Translation of Chinese philosophical terminology is often one of the more vexed problems that we face. This is both because the interpretation and understanding of some of these terms is complicated (and controversial), and because it is rarely easy to choose a single word, or a short phrase, that readily expresses the meaning of a given term. Many potential translations carry inapt baggage with them; others can be misleading in other ways. Often we are urged to give up and leave a term romanized. I would agree that, depending on one’s specific goals, this can sometimes be the best choice, but of course to resort to it too often is to abandon the project of interpretation and translation.
Some terms have quite settled translations upon which most of us agree, like “way” for “dao 道” (notwithstanding Brook Ziporyn’s use of “course”) or “nature” for “xing 性” (notwithstanding the concerns expressed by Roger Ames and others). Other terms, like “ren 仁” and “li 理” have generated many translations and much, and on-going, debate.
I’d like to propose here that for one term, “xin 心,” we all should be able to agree on a single translation. There is little substantive disagreement about the meaning or interpretation of this term. Yet some use “mind,” others “heart,” others “heart-mind,” and still others “mind-heart.” Since choosing “mind” or “heart” is manifestly unsatisfactory—providing a partial and misleading sense of what the term means—and because the hyphenated compounds are awkward, we should all agree to use: (drumroll, please…) “heartmind.”
“Heartmind” is not (very) awkward, and it is easy to see that it is not the same as the Western concepts with which it should not be confused. I first encountered this translation in an essay by Tao Jiang; Jane Geaney’s On the Epistemology of the Senses in Early Chinese Thought uses it, as does Brian Bruya (at least some of the time). Probably others as well.
Why don’t we all use it, making things easy for readers and writers throughout the Anglophone world? One small step forward….