Intro to Literary/Classical Chinese (文言文)

A 16-week guided introduction to reading Classical Chinese. Intended for lower intermediate Chinese learners and above, following Michael Fuller's Introduction to Literary Chinese.

This course begins on 1 March, 2022 and will finish in late June. Enrollment ends on March 1, so be sure to sign up now! Use the discount code 'first-cohort' for $100 off!

Online Course

$299 Just $199 for the first cohort! Use the discount code 'first-cohort' 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

Lessons will take place over a 16-week period, but like all of our courses, you'll be able to access all of the materials after it's finished. No need to stress about keeping up—you'll be able to go at a slower pace if you want!

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

Part I: Basic Grammar

  • Lesson 1: Nominal and Verbal Sentences (論語・困學)
  • Lesson 2: Parts of Speech (韓非子・宋國富人)
  • Lesson 3: Coordinate Verbs (韓非子・守株待兔)
  • Lesson 4: The Modifier 所 and Nominalized Verbs (呂氏春秋・刻舟求劍)
  • Lesson 5: Negatives (韓非子・矛盾)
  • Lesson 6: Pivot Verbs, Auxiliary Verbs, and Classical Commentary (列子・楊布)
  • Lesson 7: Coverbs (戰國策・狐假虎威)
  • Lesson 8: Embedded Sentences (孟子・揠苗)

Part II: Intermediate Texts

  • Lesson 9: 說苑・晉平公問於師曠
  • Lesson 10: 新序・兩頭蛇
  • Lesson 11: 戰國策・曾參殺人
  • Lesson 12: 說苑・趙簡子問子貢
  • Lesson 13: 戰國策・趙簡子舉兵攻齊
  • Lesson 14: 莊子・鵷鶵
  • Lesson 15: 莊子・曳尾於塗中
  • Lesson 16: 史記・石奢

This course will be taught live, as a combination of lectures and Q&A (though if you can't make it to the live sessions you can watch the recordings later). We'll also hold weekly office hours 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 Intro to Classical Chinese course aimed at non-native speakers. By the end of the course you'll be able to approach basic texts in classical Chinese on your own, 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. You'll also be qualified to join the Outlier Classical Chinese Reading Group, where we have weekly readings in Classical/Literary Chinese of all periods!

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

Yes! We'll do one lesson per week, but once the course is finished, we'll keep everything available online so that you can go through it at your own pace.

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. If you're not sure about your level, get in touch!

How long does the course take to complete?

There are 16 lessons, and we'll be doing one lesson per week. We'll also take off the first week of May (that's Golden Week in Japan), near the middle of the course.

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.

We'll do 1-2 live videos per week (a combination of lecture and Q&A), and I'll also have "office hours" once a week on Zoom, so you can pop in and ask questions if you'd like. There will also be 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 (recommended)
- A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll (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)

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.

Sign up now!

This course begins on 1 March, 2022 and will finish in late June. Enrollment ends on March 1, so be sure to sign up now! Use the discount code 'first-cohort' for $100 off!

Online Course

$299 Just $199 for the first cohort! Use the discount code 'first-cohort' at checkout.