Saturday, December 15, 2007

不患人之不己知 患不知人也?

These days I am studying Chinese writing (漢文) by doing self study with a Korean book ("한문해석법"), which is not easy without an instructor. The book explains many things, but, of course, I still have questions. For example, I have a question about the following sentence, which comes from the section in the book explaining negative commands:

不患人之不己知 患不知人也 (불환인지불기지 환불지인야)

Don't worry that people will not recognize you; worry that you will not recognize people.

As you may know, Chinese sentences use a different word order from Korean. In fact, they supposedly use an English word order, that is, "subject-verb-object," but there are still some differences I do not yet understand. For example, I do not understand why the first part of the above Chinese sentence is written as it is.

Notice that the above Chinese sentence is actually made up of two sentences (clauses).

不患人之不己知 - Don't worry that people will not recognize you;

患不知人也 - worry that you will not recognize people.

I understand the second sentence because it follows the word order I would expect, but the first sentence has a different word order, for some reason. Here is the breakdown of the second sentence:

Worry (患) [you] do not (不) recognize (知) people (人) 也*

*也 acts like a period.

Notice that the above sentence has basically the same word order as a command in English, which makes sense to me. In other words, the object (people) comes after the verb (recognize). Now look at the word order of the first sentence, which does not make sense to me:
Do not (不) worry (患) that people (人之) do not (不) you (己) recognize (知);
Notice in the above sentence that the object (you) comes before the verb (recognize). Why? Was it a misprint?


  1. In some cases the object can be "pre-posed" in classical Chinese, such as the object to a negated verb, as is 己, here. 自 is nearly always pre-posed.

    The Analects is a difficult text and is probably not best suited for a beginner. The Mencius is a famous beginner's text.

    Also, maybe your needs would be better served by Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar by Edwin G. Pulleyblank, and/or the many introductions to classical/literary Chinese with grammatical explanations in English, and thus of more of a Western approach (eg. the one by Michael A. Fuller, the one by Raymond Dawson, the one by Naiying Yuan, etc., etc.)

  2. Thank you very much, Taemin. That information was very useful for me. Yes, I think an English text would probably be better for me.

    You seem to have interest in Classical Chinese, yourself. Have you formally studied it?

  3. I *do* have a great interest in Chinese. That's why my blog is peppered with it. ^^

    I have studied Classical Chinese formally, with an undergrad in Chinese (emphasis on Classical), and 2 years of grad school study in Seoul. Unfortunately that interest wasn't going to feed the family, so I gave it up and went into corporate finance more than 10 years ago. So I've forgotten a lot. Many Chinese characters look familiar but I don't remember what they mean any more. It's also why I could vaguely remember that the object is pre-posed in classical texts in some cases, such as when the verb is negated, or in questions, but I don't remember the specific rules on those cases.

    That's why I started my blog--as an excuse to do a bit of reading on those subjects--but it's turning into a a failed experiment for lack of time.

    Good luck to you in your studies. Not that there would be, but if there is anything I could help with, it would be my pleasure.

  4. Thank you, Taemin. That's very interesting. Wow! From Classical Chinese to Coporate Finance. That was a big change. Do you ever regret making it?

    Did you enjoy your two years in Seoul studying Classical Chinese? How were your instructors? Is it something you would recommend? I am asking because I have an interest in formally learning Classical Chinese, not really for the degree, but mainly just for the professional instruction. The only instruction I have ever had in Chinese was when a guy in my old naval reserve unit in Hawaii taught me the stroke order and how to use a Chinese character dictionary (옥편). That was back in 1982, and I still have the dictionary. Except for that, I have picked up the little I know about Chinese characters on my own.

    What is the address of your blog? I think you may have mentioned it before, but I must have forgotten it.

    Thank you for your offer to help me with my Chinese study. I do not want to abuse your offer, but I would like to ask you a question or two every now and then. For example, here is something I came across today that I do not completely understand:

    此奚炳哉 奚方能已之乎 (차해질재 해방능이지호)

    Translation: "이것은 무슨 질병인가? 어떤 처방으로 그것을 치료할 수 있는가?"

    I generally understand the first question (此奚炳哉), but I am curious to know if 奚 could come before 此, and if it could, would there be a difference in meaning?

    As for the second question, is the following how it should literally be translated?

    What (奚) method (方) can (能) stop (已) it (之)? (乎)

    Does 已 mean "stop" in this question?

    Anyway, thanks again.

  5. The email address in your profile isn't valid. ㅜ.ㅜ

    Can you send me your email address at y-a-n-g-s-a-n-g-g-u-n-j-a앳지메일닷콤 (without the dashes)?

  6. Taemin has pointed out that I used a wrong character in the Chinese sentence above. The sentence should be as followings:

    此奚疾哉 奚方能已之乎

  7. Hi Gerry,

    Matt here. I am studying Chinese at the moment, and I find the grammatical similarities mostly an obstacle to learning Chinese because the exceptions lead you to make mistakes. I am using Modern Mandarin Grammar: A practical guide -

    True, not the same as classical, but understanding a bit of the Chinese language would help, even if they were using a different dialect back then.

  8. You should look at 'A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese' by Paul Rouzer as it includes the Korean (and Japanese) pronunciations for each character. And 漢文의 理解 by 신재홍 has got a nice selection of Korean and Chinese texts.

  9. In the earliest stages of Classical Chinese, pronouns occur in pre-verbal position when the clause is negated. Included in the class of pronouns are 我, 之, 己, etc. (There are other reasons having to do with contrast and focus that can cause objects to move to pre-verbal position, but that is a separate phenomenon.) Some linguists suspect that this is a remnant of a still earlier stage of the language when Subject-Object-Verb was the basic word order.


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