Master of Translation: Simon Leys’ Confucius

Over recent months, we have commemorated the writer, scholar and teacher Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys), who passed away on 11 August 2014, in a number of ways:

We continue our commemoration of a great mentor with this review-essay by John Minford of Simon Leys’ translation of The Analects of Confucius (Norton 1997). It originally appeared in the pages of The Australian’s Review of Books in 1998, but as no digital version of that short-lived but important journal is available (resulting therefore in the virtual inaccessibility of its contents), the author has kindly given us permission to reprint it here. Minor stylistic changes have been made to the text according to The China Story Style Guide.

The author echoes comments made elsewhere in the virtual pages of The China Story site when he writes that:

Simon Leys (pen-name of the Belgian-Australian Sinologist Pierre Ryckmans) has been an inspiration to a generation of students of China all over the world. His studies of contemporary China (The Chairman’s New Clothes, Broken Images, Chinese Shadows) provided a rare dissenting voice at a time when most observers failed to understand the significance of what was taking place in China. His studies of Chinese literature and art (his early thesis Propos sur la peinture de Shitao, his French version of Lu Xun’s prose poems Wild Grass, and many of the essays in The Burning Forest) have enlivened Chinese Studies more than the work of any other living scholar. What I have always found most powerful in his work has been his ability to ‘connect’ (it is no accident that he quotes E M Forster at length in his Analects commentary) classical and modern, art and literature, East and West, not in a highly intellectual and theoretical fashion, but in the intuitive, imaginative style of a creative thinker and artist. He is also a painter, a novelist, a passionate yachtsman and a man of firmly held religious convictions. It has been the extraordinary good fortune of Australian students of China to have had Leys among them for the past several decades, first as one of the community of scholars who created in Canberra, in the 1970s and 80s, a world centre of Sinology, then as professor of Chinese at Sydney University until his retirement.

We have also added this text to our New Sinology 後漢學 Reading List. — Geremie R Barmé


The Analects, Chapter 1, 學而

The Analects, Chapter 1, 學而

The Analects of Confucius is a peculiar little book. Confucius died in 479 BC (according to traditional dating, Buddha died in the previous year, Socrates was born in the same year). The Analects was put together during the century or two after his death, and since that time it has probably had a deeper and more long-lasting influence than any other book in the Chinese language. It became a sort of unofficial classic during the first century BC, when ‘Confucianism’ became the State ideology. In the twelfth century AD, it became one of the ‘inner classics’ — the Four Books — which every schoolboy had to learn by heart. It was not until the fall of the Manchu dynasty in the second decade of the twentieth century that Chinese intellectuals began to denounce openly what they saw as the evil effects of the ‘family firm’ they dubbed Confucius and Sons 孔家店. Even today this book remains vital for an understanding of what it means to be Chinese.

But if you actually read it, it strikes you as an unlikely text to have sat at the centre of the massive Chinese State enterprise. As most modern translators have realised, we have to separate The Analects and Confucius, on the one hand, from Confucianism and Confucian hagiography on the other. The Analects (the Chinese lunyu 論語 means ‘selected sayings’: James Legge first used the old Greek term analekta, ‘gleanings, or selected extracts’) is a short collection of staccato sayings by Master Kong, dialogues of the Master with his  disciples, and various anecdotes about the Master’s life. Its twenty chapters are of uneven date, and the whole text has (to quote the contemporary scholar Eugene Eoyang)’no coherence, no logical development, no reasoned presentation of a point of view — it is a collection of unprepossessing, if profoundly insightful, anecdotes and intuitive remarks.’ As Lin Yutang put it some fifty years ago, ‘it gives no well-rounded view of the Confucian system of thought, except by some very hard thinking on the part of the reader.’ For the ‘well-rounded view’ we have to turn to the later Book of Mencius (Master Meng, fourth century BC).

The Analects was in fact the first of a long line of Chinese collections of short pithy sayings and tales, from the wonderful fifth-century AD gallery of eccentrics, New Tales of the World 世說新語, to the laconic utterances of Zen masters such as the ninth-century Layman Pang (these were generally known as ‘recorded sayings’ yulu 語錄, rather than ‘selected sayings’). Mao’s Recorded Sayings, popularly known in the West as The Little Red Book, is an interesting attempt to revisit the genre. A saying of Master Kong’s, like a Zen koan or riddle, may prod the disciple or reader into thought and insight. Take for example:

In the morning, hear the Way; in the evening die content. (Analects 4.8)
‘Everything flows like this,’ said the Master, standing by a river, ‘without ceasing, day and night.’ (Analects 9.17)

Occasionally the prose of The Analects becomes more sustained. There is a famous passage at the end of Chapter 11, in which the Master asks four of his disciples how they would ideally like to spend their time. Three of them come up with more or less conventional and worthy proposals, and then the disciple Zeng Dian, who has been softly playing his lute (qin), plucks one last chord and pushes his instrument aside.

‘I am afraid my wish is not up to those of my three companions.’
To which the Master replied: ‘There is no harm in that! After all, each is simply confiding his personal aspirations.’ (yan qi zhi 言其志 — Legge: ‘speaking out their wishes’; Pound: ‘saying what he wants, his directio voluntatis’; Waley: ‘naming his desire’.)
‘In late spring,’ continued Zeng, ‘after the making of the spring clothes has been completed, together with five or six companions and six or seven boys, I would bathe in the River Yi, and then enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace, and go home singing.’
The Master heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘I am with Dian!’ (11.26)

So, in itself The Analects is a pregnant, not an explicit, text. Once it acquired the status of a classic, it began to be interpreted and re-interpreted countless times. The keywords of later Confucianist thinking are all there — humanity (the supreme Confucian virtue), loyalty, filial piety, righteousness, reciprocity, deference, sincerity, learning, ritual, culture. But although Confucius himself placed the correct use of terms, the ‘rectification of names’, at the top of his list of priorities, The Analects (which it must be remembered he did not actually write) leaves many key definitions open. Many of the Master’s utterances are tantalisingly short, and several passages are frankly unintelligible, or open to widely divergent interpretations. Each time one reads a Chinese commentary on The Analects, one has the sense of observing yet another inscrutable mandarin gazing deeply into an opaque bronze mirror, reading half-obliterated signs, bringing to bear not only his personal understanding but the whole body of accumulated Chinese thought, using, often manipulating, the cryptic text to arrive at some form of self-knowledge, some body of ethical precepts — seeing beyond the text into a perennial pool of wisdom. It is a time-honoured process. Like the Taoist classic The Tao and the Power 道德經 or the Buddhist Heart Sutra 心經, this is the perfect classic, because it is short and memorable, and can mean so many things to so many people. A relatively recent translator, the Oxford Sinologist (and lifelong inventor of crossword puzzles for the London Times), Raymond Dawson, has observed that ‘its brief utterances can be seen as seminal expressions of some of the typical ideas of Chinese civilization.’ More often than not, these utterances have been simply memorised, and have drifted down into the collective unconscious, where over the centuries folk wisdom has gathered around them.

In the West the book has been translated and retranslated dozens of times since the seventeenth century, stimulating many of the best minds of their time into unpredictable activity — from the early Jesuits to Ezra Pound. It was through the Latinisation of the Jesuits that Master Kong (Kong-fu-zi) first became Confucius, as Jan Amos Komensky had become Comenius and Joannes Froben, Frobenius. One of the most eloquent representations of Confucius in English remains the late-seventeenth-century booklet The Morals of Confucius, based on a French paraphrase of the Jesuit Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, which contained whole chunks of The Analects in Latin. In English, The Morals runs commentary and text together, removing ambiguities and spelling out its own vision of Confucius the Enlightened Sage, the Philosopher of extraordinary Virtue and Merit.

Certainly this excellent Man was also endow’d with admirable Qualifications. He had an aspect that was both grave and modest; he was faithful, just, cheerful, civil, courteous, affable: and a certain serenity, which appear’d in his Countenance, gain’d him the hearts and respect of all those that beheld him. He spake little, and meditated much. He eagerly pursued his Study, without tiring his Spirit. He contemn’d Riches and Honours when they were Obstacles to his designs. His whole Delight was in teaching and making his Doctrine savoury to many.

