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Methodological Introduction by the Translator


The need and value of translation, indeed, appears whenever there is an inter-cultural contact. So did it appear when Buddhism, along with Hindu culture, was coming to China, and such was the case during the Græco-Roman days. Cicero was puzzled by the problems of translation, and many a scholar has ever since attempted to solve the same problems. Confronted by the same, if not greater, difficulties, the present translator hopes that a few remarks here on matters of translation may not be out of place.

As the Chinese language is far more concise and less precise than English, writers of both languages, though able to write lucidly in either tongue, are somehow or other at a loss when asked, How should each be rendered into the other? In this connection it is well remarked by Dr. Duyvendak in the Preface to his own translation of The Book of Lord Shang, that "a translation is a re-interpretation of thought, and should never be a mechanical rendering of words, least of all in the case of Chinese". Then, what ought to be the right methods to attain that object, and how was The Book of Lord Shang translated? To such natural questions Duyvendak did not expound his answers, but only added that "a translation into a Western language acquires therefore more clearness and preciseness of expression than the original possesses, as Chinese characters have a far wider connotation than the English words by which they are rendered, and verbs and nouns are not differentiated".

The first great achievement in the study of the problems, principles, and methods of translation was in 1790 when A. F. Tytler read before the Royal Society his papers on Translation, which were soon afterwards published. Thus in his Principles of Translation he prescribed three golden rules:—

I. A translation should give a complete transcript of the ideas of the original work.

II. The style and manner of writing in a translation should be of the same character as that of the original.

III. A translation should have the ease of the original composition.

The serviceability of these as guiding principles to subsequent scholars and the difficulties for every translator to reach such levels are beyond any doubt. Nevertheless, in correspondence to them, there were preached and practised by Yen Fu (1866-1921) three famous principles, Faithfulness, Elegance, and Proficiency, throughout his translations of English books into Chinese. So far in the art of translating English into Chinese, he has excelled everybody and has been surpassed by none.

On account of both technical requirements and etymological differences, it goes without saying that every translator of Chinese into English has to fight his way through all hardships. Thus, either because Chinese is more concise, or because it is less precise than English, I have found, above everything else, the necessity of using the liberty of making additions and omissions within certain limits. For instance, in many cases I have added to the ideas of the original such words as would help the reader grasp their meanings in so far as the superadded thought has the most necessary connection with the original and actually increases its intelligibility, not to speak of my additions of articles and specifications of tense, mood, case, number, and gender. Naturally, here and there throughout the translation I have interposed not only single words but also phrases, and sometimes even clauses.

Again, I have endeavoured to assimilate the style and manner of writing in the translation to that of the original. Take for example parallelism, which is a peculiar characteristic of the style and manner of Chinese writing. For illustration, Han Fei Tzŭsaid, "the literati by means of letters disturb laws; the cavaliers by means of weapons transgress prohibitions." To preserve the native colour in cases like this, I have kept repetitions in wording and balances in expression close to the original, provided they do not appear tiresome; otherwise, I have shortened them. On the contrary, the Chinese language very often admits of such brevity of expression as can not be successfully imitated in the English; wherefore to achieve perfect transfusion of the sense in such cases, I have found it necessary to sacrifice the imitation of style. On significant occasions, however, even matters of rhyme and rhythm have been taken into consideration.

As regards idioms, there are a number in the original to which I have found no corresponding idiom in English. In case a literal translation appears to be confusing, the sense is expressed in plain and easy English. Likewise, whenever the English way of expression is more concise in wording and elegant in style and less monotonous and less complicated in structure than the Chinese way, then the native colour is sacrificed with no regret. But wherever it is tolerable, there is made a literal rendering. Such Chinese idioms as "All-under-Heaven", 1 "the Son of Heaven," 2 "the lord of men," 3 "the hundred surnames," 4 and "the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain", 5 being both expressive of the native colour and impressive to English readers, I consider worth translating literally. On the contrary, such Chinese terms as Tao, 6 Teh, 7 li, 8 mou, 9 etc., which have no exact equivalent in English but are rather widely understood by English readers, seem better transliterated in most cases than translated.

In short, I have taken for the guiding principle of the present translation the retention of Chinese native colour within the limits of intelligibility to an average English reader.


So much above for the art of translating—translating words, phrases, and clauses. To me, however, translation can be science, as well as art. And it ought to be science when we come to the translation of sentences. This leads us to the logical methodology of translation. With such a new methodological problem in the foreground, I have, therefore, since the beginning of this work, thought of disclosing possibilities, if any, of applying logical principles to the translation of one language into another, as for example here, of Chinese into English, both being mutually so different. Thought the time is not as yet ripe for me to claim any success in the problem-solving effort, yet a few words about the application of the most general principles of logic to the science of translation may, it is hoped, be suggestive to my future comrades in the same field of exploration.

It is a truism that however different and numerous languages may be, the thought behind any language can be expressed in all of them equally well, provided that the thinker can skilfully command all the different systems of vocal gestures. It is practically the same as to say that one melody applies equally well to all different languages. What judgments are to thinking, so are melodies to feeling. Though single words of different languages may have different units of thought which they represent, yet every judgment laid down by reasoning always has its quantity and quality, regardless of the language it chooses for expression; just as the same melody, whether sung in Chinese or English, has its unique time and notes. Translation, therefore, is a restatement of thought in a different tongue with sentences rather than words as its basic units.

