China possesses one of the world’s chief literary traditions. Its texts have been preserved for over 3,000 years. Admiration for the past has influenced the preservation of these cultural sources, and may have partial the invention of wood block printing in the ninth century and moveable type printing in the twelfth century. The practice of collecting and reproducing libraries has also played a chief role in the spread of the tradition. Most prominently, China can boast an unbroken cultural tradition based on the Chinese script as a language medium independent of vernacular differences. As the literary language develops into increasingly removed from, the spoken, and thus less vital, literature took a natural turn toward imitation. Certainly, after the formative classical period beginning with Confucius, the literary history of China becomes one of imitation with variations of diverse models. Literature also thus becomes more exclusive, for an acceptance or admiration of a text may require awareness with the models being referred.
The power of the written language has had important effects on the growth of the literature. In handwriting or in print, a piece of literature has visual appeal. However, even with the disadvantage of having large number of character, Chinese has been a potent factor in shaping and maintaining a cultural continuity for millions of people. Because the written characters tend to keep the language stable, Chinese never developed into distinctly separate languages, as did Latin in southern Europe with the formation of the several Romance languages.
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