How to Translate Ancient Chinese Words

Wei is a Bird Chirp

What Does It Mean?

Wei Fei Wei

Wei Wrong Meaning

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright ©2023 - October 23, 2023

A good example of how to translate the ancient Chinese texts is (wei). is a very simple word, but discerning an accurate English synonym takes time. The fun part is spending hours or days analyzing how a word was written in oracle, bronze, and seal scripts, and then comparing how the word was used in several different ancient books written by different authors. For myself, it took less than a minute to glean a usable definition of , but it took about another ten hours to find and to study how the word was used within about twenty different books. Once I determined two good English synonyms, the fun continued as I began analyzing other ancient Chinese words. (Spending days — sometimes weeks — analyzing one word is a lot of fun; it provides something positive and useful to think about.)

Only after having the opportunity to translate several topics that use the wei concept, am I then able to better clarify the English synonyms, and to then choose the one English word or phrase that is the most accurate parallel.

Dictionaries define as 'alone, exclusively, only', plus several different sentence particles that imply emphases and hopes, while the sentence particle may also not have any meaning at all. Or in other words, dictionaries claim that can mean anything you want it to mean. But that is what dictionaries claim.

is composed of two very simple ideograms: which infers "mouth" while usually implying an act of speaking, and which infers "bird". The word is simple: mouth + bird. Surely everyone who is not deaf has heard a bird chirp. Now, what does 'speak bird' mean? Chirp? Song? Tone? What? But that is the fun part, to read a word that is so extremely simple, and yet it means something that most people cannot grasp.

Perhaps the word implies a form of bird language, such as the road runner's? Many ancient Chinese words rely upon the reader having had firsthand experience with what the words imply; without the firsthand experience, the reader cannot know what the word is pointing at. But, if were to imply a bird language, then very few people on earth could read the word, because very few people have the firsthand experience of learning bird languages. Therefore, realistically, the word surely does not imply a bird language; the words' meaning must be much simpler.

Sometimes, the easier a thing is, the more difficult it is to grasp. Western philosophy has debated the meaning of ethics, morals, love, evil, and emotions for over two-thousand years, but still western philosophy has not yet discovered what the words mean. Eastern philosophers are reported to have debated the meaning of 'junzi' for over two-thousand years, and they too have not yet discovered what the word implies. 'Chirp-bird' is a much easier word than 'ethics' and 'junzi', but, still it is unknown to scholars.

A good example of how is commonly translated is found within Analects Yang Huo #25 (it is strongly suggested that the article be read in its entirety). The original wording is given as '子曰唯女子與小人為難養也近之則不孫遠之則怨'. The sentence begins with 'Zi say: '. The article's draft dictionary-translation was given as "Zi say: {only}...". In one translation, James Legge claimed that the three words mean "The Master said, "Of all people..."". In another translation James Legge claimed that the three words mean ""Of all others," said the Master...".

What was not spoken of in the article was that fully changes the whole of the sentence's meaning, especially when accompanied with rational translations of , , and others within the same sentence. Confucius did not hate on females as today's feminists and many scholars falsely claim; quite the opposite, he complimented females. No man is honorable, nor would he be respected, if he carelessly hated females. Confucius was honorable, and Confucius is respected, because, he was cautious with his words.

Just because James Legge and all other known dishonorable scholars said that virtuous people hate other people, their words do not make it true. Just because dishonorable and disreputable feminists falsely accuse and carelessly hate on Confucius by saying that he hated females, their words do not make it true.

Tiny Hints

Yang Huo #3 has a similar sentence: "唯上知與下愚不移". Using a dictionary, the word-per-word sentence reads similar to: "Alone topmost knowledge, and low stupid, not change." Does that make sense? Seriously, in what stretch of the imagination can that sentence be coherent? On the bright side, if a person can translate Yang Huo #3 accurately, then the person will also be able to translate Yang Huo #25 accurately.

