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Reviewed by:
  • Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader
  • Yongping Zhu (bio)
Naiying Yuan, Haitao Tang, and James Geiss. Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader. 3 volumes: text, Glossaries, Analyses. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. 282 pp. (vol. 1); 192 pp. (vol. 2); 374 pp. (vol. 3). Paperback $39.50, ISBN 0-691-11831-0.

Reading Classical Chinese that was written two thousand years ago is not an easy task. The complex grammar and unfathomable meanings of characters are always elusive for contemporary readers, and especially for students who study Chinese as a second language. Considering the rather small resources of Classical Chinese textbooks for nonnative learners of Chinese, Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader is a considerable contribution to the field of teaching Classical Chinese to English speakers. These 848 pages in three volumes feature not only comprehensive coverage, which includes forty classical texts and exercises, a glossary of the texts, and sentence analyses, but also pedagogical application, which includes translations of the texts into both modern Chinese and English, grammar explanations, and phonetic transcriptions of classical and modern Chinese texts. Particular credit should be given to the authors: Naiying Yuan, who has taught Classical Chinese for many years; Haitao Tang, an experienced language teacher; and James Geiss, a scholar and editor. The combination of their skills makes this textbook easy and practicable for teaching as well as studying Classical Chinese, for both students and teachers.

Volume 1 is the main part of the set, containing the texts and exercises. The forty texts are selected from between the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D. and are arranged in order of increasing length, for pedagogical purposes. All selected texts are short and interesting stories from which some set phrases are derived and used in a lively way in modern Chinese, such as shou zhu dai tu 守株待兔 (waiting for a hare at the tree stump) and hua she tian zu 畫蛇添 足 (drawing a snake and adding feet). All the classical texts are accompanied by translations, both in modern Chinese and English on facing pages. Students can understand the texts easily through the translations whether or not they have a knowledge of modern Chinese language. This also provides an alternative for teachers who are willing to conduct their course in either modern Chinese or English. The phonetic transcriptions in pinyin (for both classical and modern Chinese texts) and the GR spelling system (only for classical texts) are beneficial for students in vocalizing both classical and modern Chinese.

The newly added three types of exercises after the texts provide a comprehensive review by which students can reinforce what they have learned. The first type consists of vocabulary and grammar exercises for the individual lessons. Each [End Page 284] exercise unit covers two or three lessons. The format of the exercises consists of vocabulary matching, fill-in-the-blanks, grammar notes, translations, and open-ended questions derived from the texts for discussion. The second type of exercise is a short general review. Vocabularies presented in the texts are classified according to three categories: homonyms, synonyms, and antonyms. Students are asked to distinguish their pronunciations and meanings. The usages of some important functional words are tested by asking students to do fill-in-the blanks exercises. Fourteen types of summarized sentence constructions provide students a general view of sentence patterns in Classical Chinese. The last type of exercise is a translation practice composed of ten short classical texts with glossaries provided and specific questions in response to the texts. Five texts require punctuation and translations, and five other texts with punctuation require only translations into modern Chinese or English.

These various exercise formats are quite helpful for students in developing and enhancing a knowledge base of upon which they can establish genuine skills to further explore Classical Chinese independently. The discussion questions about the texts in the exercises are a unique feature of this volume. Such open-ended questions as "守株待兔" 反映了人性中哪些方面 (Which aspects of human nature are reflected in the story of "Waiting for a Hare at the Tree Stump") and "逐臭" 的故事要告訴人什麼 (What is the point of the story "Chasing the Smell") will inspire students to strive for a deeper understanding of the texts and their underlying meanings...


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