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Xunzi: The Complete Text PORTABLE

Eric Hutton's is the first single-volume complete English translation of the Xunzi. For non-specialists who are unacquainted with the Xunzi, it will be an excellent alternative to Burton Watson's abridged translation (1963) of ten of its thirty-two chapters. For specialists, it is a valuable research tool to use along with John Knoblock's translation (1988-94). Hutton made explicit in the Introduction that his intended audience is undergraduate students. He has deftly delivered on his promise by producing a translation that is felicitous, friendly to use, and philosophically intriguing. As for its felicity, Hutton has skillfully avoided the problem of awkward prose that translators of classical Chinese texts often produce when adopting renderings that are not literal, simplifying synonymous terms when necessary, and using romanized terms in a way that still conserves the overall meaning of the text. Hutton's translation is also user-friendly. It contains a very helpful introduction to Xunzi the person and the history of the text that bears his name. It has concise footnotes and textual notes that do not overwhelm students with technical textual matters but are informative enough to alert them to some of the major textual disputes. It also includes a cross-reference list that points readers to corresponding sections in Knoblock's translation and the two standard Chinese-language concordances. Another unique feature of Hutton's translation is that it provides line numbers for more precise referencing.

Xunzi: The Complete Text

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The Introduction contains a section that identifies certain salient features of Xunzi's thought. Such an orientation is important for non-specialists who are approaching a highly sophisticated ancient Chinese text that deals with a conglomeration of philosophical issues in a relatively fragmented manner. When it comes to important philosophical terms that have significant bearing on our interpretations of the text, Hutton has left the Chinese terms untranslated. This practice helpfully signals to readers an area of philosophical ambiguity, and invites them to explore different interpretive possibilities. It would have been even better if Hutton had provided a short introduction to each chapter highlighting the philosophical themes specific to that chapter and inserted the Chinese characters alongside the untranslated terms.

Although this translation is intended for undergraduates, the footnotes and textual notes indeed refer to a wide range of annotations and commentaries that Hutton has consulted, giving us a glimpse of the serious effort he made to preserve both technical accuracy and readability. I am sympathetic to a number of compromises Hutton made, for it is practically impossible, in any translation, to identify all the possible interpretations and provide justifications for each term used. What I seek to do in the following is to simply suggest a few alternative readings and in doing so, alert readers to various possible philosophical interpretations that might be hidden in the translations.

Hutton translates "qing 情" as "innate dispositions" or sometimes "dispositions". If the term "disposition" in any way suggests a natural tendency, it is unclear that Xunzi thinks that qing itself has an inbuilt direction or tendency. In Chapter 22, Xunzi himself defines "qing" as "the feelings of liking and disliking, happiness, and anger and sadness, and joy in one's nature." But it is not obvious that Xunzi takes these "feelings" to be what we nowadays call "emotions," which are about something. In a majority of the usages of "qing" in the text, the term refers to certain facts about things or human beings, or to what human beings will all do under certain circumstances (e.g. 3.116, 3.161, 20.149). Instead of relying on the extra assumption that qing has direction in translating it as "innate disposition", it seems more straightforward and faithful to the original text to take qing to mean the feelings of likes and dislikes that are characteristic of human beings, or deep features of human beings that are difficult to change.

"Xin 心" is a pivotal term in the Xunzi, which refers to the physical organ of the heart, the seat of both affective and cognitive states, and the source of agency and moral exertion. The current popular practice in the literature is to translate "xin" as "heart/mind"; but Hutton opted for "heart". There are some good reasons for doing so. It approximates more closely the way it is used as a single term in the classical Chinese texts, preserves its holistic meaning, and avoids giving the impression that there are two dichotomous aspects of xin. It is also a move away from the tendency in existing translations of the Xunzi to place asymmetrical emphasis on the cognitive side of xin. That said, it is quite clear that Xunzi thinks that the cognitive aspect of xin is definitive of what xin is. Just like other organs that all have their specific capacity, the defining capacity of the organ xin is "zhi 知", in virtue of which the subject can understand, make decisions, and motivate action. Without zhi, even if the senses are functioning properly, the subject will not be able to make sense of the data her senses gather (e.g., 22.88-98; 22.370). Since xin is a central concept with varying usages, it would have been better to leave the term untranslated.

