A Chinese Text Sampler

An Annotated Collection of Digitized Chinese Texts for Students of Chinese Language and Culture

Modern Chinese Literature | Classical Chinese Literature
| Chinese Film Scripts and Song Lyrics | Chinese Fables, Parables, and Children's Stories |
Chinese History, Ethics, and Politics |
Chinese Language in Daily Life

The best way to improve Chinese reading skills is to get lots of practice on a regular basis. The collection of Chinese texts presented here is intended as a resource for students of written Chinese from the advanced beginner level onward. The selections represent a wide range of periods and genres, but all are well known in modern-day China and worth reading in their own right.

Each text can be displayed in your browser window or downloaded for use with Chinese text reading and dictionary software such as Clavis Sinica or Wenlin. Clicking on the "View Text" link opens an HTML version of the file that you can read in your browser window. Clicking on "Download Text" opens a GB-coded version of the text you can download for later use. Some of the texts are also provided with original English translations created by University of Michigan students.

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.

Looking for Simpler Readings or Audio Recordings?

For additional readings at the beginner level, try out the Stepping Stones e-textbook, a set of 15 multi-media lessons designed to introduce the 300 most commonly used characters. For additional practice texts at the intermediate levels, visit the Chinese Voices Project website. This is a collection of short annotated and graded texts about life in modern Beijing. Each text is accompanied by an MP3 audio recording, so you can listen to the stories as you read along.

Struggling to Learn Chinese Characters?

There are an increasing number of online study aids for students of written Chinese at every level. A number of resources designed to help you learn Chinese characters, including web-based applets and smartphone apps, have been created by the author of this site.

Having Trouble with these Texts?

This web site receives over 100 unique visits each day and has earned a five-star ("Essential") rating from the Asia Observer. It is constantly being expanded, and new contributions are welcome. If you find this to be a useful resource, please consider adding a link from your own website. Comments, suggestions, and corrections should be directed to dporter@umich.edu.


Modern Chinese Literature

The Advocate (2.0) - Lai Ho (1894-1943) was a famous doctor, left-wing political activist, and a leading figure in the Taiwanese New Literature Movement who is often described as "Taiwan's counterpart to Lu Xun." His works often depict with the struggles of Taiwan intellectuals in coping with Japanese colonization and critique the delusion of enlightenment brought about by the apparent modernity of his society. This well-known short story describes the conversion of a lawyer from an employee of a wealthy provincial landlord to an advocate for the impoverished local citizens as they begin to speak out against his oppressive rule. (View Text | Download Text)

Drunkenness (2.4) - Hou Baolin (1913-1993) was one of the most renowned practitioners of xiangsheng comic dialog, or crosstalk, in the 20th century. The modern form of crosstalk dates from the mid-19th century, and along with other forms of quyi, or folk vocal art, experienced a period of great popularity after the founding of the People's Republic. This dialog is extracted from one of the best-known of those performed by Hou Baolin and his partner Guo Qiru in the republic's early years. (View Text | Download Text)

Eagle Shooting Heroes (2.5) - A representative chapter from the best-selling martial arts 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 in China. 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 Chinese 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. (Chinese | English)

Hands (2.2) - Xiao Hong (1911-1942) was a writer of essays, fiction, and poetry who is widely considered to be China's first feminist novelist. 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. Her style, at once sweeping and compassionate, has been compared to that of Tolstoy, Flaubert, and Ba Jin. 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)

Laughter (2.0) - Another crosstalk dialog by master comedian Hou Baolin examines, with typically self-reflexive wit, why people love crosstalk. (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 politics and complex social relations of the 1920s. 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)

Oh Motherland! (2.5) - Contemporary poet Jiang He is one of a new generation of writers influenced by Western Modernism and increasingly daring in their defiance of state control of their art whose use of veiled references and oblique allegories has led to their being known as the "Misty Poets." Their desire to construct a new national consciousness from past cultural traditions has led to the emergence of a new style of national epic poetry of which this monumental and powerfully political poem is a leading example. (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)

