The state of the art

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The state of the art

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Redigerat: dec 14, 2006, 12:44 pm

A new member asks about the Fogies' academic background. We hope our reply does not disappoint: we put no reliance whatever on academic credentials. Not because we lack them but because the fields of Japanology and Sinology are deathly stagnant and have been so since the 19th century. Our actual research interests have been for many years in the intellectually lively field of linguistics. We read old forms of Chinese and Japanese easily enough to do it for pleasure, we translate for exercise, and sometimes even venture original composition. But please don't ask us for publications in these fields. They are on our hard drives, where they will remain.

dec 12, 2006, 3:40 pm

Fogies--I am Chinese enough to seek teacher wherever I can find him/her. I study on my own with the help of my father. (I did speak Japanese as a child, and have been trying to pick up enough to read the mukashibanashi, which are a great resource for my picture books.) It's a thrill to bump into this website and this specific group. Because I am not in an academic setting, I study in isolation. Fogies, what would you recommend as a course of study? What books did you use when you taught thos beginning their studies in ancient Chinese?

Asquonk and Liao--Any suggestions from you?

Best, Belle

Redigerat: dec 20, 2006, 5:50 pm

belleyang >2 belleyang: Since you're a fluent reader of modern Chinese, your best bet is to work through this textbook: 王力(主編) 1989《古代漢語(修訂本)》(全四冊),臺北:藍燈文化公司. It's a very thorough treatment; you make take some months to finish it, but it's worth the work. There is a handbook called Outline of classical Chinese grammar. The Fogies haven't seen it so we don't know if it's any good or not. And we recommend the downloadable Classical Chinese Vocabulary Notes (free).

For people who don't read modern Chinese fluently, the picture is rather dark. We will expand on that topic in a later post, but for now we have to say, sorry, our teaching materials are not available. They were mimeographed from handwritten masters (that was a long time ago) and probably no copies have survived.

Please ask as many more questions as you wish. If we don't know the answers someone else might.

Good luck,


dec 12, 2006, 9:50 pm

Fogies--I could not find the above mentioned set online. Is it available in the US? I am currently using "An Introduction to Literary Chinese" by Michael A. Fuller and found it on Amazon. Belle

dec 13, 2006, 5:42 am

I am rather surprised by Fogies' harsh view of the current state of Sinology and Japanology. Perhaps I misunderstand what they refer to by these terms (my expertise such as it is is on recent times), but the study of both Chinese and Japanese history seems to me to have flourished from about 1950 to the present -- in English, French, and German. While there was pioneering work done in the 19th century, it surely was neither definitive nor comprehensive. Very interesting studies have been done in every area from archaeology to political history. I wonder what it is about the modern scholarship that makes Fogies (apparently) want to disregard it.

dec 13, 2006, 8:36 am

>5 pechmerle: Chinese archaeology is indeed flourishing wonderfully. The Fogies have little but admiration for it, despite the shameful and scandalous traffic in stolen antiques. But archaeology is a distinct discipline, one that pays continual attention to the validity of its methods and stays abreast of developments in other fields that it might adopt and utilize.

The Fogies' opinion, based on years of direct personal experience, is that Sinology is stagnant. If you find that judgment harsh, that is your own subjective reaction, to which of course you are entitled. We mentioned it not to start an argument--if one does start we will stay out of it--but as a reminder to members of this group that in trying to learn about ancient China you are much more on your own than you would be with ancient Rome or ancient Greece. You should not assume that credentialed expertise on ancient China represents the same level of competence as would its notional equivalent in European medieval or classical studies. And don't expect the wealth of translation and analysis of ancient texts you take for granted in the European case. It mostly hasn't been done.

dec 13, 2006, 9:06 am

>4 belleyang: How to get Chinese books in the US is a question previously asked and only partly answered. The Fogies have never bought such books online. Nearly all of ours we got by direct purchase at specialist bookshops in major cities of eastern Asia. We did once order a few by mail, but that was nearly--eheu fugaces!--fifty years ago.

