In two previous posts, I talked about a book called Talks on Chinese Culture. This is ICLP’s core text for Level 4, and a book about which I’ve heard nothing but good. It’s apparently also a book that you can’t buy unless you’re enrolled at ICLP, and even then only if you’re enrolled in that particular class. Another blogger (unnamed to protect the innocent), who is a student at ICLP, though at Level 5, offered to pick me up a copy, but they wouldn’t sell it to him. They claim on their website not to sell any of their books to people not enrolled there in order to keep costs down, but that’s certainly not true. Some of their books are fairly easy to find. For instance, Thought and Society is sitting on my desk right now.

So I did some digging. Like I do.

There is a version of the book that you can order from the US at great cost (compared to what it would cost here), from Yale University Press. That is, if you’re willing to either pay the high shipping fees and get it quickly or pay reasonable(ish) shipping fees and wait two months before it arrives. But apparently, there’s a similar book that used to be taught at MTC, called Twenty Lectures on Chinese Culture. Yale University Press, who also sells a version of Thought and Society, says that T&S is appropriate for students who have finished either TOCC or Twenty Lectures.

After a little more digging, it appears that these two books might both be based on a book originally written by a few professors at the Institute of Far Eastern Languages, at Yale University. It’s no coincidence that Yale keeps popping up. A very large proportion of textbooks used at high levels at MTC, ICLP, and IUP in Beijing seem to come from either Yale or Princeton. Anyway, that original book was called A Text in College Level Spoken Chinese, Part II: Twenty Lectures on Chinese Culture. You can actually find a PDF of the teacher’s manual online if you Google it, but it’s a pretty bad copy and all the characters are handwritten in (read: scribbled).

So, I came to the conclusion that the books more or less cover the same material. Fortunately for me, and for you if you’re in Taipei and want to find this book, the Lucky Bookstore across the street from MTC on Heping Road carries it. The one copy they keep on display is pretty beat up, but if you ask, they might have a brand new copy in the back for the same price (NT$450). It looks pretty good. Not too hard for the level I’m at, but lots of vocabulary that will be useful to me that my classmates won’t necessarily take any interest in.

The format of the book is, in my opinion, really excellent. Each chapter, or lecture, is like a mini-survey of an aspect of Chinese culture. After the text, the new vocabulary is defined, with pronunciation. The book uses Yale romanization, but it should be really easy to get used to. This section also explains new grammar structures. After that there’s a section called “Usage of New Vocabulary” (生字用法), which uses the new vocab in short phrases and sentences. For instance, in Lesson 1, the usage examples for 來源 are 風俗的來源 (origin of custom) and 文化的來源 (origin of culture). After that, there are two practice sections, with full sentences using the new vocabulary along with translations. Finally, there are two sections of discussion questions. The second section is an extension of the first; for example, the first question in the first section is 中國是一個什麼樣的國家? In the second section, the question is 中國是一個什麼樣的國家?地理怎麼樣?歷史怎麼樣? I assume these are intended to be classroom discussion topics.

As for the topics of the “lectures”, here are the titles, to give you an idea of their content:

中國人跟中國文化的來源
中國的自然環境(一、二)
中國曆史(一、二)
中國的傳統政治(一、二)
中國現代的政府和政治(一、二)
中國傳統的農業經濟制度
廿世紀前葉中國的農業和工業
自由中國和中共的經濟
中國的傳統社會
中國現代社會的演變
中國的語言
中國的文字
中國文學的本質
中國的散文和小說
中國的韻文
中國的思想

As you can see, this is very much aimed at would-be academics and people who are interested in Chinese history. Not a whole lot here for business types, for example. I think these qualities should make for a great transition from the “textbooky” stuff we’re learning in class right now (still…) to the more serious material I’ll be covering in another term or two.

So, if you’re studying Chinese in preparation for an academic career and you’ve completed PAVC Book III or the equivalent, this is a great option. I’d also recommend Taiwan Today, which focuses more on written Chinese, as a complement to this book, which is more for higher-level spoken Chinese. Enjoy!

Note: If you go to find the book at Lucky Bookstore, look on the display where all the other MTC books are. It’s an old-looking green paperback. The back and spine of the book are blank, and the front cover of the book says:

中國文化二十講
TWENTY LECTURES ON CHINESE CULTURE
修訂本

國立台灣師範大學
國語教學中心
1986