Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Huainanzi Translation and Some Questions about Translation

I’m informed by the publicity editor for Columbia University Press that the new Huainanzi translation is out and that the translators are available to write something about it on this blog or to be interviewed. I’m not sure what kinds of things we might have them address as of yet since very few, if any, of us has had a chance to look at the volume. Any thoughts?

I did have a related set of questions about backgrounds of translators in general, ones that are relevant not only to our specialization but to others, which occurred to me in this context. Most ancient texts that interest philosophers tend to have been translated, at least into English, by non-philosophers — that is, by specialists who have specialized training in other fields than philosophy. That’s probably more the case with ancient Chinese texts than with, say, ancient Greek or Sanskrit texts — though I might be wrong in the Sanskrit case (anyone out there know?). So, for example, here is the list of translators for the Huainanzi:

John S. Major, formerly professor of history at Dartmouth College, is an independent scholar and writer. He is the author of Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought: Chapters Three, Four, and Five of the Huainanzi and the author, coauthor, or editor of almost thirty other books, including Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China.

Sarah A. Queen, professor of history at Connecticut College, is the author of From Chronicle to Canon: The Hermeneutics of the Spring and Autumn, According to Tung Chung-shu. Her current work includes a translation and study of the Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn (with John S. Major) and an edited volume, Liu An’s Vision of Empire: New Perspectives on the Huainanzi (with Michael Puett).

Andrew Seth Meyer, assistant professor of history at Brooklyn College, is the author of several articles, including “The Sunzi bingfa as History and Theory.” His current projects are To Rule All Under Heaven, a history of the Warring States period (481-221 B.C.E.), and a translation of the Wenzi (with Harold D. Roth).

Harold D. Roth, professor of religious studies and East Asian studies at Brown University, is the author or editor of four books and more than forty scholarly articles. His books include The Textual History of the Huai-nan tzu and Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism.

Michael Puett, professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, is the author, most recently, of Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity.

Judson Murray, assistant professor of religion at Wright State University, is the author of “A Study of ‘Yaolue,’ ‘A Summary of the Essentials’: Understanding the Huainanzi Through the Point of View of the Author of the Postface.”

All very reputable scholars, but none, as far as I’m aware, trained in philosophical enquiry and/or analysis. My principal question is: Does that matter?

Of course, for people who are trained in Classical Chinese and have the original texts available to them, the question may not apply. But since translation is at issue here, the remaining situation, that of those who aren’t so trained and hence rely upon translations to discover, consume, and analyze the text, is the situation to which the question applies. Further, since my question is about philosophical training, the question might only apply to philosophers who need to rely on translations.

One thought I have is that there’s no patently obvious “self-branding” of a text as a philosophical one, so I’m not wondering here whether philosophers are best translated by philosophers. It’s rather that if one is involved in the philosopher’s trade, would it be better, worse, or about the same for a translation of a text that one is interested in, to have been done by someone with philosophical training?

One possible answer to this is that since there weren’t self-identified philosophers in early China — is that an acceptable assumption? — then it’s not as if non-philosophers are translating philosophers; they’re just translating early Chinese writers. And if the text strikes someone as philosophically interesting, it doesn’t matter who translated it since there isn’t anything intended by the authors to be understood with philosophically particular meaning in the text anyway. Apart from that answer, I haven’t had a chance to ponder much further. Maybe we could discuss this here.

April 23rd, 2010 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Huainanzi, Translation | 34 comments

34 Responses to Huainanzi Translation and Some Questions about Translation

  1. John Major says:

    As one of the co-translators of the Huainanzi, I’m delighted of course to have it noticed. As for the text being translated by non-philosophers, I’m inclined to the view expressed above — its authors were not self-identified as philosophers (there was no such word in Han China, nor for long thereafter), and the text is not patently a philosophical one. My own approach is that of intellectual history, but of course I can well imagine a professional philosopher finding things in the text that I miss. I would hope that the translation itself is transparent enough to allow that.
    There are not so many people in early China studies with formal training in philosophy; Roger Ames, Henry Rosemont, and Chad Hansen come to mind quickly, but then one has to pause to think of many others. So many early works will continue to be translated by non-philosophers, faute de mieux.