West Wind (2.4) - Bing Xin (1900-1999) was the pen name of Xie Wanying, an influential women writer known for her short stories, novels, essays, and children's literature. An active participant in the May Fourth Movement and a close friend of Ba Jin, she was also an important figure in the history of early feminist literature in China. Her short story "West Wind" explores dilemmas familiar to successful professional women both within China and elsewhere. The heroine is a successful intellectual who encounters a former admirer whom she had rejected for the sake of her career and independence ten years before. (View Text | Download Text)

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Classical Chinese 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)

Bitter Indeed it is to be Born a Woman (3.0) - This poignant lament on the status of women in society was penned by Fu Xuan (217-278), a poet and scholar official of the Western Jin dynasty who was born an impoverished orphan and rose to wealth by his literary gifts. His own background may have left him more than usually sympathetic with the countless trials and humiliations that were so often a girl's fate. (View Text | Download Text)

The Carnal Prayer Mat (3.0) - The Chinese playwright and novelist Li Yu (1610-1680) is one of the most daring and provocative writers of the late Ming Dynasty. His erotic novel Rouputuan, the first chapter of which is excerpted here, draws irreverently upon both Confucian classics and the arts of the bedroom in recounting the adventures of a lusty poet who is determined to marry the most beautiful woman in the world. (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 Text | Read Using Chinese Text Reader | 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)

The Shanxi Merchant (3.2) - This short story by the Qing scholar-official Chi Yun (1724-1805) is taken from the first of the author's five collections of moralizing anecdotes and ghostly tales, Luanyang Xiaoxia Lu (Records of Passing a Summer at Luanyang County). A leading advisor to the Qianlong Emperor, Chi Yun, also known as Ji Xiaolan, oversaw the compilation of the imperial encyclopedia and frequently served as the chief examiner in the imperial civil examinations. The Shanxi Merchant is a brief, cutting parable about the vices of greed and ingratitude. (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)

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Chinese Film Scripts and Song Lyrics


The Blue Kite
(2.0) - This prize-winning 1993 film by renowned director Tian Zhuangzhuang tells the harrowing story of a boy and his mother as they struggle to survive the often bewildering political tumult that characterized Chinese society in the 1950s and 60s. The film was banned in China because for its portrayal of the devastating impact that Maoist policies of the period had on ordinary, well-meaning people. The determined efforts of the principal characters to sustain some degree of dignity and normalcy in their lives make for a damning critique of an intrusive political system whose methods and ideologies seem at times to border on the insane. This excerpt from the script follows the ordeal of the boy's family through the Rectification Campaign of the late 1950s. (View Text | Download Text)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2.5) - This blockbuster film directed by Ang Lee (2000) is a martial arts epic that tells the story of a martial artist whose fabled sword, the Green Destiny, is stolen by a mysterious masked woman, setting in motion a whirlwind tale of love, loyalty, sisterhood, and revenge. This excerpt from the script presents the dialogue from the opening scenes of the film. (View Text | Download Text)

The East is Red (1.8) - A popular song of revolutionary times exalting the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Chinese 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)

Farewell My Concubine (3.3) - Chen Kaige's award-winning 1993 film, based on the novel by Lilian Lee, tells an epic story of modern Chinese history through the eyes of two stars in a Peking Opera troupe. This excerpt comes from the first part of the film, when the two orphan boys, Douzi and Shitou, have just been inducted into the brutal world of the Peking Opera training academy. (View Text | Download Text)

Hero (3.1) - One of the most expensive films ever made in China, Zhang Yimou's martial arts extravaganza tells the story of the emperor of Qin and several would-be assassins. The emperor has gained his throne at the cost of many lives, and he constantly fears for his own. When a nameless minor official claims to have killed three legendary fighters who were plotting against him, the emperor invites him to tell his story. This excerpt from the script conveys the emperor's growing skepticism of the storyteller's tales and true motives. (View Text | Download Text)

