SECTION I. TRACTS IN CHINESE LITERATURE.
The tract, as a means of publishing in a popular form to the common people, the thoughts and sayings of wise men, has long been used in China. With the invention of printing during the T'ang dynasty, and its rapid development in the succeeding period, this form of literature soon became general, and increased by leaps and bounds. Since that time, an immense development has taken place, and a great part of the literature read by the ordinary classes of society is in the form of booklets. Several of these small books have come to be reckoned as classics: for example, the San Tzu Ching is the primary reader in every Chinese school, and is known by heart in every home.
In no country, perhaps, does the tract find so ready an acceptance. In consequence of the sacredness attaching to the printed character, the leaflet, tract, and even wayside poster are probably oftener and more carefully read than is the case with the more progressive nations of the West, where such productions are generally but lightly esteemed. The growth of tract literature, especially moral maxims and essays, booklets issued in favour of special religious systems or particular deities, and the like, has been much fostered by persons who, wishing to accumulate to themselves merit, devote larger or smaller sums of money to the production and distribution of these works.
The Kan Ying Pien is perhaps the most celebrated tract in the annals of literature. A book that has been scattered broadcast among a people numbering hundreds of millions, and that for several centuries, must be almost without a parallel. It is not sold in the ordinary way on street bookstalls or shops, as is the case with Chinese tract-literature in general, but is obtainable in temples, both Buddhist and Taoist, the copies being placed there for gratuitous distribution. Larger editions, with commentary and illustrative notes and narratives, are to be purchased of book sellers, and the book is not without its serious students. On the other hand, the widespread circulation of the text has made many of its pithy phrases part of the common talk of the people, and one cannot listen long to any conversation, even on the most mundane affairs of daily and domestic life, without hearing some expression the origin of which is to be found in the famous little bookâ¦.
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