Monday, July 21, 2014

The Zhuangzi (Chaung Tzu) Translation Awards

This is the summer of Zhuangzi. Or Chaung Tzu, in the older Wade-Giles way. Knowing well the idiosyncrasies of translations, I’ve looked at almost all the ones available. It's interesting that the three I chose were not on my radar when I began looking. Also, considering the Zhuangzi itself in regard to wrong and right, this and that, and just seeing, I’m only listing the translations I chose to play with. (Click on the book's image below to see it in Amazon.)

1. And the winner is Victor Mair. His Wandering on the Way has many things going for it. First, Mair is not only a sinologist, but the Chuang Tzu is his favorite Chinese book. So his work is obviously a labor of love. Next, it is the complete Chaung Tzu, and not just the seven Inner Chapters, the ones actually attributed to the actual person, Chuang Tzu, although even that is debatable. Also, as a physical production, the pages are thick and creamy, the print is agreeably readable, the layout is clean and sharp, and the cover is artistic. Furthermore, for what it is, it is relatively inexpensive new, and a bargain can be had used  (my copy is a very-good used Bantam first edition paperback and cost me $5.14 including shipping; it’s also available new for $20.00, discounted to $18.00 at Amazon, plus shipping). There are no footnotes and the annotation is sparse. Mair’s intent is to present the Chuang Tzu as a literary work of wisdom first and foremost and not a philosophical treatise dressed up in a disguise of stories. His translation appears as true to the text as possible while attempting to make it necessarily clear in English. This is a copy to read and savor. And there is a practical glossary of names, places, and terms at the end of the book.

2. The runner-up is Brook Ziporyn and his Zhuangzi: the Essential Writings. Actually, for the purposes of Kindle, it would be the winner, since the Mair is currently not available in that format. This smooth and readable translation is more on the philosophical end of the spectrum, so it’s heavily footnoted. And that can be a good thing. I especially appreciate his concern with the Chinese terms, often referring the reader to the glossary at the back of the book. It’s not the complete Zhuangzi, but it’s not just the Inner Chapters either. There’s a significant selection from the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters. Maybe most significantly for some is the inclusion of Chinese commentaries as a separate section at the end of the book, including Guo Xiang, who is basically the editor of the Zhuangzi. As a physical production, it’s along the lines of a paperback textbook. My copy is a very-good used paperback which was $10.99, including shipping. It’s available new for $18.00 in paperback discounted to $16.20 on Amazon, including shipping. For Kindle, it’s available at $9.99.

3. Showing at third place is the controversial A. C. Graham and his Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters. It appears he remains true to the text to a fault. Still, in comparing translations, that can be a helpful trait; it sets a base line for the others. Also, he has decided to edit the book, moving sections around, to meet his own scholastic findings. If I were using this as a stand-alone book, that could be problematic. But my use of Graham is more of a reference work than a reading copy. I find his annotations useful. But his arguments for the way of the text are fascinating and convincing. My copy is not the best. It’s the 1987 Harper Collins Mandala edition. The print is incredibly small and the annotation printing is incredibly, even smaller. But it cost only $4.09 including shipping. New, it’s $19.00 discounted at Amazon to $18.05 plus shipping. Again, as a reference work, it does the trick.

So, these are the three translations I am using in reading the Zhuangzi this summer. In total, they cost me $20.22 (it helped that I'd received a gift certificate for Father's Day). They span the gamut from pure enjoyment to deeper study, from the latest academic findings to ancient Chinese commentary, and are useful in triangulating the way.

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