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

Ju Dou (2.4) - One of the best-known films by renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou, Ju Dou (1991) tells the tragic story of a young woman (played by Gong Li) who is forced into marriage with the sadistic owner of a dye factory in pre-revolutionary China. This excerpt from the script begins with the owner sending his nephew on an errand that will lead to a fortuitous meeting with his aunt, and ends with the naming of the child that is the result of their liaison. (Chinese | English)

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)

Raise the Red Lantern (2.3) - This disturbing 1991 film about a wealthy but supremely dysfunctional pre-revolutionary is one of the most highly regarded collaborations between director Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li. Gong Li plays an educated young woman who is married against her will to a wealthy man who already has three other wives. She rapidly learns the Machiavellian rules of survival and supremacy that govern the frosty relationships among the women in a vicious game that can end only in tragedy. The film has been read as an allegory about both the condition of women and the corruption of modern Chinese society. The excerpt from the script presented here is from the beginning of the film, and follows the heroine as she is introduced to the household, its inhabitants, and its peculiar and ultimately deadly rituals. (Chinese | English)

Red Sorghum (2.1) - Released in 1987, this film adaptation of Mo Yan's novel was the first collaboration between director Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li. The film tells the story of a Shandong wine distillery in the 1930s, combining a colorful portrayal of peasant life with a bitter tale of resistance against the Japanese occupation. The excerpt of the script presented here is from the first part of the film, and opens with the heroine Jiu'er (played by Gong Li) arguing with her father about his plans to marry her to the aged leper who owns the nearby distillery. (View Text | Download Text)

Shi Wu de Yueliang (2.1) - A popular song romanticizing the life of a soldier in the People's Liberation Army. (View Text | Download Text)

Story of Qiu Ju (2.2) - A critically acclaimed comedy directed by Zhang Yimou, this 1992 film stars Gong Li as a pregnant peasant woman who stubbornly pursues justice after her husband is kicked in the groin by their village chief. The excerpt from the script presented here begins with the heroine's first visit to a local administrative office and ends, several scenes later, with her vow to continue her quest until she sees justice done. (Chinese | English)

Wo de Zuguo (2.1) - A famous patriotic song celebrating the virtues of the Chinese 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 Earth (2.6) - Directed by Chen Kaige and filmed by Zhang Yimou, this landmark 1984 film heralded the arrival of the "Fifth Generation" of Chinese filmmakers. An ironic allegory about the fate of rural women in post-revolutionary China, Yellow Earth tells the story of a teenage girl in Shaanxi province who has been betrothed since infancy with a boy in a neighboring family. The idealism of a visiting soldier from the People's Liberation Army provides a critical perspective on her plight, but ultimately proves unable to remedy it. This excerpt from the script includes several scenes from early in the film where the soldier first comes to grips with the girl's situation. (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)


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Chinese Fables, Parables, and Children's Stories

The Boatman's Sword (2.9) - A brief parable about a foolish boatman's loss of his sword, illustrating the saying "ke zhou qiu jian," meaning "to take measures without regard to changes in circumstances. (Chinese | English)

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

The Donkey and the Tiger (1.7) - A tiger mistakes a donkey for a fearsome monster, until he discovers that the donkey can do no more than bellow and kick. This story illustrates the idiom "qian lu ji qiong," to be at wit's end. (View Text | Download Text)

The Foolish Farmer (3.9) - This short parable about a farmer who is determined to make his rice grow faster illustrates the saying ya miao zhu zhang, which means "to spoil things by excessive enthusiasm." (Chinese | English)

The Foolish Old Man of North Mountain (3.7) - When a mountain blocks the view from your front door, just pull out a shovel and move it aside. Such was the resolution of the hero of this oft-told tale, which explains the meaning of the idiom "yugong yishan," which has roughly the connotation of "where there's a will, there's a way." (View Text | Download Text)

Fox and Tiger (2.4) - A traditional Chinese children's fable about a hungry tiger and a wily fox offering an illustration of the commonly used idiom hu jia hu wei, which means "to bully people by flaunting one's powerful connections." (View Text | Download Text | Read Using Chinese Text Reader)

