Chinese (language, literature and philosophy)

In my first blog post I shortly mentioned that I had spend 2 years of mostly self study learning Chinese, the language and related cultural aspects, such as history and classical Chinese. In this post I want to give an outline for some projects I am planning to work on, these comprise areas such as language (skills, knowledge and practice), culture and literature (poetry) and in particular classics.

Language learning

Even though my current listening (TOCFL 5/6 流利) and reading (6/6 精通) skills allow me to fully integrate with local life and society, there are nonetheless a number of situations where I find my current level insufficient, or at least inaccurate. To name only a few, there are Chinese characters with multiple pronunciation (多音字), where the pronunciation usually depends on the part-of-speech. Another aspect is the difference in pronunciation between Taiwan and Mainland China, which I would like to be more aware of.

A more ambitious goal is the ability to be able to recall from memory the most frequently used 2500~3000 characters that would allow me to engage in the process of hand writing and reflection away from digital devices. To this end, I have already created a list containing words that best represent each individual Hanzi, with preferably unique full word pronunciation.

Chinese History, Culture and Literature

I have read comprehensive works on Chinese history and literature in the past. While reading about multiple aspects of Chinese literature, I struggled with the fact that I had only very limited familiarity with original works, in particular poetry as well as some classics. To attain at least a general overview of different kinds of poetry including representative poets or individual pieces of poetry as well as the underlying rules, suggests itself as a place to start.

Chinese Classics

The Confucian text canon has been at the center of imperial examinations for more than a millennium and thus been mandatory reading for intellectuals or those who aspired to office and influence. A limited number of texts that constitute a cultural heritage in writing and can be seen as a comprehensive course in the (Chinese) humanities, including poetry, history, common rites, music, natural philosophy as well as sacred text on human conduct that propagate values and a certain type of Weltanschauung (German term for Worldview).

I have previously studied the Analects, a collection of records of Confucius’ words and deeds through his disciples, as original with annotations composed into textbook format by Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). I found the many of the sayings so inspiring that I decided to hand copy most of the original.

Another work I found deeply inspiring is the 道德經 daodejing taoteking (depending on the phonetic transliteration), the book of the way and virtue. Before I even started to learn Chinese I was captivated by it’s words in translation. So when I could finally read the original, I enjoyed every sentence, pondered it’s words, guided by intuition as well as some historical context. The process of copying the original text by hand was quite meditative. The wisdom contained in it’s lines still unfathomable.

I have read some other classics to a greater or lesser extent, however the classical language, as beautiful as it is concise, sometimes requires efforts to penetrate to it’s original meaning. I learned that with enough patience, the study of this material can be highly rewarding. Recently I have studied Xunzi 荀子, whos texts are less popular, but are much more dominated by logic and reason and much of it remains highly instructional to this day, even if one needs to apply some effort, not just to the translation of its text, but also w.r.t. the application in one’s own life.

For this area of study I consider a collection of quotes from the former two works, as well as a study for the purpose of enhanced understanding of the latter work.



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