Literature was particularly vibrant during the Southern Dynasty and tended to be flowery and frilly, while Northern Dynasty literature was rougher and more straightforward. Notable writers include Yu Xin, Xing Fang, Wei Shou, and Wen Zisheng of the Northern Dynasty. In poetry, fu poetry continued to be a dominant genre, though the five-syllable form that achieved great prominence during the Tang dynasty gradually increased in popularity. In the Southern Dynasty, a type of essay known as pian wen (Chinese: ), which used metered rhyme, flowery language, and classical allusions, became popular. Writings often spoke of removing oneself from everyday material existence and jettisoning cares and anxiety.
Poets of the Northern and Southern dynasties focused on imitating older classical poets of Ancient China, formalizing the rhyme patterns and meters that governed poem composition. However, scholars realized that ancient songs and poems, like those of the Shijing, in many instances no longer rhymed due to sound shifts over the previous centuries. The introduction of Buddhism to China, which began in the late Han dynasty and continued through the Tang dynasty, introduced Chinese scholars to Sanskrit. The Brahmi script, with its sophisticated phonological organization, arrived in China in the 5th century, and was studied by Xie Lingyun, who produced a (since-lost) glossary of Chinese transcriptions of Sanskrit terms "arranged according to the 14 sounds". The four tones of early Middle Chinese were first described by Shen Yue and Zhou Yong.
The southern dynasties of China were rich in cultural achievement, with the flourishing of Buddhism and Daoism, especially the latter as two new canons of scriptual writings were created for the Supreme Purity sect and its rival the Numinous Treasure Sect. The southern Chinese were influenced greatly by the writings of Buddhist monks such as Huiyuan, who applied familiar Daoist terms to describe Buddhism for other Chinese. The Chinese were in contact and influenced by cultures of India and trading partners farther south, such as the kingdoms of Funan and Champa (located in modern-day Cambodia and Vietnam).
The sophistication and complexity of the Chinese arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and playing of music reached new heights during this age. The earlier Cao Zhi, son of Cao Cao, is regarded as one of the greatest poets of his day. His style and deep emotional expression in writing influenced later poets of this new age, such as Tao Qian (365427) or Tao Yuanming. Even during his lifetime, the written calligraphy of the "Sage of Calligraphy", Wang Xizhi (307365), was prized by many and considered a true form of personal expression like other arts. Painting became highly prized with artists such as Gu Kaizhi (344406), who largely established the tradition of landscape art in classical Chinese painting (to learn more, refer to the "Far East" section of the article for Painting).
Institutions of learning in the south were also renowned, including the Zongmingguan (Imperial Nanjing University), where the famed Zu Chongzhi (mentioned above) had studied. Zu Chongzhi devised the new Daming Calendar in 465, calculated one year as 365.24281481 days (which is very close to 365.24219878 days as we know today), and calculated the number of overlaps between sun and moon as 27.21223 (which is very close to 27.21222 as we know today). Using this number he successfully predicted 4 eclipses during a period of 23 years (from 436 to 459).
Although multiple-story towers such as guard towers and residential apartments existed in previous periods, during this period the distinct Chinese pagoda tower (for storing Buddhist scriptures) evolved from the stupa, the latter originating from Buddhist traditions of protecting sutras in ancient India.