The Book of Songs, China's first anthology of poems and earliest literary achievement, was compiled in the 6th century B.C. Literature that followed in the long succession of dynasties includes pre-Qin prose in a simple style, magnificent Han Dynasty fu (rhymed prose), and the yuefu (folk songs) of the end of the Han Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty alone can be credited with thousands of poets, including Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi, who left more than 50,000 enduring poems. The Song Dynasty was known for its ci (lyrics). The most notable achievement of the Yuan Dynasty literature was the zaju (a type of poetic drama set to music). The Ming and Qing dynasties saw the production of four masterpieces of the novel: Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh, Journey to the West and A Dream of Red Mansions. They have been celebrated for centuries for their rich historical and cultural connotations and unique styles.
The development of Chinese literature saw two golden ages from the 1920s to the 1930s and from the 1980s to the 1990s. The first heyday, starting from the New Culture Movement, showed strong opposition to imperialism and feudalism. Progressive writers, symbolized by Lu Xun, pioneered China's modern literature; Lu Xun, Shen Congwen, Ba Jin, Mao Dun, Lao She and Zhang Ailing became great masters in China's art and literature.
The emergence in the 1980s and 1990s of a number of new writers and works with world influence reflects the achievements and richness of China's late-20th century modern literature. Writers showed greater maturity in the use of contemporary language to express the life and aesthetic experiences of modern Chinese people. Generally speaking, the artistry of thought and literary expression achieved by contemporary novelists has surpassed that of the previous generation. In recent years literature has entered a new stage --the "She Century." Woman writers of all ages - from those born in the 1930s to those still in their twenties --have been active in the literary world and hold an important position in terms of quantity and quality of literary output. Especially noteworthy are the works of woman writers born post-60s, with characters whose appearance and values differ greatly from those of classical novels; their works have created a unique cultural phenomenon in modern society.
China has set up dozens of literary awards, the most prestigious of which are the Mao Dun Literary Award, the Lu Xun Literary Award and the Annual Zhonghua Literary Person. The Chinese Female Literary Award, held every five years, is a major national award scheme, covering the fields of novel, prose, poetry, documentary writing, female literary theory and works of translation.