(Translation) 朝三暮四

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Original Script



Three in the morning, four at night

We struggle in our minds and spirits to unify things, and we don’t realize they are all the same. This is called three in the morning. What is called three in the morning? The monkey master gave out acorns, saying, “Three in the morning and four at night.” The monkeys were all furious. The monkey master said, “In that case, four in the morning and three at night.” The monkeys were all overjoyed. In name and in actuality there has been no harm done. Rather, joy and anger have their uses; they also are based on what people think right. This is how the sage harmonizes the people with right and wrong and rests in the order of things. We call this the way of both/and.

Kathy Lin

  • Discussion Questions:

+ Several translation choices that can be deliberated are: "the order of things" for 天钧 and "both/and" for 两行
(YO) "The order of things" sounds Foucauldian...and interestingly fitting! But since, according to the Hanyu da cidian, the earliest use of 鈞 had something to do with musical scale (《國語‧周語下》:『是故先王之制鍾也,大不出鈞,重不過石。』〈韋昭〉注:『鈞,所以鈞音之法也。以木長七尺者弦繫之以為鈞法。』) and weight balance and unit (《呂氏春秋‧仲春》:『日夜分,則同度量,鈞衡石,角斗桶,正權概。』〈高誘〉注:『鈞,銓。』), perhaps we can call it "Heavenly Scale" or even "Universal Scale"? For 兩行, the idea is to apply/practice that two seemingly incompatible propositions. Some translated "double walks," "proceeding in two ways," "proceeding at two levels," etc.

+ 莫 means literally, evening or dusk, but using the word "night" has more of a bite to it in English, thinking of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." I'll take the stand that a less literal translation choice is justified to create snappiness or "bite" in the resulting translation. We can debate this.
(YO) Good point of discussion. To what degree and extent can we allow (or actively consider) less literal translation? How do we identify (and agree on) snappiness and "bite"?

(NKL) I think all of my translation choices above - "night" instead of "evening," "the order of things," and "both/and" have to do with musicality and sound in English. Which brings us to your question "how do we identify and agree on snappiness and "bite"? For "night" I might argue that the meaning stays the same, so there's a felicity to the original text in terms of meaning and I'm not betraying much by changing the literal word-sense there. I think the "order of things" and "both/and" might be more complicated in terms of felicity to original meaning, so I'd be on thinner ice there.