Classical Chinese is an intrinsically interesting language. It refers to the written language of the premodern Chinese tradition and covers a period of some 2500 years (500 BCE~1920 CE) … It served as the shared language of the elites in premodern China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Knowledge of classical Chinese opens you up to new worlds. It represents the human experience of something like 1/5 of the people who ever walked the earth.More practically speaking, knowledge of classical Chinese will also greatly improve your modern Chinese. The two are distinct languages (at least, by any meaningful definition of “language”), but the modern Chinese languages grew out of their classical ancestor and still bear its imprint. Most of the set phrases (chengyu 成語) that mark one’s speech as refined in modern Chinese are summaries of or quotations from classical sources and therefore obey classical structures. Many of the puzzling usages in formal, written Mandarin (the kind used in newspapers) make perfect sense with a basic knowledge of classical Chinese.
A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese is the long-desired Chinese – English reference work for all those reading texts dating from the Warring States period through the Tang dynasty. Comprising 8,000+ characters, arranged alphabetically by Pinyin.
As a lexicon meant for practical use, it immensely facilitates reading and translating historical, literary, and religious texts dating from approximately 500 BCE to 1000 CE. Being primarily a dictionary of individual characters (zidian 字典) and the words they represent, it also includes an abundance of alliterative and echoic binomes (lianmianci 連綿詞) as well as accurate identifications of hundreds of plants, animals, and assorted technical terms in various fields. It aims to become the English-language resource of choice for all those seeking assistance in reading texts dating from the Warring States period through the Tang dynasty.
Over at his blog, Tom Mazanec calls this “the most important development in Classical Chinese-to-English lexicography since R. H. Mathews’s Chinese-English Dictionary (from 1943).” He says, “nearly every other Chinese dictionary out there lumps together a character’s usage over 3,000 years in a single entry, with no notes on time. This deliberate ignoring of linguistic development help create a false sense of a timeless, unchanging ‘traditional China,’ a myth widespread among East Asians and Westerners alike” (and gives an example of Kroll’s exacting sense of English vocabulary to render medieval Chinese).
Click on the image for further details, including ordering information.