Friday, December 29, 2006

Translations of the Zhouyi

Sometimes when we already have a precious gem (in this case, the Wilhelm translation) at home instead of enjoying and earnestly studying it, we try to mine for or produce another. Some Yi aficionados apparently do not see the great wealth and wisdoms contained in the Wilhelm translation.

At Hilary’s Answers blog, one’s attention was drawn to yet another English translation of the Zhouyi, this time rendered possibly by a professor of Shandong University, China, involved in teaching the Zhouyi and Ancient Chinese Philosophy. (The translation can be accessed through the Answers blog.) After briefly running through the translation – with no commentary -, it appears that the translation can be improved upon.

If we compare his translation to Wilhelm’s, the Chinese professor has left out important Daoist and Confucian messages in some judgments and lines of the hexagrams. (For example, the second line of Hexagram 2 Kun and the Judgment of Hexagram 24 Fu.) With different nuances used, earnest students will not discern from the translation where renowned Neo Daoists and Confucians like Chen Tuan, Shao Yong, Chou Tun-I, and Zhu Xi probably drew their inspirations for the Wu Qi, Tai Qi and deeper implications of the Zhouyi made available by Wilhelm and Baynes in theirs.

At best, the translation is suitable for those who just want to divine. And for Yi scholars to compare notes on why the Zhouyi was translated this way and not that – one leaves it to the scholars to examine the nuances and why some translated lines had referred to ancient tribes.

With the benefit of reading past reviews by Joel Biroco (Steve Marshall) of numerous English translations of the Zhouyi, one can only make a suggestion to those who are keen to render their own translation from the Classical Chinese.

Spend a decade reading the four Confucian books and five classics - which include the Book of Changes. Then spend another decade understanding them and the ten wings. Read some Daoist classics like the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi in between or later. Unless you happen to be as wise as Wang Bi, you may need those two or three decades of related studies before you know ‘one or two’ about the Zhouyi. (Think about the lifelong studies and efforts of Legge and Wilhelm.) If you do not cultivate, contemplate and/or meditate, perhaps you could miss the deeper implications of this great classic. (Think of the renowned Neo Daoists and Confucians.)

When you know a thing or two about the Zhouyi and hopefully your knowledge of Classical Chinese is as good as the professor of Shandong University, find a foremost scholar in ancient Chinese philosophy as a guide and mentor just like Legge and Wilhelm did, before you proceed to translate the Yi. Otherwise you may still not have adequate knowledge to produce an above average translation of the Zhouyi.

Great wisdoms are contained in the Zhouyi, if you mistranslate like so many translators before you, not only will it mislead others and self, it may also show that you are not earnest and sincere, no matter what qualifications you hold. Do not emulate the new age translators out to make a fast buck or to gain some fame. It may not be worth the effort.

Students faithful to the Wilhelm translation will not go far wrong in their Yi studies. The Zhouyi was explained in great detail to Wilhelm by his teacher, Lao Nai-hsuan, a foremost Chinese scholar of ancient philosophy. In reading Wilhelm’s commentary, Yi students may also learn from the wisdoms and deep insights on Chinese culture shared by both teacher and student.

If you are unable to understand the deeper meanings of each line, image and judgment, do not lay the blame on Wilhelm or Baynes. It is most likely your own flawed perspectives. Since Steve Marshall, Harmen Mesker, and Sam Crane who occasionally use the Wilhelm translation had shown time and time again that they know a thing or two about the Zhouyi. It is quite obvious that these three gentlemen have also read the four Confucian books, the five classics, and some Daoist classics/texts; therefore my suggested readings.

However, this does not say that there are no minor flaws in the W/B translation. Which polished diamond is perfect?

Even Wang Bi and Zhu Xi may have made some mistakes in their (published and paraphrased) understanding of the Yi and Tao. If you could not discern it, how would I know?

Happy New Year!


Luis Andrade said...

Hi Allan, long time no talk to you but I always read your blog. I hope you don't mind but I translated your post into Spanish for the E-Ching forum (similar to Clarity for the Spanish). Since I was the one that contributed the link to Clarity about the Shandong University, and I agree with your assessment, I find it is a good note to share.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

Luis Andrade

Allan said...

Hi Luis

Yes, long time no talk! Actually for a brief moment there, I had wanted to tag you too but thought otherwise since we had no opportunity to speak to each other since 2003.
Thank you for listing those interesting articles on the Zhouyi – it had been difficult for me to access them at the Center for Zhouyi & Ancient Chinese Philosophy.
Since Goggle has already translated some of my posts into a few foreign languages for the benefit of sharing with those who cannot read English, one would be pleased if you could do the same for our Yi friends in the Spanish forum.
Regards and
Happy New Year to you too!