Classical Chinese

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Classical Chinese or Literary Chinese (文言文) is a traditional style of written Chinese based on the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Chinese, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese. Classical Chinese was once used for almost all formal correspondence before and during the beginning of the 20th century, not only in China but also, during various different periods, in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Among Chinese speakers, Classical Chinese has been largely replaced by Vernacular Chinese (白話), a style of writing that is similar to modern spoken Mandarin Chinese, while speakers of non-Chinese languages have largely abandoned Classical Chinese in favor of local vernaculars.

Literary Chinese is known as hanmun in Korean, kanbun in Japanese and as Hán Văn in Vietnamese (in all three cases spelt 漢文, "Han writing").

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Definitions

While the terms Classical Chinese and Literary Chinese are often used interchangeably, Sinologists generally agree that they are in fact different.[1] "Classical" Chinese (古文 "Classical Chinese") refers to the written language of China from the Zhou Dynasty, and especially the Spring and Autumn Period, through to the end of the Han Dynasty (AD 220). Classical Chinese is therefore the language used in many of China's most influential books, such as the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius and the Tao Te Ching. (The language of even older texts, such as the Classic of Poetry, is sometimes called Old Chinese, or pre-Classical.)

Literary Chinese (文言文, "Literary Writing", or more colloquially just 文言) is the form of written Chinese used from the end of the Han Dynasty to the early 20th century when it was replaced by vernacular written Chinese. Literary Chinese diverged more and more from Classical Chinese as the dialects of China became more and more disparate and as the Classical written language became less and less representative of the spoken language. At the same time, Literary Chinese was based largely upon the Classical language, and writers frequently borrowed Classical language into their Literary writings. Literary Chinese therefore shows a great deal of similarity to Classical Chinese, even though the similarity decreased over the centuries.

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