A Lineage of Light — Introducing Four Translators

… felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken …

John Keats


The word 譯, ‘convey, explain, translate’, in the hand of Wang Duo 王鐸 (d.1652).

In February and March 2016, John Minford, co-founder of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and a leading literary translator of Chinese, presented ‘On Culture and Translation’, a series of five public lectures at the Hang Seng Management College 恒生管理學院 in Hong Kong where he is Sin Wai Kin Honorary Professor of Translation and Culture 冼為堅榮譽教授 (中國文化與翻譯) in the School of Translation.

In his lectures John traces a lineage of leading British interpreters of Chinese literature and thought by focussing on four translators: James Legge, Herbert Giles, Arthur Waley and David Hawkes. The Introductory Lecture featured below addresses the broad topic of Culture and Translation and the nurturing of the literary or cultivated mind, what in Chinese is known as xiūyǎng 修養, or, in French, formation. This is a subject that we will continue to consider in China Heritage.

John extols translators and their role in world civilisation as Warriors of Light. His overview of these four great translators whose work spans one and a-half centuries offers readers an insight into a little-appreciated Lineage of Light, one that remains vital for the appreciation and understanding of the Chinese world.

Over the next two weeks (15-26 May 2017) we will publish the YouTube video recordings of Four Lectures on Four Translators, with accompanying Lecture Notes in PDF format. These lectures will be included in The Wairarapa Talks, one of the Projects of China Heritage. The Talks are recorded and/or transcribed lectures, speeches and lessons presented in various formats and at various locales by members of the Academy. Over time The Wairarapa Talks will also recommend lectures by non-Academy writers and scholars.

— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage

On Culture & Translation

John Minford

Sin Waikin Honorary Professor of Translation and Culture
Hangseng Management College, Hong Kong, February-March 2016



On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

John Keats (1816)

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.*

— Editorial Note: This poem features in the Introductory Lecture.