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How is Classical Chinese called in Classical Chinese?


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Hi all,

Classical Chinese is commonly called 文言文, Wényánwén, but if I'm not mistaken, this is a Mandarin word for Classical Chinese.

I'd like to know how Classical Chinese is called in Classical Chinese itself.

Thanks for your answer!

Take care,


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writing ;)

In some ways that seems to be a strange question. As I understand it, back then, 文言文 was the only way people wrote, and hence the term 文言文 is a retronym that was created only when different writing styles were created.

But I look forward to someone proving me wrong and I will learn something.

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PS - From the link in the post above.

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Wikipedia makes it clear:

While the terms Classical Chinese and Literary Chinese are often used interchangeably, Sinologists generally agree that they are in fact different. "Classical" Chinese (古文 "Ancient writing") refers to the written language of China from the Zhou Dynasty, and especially the Spring and Autumn Period, through to the end of the Han Dynasty (AD 220). Classical Chinese is therefore the language used in many of China's most influential books, such as the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius and the Tao Te Ching. (The language of even older texts, such as the Classic of Poetry, is sometimes called Old Chinese, or pre-Classical.)

Literary Chinese (文言文, "Literary writing", or more colloquially just 文言 wényán) is the form of written Chinese used from the end of the Han Dynasty to the early 20th century when it was replaced by vernacular written Chinese. During this period the dialects of China became more and more disparate and thus the Classical written language became less and less representative of the spoken language. Although authors sought to write in the style of the Classics, the similarity decreased over the centuries due to their imperfect understanding of the older language, the influence of their own speech, and the addition of new words.

漢語大詞典 says of 古文:








So definitely a literary term referring to pre-Qin works. As for 文言, before 五四 it apparently referred either to 華美之言 or 文章:




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