  2. John Emerson says:

    The first thing I thought when I saw that HNT was being published in translation was that now practically all of the classic philosophical texts are available in modern versions. The exceptions I can think of are the Li Ji and others books on li, which as far as I know only exist on old translations, but to me they’re of relatively lesser value though I’m sure that there are those who disagree.

    The second thing I thought is that probably someone will have to crossreference all the translations in terms of how they handle key terms like zheng, de, tao, yi, etc., etc., to say nothing of less familiar terms that are of key significance in only a few passages.

    In terms of the non-philosophical translators, that’s of less importance because the Chinese texts don’t fit neatly into philosophy as defined in our time, though they overlap. So the problem is really in developing an English-language vocabulary and/or glossary of Chinese terminology and a philosophical way of approaching them.

  3. John Major says:

    For exactly that reason we were careful to include in the HNZ translation a lengthy appendix explaining how we translated technical terms, and why. This will, we hope, facilitate the cross-textual comparison that John Emerson mentions.

  4. Manyul Im says:

    Thanks for the responses, gentlemen. Lengthy appendices are always welcome, as far as I’m concerned!

    One slightly random thought: I’ve always wanted there to be something like a Loeb Classical Library series for Chinese texts, with Chinese on one side and a translation on the other. I think Legge was thinking this way in his volumes, but an updated series would be fantastic for those who are philosophers first and sinologists second, particularly for graduate and advanced undergraduate students. There’s also an out of print Dubs volume of Xunzi like this, I think.

    • Yong Huang says:

      Just in response to Manyul’s question regarding a Loeb Classical Library series of Chinese texts, there is a Librarary of Chinese Classics, which is bilingual. Many volumes have been published. Although it is published by the Foreign Language Press in China, many translators are native English speakers. For example,for the volume of Xunzi, they simply used Knoblock’s translation; for Analects, they used Arthur Waley’s translation.

    • Manyul Im says:

      Thanks Yong Huang. However, I was under the impression that in that series, the works in classical prose were first translated into modern Chinese, and then into English. So what you get in the volume is a modern Chinese translation on one side and an English translation on the other. That would be like modern Greek translations of, say, Aristotle instead of the original text, along with English translation — not really what I had in mind. Someone please correct me if that’s wrong.

      • Bill Haines says:

        Actually you get both ancient and modern Chinese on the left (both in simplified characters), and English on the right. The English in the Xunxi volume is by Knoblock.

        • Manyul Im says:

          Yikes; that means I have to learn simplified characters. I guess that’s good for my soul.

  5. Bill Haines says:

    Oh, Yong Huang already said that.

  6. John Major says:

    I am all in favor of having Chinese and English on facing pages, but with the Huainanzi that was not feasible. With English translation alone, no facing-page Chinese, the book is just over 1000 pages; including the Chinese text would have forced the book to be divided into two volumes — economically impossible.
    The University of Washington Press is, however, planning a Chinese Classics series in just that format, edited by Andy Plaks and Michael Nylan. Several volumes are said to be nearing completion. Sarah Queen and I are working on a translation of the Chunqiu fanlu for that series. The Chinese text for that (and I think for the other volumes in the series) will be D. C. Lau’s Concordance text. (In the case of the Chunqiu fanlu we will also make extensive reference to Su Yu’s modern edition.)

  7. Andrew Meyer says:

    John alerted the rest of the translation team to your discussion. I am likewise very pleased to see some notice of our work. I think it is fair to say that almost all of us were trained as intellectual historians (with the possible exception of Hal Roth, whose training was in Religious Studies). I am inclined to believe that our training was well-suited to the task of translation, in that translation inevitably entails an attempt to reconstruct the meaning of a text in the social and cultural context of its time. I hope the translation will prove useful to comparative philosophers. Philosophers might, indeed, make different translation choices than we did, but I think our work will provide them with leverage to apply their own hermeneutic perspective.