With large Chinese-speaking populations, cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver probably have Chinese bookstores. Anyone have information on that?

Maybe the simplest way to get 古代漢語 is to ask a friend in Beijing or Hong Kong or Taipei or Singapore or Tokyo to buy it and mail it to you. But that's troublesome and time-consuming. Suggestions, anyone?

Redigerat: dec 13, 2006, 4:03 pm

>6 Fogies: a bit of amplification may be in order:

This group is not about any kind of ology, it is about ancient China. To the extent that an ology--to take one at random, say, oh, entomology--has interesting things to say about our topic we ought to pay attention, but only to that extent. The question was what academic background the Fogies bring to the discussion, and our reply was that in discussing ancient China we pay no attention to academic credentials, since they only certify formal training in the obsolete methods of an academic field that has been stagnant for over a century. Stagnant does not mean inactive, as anyone who has observed a stagnant pond will know. There is certainly no lack of stuff being churned out to fill the journal pages and CV's. Publish-or-perish holds here as everywhere in academia.

Here's a concrete illustration of credentials vs competence. Suppose that like belleyang and asquonk and perhaps others here, you are trying to improve your ability to read ancient Chinese texts in the original. Suppose you need to decide how to understand a sentence containing a word that occurs in other sentences that also puzzle you, and how you decide will determine how you think about some question that concerns you. Suppose you look at how translators have rendered the sentence into English, and you find two renditions that starkly contrast, one by Arthur Waley and one by W.A.C.H. Dobson. Waley not only had no academic position, he had no Sinological credentials at all. Dobson was a star at the peak of Sinology, chair of department in a great university, author of many books, recipient of huge research grants and honors and awards. If you decide on the basis of those credentials to follow Dobson instead of Waley, 99% of the time you will have made the wrong choice. Nor is Dobson unique in that regard; James Ware, another big kahuna, is, like Dobson, simply not worth any attention at all.

We don't mean you should ignore Sinology. The work of Nathan Sivin in alchemy, to give just one example, is great stuff, worthy of close attention. We mean simply what we said, that Sinology is stagnant (Sivin's work, for example, was done by means of textual scholarship barely advanced over that of James Legge) and that therefore its credentials should be given no weight.

Redigerat: dec 16, 2006, 2:53 am

Dear Fogies--I asked you about your academic background in the same spirit the Chinese ask, on initial meeting, “how old are you?” Westerners find the query rude, while the Chinese find knowing the other party’s age useful in weighing the relative levels of knowledge and life experiences. Apologies if my query came across as brusk. I am looking for context so to can ask questions.

My reading tonight brings me to the following issues: why do the Chinese put less stress on verbal disputation and more on the written? Is it because Chinese developed a small range of monosyllabic words that must be understood in context? Why have the Chinese made the language tough for the Chinese?

dec 16, 2006, 4:37 am

belleyang, that is a fascinating question!

I have one for anyone who can answer. It comes, in part, from reading this thread.
How much can/will the understanding of ancient China help the non-Chinese to understand modern Chinese (people, not language) and how much do we need to understand the modern Chinese to understand ancient Chinese history?

dec 16, 2006, 4:41 am

Fogies, re#8, why was/is someone educated in the field more ignorant than someone not? Was this a kind of "I'm educated so I must know" attitude. How did they get to high levels if they were incompetant?

Redigerat: dec 16, 2006, 4:14 pm

>11 Airycat: Airycat- The Fogies would like to avoid the topic of Sinology in general, but we're willing to discuss it on the narrowly specific grounds that are why we brought it up: as a reminder to those reading about ancient China that you should be very, very cautious about accepting either conventional wisdom or expert judgment. An example of the former (and this also obliquely addresses belleyang's question in 9):

We all know Chinese is monosyllabic, right? Except it isn't. And we don't mean only the polysyllables in modern Chinese, but also in ancient poetry. Look at the first line of the first poem of the oldest anthology we've got, The book of odes. 關關雎鳩 -- four syllables, two words.

