Book Review – 알기쉬운 한문해석법 – 심재동

알기쉬운 한문해석법

알기쉬운 한문해석법 – 심재동 저
An Easy to Learn Method of Interpreting Classical Chinese – By Shim Jaedong

Bibliographic Summary

  • Title: 알기쉬운 한문해석법 (An Easy to Learn Method of Interpreting Classical Chinese)
  • Author: 심재동 (Shim Jaedong), professor at Dongguk University (東國大學校, 동국대학교) and Kyunghee University (慶熙大學校, 경희대학교).
  • Publication: First edition (pictured above) published in 1999; revised edition published in 2010.
  • ISBN: 89-85706-37-3
  • Price: On Aladdin Books, first edition is 10,800 Won and second edition is 18,000 Won.
  • Language: Korean
  • Pages: ~380 pages.


There are a number of Korean books on Classical Chinese grammar and on interpreting Classical Chinese texts. An Easy to Learn Method of Interpreting Classical Chinese (알기쉬운 한문해석법) by Shim Jaedong (심재동) is an excellent, must-have introductory guide on Classical Chinese. It is simple to read, well-organized, and gives a thorough explanation of all things on reading Classical Chinese texts that a beginner should know.

It should be noted that although the author does not use mixed-script in the book (he uses parentheticals), he nonetheless assumes that the reader knows Hanja (漢字, 한자) fairly well. Regardless, he gives a explanation of how certain characters are used in explaining Classical Chinese grammar.

Contents of the Book

The book is arranged into seven sections. The first two sections deal with Hanja characters themselves; the third section transitions from formation of Hanja-based words to explanations about Hanja characters used as Classical Chinese grammatical particles; and the last four sections deal with Classical Chinese grammar, prose, and poetry. The last five sections repeat the same information but presented slightly differently. This repetition aids in reinforcing what the reader has learned in earlier sections.

1. Development and Origin of Hanja

In this section, the author chronicles the origins of Hanja and its progression from Oracle Bone Script (甲骨文字, 갑골문자) to the various types of Hanja scripts in use today. He also notes that Hanja was already in use by the Three Kingdoms Period (三國時代, 삼국시대) in Korean history.

2. Characteristics of Hanja

Next, the author describes the various characteristics of Hanja. He first lists and explains the Six Classifications of Hanja (六書, 육서), and then the radicals and the general stroke order of characters.

3. Formation of Hanja-based Words

Auxiliary Verbs

An explanation of characters used as prohibitory and causative auxiliary verbs.

In the following section, the author first explains the principles of words formation and then more importantly characters used as pronouns (代名詞, 대명사), auxiliary verbs (助動詞, 조동사), common adverbs (副詞, 부사), conjunctions (接續詞, 접속사), prepositions (前置詞, 전치사), postpositions (後置詞, 후치사), and sentence termination markers (終結詞, 종결사). These are known as functional characters (虛詞, 허사). In explaining these characters, he uses examples from Classical Chinese texts, including from Korean sources.

4. Structures and Forms of Classical Chinese Sentences

Explanation of Interrogatory Adverbs

An explanation of characters used as interrogatory adverbs.

Then, the book explains various forms and structures of Classical Chinese sentences. These include: declarative (平敍, 평서); negative (否定, 부정); prohibitory (禁止, 금지); interrogatory (疑問, 의문); rhetorical (反語, 반어); causative (使役, 사역); passive (被動, 피동); conditional (假定, 가정); comparative (比較, 비교); and exclamatory (感嘆, 감탄) sentences. Afterwards, the author describes the various forms of parallelism between sentences to aid in interpreting Classical Chinese text.

5. Interpreting Classical Chinese Text

Sentence Structure

Parsing of a sentence from a Buddhist Sutra.

Next, the author carefully parses the Classical Chinese translation of the Prajnaparamita Sutra or Ban’yabaramildagyeong (般若波羅蜜多經, 반야바라밀다경). This is particularly useful in illustrating all of the characters and grammar rules explained in the previous sections.

6. Appreciating Classical Chinese Poetry

The book changes its focus from prose to poetry. This section gives a rundown of the various types of Classical Chinese poetry, differentiating between Archaic Style poetry (古體詩, 고체시) and Recent Style poetry (近體詩, 근체시). It focuses more on the latter, quickly outlining the rules and tonal meters used in Recent Style poetry. Similar to the previous section, the author then goes through poetry examples from both Chinese and Korean sources.

7. Usage of Functional Characters (虛辭, 허사)

Lastly, the book goes through a list of “functional characters,” which are characters that can serve merely a grammatical purpose. Many of the characters were those that were covered in sections 3 and 4.  This section, however, explains them in much more detail.


Prior to coming across this book some number of years ago, I was either uncertain or unaware of many of the Classical Chinese grammatical rules. This is because I learned Classical Chinese by using books with parallel side-by-side Classical Chinese original text and a Korean translation. Occasionally these books did explain some grammatical constructions, but for most of the time I attempted to match meanings of the characters in the original text with the Korean translation and then tried to deduced the grammar. I was able to get a number of rules using this method, but not all — and not to mention it was a bit frustrating to me. After reading this book, many of the grammatical rules became elucidated.

I highly recommend this book to all beginner learners of Classical Chinese who know Korean and are interested in reading Classical Chinese texts from Korean sources. The book gives an introductory, but thorough, overview of Classical Chinese. If I had any criticisms of the book, it is that its section on Classical Chinese poetry could be more detailed. Regardless, the book overall is an excellent first step in learning Classical Chinese.


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