ConversesAncient China

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nov. 9, 2006, 4:00 pm

Does anybody know a good bilingual edition of the Spring and Autumn Annals (Pinyin Chun Qiu)? The only one I know of is Legge's, and copies of that are proving very difficult to find.

If anybody could recommend a good historical text on the Spring and Autumn period, I'd also appreciate it. I'm looking for a cultural or political perspective as opposed to a archaeological one.

Editat: nov. 9, 2006, 6:33 pm

Have you seen The annals of Lü Buwei = Lü shi chun qiu : a complete translation and study? The link for the title doesn't seem to be working. Oh, well.

nov. 10, 2006, 10:40 am


You can't avoid archaeology in studying the history of the Chunqiu era. The written sources are impossibly sparse. Think of reconstructing the plot of The Godfather from a sequence of entries like these, which are typical of the Chunqiu:

1946 Luca Brazzi was killed. The Corleones were attacked by other families. They retreated and avoided disaster.

1947 Sonny Corleone was ambushed and killed.

1948 The Don died.

1949 The Don punished his brother-in-law.

The Bamboo Annals (Zhushu Jinian) are just as sparse. The Zuozhuan fleshes out these bones, but for an audience that is already familiar with the story. To continue the Godfather analogy, an amplification in the style of the Zuozhuan might say:

It says Luca Brazzi was killed. The Don instructed him to feign disaffection and approach Solottzo. Solottzo said, "If you are false to your Don, how will you be true to our Don?" They threw him in the river. The Don said, "A great fish is asleep."

It says Sonny Corleone was ambushed and killed. He rushed to avenge his sister and was incautious. They shot him at the toll gate. The Don buried him with great honor.

A good, though dated, book on the cultural and political aspects of the Chunqiu period from a very broad perspective is Inner Asian Frontiers of China by Owen Lattimore. The early chapters of John Keegan's A History of Warfare develop Lattimore's meme of pastoral-arable conflict, which can plausibly be called the bedrock fact of all pre-modern Chinese history.

Do you read Chinese?

nov. 22, 2006, 2:42 am

Liao - the annals of Lu Buwei look really interesting! Thanks for the recommendation; I'll definitely take a look at it.

Fogies - What I was trying to find was something that would fill out more of the anecdotal information Legge draws on. I only have a portion of his translation of the Chun Qiu from Classical Chinese Literature, but he seems to fill in enough of the context to get a sense of the implied meaning; enough to know what's being said and implied, but, as you said, not really all that much.

If a text from an archaeological perspective had that sort of information, then I'd definitely be interested. I just wanted, if possible, to avoid long disquisitions on the material or economic facts of the period. Even a non-academic, non-comprehensive secondary source would be fine for my purposes . . . though that might not exist in English.

Yes, I read Chinese. I thought I'd have problems with these texts, since I have problems with poetry, but I'm making my way through Legge right now in Chinese; the Lun Yu was readable and the Da Xue is as well, so far. I don't know where to find relevant texts in Chinese in the US, unfortunately. The online sites I've found are ripoffs. I ought to visit some of the Chinese bookstores here (here being the Bay Area) and see if they have introductory histories.

Another thing I might eventually do is to work through the secondary commentaries on the Six Classics; Legge has a pretty large bibliography. It seems like a lot of work, though.

Thanks again both for the recommendations; I'd be happy to receive more, of course, and will be scouring your libraries shamelessly.

Editat: des. 20, 2006, 5:48 pm


The anecdotal information Legge draws on is mostly reported in sequential form in the histories of the states given in the Records of the Grand Historian (the Shi Ji of Sima Qian). Get the punctuated edition published by 中華書局 in Beijing (it's available in paperback). Here's a free Classical Chinese dictionary you can download:

Classical Chinese Vocabulary Notes

It's still in very rough draft form, but it does define many words and gives examples of their usage, with English translations.

Not to denigrate Legge's work--it is a monumental achievement worthy of the highest praise--but his interpretations are the officially-sponsored ones of the Qing dynasty bureaucracy, based on the exegesis of Zhu Xi in the Song dynasty, and have been largely superseded by more modern scholarship--which, however, is mostly not available outside specialized journals.

