China's artistic and cultural achievements over the past 3,000 years are the basis of great pride for the Chinese people. The rulers of China's dynasties emphasized their role as protectors of the country's cultural tradition, supporting visual artists and writers and creating elaborate palace and temple complexes to demonstrate their fitness to rule. China's heritage was also available to those residents who were not literate in the Chinese language, often through the medium of drama, which brought stories from Chinese history and literature into even remote towns and villages.
In the 20th century China underwent a number of revolutionary political changes that led many Chinese to challenge the value of their country's cultural heritage. China is the home of the world's longest continuous tradition of writing, dating from the first use of Chinese characters for purposes of ritual divination during the Shang dynasty (1570-1045 bc). The earliest Chinese literary works date from the Western Zhou dynasty (1045-771 bc). Chinese poetry, often personal and lyrical in tone, reached a high point during the Tang dynasty (ad 618-907). New forms of verse based on the structures of well-known songs were popular during the Song dynasty.
During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the short story and the novel developed. Also during the Ming period, and for the first time in Chinese history, a great deal of poetry was written by women. After the founding of the Communist People's Republic of China in 1949, the government ordered that all literature serve the needs of the socialist state. .
Artistic production in China goes back to about 6000 bc. The Chinese consider their unbroken tradition of art one of the central achievements of Chinese culture, and art of various kinds has always been held in high regard. For the last 2,000 years, the art form that has enjoyed the greatest prestige has been calligraphy, in which the characters of the Chinese language are written with a brush on silk or paper.