Customer Reviews: A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese (Harvard East Asian Monographs)
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on August 11, 2007
Finally! A very good text for introducing classical Chinese! I have looked at most of them and as a teaching/learning tool this is head and shoulders above the rest. Really in a class by itself.

I first studied Classical Chinese back in the days--yes it is true--when there were no textbooks available at all. That it has taken this long for somebody to produce a single volume that does what language text books are supposed to do (including exercises of various sorts, useful glossary and varied indexes, translations--just about anything you could need in addition to Korean and Japanese pronunciations)is surprising. But at last we now have such a book. It is written for normal language students, not ph.d's in linguistics. And if, like me, you are studying on your own, this one works! I am enormously grateful to the author. He has opened the door.

I would give the book more than 5 stars were it to include just one reading from Buddhist literature (the Sinological tradition in this country seems to feel that Daoism and Confucianism are legitimately Chinese but that Buddhism is a foreign intrusion. Silly, that.) Too, putting in the simplified characters would probably help some students, as would calligraphic versions of characters since the printed versions can sometimes be misleading. But these quibbles aside, Prof. Rouzer has done us a great, great service.
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on January 27, 2009
I've been studying modern Chinese for last few years, and have always been interested in the origins of this fascinating language. My first book in classical/literary chinese was Michael a Fuller's An Introduction to Literary Chinese: Revised Edition (Harvard East Asian Monographs) . It's thorough and linguistically exact but can be difficult for beginner. Another good choice is Yuan, Tang & Geiss's Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader in Three Volumes.

Paul Rouzer's Practical Primer of Literary Chinese is definitely the most user-friendly, down-to-earth approach to classical Chinese. Starting with simple proverbs Rouzer explains vocabulary, grammar and sentence structures clearly and concisely. I can recommend this book as first purchase to everybody interested in literary Chinese.
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on June 17, 2012
There are currently several good classical Chinese primers available, but this book stands out among them, and is really excellent. I very much enjoyed studying it a few years ago, and I enjoyed reading through half of it, just for fun, once more yesterday.

The book starts with a section of proverbs and short anecdotes from the Garden of Stories (first century BCE). Every lesson consists of Chinese text (fantizi, big font), Vocabulary (with pronunciations, including Japanese and Korean pronunciations, notes about word usage), and Commentary. The vocabulary is built up gently, and the grammatical notes point out common and basic patterns first, and only gradually introduce more complex and idiomatic patterns. The grammar explanations are very clear, and are always illustrated with sample sentences. A nice thing about the lessons in the first unit is also that the translation exercises not only ask you to translate from Chinese to English, but also from English into literary Chinese -- you may not appreciate how much this helps, until you have done a few exercises for yourself. Answer keys and translations of the exercises can be found in the back of the book.

The next units follow the same pattern, but up the ante. Still, every lesson by itself is very manageable - about half a page (300-500 characters) of Chinese text, and 25-50 new characters per lesson. So step by step you will be able to work through this. Since the selection of source materials is also just marvelous, it's difficult to lose interest. In all there six units of a lessons. There is a very interesting unit with "Biographies of the Assassin-Retainers", from the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian, first century BCE), a section with two passages from "Biographies of Noted Women" (Liennu zhuan, first century BCE), ten lessons are devoted to Mengzi, there are two lessons about "Warrior Women" (including the Mulan ballad), and the final five lessons introduce the "Autumn Floods" (Qiu Shui) chapter from the Zhuangzi. -- One of my personal goals in studying classical Chinese was to be able to read both the Shiji and Zhuangzi in Chinese, so it was very rewarding for me to study this. The writer apologizes that he was not able to include the famous Shiji passages about Jing Ke, who tried to assassinate the First Emperor, but after working through this textbook I was able to read those for myself.

To sum up the reasons why I like this book:

- Gradual, gentle built up of lexicon and grammar (you are not overwhelmed with huge lists of rare Chinese characters)
- Crystal-clear explanations of grammar and idiom
- Brief notes about cultural and historical background
- Excellent cross-references of characters (it's easy to find back in which lesson a character was first used)
- Marvelous selection of literary source material
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on March 28, 2008
This book will enable you to learn classical written Chinese on your own. Not that it will be easy -- it's still a daunting task, but the pace of this book, the way the material is presented, and the promise it holds for those who persevere (finish the book and you'll be able to read interesting texts, not just the simple stuff) make studying this great language a real pleasure.

As another reviewer noted, no Buddhist text fragments are presented, unfortunately, but that, so far, is the only downside to this excellent textbook.
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on January 1, 2008
I just purchased this book in Boston two weeks ago and have hardly put it down since this is the book I've been wanting to get my hands on for a long time. I'm already halfway through and have learned a great deal about the culture, language and temperament of Chinese people of earlier times. The linguistic explanations are lucid and compelling, the choices of stories are riveting, and the commentaries on the texts are scholarly, yet down to earth. As the previous reviewer noted, an inclusion of modern simplified Chinese characters alongside the classical ones would be a big plus. Also, I would much prefer to see Hangeul and Japanese script instead of the transliterations in the book since I am interested in nearly all the Asian languages. "Thank you!" for including the very smooth translations of all the Chinese texts in the back of the book. I am also editing the book as I study it, and I am happy to provide the author with my comments ( Overall, this is a great book for those who wish to delve deeper on one's own into the historical and linguistic underpinnings of modern Chinese culture and language. Another good book to own is the ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs since many of the grammatical structures which are discussed in the Primer are also seen over and over in the proverbs dictionary.
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on January 7, 2011
This book fills the lacuna of resources for the would-be self-taught student of Classical Chinese. The book requires no knowledge of Mandarin to be fully utilized, offers detailed explanations of the major constructions and function words, and culminates in a guided reading of the Autumn Waters chapter of the Zhuangzi (in my estimation, one of the literary high points of Chinese philosophy). The 'review of common and significant words' is, in effect, a small reference grammar for all the most frequently encountered function words. Since the review can be quickly searched either by word or by types of clauses and parts of speech, it is extremely useful in determining how a given word encountered in the course of reading is being used in its context (as opposed to Pulleyblank, which, although it is thorough, in a way assumes because of its design that one knows how a word is being used before one can look it up to confirm a guess). The book has no rival of which I am aware in terms of usefulness to the novice, and even more experienced readers may find the explanations and indices valuable. The commentary and vocabulary of the Zhuangzi chapter alone is worth the price for anyone interested in reading that marvelous piece of writing.
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VINE VOICEon November 14, 2009
Having worked through several texts on classical Chinese, I found this one among the best. The vocabularies are comprehensive,grammar notes are good, although a bit scanty in later lessons, and the variety of texts gives exposure to different styles. This is really a text geared to classroom instruction, although a well-motivated person with a bit of a background in Modern or classical Chinese could use it with great profit. If there is to be a revised edition, I'd suggest including translations of all the texts, not just the first ten (although Rouzer gives references for translations of the later texts, some of these books would be hard to obtain without access to a university library). Also, this is a textbook for English-reading students, so the inclusion of Japanese and Korean readings of characters does not add anything for the vast majority of students; likewise for the kanbun readings, in romaaji, which take up a lot of space--anyone who could read kanbun would probably not be using this text. Such minor points take nothing away from the great utility of this book, which I'd highly recommend to those who want to read classical Chinese texts in the original.
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on November 21, 2012
The book is very well written for beginning students of classical Chinese (before the Han Dynasty). Its explanations of characters and choice of excerpts are clearly very carefully thought out. The layout makes the content straightforward to learn. Would definitely recommend not just for classes, but for self-study as well.
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on September 10, 2009
This is a good textbook with interesting readings, which would serve well as either the main text for a course or as a supplement. The glossary brings out cultural implications of the terms. I also liked the unusual feature of including Japanese pronunciations for characters--excellent for students learning both languages, or students of Japanese venturing into the class without Chinese language background.
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on November 18, 2010
What a pleasure it is to comment on Professor Rouzer's book. When I studied classical Chinese forty years ago under the guidance of the late Professor Edward H. Schafer at the University of California at Berkeley, we did not have such a well-written introductory textbook as this one. In point of fact, we did not have one; instead we dealt with the actual textual material itself, along with the lecture commentary. What a difference it would have made and what a difference it makes today for the interested student wanting to pursue this subject matter. I cannot recommend this book too highly--it is a must buy!
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