  8. Manyul Im says:

    Just a quick comment apropos D.C. Lau’s passing. He and Wing-tsit Chan were probably the two most influential translators of Chinese philosophy into English for the past 50 years. They both studied philosophy abroad, as well as having studied Chinese classics in Hong Kong and China, respectively. Between them and Fung Yulan, an entire generation of philosophy undergrads were introduced to thinking of early China as “having philosophy.”

  9. Joel Dietz says:

    Great news! Can’t wait to take a careful look.

  10. Robert Duclos says:

    Good evening…
    I am certainly a layman in this group, but I have purchased the recent english Huainanzi tranlation. I am about 75% thru the book and find it to be a fantstic piece of work. The scope and comprehensiveness of the subject matter makes me feel like I am reading an ancient encyclopedia of proper human thought and conduct. What I find truly amazing is the level of complexity of human thought and intelligence at that period of time. What I find to be most compelling is that most of the principles of conduct desscribed in the book are applicable to everyday life in modern times. The best one word description I have for this book is “elegant”. I find it to have a good balance of direct and thought provoking text compared some more esoteric books that are hard to understand the true meaning of the authors.

    I am an Engineer by day, but in reading this book, one quickly can see that the authors have gone to painstaking detail in capturing the most accurate meaning of this text thru references, other sources, introduction to each sections, etc. I feel this is an invaluable addition to my library and will certainly re-read it many times to keep me centered.

    Given the scope of this book, it would be interesting to hear how the authors tackled such a huge project. It must have been an exhausting effort. Well done.


  11. John Major says:

    Well, obviously Robert Duclos’s comment is music to my ears. Thank you, kind sir!
    The project took almost fifteen years — Hal Roth and I started working on the Huainanzi translation in the mid-1990s, and Sarah Queen and Andy Meyer joined the team a few years later. Our work was certainly painstaking. One technique for collaborative translation that we found to be especially effective, and which I recommend to others, was to check the work orally. Once we had reached the stage where translations had been completed in draft, shared with the entire team, commented upon, and had revisions incorporated, then, at our periodic team meetings, one of us would read the draft chapters aloud while the others followed along with the Chinese text. This allowed us to find and immediately correct errors and inconsistencies. We went through the entire text this way, over time. It took many, many hours, but I think the results made the effort worthwhile.

  12. I don’t have any questions about the book really. I’ve been really looking forward to this book. I haven’t had the time to read the whole thing, but what I have read is really good. Great layout also. John Major, Hal Roth and Sarah Queen would have been on my list if I were to pick my own translators. (Sorry Andrew, I hadn’t heard of you before this book. I am looking forward to the two projects Manyul mentioned you are working on.) I too would have liked to see the Chinese text, but, as John mentioned, the book would’ve been about another 1000 pages. I have the CHANT Huainanzi text, but not divided into the sections in the book. If anyone had that, I would appreciate a copy, as that would make it very easy to look up passages. John?

    John Emerson mentioned that all of the classic philosophical texts have modern translations now, which is mostly true, athough I’d like to see new translations of Zuozhuan, Hanfeizi and the Shangshu, which I think are in the works. The Chunqiu Fanlu is also in the works.

    In the acknowledgements section, something Sarah Queen wrote made me smile: “She offers a special thanks to Benjamin and Thomas for understanding their mother’s seemingly insatiable penchant to get lost in early Chinese texts.” As well as Andrew Meyer, who thanked his daughter “who was very patient while mommy and daddy peered at rows of Chinese writing.” I don’t have any children, but if and when I publish something, I’ll have to make similar acknowledgments to my girfriend and friends.

  13. John Major says:

    We spent a lot of time on sectioning the text; it is one way of getting the content right. And it is an interesting exercize in Classical Chinese; often there are grammatical markers that can be used as guides for sectioning, but sometimes not (and it becomes a judgment call based on content).
    We’ve keyed our translation by chapter, page, and line to the D. C. Lau Concordance to the Huainanzi, so if you have access to that, it is very easy to look up passages in the Chinese text. I agree that it would be great if someone would insert our section numbers into the CHANT text (but not me — I’m too busy working on the Chunqiu fanlu translation with Sarah Queen). Any public-spirited volunteers among the Huainanzi readership?

  14. John Louton says:

    This discussion is very interesting to me. In the mid-1970s, I was in a seminar on Aristotle’s philosophy at the Univ. of Wash. I was there because I was studying Chinese thought in the Asian Langs. Dept. at the UW with Hsu Dao-lin. He insisted I study Greek, Latin and early Western philosophy on the grounds that, “…if you don’t know your own tradition, you’ll never understand China.” At one point in the Aristotle seminar, I suggested Aristotle might have viewed cosmos and chaos as a necessary pair that struggle back and forth to achieve a balance. The prof looked at me for a moment and said, “When you come through that door, please leave that Chinese crap out in the hall.”

    John Louton

  15. To John Major,

    I had a question about Xing and De in chapter 3. Unfortunately I don’t have your email address. Reading about how Xing and De move around in the sky, to the 7 habitations, what are they exactly? Are they “calendrical spirits,” as Mark Kalinowski has called them in his article in Early China 20?

  16. John Major says:

    Hi, Scott,

    I suppose if one wanted to personify xing and de (in HNZ 3), one could call them “calendrical spirits,” but I’m not sure that’s necessary. In the text they function as natural forces, governing the accumulation of yang qi during the spring and summer, and its paring-away during the fall and winter. (That’s why, in this context, I translate them with the special terms “recision” (for xing) and “accretion” (for de). Another way of thinking about xing and de in this context is as a metaphor for, or a visualization of, the process itself of accumulation and paring-away of yang qi. One might characterize them as part of the tian ji, “mechanism of heaven,” a term that appears several times in the HNZ that seems to denote large-scale natural processes, or the force that governs them.

    • Thanks for the quick reply. I think “natural forces” works well, perhaps like the benefic force/energy (生氣) and malefic force/energy (殺氣) mentioned in the Lüshi Chunqiu? However, thinking only in terms of Yangqi 陽氣 kind of ignores Xing’s connection with Yinqi 陰氣 which is affirmed in the Huangdi Sijing, Guanzi Sishi and Chunqiu Fanlu. (HNZ 3 similarly mentions 日為德,月為刑.) In a way, Xing could be the accretion of Yinqi, yes?

      • John Major says:

        Hi, Scott,

        Well, of course yang always implies yin; the two are reciprocal, complementary, and inextricably paired. But I think this xing-de formulation refers explictly to yang, with the role of yin being implicit. De 德 is cognate to de 得, “obtain”; hence the meaning here of “to accumulate” or “accretion”; it refers to the waxing of yang in the spring-summer half of the year. Xing 刑 with the “knife” radical overtly refers to trimming or paring (which is why in some other contexts it means “corporal punishment), hence “recision”; it refers to the waning of yang in the fall-winter half of the year. Implicit, but only implicit, in this scheme is the role of yin, shrinking in area when yang is waxing, and expanding again when yang is waning, always filling up whatever lacuna there is in the totality of qi matter/energy. Where yang is, yin is not; where yang is not, yin is. So I would say that xing implies and entails the accretion of yin qi, but overtly it refers to the recision of yang.

  17. peony says:

    Manyul, wish you would make announcements on facebook to entice the female readership (ie, me) when you get new posts up…. I missed this. Just wanted to echo Mr, Emerson’s opinion. I think a philosophy background, particular European philosophy background, would be near irrelevant to the task. The best background a translator could have for a job like this I would think is a very very thorough background in Chinese language 1st and 2nd primary sources–including contemporary 2ndary sources. They could have an overview of English languages approaches but for a translation sticking to Chinese sources and more the commentaries would be the best way to approach and undertake the project.

    Bilingual versions would be ideal… but it ain’t gonna happen, is it?

    • Manyul Im says:

      Actually, I did! (I guess my facebook wall cycles through too quickly because of the fantastically exciting life I lead in 吾黨…)

      Do you really think European philosophy background would be that irrelevant? It depends on the task; also, the background in Chinese sources you rightly mention is compatible with that. I think I’m of two minds here. Despite what I say in the main post, maybe in the philosopher’s best of all possible worlds, the translator would have both backgrounds. Take D.C. Lau or Wing-tsit Chan, for example — or Chad Hansen more recently. Or, the folks who’ve done the Hackett Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. What useful thing does the philosophical training add to their translations? I guess that’s hard to say — sometimes I don’t like the “intrusion” of a philosophical interpretation creeping into the translation. But it might be helpful in some instances — particularly with a term like dao 道, which has had a translated life in English already as “The Way.” A philosophical interpretation like Hansen’s might be more circumspect about adherence to that. Brook Ziporyn, who does not have his degree in Philosophy, but whose (modern, Western) philosophical temperament I know from personal acquaintance in grad school, also does something interesting in his Zhuangzi translation with dao, translating it as “courses.” So, there may be ways of thinking about the texts that are encouraged or made available by such translators, that someone without a strong philosophically interpretive agenda to push might choose to avoid.

  18. Steve Angle says:

    I’ve been following this thread with interest, and some simmering thoughts have been brought to a boil by the most recent few posts. (Bad metaphor, probably, as it makes me sound angry. Far from it!)

    Three things that a philosophical training MIGHT offer are: (1) A greater sensitivity to what certain English words that might be used in a translation mean to others with philosophical background. For example, it might seem idiomatic English to say that such-and-such gives one a “right” to so-and-so, when a philosopher might not think that “rights” are actually involved, and thus avoid such a translational choice. Many of us think that Watson’s translations, for example, suffer from such problems — notwithstanding their many merits.

    (2) A greater sensitivity to structures of reasoning within the text being translated. These might be structures of reasoning that resemble explicitly codified types of reasoning recognized in the Western tradition, or they might be distinctive structures codified by (e.g.) Mohists. It might turn out to be important to translate the text in such a way that these structures of reasoning are clear to the reader.

    (3) A greater sensitivity to issues that resonate with themes in other philosophical traditions, and/or issues that will be of interest to those whose home is in other philosophical traditions. Having noticed such themes or issues, the translator can then call attention to them in the translation itself (perhaps), or else use other fora (introduction, journal article, etc.) to bring them to the attention of interested audiences.

    Two caveats. First, all I’m saying is that formal philosophical training “might” lead to a “greater” sensitivity to these things. It is neither necessary (non-philosophers could do all the above, in principle) nor sufficient (D. C. Lau himself inaptly uses “right” in Mencius 2B8). Second, and more important, we should be VERY cautious about the role of a “strong philosophically interpretive agenda” in guiding translation. I see what Manyul means about Hansen or Ziporyn: a strong interpretive stance might uncover possibilities we miss otherwise. This is worth more discussion. But in the context of this thread, what is more salient to me is the way that an insistence on Western philosophical categories as primary — hardly Hansen or Ziporyn’s problem, of course — can lead to major difficulties, and in fact did so with Feng Youlan.

