The Ch'un Ts'ew/Preface

The Ch'un Ts'ew  (1872)  by Confucius, translated by James Legge


The author is glad to be able to publish his fifth volume in less than twelve months after the publication of the fourth. There remain now only the Le Ke and the Yih King to be translated and annotated, and then the task which he undertook will be fully accomplished. As he must return to England in the course of next year, he cannot say when the publication of those two Works may be looked for. He will certainly not allow anything to interfere with the completion of his labours upon them; but the Le Ke is so very voluminous, and the Yih King is so entirely sui generis, that this will yet require some years. It will then have to be considered whether he can get them printed in England, or must return once more to Hongkong for that purpose. Moreover, the publication of them must depend in a good measure on the sale which the volumes already issued may continue to have.

The present volume contains not only the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw of Confucius, but also the Commentary on it by Tso K‘ëw-ming. Had the author been content to publish merely the text of the Classic, with a translation of it, the volume would have been of small compass. But without the narratives of Tso the annals of the Sage would have given a most meagre and unsatisfactory account of the period covered by them. He did not therefore shrink from the great additional labour required to translate the whole of Tso’s Work; and he believes it will be acknowledged that he has thereby rendered an important service to students of Chinese literature and to his readers generally. From the narratives of Tso there may be gathered as full and interesting an account of the history of China, from B.C. 721 to about 460, as we have of any of the nations of Europe during the Middle Ages.

  The translation of the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw itself may be made by an ordinary Chinese scholar currente calamo; but it is not so with the translation of the Tso Chuen. And the author had not the benefit of the labours of previous translators with either of them. In preparing his former volumes, he did his work in the first place without reference to those who had traversed the same fields before him, but he afterwards found it occasionally of advantage to compare his versions with those of others. This he has not been able to do in the present case. If any Sinologue be at times inclined to differ from him in the rendering of a passage of Tso, the author would ask him to suspend his judgment for a little. Prolonged study may perhaps show him that the meaning has seldom been mistaken. To have introduced notes vindicating his renderings, where the meaning was not immediately evident, would have greatly increased the size of the volume, already sufficiently large. His object has always been to translate faithfully, without resorting to paraphrase, which he considers a slovenly and unscholarly practice; yet he hopes that his versions are not in language that can be represented as uncouth, or unpleasant to read.

He has received the same assistance as in the case of the fourth volume in reading most of the proofs. And his obligations to the Rev. Mr. Chalmers have been even greater than before. Not only did he prepare the indexes of Subjects and Proper Names, but the author is indebted to him for the valuable maps of China in the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw period, for the chronological table of the lunar months during it, and for various assistance on other points.

Hongkong, September 26th, 1872.