As judgments expressed in language make propositions, it is possible to make a logical analysis of every sentence of any language and then restate it in the appropriate form of a proposition and finally put it in the symbolic form of a judgment. When the judgment is thus determined, the original proposition in Chinese can be accordingly rendered into English. And, if the English rendering expresses the same unit of thought quantitatively and qualitatively, the translation, however grammatically and idiomatically different from the original, will then in substance be faithful to the idea of the author.

However, just as judgments differ from suspicions, so do propositions differ from questions. Yet certain types of questions customarily used are rhetorical and are more frequently found in Chinese than in English—such questions as, for instance, "Is it possible to rescue a misgoverned state from going to ruin?" or "How could it be justified to confer honours on loafers and demand services from warriors?" Inasmuch as such questions are suspicions in word but judgments in thought, in many cases my rendering chooses the form of propositions instead of questions.

As regards the three accepted types of propositions, they are as a rule interchangeable, since the categorical proposition is the origin of the hypothetical and alternative propositions. In the case of a categorical proposition, if the writing in the English rendering of the original sentence appears to be awkward or not intelligible to English readers, it ought to be advisable to apply the doctrines of opposition and eduction and see if the writing of the immediate inference from the original proposition is elegant in style and proficient in composition. For instance, there are in Chinese found such expressions as, "Man never fails to have father and mother," which implies "Everybody has parents". Now, compared with the former, which is the transfusion of the meaning of the original, the latter, which is the transfusion of an immediate inference of the original, certainly sounds elegant and proficient, without losing any portion of the original thought. Likewise, it is possible to express the substance of the original, which is a categorical proposition into a hypothetical or an alternative proposition. In short, wherever the transfusion of the meaning or direct sense fails, there the transfusion of the implication or indirect sense is preferable, although it is not always easy to determine at what point the validity of transfusing the meaning of a statement ends and the necessity of transfusing the implication begins. Herein lies an everlasting difficulty in the way of translation as well as the need of practice to master the skill of it.

Furthermore, in classical Chinese writing, judgments are very often expressed in hypothetical propositions, which the English-speaking people customarily prefer to express either in alternative or in categorical propositions. For instance, the saying, "Whoever advocates strict legalism, if not executed by public authorities, is infallibly assassinated by private swordsmen," is hypothetical, and can be restated in an alternative proposition, "Every advocate of strict legalism is either executed by public authorities or assassinated by private swordsmen." Of these two modes of expression, the latter seemingly sounds more idiomatically English than the former, while the sense remains the same. Another kind of hypothetical proposition, such as, for example, "When peace reigns, the state feeds loafers; once an emergency comes, she uses warriors," is the Chinese way of expression; but the equivalent categorical proposition, "In time of peace loafers are supported; in case of emergency warriors are employed," sounds far more idiomatically English than the original. In most cases like these, I have retained the native colour at the expense of idiomatic English.

The last, but by no means the least, important point throughout my English rendering is the distinction of "if" from "when" and "where". "If" is used in universal propositions to introduce "conditions" of certain events while "when" is used in particular propositions to introduce "temporal instances" and "where" to introduce "spatial instances" of certain events. Similarly, "if" introduces in general "conditions" of certain events, while "whenever" and "wherever" specify their temporal and spatial aspects respectively.

Such being the case, it is evident that translation is as closely allied with psychology and logic as with grammar and rhetoric and its objective is basically concerned with thought rather than with word. In as much as most readers of Han Fei Tzŭ's writings have been primarily interested in his thought since his days, the present translation with the aid of logic and psychology devotes more attention to the author's philosophical, than to his etymological, background.


Turning to the contents of the translation, I have found it necessary to divide each essay into paragraphs and, in a number of works, add descriptive sub-titles with a view to facilitating the reading of the text. Matters of historical and textual criticisms, which in many cases have been briefly taken up in the notes, are mostly derived from the works done by eminent commentators; while the annotations and elucidations are based on my judgment of their usefulness to the collation of the translation with the original. Matters of authenticity have been remarked in the notes frequently, yet for all detailed discussions I must again refer the reader to the companion volume.

In the transliteration of the Chinese names I have largely followed Giles's system with slight variations that I have found necessary in the interests of distinction and convenience. Thus, I have purposely differentiated "Chow" 10 from "Chou", 11 "Wey" 12 from "Wei", 13 and "Shen" 14 from "Shên". 15 In case of possible confusions and needful specifications, Chinese characters are found in the notes; otherwise, in the glossary. On the other hand, to minimize the monotony of the sounds of proper names and to refresh the reader's interest, I have used English words with equivalent meanings for all available names, such as the Yellow Emperor for Huang-ti, the Yellow River for Huang-ho, the Armour Gorge Pass for Han-ku-kuan, etc.

