A glimpse of classical Chinese (3)

I know the majority of you will never be called upon to read a full-length composition written in classical Chinese. Still, it helps to have a smattering of the classical or formal Chinese words so that when they appear on a sign, in a phrase or in a document, you will not be totally stumped.

Following are a few more examples of commonly used formal words and their modern/colloquial equivalents.

(shǒu) is the head. It connotes importance, priority and leadership. The modern equivalent is (tóu head).

(zú foot, sufficient) as a part of the body is the foot. The modern equivalent is (jiǎo foot). 足球 (zúqiú) refers soccer. When there’s pain in your foot, you’d say:

Wǒ de jiǎo téng.
My foot hurts.

The formal word for “to see” is (shì), such as in 电视 (dian shi). In everyday speech, you would use (kàn), or 看见 (kànjian), instead.

Tā kànjian yīzhǐ dà xiàng.
He saw a large elephant.

(yún) is the formal word for “to say”. It has been adopted as the simplified Chinese character for cloud. 佛云 (Fó yún) means “Buddha said.” The modern word for “to say” is (shuō say, speak).

(xíng) has a number of different meanings. It is the formal word for “to walk” or “to go”, which corresponds to the familiar word ( zǒu). It is also the formal word for “to carry out” or “to engage in”, which corresponds to the familiar word (zuò). It also refers to one’s behaviour or conduct, as in 行为 (xíngwéi). When used colloquially, 行! (Xíng!) means “Cool!”, “O.K.”, or “All right.”

人行道 (rénxíngdào) is a sidewalk or a pedestrian walkway.

, when pronounced as “zhāo”, means morning. (yáng) means the sun, or being positive, open or masculine. 朝阳 (zhāoyáng) is the morning sun. In modern spoken Mandarin, you would say, 早晨的太阳 (zǎochén de tàiyáng).

(xī) means evening, and 夕阳 (xīyáng) is the sun at dusk. In spoken Mandarin, you would say, 傍晚的太阳 (bàngwǎn de tàiyáng).

朝夕 (zhāo xī) means day and night, or daily. In modern parlance, it’s 天天 (tiāntiān).

If you ever need to bargain with Buddah for happiness, here’s a cute story that shows how. (This story is widely circulated on the Internet, but I was unable to find the name of its original author. If you know who the original author is, please let me know. Thanks!)

Wǒ duì fó shuō:
I say to Buddha,

Qǐng ràng wǒ suǒyǒu de péngyǒu yǒngyuǎn jiànkāng kuàilè.
“Please let all of my friends be forever healthy and happy.”

佛说: “只能四天.”
Fó shuō: “Zhǐnéng sìtiān.”
Buddha says, “Only four days.”

我说: “好. 春天, 夏天, 秋天, 冬天.”
Wǒ shuō: “Hǎo. chūntiān, xiàtiān, qiūtiān, dōngtián.”
I say, “Okay. Spring days, summer days, autumn days and winter days.”

佛说: “三天.”
Fó shuō: “Sāntiān.”
Buddha says, “Three days.”

我说: “好. 昨天, 今天, 明天.”
Wǒ shuō: “Hǎo. Zuótiān, jīntiān, míngtiān.”
I say, “Okay. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.”

佛说: “不行. 两天.”
Fó shuō: “Bùxíng.Liǎng tiān.”
Buddha says, “No way. Two days.”

我说: “好. 白天, 黑天.”
Wǒ shuō: “Hǎo. Báitiān, hēi tiān.”
I say, “Okay. Bright days (daytime), dark days (nighttime).”

佛说: “不行. 就一天!”
Fó shuō: “Bùxíng. Jiù yītiān.”
Buddha says, “No way. Just one day.”

我说: “好!”
Wǒ shuō: “Hǎo.”
I say, “All right.”

佛茫然问道: “哪一天?”
Fó mángrán wèn dào: “Nǎ yītiān?”
Perplexed, Buddha asks, “Which day then?”

我说: “在我所有朋友活著的每一天.”
Wǒ shuō: “Zài wǒ suǒyǒu péngyǒu huó zhe de mě iyī tiān.”
I say, “Each day my friends are alive.”

佛笑了. 他说:
Fó xiào le. Tā shuō:
Buddha smiles. He says,

Yǐhòu nǐ suǒyǒu de péngyǒu jiāng tiāntiān jiànkāng kuàilè.
“From now on, all of your friends shall be healthy and happy every day.”

Congratulations! You have just finished reading a complete story in Chinese. Give yourself a pat on the back!

Have a Happy New Year!


(gōng) means respectful or respectfully.
(hè) is to congratulate.
(xīn) means new.
(xǐ) means auspiciousness or jubilation.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ruethy
    Feb 19, 2012 @ 21:14:50

    Please send me updates of new posts. Desperate to learn chinese.


    • likeabridge
      Feb 19, 2012 @ 22:28:56

      On the right-hand side is an email subscription button. You can use this button to subcribe to my blog posts, then you will receive an email each time a new article is posted. I normally post once a week. If you have any specific questions about learning Chinese, you could add it via a Comment and see if other readers or I myself will be able to help.


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