Confusing as its prolific diversity may appear at first, the history of Chinese literature offers in fact an unusually cohesive range of literary evolution whose waves of development are both distinguishable and revealing. This study is, nevertheless, the first successful attempt in English to deal with the overwhelming mass of generally unfamiliar material without turning it into a diffuse encyclopedia of random selections. The author, as Lin Yutang promises in his introduction, has managed to write a real history, accenting the story behind the endless caravan of works. His account of three thousand literary years is based on four historical presuppositions: the recognized ""Golden Ages"" of China's various literary genres with their leading representives, the influence of Buddhist literature since the fourth century; the interrelationship of literature and music (Chinese opera as drama, folk song and poetry); and most distinctively perhaps, the influence of the common people and their vernacular on the development of new forms and expression. Often beginning a period with the biography of the dominant figure (from Confucius on) and proceeding through social, economic, and political influences to excerpts from the works themselves, many of them translated here for the first time -- the author conveys a sense of continuity, a feeling of human life behind the literature, provocative of further exploration. In short, this is a history that can be read with profit from beginning to end. For the general reader and less advanced Orientalist, it is a long overdue revelation. Excellent on all counts.