Classical Chinese is an intrinsically interesting language. It refers to the written language of the premodern Chinese tradition and covers a period of some 2500 years (500 BCE~1920 CE) … It served as the shared language of the elites in premodern China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Knowledge of classical Chinese opens you up to new worlds. It represents the human experience of something like 1/5 of the people who ever walked the earth.More practically speaking, knowledge of classical Chinese will also greatly improve your modern Chinese. The two are distinct languages (at least, by any meaningful definition of “language”), but the modern Chinese languages grew out of their classical ancestor and still bear its imprint. Most of the set phrases (chengyu 成語) that mark one’s speech as refined in modern Chinese are summaries of or quotations from classical sources and therefore obey classical structures. Many of the puzzling usages in formal, written Mandarin (the kind used in newspapers) make perfect sense with a basic knowledge of classical Chinese.
Tag Archives: Tom Mazanec
Mazanec on Rouzer’s Hanshan Translations
Tom Mazanec has posted about Paul Rouzer’s new translation of Hanshan 寒山 (Cold Mountain) for de Gruyter’s Library of Chinese Humanities–now available for sale and free download.
As Tom notes, some of the Hanshan corpus was “famously translated by Gary Snyder in 1958 [and] later celebrated by Jack Kerouac in his hit novel The Dharma Bums,” which means this publication lacks the punch de Gruyter landed when publishing Stephen Owen’s complete Du Fu 杜甫:
there are already two complete translations of Hanshan out there, by Robert Henricks and Red Pine (personally, I’m fond of the latter), as well as multiple partial translations by such prominent translators as Arthur Waley, Burton Watson, Peter Hobson and T. H. Barrett, J. P. Seaton, and doubtless others. A close reading will show how these translations each contribute something different to our understanding of this poetic corpus, and this in itself is helpful for teaching and understanding Tang poetry.
Worth noting, though, is that Rouzer’s book also includes poems attributed to Hanshan’s companions, Shide 拾得 and Fenggan 豐干. At any rate,
It’s always good to have more translations of Tang poetry in other languages, and especially translations by someone as knowledgeable as Paul Rouzer … He’s a sensitive reader and a smooth writer, and I’m sure his translations are wonderful (I’ve yet to go through them with a close eye).
Tom also notes the forthcoming titles in the Library of Chinese Humanities, Robert Ashmore’s Li He 李賀 and Stephen Owen and Wendy Swartz’s translation of Ruan Ji 阮籍 and Xi Kang 嵇康.
Click the image above for the full write-up.
Owen’s Complete Poetry of Du Fu
The Poetry of Du Fu 杜甫, edited and translated by Stephen Owen, is now available from the Library of Chinese Humanities (a new venture started by Owen and Paul Kroll and edited by them and Sarah Allen, Christopher Nugent, Anna Shields, Xiaofei Tian, and Ding Xiang Warner). It is not only available for sale, it is also available for open-access free download in .pdf format.
This six-volume opus, totaling almost 3000 pages, is to my knowledge the first translation of the complete poetic output of any individual Chinese poet in history. The promotional materials say,
The entirety of Du Fu’s works provides a more nuanced portrait of the author than the standard selections. It gives testimony to the great rebellion of 755, but also poems on building a chicken coop and repairing bamboo plumbing. In the whole we discover how the sublime and quotidian are united in a larger vision of life.
Likewise, in his introduction, Owen writes,
If there is a justification for translating all of the poems, it may be deepening our sense of his engagement with the mundane and not allowing it to resolve into simply a way to talk about “big things.” It is the persistence of his vision of large significance in the everyday—sometimes ironically—that makes a whole Du Fu more satisfying than a selected Du Fu.
This is true. As is Tfrom high-minded loyalist to bereft father to woeful exile to irritable curmudgeon to sycophantic hack to meditative imagist,” which is “a welcome counterbalance to the stereotyped image of Du Fu as a great ‘Confucian’ poet, the sort of thing you find in introductory textbooks to Chinese literature, both in China and abroad.”
But I also think there is a poetic argument, not limited to the specifics of Chinese literature, for a complete Du Fu (or any poet) in English, which is the one Eliot Weinberger makes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987:
to study the topography of a major poet we need to see both the peaks and the valleys. One does not exist without the other; the “minor” poems not only lead to, but often illuminate, the more important work. (And, of course, what one editor or critic considers “minor” may turn out to be a revelation for another reader.)
Click the image above for more information and the full free download.
A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese
A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese is the long-desired Chinese – English reference work for all those reading texts dating from the Warring States period through the Tang dynasty. Comprising 8,000+ characters, arranged alphabetically by Pinyin.
As a lexicon meant for practical use, it immensely facilitates reading and translating historical, literary, and religious texts dating from approximately 500 BCE to 1000 CE. Being primarily a dictionary of individual characters (zidian 字典) and the words they represent, it also includes an abundance of alliterative and echoic binomes (lianmianci 連綿詞) as well as accurate identifications of hundreds of plants, animals, and assorted technical terms in various fields. It aims to become the English-language resource of choice for all those seeking assistance in reading texts dating from the Warring States period through the Tang dynasty.
Over at his blog, Tom Mazanec calls this “the most important development in Classical Chinese-to-English lexicography since R. H. Mathews’s Chinese-English Dictionary (from 1943).” He says, “nearly every other Chinese dictionary out there lumps together a character’s usage over 3,000 years in a single entry, with no notes on time. This deliberate ignoring of linguistic development help create a false sense of a timeless, unchanging ‘traditional China,’ a myth widespread among East Asians and Westerners alike” (and gives an example of Kroll’s exacting sense of English vocabulary to render medieval Chinese).
Click on the image for further details, including ordering information.