SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

Some Limitations of Pre-Buddhist Chinese Rhetoric, Syntax and Semantics

Christoph Harbsmeier

Date: 4 March 2016Time: 4:00 PM

Finishes: 4 March 2016Time: 6:00 PM

Venue: Vernon Square Room: VG01

Type of Event: Lecture

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Some Limitations of Pre-Buddhist Chinese Rhetoric, Syntax and Semantics

The annual AC Graham Memorial Lectures are jointly organised at SOAS by the Early China Seminar at the Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia, the SOAS China Institute (SCI) and the London Confucius Institute (LCI).


This lecture will compare in some detail some aspects of the expressive power of classical Chinese with that of Latin and Greek. Eric H. Lenneberg (Language 1953) states categorically: “A basic maxim in linguistics is that anything can be expressed in any language.”

Jerrold Katz "Effability and Translation" (1978) argues in more technical terms: “Every proposition is the sense of some sentence in each natural language.” On a more general level, this talk explores problems of logical as well as rhetorical intertranslatability with special reference to classical Latin and classical Chinese.

Speaker Biography

Christoph Harbsmeier is Professor of Chinese at the University of Oslo, and holds honorary professorships at Peking University, Fudan University, Wuhan University, Zhejiang University, Shanghai Normal University, and East China Normal University, Wuhan University, and Zhejiang University; he has also been a Visiting Professor at Charles University in Prague, at the University of Michigan, at the University of Oxford, at Princeton University, at the University of California at Berkeley, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris. He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. He is coordinator/editor of the project Thesaurus Linguae Sericae: A Historical and Comparative Encyclopaedia of Chinese Conceptual Schemes (TLS 漢學文典) which aims at exploring the concepts of the Chinese language and is implemented as an interactive database.

His books include Wilhelm von Humboldts Brief an Abel-Rémusat und die philosophische Grammatik des Altchinesischen (1979), Aspects of Classical Chinese Syntax (1981), The Cartoonist Feng Zikai. Social Realism with a Buddhist Face (1984), and “Language and Logic”, vol. 7.3 in Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China (1998).


These events are free and no registration is necessary for the two public lectures. Places at the Master Seminar are limited. Participants are expected to book a place for this session with Professor Bernhard Fuehrer and prepare the reading material.

For further details please contact Professor Bernhard Fuehrer (

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0) 20 7898 4823

Sponsor: The 2016 lectures are supported by generous private donation (administered by the SCI), and small funding from the LCI.