Classical Chinese in Japan
Classical Chinese has been well learnt by Japanese.
Not only the elite class of Japanese but also some ordinary people have been educated, though to different levels, for leaning classic Chinese literature. So, Japanese people in general have good knowledge about, for example, Analects of Confucius, if they cannot read classic Chinese.
Classical Chinese is the language of the classic literature from the Spring and Autumn period through to the end of the Han Dynasty, a written form of Old Chinese.But the modern Chinese language is substantially different from classical Chinese. Chinese today cannot read those classic literature unless they are trained for reading classical Chinese.
One thing common between Japanese and Chinese is use of Kanji (Chinese) characters. Though some Kanji characters were invented in Japan, Japanese still use tens of thousands of Chinese characters imported from China more than 1500 years ago as Japanese Kanji letters.
Japanese also invented Kana characters to express sound of Japanese original words and Kanji characters. Kana is a kind of alphabets, consisting of 51 letters.
Before the Chinese Government introduced simplified Chinese, it was very difficult for ordinary Chinese and most of Chinese farmers to learn how to read and write. It was almost impossible for them to read classical Chinese. Only the elite Chinese in past dynasties or Chinese empires could enjoy the privilege of leaning classic literature and understanding its contents.
However in Japan, with help of Kana characters, contents of those Chinese classic literature were widely taught even in village temple schools for children. Especially the noble class, Buddhist monks, and the samurai class of Japanese were fluent in reading and writing classical Chinese.
Before samurai Japan opened the nation in the middle of the 19th century to modernize Japan, a strong emphasis had been placed on learning classical Chinese in high education in Japan. But when the Meiji era started with restoration of power of the emperor, Japan turned to the Western culture and science.
So, today, classical Chinese is not regraded as an important subject in Japanese academic communities, but a tradition for respect for classic Chinese literature still survives in the Japanese society.
That is why a Japanese can sometimes communicate with a Chinese by means of writing.
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