What Confucius Really Said: The Complete Analects in a Skopos-Centric Translation

A new translation of the Confucian Analects that translates not only language but also culture. In the world’s first skopos-oriented rendition of this Confucian classic, the distractions of ancient history are sidestepped by allowing Confucius to speak in a contemporary idiom. Includes newly discovered chapters of the Qi Analects. More
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About Chris Wen-chao Li

Chris Wen-Chao Li is a translator and theoretical linguist. He received his doctorate in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology from Oxford University, and is currently Professor of Chinese Linguistics at San Francisco State University, where he teaches classes in general linguistics, Chinese language, news writing, and translation-interpretation.

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Reviews of What Confucius Really Said: The Complete Analects in a Skopos-Centric Translation by Chris Wen-chao Li

Personville Press reviewed on Feb. 2, 2021
(no rating)

I'd read bits and pieces of Analects in college, but found it dry and not as provocative as other classic texts like Chuang Tzu (for example). Then I encountered this wonderful and clever translation. It's one of the most original and delightful translations of a literary work I have ever encountered. Here's the conceit. Chris Wen-chao Li, recognizing that English-speaking readers might not understand the historical context of Analects, decides to translates all the aphorisms using U.S. slang and American pop culture references -- as though Confucius were some hip comedian making snarky remarks about Obama or California on his Twitter feed. At first it sounds strange and almost irreverent, but after a while you get used to it and even enjoy it. Let's face it. After all, if Confucius were alive today, why WOULDN'T he be all over Twitter? I read a large chunk of this book on an airline trip and chuckled aloud multiple times. It's hilarious! I'm sure Chris Wen-chao Li took tremendous liberties here, but the book provides ample footnotes about what the original text was like and many of the modern idioms seem well-chosen. I cannot comment on the textual accuracy of the translations (though I did compare certain passages with David Hinton and others and saw nothing seriously amiss). But the English phrases are elegant, compact and always fun.

This was easily one of my favorite reads of 2019. It brought Confucius to life in unexpected and readable ways. It combines the best of both worlds: solid scholarship with a highly readable (and entertaining) text. The Confucius in this translation jumps off the page and seems more relevant than ever to adventurous readers.
(reviewed 3 years after purchase)

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