In regard to the author's citations from other books, I have either translated them directly from the respective Chinese texts or availed myself of the translations accomplished by such Western Sinologues as James Legge, H. A. Giles, etc., to whom I have acknowledged my indebtedness in the notes, despite my occasional differences from them. My translation thus done has accepted every writing by Han Fei Tzŭ, whether genuine or spurious, as it has been preserved through all catastrophes since antiquity.


The present translation is throughout my own, in both method and substance, although I have used for reference certain partial translations and sketchy quotations in English and other Western languages. My special differences from them are found in the notes and from time to time discussed in the companion volume.

The first ambitious attempt at translating Han Fei Tzŭ into a Western language appeared in Russian (1912) by Ivanov. The work was a partial translation. To my regret, I am unable to read it and appreciate the translator's mastery of the Chinese original. Nevertheless, Paul Pelliot's review of the work in the Journal Asiatique (Septembre-Octobre, 1913) has afforded me a vivid glimpse of the whole accomplishment. According to Pelliot, "Confusion de noms, prononciations inacceptables, références insuffisantes, dates donnée d'après les commentateurs chinois sans équivalents européens, ce sont là autant de défauts auxquels un peu d'effort eût aisément remédié" (pp. 422-3). "Je ne puis me défendre," continues Pelliot further, "quoique à regret, de dire que la sinologie attend de M. Ivanov autre chose. Son livre serait très honorable pour un amateur qui, loin de toute bibliothèque, voudrait donner à des compatriotes un aperçu d'un système chinois. Mais M. Ivanov est un technicien. . . ." (p. 423). In short, the translation presents "un première ébauche" of Han Fei Tzŭ's thought but can hardly acquaint the reader with its substance.

In The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China which appeared in 1917, Hu Shih rendered into English all his citations from the works of Han Fei Tzŭ. On the whole, his translations were proficient in composition as well as faithful to the author's ideas; but, in most cases, he employed modern idiomatic English at the expense of the original style.

Alfred Forke's translation of the passages he quoted from Han Fei Tzŭin his Geschichte der Alten Chinesischen Philosophie (1927) is an excellent reinterpretation of the author's ideas in the German language. On certain points, however, I have had to disagree with his rendering. It is very evident that if he never misread the Chinese original, he must have used the text of an edition quite different from the one I have used.

In the same year, 1927, appeared Henri Maspero's La Chine antique which contains a concise summary of Han Fei Tzŭ's teachings. Therein are found very accurate translations of a few passages, which I have read with great appreciation.

K. C. Wu's Ancient Chinese Political Theories (1928) also contains one chapter on Han Fei Tzŭ, in which a number of passages were rendered into English. His translations on the whole appear more suggestive than accurate.

Dr. J. J. L. Duyvendak, in the introduction to his English translation of The Book of Lord Shang (1928), also translated some fragmentary passages from Han Fei Tzŭ. Though he attempted in this scholarly work to be as accurate as possible, yet by his style of writing an average reader can hardly know whether he intended to preserve the original character of the text or to assimilate the manner of idiomatic English.

In 1930, came out L. T. Chen's English translation of Liang Ch`i-ch`ao's History of Chinese Political Thought during the Early Tsin Period. Herein his translation of passages from Han Fei Tzŭjust as that of Liang's whole book abounds with omissions, inaccuracies, and mis-statements. Throughout the book, crucial points purposely brought to the fore by the author, which would be interesting to Western scholars, were omitted, whether by mistake or by intention, while annotations and elucidations which would make every reader appreciate the text with a new spirit were rarely or never made. Nevertheless, if it is not just to blame an amateur for his unpresentable work, it is certainly not unjust to suggest that he should ask accomplished scholars to revise it.

Last year appeared Derk Bodde's English rendering of Fung Yu-lan's History of Chinese Philosophy: The Period of the Philosophers, whose manuscript the author is alleged to have read and approved. It is a well-earned accomplishment. However, if an extensive surveyor of philosophical ideas is liable to superficiality and equivocation, how much more would his translator be? As far as Bodde's translation of passages from Han Fei Tzŭis concerned, it is very likely that after an intensive study of Han Fei Tzŭ's thought he will have to reconsider his rendering of the important legalist terms shih16 as "power" or "authority" and shu17 as "method" or "statecraft". Nevertheless, if the Brief History of Early Chinese Philosophy (1914) by Dr. T. Suzuki presents English readers a sketch of ancient Chinese thought, Bodde's English rendering of Fung's work certainly expands an elaborate panorama before them. In this connection I am projecting a ray of hope that some day when a History of Chinese Philosophy by some other Chinese scholar appears comparable to Windelband's Geschichte der Philosophie, there will be some other sinologue in the English-speaking countries attempting to make his translation of the work from the Chinese as exquisite as Tufts' translation of Windelband's work from the German.


The present translation of Han Fei Tzŭ's works has been worked out principally in view of the author's philosophy in general and political and legal thought in particular. Though etymological problems are not ignored at all, yet I have always seen to it that attention to words does not lead to distraction from thought. It is the author's thought that I have intended to restate intelligibly in English, but it is the Chinese native colour that I have expected to preserve as faithfully as possible. Between the horns of this dilemma I have groped towards the realization of this work.


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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia