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: Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works: ―Vol. I, Books (): John Knoblock: Books. Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works: —Vol. I, Books John Knoblock Human Nature and Virtue in Mencius and Xunzi: An Aristotelian. Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works,. Volume 1: nese writers , Knoblock says that the importance of Hsun Tzu in Chinese philosophy is.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. A Translation and Study of the Complete Works. Robert Eno Chinese Literature: JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive.

We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms xunzu scholarship. Volume 1, Booksby John Knoblock. Stanford University Press, For well over a millennium, from the Han to the rise of the Neo-Confucian schools, any history of Confucianism would have been obliged to list the three most influential Confucian thinkers as Confucius, Xunzi, and Dong Zhongshu. The first of these owes his eminence, at least in part, to his priority as founder of the sect which, in the West, is named for him.

The last must be acknowledged as the master of pragmatic adaptation, restructuring the doctrines of his school to respond to the new imperial age. Only the second, Xunzi, earned his exalted stature on the merits of philosophical brilliance alone. The text which bears his name is in many ways the apex of early Confucian thought, and without its virtuoso defense of the Confucian faith at a time when the philosophies of sunzi and legalism were in rapid ascendance, it seems unlikely that Confucianism could have survived as a major school of thought.

Yet no complete English translation of that text exists. John Knoblock has undertaken to fill this lacuna with his Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works,which is being published in three volumes-this initial volume includes the first six of the Xunzi’s 32 chapters. Knoblock’s translation has the virtue not only of being the first complete edition of the Xunzi in English, but also of being a highly skilled translation, meticulously xynzi intelligently annotated, and provided with supplementary analyses and sum- mations that will allow readers access not only to the text, but to its import.

In addition to these virtues, the book has been beautifully produced by the Stanford University Press, with Chinese characters copiously inserted and very few editorial errors. Somewhat under half of this first volume is devoted to translation of the text itself.

The first portion of the book includes an extended general introduction in seven knoblocm which discusses such topics as Xunzi’s biography and intellectual milieu, the philosophical themes which dom- inate the book, and the history of the text itself.

In addition, every text xunnzi is provided with an introduction in which the themes of the chapter are identified and essential background information is assembled coherently, so as to spare the reader undue reliance on the already formidable apparatus of annotation. Two major appendices deal with other technical issues. Much effort has been devoted to making this both an accessible and a complete scholarly resource.

In making his translation knoblocck occasion for a wide-ranging overview of Xunzi’s philo- sophical contributions, Knoblock follows the path of H. Dubs in the translation and companion study he published over sixty years ago. Comparing the two makes it clear that Western schol- arship has progressed far.

To evaluate Knoblock’s work, it will be helpful to discuss in turn three distinct aspects: There have been two previous partial translations of the Xunzi in English: Knoblock’s translation is based on sounder scholarship than either of these, and his interpretations are far more reliable.

Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works: —Vol. I, Books 1-6

His translation supersedes Dubs entirely, but it is likely that Watson’s will continue to find an audience as a more accessible literary translation. Knoblock’s primary concern is with accuracy rather than literary style.

Since the Xunzi is knoblocl philosophical rather than a literary text, Knoblock’s precision is welcome, but upon occasion this makes for awkward prose. In the second chapter of the text, for example, a phrase of 13 Chinese characters is rendered: Despite the bewildering elaboration in this case, Knoblock’s urge for complete philosophical accuracy leads him elsewhere towards sensitive textual flexibility, as in one case where he rearranges passages so as to allow the text to speak more clearly, carefully noting what he has done p.

This content downloaded from Essays, Articles, Reviews 12 One instance where departures from literal renderings xinzi have been less knoblokc is important enough to be worth noting, although it exemplifies a problem Knoblock is generally successful in avoiding.

In the first chapter of the text, the Xunzi devotes a full section 1. This section develops themes introduced earlier in the chapter in section 1. Knoblock’s translation will not lead non-Chinese readers toward this issue because the word which links the two relevant discussions yi is translated as “constancy” in the first and “unity” in the second each rendering valid in its contextand no annotation supplies the common root of the terms.


