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Which books to use to learn Classical Chinese?

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Another book that I would recommend: Classical Chinese Primer: 古文入门 by John C.Y. Wang, Sue-mei Wu, Shaoyu Jiang, Frank F.S. Hsueh. The Chinese University Press.

Advantages of this book:

1) Good selection of passages, as far as usefulness to the CSL learner, intrinsic content interest, brevity, and accessibility.

2) Clear grammatical explanations. I find that this is important because I often feel that I'm 90% sure of the meaning of a word/character or grammatical point. But that 10% unknown part can be very crucial, and easily-overlooked.

3) The English in the book is very good (not Chinglish-y).

4) They use traditional characters. Although, the back of the book has an additional appendix with all of the book's passages in simplified. So, if you are used to simplified, you can probably get by using this book by just looking at the back.

5) The book design and presentation is pretty good.

6) You can buy a workbook that comes with it. I have found, so far, that I end up understanding the passage/grammar much better after doing the relatively simple exercises that come along in the workbook.

The main downside of the book is that it is fairly expensive at 240 HKD, with another 90 for the workbook.

Another book that I bought (and will hopefully start and finish sometime next year) is 中國歷史文選 by 張衍田, 北京大學出版社. That book compiles selections from Chinese history, with pretty interesting forwards to the passages and good annotations. The main advantage of the book, compared to others on the Mainland, is that it is written in traditional characters and is written vertically, from right to left. That doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, really. But I read in the book’s introduction: “北大歷史系1987年招收碩士研究生的古代漢語考題,有一題是要考生用繁體字獻寫一段自選的百字古文,結果,沒有一個考生得滿分,有的考卷此題竟是一片空白”。That’s obviously an extreme example. However, if you ever want to read authentic original documents, understand what inscriptions say in temples and museums, (or just read books from HK and Taiwan), then it seems to me that is important to learn to read things the way they were originally presented.

So, this is book should be good in the sense that it fulfills the above requirements and can be bought in the Mainland.


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Just thought I'd bump this thread (and merge it and make it sticky too :mrgreen: ).

So far we have separate threads for the following books:


- An Introduction to Literary Chinese, Michael Fuller

- Literary Chinese for Advanced Beginners, 1997

- 古代漢語, by 王力

- Classical Chinese for Modern Usage

- A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese

Grammar books

- Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar, 1995, Edwin Pulleyblank

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Here's a list of related books in my collection. I also have a number of books back in the Netherlands, but wouldn't be able to name them off the top of my head. Shame on me :wink:







古代漢語 (in four volumes)

漢語史稿 (by 王力)

I also have an old set of annotated readers back in the Netherlands, but I forgot its Chinese name.

Then there's a lot of 三民 editions, excellently annotated and translated into Mandarin. All from the Taiwanese publisher 三民 and published in traditional characters.

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Is there a particular one you would recommend? I know there's the 漢語大詞典,which is a big dictionary. I don't know of any others.

The 古汉语常用字字典 edited by Wang Li is probably the best choice for most learners. It's the most widely used classical Chinese dictionary in China (mostly by high school students).



We had a discussion of various dictionaries in this thread. It turns out the concise Wang Li dictionary has more comprehensive definitions of some characters than the bigger dictionaries.


Online Classical Chinese dictionary?

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I have both



all in pocketsize format so they're great to carry around.

I have to say I prefer 古代漢語詞典 over 古代漢語常用字字典 because the former just has more in-depth definitions etc. I think it's 10,000 characters vs. 4,200 or something like that.

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Thought I'd throw in my two cents: At UC Berkeley California the teacher used "A Classical Chinese Reader" by A.D. Syrokomla-Stefanowska. The grammar instructions can be overwhelming and sometimes ridiculous, however the progression of difficulty is excellent and the glosses are pretty good. Grammar notes in the glossary are great.


At Fudan University in Shanghai everyone uses the 故訓匯纂, which is fantastic, if not exhaustive. Every character has sometimes over 100 instances in which it has appeared throughout history and an explanation for each instance in its context. Text is tiny so it comes with a magnifier.

The other I like is the 辭源, which has sometimes better explanations than the 故訓, but fewer instances of usage. It also has most of the character-coupling instances for each character, meaning more than one character groups. Good for looking up 典故 and allegories as well as poetry.

Advanced reading for poetry:

James J Y Liu: The Art of Chinese Poetry

Stephen Owen: Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics

Shuen-fu Lin and Stephen Owen: The Vitality of the Lyric Voice: Shih Poetry from the Late Han to the Tang.

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I wonder why when listing reference grammars of Classical Chinese,George von der Gabelentz`s Chinesische Grammatik - considered to date a monument in its own right -, as well as Stanislas Julien, Syntaxe Nouvelle, an extraordinarily detailed and by all means generous grammar, are never mentioned, while Pulleyblank`s, for its merits, being exceedingly short is the standard reference?


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I'd imagine it has just as much to do with the fact that they were published in 1881 and 1870, respectively. They're long out of date. It's my understanding that Pulleyblank's grammar is not thought of very highly in Taiwan, but I'd imagine books published nearly 150 years ago would be even further off the mark.

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Are the terms really interchangeable or have I just mistaken what each refers to?


Apparently I'm not proper to give advices to these "how to learn" threads. :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:


Wow!  So glad to see that 古文 is not lost.

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I am actually using the books from Wolfgang Behr and Robert Gassmann: "Antikchinesisch - Ein Lehrbuch in zwei Teilen" and I have been extremely happy so far with those two books. In addition to this, they also published a Grammar book that goes along with those two books about 文言, which is extremely useful as well. The only actual "down side" of those books is that they are written in German and most of the members here will not be able to use them. That's really a pity, because those books are really up-to-date and highly recommendable!

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Sorry if this has become up before, I had a look around at couldn't find anything. Is there an electronic (smartphone app) of any of these classical chinese dictionaries?

Also, in some threads I see people referring to 'searching in the database'. What's that about?

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I've been travelling around a lot recently and had to put "the brick" (Rouzer) into storage, and although I've brought Fuller with me, the lengthy linguistic discussion and exercises with no answer keys are still a little off-putting (although I found the discussion thread on here for this which will be a great help I'm sure once I'm of a high enough level). Anyway, I came across this online resource, although I can't remember where I found it exactly (massive apologies if it turns out I found it on here - I did a search but nothing came up).


It's the course notes from Mark Lewis who is a professor at Stanford:




Whats really nice is that it gets straight into real texts and provides some (limited) discussion of the philosophy as well as the language. Obviously the big plus is that its all self-contained and online. There is a comments feature but seems to have only been used by advanced professorial types around two years ago. Rather embarrassingly, I tried to ask a question in a comment and got a spam error message, so I emailed Professor Lewis about this problem and he responded fairly promptly and even included an answer to what was, in retrospect, a very poorly thought out question on my part... something along the lines of "yes, you are right, like I discussed in the notes" :wall


Anyway, there it is for anyone interested. On a personal note, I'm very excited to have been reading parts of 孙子's 兵法 in the original Chinese, where all I knew of it before was from the new tech quotes in the Civ series.

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