Classical Chinese

Discuss literature (e.g. books, newspapers), educational studies (getting help or opinions on homework or an essay), and philosophy.

Unread postby Liu Yuante » Fri Jun 18, 2004 1:09 am

Eventually, I'm going to have to get an actual paper, Chinese copy of SGZ, for two reasons, I think; one, although maybe, if I get real good, I might be able to pick proper names and titles out of string of words, but right now my grammatical context simply isn't there. The other is because while a website of fans certainly wouldn't turn down a competent translation of something done from an online text, I doubt highly a real publisher would trust a translation done from an online transcription. Just on length alone, there have got to be some small errors in the online version of SGZ, barring it having been scanned in directly from a printed text.

Why am I worried about real publishers, though? Well, even if no one wants to hear it, I'm going to explain anyway. Although the university I graduated from awards only generic B.A.s, my main programs of study were history, literature and foreign language. I've always been a writer, but the desire to pen fiction is practically dead. One day I was thinking to myself that while Wu has a modern historical work (Generals of the South), it is only regarding the first 50 years or so, and neither Shu nor Wei have them (in English, anyway). So I began to entertain the thought of doing the research and study to write just such a work or works. But most of the original records are untranslated. de Crespigny's Zizhi Tongjian translation is the only readily available English translation, and though Achilles Fang's translation of the years 220-265 can be had from time to time (for a very pretty penny), that still leaves 265-280, as well as the Hou Han Shu, and the 300 some odd SGZ bios that aren't translated online.

I really dislike sitting around waiting for someone to translate something that I want to read. So I decided I would learn to read Classical Chinese and do it myself. And if some miracle descends and over the next who knows how many years I actually can do it, well, I'm not going to be content to leave it sitting on my hard drive.

Maybe it's just unrealistic daydreaming and wishing on my part, but this is why I'm wanting to learn Classical Chinese. I did a rough estimation that the SGZ, in English, would be somewhere between 2700 and 3500 pages. Then I took my current rate of reading Cao Cao (Hint: not very fast. Admittedly I'm taking time for vocab and other learning and not just translating) and estimated how long it will take me to do the entire SGZ - 10 years. Hopefully I will get speedier with time. Anyway, enough of my self-indulgence.

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Unread postby Lady Wu » Fri Jun 18, 2004 1:35 am

Well, in order to translate SGZ properly, you'll also have to be competent in modern Chinese. Even if you're competent in reading Classical Chinese (like I am), SGZ is a difficult text because of many ambiguous passages that have not been explained by Pei Songzhi and the references to older literature in the memorials, speeches, etc (that's why I haven't finished translating Lu Kang's yet--too many memorials!). Unfortunately there has been little careful annotation of SGZ until the modern era, and not everyone agrees on the interpretation of certain things. In translating Lu Xun's biography, I had to make use of at least 4 or 5 modern Chinese sources in order to ensure the accuracy of my interpretation.

If you're serious about doing a serious, error-free SGZ translation, you will also want to consult the various errata, timelines, rank comparisons, etc published of the SGZ through the ages (I have only been able to locate such things in a huge Asian Library of a big university). You'll also have to hook up with professionals in the areas of Chinese history and literature to ensure that you're not missing anything major (especially regarding recent studies in modern Chinese on the topic).

It's not an impossible project, however. I had played with the idea as well, given the amount of translation that I have already done. If I don't have a dissertation to write :x and have unlimited funding, I suppose I can do it in 5~6 years or so (yeah, so why didn't I apply to a doctrate program in Classical Chinese instead??). Worthwhile project, though. Keep it up.
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Unread postby Liu Yuante » Fri Jun 18, 2004 2:36 am

Thank you for the advice. This is going to be a massive undertaking, but I am committed to it, so we'll see.

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Unread postby Lady Wu » Fri Jun 18, 2004 2:57 am

I commend you for your courage and persistance. :D

By no means am I trying to dissuade you; I tend to be a pessimist at best, and all these years in academia doesn't help :P. Though I don't doubt that it's possible to learn the language through self-studying, I would still highly recommend taking a course on Classical Chinese or Chinese history when you get a chance too, if not only to make some connections and add some credibility to your name when you do try to publish something.
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Unread postby Liu Yuante » Fri Jun 18, 2004 3:29 am

There is a program offered online by the Beijing College of Language or something to that effect, that ends with a Bachelors degree in Chinese. Right now I'm too busy to be able to go back to school, and far too poor to go back to school. The online courses of course also cost money, but not so much, so that is an option for the future.

And I certainly don't feel that you're trying to dissuade me. If anything, I need the reality of the undertaking I'm embarking on to be drilled home. To wake up one morning and say "Hey, I'm going to learn Chinese and translate a massive, difficult text in my spare time" is ludicrous. I have to keep reminding myself 'one step at a time'. The software programs I'm using to aid me are very comprehensive and useful, and there is a very real danger that if I slip into trying to do full translation right off the bat that they will be good enough to fool me into thinking I know what I'm doing and prevent me from actually learning the language. I have to constantly stop myself and go through the construction of each sentence and drill myself on vocabulary. I just have to remember that if I ever get really good at this, the translations will come much faster.


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Unread postby Kong Wen » Fri Jun 18, 2004 9:38 am

I commend your efforts.

I am such a traditionalist that the only way I could ever have enough discipline to learn a language would be to take courses. Mind you, if I was in a course, I would have no problem doing a ton of extra work and study on my own time, but I just need that structure to be able to mobilize myself. :cry:
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Unread postby Liu Yuante » Sat Jun 19, 2004 2:12 am

It all depends on what the topic is. I could never have learned linear algebra, for example, outside of a classroom. The same goes for macroeconomic theory. But literature and language are things I truly enjoy. I've hardly even noticed that what I'm doing with SGZ right now essentially amounts to voluntary homework. Which is really what I'm after in the end, I suppose; a vocation where I'll be happy to do work. And if my employer won't give it to me, then I'll just have to take the initiative.

Anyway I appreciate all the advice and nice words.

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Unread postby robbyjo » Sat Jun 19, 2004 8:54 pm

Yeah... I also commend your effort.

One more thing: In learning languages, it's important that you have to use it in regular basis once you master it. Otherwise, you'd forget that easily. My cousin once went to China for two years to learn Chinese, but after he came back, he virtually never use it. After about 3 years, he forgot almost all of it.

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Unread postby Liu Yuante » Sun Jun 20, 2004 1:01 am

That's a very good point. I took 4 years of French and have retained almost none of it. I have fared better with classical Greek because I make myself go through Greek texts from time to time. Making a huge assumption here, but if I'm able to be successful with my project to translate SGZ, and if I can get access to the sources and items that would allow me to really give it good notes and accuracy, I would hope to use that to springboard into an occupation that will allow me to continue using it. If nothing else, if I manage to translate it, and can complete that online course in Chinese to get my B.A., I would like to get myself into grad school. From there, become a professor. And essentially spend my time not teaching translating all these ancient histories that have gone untranslated. I mean heck, there's enough Zizhi Tongjian to keep me busy for near forever. That thing is huge! But in any case, yeah; if I can manage this, I intend to use it to move myself into a position where I can be using the ability to read classical Chinese for the rest of my life.

I have to confes there is no small amount of ambition in this, as well. I've never wanted to just be some guy who goes to school, gets a career, does some stuff in his free time, works until he retires and then dies. I want to leave something behind, make a mark, even if it is in a field that is not, by and large, appreciated by the general public as a whole.

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Unread postby Kong Wen » Sun Jun 20, 2004 10:08 am

LiuYuanTe wrote:Making a huge assumption here, but if I'm able to be successful with my project to translate SGZ, and if I can get access to the sources and items that would allow me to really give it good notes and accuracy, I would hope to use that to springboard into an occupation that will allow me to continue using it.

You'll want to hurry up and finish before Cutter and Crowell finish their translation. ;)
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