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Non-Traditional Really Old Classics: Chinese and Japanese November 20, 2009

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading Ideas.

Our previous listings of classic works focus a lot on European and Mediterrean classics. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of some more really old classics from Japanese and Chinese traditions.

This list is, of course, not at all comprehensive. Let me know what we’ve missed (especially which traditions I should research next!) and I’ll add it! Let us know other really old classics you know about from other traditions and I’ll add them to a list too!

Note that many of the links are to works on Amazon or Wikipedia so you can get more information about the works.

  • Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu. Written probably 6th century BCE; ancient philosophical book central to Chinese religions.
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Written 6th century BCE; a Chinese military treatise, still considered a basic text for military strategies and tactics.
  • Analects by Confucius. Written between 479 and 221 BCE; a record of the works and acts of the central Chinese thinker and philosopher.
  • Mencius by Mencius. Written in the 300s BCE; the most influential Confucian philosopher after Confucius himself.
  • The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters by Ō no Yasumaro. Written 712 CE; a collection of myths about the creation of Japan.
  • Nihon Shoki: The Chronicles of Japan by Prince Toneri. Written about 720 CE; a chronicle of Japanese history with a slightly more solid foundation in historical records than Kojiki.
  • Man’yōshū: The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves by Ōtomo no Yakamochi. Written about 759 CE; the oldest and most revered of Japanese poetry collections.
  • Kokin Wakashū. Written in 905; a Japanese waka-poetry anthology.
  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Written in the 10th century; a Japanese folktale
  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon. 1000s; a book of observations and musing about life as a Japanese court lady.
  • The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. 1000s; a tale of women in the Japanese aristocracy, it’s often considered the world’s first novel.
  • Konjaku Monogatarishū (Anthology of Tales from the Past). Written from the 700s to 1100s; a collection of over 1000 tales from India, China, and Japan.
  • Hōjōki (An Account of My Hut) by Kamo no Chōmei. 1212; descriptions of disasters that befall the people of Kyoto, Japan.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Vol. 1 by Lo Kuan-Chung. 1300s; a historical novel of the years 169 to 280 in China.
  • Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) by Yoshida Kenkō. 1331; medieval Japanese essays.
  • The Tale of the Heike. 1371; an epic tale of the struggle between two clans for control of Japan.
  • Journey to the West (AKA Monkey) by Wu Cheng’en. 1590s; a Chinese fictionalized account of myths of a Buddist monk’s journeys. (Wikipedia)
  • The Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Naian. Late 1500s; the story of 108 Chinese outlaws.


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