    • Andrew Meyer says:

      Counterfactuals always sketch out tricky terrain. I know you are speaking in the abstract here, Steven, and not about our translation in particular (I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look at it). I’d just like to chime in that while you may be right, a trained philosopher *might* be more sensitive than our group with respect to these issues, I’d have to assert (with all due confession of bias) that the gains would be pretty marginal. As intellectual historians we may not be engaged in philosophisizing per se, but we are all well-read in the history of philosophy and were highly sensitive to the philosophical connotations of English words. We spent long hours in deliberation as a team over the “mot juste” to convey the closest approximation of the significance of a term within both the thought of the HNZ and the larger discourses in which it was implicated while introducing minimal “distortion” due to accrued meanings from English usage. Moreover, out of concern for precisely the issues you raise, we included a lengthy appendix at the back to further clarify our translation decisions and the logical and rhetorical content of specific terms within the text as a whole. I will eat my hat if we let anything about someone “having a right” to do something slip in to the translation.

      As to “structures of reasoning” within the text, both “Chinese” and “universal,” we devoted a great deal of time to structuring the translation in such a way as to make these as apparent in English as they would have been in the original Chinese. The more we worked on the HNZ, the more we perceived that it was a very elegant and deliberate text that deployed quite sophisticated arguments in support of a coherent world view, and we worked hard to do justice to this aspects of its design. Our decision to format the text to distinguish between verse, parallel prose, and block prose was key to highlighting the logical and rhetorical devices embedded in the text. In sectioning each chapter we strove to draw boundaries intrinsic to the logical and polemical design of the text itself- to present one discrete “argument” as a chapter section.

      We also gave a great deal of thought to the generic conventions informing the structure of each chapter and the ways in which different kinds of reasoning and writing are diplayed in different sections of the text. Sarah Queen’s brilliant analysis of Chapte 14, “Sayings Explained,” and her lucid formatting of the chapter on the basis of the conventional principles she discovered is perhaps the best example of how this kind of attention to structures of reasoning can vastly amplify a reader’s access to the meaning of the text. Another example was Martin Kern’s discovery, which was incorporated into our final draft of the manuscript, that Chapter 21, “An Overview of the Essentials,” is structured according to the generic conventions of a fu rhyme-prose piece, demonstrating the ways in which logical, rhetorical, and aesthetic expressions are all deployed in tandem within the framework of the HNZ as a whole.

      Finally, we devoted a great deal of time to examining the state of reasoned discourse in Warring States and Han China and parsing out the logical and rhetorical significance of different terms, passages, and literary expressions. If you read the introductions to Chapters 16 and 17 (among many other portions of the translation), for example, you will see that we devoted a great deal of thought to both the form and content of argumentation in early China and the different kinds of reasoning that were undertaken in different venues and different media at the time.

      Sorry to run on at such great length. If this comment makes me appear hypersensitive I hope you will understand.

      • Steve Angle says:

        Hi Andrew,

        Thanks for these reflections and details. As you rightly suggest at the beginning, my thoughts were not at all meant to say that the HNZ team fell short in any of the three areas I mentioned, nor that a different group, full of card-carrying philosophers, would have done better. Not at all! I have not yet read the translation, but have every expectation that it will be of the highest quality.

        Whether or not my thoughts have any abstract value in their own right, at least I can say that they highlighted significant dimensions of the translational work that your team did!

        • Andrew Meyer says:

          Thanks for the encouraging sentiments, Steve. You did indeed underscore some of the chief concerns that animated our project. Moreover, your third area, that of “resonance with other [non-ancient Chinese] philosophical traditions,” was in fact low on our agenda, given our emphasis on historical context. So our work inevitably invites further elaboration by philosophers like yourself working within the discipline. I only hope that we have provided genuine leverage that will facilitate those explorations.

  19. John Emerson says:

    On the question of technical philosophy background:

    Contemporary philosophy tends to dissect Western philosophy as defined around 1600 AD into discrete fields which are developed separately and only integrated later, if ever. Furthermore, the dominant tendency tends to put these parts in a hierarchy with logic, epistemology, and ontology at the top, and with scientific and mathematical or formal approachs preferred — or more than that, the scientization and formalization of philosophy set as the goal of philosophy.

