Intermediate Classical/Literary Chinese – Outlier Linguistics

Intermediate Literary/Classical Chinese

Take your literary Chinese to the next level with this structured course!

Intensive Online Course, just $299!

In this comprehensive online course read some of the most famous passages of classical Chinese. By the end of the course you should be equipped to approach most mainstream Classical and Literary Chinese, and you'll have the tools and skills to be able to read them for yourself, and to know where to look for help when you get stuck!

This is equivalent to a semester-long university-level course, But unlike a university course, this one is self-paced! You also get access to regular live Q&A sessions.

By the end, you'll have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of reading classical Chinese, and will have read several famous passages on your own!

Comprehensive Self-paced Online Course, just $299!


Bundle with the Intro course and save $100!

(Use 'classicalmaster' Promo code at checkout)

For All Learners

Anyone who wants to reach a high level in Chinese will benefit from this course. Modern formal writing (newspapers, contracts, professional and academic documents, etc.) draws heavily from Classical Chinese, so it's not just for historians!

For Non-Natives

The way a non-native should go about learning Classical/Literary Chinese is very different from the way a native speaker should. It's very difficult to find instruction in Classical Chinese for non-natives without enrolling in university courses—until now!

Lifetime Access

The course is entirely self-paced, and like all of our courses, you'll still be able to access all of the materials after you're finished. No need to stress about time—you can go through the lessons on your own time, and ask us for help whenever you need it!

Benefits of Learning Classical Chinese

  • Access the rich 3000+ year literary history of the Chinese language
  • Improve your modern Chinese (the more formal a text in modern Chinese, the more it resembles Literary Chinese)
  • Understand the abbreviations used in newspapers—many of them are derived from Literary Chinese
  • Be able to read Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu/Laozi, Sun Tzu/Sunzi and more in the original
  • Unlock the language of the Four Classic Chinese Novels (which are part-literary, part-vernacular in style)
  • Appreciate poetry from the Tang and Song dynasties, one of the world's literary treasures

Intensive Online Course, just $299!

Part I: Intermediate Texts

  • Lesson 17: 史記・晏子之御
  • Lesson 18: 說苑・吳王欲伐荊
  • Lesson 19: 韓非子・和氏之璧
  • Lesson 20: 孟子・施仁政
  • Lesson 21: 莊子・髑髏
  • Lesson 22: 史記・漢高祖
  • Lesson 23: 孟子・熊掌
  • Lesson 24: 史記・淳于髠

Part II: Advanced Texts

  • Lesson 25A: 梁惠王,上,一
  • Lesson 25B: 公孫丑,上六
  • Lesson 26A: 逍遙遊A
  • Lesson 26B: 逍遙遊B
  • Lesson 26C: 齊物論
  • Lesson 27A: 伯夷列傳A
  • Lesson 27B: 伯夷列傳B
  • Lesson 28: 蘭亭集序

This course is self paced! You get access to all of the lectures and Q&A sessions we did in the previous live cohort of the course, plus I'll continue doing regular live "office hours" Q&A sessions via Zoom. Exams will be given at the end of each unit, and a passing score at the end earns you a Certificate of Completion, which will serve as fulfillment of prerequisites for future courses!

It's structured like a university-level Classical Chinese course aimed at non-native speakers who already have some experience with basic Classical Chinese. During the course, we'll read some of the most famous passages of Classical Chinese. By the end of the course you should be equipped to approach most mainstream Classical and Literary Chinese, and you'll have the tools and skills to be able to read them for yourself, and to know where to look for help when you get stuck.

Can I go at my own pace? Will I be able to access the course once I've finished it?

Yes! You get lifetime access, so we'll keep everything available online so that you can go through it at your own pace and review it whenever you want to!

How much Chinese do I need to know to take this course?

You'll need to be at a lower-intermediate level. Generally, if you're somewhere in the HSK 2-3 range, or TOCFL 2-ish, you should be fine. The course will be taught in English, and while we will use some references in Chinese, translations will be provided so that you won't get lost. You'll also need some experience with Classical Chinese, either through the earlier lessons in the Fuller book (see below), or another resource for beginners to Classical Chinese. If you're not sure about your level, get in touch!

How long does the course take to complete?

