A Tidytext Analysis of 3 Chinese Classics

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For a long time I’ve admired the tidytext package and its wonderful companion book Text Mining with R. After reading it I thought, “Why not undertake a project of Chinese text analysis?” I am deeply interested in Chinese philosophy but I decided to keep the analysis narrow by selecting just three works – The Analects, Zhuangzi, and the Mozi.

Following similar pace with Tidytext, I first download my data. Here I use my package ctextclassics and specifically, the function get_books(c(...)). But I want to point out the API limit is very low and I had to download my books between two different days. For information on ctextclassics, check out my previous post or type install_github("Jjohn987/ctextclassics")


my_classics <- read_csv("~/Desktop/anything_data/content/post/my_classics.csv")

With any text analysis, tokenizing the text and filtering out stop words is fundamental. Tidytext segments English quite naturally, considering words are easily separated by spaces. However, I’m not so sure how it performs with Chinese characters.

There are specific segementers for Chinese text – one main tool is jiebaR, which is also included in the tmcn package.

However, when comparing the two methods, I noticed that JiebaR segments text in a way most suitable for modern Chinese (Mostly 2 character words). Since I’m dealing with classical Chinese here, Tidytext’s one character segmentaions are more preferable.

tidytext_segmented <- my_classics %>% 
  unnest_tokens(word, word)

For dealing with stopwords, JiebaR offers a useful stopword list, but obviously more should be added since we’re dealing with classical Chinese. Many of the words I added are amorphous grammar particles, but there’s other low value phrases amongst these works such as “子曰” (“The Master said”), “天下” (Tian Xia, a common but amorphous concept roughly meaning a country, realm, or the world), and more.

Let’s filter out those words and make 2 data frames – word frequencies for each book and each chapter.

stopwordsCN <- data.frame(word = c(tmcn::stopwordsCN(),
"子曰", "曰", "於", "則","吾", "子", "不", "無", "斯","與", "為", "必",
"使", "非","天下", "以為","上", "下", "人", "天", "不可", "謂", "是以",
"而不", "皆", "不亦", "乎", "之", "而", "者", "本", "與", "吾", "則",
"以", "其", "為", "不以", "不可", "也", "矣", "子", "由", "子曰", "曰",
"非其", "於", "不能", "如", "斯", "然", "君", "亦", "言", "聞", "今",
"君", "不知", "无"))

## Add a column that converts traditional Chinese to simplified Chinese
## Count words by book, then word frequency to account for different book lengths. 

counts_by_book <- tidytext_segmented %>%
  ungroup() %>%
  mutate(simplified = tmcn::toTrad(word, rev = TRUE), pinyin = tmcn::toPinyin(word)) %>%
  anti_join(stopwordsCN) %>%
  count(book, word, pinyin, simplified) %>%
  group_by(book) %>%
  mutate(word_freq = `n`/sum(`n`)) %>%
  arrange(-n) %>%

## Warning: Column `word` joining character vector and factor, coercing into
## character vector

Now let’s do the familiar ritual of examining the top 10 words in each book (e.g, counts_by_book) and plot them.

book_top_words <- counts_by_book %>%
  ungroup() %>%
  group_by(book) %>%
  top_n(10) %>%

##format the above dataframe for a pretty display with kable
formatted_words <- book_top_words %>%
  group_by(book) %>%
  transmute(word, simplified, n, word_freq, order = 1:n()) %>%
  arrange(book, -word_freq) %>%

##Set format for kable 
options(knitr.table.format = "html") 

knitr::kable(formatted_words) %>%
  kableExtra::kable_styling(font_size = 15, full_width = T) %>% kableExtra::row_spec(1:10, color = "white", background = "#232528") %>% kableExtra::row_spec(11:20, color = "white", background = "#6A656B") %>% kableExtra::row_spec(21:30, color = "white", background = "#454d4c") %>%
kableExtra::row_spec(0, bold = F, color = "black", background = "white")  %>% kableExtra::scroll_box(width = "100%", height = "350px")

book word simplified n word_freq
analects 110 0.0154321
analects 君子 君子 108 0.0151515
analects 76 0.0106622
analects 孔子 孔子 68 0.0095398
analects 57 0.0079966
analects 54 0.0075758
analects 52 0.0072952
analects 51 0.0071549
analects 45 0.0063131
analects 子貢 子贡 44 0.0061728
mozi 257 0.0068141
mozi 229 0.0060717
mozi 227 0.0060187
mozi 207 0.0054884
mozi 200 0.0053028
mozi 197 0.0052232
mozi 192 0.0050907
mozi 190 0.0050376
mozi 189 0.0050111
mozi 175 0.0046399
zhuangzi 313 0.0099356
zhuangzi 302 0.0095864
zhuangzi 222 0.0070469
zhuangzi 217 0.0068882
zhuangzi 204 0.0064756
zhuangzi 176 0.0055868
zhuangzi 165 0.0052376
zhuangzi 164 0.0052059
zhuangzi 164 0.0052059
zhuangzi 142 0.0045075

So far so good – these results are very intuitive. Of course, plotting them can accomplish this in even greater detail. Let’s plot the top 10 words and their respective frequencies from each of these texts, in calligraphy inspired colors!

ink_colors <- rev(c("ivory", "#454d4c", "#6A656B", "#232528"))

ggplot(book_top_words, aes(x = reorder(word, word_freq), y = word_freq, fill = book)) +
  geom_col(show.legend = FALSE) + 
  geom_text(aes(label = pinyin), color = "white", position = position_stack(vjust = 0.5)) + 
  facet_wrap(~book, scales = "free", labeller = labeller(labels)) + 
  coord_flip() +
  scale_fill_manual(values = ink_colors) +
  theme_dark(base_family= "HiraKakuProN-W3") + 
  theme(axis.text.x = element_text(color = "#232528", angle = 90)) +
  theme(axis.text.y = element_text(color = "#232528", size = 15)) +
  theme(panel.background = element_rect(fill = "#87969B"), plot.background = element_rect(fill = "ivory"), panel.grid.major = element_blank(), panel.grid.minor = element_blank()) + 
  labs(x = NULL, y = NULL) +
  ggtitle("Word Frequencies") +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(size = 20, color = "#232528", hjust = 0.5))


In this post, I…

  • Used ctextclassics to download classic Chinese texts
  • Split the text into character tokens of 1
  • Filtered out common stop words
  • Grouped the data by book and word, calculating total words and word frequencies
  • Made a (calligraphy inspired) bar plot of the top 10 most frequent words in each text.


These word frequencies are very pleasing!

The Analects has prevalant usage of words such as “Benevolence” (仁), “Gentleman” (君子) and “Confucius” (孔子). (I capitalize these terms to show they are uniquely different from contemporary English equivalents.)

The Zhuangzi, a Taoist text, mentions cosmological concepts such as the Tao(道), morality (德), and evil(邪).

The Mozi seems to have terms that are mostly civic related, such as country (国), citizen (民) and govern(治).

These frequencies do a good job of capturing the context of the works – e.g., regarding the Analects, Benevolence and the Gentleman are often mentioned – one examplary sentence may be:

“君子而不仁者有矣夫。未有小人而仁者也.” My own (shorthand) translation:

Of Gentlemen, there are some who do not possess Benevolence; but of Villians, there is not a single one that possesses it.

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