    All of these approaches tend to make one ask whether Chinese philosophy is worth bothering with at all. You can cherry-pick the literature, or individual texts, and find passages which seem to be treatable that way, and that can be informative (e.g. Graham on later Mohism) but anyone reading Chinese philosophers starting from scratch will have to conclude that what was going on was a lot different than what was going on in contemporary Anglo-American-Scandinavian philosophy, at least. (But also different than post-Hegelo-Marxo-Freudian post-structualist philosophy, though less so).

    On the other hand, if “philosophy” included Bacon and Montaigne and Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and Ruysbroeck and so on, the communication would be better. But usually it doesn’t. (In my recent interactions with Anglo American philosophers I’ve found that Wittgenstein is being demoted, and Whitehead and William James are only precursors of Russell, who is a precursor himself. But these are some of the philosophers who do open to Chinese philosophy).

    One of the dissections of Western philosophy inimical to Chinese philosophy is the distinction between ethics and politics. For Confucians at least the ethics of personal cultivation is inextricable from a theory of the state and of political participation, and the theory of the state is inextricable from the ethic of personal cultivation. Furthermore, much of the discussion of ethics (deontic v. consequentialist v. emotive, etc.) is alien to Chinese philosophy and destructive of it.

    It makes more sense to me t start by learning Chinese philosophy first and then cherry-picking Western philosophers which can be put into communications (e.g., virtue ethics, but not trolley-car ethics.) Full professional competence in philosophy seems more likely to be an impediment to understanding of Chinese philosophy than an aid. (I still vividly remember a fully-caffeinated analytic philosopher rattling through his explanation of mysticism a few decades ago.)

    It’s not true, of course, that Chinese philosophy can only be understood in its own terms. But as far as I can tell, if Chinese philosophy is understood in terms id analytic philosophy, it’s not going to look very good. (Chad Hansen made a heroic effort, but I think he was off the mark. Fingarette ended up outside both analytic philosophy and professional Chinese philosophy).

  20. peony says:

    Hi Manyul,

    I can hardly believe I missed your facebook notification!! It must have been a fluke. Did you notice Mair’s blogpost on languagelog? I posted link on facebook for your perusal. But, yeah, I don’t imagine a philosophy background would be a huge help. I cannot, for example, imagine how a background in Western philosophy would help grasp the best English translation of 道。To my mind, like I said, a very very thorough background in language–being totally immersed in the historical and contemporary Chinese language commentaries would be the best possible tool for translating this stuff… In all things here & on facebook, I stand with Mr. Emmerson just above (in particular, I agree that a Western philosophy background might even be a hindrance– with the possible exception of existentialism and care ethics). You would know more than me, Manyul, but when I read this stuff, I almost never make mental use of my philosophy background and instead rely almost totally on Japanese language sources, which are hugely helpful. The neo-Confucian philosophy Jpse,english translation project that I was in the running for (I told you about it), they gave to someone else. That someone else was a PhD student at Harvard–in Chinese history. They made the right decision…I thought so.

  21. Steve Angle says:

    Over at the Frog in a Well blog, Alan Baumler has hosted some continued discussion with John Major of this Huainanzi translation, including a detailed and fascinating account of the way that the translators collaborated. Check it out:


  22. Scott says:

    Columbia University Press is having a sale. The Huainanzi is now available for $45.
    Here’s a link to Asian Philosophy titles on sale: cup.columbia.edu/sale/223

  23. Tracy Hickling says:

    hello all

    what a wonderful book, congratulations to all. in regards to writing from historical perspective versus philosophical. my thoughts are that if one were a daoist master, then the philosophical perspective would be far more relevant than a western philosopher interpreting the eastern perspective. but i would still prefer to have a historical text to study as well. i do so enjoy the purity of a historical background as i learn a lot about the foundation of the knowledge which enables me to see the root of the philosophical meaning thus developing my own understanding without being instructed as how i should understand it. i come from an alternative medicine, martial arts and qigong background so i need the pure historical perspective as it provides the big picture that i cant acquire myself. hope i am making sense and not waffling.

    warm regards



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