China’s modernization and Westernization manifest not just in material aspects but also in thoughts and language. Language, often perceived as the final bastion of indigenous culture, is significantly influenced as well. Chinese thought is expressed through a complex language—a language that is far from pure, with many loanwords and extensively invaded grammar, particularly in written and academic language. Terms in natural and social sciences are mostly borrowed or translated, often camouflaging within the Chinese language, notably adopting archaic forms.
Hence, in comprehending the concepts of “形” and “势” translation serves as a crucial reference point. Translation, as a process, is both comparative and creative, embodying a dialogue between cultures. Despite potential misunderstandings in dialogue, sometimes these misconceptions, when juxtaposed, can provide insightful perspectives, akin to a “third eye.”
Translating the classic text “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu into Western languages has presented numerous challenges, especially in finding appropriate terms for “形” and “势” The inherent difficulty arises from these two words needing to contrast each other while also being amalgamated into a single term.
Several Western scholars have attempted translations, each presenting unique choices. I found some of the most classic ones.These four books are representative translations since the 1960s.
|Samuel B. Griffith
|Strategic Military Power
|Forms and Dispositions
Samuel B. Griffith,trans.,Sun Tzu,the Art of War,London,Oxford and New York:Oxford University Press,1963,pp.85-95.
Roger Ames,trans. ,Sun-tzu, the Art of Warfare,New York:Ballan- tine Brooks,1993,pp.114-121.
Ralph D.Sawyer,trans.,The Seven Military Classics of Ancient Chi- na,Boulder,San Francisco and Oxford,1993,pp.163-166.
John Minford,trans.,The Art of War,Penguin Books,2003,pp.20- 30.
Several Western scholars have attempted translations, employing various terms such as “Dispositions,” “Energy,” “Strategic Dispositions,” “Strategic Advantage,” “Military Disposition,” “Strategic Military Power,” “Forms and Dispositions,” and “Potential Energy.”
However, scrutinizing these translations from a Chinese perspective reveals significant issues:
- The selected terms do not contrast with each other.
- They fail to synthesize into a single term.
The most common mistake while studying “形” and “势” is considering them as entirely unrelated concepts. In truth, they represent two different facets of the same thing.
To resolve this translation dilemma, it’s ideal to select one term to encapsulate the composite idea of 形 and 势”—a term that embodies both aspects, like “dispositions” or “energy.” To differentiate between the two, employing modifying adjectives might be preferable, such as:
In conclusion, the translation of “形” and “势” remains an intricate task, demanding careful consideration of linguistic nuances and cultural implications. This analysis emphasizes the need to view these concepts not as entirely unrelated but rather as two distinct facets of the same entity. The suggestion is made to choose a term that encompasses both aspects, differentiating them through appropriate modifiers.
The translation of these concepts stands as an intersection of linguistic, cultural, and philosophical realms, demanding meticulous consideration and linguistic finesse for an accurate conveyance across languages and cultures.