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2.1: Prelude to China

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    230790
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    The works in this chapter are foundational texts to later Chinese literature, politics, and philosophy. The Analects of Confucius, with its focus on ehtical and moral issues, provides the reader with a guide to proper behavior (according to Confucius). The Shi king (The Book of Songs/The Book of Odes/The Classic of Poetry) may have been edited by Confucius, according to some sources, and the poems themselves offer a glimpse into the expectations of the society. Daoism, the other influential perspective at that time, is found in the Zhuangzi (both a book and the possible name of the author), which offers a challenge to the Confucian way of thinking. Finally, Sun Tzu's Art of War remains an influential text to this day, found as it is on the reading lists of military academies everywhere.

    Students who are not familiar with Chinese literature and culture often have the same first problem: how to pronounce the names. Chinese is a complex language, so the answer is not straightforward. In Chinese, words must be pronounced using the proper tone. For example, the word "ma" can be pronounced four different ways, and in each case it is a different word.

    • First tone: Rising tone (start low and go up the scale, like a rising accent mark)
    • Second tone: Falling tone (start high and drop lower, like a falling accent mark)
    • Third tone: Falling and Rising tone (begin high, drop low, and rise again, so that the sound is "U" shaped)
    • Fourth tone: Steady and High tone (high pitched, steady sound)

    Since each syllable of the word has a tone, and most translations do not mark which tone to use, there can be no way for students to know how to pronounce the word (except by taking a class in Chinese). Even then, students would have to choose between a class on Mandarin (spoken in the north)and Cantonese (spoken in the south), since they are too different to be taught as the same language. In addition to several major dialects of Chinese, there are numerous sub-dialects: some unintelligible to each other.

    An additional challenge for students looking for research on these texts is that the same word can be spelled differently, depending on the pinyin system used. Pinyin is the way that Chinese characters are converted into letters, so that the sound of the character is approximated. For example, the Chinese character for "person" looks like a type of wishbone, but it is converted to "ren" in pinyin.

    There are two major systems of pinyin (and some minor), and each one uses a different format to approximate sounds; both systems can be found online and in anthologies. The medieval Chinese poet Li Bo can be spelled Li Po or Li Bai, depending on the system used, In fact, the western name for "China" results from a series of translations, beginning with the pinyin "Chin" (more commonly translated as "Qin" these days) to describe the dynasty that unified the country in 221 B.C.E.; in other words, "China" is the land of the Chin/Qin.


    This page titled 2.1: Prelude to China is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Laura Getty & Kyounghye Kwon (University of North Georgia Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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