On the other hand, Knoblock’s editorial presentation of the same chapter enhances our understanding of the rhetorical texture of the Xunzi by clearly distinguishing through indentation what Knoblock deems to be material quoted from other sources, thus allowing us to keep track of the different logical levels at which the text is operating. There may be specific instances where one could dispute whether a passage is a citation or an original idea, but by highlighting the issue in this way, Knoblock’s translation will add new sensitivity to our future readings of the Xunzu text.

Generally, Knoblock’s translation will be of great service to sinologists, because it conveys thoughtful scholarly interpretation with a degree of detail richer than traditional Chinese com- mentary can provide, and to non-sinologists pursuing comparative philosophy, because it rep- resents an informed understanding of the text expressed with precision.

The annotations which accompany the text, both in the notes and in the intro- ductions preceding translated chapters, reflect deep immersion in the commentary tradition of the Xunzi. Knoblock’s basic approach links him to the practices of Qing scholarship, and a sizable percentage of his philological references are drawn from Wang Xianqian’s collected commentary edition of Further material is gathered from other traditional and modern Chinese com- mentaries, from modern Japanese translations, and from Chinese and Western secondary liter- ature Japanese secondary literature is lightly represented.

The strength of Knoblock’s scholarship derives primarily from his great control over a wide corpus of traditional textual sources. His method does not generally incorporate philological scholarship based on early inscriptional ma- terials, but he does make some use of Han texts and editions archaeologically excavated in recent years.

The sinological component of the knlblock is formidable, but Knoblock does not allow the technical apparatus to overwhelm commentary discussion of potential interest to non- specialists. The best test of a philosophical translation is how validly it defends its interpretations, and Knoblock scores very well on this point. In my own case, because I do not share a number of Knoblock’s basic assumptions concerning the text, there are in this translation a great many readings with which I disagree.

In a high proportion of instances annotative material provides good reasoning behind Knoblock’s choices, reasoning well beyond citation of previous com- xuzi. Even if one does not accept Knoblock’s readings, in most important cases he dem- onstrates valid grounds for his interpretation.

In several instances the scholarship behind Knob- lock’s renderings reflects intense original research, and at a number of points Xuni has worked hard to offer interesting solutions to stubborn problems.

An example would be his attempt to explain the text’s apparent attribution of five element theory to Zisi and Mencius by suggesting that the phrases in which their names appear should be read as quoted material rejected by the text p. Knoblock’s decision to include a certain amount of annotative material in introductions to individual chapters has the advantage of allowing him to highlight major themes in each essay.

This will be helpful to those unacquainted with the text, who will be less confused when en- This content downloaded from There are, however, some drawbacks. It is not always easy to bear in mind exactly which issues are dealt with in these introductory sections for example, Knoblock usually, but not always, gives basic biograph- ical facts about individuals mentioned in the text in these introductionsand I was frequently puzzled when reading the text by the absence of annotation at kniblock points.

Later readings reminded me that these points had already been discussed in the introductions.

Knoblock’s ambitious general introduction provides a detailed scholarly framework for his translation. It includes three basic components: To begin with the last, Knoblock’s textual study is a tour de force. It not only lays out with great clarity the origins and early history of the text as we know it and the textual overlap between the Xunzi and other early works, but provides a splendid account of the various printed editions of the text extant xuzi the Song knovlock.

Anyone who has waded through the references to these in Wang Xianqian’s commentary will welcome Knoblock’s work with gratitude. Knoblock’s outline of the philosophical issues that formed the intellectual context of the Xunzi, which spans some fifty pages of the general introduction, seems primarily intended for nonspecialists. However, many of its brief knob,ock of key issues and terms are so elegantly nuanced that they will be of value to sinologists as well. Knoblock uses this section of his introduction to provide groundwork supporting his choices for translating key terms in the text, and these discussions are among the most interesting portions of his book.

Similar discussions of terms and concepts appear in a separate glossary placed after the translation. For example, in Knoblock’s translation, the key term de is generally, but not universally, rendered as “inner power. Such discussions help alert readers to alternatives not preserved in the translated text itself, and even those who may not agree with Knoblock’s specific choices will appreciate the reasoning which lies behind them.

The biographical section attempts to elaborate the spare accounts of Xunzi’s life which we possess into a full intellectual biography by exploring how Xunzi’s wandering life brought him into contact with the major philosophical thinkers and political actors of his day. The biography is, in my judgment, less successful than other sections of Knoblock’s book, and this relates to the one reservation I have concerning Knoblock’s approach to the Xunzi and to the study of early Chinese thought in general.