But at least we know each character writes one syllable--except that isn't true either. The negative prefix 不 bu and the possessive suffix 的 di are both written with a character but often pronounced as merely an extra consonant b' or 'd tacked on to the syllable they're associated with. And this isn't just in the casual speech of modern people. Back to the Odes, we find nearly all its verse has a four-beat rhythm that is carried through. But here and there we find a line written with five characters. Many of those turn out to contain either 不 or 之 (an older form of 的), and if we reduce them to an affixed consonant, just as in modern speech, the four-beat rhythm is preserved.

Redigerat: dec 16, 2006, 3:15 pm

Fogies--What Chinese software are you using? Belle

Redigerat: dec 22, 2006, 2:53 am

>13 belleyang: belleyang We don't use any Chinese software. We used to use something called TwinBridge Chinese Partner but after Windows 2000 and XP came along, we simply take advantage of the built-in Asian text facility. (It isn't installed in the default version of Windows--you have to install it, but the software, fonts and so on are on your Windows disk.) For the Chinese IME you have to go to the Microsoft website and download it.

The line from the Book of Odes we quoted in #12 we took by copy-and-paste from this site


dec 16, 2006, 4:24 pm

詩經 卷一


關雎 1


dec 16, 2006, 4:51 pm

>10 Airycat: Airycat:

Chinese past to present is a continuum. My great grandfather told my father, "A man who does not know history is only a beast dressed in clothing." I've come to realize each person must understand the past to understand how he became who he is today. I have daily aha! moments when I read about the Zhou dynasty and realize what the Communists propagated, even as tried to destroy the past.

When I hear Chinese adages quoted today, I have to go back over 2000 years in history to understand the context. The Chinese language is the Chinese people, so as I learn the language, I come to better understand Chinese psychology.

FYI--Few Chinese understand their own history and it is made harder for the average person by Communist rewrites.


Redigerat: dec 17, 2006, 3:33 am

Waley, I love Waley. He was a fascinating man and self-taught. If you have a chance, glance through a memorial volume dedicated to him Madly singing in the mountains. There are some fascinating recollections of the man.

He is actually well-regarded by the professional (old-school) sinologists I know. Dobson is not.

Sometimes academics become so wrapped up in their topic that common sense goes out the window. A. E. Houseman wrote about this in one of his essays on textual criticism and classical scholarship. Try this link for the article

For a history of the bungling of sinological studies for the past 100 years and more, try A Singular Listlessness by Barrett. It is an amusing, if depressing, story.

Redigerat: dec 17, 2006, 8:42 am

Waley was a genius. One thing we especially like about his translation is its scrupulous fidelity to the text, to a degree that few translators can achieve. One of the Fogies once tried the experiment of comparing his Tale of Genji word by word with the original. We dropped it when, after a few chapters, the only difference we found was one word. Where the original had the word amagimi Waley made it simply "nun." The -gimi part indicates that Murasaki Shikibu (h/t Pechmerle, that's "Board-of-Rites Murasaki") wanted us to take into account that the nun had been of noble rank.

>11 Airycat: Airycat WRT Waley v. Dobson, sensible people don't like to have to depend on geniuses. Their very existence is unpredictable, and since no one is infallible, we like to be able to cross-check others' work with our own understanding of what it deals with. That's why we have formally institutionalized scholarship, so that a concerted group effort can supersede the work of individuals. But in this field not nearly enough of that has happened to make it reliable. Disputers of the Tao has a long discussion of how and why the treatment of ancient Chinese by Sinologists has been so slipshod and amateurish (Fogies' words, not A.C. Graham's). It's as if the huge advances in linguistic science since the nineteenth century had been happening on another planet.

dec 20, 2006, 11:25 pm

Fogies> How do we know that the old pronunciations of 參差 used to be chen1 chi1 instead of what it is now, chan1 cha1?

