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A New Introduction to Classical Chinese Paperback – 10 Jan 1985

2.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2Rev Ed edition (10 Jan. 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198154607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198154600
  • Product Dimensions: 26.2 x 1.3 x 18.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,067,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Raymond Dawson is an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford. He is the editor of The Legacy of China (OUP) and author of Confucius (OUP).


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Format: Paperback
I found this book to be very poorly organised. The student is forced to jump back and forth from the original text to the explanatory notes and the translation. It is a mystery why the author decided on such an efficient layout. The information itself is accurate, although the author's translation style and explanations are a bit wooden. For a book that has undergone extensive revision since the first edition it is still far from a user-friendly text. I am of the opinion that the content does not justify the price. A better learner's text, now long out of print, would be Brandt's Introduction to Literary Chinese.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult textbook for a difficult language 22 Mar. 2003
By DocCaligari - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a review of _A New Introduction to Classical Chinese_ by Raymond Dawson (which is an update of his earlier _An Introduction to Classical Chinese_).
Roughly speaking, Classical Chinese is to modern Chinese as Latin is to Italian. Classical Chinese was, for millennia, the language that was read and written by intellectuals in not only China, but also Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Of course, there is variation in the styles of Classical Chinese. Dawson focuses on specimens of Chinese from the Warring States Period (403-221 BC, with many samples from the Confucian sage Mencius), plus a few pieces from the Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian (who lived around 100 BC). These are fine choices, reflecting authors and periods later regarded as paradigms of style.
I think the best way to describe this book is to explain how a student would use it. First, it would be much easier to use this book if you have previous experience with Chinese characters (as by taking a year or two of modern Chinese or Japanese). However, it is *possible* to use the book without previous background.
The student should begin with Dawson's Introduction (pp. 1-9). Some of the material here really belongs in a Preface (such as information on how this book differs from the earlier edition -- the student doesn't need to know this), but what will prove helpful is the advice on how to find the "radicals" in Chinese characters, and how to count the remaining "strokes." (The "radicals" are a set of 214 characters, at least one of which occurs in each Chinese character. I'll explain in a moment why this section is so important for this textbook.) The Introduction also has a cursory discussion of grammar, and a pronunciation chart.
The student then proceeds to the Chinese texts, which are laid out in traditional format, written in lines from top to bottom, and then right to left. This is cute, but it is intimidating to the beginner, I think, to be confronted with twenty uninterrupted pages of Chinese text.
What does one do next? The Chinese text *is* divided into separate readings (marked with Roman letters at the tops of the pages). For the first passage (and ONLY for the first passage), there is a chart listing the characters in their order of first appearance, and identifying the radical of each character. To find the meaning for a character in the text, the student finds it in the chart, notes the number of the radical, then goes to the general glossary at the end of the book, looks up that radical, then finds the particular character he is looking for (which will be accompanied by the Pinyin and Wade-Giles romanizations of its Mandarin pronunciations, its grammatical class or classes, and its meanings). Characters with the same radical are subdivided according to how many additional "strokes" beyond the radical they are written with.
No chart for finding the radicals of new characters is provided after the first passage, so from then on in the student must find them for herself. (A chart of the radicals themselves, helpfully including their abbreviated forms, is provided on pp. 115-118.)
Now, this may seem utterly perverse. Why not just give the poor students vocabulary lists after each reading? I *think* Dawson's belief was that students need to learn as soon as possible how to find characters for themselves using a standard Chinese dictionary. And a standard Chinese dictionary organizes its characters by radicals + additional strokes. This is a laudable goal, but I worry that it is far too much to expect students -- even ones who have previous familiarity with characters -- to wrestle with a new grammar, and a new lexicon, and new semantics AND spend literally hours trying to look up new characters. Dictionary skills are something students should hone in an advanced Classical Chinese reading course, not in their introductory class.