If you happen to find a good source for Chinese books, please post the info here. Robert Irick, may his memory be praised, is long dead, his Chinese Materials Center long defunct and even Ch'eng-wen is out of business. It's a question of supply and demand, apparently; the US market for such books is minuscule. Have you tried the sources of e-texts linked in message 1 of the root thread of this group?

nov. 24, 2006, 12:50 pm

For those who read modern Chinese, a very informative handbook/textbook of ancient Chinese is 古代漢語 by 王力, first published Beijing 1962 with several editions since then.

nov. 29, 2006, 10:05 am

A text often used to introduce ancient Chinese to those who can read modern Chinese is Mencius. James Legge's translation can be downloaded in .PDF form here:

This version does not include the original Chinese text. That can be downloaded in .HTML form here:

The translation that is now considered to represent the original Chinese most accurately is that of D.C. Lau:

Editat: des. 24, 2006, 12:57 pm

Everyone! Go to this website. Rich visual. Terrific resource.

des. 24, 2006, 1:44 am

Thank you belleyang. That looks like a very helpful site.

des. 24, 2006, 4:08 pm

This courtesy of liao:

You mentioned ordering books from China. (which is a subsidiary of Amazon) is fine but they ship ONLY by overnight UPS service. It averages around $17US for one book. (founded by a former employee of Amazon) charges a flat 70% of total which is fine if you're not odering a whole lot of books.

des. 24, 2006, 5:26 pm

I see I mistyped in my message to Belleyang. The second online store is: (two "g"s). Shipping from dangdang takes a long time: around 2 months or so. The joyo is expensive but, and keep in mind I'm easily amused and impressed, it is fun to get an overnight shipment from China. I swear UPS delivers the packages faster than most airlines deliver me to Beijing.

Editat: gen. 3, 2007, 9:23 pm

I love my Wieger, but I am told it is full of errors and outdated. What's out there that's new and improved? My only choice is to go to the Chinese Suo Gu Wen, but I'd prefer training wheels in English.

gen. 4, 2007, 11:50 am

I cannot keep from sharing the following unrecommendation from ABE:

Reading copy. Produced with the cheapest materials money could buy. If not for the printed date, you'd think this book is 100 years old by the appearance, especially the paper. Binding is also 'crap' and is split open along rear joint. One page loose (so far). Spine ends frayed. Few PO notes penciled on ffep. This would be a great copy to write in (maybe some duct tape would hold it together). Imprinted publisher 'Ch'eng Wen Publishing Company, Taipei', has label stuck over it of 'Paragon Book Gallery, LTD' (both should be ashamed). I haven't seen such a low grade paper since I was supplied such in grammar school. Black cloth covered boards w/gilt titles (rubbed).

Editat: maig 13, 2007, 11:55 pm

Another Unrecommendation

菊花 by 黃巢



The film, "The Curse of the Golden Flower": is sheer garbage. So gaudy, my eyeballs hurt. It's dismaying to see a talent like Zhang Yimo brown-nosing the Communist regime. Its message is China cannot be destroyed by internal dissent or external forces.

The above poem is by Huang Chao, the self-proclaimed emperor who sat on the throne in Chang An for a mere five years. His forces were responsible for toppling the Tang Dynasty, paving the way for the Liang Dynasty. He wrote the above poem, from which the film takes its title. Huang Chao was a scholar from Shangdong who failed the Tang imperial examinations. His poems are collected in the Tang anthologies for he was not without talent.

His short-lived dynasty was 金統, "Golden Reign."

Editat: gen. 12, 2007, 10:43 pm then click Opera On 3

Tan Dun's The First Emperor

Act One

Live Saturday 13 January 2007 10:30-11:50 AM PST

Act Two
Saturday 13 January 2007 12:20-2:00 PM PST

Live from the New York Metropolitan Opera, Margaret Juntwait presents a performance of Tan Dun's The First Emperor.

This epic story of love, power and betrayal is based on the historical figure of Emperor Chin, who unified China in the third century BC and built the Great Wall.

This program will be available on Radio 3 online for 7 days after this live performance.

Placido Domingo, a Spaniard who speaks bad English, plays Chinese emperor.

Editat: feb. 4, 2007, 2:28 am

This is an excellet television series. It's an easy and fun way to improve your Chinese because of the hanzi subtitling of eloquent literary Chinese. If I remember correctly, liao was interested in Lu Buwei, or the Lu shi Chunqiu. Here you'll meet him in the flesh. These fictionalized historical dramas bring life to the ancient past, so that on reading Han Feizi, Li Ssu or Lu Buwei, they no longer seem like so many dried fishes ;) The nice thing is you can put the dvd on pause or backup to look up a word or a phrase.

Qin Shi-Huang: The First Emperor (China TV Series / 11 Disc Set: PAL Version)

feb. 4, 2007, 2:45 pm

Mmm, yes. I'm off to go get that one, now that you've pointed it out. Thanks!

TV series can be really good ways to get into things. I'm partial to them myself, if only I had more time to watch them. Movies are inadequate because there isn't enough time in a movie to cover the details. I think my father was reading a whole series of semi-biographical novels about the emperors, but they were far beyond my abilities.

I'm a little wary of popularizations of history as I suspect them of bending history in favor of marketability. I had an enjoyable evening discussion once with a professor of modern Chinese history about the inaccuracies in both the novel about the Song sisters and the Nanjing massacre. Unfortunately, we didn't get into it nearly as much as I would have liked, mostly because I had no background to contribute to the conversation.

