Bits & Pieces of
Classical Chinese

Learn some cool Classical Chinese!

In each episode, April introduces one or two sentences selected from the rich 4000 years literary history of the Chinese language, and gradually helps students understand some Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Sunzi and more in their original texts. 

All selected texts can be found in Mandarin Express Intermediate Level B Student’s Book.

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东风夜放花千树,更吹落星如雨

东风夜放花千树,更吹落星如雨” is the first sentence of a famous poem written by 辛弃疾, a Song Dynasty general and poet, taking us to a beautiful world full of lights and fireworks at the night of Yuanxiao Festival.

生于忧患而死于安乐

生于忧患而死于安乐” is from Mencius, a very important Confucian philosopher who developed Confucian school further. This sentence teaches us the consequences of two living situations, one is filled sorrow and calamity and the other ease and pleasure.

善始者实繁,克终者盖寡

善始者实繁,克终者盖寡” is selected from a letter written by 魏徵, a Tang Dynasty official, giving his counsel to the emperor. We can all learn from him!

于我心有戚戚焉

于我心有戚戚焉” is from Mencius, a very important Confucian philosopher who developed Confucian school further. This sentence teaches us how to tell people that we appreciate their opinions.

陟罚臧否,不宜异同

陟罚臧否,不宜异同” is from a letter 诸葛亮 (Zhuge Liang) wrote to the emperor. Zhuge Liang was a statesman and a military strategist. In this letter, he gave counsel on several important aspects.

人之初,性本善

人之初,性本善  is from a classic children’s textbook《三字经》. It teaches children that the nature of human beings is good, which has been part of a long standing debate for thousands of years.

赵钱孙李,周吴郑王

赵钱孙李,周吴郑王” is the first sentence in the book 《百家姓》, which complies about 500 Chinese surnames. Reading this book is like reading a poem, but with no intelligible meanings.

寻寻觅觅,冷冷清清,凄凄惨惨戚戚

寻寻觅觅,冷冷清清,凄凄惨惨戚戚” is a famous sentence in a poem that expresses loneliness and saddened feelings. At the same time, the poem creates a distance between the poet (also readers) and the reality, and transcends sorrows into something beautiful and something we can reflect upon.

乱何自起?起不相爱

乱何自起?起不相爱” is from Mozi, a great philosopher who founded the school of Mohism. This sentence expresses one of his main teachings: universal love.

无贵无贱,无长无少,道之所存,师之所存也

无贵无贱,无长无少,道之所存,师之所存也” is one of the key concepts in traditional Chinese beliefs about learning. The criteria for choosing a teacher or teachers is knowledge. Nothing else.

天地玄黄,宇宙洪荒

天地玄黄,宇宙洪荒” is the first sentence in 《千字文》, a book written around 1500 years ago. This sentence tells us an ancient concept of our universe which was vast and beautiful.

海内存知己,天涯若比邻

海内存知己,天涯若比邻” is a famous sentence in a poem that expresses the deep bond between friends that physical locations do not matter.

子不语怪力乱神

子不语怪力乱神” comes from the Analects. This sentence lists four topics that Confucius would not discuss. The social background of his time was permeated with wars, violence and spirits, and those were exactly the things he shunned away from.

上兵伐谋,其次伐交,其次伐兵,其下攻城

上兵伐谋,其次伐交,其次伐兵,其下攻城” is from the Art of War, written by military strategist Sunzi. Although Sunzi was really good at directing military operations, he believed that war should be the last resort.


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