Another key issue that might not seem obvious to the readers is the relation between xin and personhood. In the Chinese text, Xunzi sometimes speaks of xin deliberating and making decisions as if he is talking about the person. There are at least three possible ways to understand Xunzi's understanding of the relation between xin and the person. (1) Xin dictates a person's behavior. This understanding ascribes agency to xin and leaves open the possibility that there could be a potential tension between xin and the person. (2) Xin is identical to the person. When we ascribe agency to xin, we are in effect ascribing agency to the person. (3) Xin constitutes the person. To ascribe agency to xin is to ascribe agency to the person. Nonetheless, it is possible that the person remains even if xin is not functioning properly.

In the first century AD, Liu Xiang redacted Xunzi's extant oeuvre from hundreds of loose fascicles into 32 bundles of bamboo strips. The first commentary on the Xunzi does not appear until 818 AD, when an official named Yang Liang claimed to have corrected errors in the existing bamboo strips and transcribed them on scrolls of silk.[5] Yang's commentary still appears in some modern editions of the text. The text has been continuously in print since the invention of the printing press in the 11th century AD.

Because the mind of the plucker in this ode is divided between her task at hand and the love she has for a man in the ranks of Zhou, she cannot complete the simple task of filling her basket. Xunzi warns against falling into obsession in this chapter. When one is subject to obsession, it means that one is focusing so intently on a certain thing (Xunzi claims that Mozi focused too much on utility, while Zhuangzi focused too heavily on Nature, for example) that one's mind will not be able to absorb any new information outside of the realm of one's obsession. One's true mind is thus divided in the sense of there being a wall too tall to see over in one's head separating the obsession from everything else. Obsession, as argued by Xunzi, is so strong that the ineptitude it causes can lead to one's death without one even knowing it. Examples of people who fell into such obsessions include rulers who neglected their duties at the hands of an obsession (for a particular concubine, for example) and thus fell into discord with their people, and usurpers of the throne who also met their end because of their obsession with gaining power.

Today the tide has reversed almost completely. Xunzi is one of themost popular philosophers throughout East Asia, and has been thesubject of a large number of books published over the past twodecades. From a twenty-first-century perspective, this revival ofinterest in Xunzi is not hard to explain: his body of work has alwaysbeen one of the best preserved, and with the commonplace scholasticobjections to his philosophy having lost most of their cogency, it isonly to be expected that philosophical readers should be attracted tohis creative but rigorous arguments. In this sense one could say thatXunzi has finally been restored, more than two millennia after hisdeath, to his erstwhile position as zui wei lao shi.

This is the first complete, one-volume English translation of the ancient Chinese text Xunzi, one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and elegant works in the tradition of Confucian thought. Through essays, poetry, dialogues, and anecdotes, the Xunzi presents a more systematic vision of the Confucian ideal than the fragmented sayings of Confucius and Mencius, articulating a Confucian perspective on ethics, politics, warfare, language, psychology, human nature, ritual, and music, among other topics. Aimed at general readers and students of Chinese thought, Eric Hutton's translation makes the full text of this important work more accessible in English than ever before.

Named for its purported author, the Xunzi (literally, "Master Xun") has long been neglected compared to works such as the Analects of Confucius and the Mencius. Yet interest in the Xunzi has grown in recent decades, and the text presents a much more systematic vision of the Confucian ideal than the fragmented sayings of Confucius and Mencius. In one famous, explicit contrast to them, the Xunzi argues that human nature is bad. However, it also allows that people can become good through rituals and institutions established by earlier sages. Indeed, the main purpose of the Xunzi is to urge people to become as good as possible, both for their own sakes and for the sake of peace and order in the world. 041b061a72


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