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Learn “Chinese Through Poetry” by A.C. Barnes

I’ve just run across a nearly 350 page book entitled Chinese through Poetry: An Introduction to the Language and Imagery of Traditional Verse by A.C. Barnes (1931-2002), who taught Chinese at the University of Durham. And though I’ve just skimmed and sampled sections here and there, I’d like to heartily recommend it to you, no matter where you are in your Chinese language studies.

The first astounding thing about this work: it is perhaps the first book to approach Chinese language learning through verse instead of prose.

Second: It is a free PDF download made available by the late author’s family.

There are others of you out there like me, no doubt, who were first drawn to the Chinese language because of the art of its characters, or because you wanted to read Chinese poetry or philosophical works in the original language, but who had no choice but to tackle Chinese along the lines of “Chapter 1: Restaurant and Banquet Vocabulary.”

Here, this book, “a book which was built on a life of learning and teaching,” like a gift, is what we should have found instead.

From the Web site established by the family of Mr. Barnes:

A.C.Barnes, Chinese through Poetry: An Introduction to the Language and Imagery of Traditional Verse

“This is the first book to deal specifically and comprehensively with this topic. It approaches Classical Chinese through verse instead of prose. Script, grammar and vocabulary are taught from scratch, enabling the work to be used as a first introduction to traditional literary Chinese by anyone with no knowledge of the language. It should be of interest to ethnic Chinese wishing to recover their cultural roots. The book can also be used as an introduction to Chinese verse for its own sake, either independently or as part of a more general course.

It is suitable for undergraduates as part of a course in Classical Chinese. It is also suitable for private study with or without previous knowledge of Chinese. It should also be of interest to comparative linguists.The exercises are progressive in that each is restricted to the vocabulary and grammar met so far. Apart from a comprehensive coverage of grammar, there are sections exemplifying other linguistic features: a detailed treatment of five verbs of completion and cessation and of five twin-words (reduplicative binomes); tonal patterning; some colour-words; rhyme; and five units on ambiguity of vocabulary and function.”

You can download the book at

The site also suggests that English translations by Mr. Barnes of 131 Chinese poems are coming soon, and you’ll also notice a link to Archie’s “VOLATS” creation (”Vocabulary Learning and Testing System”), which he developed to help his students learn vocabulary and used himself to learn such languages as Cornish and Gaelic.

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