New Book: Zhuangzi: A New Translation of the Sayings of Master Zhuang as Interpreted by Guo Xiang

Richard John Lynn and Columbia University Press have released Zhuangzi: A New Translation of the Sayings of Master Zhuang as Interpreted by Guo Xiang.

“The Zhuangzi (Sayings of Master Zhuang) is one of the foundational texts of the Chinese philosophical tradition and the cornerstone of Daoist thought. The earliest and most influential commentary on the Zhuangzi is that of Guo Xiang (265–312), who also edited the text into the thirty-three-chapter version known ever since. Guo’s commentary enriches readings of the Zhuangzi, offering keen insights into the meaning and significance of its pithy but often ambiguous aphorisms, narratives, and parables. Richard John Lynn’s new translation of the Zhuangzi is the first to follow Guo’s commentary in its interpretive choices. Unlike any previous translation into any language, its guiding principle is how Guo read the text; Lynn renders the Zhuangzi in terms of Guo’s understanding. This approach allows for the full integration of the text of the Zhuangzi with Guo’s commentary. The book also features a translation of Guo’s complete interlinear commentary and is annotated throughout. A critical introduction includes a detailed account of Guo’s life and times as well as analysis of his essential contributions to the arcane learning (xuanxue) of the fourth century and the development of Chinese philosophy. Lynn sheds new light on how the Daoist classic, which has often been seen as a timeless book of wisdom, is situated in its historical context, while also considering it as a guide to personal cultivation and self-realization.”

9 thoughts on “New Book: Zhuangzi: A New Translation of the Sayings of Master Zhuang as Interpreted by Guo Xiang

  1. The “full integration of the text of the Zhuangzi with Guo’s commentary” is done by putting the Zhuangzi text in bold. I’m not sure this was the best approach. There is at least one place (the beginning of chapter 18) where Guo’s commentary on the first section is also in bold and looks like the Zhuangzi text. Hopefully, this is the only place this has happened.

    • A very helpful comment. If you find any more instances of this error I hope you will flag them up here.

    • Here are some errors, but I haven’t been systematically noting them:

      On p. 182: “It is when each person is allowed to trust to his own nature [renxing] that correctness is perfectly fulfilled. When one reads the text from this point on, what “perfect correctness” [zhizheng] means becomes readily apparent.” This is mistakenly presented as the Zhuangzi text, but it is actually from Guo’s commentary.

      On p. 183: The second 常然者 is untranslated.

      On pp. 194-195: 伯樂之罪也 is untranslated.

      On p. 320: 人 is translated as “Heaven”.

      On p. 336: It appears Lynn mistakenly read the gloss for 食醯 as that for 頤輅.

    • (I will be more diligent in noting them going forward, as I have been reading this quite closely with much enjoyment. There are also quite a few typological errors. For instance, on p. 309: “and, though it is not known when this has ever ceased yet, I am never full…” the second comma appears misplaced. On p. 333 the line numbered 18.5.9 leaves a quotation open. On p. 194 it reads “is try to [sic.] twist out of yokes and break out of harnesses”. In any event, hopefully this wonderful work marks a shift towards traditional readings of the Zhuangzi in the philosophical scholarship.)

  2. On p. 330: “Only after one has forgotten about being happy shall one’s joy be ample, and only after joy is ample shall one’s person be preserved [shencun].1 Should one act as if joy may be had? But perfect joy has nothing to do with being happy. Should one act as if joy may not be had? As such, one’s person is thereby preserved and one shall be free of worry.” This is also mistakenly presented as the Zhuangzi text, but it is actually from Guo’s commentary.

    • A follow up (“Worth the consideration of those to whom it may prove worth considering”): I have finished reading most of this against the Chinese. Apart from comparatively trivial errors of the sort mentioned above (errāre hūmānum est) , I have found no true howlers. (I will try to add my notes to his translation on TLS along with my translation of Cheng Xuanying’s 成玄英 subcommentary if/when I am free.) It is an amazing accomplishment that somebody managed to translate the 三玄 into English with their main 玄學 commentaries. The level of discipline involved in such a task is itself inspiring to lesser souls like myself.

      Hopefully Columbia releases bilingual editions.

    • One further thought: It is mind-boggling that others were able to read, digest, and write reviews on the work so quickly. It took me well over a year of intense concerted effort to read it against the Chinese and to form initial opinions.

  3. A minor error:

    “Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt that he was a butterfly, a butterfly happy as can be, and was himself fully aware [自喻] how well this suited his disposition!” (p. 52)

    Here, Lynn reads 喻 as “fully aware.” That’s a perfectly defensible rendering of the received version of the text itself! But insofar as he’s trying to translate the text as Guo Xiang would interpret it, it should be something like “happy with himself.” In Guo’s comment, he paraphrases 自喻 as 自快, suggesting that Guo reads the character 喻 as 愉.

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