Editat: feb. 4, 2007, 5:03 pm

>17 mvrdrk: What I am doing is watching just one episode, usually lasting 45 minutes, each and every day. That's not too much time out of the day. I've watched Qin Shi-Huang twice now, and have discovered big improvement in my ability to understand the literary Chinese. It's my 45-minutes of Chinese class. This particular series does take majori liberties in fictionalizing but it's fairly accurate with the major historical figures, including Lu Buwei, Zhao Gao the eunuch, Li Ssu. It presents the six states, in the order they were conquored, so I've got these memoriized.

feb. 4, 2007, 4:29 pm


mvrdrk, can you tell me where to purchase the above online? I googled this title and couldn't find a seller. Also, please let me know if you liked it and was it of historical or literary value.

feb. 4, 2007, 5:07 pm

>19 belleyang: Did you get this ad ("Google Sponsored Link") on the right? I do about half the time (other half it's blank, not a competitor). I have no reason to suppose this is a good place to order from, but I found it amusing that it actually did what was wanted for once.

Editat: feb. 4, 2007, 6:09 pm

>20 MMcM: No, sorry have never seen such. Hmm, MMcM, perhaps you've cataloged one too many books ;)

feb. 4, 2007, 8:47 pm

>21 belleyang: A distinct possibility. Plus I'm easily amused sometimes.

feb. 17, 2007, 2:12 am

I've found another great use for the NJ Star word prossessor. It's especially convenient when reading Chinese online. When I come across unfamiliar words and phrases, I simply copy and paste onto NJ Star, et voila. It gives me the definition when I put the cursor over word or phrase. It's much easier than looking up the old way with a dictionary.

feb. 20, 2007, 4:02 pm

>23 belleyang: There's also HanziBar, which does something similar right in the browser (IE or FF).

feb. 21, 2007, 3:12 am

> 23 This is nice to know! I have my NJ Star on trial. I need to get it paid for. I know I am missing much of its value.

In my Opera browser I found a widget that will translate for me.

feb. 21, 2007, 3:17 pm

>23 belleyang: Hmm...the HanziBar sounds great. Never knew about it.

maig 14, 2007, 1:54 pm

Can anyone recommend a bilingual edition of the "Book of Odes"?

Editat: maig 30, 2007, 10:09 pm

>27 belleyang: No takers, huh?

Being a bit old fashioned and not really qualified to discriminate, I'd probably go with James Legge's The She King or the Book of Poetry. His version is scanned in Google Books and transcribed online (see links at the end of the Wikipedia article, but note that they say they substitute "synonymous characters" for ones that weren't in their word-processor). Unfortunately, even cheap reprints as an actual book are pretty expensive.

While in the foreign language bookstore this evening, I noticed that FLP has a selection of about fifty with commentary (in Chinese), line drawing, original text with a few footnotes (in Chinese, mostly vocabulary), Modern Chinese translation (pretty liberal, average 2.5x as long), and English translation (bland poetry). Even the original uses simplified characters, which I found weird but can't really argue against coherently. It's titled The Book of Songs, although that has been combined with Waley's translation here, which it isn't. It's the 7119028235 one. Amazon has it. About $12. Since the bookstore didn't have what I came for (their website is awful and among other things you can't tell what's in stock) and I didn't feel like going home empty handed (thankfully, I'm not always that dangerous) and was intrigued by the idea, I got it. If you've got a favorite ode and it's not one of the longer ones, I could probably type in the translation quick so you could see.

juny 3, 2007, 3:33 pm

Hi, MMcM--thanks, I found a good website with the Chinese and some adequate translations.

Editat: juny 3, 2007, 10:10 pm

The above link is to a Legge translation of the Shi Jing. Very good resource, but I'd much rather have a bilingual edition so that it's handy. The only such publication I could find was on the website of China Books and it's not in stock.

oct. 18, 2007, 4:18 pm

MMcM兄Belle姉、Could you please be attentive about the poem Waley puts first?
It has the protagonist gloating over taking a roll in the dewy grass with a real beauty. Waley and Pound both have a girl happy to have had the roll while the two japanese translations i checked had a boy proud of doing the same with a girl(i think i have mentioned this before somewhere, so pardon if it is a repeat) . i would be interested in knowing who chooses which sex and how the choice is rationalized, if it is (so far all the translations i have seen just did it as if they were sure) i guess i can check legge someday at but i doubt i'll ever read modern chinese translations and notes, so i would be grateful if you observe anything of interest. Also, i keep hoping for a long shot = maybe a letter by waley explaining why he put that poem first (my guess being to have the opposite vector as the case with the first poem/song in the japanese manyoushuu).

des. 21, 2007, 2:32 pm

Near the end of the Introduction (p. 18 of the edition I have), Waley says that he would rather have kept the traditional order, but that by subject made so much more sense. And I guess Courtship coming first in the domestic subjects makes sense. But that still doesn't explain why 94 would be first in Courtship.

More references, though no answers, on the other question in the newer post.