Translation of Mengzi 1A.5

The original text runs as follows:

梁惠王曰: 「晉國,天下莫強焉,叟之所知也。及寡人之身,東敗於齊,長子死焉;西喪地於秦七百里;南辱於楚。寡人恥之,願比死者一洒之,如之何則可?」

孟子對曰: 「地方百里而可以王。王如施仁政於民,省刑罰,薄稅斂,深耕易耨。壯者以暇日修其孝悌忠信,入以事其父兄,出以事其長上,可使制梃以撻秦楚之堅甲利兵矣。

「彼奪其民時,使不得耕耨以養其父母,父母凍餓,兄弟妻子離散。彼陷溺其民,王往而征之,夫誰與王敵?故曰: 『仁者無敵。』 王請勿疑!」


King Hui of Liang said, “Regarding [my predecessor] state of Jin, that in the whole world none was stronger than it, [this] is something that thou knowest. During my reign[1], in the east I was defeated by Qi (my eldest son died in this); in the west I lost territory to Qin to the extent of seven hundred li; in the south I was disgraced by Chu. I am ashamed of this: I long for the sake of the dead to completely wipe it away. What is one to do that he might thus be able [to accomplish this]?

Mengzi said in response, “Even be the land [but] a hundred li square, yet one can by it reign as king. A king — if he doth apply benevolent governance upon the people, lessening penalty and punishment and lightening excise and tax, and making the ploughing deep and the hoeing easy, and [if] the able-bodied use their leisure days to cultivate their filial and fraternal piety, loyalty and good faith, serve their fathers and elder brothers as they come in and serve their elders and superiors when they go out — can employ them to prepare [even just] sticks so as to beat the hard armour and sharp weapons of Qin and Chu.

“Those [rulers] snatch their subjects’ [proper] time, rendering them unable to plough and hoe in order to support their fathers and mothers. Fathers and mothers freeze and hunger; brethren, wives and children separate and scatter. Since they entrap and sink their people, if the king sets out and goes on a military campaign against them, in such a case, who will be a match for the king? Therefore ’tis said, ‘He who is benevolent hath no match.’ O king, I beg [of thee], doubt it not!”

Analytical Discussion: Translation Notes

This translation was intended to bear reasonable formal equivalence with the original text while being at the same time clear and accurate. Because of the elevated register of classical Chinese against that of modern written Mandarin, I have used early modern English like that of the early 17th century to represent a very ancient Chinese philosophical dialogue. This also conveniently allows stylistically natural avoidance of the word “if” in the translation where the original does not use such a word, thus providing for greater syntactic as well as lexical faithfulness.

Translating 夫

The word 夫 was challenging to translate. It is stronger than 則, so a mere “then” seemed to me to be too weak. The editor’s punctuation in the reader connecting 彼陷溺其民 with the following clauses also presented a problem, since translating the sen­tence with a double protasis would lead inevitably to an awkward rendering of 夫; translating the word as “this being so” would be equally awkward. Keeping 彼陷溺其民 as part of the same sentence, I chose accordingly to use “since” to colour that clause with the long-distance effect of 夫. At the same time, since the aim of formal equi­valence required that I keep something for 夫 in its original position and context, I translated it there as “in such a case”: “regarding that” was too wooden, and “as for that” (“that” referring to the situation laid out in the same paragraph and summed up in the clause immediately preceding 夫) made too little sense in English.

Conceptual Challenges

This chapter presumes some knowledge of agricultural production and its accompanying demands and duties and presupposes that a ruler does not himself engage economically in the production of food as well as knowledge of this practice. In “making the ploughing deep and the hoeing easy”, then, I have allowed a slight degree of ambiguity as to who exactly is doing the ploughing but used “making”, which suggests that rather than “ploughing deeply” himself or even “deepening the ploughing” the king should promote this among others. This indication I reinforce by rendering 易 as “[make] easy” rather than “rapidly”. This preserves a little bit of leeway while on the whole making the sense clearer.

[1] Lit. my person


2 responses to “Translation of Mengzi 1A.5

  1. Pingback: Translation Assignment: Mengzi I.A.5 « Cogito, Credo, Petam

  2. Pingback: Do We Really Need Long Sentences? « Cogito, Credo, Petam

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