Manyul Im’s Chinese Philosophy Blog

… 名可名非常名 …

Gentlemen Prefer Bronze

I thought I would post this string of comments that ended up under the “100 ways” post, since it is really a different topic–namely, how to translate “junzi” (often translated “gentleman”). It’s a topic that might be useful/interesting for others to join in on (the “ubermensch” references owe to a quip I made about Nietzsche, to which Chris replied, and which set this whole string of comments in motion):

The Tao has many turns and twists. What about “higher man” [instead of “superman”] for ubermensch? I find “gentleman” distracting for junzi as well. I can only think of someone wearing a suit from the nineteenth century; maybe that *is* the right association?

Comment by Manyul Im | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 11:53 am –>

I think “higher man” would run up against the bunch of actual folks in Zarathustra (the folks in part four) who are “higher men” but not “ubermenchen.” I’m actually partial to “overman”, simply because, in a sense, that’s really what it is — the ability to transcend man’s present state. But it is a bit odd as a term, I think.“Gentleman” is problematic, I think, for exactly the reason you say. I think it gives off too much of the impression — one that Confucius himself sees — of thinking that the “gentleman” is a cultured person. Not that they aren’t, but you shouldn’t associated a person of ‘high culture’ with the term, and that’s clearly the impression the translation gives off. Very 19th century, as you note.Not to mention the fact that it’s gender biased, and my women students don’t care much for that (well, me either) and I can’t blame them. Should a translation seek to wash out patriarchical elements that are, clearly, present in the historical and cultural context of the work? It’s a tough question. In part, a “yes” answer might be helped along by the work of those trying to show that Confucianism is not anti-woman as a philosophy (Chenyang Li’s work and others some to mind).I guess the same concern could be raised for Aristotle too.

Comment by Chris | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 12:36 pm –>

I just want to say that that’s a pretty cool way to stumble across the Bureau of Public Secrets. Well, that and, does anybody know of a translation of “junzi” that gets the social status about right, doesn’t imply culturedness, and that neither directly implies nor makes ridiculous the Confucian moralisation of that term? “Gentlemen” maybe fails on all three counts, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything better.

Comment by Dan Robins | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 3:01 pm –>

Let’s see; I think actually–and I meant to imply that above–that in some of the Analects passages, the association with culturedness and meticulous manners *is* the right association to have. I’m of two minds here; I think that’s because the concept is itself trading on two emphases. I agree with the part of Robert Eno’s assessment in *The Confucian Creation of Heaven*, that there must have been something slightly ridiculous about the ritual mavens who embodied significant aspects of what Confucius probably thought of as junzi-qualities (think of Analects Book 10). On the other hand, the concept seems ripe throughout the Analects for transcending that to something like “the morally noble.” That translation might capture the ambiguity just right, but it sounds clumsy, not to mention the problematic insertion of “moral” into the picture. Maybe just “a noble person,” or a “noble man” if we want to preserve the highly likely sexism of the period?Back to the Ubermensch for a second: I have seen some people use “the superior person” or “the superior man” for junzi. But that sounds more like the Ubermensch to me.

Comment by Manyul Im | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 4:58 pm –>

On the junzi, on the three counts Dan mentions, and to avoid the worry of sexism that Chris raises, I second Manyul’s “noble person”. Irene Bloom, for instance, prefers to use it for junzi.A very minor flaw is that “noble person” does not flow as trippingly off the tongue as “gentleman” (but then I’m not a native speaker of English, so I can’t be sure on this point). I don’t think the “gentleman” rendition is all that bad either. It has certain associations that junzi doesn’t convey, but when I immerse myself in the text I find that the English rendition picks up the Confucian associations, and blocks out the Western ones.

Comment by Boram Lee | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 5:20 pm –>

“Noble” might work on its own, I suppose. Remember: it’s not just the Confucian usage we want to capture, the Mohists also talked about junzi, and they mostly didn’t like them. (One possible disadvantage of “gentlemen” is that it might make the Mohists’ references to the junzi of the world sound ironic, when they probably weren’t; “noble” may be better on this point.)Manyul, wouldn’t culturedness and meticulous manners be specifically Confucian associations of the term? Then we want a translation that allows for that as a reinterpretation, without suggesting the associations too directly, I think.

Comment by Dan Robins | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 5:41 pm –>

I completely certainly agree that culture-mindedness is an important part of the Confucian ideal. I meant that you don’t want a term that gives off the impression that one could capture the “ideal” while being cultured without “native substance” as Confucius says. “Gentleman” to me fails in that sense. My issue with “noble” is what it implies in English. For me, it gives off an impression of economic strata, just as much as “gentleman” might (though in the latter case not as strongly). I understand that the etymology of “jen” traces it back to “noble” in the sense that Nietzsche implies “good” meant “noble” in ancient times (where it at least requires being part of a certain social class or strata). As far as I understand it, Confucius “hijacked” the term to give it more of a moral/ethical feel, making it more dependent upon character, and in doing extended the term to anyone, not just people of a certain class.Why not just “exemplary person” as A/R translate it? “Exemplary” to me can capture what “noble” is trying to get at in the sense of culture without sounding strata-specific, and it can also grab onto the moral/ethical elements (also avoids the sexism).

Comment by Chris | February 3, 2008 <!– @ 6:04 pm –>

Dan and Chris, I think we want something that straddles that line between the older meaning of junzi, which is probably more strata-specific (”a lordly one” or “one of noble stock”), and the emerging meaning (”one of noble character”), which is more like a strata-independent category. “Noble person” strikes me as having just that quality of ambiguity, though I suppose the further we move away from the late Middle Ages the less strata-specific it will seem.And it’s not just Confucius (i.e. he of the parts of the Analects that are oldest) who clings to the older meaning, I think. A few generations down the line, when Mencius is portrayed saying that the junzi stays away from the kitchen, in 1A7, there still seems to be at least a hint of apologetics on behalf of class: only the lower sort would be around while someone is butchering animals, but junzis have a reason not to be in there anyway (they don’t want to feel compassion for livestock; that presumably would interfere with ritual/ceremonial slaughter and consumption of animals).

For Dan: I don’t really see why we ever need to attribute non-ironic use to the Mohists; the junzi isn’t admired in the least by them.

For Chris: I don’t think “exemplary” captures any of the older meaning so to that extent I don’t like it all that much.

Comment by Manyul Im | February 3, 2008

Feel free to join in with comments!

February 3, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Confucianism, Confucius, Mencius | 24 Comments