form of the Chinese
language. It's like the thee's and thou's of Old English
, except Old Chinese
is almost completely different from modern Chinese
. If you know English
, you stand a chance of understanding Shakespeare
. If you know Chinese
, chances are you'll read an old Chinese
text and see a ton of absolute gibberish
, ancient character
usages, and pseudo-rhyming sentences.
To be honest, I think one reason there has been a recent explosion in literacy in China is getting rid of Old Chinese, which was used up to the 1800's. The new Chinese is, well, more user friendly, and it is much easier to learn. It seemed to me Old Chinese focused on compactness of language rather than explanation, hence you can write a beautifully short sentence explaining a long concept in a few characters, but it would be so utterly ambigious only the quickest people can catch your drift. Makes literacy for the masses impossible.
It took me ages to simply learn how to read Old Chinese, because most of the characters are not even in use any more. It is very annoying to read, because you have to stop all the time to figure out just what the author was trying to say. Once you do figure it out though, a whole new world of Chinese literature is opened to you, including Confucius' Analects, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (the old version is absolutely great), Dream of the Red Lantern, Water Margin, and other great works. Just have a dictionary handy.