Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose Stories
- Title: 한시와 한문이야기 (Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose Stories)
- Authors: Yi Gweonjae (李權宰, 이권재), Professor at Korea University
- Publisher: Korean Studies Information (한국학술정보)
- ISBN: 978-89-268-3943-0
- Price: 15,000 Won
- Language: Korean and Classical Chinese original text
- Pages: 362
I have never received any formal education in Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문). Although I had some help from a few of my relatives that had some exposure, I learned the language largely by myself from various Korean books. I first started learning Chinese characters in elementary school in Korea through rote memorization, copying one character every morning one hundred times. Sometime later, after having moved to America, I decided that I would go a step further, and began to Rosetta Stone my way through Classical Chinese by reading Confucian classics with parallel original text and Korean translation and attempting to deduce the language’s grammar from the translation. (While I was able to deduce many of the grammatical rules, I would not recommend this.) Until a few years ago, I had no clue that Classical Chinese was still taught in middle and high schools in Korea as an elective or that it has been one of the “secondary foreign languages” that students could take on the Korean College Scholastic Ability Test (修能, 수능) since 2005. I was curious at what textbooks and materials Korean students used, and obtained Hanshiwa Hanmun Iyagi (한시와 한문이야기), or in English Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose Stories, to get a glimpse of Classical Chinese education in Korea.
The book contains materials from 10 different Classical Chinese textbooks. There are 210 lessons or excerpts in the book that are divided into two sections. The first section has 80 lessons on poetry. The second section has 130 lessons on prose.
1. Classical Chinese Poetry
The first ten pages or so give a very high overview of the rules of Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시), summarizing the tonal meters (平仄譜, 평측보) and rimes (韻, 운). The rest of the section are lessons on a wide selection of poetry. Each lesson has the original text with Korean grammatical markers called Hyeonto (懸吐, 현토), a Korean translation, annotations about some of the words used in the original text, biographical information about the poet, and historical context.
All the poems are pentasyllabic (五言, 오언) or heptasyllabic (七言, 칠언), either of the Recent Style or Archaic Style (古體詩, 고체시). Approximately three-fourths are from Korean poets, most of whom are from the Chosun Dynasty period (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1905), but a few from the Three Kingdoms Period (三國時代, 삼국시대, 57BC-668AD) and Goryeo Dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392), and even some from the Japanese colonial era (日帝强占期, 일제강점기, 1905-1945). Although most of the poets were — not surprisingly — learned Yangban (兩班, 양반) men, many were women, either from courtesans (妓生, 기생) or noblewomen, and commoners (委巷, 위항). As for Chinese poets, almost all are from the Tang Dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907), including the famous Li Bai (李白, 이백, 701-762), Du Fu (杜甫, 두보, 712-770), Bai Juyi (白居易, 백거이, 772-846) and Wang Wei (王維, 왕유, 699-759).
2. Classical Chinese Prose
The Classical Chinese prose section is in the same format as the poetry section. Roughly seven-eighths of the passages are from Korean authors, the majority of which are from the Chosun Dynasty but a few from the Goryeo Dynasty period and Japanese colonial era. The prose were from a wide variety of subjects. Here is a listing of a few of them:
- Histories: Samguk Sagi (三國史記, 삼국사기), Samguk Yusa (三國遺史, 삼국유사), Balhaego (渤海考, 발해고), and Dongguk Tonggam (東國通鑑, 동국통감).
- Children’s texts: Dongmong Seonseup (童蒙先習, 동몽선습), Gyeokmong Yogyeol (擊夢要訣, 격몽요결), Haedong Sohak (海東小學, 해동소학), Monghak Hanmun Chogye (蒙學漢文初階, 몽학한문초계), and Sohak Hanmun Dokbon (小學漢文讀本, 소학한문독본).
- Novels: Geum’o Shinhwa (金鰲新話, 금오신화), Heosaengjeon (許生傳, 허생전), and Hanmun Chunhyangjeon (漢文春香傳, 한문춘향전).
There were also a number of works from Chinese sources, the majority of which were philosophical texts or histories. The following is a list of some of the texts excerpted:
- Philosophical texts: Analects (論語, 논어), Mencius (孟子, 맹자), Xunzi (荀子, 순자), Hanfeizi (韓非子, 한비자), Zhuangzi (莊子, 장자), Liezi (列子, 열자), and Elementary Learning (小學, 소학).
- Histories: Records of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기), Records of the Three Kingdoms (三國志, 삼국지), Book of Later Han (後漢書, 후한서), Lü’s Annals of Spring and Autumn (呂氏春秋, 여씨춘추), and Eighteen Concise Histories (十八史略, 십팔사략).
As someone who learned the Classical Chinese through Korean but outside the Korean education system, I am not too familiar on all the details of Classical Chinese education back in Korea. I do hope this that this book review gave some insight. Assuming that this book is representative of how students learn the language, I do have a few comments. It is understandable that the vast majority of the works cited are from Korean sources, because it is after all Korea. It was quite delightful to see early modern era sources. The other resources I have often cite Korean sources, but not to this degree; they vary anywhere between almost none to two-thirds roughly. For the poetry section, conspicuously missing are poems that are neither heptasyllabic nor pentasyllabic. It might be more beneficial to have a few Chu Songs (楚辭, 초사) or quadsyllabic poems (四言, 사언) in the style of the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경). Another beneficial addition would be to have more grammar lessons. An understanding of grammar is not only standard for learning any language, but necessary for its quick comprehension.