Chinese Philosophical Texts

Created by Professor Mark Lewis in the Department of History, this course is the product of sixteen years of teaching the first-year (freshman) classical Chinese course in the four-year Chinese program at Cambridge University. It was developed through constant modification over those years with regular feedback from students. Materials from the course have also been used at Stanford University over the last decade in classes teaching classical Chinese and early Chinese thought. The Cambridge course began a few weeks into the first quarter of the first year of the program, and so assumed no knowledge of modern Chinese, which is completely unnecessary for learning the classical language. In fact, knowledge of classical Chinese can greatly assist one’s learning of the modern language, particularly in its written forms.

This course differs from textbooks of classical Chinese in at least three ways. First, all the source passages employed come from the classical “philosophical” texts of the Warring States and early Han period, so it offers a solid introduction to the language and thought of that period. The course was taught in association with A. C. Graham’s Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. It thereby provides students with an entryway to the study of the texts that had the greatest influence on Chinese culture, and which are the most widely studied and translated in Western languages. Second, Professor Lewis has given a detailed, virtually sentence-by-sentence analysis of the passages, explaining why the translation provided is correct and how it was reached. It can thus essentially serve as a self-taught course. Finally, in the discussion of grammar and the commentary he has provided a detailed treatment of the uses of parallelism and other rhythmic patterns in classical Chinese. (In some extracts sentences have been aligned to highlight the parallelism, as in Lesson Four, Extract A; no characters are missing.) These features, which are absolutely essential to the reading of classical Chinese, have been largely ignored in textbooks.

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