The Three Kingdoms

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The Three Kingdoms

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Editado: Abr 23, 2007, 7:10pm

Above is a link to the two letters Zhuge Liang 诸葛亮 wrote to Liu Shan, the inept young emperor of Shu Han, son of Liu Bei. It is glossed and also paraphrased in modern Chinese. Deeply moving and contemporary, though written in 227 AD. You sense the urgency in Zhuge Liang's words, his loyaly to the dead Liu Bei, having promised to support Liu Shan and fight to regain Chang'an from Cao Cao 曹操 and re-establish the Han 漢.

In my humble opinion, Zhuge Liang was brilliant, but he was unwise to support a lost cause. It would been far better for him to remain living in his idyllic thatched cottage, in what is present day Hubei, and to have stayed out of the politics of Wei/Jin, Wu and Shu Han. If he should have wanted to leave Liu Bei and go back to his abode on Wo Long Gang 臥龍岡, he could not do so, for the region was soon taken by Cao Cao's forces.

鞠躬尺瘁, 死而後已 refers to Zhu Geliang. Roughly translated: Responsible/ exerting oneself unto death.

I've been studying classic/ancient Chinese because I need to feed my writing, out of a sense of duty because I should understand my Chinese heritage. After reading these letters, I feel as if I've touched the essense of a real human being. Now I want to read more and my studies should be easier.

Abr 23, 2007, 6:01am

The pinyin is Zhuge Liang, not Zhu Geliang. (Zhuge is the surname.)

Editado: Abr 23, 2007, 7:45pm

>2 enthymeme: Thanks for the correction, enthymeme.

>1 belleyang: 諸葛亮 前出師表,後出師表 has been invaluable to me in understanding warfare, ancient and current. I translated The Art of Warfare a year ago as an exercise. The history of 三國 is best read with an understanding of 兵法, conversely, 兵法 is less dry with examples from 三國. What I gained from the 後出師表: offense is the best defense.

>1 belleyang: I wish I were an academically-minded being, but I am a solipsist. Reading 前出師表,後出師表, I recall the times when my own father admonished, recommended, poured his heart in his attempt to steer yours truly in the right direction. The two letter of Zhuge Liang to Liu Shan (or Liu A-dou) are in the spirit of a father to his son. Unfortunately, Liu Shan was weak and eventually lost the kingdom of Shu Han, present day Sichuan.

Zhuge liang advises Liu Shan on who he should trust as advisors, and to steer away from the "petty man" 小人.

Editado: Mayo 1, 2007, 3:34pm

Below, advice Zhuge Liang gave his son; his words derives from Confucius's Da Xue and Zhong Yong. It's gorgeously said and all the guidance one needs to lead a life of fulfillment. (I'll translate later.)


蜀 諸 葛 亮 誡 子 曰 . 夫 君 子 之 行 . 靜 以 修 身 . 儉 以 養 德. 非 澹 泊 無 以 明 志 . 非 寧 靜 無 以 致 遠 . 夫 學 須 靜 也 . 才 須 學 也 . 非 學 無 以 廣 才 . 非 志 無 以 成 學 . 慆 慢 則 不 能 勵 精 . 險 躁 則 不 能 治 性 . 年 與 時 馳 . 意 與 歲 去 . 遂 成 枯 落. 悲 歎 窮 慮 . 將 復 何 及 .

Editado: Mayo 4, 2007, 12:46am

1. 蜀 諸 葛 亮 誡 子 曰
In Shu (today's Sichuan) Zhuge Liang admonished his son:

2. 夫 君 子 之 行 . 靜 以 修 身
If you are to conduct yourself as a superior man, you must remain serene in order to develop your mind and body.

3. 儉 以 養 德
Live frugally and foster your virtues.

4. 非 澹 泊 無 以 明 志
Only in the absence of greed will your abilities become visible.

*changed to: Only in the absence of greed will your ideals become visible.

5. 非 寧 靜 無 以 致 遠
Without serenity you will not be able to gain perspective.

*changed to: Without serenity, you will not be able to gain deep perspective.

6. 夫 學 須 靜 也
If you wish to learn, you must be serene.

7. 才 須 學 也
To become accomplished, you must study.

