If you go to Amazon looking for the Chinese classics you will find a total mess. A bunch of publishers have ripped public domain books from Google Books and are selling them at various prices.
Why should you avoid these? (1) The original editions of what you are buying were bilingual, but the cheap books might have removed the Chinese. If you are really going to read these texts seriously you need the accompanying Chinese. (2) Even worse, these editions might be bad OCRs replete with typos and missing pages. (3) You will want to hang on to these print editions for many years, and the cheap publishers will likely give you a version with an ugly cover, and no guarantees on the quality of binding glue. (4) Any markup you are charged on the printing costs is done out of utter greed and adds no value to the book at all.
Here is the solution: buy print-on-demand versions from Google Books, thanks to the Espresso Book Machine. However, it is hard to find what you are looking for on Google Books’ search engine. So, I made this blog post.
The classics, by James Legge
This might sound kind of strange but some of the authoritative translations of the Chinese classics were made in the 1850s. I know, who was even reading them back then? The fact of the matter remains that James Legge still towers above any classical Chinese translator who has lived since, with the exception of maybe Burton Watson. There is still no other full translation of the Rites, Odes, or Documents. Furthermore, Legge’s books include the full Chinese in beautiful woodblocks, something that will probably never happen again.
Legge’s books can all be found on Google Books for free. The Espresso machine in the Harvard Book Store is the cheapest and shipping is also very cheap. I have included links for that order form as well, although you could just click the “Get this book in print” link available on the Google page. I also include a link to the Dover editions. These are rather good reprintings made in the 1970s that carefully mimeographed the original texts instead of swiping them under a digital camera. But they apparently did not find it profitable to reprint the more obscure books.
I have linked as well to any superior modern translations that are available so you can compare their merits with the Legge. The exception is the Mencius, for which there are other translations out there but I did not find any of them comparable.
|道徳||Tao Te Ching||全*||全*||全*||D.C. Lau|
* The Taoist texts were translated a little differently. They were in Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series and he apparently didn’t like including original texts. So, no Chinese, the Zhuangzi begins in the Tao Te Ching volume, and the translation is not the best. Might be better to consider alternatives.
What Legge didn’t translate
Legge translated the complete Confucian canon of the medieval era. However, Confucianism is more than just the canonical texts. Actually, Legge employed a scholar named Zhu Xi who was responsible for a major innovation in the way the texts were read. In order to really understand Confucianism it is necessary both to read texts that are outside the canon, and to read Zhu Xi and his detractors. Accessible translations of the unorthodox and medieval books are still in the works as we speak. Here is a list of what’s currently available for general audience readers.
- Records of the Grand Historian 史記 (1963)
- Lost classics from Mawangdui (1997)
- Spring and Autumn commentary by Lu Buwei 呂氏春秋 (2001)
- Liezi 列子 (2001)
- Mozi 墨子 (2010)
- Huainanzi 淮南子 (2012)
- Biographies of Exemplary Women 列女傳 (2014)
- Xunzi 荀子 (2014)
Surprisingly, the Hanshu 漢書 has never been translated in full.
- Jìnsīlù 近思錄 (1967)
- Questions of Master Zhu 朱子語類 (1990)
- Zoku Jìnsīlù 續近思錄 (1991)
- Commetary on the Analects (2003)
Bonus: 19th century translations of Chinese literature!