SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia

Special Course in Chinese: Reading Classical and Literary Chinese (PG)

Module Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year


Students must have a working knowledge of about 500-800 characters.  There will be a placement test before a place on this course is offered.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate . . .

  • knowledge and understanding of Classical and Literary Chinese grammar
  • knowledge and understanding of Classical and Literary Chinese vocabulary
  • knowledge and understanding of the periodization of Classical and Literary Chinese
  • knowledge and understanding of traditional Chinese philology
  • knowledge and understanding of commentarial literature
  • knowledge of essential reference materials
  • knowledge and understanding of the role of language in general, and pre-modern Chinese in particular, in language-based scholarship and research (specific learning outcome for PG students)


A total of 22 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week.  In addition Masters students will receive an additional 6 hours of lectures and an additional 6 hours seminars/tutorials in total over the course.

Scope and syllabus

The course provides an introduction to Classical and Literary Chinese with emphasis on reading skills. The course covers a) periodization of the language, b) introduction to basic concepts of Classical Chinese, c) introduction to basic grammar of Classical Chinese, d) introduction to Chinese philology, e) introduction to the reading of commentarial literature, and f) introduction to essential reference material.

Texts in Classical Chinese (up to Han period) will be read during term 1; texts in Literary Chinese (post-Han) will be read in terms 2 and 3. The readings provide students with a basis to approach research topics relating to pre-modern China, her history, philosophies, societies and cultures.

A series of special PG lectures with associated seminars structured around the six themes Structure, Texts, Identity, Society, Translation and Transformation (provided for PG students studying different languages) introduces students to general questions of the role of language in language-based scholarship and research and provides them with the critical and methodological skills to relate their language acquisition to the thematic aspects of the studies.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (40%); one essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 3 (30%); an essay of 2,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (20%); two reports of 500 words each to be submitted on day 5, penultimate week, term 1 and day 5, penultimate week, term 2  (10%).

Suggested reading

References include:

  • Bol, Peter K.: “This Culture of Ours”: Intellectual Transitions in T’ang and Sung China. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992Cheng, Anne: Histoire de la Pensée Chinoise. Paris: Seuil, 1997
  • Clunas, Craig: Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China. London: Reaktion Books, 1996
  • Fung Yu-Lan, transl. by Derk Bodde: A history of Chinese philosophy. 2 vols.; Princeton: Princeton UP, 1952  
  • Graham, Angus C.: Poems of the Late T’ang. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965
  • Graham, Angus C.: Disputers of the Tao. Philosophical Argumentation in Ancient China. La Salle: Open Court, 1989
  • Hsiao Kung-chuan, transl. by F.W. Mote: A History of Chinese Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979
  • Li, Chu-Tsing & James C. Y. Watt: The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period. New York: Thames and Hudson, The Asia Society Galleries, 1987
  • Lin Shuen-fu & Stephen Owen: The Vitality of the Lyric Voice. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986
  • Liu, James J. Y.: The Art of Chinese Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962
  • Loewe, Michael & Edward L. Shaughnessy (eds.): The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999
  • Mair, Victor H.: The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1994
    Mair, Victor H.: The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 2002
  • Murck, Alfreda & Wen C. Fong: Words and Images: Chinese Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991
  • Owen, Stephen: The Great Age of Chinese Poetry: The High T’ang. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981
  • Owen, Stephen: An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G.: Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1995
  • Sima Qian: Shiji . 10 vols., Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1959] 1982
  • Schwartz, Benjamin I.: The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1985
  • Yang Bojun : Mengzi Yizhu . 2 vols.; Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1960] 1988

Essential research tools include:

  • Cihai . 3 vols. + 1 vol. addenda; Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju / Shanghai Cishu chubanshe, 1980
  • Ciyuan . 4 vols.; Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1980
  • Gu, Charles Wei-hsun & Wing-tsit Chan: Guide to Chinese Philosophy. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1978
  • Gu Hanyu Changyongzi Zidian Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1979
  • Gu Hanyu Xuci Yongfa Cidian . Xi’an: Shaanxi Renmin chubanshe, 1998 (or equivalent)
  • Gudai Hanyu Cidian . Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1998
  • Huang Kaiguo et al. (main eds.): Zhuzi Baijia Da Cidian . Chengdu: Sichuan Renmin chubanshe, 1999
  • Hucker, Charles O.: A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1985
  • Lin Qingzhang (main ed.): Jingxue Yanjiu Lunzhu Mulu , 1912-1987 . 2 vols.; Taibei: Hanxue Yanjiu Zhongxin, 1989
  • Loewe, Michael: Early Chinese Texts. A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and The Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1993
  • Luo Zhufeng : Hanyu Da Cidian .12 vols.; Shanghai: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe, [1990] 1994
  • Unger, Ulrich: Grundbegriffe der altchinesischen Philosophie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2000
  • Wang Li : Hanyu Shilüxue . Hong Kong: Zhonghua shuju, 1957, 1973
  • Wang Li : Gudai Hanyu [xiudingben] . 4 vols.; Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1981] 1995
  • Wang Li (main ed.): Wang Li Gu Hanyu Zidian Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2000
  • Wei Zhengtong (main ed.): Zhongguo Zhexue Cidian Daquan


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules