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The Southern Garden Poetry Society: Literary Culture and Social Memory in Guangdong.

The Southern Garden Poetry Society: Literary Culture and Social Memory in Guangdong. By David B. Honey. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv + 258. $45.

This is a study of poems about Guangdong by poets from Guangdong. Its focus is on the Southern Garden Poetry Society and its later revivals. The conceptual framework is the idea of the Southern Muse, defined as a set of images "that occupied the minds of Cantonese poets" (p. 41). Honey explores the history of such images before turning to the formation of the society as a space of sociality. The second part of the book examines how later generations (from the mid-Ming to the early Republican) appropriated memories of the society for their own literary, cultural, or political purposes.

As the first full-length study in English of a regional poetic tradition in China, the book ventures into hitherto unexplored territory and sheds light on the process through which writers from a historically marginal(ized) area constructed a distinct literary identity. The critical narrative is vivified by the author's judicious treatment of a fascinating array of texts on Guangdong's ecology, history, and lore. However, the Southern Muse might be something of a Procrustean bed: on the one hand, images of what is indigenous to Guangdong appear only in a small number of poems in the oeuvres of the region's native poets; on the other, such images can be readily found in the works of many non-Cantonese poets.

Another contribution of the book lies in its translation of a large quantity and variety of texts with which most readers will not be familiar. Honey is a skillful translator, but his accuracy is not always optimal. 1 devote my remarks in the following to this aspect of the book, since it has not received much attention in the reviews that have appeared so far. Many of the problems in Honey's translation fall into four areas: names and titles, Chinese characters, allusions, and implications of parallelism. I use his translation of Zhang Jiuling's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (678-740) "Fu on the Lichee" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (pp. 12-16) as the prime example and draw further illustrations from elsewhere in the book.

Part of Honey's translation of Zhang Jiuling's preface reads (p. 12): "But my assistant, Liu Hou from Peng City, who had moved around while young and had passed several times through Nanhai commandery, agreed with me. He sighed with delight several times when he heard my words" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Liu is Liu Sheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who was exiled to Lingnan in his youth but who was appointed a Drafter in the Secretariat [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Kaiyuan period (713-741). Hou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used here as an honorific, not as part of a personal name. An error of the same type but in the opposite direction is the translation of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "the Marquis of Qujiang, Andou" (p. 4). Hou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the family name of Hou Andu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (519-563), a native of Qujiang. The error is all the more puzzling since Honey mentioned Hou's biographies in Chenshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Nanshi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (although he misquoted the latter book as Liangshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], p. 166 n. 7). The translation of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "Female Historian Liang Ruozhu" is yet another example (p. 134). Nushi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used here as an honorific for educated women. "Lady Liang Ruozhu" would suffice.

The excerpt from Zhang Jiuling's preface reveals another problem: the recognition and transcription of Chinese characters. The original text reads: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. It may be translated as: "Only Lord Liu of Pengcheng, Drafter in the Secretariat, who had been to Nanhai during his several appointments in his teens, emphatically sighed in delight upon hearing what I said." Honey's substitution of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" with "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" was probably a glitch; "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" was apparently a redundant character (yanzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Similar glitches include "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (added after "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]"), "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (omitted after "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" in "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," p. 12), "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (added before [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," p. 15), and the metamorphosis of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" into the chaotic "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (p. 13). The splitting of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (to receive a succession of appointments) into two words, however, led to a mistranslation.

In using software to input Chinese, one may inadvertently pick a wrong character with the same pronunciation. In some cases, such typographical errors did not affect Honey's translation, as when "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" was replaced by "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (p. 12) and "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" by [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (p. 14). However, when "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" was replaced by "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" in "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," translated as "or place it on a par with mere tangerines" (p. 14), a meaningful part of the line is lost. Xiang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] refers to the area along the Xiang River; Xiang ju [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] would be "tangerines from Xiang." Strange things can happen when translations are based on typos, as in this couplet by Ou Zhuyu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (jinshi 1627), in which "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" was input as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" and "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (p. 116):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   You wanted to engage the times
                                   but the times were unfavorable,

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   So you cut off the vulgar for
                                   the vulgar followed the beauties.


The couplet means something like: "You go against the times, which do not fit you; / You break away from the vulgar, who follow the madding crowd." Whatever the exact meaning of the second line is, good-looking women are not part of it.

A number of Honey's mistranscriptions were caused by his misreading of Chinese characters. For example, "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" was misread as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (p. 12); "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (p. 13); "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," as (all on p. 14), and "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (p. 15). Just how far one can be led astray by such misreading is illustrated in the following couplet (p. 15):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Truly it is a transcendent sauce
                                   served in a carved dish;

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Verily it is colorfully
                                   embroidered silk on bedecked
                                   palace beauties.


Honey writes: '"Colorfully embroidered silk' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is another allusion to Song Yu, this time to his 'Fu on a Goddess' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... The translation 'bedecked palace beauties' is a drastic foreshortening and interpretation of a phrase that literally means 'those who wear hairpins made of hawksbill tortoise shell,' for, according to Flan shu, 65.2858, 'Palace beauties wear hawksbill shell hairpins' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (p. 172 n. 78). Honey's mistranscription of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" in the Han shu text is just a glitch, but his replacement of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" with "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" in Zhang Jiuling's line has a serious impact. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (literally a sitting mat decorated with hawksbill shell) is a synecdoche for a grand banquet and has nothing to do with "bedecked palace beauties." The couplet may be translated as: "Truly an immortal potion on a carved plate; / Verily an exquisite dainty for a splendid banquet."

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the dire consequences of misconstructing a character is in Yu Jing's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1000-1064) "Wandering between the Shao Stones" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (p. 27):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   A city in the clouds appears like
                                   a wheel on this clear day,

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   A peach stream rushes on in the
                                   spring.


The misreading of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (dazzling) for "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (wheel) generated a translation that conjures up the outlandish image of a gigantic flying disc. (And why would there be "clouds" on "this clear day"?) The problem is compounded by Honey's unawareness of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (Red Cloud City) as another name for "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (Red City Mountain, in Tiantai, Zhejiang), so called because its soil is red so that it appears like red clouds when viewed from a distance. The Grotto of Red City Mountain [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the sixth of the ten Daoist "grotto heavens" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The couplet may be translated as: "Red Cloud City dazzles on this bright day; / Peach Blossom Stream surges in the spring."

This leads us to the constant challenge of identifying allusions and grasping their contextual significance. Consider this couplet (p. 15):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Even those enamored with fine
                                   plums will reject them;

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Even those mesmerized by sweet
                                   melons will shrink from them.


The bizarre translation of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "enamored with" and "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" as "mesmerized by" is caused by the unawareness of Zhang Jiuling's allusion to Cao Pi's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (187-226) description, in his "Letter to Wu Zhi, District Magistrate of Zhaoge" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], of delicious and cooling summertime treats: "Floating sweet melons in clear spring, / Submerging vermillion plums in cold water" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Zhang Jiuling's couplet may be translated as: "Fine plums submerged in cold water are left unwanted; / Sweet melons floating on clear spring withdraw by themselves."

Awareness of an allusion does not guarantee an adequate understanding of its contextual significance, as seen in the following case (p. 13):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   It loathes the dank and damp
                                   of the lower bogs,

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   And detests the sheer heights
                                   of stratified cliffs.

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Although earlier records might
                                   have wronged it,

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   How else could it have survived
                                   except by "growing on the side?"


After explaining that "growing on the side" is a description of the lichee by Zuo Si [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ca. 253-ca. 307), Honey writes: "The literal sense of this line denotes the lichee's struggle in obscurity and its willingness to avoid self-promotion, which has assured its self-preservation" (p. 172 n. 8). This interpretation is based on the misreading of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (fault) as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (protect). Zhang Jiuling's line means: "Why is it that it has been faulted for 'growing on the side'"? In the preceding lines, after stressing that the lichee grows in places that are neither high nor low, Zhang Jiuling criticizes Zuo Si for describing the lichee as "growing on the side." Commentators always derived a measure of pleasure from pointing out Zuo Si's errors because he had boasted about his accuracy and lambasted Han fu masters for the falsehood in their descriptions of flora and fauna. There may be yet another dimension in Zhang Jiuling's criticism. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a metonym for the lichee, also refers to the offspring of a concubine ("growing on a side branch"). Treating the lichee as a symbol of Guangdong literati like himself, Zhang Jiuling was understandably averse to associating it with anything of a lowly or marginal status.

In the following case, the problem is not Honey's translation but his explanation of the allusion (p. 16):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   The persimmon was praised by
                                   the Marquis of Liang;

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   And how honored was the pear
                                   by Master Zhang!


