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'Pure/canonical' editions of Classical Chinese texts?

Mark Yong

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I am trying to put together a nice collection of Classical Chinese books, and would like some advice/suggestions on the myriad of versions/editions out there.

What makes my shopping list complicated is that I am trying to source out the purest versions available, i.e.:

1. Only 繁體字 Traditional Chinese (not 簡體字 Simplified Chinese) versions.

2. Traditional vertical format text with dividing lines between columns – with 原文 main texts in large-font single columns, and commentaries in smaller-font double columns below the respective verses.

3. Only canonical/classical commentaries, not modern ones (this automatically precludes all the 新譯 and 白話 editions).

4. No modern punctuation.

5. Minimal to zero modern text of any sort (including contemporary prefaces).

So far, what I have on my shelf are:

1. 四書章句集註 by 中華書局

2. 戰國策 (2 册) by 上海古籍出版社

3. 韓非子集解 by 中華書局

4. 史記 (10 册) by 中華書局

5. 古文觀止 (2 册) by 中華書局

6. 孫子集註 by 三民出版社

What I really like about my copies of the 古文觀止 and 孫子集註 is that they fulfill all of the above four (4) criteria and the 楷體 Kai font used is excellent. My mild grouses with the others are that while they are in 繁體字 Traditional Chinese and obey the vertical text formats, they:

1. Do not follow the double-column format for the commentaries

2. Do not have column dividing lines

3. Include modern-day prefaces

4. Still have some degree of Simplified Character intrusions, e.g.

a. substituting

b. substituting

c. substituting

(This appears to be a trait in books from China that are printed in
Traditional Chinese.)

5. Use rather small font sizes that are less appealing to read.

In selecting the above, I endeavoured to pick out only those versions annotated by the ‘standard’ commentator(s) of the text. So, for the 四書 Four Books, I only settled for the canonical 朱熹 Zhu Xi version with all classical commentaries consolidated (諸子集成編). And for 孫子 Sun Zi, it was the 孫星衍 version with commentaries by 曹操 Cao Cao, 杜佑 Du You, 杜牧 Du Mu, etc. (incidentally, Samuel B. Griffith used this version in his 1963 English translation), though I am aware that there are two other versions, the 十家註 and 十一家註 extant.

Could anyone please advise:

1. If there are ‘purer’ editions of (1) to (4) available?

2. Recommended editions (and commentators) for:

Five Classics

Dao De Jing

(I have not identified suitable editions for the above two (2) yet.)

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Are you by any chance in Taipei? There's a bookstore that I think sells just what you are looking for, but I can't recall its name for the life of me. But I could tell you where it is. They independently publish quite 'pure' editions of the classics.

Personally, my favourite editions are those by 三民出版社, but they have both modern prefaces and modern commentaries as well as translations into Mandarin, so they may not be what you are looking for.

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You could try 《新编诸子集成》 from 中華書侷. It is based an edition originally published in the 1940s,only has classical Chinese commentary.



But it might not be what you are looking for because it's heavy on the commentary. The font used is also rather small, like most such books published in the mainland. Maybe you buy an edition without any commentary.

Here is a scanned version you can download to have a look.





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I am actually based in Kuala Lumpur, though there are a number of good Chinese bookstores here that, even if they do not have the book I want, can source and ship it over. Would you happen to know the bookshop's street address, or at least the street name? I have a friend who might be visiting Taipei in the not-too-distant future, I could perhaps get him to drop in and have a look.

I have the 三民出版社 edition (the green "新譯" series) of the 古文觀止 in addition to my 中華書局 edition. I use it whenever I get jammed with the historical allusions and old geographical names, but would not put it under my pure text collection. That said, 三民出版社 does publish some pure editions of the Chinese Classics, which I have found on their website (http://www.sanmin.com.tw).


Checked out the 往復論壇 website. Will drop them an enquiry once I sign up. Thanks for the suggestion on 《新編諸子集成》. Now that you mentioned it, I might have seen that box set at the Chinese bookstore that I frequent. Having some challenges downloading the 50MB RAR file (my conenction keeps breaking)! :angry:


Thanks for your links, too. Browsing through it slowly.

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I uploaded the 《新編諸子集成》 Analects files for your to rapidshare.com.



The files are in UVZ format and can be viewed using Unicorn Viewer.


Unicorn Viewer

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Alright, apparently it's called 藝文印書館 and the address is 4F~3, 253 Roosevelt Rd., 3rd Section, Taipei, Taiwan. Their phone number is 2362-6012. Mind you, I've never bought any of their "pure" editions of the classics, so I'm not sure whether they are what you are looking for, but if a friend is going to be visiting Taipei anyway, it shouldn't take long to check. It's between Taipower Building MRT and Guting MRT. They probably have a website as well.

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Thanks for the shop details. I managed to find their website: http://blog.roodo.com/yeewenbooks/. Think I'll drop them an e-mail enquiry first before I send my friend on a wild goose chase! :rolleyes:


Thanks for uploading. It suddenly occurred to me that I might already have two books from the 中華書局 《新編諸子集成》 boxed set. Have a look at these 2 links and see if they are the ones:

1. http://www.zhbc.com.cn/book_view.asp?bid=5712

2. http://www.zhbc.com.cn/book_view.asp?bid=7528

If so, then it looks like the books are available separately. You are right, the font is small and the commentary is heavy. But the completeness of the historical commentaries is exactly what I am looking for. I guess in the absence of a "perfect font, perfect format" book, I suppose I am quite happy with this edition - if I had to choose, I would go for completeness rather than fuss over the issue of formatting. My main grouse, however, is the paper quality - my first copy of the 《四書章句集註》 came with a 1-inch long hole in one of the pages (judging from the nature of the damage, it looks more like wear-and-tear than inflicted damage) and I had to have it replaced.

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Yes, that is the series, and you can order each book in the series separately. If you are going to order it, you might try ordering from the 中华书局 website you linked above directly. It is also available from online bookstores like dangdang.com and amazon.cn, but in my experience, about 5-10% of the books I have received from them have been damaged to one extent or another (ranging from slight wrinkles to dirty pages to holes on the cover). It usually doesn't matter too much, for I am not buying for the purpose of keeping a collection. And I don't know if buying direct from 中华书局 would be better, but it could be since they are the publisher. If they don't have a clean, blemished version of the books, nobody does, right?

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  • 2 months later...


(Hope you are still following this thread.)

Purchased my first set of books via mail order from 藝文印書館, and I must say that I am very happy with them. True to form, they are pretty good quality re-prints of the Song and Tang wood-block prints, and therefore fully meet my requirements for a "pure/canonical" editions.

I bought them directly from 藝文印書館, but it is also possible to order them through the 三民書局 website, too (which, I gather, is the conventional method).

Thanks a million for the recommendation.

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I'm glad to hear that you're happy with their reprints! That goes to show how useful it can sometimes be to just spend an afternoon exploring and strolling around ;) Which books have you ordered? And are you sure they're Tang dynasty wood-block prints? Or are they Song dynasty wood-block prints copied from Tang editions of the texts? :)

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Here are the ones I got:

1. 四書集註 (朱熹 校) 

2. 老子道德經 (王弼 校)

3. 韓非子集解 (王先慎 校)

4. 戰國策

5. 莊子

6. 荀子集解

7. 史記(共二册)

You are right, I did not check whether they are actual Song or Tang blocks! :o

Anyway, I expect a second batch of orders coming up soon. A pity they do not have the 春秋左傳 as a stand-alone book like the above.

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  • 4 months later...


Did you now that you can download 'official' PDF's which contain scans of original manuscripts? You can't get purer than that.

Take a look for instance at World Digital Library www.wdl.org:


Although they don't have a lot of manuscripts, they do have the 四书章句集注:


The quality and resolution of the scans on this site are incredible, you can actually zoom in until one character fills your whole screen(!) And you can also download the books as PDF.

Another site (one I only recently discovered) is www.archive.org:


It does not have as much background information as www.wdl.org, but it does seems to contain a lot more documents. Unfortunately, the quality of the scans are sometimes quite bad. Also, you can't search on any character in the title, you have to search on the character(s) the title starts with. So, for instance, searching for '說文解字' results in three versions of the Shuowen Jiezi, but searching for '解字' doesn't return any results. The documents are often split up into several PDF's.

There is also www.europeana.eu, but this seems to only contain handwritten manuscripts and no wood-block prints.

Does anyone know any other 'official' sites?

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