Zeng's third thing

In Analects 1:4, a certain guy named Tseng, Tsang or Zeng (choose your system for transliterating ) says:

吾日三省吾身 爲人謀而不忠乎 與朋友交而不信乎 傳不習乎

Here are four different English translations:

"I daily examine myself on three points:– whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful;– whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere;– whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher." (Translator: Legge. Source)
"Every day I examine myself on three counts. In what I have undertaken on another's behalf, have I failed to do my best? In my dealings with my friends have I failed to be trustworthy in what I say? Have I passed on to others anything that I have not tried out myself?" (Translator: Lau. Source)
"Each day I examine myself in three ways: in doing things for others, have I been disloyal? In my interactions with friends, have I been untrustworthy? Have [I] not practiced what I have preached?" (Translator: Muller. Source)
"Each day I examine myself on three counts: whether or not I am loyal to those in whose behalf I act; whether or not I am trustworthy in my dealings with friends; whether or not I practise what is imparted." (Translator: unknown. Source)

You can see that the first two of Zeng's standards are pretty clear, but the third one is being read as, variously:

  1. practising what I preach (Muller)
  2. practising what others preach at me (Legge, unknown)
  3. teaching people things that I have not myself tried (Lau)

The phrase in sentence is only four characters long: 傳不習乎, which character-by-character is "transmit not practise (question)." Clearly the issue here is who is doing the transmitting (and, perhaps, who is doing the practising, although everyone but "unknown" seems to be clear on that.) Is this just one of those unavoidable unclear Classical sentences, or are two (or more!) of the translators quoted here in error?

(I ask this question hoping that Amida's commentaries are still close at hand.)

Popularity factor: 8


For what it's worth, Pound's version is:

Tseng-tse said: I keep an eye on myself, daily, for three matters: to get to the middle of mind when planning with men; to keep faith with my friends; lest I teach and not practice.

Of course, ol' Ez didn't know Chinese and had crackpot theories about ideograms (hence the "middle of mind" stuff), but there it is. I didn't buy that Square Dollar Analects for nothin'.


I will look it up for you next time I go to the library. The book I have been using is pretty cool--it has all the important commentaries from the Han on all colleted together with the text.

I am betting that this is another example where there was traditionally an argument. The Analects in particular is prone to this stuff because it's so fragmentary, it's (supposedly) recorded speech, and it's just so damn old. Doesn't it make you feel better to know that even the Chinese haven't known what it means for a couple thousand years? (I used to think someday my Chinese would be good enough for me to just sit down and read this kind of thing. Now I can comfort myself.)


Thanks, LH!

Amida: Yeah... and also, I once read an article by a guy who once pointed out a few traditional ambiguous places which he was sure were just character spelling mistakes, but the mistakes had already grown such a crust of respected, valued commentary that it would be difficult to persuade everyone to fix them now.

I think I'm with you on the issue: either translate it appropriately ambiguously ("Is what is transmitted practised?") with a big footnote, or in a more popular setting where that would be bad style, come clean in the introduction (better yet, the subtitle!) and say "I rely on Commentary X to resolve ambiguities, except where noted" or something similar.

In fact, adding a commentary in toto would be a good way to distinguish one's Yet Another Translation of the Same Chinese Classic from the zillions already out there. "The Analects -- including the complete (X) commentary of the 1200s! Never before seen in English!" I'd probably be suckered into buying that.


There is such a subtitled Analects, though I can't remember offhand whose commentary it is or who translated it.

There is a book on Analects commentaries that I like very much called Transmitters and Creators: Chinese Commentatators and COmmentaries on the Analects. If you want a good overview, I recommend it.

And about the characters: There are lots of cases like that, and that's why so much of these commentaries dwells on what the characters sould actually be. When these texts were written and popularized the Chinese written language was not so standardized as it is today.

Maybe you know the example of Confucius' summarizing the entire Shijing with one line from it, 思無邪. That's often thought of as meaning "Think no evil," but in the days of the Shijing 思 was just an exclamatory particle, and 邪 meant straying or deviating from a line (as in a team of horses pulling something) so it should be "Ah-- no straying." What did Confucius mean? Was he playing on words? Did everybody get him wrong? Who knows--but it makes for good debate in commentaries.


One of the books you should be suckered into buying is Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries, translated by Edward Slingerland. There's another one with Zhu Xi's commentaries translated by Daniel Gardner.

The first has it as practicing"what I teach" and notes that the emphasis is on "actual social behavior" over theoretical knowledge. It also says Zeng must be into this idea because 8.7 evidences it too.

More later when I find it in the Chinese source I have been using. I only have a photocopy of Book 3's comments now.


Aha! So that's where the quote they wrote in decimetre-heigh letters on every 三省堂 bookstore came from. Reading this blog really pays off.

..which smoothly brings up something I've been meaning to ask you: do you happen to know where the practice of giving bookstores names ending in -堂 comes from? The only other thing I know which is named that way is halls in buddhist temples, but the connection is not obvious. :)


Dawson's version, which they have scanned in at Amazon, has:

Master Zeng said: 'Every day I examine my character in three respects: am I disloyal in my designs for others, am I untrustworthy in my dealings with friends, have I failed to practise what has been passed on to me?'

(Have you ever tried looking up this kind of thing on Amazon? It's appalling (at least at amazon.co.uk). They treat different translations as editions of the same book, so you get the same user comments and publisher's text on each page, all talking about different translations, as if they were referring to the same version.)

Would anyone care to suggest particular translations of the Analects and other Confucian classics for my reading list? (I ask here since Amidaworld isn't set to accept non-Blogger comments.) I did my best to pick good ones a while back based on someone's reccommendations at Amazon, but I'd trust your opinions more. I already have Slingerland and Dawson in my wishlist. (I hope it's the same Slingerland - the abovementioned Amazon stupidities make it hard to tell.)


Tim: I have now set amidaworld to accept non-Blogger comments. It was that way by default, and I never really thought about it.

The Slingerland translation is Confucius Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. I recommend reading that, Lau, Waley, Legge, etc., and believing them all.

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