Book Review – Chinese Classics with Side by Side Original Text and Translations



As I stated in a previous post, I read books with side-by-side Classical Chinese text and Korean translations to study Classical Chinese. Although in retrospect I should have used a grammar book to begin with, I found this method not entirely fruitless: it gave me exposure to these types of books and I was able to deduce some of the grammar rules. In Korea, it is still the norm that books on Chinese Philosophy, i.e., Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Mohism, and Legalism, be printed with side-by-side Classical Chinese text, usually with Korean grammatical particles known as Hyeonto (懸吐, 현토), and Korean translation along with translator’s annotation. For Confucian texts, some books even have the annotations in Classical Chinese original by Neo-Confucian scholars with the Korean translation. You can also find books on Neo-Confucian treatises by the Chosun dynasty scholars on those Confucian classics also with the original text and Korean translation. There are a number of publishers that print books in this format. In this post, I will cover a few of these publishers: the Institute of Traditional Culture (傳統文化硏究會, 전통문화연구회), Myungmundang (明文堂, 명문당), and Eulyoo Publishing (乙酉文化社, 을유문화사).

傳統文化硏究會 – 전통문화연구회
Institute of Traditional Culture

Juntong Scan

The Institute of Traditional Culture was established in 1988 for the goals of educating the public on traditional Korean thought and translating Chinese Classics. It has recently published a revised series of translations of Four Books and Five Classics (四書五經, 사서오경) annotated by Neo-Confucian scholars, which are called Jipju (集註, 집주), and Korean Confucian children’s instruction books from the Chosun Dynasty, such as the Gyeokmong’yogyeol (擊夢要訣, 격몽요결). The scan above is from its edition of the Analects Annotated (論語集註, 논어집주). From top to bottom, these books have the original Classical Chinese in large font, a Korean translation of the original, annotations in the original by Neo-Confucian scholars, a Korean translation of the annotations, translator’s note, and a list of difficult characters at the very bottom. These books are explicitly intended for Chinese Classics instructors, whether their students are children or college aged; however, they can be just as enjoyed by hobbyists who are trying to teach themselves the language. 

明文堂 – 명문당

Myungmundang Scan

Myungmundang was founded in 1977 and is another publisher of Chinese Classics, including those from Buddhism and Taoism. The publisher still releases Chinese Classics printed right-to-left without Korean translations, including those classics not widely read in the original such as the Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government (資治通鑑, 자치통감). Being not fluent in Classical Chinese, I find these of little use now, while I do someday wish to be able to read without relying too heavily on Korean translations. Myungmundang also publishes Chinese Classics and Classical Chinese poetry with a format similar to as the Institute of Traditional Culture. Unlike the previous publisher, it does not have translations of the annotations. In addition, it releases history books. (Note: I grabbed the scan above from Google Images).

乙酉文化社 – 을유문화사
Eulyoo Publishing

Eulyoo Scan

Readers who find the previous two publishers’ books daunting may wish to look to Eulyoo Publishing. The company was founded in 1945, also with the purpose of publishing Chinese Classics and other humanities related books, including those from Western sources. It too has recently released a series of translations of Chinese Classics from Confucianism and Taoism. The scan above is from its translation of the Inner Chapter of Zhuangzi (壯子內編, 장자내편). Note that it has a similar format: original text, Korean translation, and a translator’s annotation. It also has notes on the words used in the original Classical Chinese, pronunciation guide for each Chinese Character, and a list of difficult characters at the end of each section.


I recommend those studying Classical Chinese through Korean to use these types of books. They are a great tool to see how many characters you have memorized and how many you do not know. In addition, these types of books are also beneficial in verifying your interpretation by checking it with the Korean translation. As an aside, I would note that many Korean blogs are also in this format.

  1. Hi Kuiwon. Your blog looks great. I had forgotten about it. What’s strange is that just yesterday I had read that the expression 養虎遺患 (양호유환) was used in the 項羽本紀 (항우본기), and then today the first thing I see on your blog is the first page of the 項羽本紀. Are the gods trying to tell me something?

    Anyway, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce the expression to those readers of yours who may not know it. 養虎遺患 (양호유환) means “raise (養) a tiger (虎), court (遺) disaster (患).” It is used to warn that putting off dealing with a problem can later lead to a bigger problem.

    By the way, have you ever heard of the expression 氷山不可靠 (빙산불가고)? I translate it as “Icebergs cannot be approached,” but I am wondering if it has some idiomatic meaning since 靠 actually means “to lean on” or “to depend on.” Could it possibly mean “One should not trust icebergs”?

    Anyway, I plan on stopping by your blog more often. You have a lot of interesting stuff here.

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you. I actually found that scan on Google Image. I didn’t have a copy of one their books on hand at the time of writing this post. Also, my knowledge of Chinese Classics is limited to the Four Books of Confucianism. I have read the Inner Chapter of Zhuangzi from Eulyoo Publishing. I have yet to go through the other two chapters of Zhaungzi.

      As for that expression, I am not familiar with it. I couldn’t find any Korean sites on it either. I would translate it as “Cannot lean on icebergs” if I were translating it literally or “Do not rest/step on icebergs” if translating it more fluidly.

  2. Kuiwon, guess what? I have found an explanation for 氷山不可靠. Guess where? In the notes to Korea’s National Institute of History’s translation of the 조선왕조실록.

    Apparently, 氷山不可靠 should be translated as “One should not lean on ice mountains.” It should not be translated as “icebergs.” It comes from a 故事成語 that was originally written as 冰山難靠. If you are interested, here is the note:

    빙산(氷山) : 얼음산은 더우면 곧 녹아버린다는 뜻으로 오래 믿을 수 없는 권세를 비유하는 말. 당나라 때 양국충(揚國忠)이 우상(右相)이 되어 권세가 천하를 흔드니 모든 사람들이 그에게로 모여들었는데 어떤 사람이 협군(陜郡) 출신 진사 장단(張彖)에게 “양국충을 만나보면 부귀를 얻을 수 있을 것이다.” 하자 “그대들은 양우상을 태산처럼 의지하나 나는 얼음산으로 볼 뿐이다. 밝은 해가 뜨면 너희들이 믿을 곳을 잃지 않겠느냐?” 하고 숭산(嵩山)에 숨었다는 고사. 《자치통감(資治通鑑)》 당기(唐記). ☞

    • 歸源 said:

      Admittedly, I only did a simple Google search with the terms “氷山不可靠 빙산불가고.” Good to know.

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