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Architecture l Literature l The Arts | Sex Museum

Seeing a Friend Off

Green mountains range beyond the northern wall.
White water rushes round the eastern town.
Right here is where, alone and restless, he
Begins a journey of a thousand miles.
While travelers' intents are fleeting clouds,
A friend's affection is a setting sun.
He waves good-bye, and as he goes from here,
His dappled horse lets out a lonely neigh.

By Li Bai Tr. Stephen Carlson

It is difficult if not impossible to appreciate the full extent and beauty of Chinese literature without being fluent in the language. There are innumerable forms of interplay between the semantics and the written word itself. The structure of the characters often bring subtle interpretations of their own and are all lost in the translation since translation is an interpretation of its own. No matter how well a translation is done, it will be intrinsically poorer than the original.

One of the greatest translators of Buddhist texts into the Chinese language in the fifth century AD, Kumarajiva, said that translation is like chewing food that is to be fed to others who are unable to chew themselves. As a result, the masticated food is bound to be poorer in taste and flavor than the original. Despite this hindrance, several classical Chinese texts have been extensively translated and studied by Western specialists. There is also demand for such translations by the progeny of Chinese migrants who have grown up without a mastery of their mother tongue but feel a need to find their cultural and ethnic roots.

Among the more famous classical texts is the historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It was written by Luo Guanzhong (c. 1330 - 1400 AD) over a thousand years after the Three Kingdoms period. This was a time in Chinese history between dynasties, so to speak, when the country was splintered and in a perpetual state of war. The importance of this historical narrative is of epic (no pun intended) proportions. Some of the characters in the novel are now deities, worshipped for their courage and the moral values they represent, and there are many Beijing operas based on the period. There are even computer and video games that are based on this novel. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is considered a definitive source for much of the information on the people and culture of that period.

Perhaps another classical text, which deserves mention, is the military treatise by Sun-tzu, traditionally known as the Art of War. Although written as a study of warfare, the lessons in this book have become guiding texts for many Asian corporations and their executives. The book is credited to the historical Sun Wu who is recorded in other historical texts as having lived at the end of the sixth century BC. In the opinion of scholars though, there are several aspects of the writing that are inconsistent with the Art of War written then. Nonetheless, this text was first translated by a French missionary about 200 years ago and was allegedly studied and employed by Napoleon.

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