BA East Asian Studies with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Introduction to Classical Chinese

Course unit fact file
Unit code CHIN28572
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course, intended for students with an intermediate level of Modern Chinese, introduces the basic grammar and vocabulary of Classical Chinese. Prior to the twentieth century, Classical Chinese was the lingua franca of East Asia, was widely read and written by educated people, and continues to influence present-day language through idiomatic phrases (chengyu) and professional and academic writing. The focus in the course will be on reading classical texts, and although reciting the material aloud can be helpful, class discussions and presentations will be in English with a focus on translating and interpreting the meaning of the texts. Readings will include excerpts from some of the foundational texts of East Asian history, including the Analects, the Mencius, Stratagems of the Warring States, and the Records of the Historian.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Chinese Language 2 CHIN51022 Pre-Requisite Compulsory

Prerequisite - Chinese 2 or equivalent background; native speakers of modern Mandarin are not permitted to take this unit.

This is available as free choice, but sufficient background in Mandarin Chinese is required; permission of the Course Unit Director is required.

Medium of language - English; Classical Chinese texts are read using Mandarin pronunciation 

Available to students on an Erasmus programme, but sufficient background in Mandarin Chinese is required; permission of the Course Unit Director is required.


  • Introduce students to the essential vocabulary, grammar, and stylistic conventions of literary Chinese
  • Familiarise students with the foundational texts and authors of classical China
  • Provide a general introduction to the intellectual and cultural world of classical China through primary and secondary readings
  • Improve students’ ability to systematically analyse and parse classical and literary Chinese

Teaching and learning methods

This unit uses a combination of interactive lectures, weekly short quizzes, and group translation work. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Show familiarity with essential vocabulary terms and grammatical structures of classical Chinese
  • Read simple passages of classical Chinese text and, with the aid of dictionaries and other tools, work through more complex material
  • Identify and understand the function of classical structures within modern Chinese, thereby enhancing their understanding of the language

Intellectual skills

  • Work through difficult material by using dictionaries, concordances, available translations, and other research tools
  • Analyse the structure of classical Chinese sentences and make decisions about their meaning that inform translations
  • Discuss a range of possible interpretations and their reasons for selecting these interpretations with their peers

Practical skills

  • Think independently and analytically about textual interpretation
  • Express ideas about meaning and context clearly in speech and writing
  • Read difficult texts effectively
  • Collaborate well in groups

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course unit students will be able to:

  • Read and translated pieces of Classical Chinese text with the help of a dictionary;
  • Demonstrate understanding of phrases and grammatical patterns used in modern Mandarin that were adapted from Classical Chinese;
  • Express the meaning and significance of ancient Chinese text using their own words and for a non-specialist audience


Employability skills

By the end of this course unit students will be able to: Use Classical Chinese phrases and structures in their written and spoken Chinese, demonstrating an advanced understanding of the language; Better understand grammatical structures and display their knowledge of the language; Think critically about texts and translation, and express their approach in clear and understandable English

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Formative or Summative 

Weighting within unit (if summative) 

Feedback on in-class translations



Class Participation – weekly quizzes and assignments



Midterm Exam 



Final Exam  Summative  60% 


Resit Assessment

Assessment task  

Take-home Exam 

Feedback methods


Feedback methodFormative or Summative
Regular oral feedback during course meetings on translations and quizzesFormative
Feedback on midterm and final examSummative


Recommended reading

  • Fuller, Michael A. An Introduction to Literary Chinese. Revised Edition Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2004.
  • Kroll, Paul W., et al., comp. A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin. Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1996.
  • Rouzer, Paul. A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Yuan, Naiying, Hai-tao Tang, and James Geiss. Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader in Three Volumes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gregory Scott Unit coordinator

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