Asian Literature

Asian literature refers to the literature that was written over a period of thousands of years, in a variety of countries in Asia. Asian literature encompasses East Asian literature that includes Chinese, Japanese and Korean literature; Central Asian literature comprising of Bengali, Indian, Pakistani and Tamil literature; West Asian Literature that covers Arabic literature, Persian literature and Turkish literature and South East Asian Literature that is comprised of literature of the Philippines.

The study of the massive amount of Asian literature as a whole requires the aggregation of literature under specific headings. Asian literature can be divided into a host of different labels, categorized according to religion, zone, region, ethnic group, literary genre, historical perspective or language of origin.

Though throughout the centuries a vast amount of Asian literature has been written, most of Asian literature can be broadly categorized as lyric, drama or narrative. The literary type of Asian writing was usually determined by the surrounding culture of the time and often expresses the ideologies prevalent in the era.

Some researchers choose a straightforward division of Asian literature, categorizing the mass of literature under Chinese, Japanese and Indian literature based on the longevity and influence of the literary traditions of these countries.

Much of Indian literature was originally written in Sanskrit, the Indic language of Hinduism and the Vedas, the religion's sacred texts. Sanskrit lyric poetry can be further categorized into three genres, fragmentary lyric, narrative lyric and dramatic lyric. Most Sanskrit poetry stems from anthologies of lyrics that were compiled in medieval India from earlier sources.

Another large section of Indian literature is written in Tamil, a language that is spoken mainly in southeastern India. The earliest Tamil poetry was written between 100 BCE and 250 CE. These poems were later anthologized in The Ettutokai and the Pattuppattu.

Though Hindi was not accepted as an appropriate language for literature, as it was overshadowed by Sanskrit, classic religious poems were written in this language as early as the fifteenth century. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth century a collection of bhakti poetry emerged. Bhakti refers to the devotion and relationship that a person has with God.

The ghazal is a form of lyric poetry written in Urdi, an Indic language that is the literary language of Pakistan. The ghazal can be compared to the sonnet, since both are about the same length and are usually romantic and introspective.

Modern Indian literature includes the many works of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1940). Despite the sheer mass of his writings, his works are less known because of the language in which they were written, Bengalese. The eight novels and short stories of Anita Desai's have earned her international acclaim. They give voice to characters other than adult male protagonists, such as women, children, adolescents and the elderly. Other prominent Indian authors include Premchand who was most notably known for his short stories and Salman Rushdie, known for his Midnight's Children and for the backlash to his Satanic Verses that was published in 1988.

Different than Indian literature, Chinese literature does not include epic poetry. Most of their literature focuses on everyday events, such as the prevalent agricultural society.

Chinese literature includes the revered text, The Book of Songs. It is a collection of 305 poems. Some believe that Confucius himself compiled the collection, though there are texts that state that the collection was assembled by the officials of the Zhou dynasty.

The Chuang Zu is one of the fundamental texts of Taoism. The text had a profound influence on Chinese thought and literature. It is a collection of writings that was compiled in the second century BCE. The Records of the Historian is a prominent historical work in Chinese literature. It was written in classical Chinese by Sima Qian, who is a symbol of heroism in Chinese culture. Another work of Chinese literature is The Journey to the West, which is a narrative regarding the expedition of a Buddhist master to India in quest of holy scriptures.

Modern Chinese literature includes the works of Lu Xun who published two volumes of stories in 1923 and 1926. Lu was one of the most distinguished Chinese novelists of the 1930s. He wrote the Camel Xiangzi in 1937, depicting the degradation of a rickshaw puller in a society devoid of justice.

Japanese literature includes the Man'yoshu, one of the greatest collections of Japanese poetry. The latest poem in the anthology was dated 759. It compiler is unknown, though there are some who believe that it was the work of Otomo no Yakomochi.

Other Japanese authors include Matsuo Basho (1644-94) a noted haiku writer and Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote the Tale of the Genji. That book was written in the eleventh century and is an epic narration of the hero Genji or Minamoto, and idealizes love that matures after marriage.

Modern Japanese authors include: Tanizaki Junichiro who wrote a twenty-eight volume body of work; Enchi Fumiko who was known as the most prominent female Japanese writer of her time; Abe Kobo who wrote his sensational Suna no onna novel in 1962, and Kawabata Yasunari who was a Nobel Prize laureate for literature.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective: A Guide for Teaching
Barbara Stoler Miller.
M.E. Sharpe, 1994
The Columbia History of Chinese Literature
Victor H. Mair.
Columbia University Press, 2001
Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan
Stephen Snyder; Philip Gabriel.
University of Hawaii Press, 1999
Modern South Asian Literature in English
Paul Brians.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India
Nalini Natarajan.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Postcolonial Poetry in English
Rajeev S. Patke.
Oxford University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "South Asia and Southeast Asia"
Understanding Korean Literature
Kim Hunggyu; Robert J. Fouser.
M. E. Sharpe, 1997
A History of Korean Literature
Peter H. Lee.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Culture and Customs of Vietnam
Mark W. McLeod; Nguyen Thi Dieu.
Greenwood Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Literature"
Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia
Sheldon Pollock.
University of California Press, 2003
Representation and Resistance: South Asian and African Women's Texts at Home and in the Diaspora
Jaspal Kaur Singh.
University of Calgary Press, 2008
The Comparative Study of Traditional Asian Literatures: From Reflective Traditionalism to Neo-traditionalism
V. I. Braginsky.
Curzon Press Limited, 2001
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