Interpreting Words and Analyzing Characters
July 19, 2005
The Analects of Confucius have always been a difficult and opaque work for me. I have read it several times over many years and have always found at least half the sayings completely incomprehensible. The Arthur Waley and James Legge translations are dry and dated. D. C. Lau and Raymond Dawson are easier to read but still leave me puzzled about the meaning of most of the sayings. Some of their notes are useless and distracting, while others merely fail to inform. I was always left thinking of The Analects as a few clever and witty proverbs scattered throughout a strange and impenetrable work.
The Chichung Huang translation, on the other hand, is clear and easy to read. It is easy to follow the structure of the book. It has just the right amount of notes and they are located just underneath the analect itself—not at the bottom of the page or end of the book where you have to interrupt your reading and look for them. The sayings that are easy to understand have no notes. The other sayings have notes that clarify the context and meaning. They are brief and to the point so that they don’t get in the way of the text. Things that were impossible to understand are now clear. I find that I am no longer burdened by trying to decipher the meaning. As a result I am now getting to know the character and personality of each of the students, and enjoying their interaction with the Master. This is something I was never able to do before with other translations. Reading The Analects is no longer a chore but an enjoyable journey to a distant, but accessible, culture.