The strength of The Morals of Confucius lies in its forceful seventeenth-century prose, its vivid characterisation of the Master, and its determination to treat The Analects not as an oriental oddity but as a practical work of moral philosophy — ‘a set of measures whereby, at the end of the day, to learn whether the day has been worth living,’ as that latter-day Confucian Ezra Pound was to put it 250 years later. Compare the saying, ‘To study without thinking is futile. To think without studying is dangerous’ (Analects 2.15), with the 1692 paraphrase:

He that in his studies wholly applies himself to Labour and Exercise and neglects Meditation, loses his time. And he that only applies himself to Meditation, and neglects Labour and Exercise, does only wander and lose himself. The first can never know anything exactly, his Lights will be always intermixt with Doubts and Obscurities. And the last will only pursue Shadows; his Knowledge will never be certain, it will never be solid. Labour, but slight not Meditation. Meditate, but slight not Labour.

Confucius went on to become the preferred sage of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. In 1750 the poet laureate William Whitehead wrote:

Enough of Greece and Rome…
On eagle wings the poet of tonight
Soars for fresh virtues to the source of light,
To China’s eastern realms: and boldly bears
Confucius’ morals to Britannia’s ears.

Across the Channel, Voltaire held up Confucius as a model:

I have read his books with attention, I have made extracts from them: I found that they spoke only of the purest morality … he appeals only to virtue, he preaches no miracles, there is nothing in them of ridiculous allegory… .

In the twentieth century the Master had a more checkered career. Pound was obsessed with Confucius for most of his life. In addition to his own complete Analects, done in St Elizabeth’s Asylum after World War II, he incorporated numerous Confucian fragments into the Cantos. His 1945 rendering of Analects 1.1 in Canto LXXIV is free, etymologically unsound, but memorable:

To study with the white wings of time
is not that our delight
To have friends come from far
is not that pleasure
Nor to care that we are untrumpeted?

The fact that this was written while Pound was imprisoned (caged like an animal) at Pisa, under a charge of treason, makes it specially poignant. Pound too had made Confucius into a sage for his time, pressing him into the service of fascist Europe: ‘Hitler and Mussolini were successful insofar as they followed Confucius: they failed because they did not follow him.’

Simon Leys (pen-name of the Belgian-Australian Sinologist Pierre Ryckmans) has been an inspiration to a generation of students of China all over the world. His studies of contemporary China (The Chairman’s New Clothes, Broken Images, Chinese Shadows) provided a rare dissenting voice at a time when most observers failed to understand the significance of what was taking place in China. His studies of Chinese literature and art (his early thesis Propos sur la peinture de Shitao, his French version of Lu Xun’s prose poems Wild Grass, and many of the essays in The Burning Forest) have enlivened Chinese Studies more than the work of any other living scholar. What I have always found most powerful in his work has been his ability to ‘connect’ (it is no accident that he quotes E M Forster at length in his Analects commentary) classical and modern, art and literature, East and West, not in a highly intellectual and theoretical fashion, but in the intuitive, imaginative style of a creative thinker and artist. He is also a painter, a novelist, a passionate yachtsman and a man of firmly held religious convictions. It has been the extraordinary good fortune of Australian students of China to have had Leys among them for the past several decades, first as one of the community of scholars who created in Canberra, in the 1970s and 80s, a world centre of Sinology, then as professor of Chinese at Sydney University until his retirement.

Simon Leys, The Analects of Confucius, book cover

Simon Leys, The Analects of Confucius, book cover

He has always had the integrity to speak out for what he has known and felt to be true. (Zilu asked how to serve a prince. The Master said: ‘Tell him the truth even if it offends him.’ Analects, 14.22.) In the late 1970s academics in general were kowtowing to the new gospel according to Edward Said, and Orientalists of European extraction were learning to cringe at having been part of the centuries-old conspiracy to ‘dominate, restructure and have authority over the Orient.’ Leys, as always quick to catch the slightest whiff of political correctness in the air, wrote a brilliantly scathing critique of Said’s book, which he said ‘could only have been written by a Palestinian scholar with a huge chip on his shoulder and a very dim understanding of the European academic tradition.’ He eloquently defended the creative strand in Western Orientalism and Sinology, and its potential for ‘admiration [of the ‘other’ culture], wonderment, increased self-knowledge, relativisation and readjustment of one’s own values, awareness of the limits of one’s own civilization.’ His words echo the creed of the Breton writer Victor Segalen (whom he admired, and from whose ‘Chinese’ novel René Leys he took his own pen-name), that to explore ‘the other’ is to find ‘the self’.

