A judging panel comprising Brian Nelson, Mabel Lee and Peter Doyle said Minford’s work ‘bids fair to become the definitive translation of this primary Chinese classic’.
‘An imposing example of the translator-scholar as cultural intermediary, it is both a tour de force of scholarship and a distinguished literary achievement,’ said the judges. ‘Minford adopts a thoughtful, original, flexible approach to the challenges of his task as translator, offering a significantly new interpretation of a piece of major world literature.’
The two latest translations of the I Ching couldn’t be more unalike; they are a complementary yin and yang of approaches. John Minford is a scholar best known for his work on the magnificent five-volume translation of The Story of the Stone … His I Ching, obviously the result of many years of study, is over eight hundred pages long, much of it in small type, and encyclopedic … It is a tour de force of erudition, almost a microcosm of Chinese civilization, much as the I Ching itself was traditionally seen.
David Hinton is, with Arthur Waley and Burton Watson, the rare example of a literary Sinologist—that is, a classical scholar thoroughly conversant with, and connected to, contemporary literature in English … Hinton’s I Ching is equally inventive. It is quite short, with only two pages allotted to each hexagram … Rather than consulted, it is meant to be read cover to cover, like a book of modern poetry—though it should be quickly said that this is very much a translation, and not an “imitation” or a postmodern elaboration.
And here’s how it ends:
One could say that the I Ching is a mirror of one’s own concerns or expectations. But it’s like one of the bronze mirrors from the Shang dynasty, now covered in a dark blue-green patina so that it doesn’t reflect at all … In the I Ching, the same word means both “war prisoner” and “sincerity.” There is no book that has gone through as many changes as the Book of Change.
the I Chingis not simply a single book, written in one place and time and one author and unchanging thereafter. Rather it should be seen as a collaborative work, a palimpsest, with layers of meaning having built up over centuries, added by those generations of readers who have consulted it.
Countless commentaries have been written on the I Ching; some, such as the early texts known as the “Ten Wings”, have become an intrinsic part of the overall work. Minford adds to these a digest of more recent Chinese commentaries along with his own observations …
John Minford has, however, endeavoured to keep the presentation of the text as straightforward as possible, avoiding the cluttering of footnotes or other citations. The interpretations of those commentators to which he repeatedly refers tend to clarify rather than obfuscate. This is a translation intended to provide a clear and readable version of the text, and to open to all the elliptical musings of this profoundly influential text—to be considered, according to Minford, as “the Chinese book.”
I recently asked some school kids, “If you had the opportunity to go to China today, what do you think you would see?” One of the students said there would be a lot of lanterns everywhere, a lot of red, and a lot of dragons. I thought, “Wow. If this kid stepped into Shanghai in 2012, he would really be bowled over.”