Chinese Hard Reason 6: there's classical Chinese (wenyanwen)
作者： 来源：拼音网 2013-05-31 14:30:07.000
Then there's classical Chinese (wenyanwen).然后还有个文言文……
Forget it. Way too difficult. If you think that after three or four years of study you'll be breezing through Confucius and Mencius in the way third-year French students at a comparable level are reading Diderot and Voltaire, you're sadly mistaken. There are some westerners who can comfortably read classical Chinese, but most of them have a lot of gray hair or at least tenure.
Unfortunately, classical Chinese pops up everywhere, especially in Chinese paintings and character scrolls, and most people will assume anyone literate in Chinese can read it. It's truly embarrassing to be out at a Chinese restaurant, and someone asks you to translate some characters on a wall hanging.
"Hey, you speak Chinese. What does this scroll say?" You look up and see that the characters are written in wenyan, and in incomprehensible "grass-style" calligraphy to boot. It might as well be an EKG readout of a dying heart patient.
"Uh, I can make out one or two of the characters, but I couldn't tell you what it says," you stammer. "I think it's about a phoenix or something."
"Oh, I thought you knew Chinese," says your friend, returning to their menu. Never mind that an honest-to-goodness Chinese person would also just scratch their head and shrug; the face that is lost is yours.
Whereas modern Mandarin is merely perversely hard, classical Chinese is deliberately impossible. Here's a secret that sinologists won't tell you: A passage in classical Chinese can be understood only if you already know what the passage says in the first place. This is because classical Chinese really consists of several centuries of esoteric anecdotes and in-jokes written in a kind of terse, miserly code for dissemination among a small, elite group of intellectually-inbred bookworms who already knew the whole literature backwards and forwards, anyway. An uninitiated westerner can no more be expected to understand such writing than Confucius himself, if transported to the present, could understand the entries in the "personal" section of the classified ads that say things like: "Hndsm. SWGM, 24, 160, sks BGM or WGM for gentle S&M, mod. bndg., some lthr., twosm or threesm ok, have own equip., wheels, 988-8752 lv. mssg. on ans. mach., no weirdos please."
现代汉语仅仅是古怪的难，而古典中文则是刻意让人不可能学会。汉学家不会告诉你这样一个小秘密：要看懂文言文一小段话，你必须首先知道它在讲什么。因为古典中文根本是由几个世纪的典故用一种简要的编码组成，流传于一个书虫们组成的精英小团体中，他们自己都彻底了解任何一点相关的文学背景。一个没有专业知识的西方人没法理解这些，就好象如果孔子本人来到现在，也看不懂分类广告中“个人”一栏里这类的东西：“Hndsm. SWGM, 24, 160, sks BGM or WGM for gentle S&M, mod. bndg., some lthr., twosm or threesm ok, have own equip., wheels, 988-8752 lv. mssg. on ans. mach., no weirdos please.”（译者注：这个意思就不翻译了，好孩子不需要知道……）
In fairness, it should be said that classical Chinese gets easier the more you attempt it. But then so does hitting a hole in one, or swimming the English channel in a straitjacket.