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The Analects of Confucius, Sun-tzu’s Art of War, the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu... Through the centuries, innumerable texts were written in a form of the Classical Chinese language. Featuring plenty of practical exercises and a gradual build-up of vocabulary and grammar, From Oracle Bones to Blogs is a step-by-step introduction to Classical Chinese. The text selections are of ascending difficulty, and taken from various historical periods and literary genres. Informative asides provide insight into traditional context and contemporary usage. With numerous illustrations, copious notes, and references to relevant literature, this book is a gateway to Chinese history and culture.

From Oracle Bones to Blogs consists of two richly illustrated volumes:

Van orakelbot tot weblog, Volume 1

2011: first edition
2015: second edition, revised

Leiden University Press
ISBN 978-908-72-8109-0
Paperback, 224 pages

€ 45,00

Volume 1 contains a step-by-step introduction to the basic grammar of Classical Chinese, with plenty of exercises. It enables you to gradually build a solid vocabulary, and read short passages selected from authentic texts. Having worked your way through nine chapters of grammatical and vocabulary exercises, you are well equipped to read the authentic passages, from chapter ten onwards. By the end of Volume 1, you will master most of Classical Chinese grammar; you will know some 450 Chinese words in their classical meaning(s) and function(s); and you will have read a dozen or so passages, with the help of explanatory notes and word lists.

Van orakelbot tot weblog, Volume 2

2011: first edition
2019: second edition, revised

Leiden University Press
ISBN 978-908-72-8138-0
Paperback, 208 pages

€ 43,50

Volume 2 introduces you to more advanced grammatical particles and constructions; encourages you to continue building your Classical Chinese vocabulary; and invites you to read texts from the past 3,000 years. This volume offers another 450 Chinese words in their classical meaning(s) and function(s), but it does not provide all meanings and functions in vocabulary lists. Rather, it forces you to look up a number of words in relevant dictionaries, so as to train your skills in using a dictionary. Having worked your way through both volumes of the coursebook, you will be able to read Classical Chinese texts on your own, with the help of a dictionary.


From Oracle Bones to Blogs stands out from other coursebooks of Classical Chinese due to these unique features:

  • gradual introduction to Classical Chinese grammar
  • numerous exercises with new vocabulary and grammatical constructions
  • historical presentation of authentic texts
  • diversity of texts (from philosophy to poetry, and from ancient oracle bones to recent letters and blogs)
  • numerous literature references and cultural-historical asides
  • wealth of vivid illustrations

The idea that underlies From Oracle Bones to Blogs is that Classical Chinese is (and has been for centuries) an integral part of Chinese culture. This coursebook therefore does not treat Classical Chinese as a goal on its own, or limit itself to a small number of texts from a brief period in Chinese history, as other coursebooks may do. Instead, it familiarizes you with texts from a wide range of historical periods and literary genres. This allows you to fully grasp the diversity of China's written culture and develop a solid historical consciousness. The numerous cultural-historical asides and the wealth of vivid illustrations demonstrate all the more the practical application of Classical Chinese, both then and now.


The coursebook can be ordered through the Leiden University Press website (Volume 1 | Volume 2). It is also sold in bookstores such as (Volume 1 | Volume 2).


This book has been reviewed by several specialists in the field. Interested to learn what they think? Click here to read their reviews.

"How best to teach a dead language? By demonstrating that it is still very much alive, as Paul van Els does in his excellent new introduction to Classical Chinese. Based on teaching materials used for several years at the University of Leiden, his textbook employs various means to make the language accessible and attractive to students. Visual materials such as maps, photographs, calligraphies, and reproductions from Chinese editions of classical texts make the book a pleasure to work with. More importantly, Van Els addresses his readers in a conversational, friendly style, offers encouragement and patiently points out potential difficulties, while warning about linguistic pitfalls. He opts to cordially invite his students to engage in a joint intellectual enterprise rather than to talk down to them from a position of authority." — Oliver Weingarten (ArOr 81.2: 376–377)
"An excellent, systematic introduction to the Classical Chinese written language, with numerous examples that are often derived from classical literature. The grammar is clearly explained and a vocabulary is gradually built up. Moreover, the book looks beautiful due to the many apposite illustrations. Indispensable for those who want to master the Classical Chinese written language." — Karel van der Leeuw (