- Stories to Caution the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Volume 2
Having already published a full translation of Feng Menglong's 馮夢龍 first collection of vernacular stories, Stories Old and New: A Ming Dynasty Collection (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang here unveil the next installment of their project to render Feng's famous Sanyan 三言 trilogy into English. This translation of Jingshi tongyan 警世通言, Feng's second anthology (first published in 1624), allows English readers a further opportunity to read a collection of Feng's stories in their entirety and relieves us of the once unavoidable chore of leafing through an assortment of earlier English publications to find limited and sometimes abridged selections from Jingshi tongyan.
Stories to Caution the World offers the reader plenty to savor. The collection includes a number of well-known stories that have already been translated into English, tales such as those about the historical figures Wang Anshi (nos. 3 and 4), Li Bai (no. 9), and Judge Bao (no. 13), as well as celebrated stories with a Ming dynasty setting such as those of Madam White (no. 28), Du Shiniang (no. 32), and Prefect Kuang (no. 35). This translation makes available for the first time such notable stories as "Lü Yu Returns the Silver and Brings about Family Reunion" (no. 5), "A Shirt Reunites Magistrate Su with His Family" (no. 11), "A Former Protégé Repays His Patron unto the Third Generation" (no. 18), "Yutangchun Reunites with Her Husband in Her Distress" (no. 24), and "Squire Gui Repents at the Last Moment" (no. 25), which all deserve to be better-known than they are. Set against a finely observed Ming backdrop, these tales of dramatic partings and reunions, of reversals of fortune and changes of heart, show Feng Menglong's storytelling talents in full flow. [End Page 520]
Although it may not be particularly difficult to produce a good English rendition of the odd Sanyan tale, to translate a complete forty-story anthology is clearly a major undertaking that requires unflagging energy and sustained attention to the translator's craft. The Yangs respond to this challenge extremely well, moving sure-footedly through narrative and dialogue, and from poetry to proverb; one finds admirably full, accurate, and idiomatic translation throughout. Only now and again, in the second half of the book, does one detect a few signs of fatigue. In "Jiang Shuzhen Dies in Fulfillment of a Love Bird Prophecy" (no. 38), for example, we sometimes come across turns of phrase that strike a false note. "Come to think of it, when all's calm and quiet, was the affair worth it if she was to bring him to such ruin?" (p. 651; original text reads: 靜而思之，着何來由? 況這婦人不害了你一條性命了。) should be something more like: "When you think about it soberly, what was the point of it all-particularly when she cost him his life?" Or from time to time we find a workmanlike but inelegant paraphrase: "This new experience shattered her and left her with a feeling of floating lightness, the sweetness of which was beyond words" (p. 657; original text: 自經此合，身酥 骨軟，飄飄然其滋味不可勝言也。) might have been more effectively rendered as "As they coupled, her body melted and her limbs went soft, leaving her with a sensation of indescribable bliss, as though she were floating on a cloud." Here and there, the occasional typographical error also detracts a little from the effect, but on the whole we can turn to the Yangs' translations with confidence and read them with satisfaction. Although these new translations do not in themselves necessarily supersede all previous English renderings, they offer an additional feature that is entirely absent in earlier translations, namely, inclusion of the interlinear and marginal commentary supplied in the original Ming edition. These remarks, often shrewd and knowing, and never dull, provide a new element of commentary over and above that built into the stories through the storyteller's manner, and introduce an agreeably unpredictable...