8. 非 學 無 以 廣 才
Without study, you will not gain extensive skills.

9. 非 志 無 以 成 學
Without strength of will, you will not attain knowledge.

10. 慆 慢 則 不 能 勵 精
If you engage only in recreation and idleness, you will not achieve excellence.

11. 險 躁 則 不 能 治 性
If you engage in dangerous and rash actions, you will not be able to refine your nature.

12. 年 與 時 馳 . 意 與 歲 去 . 遂 成 枯 落. 悲 歎 窮 慮 . 將 復 何 及
You will age as quickly as the swift passage of time. Your resolve will disappear as you grow old. It will wither and decline; at which point, if you should sigh with regret, what good will it be?

Editado: Abr 30, 2007, 11:53pm

>5 belleyang: Notice the use of 澹泊 again in line 4.

Mayo 1, 2007, 8:17am

'非 澹 泊 無 以 明 志' may be rendered as:

High aspirations cannot be maintained without living the simple life.

In other words, rejecting the base desires for fame and wealth is necessary for the attainment of the gentleman's ideal.

I've noticed that you translate '明 志' as "abilities becom(ing) visible"? I'm not that sure why that is. '明' here is really just a reference to the illuminated (and thus noble) ideal of gentlemanly cultivation.

Accordingly, '非 寧 靜 無 以 致 遠' follows from this notion of the noble aspirant, and may be rendered as:

Without a serene mind there is no reaching the distant horizon.

Or less literally: if the mind does not have a measure of tranquility from extraneous disturbances (such as the aforementioned base desires), then the far-reaching goal is impossible.

I don't know where "perspective" comes into the translation?

Sorry for verbosity. It is quite difficult to maintain the poetry of the original without losing either the sense of a phrase or its allusions.

Editado: Mayo 1, 2007, 3:07pm


You said: "Without a serene mind there is no reaching the distant horizon."

Reply: 致 遠 has to do with deep understanding of situations, so we are not speaking of distances or goals but with perceiving.

非 寧 靜 無 以 致 遠
Without serenity you will not be able to gain (deep) perspective.


You said: " 非 澹 泊 無 以 明 志' may be rendered as:
High aspirations cannot be maintained without living the simple life."

Reply: No. The 明 志 means making visible your 志向, your "ideals." If you live a simple life, you will make visible your ideals.

The hidden meaning: by living the simple life, you will make visible the purity of your ideals (to thoses who may wish to entice you with false prizes).

Editado: Mayo 1, 2007, 6:11pm

Classical Chinese is the art of condensation and compaction--

#2 plus #3 give rise to: 靜 以 修 身, 儉 以 養 德.

#4 becomes 澹 泊 明 志 and to scholars signified as 澹 泊

#5 becomes 寧 靜 致 遠 and to scholars, signified as 寧 靜

(#4 plus #5 give rise to 澹 泊寧 靜)

#6 becomes 學 須 靜

#7 becomes 才 須 學

#8 becomes 學 以 廣 才

#9 becomes 志 以 成 學

Mayo 1, 2007, 1:39pm

>9 belleyang: I've always seen a kinship of Emily Dickinson's poetry to classical Chinese. E.D. plays the game of condensation and compaction.

Mayo 2, 2007, 1:38am

If you're wondering why brilliant Zhuge Liang used more words than necessary, it's because the above passage was a letter to his own son and not addressed to scholars.

He used the 非's and the 夫's and the 無's for emphasis. Just imagine YOUR own father worried about you, admonishing you, reminding you, underscoring and repeating his warnings so that you will do the right thing. Fathers are much more 羅嗦 wordy and long-winded when it comes to their own children's, no? ;)

Mayo 2, 2007, 8:49pm

I don't know Emily Dickinson well enough to see any kinship, but I recognize the game of condensation and compaction and could even predict it in your examples. go me!

Oct 18, 2007, 4:56pm

Also with the simple and forceful metaphors dickinson used, though i did not realize that about chinese poetry until i read the song-poems translated (with the original) by Prof. Crump.

Mar 15, 2009, 6:28pm

I only just discovered this topic. The Three Kingdoms is one of my favorite books! I look forward to reading your comments.