Classical Chinese Primer Paperback – 30 Sep 2008
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
There are 40 readings, most of which are both amusing in their own right and well-known by Chinese people. The difficulty does increase from reading to reading, as does the length of each reading, but this rarely occurs to the point of frustration, at least until the later chapters. Compared to Rouzer's book, the readings here are a bit better, as are the grammatical explanations. The grammatical explanations are still lacking in some areas though, especially since after a structure is covered once, it is never covered again, and the student is basically left guessing as to how to translate differently nuanced structures when they inevitably appear later on. In fact, by the end of the book, many lessons don't have grammatical explanations at all: a shame, considering no-one's understanding of a particular grammatical structure will be able to serve as a foundation for future understanding after one example(this, unfortunately, is also a big problem with Rouzer's book.)
Like Rouzer's book, the difficulty also spikes after the first couple of chapters. Perhaps this is because, without a teacher and regular testing, no book can guarantee a student has a solid enough understanding of material to proceed to the next chapters or not. Unlike Rouzer's book, a workbook component is available with this one. While some of the exercises are a bit strange, having it does force the student to pay more attention to each lesson than he/she might normally. Ultimately, however, this is a book you need to read with a teacher, or at least someone with a good grip on Chinese. Because many of the grammatical structures are explained inadequately, and there are no translations of the readings available in the back (though there are useless, pinyin glossed simplified character texts), this book will still manage to discourage many students, if not as much as its competitors.
Finally, the description is a bit deceptive, as it says, "designed for those who have studied Modern Chinese for one or two years," which this book is definitely not. I'd been studying modern for almost three years and classical Chinese for one when I picked up this book, and I still found myself looking up many of its unglossed terms in the dictionary. Rouzer's book wins in this department, as every single word is defined (for better or worse).
Still, despite some issues, this book fills a much-needed gap for those seeking to study Classical Chinese. A student who goes through this book cover to cover, spending time to learn the material presented within, will not have a solid mastery of Classical Chinese-- who could, having only one read book? But that student will surely be all the better for it.
The one, major problem I have with this textbook is that it is designed only for speakers and learners of Mandarin. That is, there is only Mandarin pinyin. This is unfortunate, as there is a sizeable population of foreigners learning other dialects besides Mandarin. I only know Cantonese, and this book would be 5 stars if it supplied the Cantonese pronunciations of the characters in addition to the Mandarin. Not only would that provide an interesting comparison between the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations of the characters, but it would also make sense from a literary point of view, considering that it is Cantonese--not Mandarin--that has maintained older Chinese rime schemes that are pervasive in Classical poetry. It's true that there is not one standard romanization for Cantonese, but Yale and Jyutping are the most widespread. Considering this book was published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, the authors could simply get someone from the Chinese Language Center or Chinese department to provide the Yale romanization (which is what CUHK Press' Cantonese materials use).
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