Further Reading

In response to our quoting Chang Ch’ao the other day, our reader Alex Leibowitz, a scholar of Chinese literature, has kindly provided further translation of the piece from which our excerpt was taken.


Shao3 nian2 du2 shu1, ru2 xi4 zhong1 kui1 yue4; zhong1 nian2 du2 shu1, ru2 ting2 zhong1 wang4 yue4; lao3 nian2 du2 shu1, ru2 tai2 shang4 wan2 yue4. Jie1 yi3 yue4 li4 zhi1 qian3 shen1, wei2 suo3 de2 zhi1 qian3 shen1 er3.

Reading books in youth is like peeping at the moon through a crevice; reading books in middle age is like gazing at the moon from the courtyard; reading books in old age is like appreciating the moon from a platform. Altogether the depth of one’s experience determines the depth of one’s gains.


Neng2 shi2 wu2 zi4 zhi1 shu1, fang1 ke3 chu1 jing1 ren2 miao4 ju4; neng2 hui4 nan2 tong1 zhi1 jie3, fang1 ke3 can1 zui1 shang4 chan2 ji1.

If you can become acquainted with wordless books, then you will be able to utter sentences that amaze men; if you can understand difficult explanations, then you will be able to participate in the highest subtleties of Buddhism.


Gu4 jin1 zhi4 wen2, jie1 xue4 lei4 suo3 cheng2.

In ancient times and now, so far as literature goes, blood and tears have accomplished it.


“Shui3 Hu3 Zhuan4”shi4 yi1 bu4 nu4 shu1, “Xi1 Xiang1 Ji4” shi4 yi1 bu4 wu4 shu1, “Jin1 Ping2 Mei2”shi4 yi1 bu4 ai4 shu1.

“Chronicles of the Water Margin” is an angry book, “Western Chamber Notes” is an enlightened book, and “Golden Lotus”is a sad book.


Wen2 zhang1 shi4 an4 tou2 zhi1 shan1 shui3, shan1 shui3 shi4 di4 shang4 zhi1 wen2 zhang1.

Literature is scenery on the desk, and scenery is literature on earth.


Du2 shu1 zui4 le4, ruo4 du2 shi3 shu1, ze2 xi3 shao3 nu4 duo1, jiu1 zhi1, nu4 chu4 yi4 le4 chu4 ye3.

Reading is the most pleasant thing, though in the reading of history, there is little that is pleasant and much that is infuriating – but in the end, the infuriating parts are pleasant too.


Du2 jing1 yi2 dong1, qi2 shen2 zhuan1 ye3; du2 shi3 yi2 xia4, qi2 shi2 jiu3 ye3; du2 zhu1 zi3 yi2 qiu1, qi2 zhi4 bie2 ye3; du2 zhu1 ji2 yi2 chun1, qi2 ji1 chang4 ye3.

It is suitable to read the classics in the winter when one’s spirit is concentrated; it is suitable to read history in the summer when one has much time; it is suitable to read the sages in the fall when it is particularly delicate (?); it is suitable to read anthologies in the spring, when one’s wits are quick (?).


Wen2 ren2 du2 wu3 shi4, da4 dou1 zhi3 shang4 tan2 bing1; wu3 jiang4 lun4 wen2 zhang1, ban4 shu3 dao4 ting1 tu2 shuo1.

For literary men to read military affairs is altogether like speaking of armies on paper [it works in theory but not in practice]; for generals to discuss of literature, is for the most part like idle gossip.


Shan4 du2 shu1 zhe3, wu2 zhi1 er2 fei1 shu1 ye3; shan1 shui3 yi4 shu1 ye3, qi2 jiu3 yi4 shu1 ye3, hua1 yue4 yi4 shu1 ye3. Shan4 you2 shan1 shui3 zhe3, wu2 zhi1 er2 fei1 shan1 shui3; shu1 shi3 yi4 shan1 shui3 ye3, shi1 jiu3 yi4 shan1 shui3 ye3, hua1 yue4 yi4 shan1 shui3 ye3.

If one is good at reading books, nothing is not a book for him – scenery will be a book, chess and wine will be a book, the moon and flowers will also be a book. If one is good at exploring scenery, nothing is not scenery for him – histories will be scenery, poems and wine will be scenery, the moon and flowers will be scenery.


Xi1 ren2 yu4 yi3 shi2 nian2 du2 shu1, shi2 nian2 you2 shan1, shi2 nian2 jian3 zang4. Yu2 wei4 jian3 zang4 jin3 ke3 bu4 bi4 shi2 nian2, zhi3 er4 san1 zai3 zu2 yi3. Ruo4 du2 shu1 yu3 you2 shan1, sui1 huo4 xiang1 bei4 xi3, kong3 yi4 bu4 zu2 yi3 chang2 suo3 yuan4 ye3, bi4 ye3 ru2 huang2 jiu3 yan1 qian2 bei4 zhi1 suo3 yun2: “Ren2 sheng1 bi4 san1 bai3 sui4” – er2 hou4 ke3 hu1?

Men of old desired to use ten years reading books, ten years wandering mountains, and ten years inspecting [the doctrines of] Tibet [Buddhism]. I say that to inspect Tibet in full one does not perhaps need ten years but only two or three would suffice. As for reading books or wandering mountains, though someone might increase either of these three- or five-fold, I am afraid it would not be enough to sate one’s desire. It must be as our predecessor Huang Jiu Yan said: “One ought to live 300 years”– but after that?


Gu3 ren2 yun2: “Shi1 bi4 qiong2 er2 hou4 gong1.” Gai4 qiong2 ze2 yu3 duo1 gan3 kai3, yi4 yu2 jian4 chang2 er3. Ruo4 fu4 gui4 zhong1 ren2, ji4 bu2 ke3 you1 pin2 tan4 jian4, suo3 tan2 zhe3 bu4 guo4 feng1 yun2 yue4 lue4 er2 yi3, shi1 an1 de2 jia1? Gou3 si1 suo3 bian4, ji4 wei2 you3 chu1 you2 yi1 fa3. Ji2 yi3 suo3 jian1 zhi shan1 chuan1 feng1 tu3, wu4 chan3 ren2 qing2, huo4 dang1 chuang1 yi2 bing1 xian3 zhi1 tu2, huo4 zhi2 han4 lao4 zai1 huo4 zhi1 hou4, wu2 yi1 bu4 ke3 yu4 zhi1 shi1 zhong1, jie4 ta1 ren2 zhi1 qiong2 chu2, yi3 gong1 wo3 zhi1 yong3 tan4, ze2 shi1 yi4 bu4 bi4 dai4 qiong2 er2 hou4 gong1 ye3.

The ancients say, “Poetry needs poverty before it can be accomplished.”In fact if one is poor then one has much to lament over, and it is easy for him to [show his skill]. But men who are rich cannot lament their poverty or sigh at their lowliness: they speak only of wind, clouds, the moon, and dew – so how can their poetry be prized? The only way to contradict this saying is to go traveling. For one can use the mountains, streams, and territories one has seen, as well as the products and passions of men, perhaps the remains of war’s ruin, perhaps the aftermath of droughts and floods, not one of these being unsuitable themes for poetry. Thus by borrowing the poverty and sorrows of other men to supply material for my own elegies, my poetry need not wait for poverty before it becomes accomplished.

Alex has a very interesting blog of his own; you can visit it here.

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One Comment

  1. JK says

    Thanks Alex. Much.

    And yep, you’re correct, Google Translate isn’t up to the task.

    Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink