergence of a new "proletarian" literature vaunted by Mao and characteristic of the revolutionary era. Selected here are the first two chapters from one of his best-known stories. (View Text | Download Text)

The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River (1.8) - Ding Ling (1904-1986) was a leading left-wing writer in the 1930s who later became an influential women intellectual in the People's Republic. Her novels attracted a wide following for their explorations of the female psyche and of the condition of women in contemporary China, as well as their celebration of the social changes brought about by the communist revolution. This prize-winning novel, published in 1949, is set during the Land Reform Movement of the civil war period (1946-9). Chapter 24, presented here, describes of the subtle beauty of the country orchard and the excitement of peasants whose class-consciousness is awakened after the redistribution of land by the communist party. (View Text | Download Text)

The Tea House (2.2) - The first act of a play by Lao She (1899-1966), modern China's best-known humorist and a celebrated writer whose novels have been compared to the works of Tolstoy and Dickens. Set in a small Beijing teahouse, the play opens with a panoramic depiction of characters from a wide spectrum of social backgrounds, providing a mosaic representation of Chinese urban society at the turn of the last century. (View Text | Download Text)

To Live (2.1) - The original text of Zhang Yimou's award-winning film of the same title, this novel by Yu Hua offers a memorable portrait of ordinary people's lives under the political violence of the first three decades of the People's Republic. The second chapter, included here, depicts the dramatic moment when the character Fu Gui loses the entire fortune of a well-to-do family to gambling. It sets the scene for the hardship and suffering his family will endure in the decades to follow. (View Text | Download Text)

Shanghai Hero (4.4) - Zhang Tianyi (1906-1985) was a prominent writer of short stories, novels, and children's literature known for his satirical style. As a young left-wing writer in the thirties, Zhang was actively engaged in the coalition of Chinese intellectuals in their campaign against the Japanese invasion, and came to play a leading role in the writers' association in the People's Republic. His satiric novel Yang Jing Bang Qi Xia is set at the time of the Japanese invasion. The opening chapter is presented here. (View Text | Download Text)


Classical Literature

The Ballad of Mulan (3.3) - A famous and well-loved poem about a legendary woman warrior who takes her father's place to fight in the Khan's armies. The poem dates from the Northern Dynasties (420-589 A.D.) and was collected in the Song (960-1279 A.D.) anthology of lyrics, songs and poems Yuefu. (View Text | Download Text)

Dream of the Red Chamber (2.3) - Considered by many critics one of the world's finest novels, this vernacular masterpiece by Cao Xueqin (ca. 1715-1763) was the first great prose tragedy in Chinese literature. The novel recounts a tragic love story in a powerful elite family closely resembling the author's own. With skill and subtlety, Cao captures the personalities, emotions, and complex relationships of the inhabitants of upper-class Qing society. In the well-known twenty-seventh chapter, presented here, the heroine Dai Yu likens her own fate to that of a flower, which blooms for only a short time before withering. (View Text | Download Text)

Drunken Poet Pavilion (3.1) - A famous short essay written by Ou Yangxiu in 1045 in response to his political demotion to the position of magistrate of the remote county of Chuzhou. The poet's depiction of the mountainous landscape, a country fair, and a picnic with scholarly guests suggests an appreciation for a new life in harmony with nature and with the joy of common people. (View Text | Download Text)

The Golden Lotus (2.4) - The novel Jin Ping Mei was written by an anonymous author in the late Ming Dynasty (circa late 16th or early 17th century). Known both for its eroticism and rich depiction of contemporary social history, the work paints a troubling panorama of social life in the early modern China. The selected chapter tells the story of Ximen Qing, a shop owner who has risen rapidly in socio-economic status by allying himself with corrupted officials, and depicts both the domestic strife and sexual liaisons that characterize his household life. (View Text | Download Text)

Journey to the West (Monkey) (2.8) - The first chapter of the best-known fantasy and adventure story in Chinese literature. Written in the Ming dynasty by Wu Cheng'en, this supernatural novel recounts the pilgrimage of a Chinese monk and his animal companions to India in the 7th century. (View Text | Download Text)

The Painted Skin (3.3) - This is one of the best-known ghost stories from the collection Liao Zhai Zhi Yi by Pu Songling, a 17th-century fiction writer and social critic. His supernatural tales explore the boundaries between the normal and the strange, human and ghost, reality and illusion. They are prized both for their surreal effects and for the satirical social commentary they offer on the author's own society. (View Text | Download Text)

Poetry of Du Fu (3.3) - The Tang Dynasty was the Golden Age of Chinese literature, and Du Fu was one of the greatest poets of the period. He was also an incisive social critic and commentator who spoke out against injustice wherever he saw it. The eleven representative poems selected here touch on topics including friendship, nature, love, and war. (View Text | Download Text)

Poetry of Li Bo (2.8) - Li Bo (Li Bai) was another renowned poet of the Tang Dynasty, and remains one of the best-loved Chinese poets even today. His poetry is admired for his expansive imagination and extraordinary spirit of freedom and grandeur, which has captured the fascination of generations of poetry-lovers in China and abroad. Selected here are fifteen of his best known poems. (Chinese Text | English Translation | Download | More Information)

Poetry of Li Qingzhao (3.3) - A Song dynasty writer widely acknowledged to be the greatest Chinese woman poet, Li Qingzhao brought to the heights of great art a lyrical verse form called ci that had originated in folk songs and later been popularized by professional female singers. The nine poems collected here are intensely personal, and equally vivid in their depictions of natural scenes and states of mind. (View Text | (Download Text)

Romance of the Three Kingdoms (2.9) - The first chapter of the famous Yuan dynasty epic novel attributed to Luo Guanzhong. Sometimes called the most popular novel in Asia, it tells the story of the late Han Dynasty in the second and third centuries. (View Text | (Download Text)

Tao Yuanming (3.2) - A selection of twelve poems by the greatest writer of the Six Dynasties period celebrating the pleasures of nature, wine, friendship, and good books. (View Text | Download Text)

Thirty-Six Strategies (3.6) - A collection of ancient proverbs and expressions describing cunning military strategies that have increasingly found application in the realms of business, politics, and diplomacy. Although many of the proverbs are thought to date from the China's Warring States Era (403-221 BC), the origins of the compiled text remain uncertain. Seven of the strategies are presented here, together with brief explanatory anecdotes. (View Text | Download Text)

Thousand Character Classic (4.9)- A remarkable ancient Chinese children's primer containing exactly 1000 characters, none of them used more than once. (View Text | Download Text)

Three Character Classic (6.2) - Another children's primer dating from the 13th century and offering up nuggets of Confucian thought in memorable (though now often rather obscure) three-character phrases. (View Text | Download Text)

Water Margin (2.3) - Originating in a series of ancient legends, this vernacular novel (also known in English as Outlaws of the Marsh and All Men are Brothers) consists of a collection of stories about a heroic group of 108 outlaws and bandits who stand up against tyranny and injustice during the Song dynasty. While the novel exists in many widely varying versions, all readers will be familiar with the famous story about Wu Song and the tiger excerpted here. (View Text | Download Text)

Popular Culture

Cao Chong Weighing the Elephant (1.6) - A well-known children's story about a young boy's ingenious use of an essential principle of physics. (View Text | Download Text)

The East is Red (1.8) - A popular song of revolutionary times exalting the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. Written in 1942, the song was based on a northern Shanxi folk song. It survived the many upheavals that followed, and became one of the most commonly heard anthems of the Cultural Revolution. (View Text | Download Text)

Hong Hu Shui (3.2) - A popular folk song about a small lake in Hubei province. (View Text | Download Text)

Hu Jia Hu Wei (2.4) - A traditional children's fable about a hungry tiger and a wily fox offering an illustration of this commonly used idiom. (View Text | Download Text)

Liuyang He (3.1) - The traditional folk song about a famous river in Hunan province. (View Text | Download Text)

Meimei (2.3) - The raucous drinking song made famous by Zhang Yimou's film Red Sorghum (View Text | Download Text)

Moli Hua (4.4) - A folk song from Hebei province that has attained international popularity. (View Text | Download Text)

Shi Wu de Yueliang (2.1) - A popular song romanticizing the life of a soldier in the liberation army. (View Text | Download Text)

White Haired Girl (2.5) - A well-known folk story about a peasant girl who suffers and finally manages to escape the depradations of a tyrannical landlord. Adapted after liberation as an early experiment in revolutionary folk theatre, the legend has been recast more recently as a widely acclaimed modern dance drama that has been performed more than 1500 times by the Shanghai Ballet. The full text of the modern theatrical version of the story is provided here. (View Text | Download Text)

White Snake Story (2.6) - A romance tale originally dating from the Tang Dynasty about the undying love between a snake lady and a young man from Hangzhou. Featuring magical medicines and epic battles, the story has been rewritten many times and adapted for regional operas, novels, films, cartoons, and computer games. This version here is adopted from Peking opera. (View Text | Download Text)

Wo de Zuguo (2.1) - A famous patriotic song celebrating the virtues of the motherland that has been enduringly popular since the revolutionary era. (View Text | Download Text)

Yelai Xiang (2.4) - A favorite folk song about the enchantments of the fragrant night air. (View Text | Download Text)

Yellow River Cantata (2.9) - Written by Guang Weiran and composed by Xian Xinghai in 1938, the songs of this cantata convey the determination of the Chinese people in the face of Japanese aggression. Included here are the lyrics to the four best-known parts: Song of the Yellow River Boatmen, Ode to the Yellow River, Ballad of the Yellow Waters, and Defending the Yellow River. (View Text | Download Text)

Zodiac Stories (2.1) - Traditional children's stories associated with the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The first three stories of the series, featuring the Rat, the Ox, and the Tiger, are included here. (View Text | Download Text)

History, Ethics, and Politics

Address to Fellow Countrywomen (1.8) - A stirring speech by the poet, revolutionary, and early feminist activist Qiu Jin (1875-1907), calling on the women of China to emancipate themselves from the traditional practices of footbinding and arranged marriages and to reclaim the values of education and self-reliance for women. (View Text | Download Text)

Analects of Confucius (2.4) - This record of the sage's pronouncements in discussions with his disciples has provided the cornerstone for many of China's social and ethical values and traditions. Included here are the first two sections, which offer guidance on the virtues of friendship, obedience, loyalty, integrity, and learning. (View Text | Download Text)

Biography of Boyi (3.3) - A short selection from Sima Qian's masterpiece Shi Ji (Records of the Grand Historian, c. 85 BC) concerned primarily with heavenly justice and the role of the historian. The Shi Ji, the first systematic history written in China, covers the major personalities and events of the previous 2,000 years, from the time of the Yellow Emperor through the first part of the Han dynasty. (View Text | Download Text)

Classes and Class Struggle (1.6) - Selected quotations from Mao's Red Book on the historical role of class conflict and its implications for Chinese society. (View Text | Download Text)

Dao De Jing (2.5) - One of the best-known texts of ancient China, the Tao Te Ching (as it is frequently transliterated) is attributed to Lao-tzu, a sixth-century philosopher who lived at roughly the same time as Confucius. In poetic and concise passages, Lao-tzu preached of a dynamic and dialectical principle of binary opposition. He argues that the Great Way of nature and naturalness underlies the worldly matters, which is to be followed, not opposed, in the life. Even the effort to describe the Way renders an obstruction to the true meaning of this dynamic and abstract concept. Lao-tzu's teaching forms the central canon of Taoist philosophy. (View Text | Download Text)

The Hong Kong Question (2.3) - Deng Xiaoping's ennumeration of the three principles governing China's policy towards Hong Kong as presented during a meeting with Margaret Thatcher in September of 1982. The Chinese leader expresses openness to dialogue, but insists on the irreducible fact of Chinese sovereignty over the territory. (View Text | Download Text)

How to Be a Good Communist (3.2) - A famous treatise published in 1939 by Liu Shaoqi urging the disciplined cultivation of revolutionary thought and behavior. Long considered the likely successor to Mao Zedong, the author was a labor organizer in the 1920s, a participant in the Long March, and a member of the Central Committee until his denunciation in 1968. (View Text | Download Text)

Poster Campaigns (2.2) - A selection of propaganda slogans from various political poster campaigns of the revolutionary period. (View Text | Download Text)

Recollections of the May Fourth Movement (2.7) - Deng Yingchao (1904-1992) was one of the leading women figures in China's recent political history. As a student activist, Deng was involved in the May 4th movement, a student-led protest against Japan's encroachment on China's sovereignty after World War I. Throughout her later life, Deng remained active in the women's movement and as the spouse and companion of Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister of the People's Republic. (View Text | Download Text)

Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art (1.7) - An important series of speeches given by Mao Zedong in 1942 on the role of art and literature in the communist revolution. (View Text | Download Text)

Young China (2.4) - Historian, philosopher, journalist, and political reformer Liang Qichao (1873-1929) was one of the foremost men of letters of the late Qing and early republican period. He was active in the reform movement of the 1890s, and after a period of exile in Japan, helped to found the Progressive Party on his return in 1912. "The Young China," a well-known essay from his most radical period, was published in his newspaper Qingyi Bao on Feb. 2, 1900. The essay compares the Qing Empire to an old man of failing health, and introduces the concept of the nation-state to argue that the future of the new China rests in the hands of young revolutionaries. The essay exerted considerable influence on Chinese political culture during the May Fourth movement in the 1920's and well beyond. (View Text | Download Text)

Language and Linguistics

Commonly Used Idioms (3.3) - A large selection of the pithy, four-character idioms that are a traditional hallmark of vernacular Chinese. (View Text | Download Text

Commonly Used Proverbs (2.2)- A selection of commonly used Chinese proverbs providing a glimpse into traditional folk wisdom. (View Text | Download Text)

Most Frequently Used Characters (1.0) - A simple list of the 300 most frequently used characters in modern Chinese, in alphabetical order by pinyin. These 300 characters account for approximately 65% of the characters encountered in a typical Chinese newspaper. Master them and you're well on your way to literacy! (View Text | Download Text)


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