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740 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 851
JEAN-BAPTISTE RÉGIS (1730s)If you can get your hands on this translation, go for it, but it’s neither accurate nor accessible. I’ve only read snippets of Régis’s translation, but the fact that it’s in Latin and was written by a Jesuit missionary in the 18th century should be a tip-off that it’s not great.
THOMAS McCLATCHIE (1876)McClatchie’s was the first English-language translation, and it’s also not that great. He was far less prudish than Legge, his successor, but still tragically entrenched in the predominant Western mindset towards the East of the 19th century, exemplified in the opening statement of his preface: “The task of translating and explaining the works of Pagan Philosophers is by no means easy of accomplishment. The Heathen and Christian modes of thought are so diverse [that] the Christian translator will find himself completely puzzled, unless, as a preparation for his work, he learns to view these and suchlike subjects from a heathen standpoint.” (I feel like this is a perfect example of “task failed successfully.”) Although in the public domain, McClatchie’s translation is rather difficult to find in non-academic circles, being out of print in most areas; I’ve read it, and honestly it can be skipped.
JAMES LEGGE (1882)Also in the public domain is Legge’s translation, long considered the “standard” English-language version of the text. Legge is a complicated figure in the history of translation; his work was mostly terrible, but massively influential, and is still often used in translation studies, in no small part because of the fact that many of his translations included parallel Chinese and English text. Like many other translators of the Victorian era, particularly those who were also missionaries, Legge filtered all of his translation work through a Western religious context. Much scholarship has been written on the Victorian-era “invention” of Eastern “beliefs,” and Legge is one of the worst offenders; although his opinions on Eastern and particularly Chinese culture and literature did change for the positive throughout his life, the majority of his translation work is so irrevocably tinged with this 19th century-typical Orientalism, as well as his religious evangelism, so as to be functionally useless if the intent is to read something resembling the original text. For further information on Legge specifically, I’d recommend Norman J. Girardot’s The Victorian Translation of China.
RICHARD WILHELM (1923)Wilhelm’s original German-language translation is excellent, particularly given the time period in which it was produced. If you read German, I’d highly suggest this translation; it’s also out of copyright.
CARY BAYNES (1950)This translation uses a pivot language, the translation equivalent of homeopathy. Don’t bother reading it.
JOHN BLOFELD (1963)Blofeld’s dislike for Baynes is hilarious... ly relatable. This is a pretty solid translation, even from an academic perspective.
GREGORY WHINCUP (1986)A rather simplistic translation, lacking the more robust historical context of other editions. For some reason, probably because Whincup’s intention was to “rediscover” the text, certain characters were translated oddly: 火 (“fire”) becomes “shining light”; 水 (“water”), “pits”; and so on. The numbers are also often changed, so that instead of “1” we end up with “strong action,” and instead of “2” we end up with “acquiescence,” and so on. Whincup’s translation is certainly different from most other versions, but “different” doesn’t automatically mean “better,” and in this case it definitely means “worse.”
THOMAS CLEARY (1992)Although a more academic translation, Cleary’s is lacking sufficient supplementary material for context. I’d recommend only reading this translation alongside another academic translation if possible—not because it’s bad, but because its potential is sadly unrealised.
RICHARD JOHN LYNN (1994)Lynn’s translation is surprisingly good, with great historical and academic context. Also included is Lynn’s translation of the commentary of Wang Bi (王弼), which has been immensely influential on the reception of the Yijing for over 700 years. I would definitely recommend this translation.
RICHARD RUTT (1996)Rutt’s translation incorporates contemporary research which placed the Yijing during the early Zhou dynasty, which is interesting, but then Rutt ruined practically everything by making the English-language text rhyme. In general my experience with Rutt’s work is that his scholarship is passable not because of, but despite, his translation style.
EDWARD L. SHAUGHNESSY (1996)This is one of my personal favourite translations, if for no other reason than Shaughnessy’s commendable scholarship. Unlike most other translations, Shaughnessy’s is a direct academic translation of the oldest known manuscript of the Yijing, the Mawangdui (馬王堆) texts (plus the five commentaries), resulting in understandable yet lamentable lacunae and confusing sections. A wonderfully literal translation regardless, this is by far the best available English-language translation of the Mawangdui manuscript in particular.
ALFRED HUANG (1998)What’s particularly interesting about Huang’s translation is that it is, as far as I’m aware, one of the few English-language translations that can be said to come “from within,” c’est-à-dire, Huang is himself Chinese and, more specifically, a Daoist master. Huang was in fact imprisoned for over two decades during the Cultural Revolution as retribution for his studies of the Yijing. This translation is clearly intended for newcomers, and as such is quite accessible, albeit sometimes too wordy for my taste.
CYRILLE JAVARY (2012)Javary’s original translation of the Yijing was in 1989, whereupon he promptly began working on revising and correcting his translation, and has done so ever since. With the help of Pierre Faure, Javary produced a thousand-page landmark volume which is one of the best and most complete translations I’ve read in any language. It’s in French, obviously, which will (I’m sure) be alienating to some, but if you can read French I’d highly recommend it.
JOHN MINFORD (2014)Penguin Classics continues to befuddle me with their translation choices. Minford’s translation is quite readable, and frequently includes various different possible interpretations of a single hexagram (the book is divided into two parts with different “versions”). There are a handful of baffling idiosyncrasies, such as Minford’s decision to include random sprinklings of Latin throughout the text (hommage à Jean-Baptiste, peut-être...?) or his occasional allusions to pop culture (such as Dickens). The commentary is good, and provides some much-needed context; I’d suggest reading this one for the scholarship more so than the translation in and of itself. Minford is clearly incredibly knowledgeable, and there’s a veritable wealth of content within these 900+ pages, but I’ve read better translations.
DAVID HINTON (2015)No.
GEOFFREY P. REDMOND (2017)Redmond’s translation is... well, it’s fine. The translation is nothing special, and the commentary is mostly unhelpful, but you could certainly do worse.
CONCLUSIONI predict (no pun intended) that I’ll almost definitely return and write up a more thorough comparison of different translations, including actual examples from the text, but at the moment I simply CBF. Watch this space, I suppose.