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Notes on Literary Chinese

Forms of Argument

This page describes forms of argument in early Chinese writing. This subject is somewhat similar to rhetoric in classical Greek and Latin in the sense of describing tools for the persuation of readers. For a more detailed introduction see Gentz and Meyer (2015).

Initial Fu

Phrase status markers in Chinese are similar to English phrases like “in principle”, “let me add”, “on the contrary”. Initial fú is a phrase status marker in literary Chinese to mark the beginning of a new topic or point of an argument. It is one of the markers that have been used to add puncuation or new lines to classical Chinese manuscripts that were written as a continuous stream of characters. Initial fú is especially common in texts from the Warring States period to the Third Century CE. Wagner chooses Wang Bi's (226-249) commentaries on the Zhouyi and Daode Jing for his study of this function word (Wagner 2015, p. 37). Other simila function words that are used to open phrases are 'but,', 'because', and 'therefore'.

An example of initial fu from Wagner (2015, p. 43) from Wang Bi's commentary on the Zhouyi is


Fu, that what the yin is striving after is the yang

For a more details on Initial fú see Wagner (2015).

Coordination, Subordination, and Parallelism

A common pattern in early Chinese texts is pairs of sequences of characters in equal numbers. This is termed 排比 parallelism, which is a conspicious in 律詩 regulated verse (Plaks 2015, p. 67). It is also a form used in Chinese prose, albeit with a rhythmic flow, where it is called 駢體文 parallel prose. The pairs Various coordination-subordination relations are possible, commonly 對偶 opposites, 相對 complements, or coordination-subordination.

Plaks gives an example from 大學 Great Learning (Plaks 2015, p. 67):

有所忿懥不得
When one's personal relations are governed by animosity and resentment, then one is incapable of achieving straightness of mind.

For a more details on this topic see Plaks (2015).

Glossary and Other Vocabulary