Classical Chinese

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Classical Chinese is a written language that is based on Chinese as it was spoken in ancient times. It was standard for formal written communication until the 1920s. Knowledge of Classical Chinese was highly prized because it was tested by the Imperial Examinations. These examinations were used to select magistrates, called Mandarins. Classical Chinese was replaced by vernacular writing, or báihuà, which is based on the dialect of modern Beijing.

Classical Chinese
Chinese 文言文
In ancient times, written Chinese attempted to follow the spoken language of the time. This type of writing is referred to as gǔwén ("ancient writing"). In the late Han, earlier writing was adopted as the standard, so written language began to diverge from spoken language. This standardized form of writing is referred to as wényán wén ("written language"). By the thirteenth century, the spoken languages of North and South China had diverged. But written language remained uniform throughout China.