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Reviewed by:
  • Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the "Spring and Autumn Annals." by Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg
  • Matthias Richter (bio)
Durrant, Stephen; Wai-yee Li; David Schaberg; trans. Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the "Spring and Autumn Annals." Classics of Chinese Thought. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2016. 3 vols, xcv, 2147 pp. Hardcover $ 240.00, ISBN 978-0-295-999159.

It is hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the contribution that Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg have made with their translation of the Zuo Tradition (Zuozhuan 左傳), not just to the study of early China—I would go so far as to say: to world literature. The Zuozhuan, being of foundational importance to Chinese history and political thought, deserves a place in any global literary canon. Yet, it does not enjoy the same broad reception as, for example similarly important texts of Mediterranean antiquity do. In addition to the importance of the text, a simple, but by no means trivial measure of magnitude of the translators' achievement is the sheer volume of the text. At approximately 180,000 characters, the Zuozhuan is by far the most voluminous text from pre-imperial China. (The largest among other pre-imperial compilations, such as Guoyu, Hanfeizi, or Xunzi, measure less than half the amount of characters. Even the large compilation Lüshi chunqiu from the early days of the Chinese empire contains barely more than half the amount of text of the Zuozhuan.) The Zuozhuan is arguably the most authoritative source for the history of the pre-imperial period, in part surely due to its canonical status as an accompanying text of the Annals, used as their commentary. And yet, it seems safe to assume that fewer students of early China have ever read this text in its entirety than they have other voluminous books, such as Xunzi or Hanfeizi. This is surely due to the lack of an accessible translation in a European language. Durrant, Li, and Schaberg's magnificent work for the first time achieves this goal, and does so to perfection. The factors that contribute to this splendid result reach from the stylistic quality of the translation itself, the annotations, introductions, and reference sections of the work to the physical presentation, for which the University of Washington Press is to be applauded.

To begin with the language, the authors respectfully acknowledge the great merit of the existing English and French translations by James Legge and Séraphin Couvreur, respectively; but the need for a new, accessible translation exists undisputedly. Apart from the difficult navigation of the text and its matches with the Annals, these translations are stylistically antiquated and superseded by more recent scholarship, especially with regard to terminology. Durrant, Li, and Schaberg achieve a very consistent style in their translation. They write in a clear and unadorned, yet elegant language that has a natural [End Page 351] flow and sounds neither archaizing nor overly modern. The translation stays close to the rhythm of the original without any exaggerated mimicry of the original syntax. The accessibility and readability of the translation is also enhanced in several other respects. The visual presentation of the text could not be clearer: the English translation is placed only on the right-hand pages, while the left-hand pages are reserved for the corresponding Chinese text. The publisher must be congratulated for agreeing to such an arrangement, which leads to a considerable amount of blank paper on the side of the Chinese translation. Occasionally some of the space on the left pages is used to accommodate footnotes to the English translations. The importance of this decision not to maximize the use of paper at the cost of a clear arrangement of the content becomes clear when comparing the layout with that of Legge's translation, which sets a high threshold for even the informed reader and practically excludes a broader audience. In the present translation, both the Chinese and English are accompanied by marginalia indicating year and month of the reign of the respective lord, whose name is given in the bottom margin. The reader can match the Chinese and English easily and know the position...


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