I went to the Chinese section of a local library to gather resources to help me translate the following story, in the chapter titled "Wei-zi" in The Analects of Confucius, into English:
"Chang-ju 1 and Jie-ni plowed together. When Confucius passed by them, he sent one of his disciples, Zi-lu, to ask them for directions. Chang-ju asked, 'Who is the one in charge of your group? 2'
Zi-lu said, 'Confucius.'
'Is he the Confucius from the State of Lu?'
'He should know the directions.'
Then Zi-lu turned his question to Jie-ni. Jie-ni asked, 'Who are you?'
'Are you a disciple of Confucius?'
Jie-ni said, 'The world is spinning like a whirlpool. Who can change it? I would rather follow recluses than a king looking for recruits 3.'
Then he returned to planting seeds. Zi-lu went back to tell the story. Confucius said with a soothing sigh, 'One cannot live with raptors and beasts. These two recluses and I pursue the same goal: virtue 4. If virtue prevailed in China, I would not try to seek change 5.'"

    By chance, I found three English translations of The Analects of Confucius: [Daw], [Bro], and [Hin]. After reading these translated versions, I was inspired to make a few comments about translation.

1. Chang-ju is a person's name. [Daw] translates this name as Changju. [Bro] translates this name as "Tall-in-the-Mud". [Hin] translates this name as "SettledConstant". In order to facilitate a search, a person's name should be translated according to its pronunciation rather than its literal meaning. If a person who speaks Chinese wants to look for the story of Chang-ju in the English translation of The Analects of Confucius, he can look in the index to find the story. Thus, I prefer [Daw]'s translation. A name is only a name. It does not add much meaning to the story to translate the name literally.

2. [Daw] translates this question as "Who is that person in charge of the carriage?" [Bro] translates this question as "Who is that driving?" [Hin] translates this question as "Who's that you're driving for?" Actually, the literal meaning of the original question is "Who sits in the sedan chair?" In this case, only the key idea is important. The essential point of Chang-juís question is "Who is in charge?" The details of physical arrangement are not important.

3. [Daw] translates this sentence as "Moreover instead of following a chap who avoids other people, would it be better to follow a chap who shuns his whole generation?" [Bro] translates this sentence as "Besides, than follow one who only withdraws from men, why not rather follow one who withdraw from the age?" [Hin] translates this sentence as "To follow a man who stays clear of one person or another ĺ how could that ever compare with following one who stays clear of the world?" Their translations make it sound as though Jie-ni were talking about playing dodge ball: the player would be a sure winner if he could dodge the ball not just from one person or another but also from the entire opposing team. The Chinese character, , can mean "avoid", but can also mean "summon or recruit". Their translations completely change the original meaning: "recruiting people" is incorrectly translated as "avoiding people". Translation is not just literal dictionary work; it requires that the translator consult with experts and/or native speakers. Although it is admirable for a non-Chinese person to translate Chinese classics, incorrect translation only misleads and confuses readers. Thus, the translatorís effort will become worthless even if the book is published by prestigious universities or organizations.

4. [Daw] translates this sentence as "If I am not to be an associate of such men as these, with whom am I to associate?" [Bro] translates this sentence as "Were I not a follower of other men, with whom should I take part?" [Hin] translates this sentence as "So who can I live with, if not these humans?" The translations in [Bro] and [Hin] are incorrect. The translation of [Daw] is correct, but is entrapped in the ancient style of Chinese. This style may have been popular among elites during Confucius' time, but it is obsolete now. The unnecessary complication can obscure the simple idea.

5. [Daw] translates this sentence as "But if the Way prevailed in all under heaven, I would not change places with him (Jie-ni)." [Bro] translates this sentence as "If the world possessed the Way, Chyou would not be doing his part to change it." [Hin] translates this sentence as "It's all beneath Heaven that ignores the Way: if it didn't, I wouldn't be trying so hard to change things." The translations of [Bro] and [Hin] are simple and direct. [Daw]'s translation gives another possible, yet less significant, interpretation. The advantage of Dawson's footnote in [Daw, p.102, 18.6] is that the note subtly explains why Confucius considers these recluses as having the same view toward China's politics. In my opinion, [Daw]'s translation is subjective and does not follow the natural interpretation.

    There is a Chinese saying, "Translation should be faithful, expressive and graceful." "Faithful" should refer to the essential ideas rather than the style of the guest language. A style that was popular in a certain region and a certain period can become an obstacle for easy understanding because the style may be strange grammatically and go against the linguistic habits of the readers of the host language. In other words, a translator should be flexible and creative when word-for-word translation is not the best method of conveying the idea.


[Daw] Confucius: The Analects, translated with an introduction and notes by Raymond Dawson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[Bro] Confucius and his successors: The Original Analects, a new translation and commentary by E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

[Hin] Confucius: The Analects, translated by David Hinton, Washington, D. C., Counterpoint, 1998.