Frog in the Well (5.4) - A short fable about a self-satisfied frog whose delusions of grandeur about himself and his little well are shattered by a visiting tortoise's description of the sea. The fable explains the origin of a popular Chinese proverb, or chengyu, meaning "a person with a very limited outlook." (View Text | Download Text)

The Lost Horse (3.4) - A well known parable about a wise old horse breeder who can see the silver lining in a dark cloud, and recognizes the hazards that can lurk behind a stroke of seeming good fortune. The story explains the meaning of the saying, "saiweng shima," a blessing in disguise. (View Text | Download Text)

Ma Liang and the Magic Brush (2.2) - A traditional Chinese children's story about a young boy who paints pictures that literally come to life and an emperor who attempts to claim the power of the boy's art for his own. (Chinese | English)

The Peasant and the Hare (2.3) - This brief parable about a farmer who stumbles on a free dinner illustrates the saying shou zhu dai tu, meaning "to wait foolishly for an unlikely windfall." (Chinese | English | Read Using Chinese Text Reader)

Sima Guang to the Rescue (2.0) - Sima Guang was a renowned historian and statesman of the Song Dynasty. This brief account introduces Sima Guang as a young boy and tells the famous story of how he rescued a child who fell into a water urn. (Chinese | English)

The Swan's Feather (2.1) - In English, when speaking of humble gifts, we say "It's the thought that counts." This well-known Chinese fable about gift-giving, the source of a familiar proverb, conveys a similar sentiment. (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)

Zhuangzi and the Butterfly (2.8) - Master Zhuang, a philosopher of the Warring States Period who has been called the world's first anarchist, dreamt that he was a butterfly, and awoke to a new awareness of the artifice of distinction and the fluidity of modes of being in the world. (Chinese | English)

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. (Chinese | English)


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Chinese 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)

Declaration for Peace (1.9) - Yang Kui (1905-1985), a Taiwanese author and political activist, followed the footsteps of Lai Ho in carrying out non-violent resistance against the Japanese and, later, the authoritarian KMT rule through his writings. Attracted to socialism and Marxism in his early years, Yang devoted his youth to organizing farmers' movements in the 1930s. Following the KMT government's brutal suppression of the anti-government resistance movement in 1947, Yang published his famous essay "Declaration for Peace," calling for reconciliation through the release of all prisoners of conscience and the renounciation of state-sponsored violence. His act of defiance earned the author a twelve-year sentence as a political prisoner himself. (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)

New Life Movement (2.3) - In 1934, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek inaugurated the New Life Movement in China in an attempt to combat the ideological sway of Communism. The movement combined strands of Confucianism, nationalism, and authoritarianism, and displayed certain proto-fascist tendencies. In this speech, Chiang Kai-shek lays out how some of the key principles of the movement, including modernization, law & justice, and moral responsibility, are essential to the survival of the nation. (View Text | Download Text)

Poster Campaigns (2.1) - A representative selection of nearly 60 propaganda slogans from various political poster campaigns of the revolutionary period. The slogans are divided into nine broad categories: political programs, personality cults, social culture, economics, war, education, public security, family planning, and environment, health, and hygiene. (View Text | Download Text)

Qian Long's Letter to King George (2.1) - In the late eighteenth century, British merchants were becoming increasingly anxious to tap into the wealth of China's trade networks. King George III sent an envoy to China bearing gifts for the emperor and instructions to negotiate more favorable trade conditions for Britain. While the the embassy was received with all due pomp and ceremony, it failed in its central mission. The Qian Long emperor (r. 1735-1795) sent back an oft-quoted letter to King George thanking him for his tribute but rebuffing his requests for expanded trading privileges. . (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)

Sayings of Mencius (2.2) - A selection of fifteen of the most most familiar sayings of the philosopher Mengzi (372-289 BCE), an itinerant philosopher from the State of Zhou who became the most famous interpreter of Confucius. (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)

The Way of Confucius and Modern Life (2.7) - A famous essay by Chen Duxiu (1879-1942), an educator, philosopher, and politician who in 1916 became the founder and first chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. Here he argues that Confucian social norms are feudal, backward, and incompatible with Western-style modernization. (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)


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Chinese Language in Daily Life

Behavior Guide for Tourists (1.9) - As increasing prosperity has put overseas travel within the reach of ever more Chinese citizens, the authorities have issued reminders that Chinese travellers abroad are expected to uphold the dignity of the nation they represent. This list of precepts for tourists, prepared by the National Tourism Administration, was seen at the entrance gate of a museum in Xi'an. (View Text | Download Text)

Citizens' Pledge to Uphold National Civilization (2.1) - The ubiquitous public propaganda displays of the past have been increasingly displaced by commercial advertising in recent years. In some Beijing neighborhoods, though, one can still find gems like this list of nine principles of good citizenship, sponsored by the Capital Committee for the Promotion of Spiritual Civilization. (View Text | Download Text)

Commonly Used Idioms (3.3) - A large selection of the pithy, four-character idioms (chengyu) that are a traditional hallmark of vernacular Chinese. A familiarity with these idioms is, far more than in other languages, an essential component of cultural literacy. (View Text | Download Text | Read Using Chinese Text Reader)

Commonly Used Proverbs (2.2) - Proverbs provide a glimpse into the spirit and values of any society. This representative selection of 100 of the most commonly used proverbs in modern Chinese is divided into nine categories: family, education, friendship, famous places, the ways of the world, failure and disappointment, optimism, self-discipline, and temperaments. (View Text | Download Text)

The Eight Glories and Eight Shames (2.3) - The Chinese have long been fond of pithy statements of moral precepts, many of which have been fixed in the language in the form of chengyu. This list of rules exorting virtue and deploring vice was transcribed from a large sign posted outside the construction site of a new subway station in Beijing in 2007. (View Text | Download Text)

Family Names (4.0) - Because proper nouns are not capitalized in Chinese as they are in English, it can be difficult for beginners to distinguish people's names from other words when reading Chinese newspapers, stories, and other documents. Fortunately, the number of common family names in China is quite limited, with the 45 surnames presented here used by over 70% of the population. (View Text | Download Text)

Jokes (3.7) - There are few better ways to get to know a culture than by learning what people like to laugh at. This representative sampling of twenty often-told jokes includes barbs directed at most of the usual suspects in Chinese humor, including love, marriage hen-pecked husbands, school, scholars, officials, merchants, and the wealthy. (View Text | Download Text)

Most Frequently Used Characters I (1.0) - A simple list of the 300 most frequently used characters in modern Chinese, in order of increasing complexity. These 300 characters, because they are so widely used in various combinations, 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)

Most Frequently Used Characters II (2.0) - A list of the 500 next most frequently used characters in modern Chinese, in order of increasing complexity. (View Text | Download Text)

Place Names (2.7) - When travelling in China, using a Chinese map, or reading about Chinese history or current events, it is useful to know the characters for the major place names you will encounter. This comprehensive gazetteer includes the names of all of China's provinces, autonomous regions, and special administrative zones, along with the name of the capital city and a list of major cities, geographical features, and historical sites for each one. (View Text | Download Text)

Restaurant Menu Sampler (4.8) - One of the most common texts you'll encounter on any visit to China is a restaurant menu. Unless you'd rather not know what you're eating, it's helpful to recognize the names of at least some of the more common dishes. This selection of 58 typical Chinese menu offerings is divided into six categories: cold appetizers, meat dishes, seafood, vegetable dishes, noodles and buns, and soups. (View Text | Download Text)

Street Signs (2.5) - The signs on buildings, billboards, and street corners are probably the most commonly encountered texts in any major city, and are essential for safety, convenience, navigation, and shopping, not to mention getting a feel for the public culture of a new place. This sampling of 125 common signs seen on recent trips to China is divided into the following nine categories for ease of use: public spaces, communications, transportation, health & medicine, public security, tourism, public services, residential districts, and political slogans. (View Text | Download Text)

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