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A New Introduction to Classical Chinese Paperback – 10 Jan 1985
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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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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_.
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.
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.