3 Lesson 2-守株待兔

守株待兔 (韓非子)

shǒu zhū dài tù   (Hán Fēizǐ )



Lesson 2 vocabulary

sòng (name of a state)
gēng to plow
zhě (an abstract noun that requires a modifier)
耕者 gēng zhě plowman
tián field
zhōng middle
田中 tián zhōng in the fields
yǒu there is, to have
zhū tree stump
zǒu to run
觸 (触) chù to knock against
折 (拃) zhé to break
頸 (颈) jǐng neck
ér and, yet [a conjunction]
to die
yīn thereupon; therefore
釋 (释) shì to abandon
his, her, its, their, etc.
lěi plow
shǒu to guard, to watch by
to hope
復 (复) again
to get
shēn oneself
為(为) wéi to be [marks the agent in a passive construction]
國(国) guó country
xiào to laugh; laughter
dài to wait for

韓非子 Hán Fēizǐ

Master Han Fei was a Warring States philosopher and the founder of a philosophical school generally known as “Legalism,” which stressed rigid control of a nation’s subjects through thoroughly enforced laws and punishments.


Commentary to lesson 2:

1.1 宋人有耕者. This is a standard way of introducing characters in classical narrative. Literally, “the people of Song had a plowman,” it is probably best to translate it as “among the people of Song there was a plowman.”

者 is a particle that nominalizes verbs and verb phrases, often in the way “-er” does in English (e.g. “farm-er”). In many cases 者 could stand for “…之人”. For example: 惡鳴者 “hate voice-er” (a person who hates [his] voice). However it is important to keep in mind that者 can also indicate a thing that performs an action (like “blend-er”). Thus, 耕者 could also be a plow (“thing that plows”) and 鳴者 could be anything that cries (bird, person, door hinge).

而 is a general phrase connector, often translated as “and”. “But” is often an appropriate translation, depending on context. IN two phrases connected by 而 the first phrase is often subordinate to the second, and the second phrase describes the consequences of the first. For example, the phrase 折頸而死 could be translated as “having broken its neck, it died.”

Common sense and the death of the rabbit tell us that 因 introduces a change of subject from rabbit to man.

1.2 不可復得: Passive readings of verbs in classical Chinese are fairly rare; however, 可 is a passive marker indicating that the verb will be passive; thus 不可得 “it could not be gotten.”

為 has a plethora of uses in classical; here we see its use in a passive construction. 為 introduces the agent of the action. Literally: “[He] himself by the Song country was laughed at” – i.e., he was the laughingstock of Song. Compare: 兔為鄉人惡 “The rabbit was hated by the villagers.” 子之頸為耕者折“Your neck was broken by the plowman.”


Grammar Note 1: Empty Words in Lessons 1-2

jiāng adverb “about to” – indicates incipient action
ān interrogative adverb – “where to?  where?”
interrogative adverb – “what?”
jiē “in all cases, all”.  Like the adverb 都 dōu in Mandarin (except that it can modify any comment and not only a verbal one)
以 yǐ was originally a verb, meaning “take, use”.  It often works like 用yòng or 拿 ná in Mandarin.  But it functions more frequently as a coverb, secondary to the verb that follows it:

     COVERB                 MAIN VERB

不     以            城                  予                 趙

bù     yǐ            chéng            yǔ             zhào

(They will) not give Zhao the towns (they promised)

矣 yǐ concludes a verbal comment to indicate completion (perfective aspect), whether in the past, present, or future time.  Equivalent to Mandarin sentence final le 了.
zhī the most frequent character in Classical Chinese, stands for the verb “to go” (as in line 1) and also for two important particles.  The particle here is a conjunction which joins a modifier to the following nominal expression 子之聲 zǐ zhī shēng “you 之 sound” i.e., “your sound”.  In this usage it resembles Mandarin de 的.  It imposes a nominal sense on what follows it:  thus 子之徙 zǐ zhī xǐ would have to be “your moving”.
 者 zhě attached as here to a verb (耕 gēng “to plow”) is like the English ending –er “one who”:  thus 耕者 gēng zhě “plower, one who plows, plowman”.
ér Classical Chinese has several words for “and”.   而 ér is an “and” that joins verbs or verbal constructions, like bob and weave (NOT like cabbages and kings). Sometimes it coordinates verbal expression:  “X and Y”.  Sometimes it subordinates the first verbal expression to the second “X and thus Y”;   “Y by means of X”.  Of the three constructions with而 ér in lesson 2, the first is subordinative, the others are coordinative.  We will also see 而 ér translatable as “but”.
“his, her, its, their”




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Introduction to Classical Chinese Copyright © 2024 by Andrew Schonebaum; Anthony George; David Lattimore; Hu Hsiao-chen; Judith Zeitlin; Kong Mei; Liu Lening; Margaret Baptist Wan; Patrick Hanan; Paul Rouzer; Regina Llamas; Shang Wei; and Xiaofei Tian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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