- The Grand Scribe's Records. Volume XI, The Memoirs of Han China, Part IVby Ssu-ma Ch'ien
William Nienhauser's translation of The Grand Scribe's Records( Shiji) of Sima Qian will be the first complete rendition of this essential Chinese history into English. With the initial volume having been published in 1994, the series, now approaching its culmination, will be a monumental achievement. Its only competitor is Burton Watson's two-volume 1961 translation of the Han portions of the text, with a 1993 supplementary volume on the Qin chapters. Watson's translation is a literary marvel, but it provides little in the way of scholarly apparatus. Nienhauser's version stands in sharp contrast, with full [End Page 287]annotations throughout regarding textual variants, comparisons with the Hanshu, historical and geographical details, philological notes, cross references, and samplings from the commentarial tradition. The footnotes often provide welcome assistance in making sense of dense historical narratives, and the identifications of quotations and allusions from early Chinese literature are particularly useful. The fact that Nienhauser and his collaborators will provide a uniform level of scholarly annotations for the entire Shijiis a tremendous undertaking. The present volume is also noteworthy for providing English versions of four Shijichapters that Watson either omitted or translated only partially.
The translation here is solid, if somewhat workmanlike. For example, one might compare the new rendering of a proverb included in Sima's comments at the end of chapter 124, "If a man's appearance consists in his glorious reputation, how could [the latter] come to an end" (p. 124) with Watson's more fluid version: "The real looks of a man lie in his reputation, for that will never die!" Nienhauser's translation tends to follow the Chinese quite closely, often phrase by phrase, but the effect is to take readers with limited Chinese language abilities as close as possible to the original text. For students with a little more Chinese, the footnotes can provide a master class in translation, judiciously weighing alternative readings or possible variants in characters and punctuation. Even for those with advanced Chinese skills, the annotations can serve as an introduction into the vast corpus of Shijischolarship, encompassing centuries of Chinese and Japanese editions and commentaries, as well as more recent translations and studies in several Western languages. The 3–4 page "translator's notes" at the end of each chapter, which have always been a feature of this translation project, are once again put to good use as they convey interpretive insights about the literary structure of the Shijior the rendering of technical terms.
The careful scholarship in this volume—and there is an astonishing amount here—is not always served well by the printing. There is an unusual number of typos for an academic book, even one as complicated and multilingual as this. Some are merely annoying, while others are confusing. For instance, the word "note" in a Song dynasty philosopher's question, "Could this note be the crime of Ssu-ma Ch'ien," should clearly be "not" (p. 306). The most off-putting typos are those that are systemic, such as switching back and forth between Chowand Choufor the name of the last ruler of the Shang dynasty (sometimes on a single page; see p. 232), or what seem to be copy-and-paste errors, such as the puzzling inclusion of two footnotes on p. 358 that are repeated exactly from p. 95. The most egregious example is the way that most of pp. xxxiv–xxxvi (beginning with "Official Titles") has been replicated verbatim from the previous pages. It also may be something of a problem that the Chinese transliterations are in...