The reception of the I Ching 易經 in the West: Some Reflections

jmChina Studies Centre, University of Sydney

Professor John Minford

12.00pm – 1.30pm, Thursday 5 November 2015
Room 310, Old Teachers College (A22) , University of Sydney

Since the early 18th century, Western sinologists, and the Western intellectual community concerned with the understanding of China, have puzzled over the I Ching, or Book of Change, one of China’s oldest and most venerable classics. The French Jesuits at the court of the Kangxi 康熙 Emperor interpreted it in various ways (some of the rather eccentric) and translated it into Latin complete with commentaries. Word of it reached and fascinated the German intellectual giant Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716). During the 19th century, prominent Christian missionaries such as James Legge and Canon McClatchie struggled to ‘make sense’ of it. In the wake of the 1911 Chinese Revolution, the Lutheran pastor Richard Wilhelm worked with the scholar Lao Naixuan in Qingdao to produce his magisterial German version, which was subsequently put into English with Carl Gustav Jung’s Foreword. It was this last version that finally penetrated a broad readership across the Western world.

This seminar will conclude with some reflections on the challenges inherent in undertaking a new translation for our times. Professor John Minford’s own I Ching, some 12 years in the making, appeared late last year from Viking/Penguin in New York.

John Minford was educated at Winchester College (1956-1963), and Balliol College, Oxford (1964-1968), where he studied with David Hawkes. In 1970 they began their collaborative 5-volume translation of the great 18th-century novel The Story of the Stone 石頭記, otherwise known as The Dream of the Red Chamber紅樓夢, completing it in 1986. He studied for a PhD at the ANU from 1977 to 1980, under the supervision of Liu Ts’un-yan. Since then he has published a number of translations of Chinese literature, classical and modern, and taught Chinese literature and translation in various universities in China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. He is currently a Professor of Chinese at the ANU.