Dawson does provide grammatical notes for each passage. But these are sometimes problematic. For example, in the very first passage, the Confucian philosopher Mencius says to a king, "Why must Your Majesty speak of profit? Let there simply be benevolence and righteousness." Dawson claims that Mencius is quoting a phrase the king had used a moment before, and translates the line as "Why must Your Majesty mention profit? I 'surely possess' humanity and justice and nothing more." Leaving aside the questionable use of "justice" as a translation (this word is more appropriate in modern Western political theory than in Mencius's discussion of human virtues), Dawson is led to his dubious reading because he fails to see that YI4...ER2 YI3 YI3 is a sentence-pattern in Classical Chinese, meaning "... absolutely all there is." Consequently, the YOU3 is not part of a paraphrase of what the king had just said, and it does not mean (in this context) "to have," but means "let there be." What sense would it make anyway for Mencius to say that he "possesses" benevolence and righteousness? It seems the very antithesis of Confucian humility to begin an audience with a king with such a declaration.
(For another problem with Dawson's handling of this passage, see "On Translating Mencius," by David S. Nivison, originally published in 1980 and reprinted in his _The Ways of Confucianism_.)
Dawson's book also includes two "Grammatical Surveys," which provide reviews after the fifth and seventeenth readings, complete translations of the first five readings, and a "List of Characters Having Obscure Radicals."
All in all, given its intimidating pedagogic approach and simple errors of fact, I have trouble recommending this textbook. Instead, I would recommend Michael A. Fuller's _An Introduction to Literary Chinese_.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent textbook that requires real application. 17 May 2001
By tepi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I know of two books on Classical Chinese by Raymond Dawson:
1. An Introduction to Classical Chinese (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). Written by a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, and comfortingly orthodox, the aim of this text is to introduce English-speaking students to the language of those important works of ancient Chinese literature which were written during the last centuries of the Chou (Zhou) period (4th and 3rd centuries B.C.). A selection of passages (in full-form printed graphs) from Mencius, Mo-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Kuo-yu, and the Tso-chuan, are followed by detailed grammatical analysis. The book ends with translations of the earlier passages, and with a full vocabulary. This is a textbook from England which demands real application. Excellent, and highly recommended.
2. A New Introduction to Classical Chinese (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984). Similar in conception, emphasis, and organization to his earlier book, but with a changed selection of passages, a 27% increase in characters covered to just over 900, and a shift from W-G to Pinyin + W-G in the vocabularies. Not quite as easy to use as the earlier edition, as Dawson has omitted all romanization of characters in the detailed grammatical analyses, but an excellent book nevertheless and strongly recommended.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Daunting, perhaps too daunting for most 26 Feb. 2008
By RH - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is likely one of the best books of its kind in terms of scholarly rigour, but it proved too daunting for me as a first introduction to classical Chinese. Why? Because the student is immediately confronted with a page from Mencius, that he has to start translating by looking up every character, running into problems at every step. Those problems can be only be solved by going back and forth in the book, and referring to the explanatory chapters. This method doesn't appeal to me; I prefer being taught something first, and only then trying my hand at applying what I've just learnt, instead of first trying, and failing, and then learning how I should have done it.

I'm now going to try A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese (Harvard East Asian Monographs) (it's in the mail), but I will probably revisit "A New Introduction" once I'm done with that. I gave it no more than three stars, mainly because it's not an introduction, as the title claims. It's more like an intermediary workbook.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much pointless work 6 Nov. 2011
By M.M. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a total pain. I am relatively advanced in Mandarin for a non-native speaker, but even so I found myself spending most of my time looking up characters in the back of the book. I found passages A-C somewhat understandable by using the English translations for passages A-E but his commentary of the grammar is opaque and you need to have several placeholders to make flipping from one section of the book to another easier. After passage E, though, you don't even get English translations. Additionally, it doesn't make sense to list several distinct meanings of a character when the reader is probably only interested in the meaning for a particular passage (he could have done a better job of listing the line numbers next to the characters in the vocabulary). If you didn't know any Chinese at all, this book is completely impossible. Perhaps it was the best thing at the time it was published, but I'm sure there are much better options now. Probably the only thing going for it is that you dive into real live passages immediately.
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