詩經 卷一


關雎 1


Redigerat: dec 24, 2006, 10:58 am

>19 belleyang: belleyang You raise an important question here. If we're going to treat old Chinese texts as language instead of idea-symbols, we ought to pay attention to how they might have sounded to the people who wrote them. Not that that is absolutely necessary: there are languages that have no sound, like sign languages. And deaf people can read perfectly well, even if born deaf. But to those of us lucky enough to speak and hear, that is where the core of our language experience resides.

A temptation that faces everyone who is eager to have a certain experience is to take shortcuts and try to do things we haven't prepared ourselves to do properly yet. We think you might be getting close to that temptation, and might be wise to slow down a little bit and have a look around before plunging ahead.

A principle the Fogies like to invoke is that people in every time and place are exactly the same--so the ways they're different become really interesting. (Sounds like a paradox, but we've found it works for us.) Even if we limit ourselves to the "nuclear area" we're looking at a big patch of ground, all or most of at least five provinces of modern China. Think back to the neolithic era, when communication was both more difficult and less necessary than now. Applying the Fogies' principle would predict that, just as in every modern example ever found by anthropologists and field linguists, each village would have its own dialect, at least slightly different from the dialects of neighboring villages. No doubt villagers anywhere would understand the dialect of nearby villages, but as one went from what is now Shandong to Gansu, the cumulative changes might easily have added up to make what we'd call different languages.

Get into the bronze age and we no longer need to guess: texts from the chunqiu and zhanguo eras specifically tell us that each city-state had its own language, and that some of those were different enough to require interpreters. So the Fogies reject an assumption that has, unfortunately, routinely been accepted by sinology: that in the dim distant idealized past, there was one single uniform Chinese language, and that the wealth of Chinese languages we see now only developed later.

You have indeed focused on an important piece of evidence. When we read something that ought to rime, and it doesn't rime as we pronounce it, then we should reconsider how we ought to pronounce it. But as sources of evidence for that investigation, we can't limit ourselves to one modern Chinese language. So when you say, "the old pronunciations of 參差 used to be chen1 chi1 instead of what it is now, chan1 cha1," you have made the situation too simple to understand. (Fogies love paradoxes!) Comparing lots of modern languages with what we find in an old rime-book, some linguists guess at how that word might have sounded about 1500 years ago in what is now Xi'an: something like tseumtse. And applying the methods developed to research lost sounds in European languages, a longer-range guess is that people who sang that song originally might have said something like tsamtsab. Sure, that's just as much guesswork as your chen1 chi1. But it's better-informed guesswork, because it takes more evidence into account.

Redigerat: jan 11, 2007, 11:38 am

I would like to back up to the Fogies original question and a question from message ten. I know I am interrupting but these questions are important. What I see is that western Europe, including the U. S., has never given the proper emphasis to the study of East Asia. In 1973 I took the GRE including the special history section. There was not one question on East Asian history. I would think there has been some change but not much. All of the present interest in East Asia is about business not culture or history. Academic study of East Asia in the U. S. has never grown to reflect the realities of the world.
It is essential to understand Ancient China in order to understand Modern China. Societies like people go through stages of development and you cannot understand the adult without any knowledge of the child. A good example is the memorial by Li Si on "The Burning of the Books". This sets forth the Chinese attitude on plurality of ideas that remained constant in the policies of Imperial China and is present in the policies of the present Chinese government. The Chinese use examples from their ancient history to define the present. Liu Shaoqi in his essay "How to be a Good Communist" cites the Book of Odes and The Great Learning. The Chinese portray themselves as a people defined by their history to a greater extent than the West. I must agree with them.