Now Leys has published an English translation of The Analects and, predictably, it is no ordinary translation. It charts a journey into both ‘other’ and ‘self’, and does so with a rare combination of learning and passion. The Fukienese scholar Ku Hungming once described James Legge, the Victorian missionary translator of Confucius, as ‘a great Sinologue — that is to say, a pundit with a very learned but dead knowledge of Chinese books.’ Legge was perhaps more than that. His multi-volume Chinese Classics were a monument of scholarship, and still serve a useful purpose. Ku’s own English version of The Analects, published in 1898, was certainly very different from Legge’s. It was an illuminating and witty translation, peppered with quotations from Goethe and Carlyle, and informed by Ku’s own conviction that The Analects was a living book, ‘the book which gives to the Chinaman his intellectual and moral outfit.’ Ku, wrote Somerset Maugham, ‘accepted its philosophy with conviction. It answered the needs of his spirit with a completeness which made all foreign learning seem vain.’ (On a Chinese Screen)

Leys’ new English Analects is not dissimilar. It is certainly learned, but it is far from being dead. It is a translation that will take in its place in the long train of texts that record man’s continuing ‘criticism of life’, his dialogue on the meaning of civilisation, on the value of tradition. In his translation and commentary Leys makes it clear where he stands, and how he hears the voice of Confucius, speaking to our times.

To learn something and then to put it into practice [this is a more accurate translation of Pound’s ‘white wings of time passing’!]: is this not a joy? To have friends coming from afar : is this not a delight? Not to be upset when one’s merits are ignored: is this not the mark of a gentleman? (1.1)

In a hamlet of ten houses, you will certainly find people as loyal and faithful as I, but you will not find one man who loves learning as much as I do. (5.28)

I transmit, I invent nothing. I trust and love the past. (7.1)

Even though you have only coarse grain for food, water to drink, and your bent arm for a pillow, you may still be happy. Riches and honours without justice are to me as fleeting clouds. (7.16)

I am the sort of man who in his enthusiasm forgets to eat, in his joy forgets to worry, and who ignores the approach of old age. (7.19)

I am simply a man who loves the past and is diligent in investigating it. (7.20)

The new translation is closely based on Leys’ French version of 1987, Les Entretiens de Confucius, but the commentary is significantly expanded. It is a translation written not for the scholar, but for the reflective reader. The German philosopher and traveller Count Hermann von Keyserling wrote that to understand The Analects a man must be willing to ‘meditate on every individual sentence until its meaning has permeated his inner being — and when he has reached his goal, it does not mean that he has understood Confucius in our sense, but that the spirit of the great teacher has taken complete possession of him, just as a great passion takes possession of men’. This translation repays exactly that sort of attention. It is a wonderful commonplace-book (which is what many of the old Chinese philosophical and literary commentaries were), a Leysian tract revolving around an acutely observed version of this ancient text, appending 107 pages of scintillating commentary to 98 pages of judicious translation. Leys himself quotes Borges: ‘Caramba! I don’t know whether I dare to confess this — but whenever I quote Shakespeare I realize that I have improved on him!” He goes on to compare the classic to a peg on the wall of a cloakroom. The Analects peg has hung there for centuries and gathered the ‘hats, coats, umbrellas, bags and what not’ of successive generations of Chinese commentators. The Western reader comes into the room and finds it bereft of its Chinese accretions, strangely modern, forlorn and empty, bare pegs on a blank wall. Leys the translator fills it with a living Master.

When the Master ate next to someone in mourning, he never ate his fill. (7.9)

On a day when he had wept, the Master never sang. (7.10)

After I have lifted up one corner of a question, if the student cannot discover the other three, I do not repeat. (7.8)

A gentleman is easy-going and free; a vulgar man is always tense and fretful. (7.37)

And Leys the thinker and essayist (‘Leysius’) loses little time in clothing the peg from his own rich store of ‘hats and coats’, his own readings and meditations — as when he comments on the Master’s famous remark, that ‘A gentleman is not a pot.’ 君子不器 (2.12):

Confucian education was humanistic and universal… . Education is not about having, it is about being.

