The term refers to all kinds of writings, including what we call essays and books today. In the Pre-Qin period, this term was subsumed under literature. During the Han Dynasty, the term referred to writings other than wenxue (文学documents of previous dynasties) to specifically mean essays, articles, history books, and treatises. In the Six Dynasties, the term, together with wenxue, began to assume the meaning of what later generations meant by literature, that is, writings for aesthetic appreciation which encompass every type of literary works. Zhang (章) also implies a movement of music played to its finish, or a single piece of music. Therefore, the term focuses on both meaning and structure as well as writing skills and techniques. Both Chinese characters in the term have the meaning of interwoven patterns and colors. Together, they signify a beautiful form, giving the term an aesthetic connotation. The earlier concept of the term is related to but different from that of wenxue, with the former focusing more on elegant diction and style, indicating increasing attention to the aesthetic value of literary works.
Literary writings reflect one’s moods and disposition, or give expression to one’s inner world. Before writing, one should gather his thoughts and free his mind so as to transcend the limitations of time and space. Thus, once he starts writing, his work will achieve its flavor naturally. (The History of Qi of the Southern Dynasties)
Writings by sages in ancient times are all called “literary writings.” Isn’t this because they all have literary elegance? (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)