Redigerat: jan 28, 2007, 1:00 am

Fogies praised Waley (as did Liao):

"Waley was a genius. One thing we especially like about his translation is its scrupulous fidelity to the text, to a degree that few translators can achieve."

I trust the Fogies, but I am finding dead-wrong English translations ascribed to Waley, one after another, page after page, in my bilingual "Analects," published Foreign Languages Press. I'm scratching my head. I will transcribe the original Chinese and Waley translations when I have more time. What's depressing is the modern Chinese explanation is just as maddeningly off-the-wall.

jan 29, 2007, 2:24 pm

The closest I could find for 古代漢語 is 古代漢語三百題
by 陳必祥. (link

I know that yesasia will special order books if asked. Their acquire/shipping time for books in Chinese is pretty good (friends report rather poor wait times of texts in Japanese). While there are many Taiwan, Singapore, and HK based bookstores that will ship overseas, I haven't found good resources for bookstores based in China.

jan 30, 2007, 1:14 pm

>23 mvrdrk: Thanks, mvrdrk. I couldn't tell whether this book is published in Taiwan or PRC. It's not expensive and worth getting. I was so disappointed with the Analects from Commercial Press, Hunan branch--beautifully bound, but rife with errors. But I am told Taiwan books are hardly better.

Redigerat: jan 30, 2007, 4:51 pm

Taiwan publication, from the looks of things. I'm tempted to get it, too.

I think some books are rife with errors and others aren't, but it's more a function of authors, editors, and scholarship than country of publication.


Here's the bibliography on the author of the book Fogies was recommending:
Given the age of the cited author and the fact he was at the Beijing Univ., I doubt these are the same texts.

jan 31, 2007, 3:44 pm

>25 mvrdrk:

:^D I love idioms and auto translators. I went to the link and, since I don't read Chinese, put the page into the translator. (Well, sometimes it does give one an idea of what's being said.) My favorite part is that his great-grandfather (or someone else, since there were two names after "great-grandfather) was the first "Elegant door." I guess it's no odder than being the chair of a committee.

I wish I could learn languages a la Matrix, since I didn't learn but one other than English in my younger days and my knowledge of it (French) has withered from lack of use. I remember as a grade schooler wanting to know what the Chinese characters meant. I have a Chinese grammar book that I plod away at very slowly. Meanwhile, I do auto and dictionary "gist" translations... not very academic, but it suffices for understanding the songs I listen to.

feb 1, 2007, 12:33 am

I purchased the Nanjing Star Word Prosseser 5.2. It's easy and fun to use. Not expensive $99. Very good dictionary function. You can try it for 30-days and decide whether you like it enough to buy.

mar 3, 2007, 3:45 pm

Fogies兄 -- I have a question on something over 1000 years old at the hard-to-translate site, but this concerns another matter, pronunciation.

How familiar are you with Japanese Chinese-character poetry in general 一休 in particular? The japanese are so 韻痴(my pun on音痴) that an iwanami printing i read presented his 7-character 4-line poems as two-liners! (i complained to their editors and hope their newer book is different, but have not seen them) I am interested in the pronunciation, for i feel certain he did not ever read them in the yomikudashi manner in which they are glossed. The translations in english i have seen do not try to give the pronunciation either. I was amazed to find my crude at 音読/sound-reading AABA rhymed beautifully even today and could imagine ikkyu substituting such a poem for a sutra (likewise incomprehensible to ears alone). I might add that ikkyu described something he, as a monk, loved all too much as a 丸痕 in order to get that rhyme with 無言 (obvious but never pointed out that i know of).

Chinese scholars like to point out that Japanese poems like ikkyu's are not real chinese. That is, i think obvious. But i cannot help wondering whether chinese also did not write poems which sounded good when chanted, but could only be understood when visually scanned.

Finally, do you enjoy the afterword to JI Crump: "Songs from Xanadu" as much as i do? (and why can the touchstone not find that book? i will add it to my library here after submitting this!) 敬愚