A Lineage of Light — Lecture Four, Arthur Waley

Arthur Waley (1889-1966) and the Translation of Chinese Poetry is the fourth lecture in the series ‘On Culture & Translation’. It was presented by John Minford at the Hang Seng Management College on 5 March 2016. A link to the recording of the lecture on YouTube is provided here and below, along with the Lecture Handout prepared by the speaker.


Nay, who else, friend, save you alone is possessed of the magic
Charm to unlock the remote treasuries wherein the buried wealth
Of China’s lyric art has lain despised and unheeded
Age upon age by the incurious Muse of the Far West.

From R.C. TrevelyanEpistola Ad A.W. (1932)

Waley was above all else a remarkably exacting craftsman… . He was first and foremost a creative artist who amid the laborious data of scholarship unearthed the raw material that his talent needed.

— Peter Quennell


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 celebrated translator of literary Chinese, presented ‘On Culture & 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 addressed 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, formationBildung in German. 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.

These lectures will be included in The Wairarapa Talks, one of the Projects of China Heritage. The Wairarapa 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,  26 May 2017

This prince among literati.

— Sacheverell Sitwell