Last modified on 2 October 2014, at 06:19

Classical Chinese


Welcome to the Wikibook of Classical Chinese(Chinese:文言). This book teaches the Classical Chinese language. Classical Chinese must be expressed in traditional Chinese.

Knowledge of some basic Chinese characters before starting this course is assumed. You do not have to know a lot of characters, but you should already have an overall understanding of them, such as structure, radicals, and how to use a dictionary. Knowledge of Pinyin, Vernacular Chinese and Japanese could be beneficial, but is not required.

For background knowledge, such as what Classical Chinese is, the history of the language, etc., please read the Wikipedia article on Classical Chinese.

Organization of the bookEdit

The Chinese language, especially Classical Chinese, does not have strict grammatical rules. It does follow some elementary rules, but they are not as strict as in English. Here we teach you Classical Chinese by using multiple texts as examples, and explain each of them.


Classical Chinese was heavily used across East Asia until the 20th century. Classical Chinese is a poetic and sophisticated language, and might be one of the most compact languages in the world. That means, for expressing the same idea, fewer characters (or 'words') are needed than would be the case in modern Chinese or most other languages. (This holds true only for topics (ideas) that were known and could be expressed by ancient Chinese - there are no terms corresponding to 'Quantum Theory' or 'Psychoanalysis' in Classical Chinese, because these topics, as one would expect, were unknown at the time.)

Also, unlike most other languages, Classical Chinese is not a spoken language; that is, it is not designed to be said out loud. It is essentially a written language. If one does choose to read a Classical Chinese text, they can do so in a number of different ways, depending on whether their native language is Chinese, Korean or Japanese. In the case of Chinese language speakers, your native dialect will also influence the pronunciation due to the large differences that exist between the dialects. Here in the course, we use the pinyin system for the pronunciation, but do not worry if you do not understand pinyin, as we will not frequently mention pronunciations. If you are interested in how to speak the text out loud, please go to Wiktionary and check the pronunciation of each character in Mandarin, Japanese, Korean or other languages or dialects. However, Classical Chinese has its rhythm. As we have already said, it is a poetic language; so when considering how to speak text out loud, in some language or dialect, one must speak it in a particular way.

Traditionally, Classical Chinese employs no punctuation at all. However, books published nowadays usually come with punctuation to aid reading. The technique of recognizing each word or sentence from a piece of text is called "句讀/句读/Ju4 Du2(Sentence grouping)". It is one of the most important parts of learning this language. This course will teach you this language in a traditional way, but we will also introduce a limited amount of punctuation, and use spaces to split sentences to help learning.

Traditionally, the Chinese language is read from top to bottom, right to left.

Next, we have some examples as an introduction to start our course.