It has frequently been noted that there is no tradition of tragedy in Chinese literature. Yet, for centuries, China’s history has been punctuated by tragic events and its people must, as a culture, find ways of explaining or coping with this experience. This article compares Greek and Shakespearean tragedy with examples from Chinese literature and considers the different ways they confront similar issues of fate, justice and responsibility. It is argued that an examination of tragedy in China raises questions about Western concepts of tragedy, its generic form and the value it is conventionally accorded. Assumptions concerning catharsis or the moral good supposedly inherent in regarding the pain of others are interrogated in the cross-cultural encounter.