12 June 2018

An Exercise in Literary Chinese - Part 3

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Now that we've covered most of the background, in part 3, we'll focus mostly on translating the next 9 sentences.

Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 before this.

From part 2, you should know that 顏率 (Yán Lǜ) is a man, most likely one of the Zhou king's advisers, since the king went to him for advice. The character after this i曰, and some of you who've maybe studied a tiny bit of Chinese characters/kanji might say, "Hey, I know this one! It means sun!" Sorry to break it to you, but sun is 日. As you can see, there's a subtle difference. 曰 simply means "to say" but it will almost always be used to introduce a direct quotation rather than being used as a general verb meaning "to talk." This character is useful because there's no quotation marks in literary Chinese (or any other punctuation for that matter), so it easily allows us to see when a quote is written. So what did Yán Lǜ say (顏率日)?

The first half of his quote read大王勿憂. Now 勿, for the most part, functions as a negative imperative. Imperatives are just commands, so in English, "Do not run!" would be an example. Since 勿 is a negative imperative, we should expect 憂 to be a verb rather than a noun. Putting it together, we have "Do not worry, great king" or alternatively, "Your majesty, do not worry." A fun fact about 勿. This is what's known as a fusion particle, which resulted from two characters, each having 1 syllable, being pronounced quickly so that 2 syllables became 1, which could then be written with another character. So it's kind of like a contraction in English. 勿 = 毋之.
Moving on, the second half of his quote reads 臣請東借救於齊. 臣 means subject or retainer, and it is the pronoun a subject/retainer would take when speaking humbly to his king/lord. For RotTK-fans, it's how Zhuge Liang starts his famous memorial to the court advocating the Northern Expeditions (亮言 = [your] subject Liang speaks...). Since 臣 is the subject, 請 is likely used as a verb, thus meaning "I request..." Now 東 typically means East, but it can also mean Eastward. So implied in this construction is the verb "to go." For 借救, both characters can be used as either nouns or verbs, but in this context, it really only makes sense for the first character to be a transitive verb and the second character to be that verb's direct object. That is to say, "to borrow aid." Finally, we have just 於齊 remaining. 齊 is Qi, a major power in the East, present-day Shandong region. 於 is another type of coverb that functions like the English prepositions, "to/at/from." The tricky part comes from figuring out which preposition we should translate it as depending on the context. But here, it's pretty obvious because no other preposition would make the sentence logical other than "from." In short, 臣請東借救於齊 = I request to go East and borrow aid from Qi.

Next, let's look at 顏率至齊謂齊王曰. The only new characters here we've yet to cover are 至 and 謂. 至 has a lot of meanings like "perfect" or "to go so far as", but given that Yan Lu just said to the king he'd go East, the best meaning for 至 is "to arrive." As for 謂, this can also mean "to say." Here, it's being used in conjunction with 曰 to introduce a quote. So putting it altogether, 顏率至齊謂齊王曰 = "Yan Lu arrived at Qi and said to the King. . ." You could also translate it as "Upon arriving at Qi, Yan Lu said to the Qi king" because stuff like when/upon is often implicit in literary Chinese. Hopefully by now, you're catching onto the fact that the English translations have to add a lot of prepositions or conjunctions to make it sound better. While literary Chinese does have similar characters that can provide this function like  or 而 as we covered so far, it uses them more sparsely.

Now, the next sentence starts with 夫 which ordinarily means man/husband, but when placed at the start of a sentence, it means something like "this" or the kind of "now" that I started this sentence with. For the most part, it doesn't translate that well into English and we can safely ignore it. So the first clause of Yan Lu's quote reads 秦之為無道也 so let's break this down. Here, 之 comes right after the subject rather than a verb, so it's not acting as a pronoun this time. Instead, it's a possessive marker, which I also mentioned in Part 2. For example, "John 之 house" would mean "John's house." The next character is 為 (alternatively written as 爲), which can be a coverb as shown in the image, but here, it simply means "to do." But remember that we have "Qin's..." preceding it. So rather than "to do," it'd be more accurate to think of it as "doing/action." So what exactly is Qin doing? 道 can mean road in the mundane sense, but it can also mean "The Way" (dao) in a more abstract, philosophical sense. By negating this with 無, Qin's actions can be said to literally be without "Dao," or in more comprehensible English, to be straying from the Dao, with its moral implications. Finally, we have 也. I'll talk about 也 in more detail later. For now, think of it as a sentence/clause-terminal particle that can add emphasis. Thus a slightly loose translation for 秦之為無道也 is "Qin's actions are immoral."

Finally, we come to 欲興兵臨周而求九鼎. At this point you should know what this means (if not, see part 2) with the exception of 兵 and 欲. 兵 simply means troops, and  is a verb meaning "to want" or "is about to." Honestly, both meanings make sense in this context so it's up to you. If you're wondering why there isn't a subject preceding this verb, this whole 欲興兵臨周而求九鼎 clause is being added to the prior clause 秦之為無道也. And since the subject, 秦, was already mentioned in this first clause, the writer felt it was unnecessary to write it again.
I left in the punctuation marks added by modern editors so you can better see where each clause ends and begins.
Alright, I hope you're not feeling too overwhelmed because we'll move right onto the next 3 sentences. You already know that 君 means ruler and 臣 means retainers, so you should by now know that 周之君臣 means "Zhou's ruler and [his] retainers." The next four characters though 自盡計 are all new. Hopefully from the definitions I've provided, you can guess that 盡計 means "to exhuast [all] plans" but you might be wondering what the hell "inside self"  is supposed to mean. Basically, what the ruler and ministers were doing is internally discussing among themselves on how to respond to the Qin threat.

Now let's look at 與秦不若歸之大國. This clause is quite simple and you really should be able to piece the meaning together yourself if you keep in mind what we've covered so far. For the answer, highlight the following: To give [it] to Qin is not as good as giving it to a great state. Now it's from here that Yan Lu's oratory skills begins to shine. Even though Qi and Qin should all be obedient vassal-states of Zhou, this is the Warring States period and everybody knows those formalities don't matter much. So he's speaking extremely reverential towards Qi almost as if Zhou is some sort of vassal or tributary of Qi. Thus, he refers to Qi as 大國, and unlike with Qin where he uses the more neutral word for "to give" 與, for Qi, he uses the much more respectful 歸. This is why although 歸 can mean "to give," its other meanings include "to entrust", "to present," or even "to give allegiance to."   

Before covering the last two sentences on this page, it's time to talk more about 也 as I promised before. 也 is used for sentences like "A is [a type of] B." For instance, "I am a man." In fancier linguistic terms, this is a topic-comment identity statement, because we are commenting (~being a man) on the topic (I) about the topic's identity. In textbooks, you'll see it simply referred to as the AB也 sentence. What  is doing in these AB也 sentences is to clarify/emphasize the relationship between A and B. That is to say, it's functioning as the "to be" verb (A is B). You may have noticed by now that in literary Chinese, one doesn't need a proper verb coming after the subject that means "to be." You can simply write something like 我 (I) 嬉 (happy) to mean "I am happy." That's why if you bother to add a 也 to make it 也, the meaning is still more or less the same. The only thing that changes is the writer's wish to clarify/emphasize the "to be" meaning. So it's like saying, "I truly am happy" even though the word "truly" is not explicitly used in the construction 也. If you go back earlier to the line 秦之為無道也, you'll notice that this is why 也 was added. There, it serves to emphasize Qin's actions are straying from the Way. Or as people from Northern California would say, "Qin is hella immoral."
Frederick III: "Now that I'm finally the Holy Roman Emperor, I can finally force the HRE to recognize
the weird-ass title of "archduke" my ancestors claimed almost a century ago!"
So let's look at two examples of this in our text: 夫存危國 美名也 ; 得九鼎 厚寶也. I'll do the first half. "Preserving a state in danger is [indeed] a beautiful deed." If you're wondering how 名 (name) translates to deed, 名 here is referring to something that allows one to make a name for oneself. In short, it's something commendable. Hence, 美名 can loosely be understood as a beautiful deed. Now, I hope you'll try doing the second part on your own. Answer: Obtaining the nine-ding is a generous treasureFinally, Yan Lu ends his speech by saying, 願大王圖之. The subject "I (Yan Lu)" is implicit in this sentence and 願 is its verb, meaning "to wish." So you could translate it as "I wish the great king will consider it" or as "Please consider it, great king" so that we also leave out the subject in the English translation as well. Oh, please do note that he's addressing the Qi ruler as a "king." Technically, the Zhou ruler is supposed to be the only king and Son of Heaven. But might makes right as the saying goes. If you're strong enough to get others to recognize whatever fancy title you created for yourself, then that becomes established as a fact! Just ask the Habsburgs of Austria, who suddenly revived the title "archduke" which had been defunct for nearly 400 years, just so they could elevate themselves in status over the other dukes and stand on equal footing with the other prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire!
Alright, you've probably had almost enough for one day, so let's just cover one more (but long) sentence. The first half 齊王大悅發師五萬人 is super self-explanatory from the definitions I posted above so try it for yourself. Answer: The Qi king was ecstatic and sent an army of 50,000 men. The last half of the sentence is trickier so let me explain a little slower. 使 can mean "to use" but it's also something known as a pivot verb, which is defined as "a verb whose object is at the same time the subject of the following verb." If it sounds complicated, don't worry about it because 使 as a pivot-verb can very easily be understood in English meaning "to cause someone to do..." For example, "I made you eat" or "I caused him to leave" can all be written with 使. So what exactly is the Qi king making his retainer named 陳臣思 (Chen Chensi) do? He is making Chen "take command" (of the troops). Unlike last time, 以 is being used completely differently. Here, it means "for the purpose of" or "in order to." That is to say, the Qi king is making Chen take command in order to help Zhou. With that, the tricky part is over and 而秦兵罷 simply means "and the Qin troops withdrew." Pat yourself on the back if you made it this far!

To summarize today's lesson with a slightly loose translation:

Yan Lu said, "Your majesty, please do not worry. Allow me to go East and borrow aid from Qi." Yan Lu arrived at Qi and said to the king, "Qin's actions are immoral as it raises troops to descend upon Zhou and demand the nine-ding. After exhaustively discussing all ideas, Zhou's ruler and ministers conclude that giving the nine-ding to Qin is not as good as entrusting it to a great state as yours. To preserve a state from danger is a beautiful deed, and obtaining the nine-ding is a generous treasure. Please consider this, your majesty." The Qi king was ecstatic and dispatched an army of 50,000. Chen Chensi was made to take command to rescue Zhou, and thus the Qin troops withdrew.

In part 4, I'll try to wrap up the translation and then consider the significance of this story in part 5.

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