In his "Fu on Living in Idleness" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Pan Yue [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (247- 300) mentions (in David Knechtges' translation) "The pears of Sir Zhang's Great Valley, / The varnish persimmons of the Marquis of Liang" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Honey identifies the allusion for the second line of Zhang Jiuling's couplet, but his explication of the first line turns to an unrelated text: '"The Marquis of Liang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] refers to Emperor Jianwen (r. 550-552) of the Liang Dynasty who wrote a royal com mendation entitled 'Decree of Gratitude to the Eastern Palace for Presenting Persimmons' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] .... He is given the title of 'marquis' in the fu only for the sake of the rhyme scheme" (p. 173 n. 80). (It does not even matter that the title means "Letter of Thanks to the Crown Prince for the Gift of Persimmons" or that Xiao Gang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [503-551], who would become Emperor Jianwen, was not even the crown prince when he wrote the letter.)

Mistranslations resulting from unawareness of allusions abound in the book. I give two more examples here. The first comes from Yu Jing's poem: "A jade transcendent capital opens up in the foreground" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (p. 27). According to Honey, "'Transcendent Capital' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] refers to one of the 'grotto heavens' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that are located beneath sacred mountains" (p. 176 n. 134). No source is cited for this peculiar interpretation. Worse, no explanation is given of (simply translated as "jade"), which refers to the Mountain of Abundant Jade Sfilil, where the legendary Queen Mother of the West [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is said to have lived. "Airy is the haunt of immortals on Mt Qunyu" would be my translation.

Unintended is the comic effect in the translation of Luo Tianchi's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1686?-1766?) "Preface to the Southern Lake Poetry Society" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: "The master chanted his poems in this setting, accompanied by the cries of cranes and the harmonizing of his son" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (p.

53). The allusion is to the explication of a hexagram line in the Book of Changes (in James Legge's translation): "The second line, undivided, shows its subject (like) the crane crying out in her hidden retirement, and her young ones responding to her. (It is as if it were said), T have a cup of good spirits,' (and the response were), T will partake of it with you'" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The phrase "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (a gentleman who resembles a crying crane) is a cliche metaphor for virtuous recluses. What Luo Tianchi describes is that "the master" was joined by his son as he chanted poems at Southern Lake (just as a crying crane is responded to by its chicks), not that his feathered friends were humming along.

Insensitivity to the implications of parallel structure is the last issue that I would like to address. Consider the following description, which has both intra- and inter-line parallelism (p. 13):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Its petals are not numerous,
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   But sweet is its fruit [sic]
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   As if drawing attention to
                                   its strong roots--
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Hence it has delicate veins
                                   and marvelous properties.


I venture this translation: "Its flowers are not made luxuriant, / But its fruits are rendered sweet. / It must be that the intention is for its roots to be strengthened; / Therefore its appearance is plain but its substance marvelous." The inter-line contrast between the lichee's unremarkable flowers [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and its luscious fruit [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the first two lines is reinforced by the intra-line contrast in the last between its plain appearance [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and marvelous substance [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which is lost in Honey's translation. (Confucius had described the gentleman in terms of a balance between appearance and substance, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].)

The following couplet comes from Li Minbiao's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1515-1581) "Fu on the Terrace of the King of Yue" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], where Honey misread [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (p. 40):

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   Destroyed the "slanted chambers"
                                   and emulated them,
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]   He tried to ascend the terrace
                                   but only increased his weariness.


"Destroyed" probably resulted from a confusion of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" with its homophone "IS." The mistranslation of the second line was caused in a large part by inattention to its strict parallelism with the first in terms of verbal and semantic correspondence: If "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" is a noun, one expects "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (or "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," for that matter) to be a noun, too. The same can be said of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" and "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." The couplet may be translated as: "He enlarged the slanting chambers with imitations, / And raised the high terraces with reconstructions."

There are diverse other errors in Honey's translation of "Fu on the Lichee" and other texts; those are hard to classify and need not be illustrated here. My intention is not so much to demonstrate his errors as to call attention to the challenges faced by anyone undertaking to translate classical Chinese poetry. I would like to conclude by stressing that those errors may detract from the accuracy of Honey's translations but do not reduce the significance of his subject or the contributions of his study.

Xiaoshan Yang

University of Notre Dame
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Author:Yang, Xiaoshan
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
Words:3021
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