Please please please, please someone read the sentence as it was originally written. Please! The sentence is screamingly simple and easy — as well as being intensely interrelated with numerous other topics of the 500 B.C. era — as are thousands of other similar sentences, and yet, to date, no scholar has been able to read the sentence of 8 tiny words. Not one, not even one; none, zero, zip, nothing, nada, wuji, the great vacuous void that is noun-named academia.

As always, Legge invented an odd little fairy tale as his translation of #3: "The Master said, "There are only the wise of the highest class, and the stupid of the lowest class, who cannot be changed."" Legge's delusional 23-word sentence is even more incoherent than the dictionary 8-word sentence. Reading Legge's translations is worse than attempting to reason with a person with severe dementia: the listener suffers deep mental damage.

There are over twenty sentences in the Analects and Dao De Jing that use the word. Yang Huo uses the word far more often than . The frequency of word usage is a big aid in determining what a word implies, but perhaps the best hint is for the reader to first translate what 陽貨 Yang Huo means. Li Ren and Zhong Yong are titles that hint of what the topics are within the books; the words are not personal names. What then is the topic of 陽貨? is easy, but is a tough one.

Humorous Example of Translating Ancient Chinese Words

Years ago, it was easy to translate the word , which roughly implies 'stop', but still the idea of 'stop' did not make sense within the sentence's topic. How could a person be benevolent and caring as the sentence spoke of, and then just simply stop? I fussed with the word for days before finally placing it on the back burner to be investigated further at a future date.

During a discussion a few months later, I was chatting about the need to limit how much a person publicly says and does. Within the explanation, I chose the idea of only doing what was necessary to convey basic information to disinterested people, and too, if the interaction included specific types of behavior towards specific types of people, then a person ought to express what was correct behavior for the moment, but to not continue beyond the moment's properness: to "stop". Aha! Realizing what I had just said, it reminded me of the word 'stop' within the difficult sentence. The sentence's idea was similar, to do what was proper, but if the person receiving the information and/or behavior was unreceptive, then one's efforts should not press further (to not attempt to help those who refuse to help themselves).

It had been a chance event that illustrated why the word 'stop' was used in the sentence, and what 'stop' inferred; 'stop' did not infer that one's proper behavior ought to stop, but rather 'stop' inferred to not add more to what had already been done.

Parallel is Shu Er 7.8: (draft translation) 'Zi said: Not offended, not start, not want-speak, not express-interest, to-hold-up one corner, not with three corners up, then not repeat {also}.' To not repeat, is an act of stopping.

Sometimes, even when we know the correct meaning of a word, we may still not know the reasoning behind the meaning.

The Core Problems of Translating Ancient Chinese

Thinking several thoughts simultaneously is not common within most cultures. The Sensory Quotient (SQ) and three concepts tests verified that most people (regardless of IQ score) are unable to mentally assemble three (nor two) concepts simultaneously. The inability to process multiple thoughts simultaneously results in a person's inability to form and to express the complex emotions that are the product of simultaneous thoughts. The lists of emotions as given by scientists, all illustrate the mental inability to process multiple thoughts simultaneously. One result of the absence of complex emotions is the scientists' psychopathy. The ability to read ancient Chinese texts relies upon the processing of two or more simultaneous thoughts. Forwards, backwards, intervals, arrange them into an intended sequence, and Nature's Tao-Way will produce a wonderful thing that has never before existed. The creation of the wonderful thing rarely happens in most societies because the people are unable to process multiple simultaneous thoughts.

Most individuals have been trained in schools to believe that memorizing a word is all the knowledge that is needed to know what a word means. Most individuals truly do believe that memorizing a word is all that they need to do. The individuals grow angry when a person does not offer a word to be memorized. The individuals' only recourse is to emotionally respond, because, they are unable to think of why memorizing a word is useless. The individuals are only able to express the emotions written by scientists; all of the emotions are selfish, negative, and a mark of low intelligence.

(e) and (si) are easy words to translate. However, both words contain (xin), which is a thing that most people cannot grasp, because, they themselves do not possess it, nor are they able to possess it, because their minds only have a single sequential thought.

The original draft of this article included a paragraph that gave a simple 15-step guide to translating ancient Chinese words. However, that would take all the fun out a person self-learning how to translate.