SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Chinese 104: Introduction to Classical Chinese

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

Following the textbook used in the modern language course, this course offers an introduction to aspects of Chinese script (radicals and characters) during the first term. 

At the end of Term 1, the student should have an understanding of the development of Chinese script and principles of composition of basic Chinese characters, be able to look up characters in dictionaries using radicals, and recognise and write correctly approximately 300 characters. 

In Terms 2/3, an introduction to Classical Chinese is offered. At the end of the course, a student should have a basic understanding of Classical Chinese grammar, read simple texts from the Warring States and Han periods, and appreciate aspects of Chinese culture through the texts.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

During the first term, the course offers an introduction to the history and development of the Chinese language; the origin, development and structure of Chinese characters; the most commonly used transcription systems and the use of Chinese dictionaries.

During the second and third term, an introduction to Classical chinese is offered.


Total 22 weeks of teaching.  Term 1 will consist of a two hour lecture per week.  Term 2 will consist of a two hour tutorial and a one hour tutorial per week.

Scope and syllabus

Term 1 will be structured around lectures by one member of academic staff specializing in classical and literary Chinese.

The first week of term 2 will be an introduction to basic grammatical terms for Classical chinese and the nature and formats of ancient Chinese books.  The remainder of term 2 will cover selections from the Confucian Analects; short stories and fables from writers of the Warring States to the Han period.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination (70%) in May/June, term 1 tests (15%); term 2 tests (15%).

Suggested reading

  • Billeter, Jean Francois: The Chinese Art of Writing. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1990
  • Chiang, Yee: Chinese Calligraphy. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1961
  • Dawson, Raymond: A New Introduction to Classical Chinese. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984
  • Graham, Angus: Notes on Classical Chinese Grammar (unpublished manuscript; copies made available at the beginning of term 2)
  • Liu, Y. C.: Fifty Chinese Stories. London: Lund Humphries, 1967
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G.: Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Vancouver: U. of British Columbia Press, 1995
  • Wang Hongyuan: Hanzi ziyuan rumen [The Origins of Chinese Characters]. Beijing: Huayu jiaoxue chubanshe [Sinolingua], 1994


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules