Download as iCal file
Why Re-translate a Classic? (Michael Nylan, University of California Berkeley)
Thursday, September 28, 2023, 04:30pm - 06:00pm
Contact Nancy Rosario (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

This hybrid talk is co-sponsored by Rutgers Global. It is open to the public. Due to the limited space of the conference room, it will be first-come-first-serve until the room capacity is reached. If you cannot make it in person, please register to participate in Zoom by clicking here.



Recently, the University of Washington Press, Columbia University Press, Oxford, de Gruyter, and many other publishing houses are all in the business of producing new translations for the Chinese classics.  One may ask, Why now, and why bother?  This talk will discuss the typical problems afflicting old translations, no matter how erudite and well-meaning, showing that these that tend to import Christian or Buddhist values or early modern preoccupations, such as Social Darwinism, into the Chinese Classics and masterworks.  That they have produced anachronistic works that can be very misleading for Western-language readers is plain; the bulk of the evidence adduced is drawn from translations of the Documents classic, the primary repository of political theory for the early empires up through Northern Song.  Admittedly, no translation is perfect, because every translation inevitably bears the signs of the translator's current preoccupations.  Our job as Sinologists is to produce the most faithful translation of which we are capable, in a pious act of wengu 溫故, "warming up the old."


Michael Nylan 戴梅可 is Jane K. Sather History Chair at University of California Berkeley. She generally writes in three disciplines: the early empires in China, philosophy, and art and archaeology.  Her current projects include a reconstruction of a Han-era Documents classic (submitted to press; under review); a general-interest study of the "Four Fathers of History" (Herodotus, Thucydides, Sima Qian, and Ban Gu), which is nearly done, and a study of the politics of the common good in early China tentatively entitled The Air We Breathe.  Recent published books include Chang'an 26 BCE: an Augustan age in China, with substantive comparisons to Rome and the Roman empire; The Chinese Pleasure Book; and two translations, of Yang Xiong's Fayan and The Art of War. Her translation of the Documents classic is forthcoming from the Classics in Early Chinese Thought series at the University of Washington Press. She is also finishing a book for an online series by Bloomsbury, Intergenerational Equity, China and the US.

Nylan poster1

Location  64 College Ave, 1st floor conference room