Chinese writing, culture and institutions were imported as a whole by
Vietnam, Korea, Japan and the Ryukyus over an extended period. Chinese
Buddhism spread over East Asia between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD,
Confucianism as these countries developed strong central
governments modelled on Chinese institutions. In Vietnam and Korea,
and for a shorter time in Japan and the Ryukyus, scholar-officials
were selected using examinations on the
Confucian classics modelled on
the Chinese civil service examinations. Shared familiarity with the
Chinese classics and Confucian values provided a common framework for
intellectuals and ruling elites across the region. All of this was
based on the use of Literary Chinese, which became the medium of
scholarship and government across the region. Although each of these
countries developed vernacular writing systems and used them for
popular literature, they continued to use Chinese for all formal
writing until it was swept away by rising nationalism around the end
of the 19th century.
During the 20th century, several Japanese historians grouped these
three countries with China as an East Asian cultural realm. According
to Sadao Nishijima (西嶋定生, 1919–1998), it was characterized
by Chinese writing,
Mahayana Buddhism in Chinese translation,
Confucianism and Chinese legal codes. The concept of an "East Asian
world" has seen little interest from scholars in the other countries
following its appropriation by Japanese militarists in terms such as
the "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere". Nishijima is also
credited with coining the expressions
(漢字文化圏, "Chinese-character culture sphere") and Chūka
bunka-ken (中華文化圏, "Chinese culture sphere"), which were
later borrowed into Chinese.[a] The four countries are also referred
to as the "Sinic World" by some authors.
1 Literary Chinese
7.2 Works cited
8 Further reading
Main article: Literary Chinese
The Korean Buddhist work
Jikji is the oldest extant book printed with
movable metal type (1377).
At the beginning of the current era, the
Chinese script was the only
writing system available in East Asia. Classical works of the Warring
States period and
Han dynasty such as the Mencius, the Commentary of
Zuo and Sima Qian's Historical Records were admired as models of prose
style though the ages. Later writers sought to emulate the classical
style, writing in a form known as Literary Chinese.[b] Thus the
written style, based on the
Old Chinese of the classical period,
remained largely static as the various varieties of Chinese developed
and diverged to become mutually unintelligible, and all distinct from
the written form. Moreover, in response to phonetic attrition the
spoken varieties developed compound words and new syntactic forms. In
comparison, the literary language was admired for its terseness and
economy of expression, but it was difficult to understand if read
aloud, even in the local pronunciation. This divergence is a classic
example of diglossia.
All formal writing in China was done in
Literary Chinese until the May
Fourth Movement in 1919, after which it was replaced by Written
Vernacular Chinese. This new form was based on the vocabulary and
grammar of modern Mandarin dialects, particularly the Beijing dialect,
and is the written form of Modern Standard Chinese. Literary Chinese
persisted for a time in journalism and government, but was replaced
there too in the late 1940s.
Buddhism reached China from central Asia in the first century AD, and
over the following centuries the Buddhist scriptures were translated
into Literary Chinese. Buddhist missionaries then spread these texts
throughout East Asia, and students of the new religion learned the
language of these sacred texts.
Throughout East Asia,
Literary Chinese was the language of
administration and scholarship. Although Vietnam, Korea and Japan each
developed writing systems for their own languages, these were limited
to popular literature. Chinese remained the medium of formal writing
until it was displaced by vernacular writing in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. Though they did not use Chinese for spoken
communication, each country had its own tradition of reading texts
aloud, the so-called Sino-Xenic pronunciations, which provide clues to
the pronunciation of Middle Chinese. Chinese words with these
pronunciations were also borrowed extensively into the local
vernaculars, and today comprise over half their vocabularies.
Literary Chinese became the international language of scholarship
in East Asia. Like Latin in Europe it allowed scholars from different
lands to communicate, and provided a stock of roots from which
compound technical terms could be created. Unlike Latin, Literary
Chinese was not used for spoken communication, and lacked the
neutrality of Latin, being the language of an extant (and powerful)
Literary Chinese were widely distributed. By the 7th century
and possibly earlier, woodblock printing had been developed in China.
At first, it was used only to copy the Buddhist scriptures, but later
secular works were also printed. By the 13th century, metal movable
type used by government printers in Korea, but seems not to have been
extensively used in China, Vietnam or Japan. At the same time
manuscript reproduction remained important until the late 19th
In contrast, China's western and northern neighbours, including the
Tibetans, Sogdians, Tocharians,
Uighurs and Mongols, wrote in their
own languages using alphabetic writing systems. However, the Sogdians
living in China, such as Li Baoyu, were often bilingual and adopted
Chinese names after their families had been living there for
Literary Chinese in Vietnam
Stelae at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, recording the names of
doctoral graduates in the civil service examinations
The northern part of Vietnam was occupied by Chinese empires and
states for almost all of the period from 111 BC to 938 AD. When the
country achieved independence, it continued to use Literary Chinese.
At first Buddhist monks dominated government and scholarship in the
country. The earliest extant writings by Vietnamese authors are
poems from the late 10th century, in Chinese, by the Buddhist monks
Lac Thuan and Khuông Việt.
After three short-lived dynasties, the
Ly Dynasty (1009–1225) was
established with the support of Buddhist clergy, but soon came under
increasing Confucian influence. A Confucian Temple of Literature was
erected in the capital, Hanoi, in 1070. Civil service examinations on
the Chinese model began in 1075, and in the following year a college
was established for training sons of the ruling elite in the Confucian
classics. The influence of Confucian literati grew in the
Tran Dynasty (1225–1400) until they had a monopoly on
public office, which they kept, almost uninterrupted, until the
examination system was abolished by the French colonial administration
The Vietnamese nationalist
Phan Boi Chau
Phan Boi Chau (1867–1940) wrote in
Documents that survive from the early
Ly Dynasty include the Edict on
the Transfer of the Capital (to Hanoi) from 1010. When the Chinese
invaded the country in 1076, the general
Lý Thường Kiệt
Lý Thường Kiệt wrote a
4-line poem Mountains and rivers of the Southern country. His poem was
the first of a series of statements of Vietnamese determination to
resist northern invaders, all written in Literary Chinese. Others
include a Call to the Officers of the Army (1285), Return to the
Capital (1288), the Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu
(1428) and an Address to the Army (1789). Historical annals,
beginning with the Annals of Đại Việt, were also written in
Chinese, as were poetry and fiction of various kinds.
In the centuries after independence, Vietnamese authors adapted
Chinese characters to produce a script for their own language.
This script, called Chữ nôm, was quite complex, and accessible only
to those who could read Chinese. Over the centuries it became the
vehicle for a flourishing vernacular literature, but all formal
writing continued to be in Literary Chinese, except during two
short-lived attempts at reform. When
Hồ Quý Ly seized the throne in
1400, as well as pursuing a programme of land reform, he sought to
break the power of the Confucian literati by making Vietnamese the
state language and translating the classics to make them available to
all. This was reversed in 1407 after Ming China invaded the
country. Similar reforms were attempted by
Nguyễn Huệ from
1788, but were again reversed at the beginning of the succeeding
Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945). Finally both
Literary Chinese and
Chữ nôm were replaced by the Latin-based
Vietnamese alphabet in the
early 20th century.
Vietnamese intellectuals continued to use
Literary Chinese into the
early 20th century. For example, the nationalist Phan Boi Chau
(1867–1940) wrote his
History of the Loss of Vietnam
History of the Loss of Vietnam (1905) and
other tracts in Literary Chinese, and also used it to communicate when
in Japan and China, as he spoke neither Japanese nor Chinese.
The Tripitaka Koreana, a Korean collection of the Chinese Buddhist
Chinese was first introduced to Korea in the first century BC, when
Han dynasty invaded the north of the peninsula and established the
Buddhism arrived in Korea from China in the
late 4th century, and spread from there to Japan. The
strengthened itself by adopting Chinese institutions, laws and
culture, including Buddhism. The influential Korean Buddhist
Wonhyo (617–686) wrote extensively in Chinese.
The use of
Literary Chinese grew after the unification of the country
Silla in the late 7th century. A national institute (the Gukhak)
was set up in 682 to teach the Chinese classics. Korean placenames and
official titles were changed to Chinese (with Sino-Korean
pronunciation), so that they could be used in Literary Chinese. Civil
service examinations on the
Confucian classics were introduced in
Goryeo period (918–1392), Korean scribes added
interlinear annotations known as gugyeol ("oral embellishment") to
Chinese texts to allow them to be read in Korean word order with
Korean glosses. Many of the gugyeol characters were abbreviated, and
some of them are identical in form and value to symbols in the
Japanese katakana syllabary, though the historical relationship
between the two is not yet clear. An even more subtle method of
annotation known as gakpil (角筆 "stylus") was discovered in 2000,
consisting of dots and lines made with a stylus.
King Sejong's proclamation of the
Hangul script, written in Chinese
All formal writing, including the official annals of the Korean
dynasties and almost all government documents, was done in Chinese
until the late 19th century. So too were the works of the Confucian
Yulgok in the 16th century and
Jeong Yak-yong at
the end of the 18th. Several fiction genres were written in
Chinese, including romances, beginning with the 15th century New
Stories from Gold Turtle Mountain. The
Eou yadam (c. 1600) began a
new genre of unofficial histories, which became very popular in the
18th and 19th centuries.
Early attempts to write the
Korean language used a number of complex
and unwieldy systems collectively known as Idu, using Chinese
characters both for their meaning and their sound. The Hangul
alphabet announced in 1446 brought Korean reading and writing within
reach of virtually the entire population. King Sejong's announcement
of the new script, The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the
People, was itself written in
Literary Chinese like most such
documents, and described the new letters in terms of Chinese
metaphysics. Although the new script was clearly more efficient,
it was limited to informal writing and recording of folk tales until,
as part of the
Gabo Reform in December 1894, the civil examinations
were abolished and government documents were required to be printed in
Korean. Even then Korean was written with a composite script, with
Chinese characters (Hanja) for the Sino-Korean words that now made up
over half the vocabulary of the language interspersed with
native words and suffixes.
Hanja are still taught in schools in
both parts of Korea, but fell out of use in North Korea in the late
1940s, and are increasingly rarely used in South Korea.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (April
Nihon Shoki, an 8th-century history of Japan written in Chinese
Unlike Vietnam and Korea, no part of Japan was ever occupied by China.
Chinese writing was brought to Japan by Buddhist missionaries from
Korea, probably around the 4th or 5th centuries. The early 8th century
Nihon Shoki and
Kojiki credit a scholar called Wani from
Baekje with first bringing the
Confucian classics to Japan, though
many scholars have questioned this account. By 607 Japan had
opened direct contacts with
Sui dynasty China, continued under the
following Tang dynasty, and proceeded to import
Chinese language and
culture wholesale. Even the layout of the Japanese capital of Nara
was modelled on the Tang capital Chang'an.
All formal writing during the Nara (710–794) and Heian (794–1185)
periods was done in Literary Chinese. The earliest collection of
Chinese poetry by Japanese authors (Kanshi) was the Kaifūsō,
compiled in 751. A series of
Six National Histories in the Chinese
style, covering the period to 887, were written in the Nara and Heian
periods. A seventh was begun but abandoned in the 10th century.
Ritsuryō (757) and
Engi shiki (927) were legal codes on the
Chinese model. As Japanese is very different from Chinese, with
inflections and different word order, Japanese scholars developed
kanbun kundoku, an elaborate method of annotating
Literary Chinese so
that it could be re-arranged and read as Japanese.
There had been experiments with adapting Chinese characters to write
Japanese since the 7th century, and by the early 10th century these
had been simplified to the kana syllabaries still in use today.
However Chinese had such prestige in the
Heian period that only women
and low-status men wrote in Japanese. As a result, court women
produced much of the Japanese-language fiction of the period, with the
most famous being the Tale of Genji.
Around 700, an imperial academy (the Daigaku-ryō) was founded to
train the sons of the aristocracy in Chinese and the classics and to
administer the first stage of civil service examinations. It
flourished in the 9th century but went into decline in the 10th, as
the central bureaucracy and use of Chinese faded away. By 1135 the
site was overgrown; the buildings were destroyed in the great fire of
1177. By the 13th century knowledge of
Literary Chinese had become
so limited that the government had to delegate official writing,
including correspondence before the unsuccessful Mongol invasions of
Japan, to the Buddhist clergy.
The re-establishment of strong central government by the Tokugawa
shogunate in 1600 was followed by a revival of Confucianism.
Literary Chinese remained the preferred medium for formal writing
until the late 19th century. A style mixing Chinese and Japanese
elements (sōrōbun) was derived from the medieval hentai-kanbun
("variant Chinese writing") used in such works as the historical
Azuma Kagami (1266). It was used during the Meiji period,
and as late as the end of the Second World War, by men for diaries and
correspondence, and for various public notices. Both have since
been replaced by writing in Japanese, using a script combining Chinese
characters (Kanji) and kana syllabaries.
^ The phrase bunka-ken 文化圈 (Chinese wénhuà quān) "culture
sphere" originated in the 1940s as a translation of the German term
Kulturkreis in the work of
Fritz Gräbner and Wilhelm Schmidt.
^ Some writers refer to
Literary Chinese as "Classical Chinese", but
linguists prefer to reserve the latter term for the language of the
^ Fogel (1997), p. 686.
^ Reischauer (1974), p. 342.
^ Kornicki (2011), pp. 75–77.
^ Xiong (2006), p. 302.
^ Wang (2002), p. 322.
^ Mair, Victor (2012). "Sinophone and Sinosphere". Language Log.
^ Reischauer (1974).
^ a b Norman (1988), p. 83.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 245–246, 249–250.
^ Norman (1988), p. 247.
^ Miller (1967), pp. 29–30.
^ Kornicki (2011), pp. 66–67.
^ Miyake (2004), pp. 98–99.
^ a b Kornicki (2011), p. 67.
^ Kornicki (2011), p. 68.
^ Hansen, Valerie (2012), The Silk Road: A New History, Oxford
University Press, p. 98, ISBN 978-0-19-993921-3.
^ a b DeFrancis (1977), p. 14.
^ Coedès (1966), p. 87.
^ DeFrancis (1977), pp. 14, 31.
^ DeFrancis (1977), p. 16.
^ Nguyen (1981).
^ DeFrancis (1977), p. 17.
^ DeFrancis (1977), pp. 21–24.
^ Hannas (1997), pp. 79–80.
^ DeFrancis (1977), pp. 31–32.
^ DeFrancis (1977), pp. 40–44.
^ Hannas (1997), pp. 84–90.
^ Sohn & Lee (2003), p. 23.
^ Okazaki (1993), pp. 298–299.
^ Lee & Ramsey (2000), p. 55.
^ Sohn & Lee (2003), pp. 23–24.
^ Lee & Ramsey (2011), pp. 83–84.
^ Lee & Ramsey (2000), pp. 55–56.
^ Kim (2003), pp. 261–262.
^ Kim (2003), p. 272.
^ Coulmas (1991), pp. 116–117.
^ Coulmas (1991), p. 118.
^ Lee & Ramsey (2000), pp. 56–57.
^ Coulmas (1991), p. 122.
^ Hannas (1997), p. 68.
^ Cranston (1993), pp. 453–454.
^ Cranston (1993), pp. 455–457.
^ Miyake (2004), p. 99.
^ Miller (1967), p. 34.
^ Ury (1999), pp. 359–364.
^ Ury (1999), pp. 364–366.
^ Miller (1967), pp. 115–120.
^ Miller (1967), pp. 14–15, 121–125.
^ Varley (2000), pp. 68–69.
^ Ury (1999), pp. 367–373.
^ Miller (1967), p. 42.
^ Masahide (1991), pp. 397–404.
^ Varley (2000), pp. 170–173.
^ a b Twine (1991), pp. 34–35, 45–48.
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Literary and colloquial readings
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Two-Cell Chinese Braille
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