Simon Leys stands in the tradition of the great Neo-Confucian commentators of the Song dynasty, who brought to their reading of The Analects spiritual insights drawn from Taoism and Zen Buddhism. He is also a spiritual intermediary between China and the West, in the company of the early Jesuits and the great German translator Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm’s 1923 Book of Changes (itself the classic Master Kong valued most highly: ‘Give me a few more years; if I can study the Change till fifty, I shall be free from big mistakes.’ Analects 7.27) remains to this today one of the single greatest acts of translation from the vast treasure-house of Chinese philosophy [see John Minford’s translation of I Ching or Book of Change, and the full introduction to it, ‘易: A Cable into the Abyss of a Darker Time‘, reprinted in The China Story Journal. — Ed. ]. Wilhelm’s work stemmed from an act of faith: ‘May the same joy in pure wisdom be the part of those who read the translation as was mine when I worked on it,’ he wrote in his Preface. Leys’ Confucius is also very much a personal vision. And why not? The French translator André Lévy, whose own fine Analects (Confucius: Entretiens avec ses disciples) appeared in 1994, having pointed out the many inconsistencies and problems in the original text, compliments Arthur Waley for having opened the ‘Western hunt for the true Confucius’, with his brilliant but idiosyncratic 1938 translation, and goes on to conclude: ‘To each age its Confucius! Why not allow each reader his own image of Confucius? After all, the best lemonade is the one you squeeze yourself. Après tout, il n’est de meilleure citronnade que celle qu’on a soi-même pressée.’

Leys’ Confucius is no dry, inscrutable Chinese sage. He is a Chinese humanist philosopher with strong mystical leanings: ‘Several passages in The Analects suggest the powerful mystical drive (élan mystique) that inspired the Master and which only silence could adequately convey.’ In place of the old stereotype of the ‘boring pedant or benign philanthropist’, Leys brings out the ‘enthusiasm’ of Confucius, for whom the ‘virtue of ren, the plenitude of humaneness, is truly an absolute; it is of inexpressible and blinding splendor: it puts heroic demands upon every individual.’

The practice of humanity comes down to this: tame the self and restore the rites. Tame the self and restore the rites for but one day, and the whole world will rally to your humanity. The practice of humanity comes from the self, not from anyone else. (12.1)

Self-cultivation and self-knowledge lie at the heart of this humanity.

Self-knowledge has no end — you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river. As one studies it, as one goes into it more and more, one finds peace. Only when the mind is tranquil — through self-knowledge and not through imposed self-discipline — only then, in that tranquility, in that silence, can reality come into being.

Confucius? No. Krishnamurti, a teacher I recall Leys admiring greatly.
The gentleman, the man of quality, gets his values right, and then all else falls into place.

The social values are right only if the individual values are right, the place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.

Confucius? No. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I also recall Leys admiring greatly. (There is something disarmingly commonsensical and Confucian about Robert Pirsig’s spirituality:

Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.)

Leys’ Master is also very much a politician, who sees his mission as that of the sage reforming society and setting it back on track. The king should lead by his moral power. If he cannot set a moral example, the country is doomed. Confucian ethical teaching provided the basis for social harmony, righteousness operating through ritual, ‘civilized usages’, ‘manners [moeurs]’. Manners Makyth Man. But while later generations came to equate Confucianism with conformism and subservience to authority, Leys stresses the Master’s commitment to political dissent, the moral duty for the intellectual to criticize the ruler abusing power.

‘How would you rate our present politicians?’
‘Alas! These puny creatures are not even worth mentioning!’ (13.20)

This Confucius sounds almost like the [then] imprisoned dissident Wei Jingsheng, or Hong Kong’s democratic voice of conscience Martin Lee. He is certainly a far cry from the sage paraded to endorse the latter-day neo-authoritarianism of Singapore’s Lee clan and Hong Kong’s first post-Handover supremo C H Tung (‘Hong Kong is Hong Kong. I decide what is to be done.’) In fact, these two men, along with Mao and Deng Xiaoping, have little in common with Confucius at all, and far more in common with the rival school of Legalism, in which codified (and draconian) law replaced the civilizing influence of moral righteousness and ritual.

By Confucius’s time, the old Zhou dynasty feudal system had begun to break down. Public and private values were threatened. Leys hears Confucius in The Analects addressing the problems of our modern age and society. ‘Confucius had a tragic awareness that he was witnessing the disintegration of civilization — and for us today, it is this very awareness that, at times, gives such a modern ring to his anguish.’

Leys is characteristically forthright in his own diagnosis of modern society’s ills. It is here that his English Analects goes further than his 1987 Entretiens commentary, and it is here that Leys will succeed (no doubt to his delight) in alienating many a ‘liberal’ reader.

Anthropologists are warning us that the breakdown in communication between old and young, which the modern world is presently witnessing, may endanger the very survival of our civilization… . The moral chaos of our age — with its infantile adults, precociously criminal children, androgynous individuals, homosexual families, despotic leaders, asocial citizens, incestuous fathers, etcetera — reflects a collective drift into uncertainty and confusion; obligations attached to specific roles, age differentiations, even sexual identity are no longer perceived clearly. Before this alarming situation, anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists are now rediscovering the need for rituals and the importance of role definitions, to ensure the harmonious integration of the individual into society.

Confucius? No. Very much Leysius. But in its essentials, the Leysian understanding of Confucius coincides with that of the late A C Graham. ‘Since Confucianism roots all its general ideas in the minute study of existing custom, arts and historical precedent, it alone held the promise of the full integration of the individual into his culture, community, and cosmos which must be part of the secret of China’s social immortality.’

Leys presents The Analects as a book of life, like many of his predecessors.

Confucianism is not merely a teaching, but a life. We measure the degree of civilization not by accumulation of the means of living, but by the character and value of the life lived. Where there are no humane and stable relations, no reverence for the past, no respect even for the present, but only a cupidinous ravishment of the future, there, we think, there is no true society.

Leysius? No. Lowes Dickinson, the Cambridge don, writing in his 1904 classic Letters of John Chinaman, another Western critique of cultural crisis, placed in the mouth of a Chinese philosopher by a gay British Hellenist. Some twenty years later, the German Rudolf Pannwitz, in his work The Crisis in European Culture, advocated the ordering of society ‘on the solid, sure and civilizing principles formulated for ancient China by Master Kong’.

All translation is interpretation. Translation is also a craft in its own right, and translating a classical Chinese philosophical text is an extremely demanding exercise. I A Richards once (somewhat melodramatically) described it as ‘probably the most complex type of event yet produced in the evolution of the cosmos.’ Leys is at one and the same time a scrupulous scholar, a creative thinker, and a natural stylist and translator (rare combination). From time to time his English version may lack a little of the sharpness of his French, but it always has a distinctive flavor of its own. Even the best of translators produce the occasional banality out of The Analects. This comes from the devastating (and easily parodied) baldness of some of the Master’s sayings, and their frequent lack of context. For example:

The Master said: ‘While your parents are alive, do not travel afar. If you have to travel, you must leave an address.’

Yes. Confucius. Analects 4.19.

In walking the Master usually put one foot before the other; when he rested it was generally on both legs. If in walking he came upon a stone, he would kick it out of the way; if it were too heavy he would step over it or around it.

Confucius? No. The nineteenth-century American humorist Bret Harte.

Leys’ Confucius grows on one with the reading. There is nothing showy about him. But what he says strikes home. Pound wrote of The Analects: ‘The translation succeeds in its moderate aim if it gives the flavor of the laconism and the sense of the live man speaking.’ In this, Leys succeeds beyond a doubt. He captures much of what he himself calls the ‘rugged and artful economy’ (l’économie rugueuse et roublarde) of the original . His Master pronounces with great conviction. Leys has heard a real, living Confucius, and as a translator he is always willing to have a go at communicating that voice — unless he believes the text to be undecipherable, in which case he says so. The last sentence of his Analects 5.7 is, he freely admits, unorthodox and unlikely to be accepted by most scholars. But it is highly memorable:

The Master said: ‘The way does not prevail. I shall take the raft and put out to sea. I am sure Zilu will accompany me.’ Hearing this, Zilu was overjoyed. The Master said: ‘Zilu is bolder than I. Still, where would we get the timber for our craft?’

This heretical view of an athletic Confucius knocking together a raft and plying the high seas with his disciple (like the Owl and the Pussy-Cat?) is accompanied by a long (three-page) and highly entertaining note by Leysius the Confucian Yachtsman and Navigator (and translator, it should be remembered, into French of R H Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast). Such are the delights of this book! Dare we imagine what further delights a Leysian version of the supreme Taoist classic, The Book of Master Zhuang, would hold in store for us?

I recall an occasion in Canberra in the late 1970s when at the closing session of a long and boring symposium on translation theory, Leys was prevailed upon to make a comment. He rose hesitantly (‘He who practises humanity is reluctant to speak.’ Analects 12.3) and said: ‘One must love the text one translates.’ That was all. His Analects is written with the total love and conviction that his admirers (and detractors) have come to expect of him.

'The Master Said'

‘The Master Said’