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A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese


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I just picked up this book from Amazon:

A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese

Paul Rouzer

Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2007

The University of Texas at Austin uses this book for their undergrad Intro to Classical Chinese course. The course syllabus is available here and the PowerPoint presentations are here. They cover only the first 11 lessons in that course, out of 40 total.

The book is divided into 6 units, each with anywhere from 2 to 10 lessons. Each unit is based around a specific classical text. For example, Unit 1 deals with the 說苑, Unit 2 deals with the 刺客列傳 from 史記, Unit 4 deals with excerpts from 孟子, etc. The first 10 lessons (Unit 1) are also very "grammar-oriented," according to the Preface, while the rest of the Units deal more with how to approach different types of texts. There are also excerpts from two texts from the Six Dynasties period (李寄 and 木蘭詩), to show how Literary Chinese developed and was used after the Classical period.

I'm only taking 3 lower-division undergrad classes this semester, and I'm working at Starbucks part time, so I'll have plenty of spare time. I'll be following the course syllabus I linked to above, along with an Intro to Chinese Linguistics syllabus I linked to here. I'll likely continue with Rouzer after the semester is over, since I'll eventually need a pretty good level in Classical Chinese.

Anyway, I figured I'd create a thread for this textbook since there isn't one yet. If anyone else is using this book, I'd love to discuss it here as we work through it. If not, I'll post questions I have here as they come up.

Edit: Harvard University Press has made the first twenty pages available here in PDF format. It contains the contents, introduction, and "How to Use This Textbook."

Edited by OneEye
added link to PDF file
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Sounds pretty good. I don't have this textbook myself, but I think I should be familiar with most of the readings, so if you have any questions, don't hesitate to post them. We're always glad to see new faces here in the Classical Chinese corner :) And also if you just want to share some observations or thoughts regarding the texts, this is the place to be, too. Most of us should have access to the texts, and there's nothing more interesting than a discussion on classical Chinese :wink:

There's quite a few threads in this subforum that might be of interest, so I would suggest just browsing through the threads. And of course, all thoughts would be welcome. Don't worry, no one here is really that good at classical Chinese. In fact, let me rephrase that: no one is really that good at classical Chinese :wink:

Good luck with your studies!

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Thank you, Daan.

The discussion in this thread got me flipping through the book and looking at some of the features more closely (I haven't started studying it just yet). From one of my posts in that thread:

Rouzer covers 1374 characters, and a good number of multi-character words. He only numbers the character listings, with the multi-character words being listed under the number corresponding to the first 字 in the word (so 鵷 is 1365, 鶵 is 1366, and 鵷鶵 is 1365a), but I'd guess there are around 1500 entries or a little more. This may be easier for the OP since the explanations would be in English.

For a quick and dirty flashcard deck, you could enter the characters into this online dictionary. It only handles single characters, but it spits them out in tab-separated format with readings, composition, variants, and references for several dictionaries. You can click on any given character for much more in-depth information, but if you just copy-paste the whole list into a spreadsheet and save it as a CSV, you should be able to import it into any flashcard program.

Rouzer does list his characters according to Bruce Brooks' and Taeko Brooks' Chinese Character Frequency Lists:"Category I includes the 871 most common characters of literary Chinese; category II the next 734; and category III the next 639. Category IV is everything else."

From a quick flip through the book, it looks like the lessons lean heavily toward Category I at the beginning and more toward Category III and IV toward the end.

My plan as I work through the book is to create an Anki deck and add each vocab item as I work through the text. I'll likely use the "quick and dirty" method I mentioned above just for the sake of convenience, unless Rouzer's explanations are particularly helpful. I'll probably also add passages from the lessons, and perhaps some examples from the dictionary I linked above if they're not too far over my head.

Harvard University Press has made the first twenty pages available here in PDF format. It contains the contents, introduction, and "How to Use This Textbook."

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Great link, thanks for sharing (though I would have liked to see what a unit looks like). But it's great he provides indices in all of the modern CJK languages.

And his approach is quite nice, to use the classical texts to get a grounding in the "rules that tend to be followed", and the idea about semantic ranges and etc. Of course you might get a similar thing if you compare Classical Latin against medieval Latin, though not as severe as in the case of Literary Chinese perhaps.

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The lessons look something like this:

Lesson I

A Few Proverbs

Text #1


(Text 2 and 3)


1. 知 M: zhī J: chi, shiru K: ji

To know, to understand; to know how to; knowledge

Radical 111 (矢, "arrow")

2. 命 M: mìng J: myō, mei, inochi K: myeong

1. To command; a command.

2. Fate; life span.

Note: What Heaven or the gods command for you is your fate. They also command your life span.



1.1. Parts of speech: In the commentary, I will occasionally be using terms such as noun, adjective, pronoun, verb, or adverb to explain how words are functioning in a sentence. However, writers sometimes employ a single word in a variety of grammatical functions if it sounds right to them. This cannot be done arbitrarily with any word, but it is fairly common. For example:

欲 can mean "to want" (verb):

人欲耳: People want ears.

or it can mean "to want to" (auxiliary verb):

天欲報聖人: Heaven wants to reward the wise person.


1.3. 者: In its simplest usage, this is added to a verb or verb phrase and indicates the person or thing carrying out the action. See 7.4 for further details.

知者: one who knows

命者: one who resents


PRACTICE: Put the following into Literary Chinese:

1. one who desires

2. one who knows the heart

3. one who wants eyes


Character List

i. 不 人 以 命 善 報 天 小 己 得 德 心 怨 於 欲 爲 生 目 知 禁 禍 福 者 耳 聖 自 (26)

ii. 導 (1)

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I don't know this book, but from the comments here it looks like a valuable addition to the classical Chinese textbooks. The reviews at amazon.com are all extremely positive. I'm working on Fuller and Pulleyblank now, but I think it will be good to check this one in the near future too.

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And remember, Jose, you're always welcome to join us in our Wang Li study group :mrgreen: Since all the explanations are in Modern Mandarin, it will not only benefit your Classical Chinese, but your Mandarin as well, so it's 一箭雙雕!

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 4 years later...

I have to say - I've gotten through the first 5 chapters of Rouzer. And I'm very impressed. I have almost every Classical Chinese text out there - from my venerable, and highly dogeared copy of Shadick. And I'm finding Rouzer very user friendly. His selections are interesting, vocabulary notes copious, grammatical explanations as clear as one can be with Classical - and with some great exercises. I'd highly recommend the book. There's also a vocabulary list on Skritter for the characters - which makes thing much easier.

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  • 4 weeks later...

It looks like a great primer. My only complaint is that it does not offer any Middle Chinese phonetic information, but only Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean (and Cantonese in the version that I encountered). I feel that Middle Chinese phonetic information is crucial for rhyming.

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