I have a very strong interest in classical Chinese (文言文), but I am unable to find any ressources for learning it that don't assume Chinese is your mother language. Can anybody give me some pointers?

  • Searched a bit and also did not find anything valuable. As I can recall, classical Chinese is generally taught in high school using case-study. That is, to learn from famous articles, and teachers will do the explanation. While learning it, there are really A LOT exceptions to remember as I can recall.
    – Flake
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 21:27
  • I've heard people saying the Confucius Institute in some countries has classical Chinese classes for people who's mother language is not Chinese. Maybe you could contact one of the institutes for more information. I don't think there are any good online learning resources.
    – Bruce Li
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 15:14

5 Answers 5


These two books have been recommended from another site (I haven't read these myself):

An Introduction to Literary Chinese: Revised Edition (Harvard East Asian Monographs) by Michael Anthony Fuller (2004)

A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese (Harvard East Asian Monographs) by Paul F. Rouzer (2007)

Aside from learning yourself, another option is to find a Chinese person who did well in this subject to teach you or do language exchange.


For the sake of having this available for people who stumble upon this resource question:

A book has been recently published (Feb 2019) that assumes no prior knowledge of Modern Chinese: Classical Chinese for Everyone: A Guide for Absolute Beginners

I find it an interesting and gentle introduction. I do already know some Modern Chinese, so completely new learners may not find it as gentle, but it is very geared towards new learners and includes very basic information (such as what Chinese characters even are) in the introductory chapter. The book quickly enters reading actual classical texts after this, but does so in a gentle manner, explaining the characters and grammar along the way, with some philosophical commentary at the same time (relevant to the text, of course).


I recommend you one teaching material "古代汉语". enter image description here

This is the basic and common classical Chinese book. It introduced the history of classical Chinese and provided so many useful materials to learn classical Chinese. Chinese Poetry, like classical Chinese, also deeply embodies the basic spirit of Chinese culture. Poetry is the art of language and is China’s national spirit. If you also interested in Chinese poetry, I can recommend top 5 Chinese poems to you.

  • Isn’t this book from 1960s? You’d think views on Classical Chinese have moved on since then. Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 11:13
  • This book is even harder for Chinese people. I did not think it is useful for beginners. Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 11:24

the internet archive has several old books for learning 文言文, or wenli (文理):

elements of chinese grammar 中國言法﹒by marshman j d d; printed in 1814

this one talked about phonology, and grammar; a good start.

introduction to literary chinese﹒by j brandt

i guess this one was printed in ~1927, articles in literary & colloquial chinese, with english translation and explanation.

chinesische grammatik 漢文經緯﹒by georg von der gabelentz; printed in 1881, in leipzig

this one was in german. judging from the chinese characters displayed, 2/3 of it was about 虛字; an important aspect of 文言文.

a guide to wenli styles and chinese ideals﹒by evan morgan; printed in 1912, in shanghai

this one is full of short literary chinese articles, with english translation, occasionally explained some critical mots in text.

lessons in elementary wenli 華文釋義﹒by f w baller; printed in 1912, in shanghai

again, articles in "literary chinese" (imo, not pure enough) with english translation.

these're resources as far as i found, one may download the files "freely"; errrr. . . provided you're not in ***** 😼


I like this book:<<文言津逮>> written by 张中行, reviewed by 吕叔湘, It is easy to read as a pocket guide, but very magnificent.

enter image description here The characters in title written by 启功

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