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Notes on Literary Chinese

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Compound Sentences

Embedded Sentences

Embedded sentences are another way in classical Chinese to build complex sentences out of smaller building blocks. For example, consider the sentences in English

The sword fell in the water.
I saw it.
I saw the sword fall in the water.

The first sentence is embedded in the second sentence forming the third sentence. In classical Chinese a common pattern is

topic comment

Here the modifier becomes the head new phrase and the topic is a modifier. For example, from 刘向 说苑 Garden of Stories by Liu Xiang,

As an analogy, to quench one's thirst by drinking the water in all the rivers and seas

The verb (to use as a metaphor) takes the remainder of the text as the embedded sentence. In some cases the topic is well understood and topic is replaced with .

Pulling up Seedlings (Mencius)




What do you mean by vast qi?

He said, 'It is difficult to explain. Qi can be developed to great levels of quantity and stability. It can be used to norish without harm and block the space between heaven and earth. In developing qi, you will be connected with rightness and the way. If there was none you would be hungry for it. It is something that is produced by accumulating Rightness, and is not something that you can grab from superficial attempts at rightness. If you act without mental composure, you will become starved for it. Therefore, I would say that Gao Zi has not yet understood rightness, since he regards it as something external. You must be willing to work at it, understanding that you cannot have precise control over it. You can't forget about it, but you can't force it to grow, either. You do not want to be like the man from the state of Song.'

'There was a man from Song who was worried about the slow growth of his crops and so he went and yanked on them to accelerate their growth. Very tired, he returned home and announced, 'I am sick. I have been out helping the crops grow.' His son ran out to look at them. However, the seedlings had withered. Those in the world who do not help their crops by pulling them up are few indeed. There are also those who regard all effort as wasteful and don't even weed their crops. There are those who think they can hurry their growth along by pulling them up. They are not bring themselves benefit, but actually harm instead.'

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This page was last updated on August 15, 2015.