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kongli

Amount of Language Study for History Masters

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kdavid

So, now that I've taken the HSK and can divert my energies to more practical studies, I've decided to try my hand at the aforementioned 万历十五年.

I've highlighted about 40% of the first page and am so frustrated that I'm about to jump out the f*cking window.

Is this really the type of crap I'm going to have to put up with as a history major? It probably is. Which means I better get used to the taste of sh*t.

To boot, I'm finding it less and less likely that I can prepare to enter an MA program by next September if this is the type of crap I have to trudge through.

G*d Da#m it....

Any encouraging words? (Please don't soften the hard reality of the situation. If this is what I need to learn, then this is what I need to learn.)

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gato
I've highlighted about 40% of the first page and am so frustrated that I'm about to jump out the f*cking window.

Step away from the window. :P

《万历十五年》 is probably at the undergraduate level of difficulty, which is to say it's very advanced for second-language learners. It might be similar to difficulty level as Jonathan Spence "In Search of Modern China" for a non-native English speaker. Although I think because of 《万历十五年》 use of numerous Ming Dynasty terminology and classical Chinese vocabulary, 《万历十五年》 is probably somewhat more difficult.

"In Search of Modern China", of course, would not be considered difficult in language for a graduate history student in the US. Similarly, 《万历十五年》 would not be considered difficult for a graduate student in China.

The Chinese version of 《万历十五年》 is translated by Ray Huang himself, who was educated in pre-1949 China. His Chinese does have a lot more classical Chinese elements than a post-1949-educated mainlander's Chinese would have. It's not written in classical Chinese, by any means, but it does have some classical Chinese features. If you don't have much classical Chinese under your belt, you would find some of it tough going.

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anonymoose

I haven't seen that book, but I think whenever you're academically studying a particular subject, initially there is a lot of new terminology to get used to, but much of it will be recycled, so you'll quickly get familiar with it and the book will become easier to read.

But yes, if you want to pursue academic studies in China, you'd better get used to the taste of shi* sooner rather than later.

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valikor
I'm haunted of my first philosophy class at university where it took me 5 hours to read 30 pages of Nietzsche

That sounds quite fast to me!

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gato

If you are interested something a little easier to read, I would recommend 中国改革年代的政治斗争 by 杨继绳, which is a great book about the politics behind the reforms in the 1976-2000 period. The author is a former journalist and the difficulty level of the book is about that of an average newspaper article. You should be able to download a copy from Baidu Wenku.

http://wenku.baidu.com/view/1ee3610d6c85ec3a87c2c5d6.html

中国改革年代的政治斗争 by 杨继绳

I would also highly recommend "学问有道", which is a book of interviews with and short articles by 杨奎松 on his research. His specialty, as I mentioned before, is the history of the 1920s-1950s, particularly on the relationship between the KMT and the CCP.

http://product.dangdang.com/product.aspx?product_id=20562294&ref=search-1-pub

学问有道 — 中国现代史研究访谈录 杨奎松

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kdavid

@ gato

Those are great suggestions. Thanks a lot. I'll try to see if I can find them on Tianya so that I can read them online with my Firefox plugins.

As for 1587, luckily I have the English version with me. I'm reading through it in Chinese first, adding the new words to ZDT, drilling the new words, re-reading the Chinese, and then reading the English. I'm doing this paragraph by paragraph. While a bit tedious, it's not as frustrating as when I first started. But then again the novelty of the situation will likely wear off at some point in the near future.

Would it be safe to say that reading through this book will make reading down the stretch easier? That is, will this be one of the more difficult books I'll come across?

Perhaps an apt analogy for English literature would be a comparison between Victorian and modern literature. Modern writers, such ad Don DeLillo, I find are loads easier to read than the formal (and, to my modern ears) pretentious styles of the Victorians.

With that said, could Huang be likened to Elliot or Bronte?

I know it's tough to generalize, but it'd make me feel better knowing that the hours I'm going to spend on 1587 will make reading books of a similar caliber in the future easier. With that said, I know the only way to become a better reader is to read... a lot.

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gato
Those are great suggestions. Thanks a lot. I'll try to see if I can find them on Tianya so that I can read them online with my Firefox plugins.

"中国改革年代的政治斗争" is a banned book, so the Baidu Wenku link I provided above might be one of the few places to download a text copy.

You can find many articles by 杨奎松 online. I find him to be a great writer. His books are actually selling very well in the mainland (for academic books). There is a huge growth of interest in the history of the 1920-1949 period right now. Previously, the history of this period was dominated by one-sided party propaganda (like the myth that the CCP single-handedly defeated the Japanese), but increasingly, the true history is coming out, even a little bit in popular TV shows and movies.

As for 1587, luckily I have the English version with me. I'm reading through it in Chinese first, adding the new words to ZDT, drilling the new words, re-reading the Chinese, and then reading the English. I'm doing this paragraph by paragraph. While a bit tedious, it's not as frustrating as when I first started. But then again the novelty of the situation will likely wear off at some point in the near future.

That's a good way to go. I think that's how Wushijiao got through 三国演义, by reading the original Chinese and English translation side-by-side.

With that said, could Huang be likened to Elliot or Bronte?

Emily Bronte's writing seems quite colloquial to me. Ray Huang's style is probably more similar to that of Hawthorne or Melville, if we can compare history to novels.

Would it be safe to say that reading through this book will make reading down the stretch easier? That is, will this be one of the more difficult books I'll come across?

I'm sure it would, especially if you take notes along the way and review the new vocabulary on a regular basis to better absorb the material. I remember finishing "The Grape of Wrath", which is quite a big book, did a lot for raising my reading level in English. Reading above your level (as long as it is doable) does have that nice benefit.

By the way, if you don't have it already, you should get a copy of "汉语书面用语初编: Expressions of Written Chinese" by 冯胜利. It is published in China and should be available on dangdang and amazon.cn.

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/11393-%E6%B1%89%E8%AF%AD%E4%B9%A6%E9%9D%A2%E7%94%A8%E8%AF%AD%E5%88%9D%E7%BC%96-expressions-of-written-chinese/

汉语书面用语初编: Expressions of Written Chinese by 冯胜利 

An even better book on formal written Chinese is "A Learners' Handbook of Modern Chinese Written Expressions" by Yu Feng, who teaches Chinese at Harvard, but I think that is probably harder to find in mainland China. I bought my copy when I was in Hong Kong a few years ago.

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/9379-book-on-formal-chinese-writing/

A Learners' Handbook of Modern Chinese Written Expressions by Yu Feng

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kdavid

An update for anyone who's interested:

I've started my MA at HeiDa here in Harbin. After a grueling two weeks of unnecessarily running around campus, the university realized they don't actually have a modern and contemporary history major--too bad neither the university nor CSC noticed that when I applied back in March. So, I'm now studying the Ming-Qing era. I figured what the hell, CSC is flipping the bill, I might as well study something.

I'll be setting foot in a Chinese classroom for the first time tomorrow morning for 史学理论与方法. My other classes for the semester are: 中国古代史通论,中国近现代史 和 中国历史文选. The latter two are electives I'm taking as I can audit classes for free. My knowledge of classical Chinese is non-existent, and seeing how I'm now a 古代史 major, I guess I have to start learning.

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anonymoose

Good luck.

I hope you can maintain your enthusiasm throughout your course. Taking classes here together with locals can really sap one's strength.

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kdavid
Taking classes here together with locals can really sap one's strength.

Why do you say that?

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anonymoose

Because the courses tend to be geared towards Chinese students who are used to heavy study, which means there will be lots of reading to do. I don't know what your reading speed is like in Chinese, but I assume that, even if it is fast for a foreigner, it will still be slow compared with local students, and it will take you that much more time to get through the same amount of material as your peers. I can see that being especially challenging if much of the required reading is in classical Chinese. Speed is one thing. Then there is also depth of understanding. Again, you might have good reading skills, but will you be able to internalise as much of what you read as a local student? If I read a paragraph of something technical in English, I can more or less repeat all of the content after one read. If I read in Chinese, although I might understand everything as I'm reading, by the time I get to the end of the paragraph, it is still more difficult to summarise the content. This is possibly because more mental effort is spent on the process of reading, so there is less mental capacity left for actually taking it in.

Then there are also exams. However good your writing is, I guess you will still be way behind a local student not only in terms of actually getting the characters down on the paper, but also constructing sentences with appropriate vocabulary to accurately express what you want to express.

All of these factors mean you have to work a lot harder just to keep up.

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skylee
I've started my MA at HeiDa here in Harbin. After a grueling two weeks of unnecessarily running around campus, the university realized they don't actually have a modern and contemporary history major--too bad neither the university nor CSC noticed that when I applied back in March.

I don't understand how this could happen. But good luck with your studies. I agree with anonymoose. But it shouldn't be too difficult, as there are I guess millions of people studying different subjects using English (or some other 2nd or 3rd languages) which is not their native tongues. If they can do it, you can do it. And if rezaf is able to study Chinese Medicine using Chinese, then you should be able to study Chinese history using Chinese.

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rezaf

Sorry I don't exactly know what's going on here but since someone mentioned my name came to say hello. :D

And if rezaf is able to study Chinese Medicine using Chinese, then you should be able to study Chinese history using Chinese.

I agree 100% with anonymoose. I think people are very very misinformed about how difficult it is to study a major in Chinese(I guess it is even more difficult to do a master's degree). In reality even 4 or 5 years of hard work in Chinese for a normal student would get him/her close to the level of a 12 year old Chinese student which is awesome for a foreigner (and frankly I haven't seen many foreigners of that level) but barely enough for going to university. My Chinese level was not high enough when I started this major. Under pressure my Chinese got better fast but I haven't really understood the courses well for the last two years comparing to the Chinese students. Some universities like mine have easier tests for the international students which are still difficult for most of us but this way we can at least pass them. So we might be able to pass the tests but I don't think we can understand the courses as well as we should. That's why I really need to take one year off and review everything. This year I can't do it but probably next year I will.

Edit: I just read my own post at the beginning of this thread. Apparently I was young and foolish at that time. :wall

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gato
I'll be setting foot in a Chinese classroom for the first time tomorrow morning for 史学理论与方法. My other classes for the semester are: 中国古代史通论,中国近现代史 和 中国历史文选. The latter two are electives I'm taking as I can audit classes for free. My knowledge of classical Chinese is non-existent, and seeing how I'm now a 古代史 major, I guess I have to start learning.

if you want to survive, you'd better just the minimum number of courses and spend the rest of time studying classical Chinese and reading. Without at least one year of intensive classical Chinese study under your belt, I doubt you can read much of the stuff you are assigned in your Ming/Qing dynasty history classes. It would be like ESL students reading Chaucer.

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kdavid

The 近现代史 class won't be a problem. It's all in modern Chinese, and I know the material very well.

I told my adviser I don't know any classical Chinese and he recommended the 中国历史文选 course. It supposedly starts from scratch. We'll see.

We'll see about the other two classes. I expect them to be difficult. The two classes mentioned above are just electives, I'm just "listening" to them--not actually getting marked.

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