There are 16 lessons. We recommend doing one lesson per week if you can, but you can go at whatever pace suits you!

How much time will it require per lesson?

That will depend on your level, but probably a few hours per lesson. The course is structured like a university Classical Chinese course for non-natives, so that should give you a guideline as to how much time you'll need.

There are 2-3 videos per lesson (a combination of lecture and Q&A).You'll also get access to regular "office hours" on Zoom, so you can pop in and ask questions if you'd like. There's also a discussion forum, so if you can't make it to the office hours, you can still get your questions answered.

Will I need anything (apps, etc.) in order to take the course?

Only the textbook is required, but having access to a few other materials will be very helpful—digital versions are available for most items. You don't need more than one of the dictionaries on the list, although having more than one certainly won't hurt. The course also includes bibliographic exercises, and we'll provide photocopies when necessary.

- Introduction to Literary Chinese by Michael Fuller (required)
- Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar by Edwin Pulleyblank (highly recommended)
- A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll (highly recommended; available in Pleco)
- 《古漢語常用字字典》 (highly recommended)
- 《古漢語大辭典》 (recommended; available in Pleco)
- 《漢語大詞典》 (recommended; available in Pleco)

What does "lifetime access" mean?

In practical terms, it means the course materials will be available online for as long as Outlier is in business. If we do ever go out of business or otherwise need to remove the course for any reason, we'll make the material available for you to download for a period of at least 6 months.

Will the course be in simplified or traditional characters?

The textbook uses traditional characters, but I'll be supplying the readings (which are public domain) in simplified characters as well. If you're only familiar with simplified, this (plus maybe jotting down simplified characters in the margins of the book where needed) should be enough, although if you'd like to also start learning traditional, maybe this would be a good time!

Can I get a refund if I decide the course isn't for me?

Yes! We have a 30-day, no questions asked refund policy. If you decide you don't like the course for whatever reason, just reach out by then and I'll be happy to give you a full refund.

Will there be assignments or homework?

There are several types of exercises (grammar, translation, bibliographic, etc.) in the textbook, so we'll be doing those. I'll also be adding some additional exercises, particularly in Unit 2. We'll have a "final exam" at the end of the course, and a passing grade will get you a certificate.

Will there be other students at my level? Can we collaborate with other students or form study groups?

Definitely! There are plenty of students at all levels in the course.

And sure, working together is no problem! You'll get access to a private online community where you can work together, ask questions, share notes, etc.

I don't know Mandarin, but I know Japanese/Korean/Cantonese. Can I join?

First, take a look at this paragraph from the preface of the textbook:

"The vocabulary lists for the lessons use the pīnyīn romanization of Mandarin Chinese, a choice that deserves some comment. On the whole, given the great distance between the ancient language and the modern dialects, the modern pronunciation of the characters is of little significance. The textbook does assume some knowledge of Chinese characters as used in a modern East Asian language, but it makes no real difference if the language is Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, or Korean. Indeed, it is important to remember that the corpus of texts written in "literary Chinese" is more accurately an east Asian textual tradition and that the elites of pre-modern Korea, Japan, and Vietnam were both familiar with the authors whose works have been selected for this textbook and used literary Chinese as the primary medium for serious writing. Literary Chinese thus has a much wider audience than just speakers of modern Mandarin."

So strictly speaking, you don't need to know Mandarin in order to take the course, but it will probably require some extra effort on your part, since only Mandarin readings of the characters are given in the textbook. Also, keep in mind that when I give examples during the lectures and Q&As, I'll pronounce them in Mandarin. But if that doesn't bother you and you can follow along, filling in the pronunciation in your language of choice, then there shouldn't be any reason that you can't take the course.

Your Instructor

John Renfroe
Co-founder, Outlier Linguistics

Before co-founding Outlier, John studied Linguistics and Paleography in the Graduate Institute of Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University. He co-founded and later ran the Taipei Classical Chinese Reading Group, a weekly reading group consisting mostly of graduate Sinology students from western universities. He also taught classical Chinese to members of the group who had no previous instruction in the language. His coursework and research focused on excavated Warring States bamboo texts, historical Chinese character morphology, and the Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 and its commentaries and criticism.

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Take your literary Chinese to the next level with this structured course!

Comprehensive Self-paced Online Course, just $299!