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Reviewed by:
  • Classical Chinese (supplement 2): Readings in Poetry and Prose (supplement to Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader)
  • David McCraw (bio)
Naiying Yuan, Haitao Tang, and James Geiss. Classical Chinese (supplement 2): Readings in Poetry and Prose (supplement to Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. xii, 285 pp. Paperback $19.95, ISBN 0-691-11832-9.

A frequent trouble of young teachers of Classical Chinese: after having finished a semester-or a year-with Michael Fuller's An Introduction to Literary Chinese (or another similar textbook),1 what should one use to advance students' understanding? Novice students find themselves at an awkward transition point. They, or their teachers, need to wean them(selves) from canned glosses and pabulumized excerpts; they need to start chewing on longer, more sophisticated passages, with notes in, say, modern Chinese. Then they can cut their teeth on the real stuff-harder passages with notes in Classical Chinese, or no notes. At that point their dictionary skills will need to improve so they can use higher-powered research tools in Chinese. Clearly, if Princeton University's Readings text (PURT, for short) can ease such awkward transitions and satisfy this market, they will have accomplished something worthwhile. By what criteria, then, should we judge such a text for novices? Surely, students and teachers alike will demand that its grammar explanations have a degree of precision, that its vocabulary glosses prove accurate, that its scholarly discussions of literature and history offer insightful and up-to-date analysis, that it reads well in English, that it includes sources and an index to glossed words, and that it pays sufficient attention to sound as well as sense (60 percent of PURT's contents feature rhyme).

Unfortunately, on all counts PURT falls short. First, it does follow in the steps of Princeton's Basic Reader,2 whose grammar explanations were a bit creaky, though serviceable. At a slightly higher level of difficulty, the text begins to falter badly. For example, see the following:

Page 33: 云 (1) first, the editors have the wrong text here; it should read 將. (2) In early Chinese 云 does not equal a "meaningless particle." As a recent discussion between E. G. Pulleyblank and A. C. Graham amply demonstrates, in such cases 云 + verb means "in a verb state." Contrast 于 + verb = "in the process of verbing," and 曰 + verb = "just now verbing."3

See for comparison, page 8, which mistakenly asserts that 于 is just a "space-filler" with "no meaning." In fact, 于歸 means "in the process of getting married," and does not reduce to 歸.

Compare page 8, which claims 有 is just a "space-filling" "prefix of an adjective." In this function, 有 + stative verb means, more precisely, "verb-like." In other words, 有 serves here as an adverb-marker. [End Page 522]

Also, on page 8, 宜 gets glossed as an "adjective." But, as a gloss on the relevant line concedes two lines later, here 宜 functions as a verb, "to suit [her home]."

On page 46: While struggling to explain the common pattern 所 + verb, the text claims it is "equivalent in meaning to the construction 'n of v.'" This, and the subsequent definition of 所 as "pronoun," do not help; "dog of walk" does not mean "the dog I walk." Rather, they should just call 所 an object substitute, and translate 所 + verb as "what [I] verb" (or, depending on the sentence, "where," or "the one that/whom" I verb).

This illustrates a related problem with PURT. Even when the Chinese explanation gets things right, the English may screw it up. For just one example, consider page 179, which glosses 所以 as "things because of which one [verbs]." Why not just use English and say "how [or why, depending on context] one verbs"?

On page 214: Glossing 其 as "an alternative interrogative sentence" marker, like 是, is misleading. Here, as so often, 其 is a modal particle, in these cases expressing first incredulity, then supposition.

On page 32 (cf. p. 244): While interrogative pronouns usually precede (transitive) verbs in Classical Chinese, "must" is a mistake. For counterexamples consider "如何," common in Analects, Mencius, and Zuo zhuan, and 為誰, which occurs 61 times in the Academica Sinica database under Warring States and early master texts. The earliest examples I...


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