Yong Wen San
I get the feeling most of the respondents did not catch on to the keyword ‘were’ in the question.
Firstly, I would ask the OP: What is your assumed time-frame for ‘were’? For now, I will go with the assumption that you mean “before the introduction of Vernacular Chinese (Mandarin) as the written standard from the early 20th century”.
That being the case, the reason students were ‘forced’ to study Classical Chinese was simply because that was the official form of written Chinese in all formal documents and in schools.
But if you meant to say “Why are students in China forced to learn classical Chinese?”, i.e. at present, then please correct the tense used in your question. ‘were’ and ‘are’ makes a big difference in the answer you will get.
Well, I can provid 3 reasons for that:
1)In order to arm the students the ability to better understand the history, which is the key to understand the current international word as well as current Chinese Society.
Ancient Chinese dynasty had the tradition of recording the important events, no matter offical or not. Although history was wriiten by the victors instead of the truth, reading the infomation from over ten centuries ago still offer a specific perspectives.
If someone can read the raw materials, I mean the content instead of the accient Chinese characters, he or she can understand the meaning beyond that without translation. And no one will doubt that, the translation is always harder than the original to convey the ideas of the authors.
So many events happened in Chinese history had been recorded, which is indeed the treasure of the Chinese cultures. If possible, why don’t people hold the key to the safe ?
2)In order to enhance the national self-respect. In my opinion, for most of Chinese, material affluence do not mean spiritual confidence. The current spiritual inferiority can backtrack to the whole 20th century or even the 1840.
In those times, being faced with the booming westen world, Chinese, especially the upper class, held nihilism toward the convention, blaming that for the weakness of the country and poverty of the people. Classical Chinese stood in the breach.
Adding significance to the classical Chinese meanwhile teaching with simplified Chinese characters reflect the offical attitude toward Chinese convention nowadays: take its essence and discard its dross. It is the crucial part of the reconstrcution of national self-dignity.
3)In order to provide more fun in life(this one is too personal, but I insist to add here). Maybe not all students take interst in that, but a few ameturs will benefit in their future life.
Just like some can read the stories of how theri grand-grand-fathers fight against the cruel nature to reclaim the soil from the Yellow River Basin.
Just like some can read the stories of how theri grand-grand-fathers fight against the Huns to light the torchs of the cities bypass the Silk Road.
Just like some can read the stories of how theri grand-grand-fathers fight against the imperialism to strrugle for the liberty in the era of colonialism.
Some may feel lucky that the school provide the ability to experience the great times , in which their ancestors used to live, when they do not have the ideas how cool it is to read the quotations of confucius without dictionaries.
It offers the ability of reading the genealogy of the whole nation.
All in all, it assists Chinese to review the pass, anticipate the future and examine themselves from the classical records without any third part translation.
Because classical Chinese is more beautiful, concise and it was the language our ancestors had been using for the past thousands of years. Learning the ancient form of the language will help with better understanding of history and culture of China.
In China, we have an old saying: 言以载道. The philosophy and moral teachings are passed down through words. That is how the culture heritage and identify as Chinese has been passed down for the past 5 thousand years.
Frankly speaking, the proportion of the classical Chinese teaching is very small, and it is only serves very symbolic purpose to remind the students of their culture heritage and roots. I am not sure if the kids in the west were taught Shakespeare's sonnets or extracts of some of the famous drama when they are in school. Students might not appreciate the beauty of it, but some might have interest and devote more time to learn more.
To be honest, I think for most of the Chinese students, learning foreign language is the toughest challenge of all, and it surely takes up much higher proportion of their curriculum;-)
If your ancestors live a very long life,and write down all their experiences for you to refer to later.But you just can't read them.What a pity!Cases in Korea n Vietnam.
Forced to learn?I think it's a way how Chinese civilization evolves.
1.During Chinese 5000 years uninterrupted history,our ancestors left us numerous cultural heritages.Time sifted the best out for us.When you read them,you’ll realize histories always repeat themselves.Civilization is evolving but human beings stay almost the same in such a short period.Our ancestors are just like human computers,giving us references by their experiences and thoughts.
I guess that's one of the reasons why we hold our ancestors so high.
2.You asked this question,so I assume you don’t know much about classical Chinese.I always feel so lucky that there're so many beautifully-written Chinese poems and brilliant articles.Some are so beautiful that I would cry out.When I read them,I feel exactly what they felt before.That’s an amazing thing.
3.Without the classical Chinese,you won’t understand the source of modern Chinese.And to achieve a better level of writing,a certain amount of that knowledge will be necessary.
4.There still are tons of anceint stuff under the ground.Wouldn’t it be a pity if you don’t know what they are saying when digged out some day in the future?
Is there any country where the students don’t learn the classical literatures of their country? I mean those countreis that has histroy and classic literatures like France, England,Greece, Spain, Japan, Egept , Russia, etc., Even America has a very short history ( 241 years till now ), don’t the students learn the literatures by Edgar Allan,Mark Twain,William Faulkner , Ernest Hemingway ,etc .those great writers ?? China has a long 5000 years history, you can image how many masterpieces worth reading and studying .those are great historical /cultural heritage .
Classical Chinese is a part of literature. And it is bound with the subject of ‘literature’. We are no more forced to learn it as we are with Math or Science, but it is certainly a less practical subject that most student despise.
I am not sure they are. But if they are, wouldn't you think 3,000+ years of contiguous history, right there and fully documented, would be worth the effort to remain readable by the general population?
In order to cultivate the ability to read ancient books, so as to criticize the inheritance of the motherland; The second reason is that ancient Chinese also has certain help to the modern Chinese culture. We should realize that studying ancient Chinese can not only improve the ability of reading and writing, but also improve the ability of reading modern books and writing.
I assume it's safe to say most of your knowledge is FORCED into your mind when you are young. How many kids are talented enough to enjoy math in their primary school? But when we grow up, many of us will find it useful or interesting. Some might think classical Chinese hard to understand stand, but once I got to learn it, I found it unbelievablely beautiful. I don't know much about English poems so I can't compare them. But most Chinese would agree that none of the modern Chinese poems could reach the highest peak the classical poems had. If I didn't learn them at school, I might miss the fortune forever.
As someone who has lived in China for some time, I am personally happy that the party limits some freedoms. This is because Chinese nationalism is a much scarier and more violent force than anything the party doles out.
For those who think that the party is bad/evil/inefficient/corrupt/authoritarian etc., they should ask themselves "If the party were not in charge, what would be the alternative?"
My guess is that it would be a very violent form of Chinese nationalism which would lash out against Taiwan independence supporters, Americans and the west in general. Fortunately, the party is in charge, and the party prevents this from happening.
If you have spent time on Quora following the topic of China, there are people who are Chinese nationalists, and you can see how deep this feeling runs in their postings. If it doesn't frighten you, then it should.
Many literature work written in classical Chinese are just beautiful and full of wisdom and simplification. When translated to modern Chinese, it just lost most of its beauty and wisdom and becomes complex. Got to learn some classical Chinese in order to understand the 5000 yrs of our culture.