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Department of Ancient Chinese Language
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Chinese Philology, a discipline under which the Department of Ancient Chinese Language is established, can date back to the Chinese Language and Chinese Characters courses set up by the Chinese Language Division (the former School of Chinese Language and Literature) of the Imperial University of Peking in 1902. In the early days of the BNU, Wu Chengshi, Huang Kan and Qian Xuantong, three disciples of renowned Chinese cultural studies scholar Zhang Taiyan, and many other prestigious scholars in the field of Chinese philology have taught here.

After liberation, the Chinese Philology discipline further developed. Before the reorganization of disciplines, there were two doctoral degree programs: Chinese Philology established by Lu Zongda (one of China’s first doctoral degree programs), and History of Chinese Language established by Yu Min (one of China’s third doctoral degree programs). After the  reorganization, the original two programs were merged into Chinese Philology, a doctoral degree program in the second level.

After Lu Zongda and Yu Min, the program underwent new development under the leadership of Wang Ning. In 1995, the Department of Chinese Characters and Chinese Information Processing and the Research Center of Zhang Taiyan and Huang Jigang were established based on the doctoral degree program. In 2000, the Research Center for Folklore, Classics and Chinese Characters was established by merging the three disciplines of Chinese Philology, Folklore and Classical Philology. In 2005, the Research Center for Chinese Character Collation and Standards was founded. In 2016, the Key Laboratory of Research and Modern Application of Chinese Characters was established.

Currently, the Department of Ancient Chinese Language has a strong teaching and research faculty with Wang Ning as the leader, and 13 in-service teachers, including five professors (among which, one is senior professor, five are doctoral supervisors, two are are on the list of Program for New Century Excellent Talents of the Ministry of Education), four associate professors and four lecturers. In 2018, the faculty was named “National Huang Danian-style Teaching Team”. The discipline emphasizes traditional inheritance, following the principle of “learning from the past but not duplicating past experience, holding fast to good traditions but not being conservative”. Through reform of Traditional Philology, it has set up many national first-class courses with immense prospects of development, such as Exegesis, Shuowen Study, Chinese Character Study and Lexical Semantics. Besides, the Research Center studies Chinese characters and Chinese information processing by using computer, which is of significant applied value in the current information society. The main research interests of the Department are as follows:

I. Exegesis and Phonology

Lu Zongda and Wang Ning made remarkable contributions to the revival and development of traditional exegetics in the new era. In Brief Discussion on Exegetics, Exegetics Methodology, Principles of Exegetics and other works, they probed into areas such as systematic exegetical terminology, scientific exegetical methods and summary of the principles of exegesis, marking a major step in the development and maturity of modern exegetics. As Chinese etymology is an important part of exegetics, the Department focuses on inheriting critically and developing the traditional etymology theory, and creating and expanding the Chinese etymology in the sense of modern science which is based on the reality of Chinese language while rooted in traditional philology.

Great progress has also been made in the study of phonology. The Department adheres to the approaches of traditional primary schools by regarding phonology as a tool of exegesis, and studies phonology synchronously with etymology. The General Theory of Traditional Ancient Phonology Study, co-authored by Wang Ning, Professor Huang Yiqing and others, is an important achievement of adopting this research method.

II. Shuowen Study and Chinese Character Study

The Department has a long history of Chinese character study. Previous scholars have made fruitful achievements in the study of Shuowen jiezi, the reform of Chinese characters as well as ancient Chinese characters. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Lu Zongda lifted the study of Shuowen to a new level by utilizing handed-down documents and ancient Chinese character materials. Wang Ning, by inheriting the fine tradition of Shuowen studies, further refined, deepened and diversified the study of Shuowen and achieved fruitful tangible results.

After many years of research on Chinese characters, Wang Ning put forward the theory of Chinese characters formation. The Department has made dynastic survey to the history of Chinese characters formation and quantitative analysis on the typical materials of Chinese characters in ancient dynasties after the oracle bone inscriptions by applying the theory. It summarized the results into The Series on History of Chinese Characters Formation, among which a representative work is The Introduction to Chinese Characters Formation by Wang Ning. Besides, members of the Department have creatively probed into Chinese character theories. The Necessity and Feasibility of Constructing the Chinese Character Database co-authored by Professor Li Guoying and Professor Zhou Xiaowen, for example, proposed the theory of constructing the Chinese character database, drawing huge repercussion in the academic circles.

III. Chinese Character Standards and Chinese Information Processing

The Department has engaged in setting national and international standards many times for the collation, standards and criteria of Chinese characters. The Table of General Standard Chinese Characters, the compiling work of which was led by Wang Ning and completed by members of the Department, has addressed the great need for standard Chinese language and characters in China. Professor Li Guoying and Professor Zhou Xiaowen have presided over and participated in many ideogram working groups of International Standardization Organization (ISO), and led the project “Chinese Character Collation of Engraving Regular Script Dictionaries” which is on the list of the projects “Library of Chinese Characters” of the Plan on Reinvigoration of the Cultural Industry. Their achievements include the Catalogue of Chinese Ancient Dictionaries, which is the most complete of its kind at home and abroad and the largest-ever digital library of ancient Chinese dictionaries in or outside of China.

In terms of Chinese information processing and ancient books digitalization, the Department’s achievements include the Xiaozhuang library, Oracle-bone inscription library, the “Digital Platform of Shuowen Studies”, the Teaching and Scientific Research System Software of Hypertext Shuowen jiezi and the knowledge base of Shuowen studies. Through these, it has promoted changes in the study and research methods of Shuowen, and made outstanding achievements in “digital studies of Shuowen”.

IV. Grammar and Lexicology

The discipline Grammar of the Department was created by Li Jinxi, the founder of modern Chinese grammar, in the early 1920s. At present, Professor Liu Li mainly focuses on the study of ancient Chinese grammar and the history of Chinese grammar.

In terms of lexicology, Wang Ning has supervised doctoral candidates in monographic or synchronic objective analysis and systematic description of Chinese vocabulary and meanings in literatures of past dynasties, in order to build a systematic and comprehensive diachronic corpus and attribute database of Chinese vocabulary and meanings. Besides, they have strengthened concrete analysis, induction and reorganization of exegesis materials of past dynasties in order to establish the principle and evaluation system for ancient books’ annotation from a rational standpoint.



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