- The written Chinese language used from the end of the Han Dynasty (220 CE) to the early 20th century. In Chinese, 文言 (“literary writing”).
- The written Chinese language used from the Zhou Dynasty (1045 BCE) (especially the Spring and Autumn Period), through to the end of the Han Dynasty (220 CE). In Chinese, 古文 (“Ancient Writing”). The language of many classics of Chinese literature.
- Written Chinese for this entire period, without distinction.
Sinologists distinguish between the language as used in antiquity (Classical Chinese), and the language used after the fall of the Han Dynasty (Literary Chinese), similar to the distinction between Classical Latin and Late Latin. In casual usage, these may be conflated.
This should not be confused with the literary register of Modern Chinese, meaning “modern Chinese words that are only used in writing”, or with archaic terms in Modern Chinese. (In the Pinyin Chinese-English dictionary, these usages notes are indicated by <书> and <旧>, respectively.)