It seems to me that Knoblock has a tendency to be uncritical in granting historical reliability to statements in traditional sources, and that he does not, in many cases, xunzu readers adequately or at all to instances where the reliability of evidence is a disputed point.

For example, one of the most basic disputes in Xunzi studies is the date of Xunzi’s birth, an issue which pivots on a textual variation in early sources, which variously report Xunzi’s arrival in the state of Qi as occurring in his fifteenth or fiftieth year neither option is entirely satisfactory in constructing a reasonable chronology.

Knoblock tells us that we know that Xunzi was precocious because he arrived in Qi at age fifteen. While a note informs the reader that there exists a textual variant and refers to Knoblock’s own earlier work discussing the point, the implication is that the issue is not a live one, and that the figure fifteen is now accepted, an impression reinforced by the fact that Knoblock uses the figure without qualification in calculating a birth date for Xunzi one several years later than any other I have seen.

The issue of Xunzi’s birth date is an important one-the extremes of fifteen and fifty locate Xunzi in different generations of thinkers-and it is by no means resolved. It is perfectly reasonable to settle on the figure of fifteen as the best option This content downloaded from Essays, Articles, Reviews 12 perhaps knoblcok as a conventional reference to the age at which study begins, in line with Analects, II.

Similarly, in his detailed chronology of Xunzi’s life, Knoblock incorporates nearly every re- ported piece of evidence associated with Xunzi without indicating that the facticity of many of these incidents can be and has been questioned. There exists, for example, a report that after accepting a position as magistrate of the small city of Lanling in the expanding empire of the state of Chu, Xunzi resigned in pique to become a high minister in the state of Zhao, only to give up the latter high post and return to Lanling at the urging of his repentant patron in Chu.

There are a number of problems with the tale, both in terms of its basic plausibility knohlock in terms of the evidence supporting it. Knoblock accepts the story, as he has every right to, but does not defend his decision or indicate for readers that its reliability has been questioned repeatedly xnuzi the eighteenth century.

Similar suspension of critical assessment seems to inform Knoblock’s chronology of the var- ious books of the Xunzi which rests on a scarcely defended assumption of uniform authorship of the first twenty-six chaptersand his discussion of the Xunzi’s influence on knpblock Han as well.

This is not to say that Knoblock’s ideas are not valid or that his scholarship is not broad; in fact, it may be that the very detail of Knoblock’s familiarity with early historical sources has led him to be so inclusive in his acceptance of evidence.

However, because Knoblock does not generally indicate where evidence may be questioned, or specify that his historical and intellectual portraits of Xunzi are based on this inclusive methodology, nonspecialists will be less able to keep track of the many interpretative options which Knoblock excludes in constructing his analytical frame- work.

Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works: —Vol. I, Books | John Knoblock

This is in sharp contrast to Knoblock’s procedures in textual annotation, where he is generally at pains to indicate areas of controversy and defend his own choices. Reservations such as these are important to bear in mind precisely because of the overall excellence of Knoblock’s work, which will undoubtedly be viewed for years to come as the definitive translation of the Xunzi.

Intellectually complex works can, in principle, never be de- finitively translated. No rendering across the gap of linguistic context can exhaust the intellectual potentials of the original work; no care in adjudicating among alternative renderings can preserve the ramified possibilities of valid options excluded.

This is easy to recall in the case of less scholarly translations, but Knoblock’s rendering is of such high quality that it will be difficult for readers to recognize that it is the product of Knoblock’s informed view of the text rather than the text itself-other views could highlight different themes, see different linkages, and produce renderings very different.

Paradoxically, the superb scholarship with which Knoblock has elu- cidated the Xunzi challenges us to preserve and explore the endless interpretive possibilities that continue to exist in the options which his translation has passed over.

Luo Zhufeng hYJr et al. Shanghai cishu chubanshe, Vol. All sinologists must rely to some degree upon lexicons to accomplish their research goals, regardless of specialization. Remember me on this computer. Enter the email address you signed up with and we’ll email you a reset link. Click here to sign up. Help Center Find new research papers in: