Translation (Practice)


Posted March 10, 2017

Contributions by Terence Russell

University of Manitoba




Shuangjhong Talismans

Every year in preparation for the Lunar New Year, the the 328-year-old Shuangjhong Temple 雙忠廟, Chiayi City in south-central Taiwan, produces and publishes a set of twelve talismans for purchase by those attending the temple over the New Year period. Depending on the text of the image, these talismans offer a range of assistance and protection ranging from success in school examinations to the expulsion of ghosts. The central image on the talismans is constituted of standard Chinese characters and “magical” graphs believed only comprehensible to extra-human beings and initiated religious practitioners. From earliest times, the Chinese have held the belief that efficient communication with the gods and spirits is only possible through graphic means, whether with the use of characters representing human language, or other images, including characters believed to represent the language of beings in other realms. Scholarly research indicates that the process of printing, long recognized to have been invented in China, was in all likelihood first employed primarily in the production of religious materials such as the talismans above, and other numinously endowed items. The primal use of graphs and printing for sacred purposes has carried over into the secular realm with respect to the reverence accorded to calligraphy and the integration of texts into other forms of artistic expression. Even traditional techniques employed in the production of woodblock printed books reflect a recognition of the power of graphs to convey supra-textual meaning and intent.




Wen Tianxiang rubbing

CHINESE STONE RUBBING ["Plum Blossom" Couplet], ink on paper.

Location of (stele) Inscription:

The Open Fan Pavilion of the Lion Grove Garden, city of Suzhou --one of "Four Great Gardens of Suzhou."

Date of garden:

Built for the Ch'an monk Wen Tianru by his disciples in 1342 CE (Yuan Dynasty).

The garden contains many oddly shaped "Taihu" rocks, some resembling lions, from which it takes its name.

Wen Tianxiang: Plum Blossom Couplet

Tranquil emptiness, all motion ceased,
An elegant form and a heart utterly clear;
Who shall recall the beauty of this spring?
Plum blossoms arranged in a platformed* vase.

*A particular type of vase (zuoping  座瓶) which had a platform and often had side handles.

zuoping vase




Hyatt Talismans

TALISMANS, Grand Hotel Hyatt, Taipei, Taiwan.

These magnificent talismanic images, hanging in the lobby of the  Grand Hotel.Hyatt, Taipei, offer protection (from pernicious ghosts) to the guests and staff of the hotel.

The hotel was built on the site of a WWII prison, and the restless spirits of those who met with untimely or cruel death in the prison are said to visit hotel residents to seek vengeance and release from their unpleasant state. The talismans employ magic graphs and spells to invoke the power of Buddha and the God of Thunder in ordering the malicious souls to desist in their mischief.


Why Translations of Premodern Chinese Poetry are Having a Moment Right Now

Posted July 19, 2016

A review article by Lucas Klein.




Memo on Translation Practice

Posted February 25, 2016


To: CAUSA Research Curators

Re: Chinese translation of “Betwixt/Between” on the CAUSA/U of M Asian Studies website

The rendering of idiomatic expressions such as “Betwixt/Between” (betwixt and between) is one of the most challenging aspects of translation practice. This is especially so when the original language (English) and the target language (Mandarin Chinese) are linguistically unrelated—to the extent of being virtually opposite in many respects. The initial choice of 不三不四 (busan busi), literally “neither three nor four”, to represent the idea of “betwixt/between" was a compromise based on multiple considerations. That the expressions were not exactly equivalent was taken for granted, however, in this case the nuanced use of the original phrase meant that it was impossible to find a Chinese term that would reflect all, or even most of, the original’s level of meaning. Now, after a somewhat fortuitous conversation on translation matters with Professor K.C. Tu, Director of the Centre for Taiwan Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I am happy to follow Professor Tu’s suggestion and recommend that the Chinese rendering of “betwixt/between” be changed to 不即不離 (buji bull), literally “neither approaching nor deviating from”. This term is, of course, still not a precise equivalent, but at least it avoids much of the negative sense of the earlier rendering. My gratitude goes to Professor Tu.

Terence Russell




Posted July 5, 2015

Zhenwu Rubbing

ZHENWU, SUPREME EMPEROR OF THE DARK HEAVEN. Hanging scroll – Ink on paper – dated 1586 CE. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. [Photo: CAUSA Archives.]

[ Note:

This ink rubbing of a late Ming stone stele originates from the [Taoist] Six Harmonies Pagoda, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Based on an older ('original') artifact (now destroyed), the scroll functions as a trans-generational revivification/translation of "The Perfected Warrior" – Zhenwu (depicted as standing on the back of an entwined turtle and snake).

Descending on a black cloud over swirling waves, Zhenwu brandishes a flame-enveloped sword; an attendant (standing behind him) holds an unfurled banner that has been 'inscribed' with the stars of the Northern Dipper.

The scroll's (right border) inscription states: "On the fifteenth day of the first month of Spring ... [1586 CE] ... Zhong Yin of Qiantang [Hangzhou] saw the image of the saint ["shengxiang"] ... which people had rubbed to ruin. Manifesting his intent, he again restored [the stele] ... and made [this] offering."

An Imperial Zhenwu Temple inscription (dating from 1415 CE) affirms: "Zhenwu controls auspicious events and arranges our vast civilization. [...] His sword's light splits and devours the forces of YIN and YANG...."

– CAUSA Research Curators ]


Wu Hung [Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago] (2000):

Let us ... recognize that "art," in a broad sense, includes not only individual pictorial images and objects but also symbolic or narrative "programs" of images and objects, their architectural contexts and ritual functions, their makers and patrons, production and consumption, geographical distribution and period style, and so on. Thus, the term "art" ... means "visual culture": the different kinds of visual forms produced by a group of people who were linked together by a shared language, shared ideas and behavior, and a common sense of identity."


Thomas Burnet (1692):

I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family of all these beings, and the ranks and relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What places do they inhabit?

[Translated from the Latin by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.]

Elémire Zola (1968):

Pain is like a raw material. Scattered everywhere, it is the fulcrum upon which one presses in order to get away from the fear and domination of pain itself: in order to escape from the world, from the Vale of Tears.


Elias Canetti (1970):

Today, man can read nothing that concerns him more than the early Chinese philosophers. All inessentials vanish here. As far as possible, one is spared being deformed by the conceptual here. Definition is not an end itself.


Lao Tzu (sixth century BCE):

The appearance of grand integrity
is that it follows the Way alone.
The Way objectified
is blurred and nebulous.

How nebulous and blurred!
Yet within it are images.
How blurred and nebulous!
Yet within it there are objects.
How cavernous and dark!
Yet within it there is an essence.

[Translated by Victor Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Department of Oriental Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.]


"Life seeks to preserve itself, but life seeks also to perish; urge and denial – games of night."

– Gottfried Benn (1941)




To: Professor Terence Russell, University of Manitoba

The 'ampersand' and 'plus' sign in Lawrence Weiner's 'public freehold' statement (posted 13 May 2015) have not been previously presented as components of a Chinese text.

As previous incarnations (in European languages) do not capture the calligraphic nuances of that particular [ & / + ] probe, we recognize new and subtle prospects for future interpretation.

CAUSA Research Curators





Posted May 13, 2015


"Our words are analogies of the miracle by which we incarnate and utter the world."

– Marshall McLuhan (1954)




" ... 'Satellite Centre'...." [Photo: M. Cynog Evans.]


"The fauna and flora, the mineral world and the firmament encompass within their common substance that collection of corporeal, psychological and moral qualities which we usually consider human."

– Italo Calvino (1979)


Shells and Quicklime

Lawrence Weiner, 2013:


Lawrence Weiner, 1993 (Collection Public Freehold):



"To be a microcosm in the macrocosm is one and the same thing as having a power to communicate oneself to another."

– Oswald Spengler (1918)


"Beauty by no means coincides with morality nor does it depend on it; but it may be called a symbol of morality. For it is by beauty that a new faculty of the human mind is revealed by which it passes beyond the sphere of empirical individuality, by which it strives after a universal ideal of humanity."

– Ernst Cassirer (1936)


Marshall McLuhan (1954):

The keenest necessity of our time is "social attention."




By Edgar Alan Poe

傳說中 (1849年)



























Translated by Joey Su*



By Edgar Alan Poe

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’

‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’


*Joey Su (Su Hui-hua) is a freelance translator from Taiwan. Her experience is literature and anthropology. She is also an educator.


(舊唐書 卷七十九 傅奕傳)

Throughout his life, whenever Fu Yi became ill he refused to see a doctor or take medicine. And although he was well versed in numerology and Yin-Yang arts he didn’t really believe in such things. Once when he had passed out drunk he woke up with a start and proclaimed, “I must be dead!” Thereupon he composed his own epitaph which read: “Fu Yi was a sojourner amid the verdant mountains and white clouds. Alas! He died of drunkenness. Such tragedy!” This was the origin of epitaph inscriptions in China.

Fu Yi’s Auto-Epitaph:
Fu Yi was a sojourner amid the verdant mountains and white clouds. Alas! He died of drunkenness. Such tragedy!
(Biography of Fu Yi. Scroll 79, Former History of the Tang Dynasty)

Translated from the Chinese by Terence C. Russell


Fu I loved the high cloud and the hill,
Alas, he died of alcohol.


And Li Po also died drunk.
He tried to embrace a moon
In the Yellow River.

– Ezra Pound, EPITAPHS (1914)

[First published by Wyndham Lewis, editor, BLAST no. 1, June 20, 1914]


"I would always recommend looking no further than five hundred years into the future."

– Joseph Beuys (1979)


"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

– Stephen Hawking (2014)


Laozi Text2 

Exhibition Text [Digital Signage Screen / Display Case Document]: KEN LUM / CAUSA ... CENTRE / SURROUND, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, November 2014.


Ken Lum Anvil Centre

Ken Lum, "Gold Mountain (New Westminster Chinatown Punctum)," painted plaster, 2014. Installation view: Anvil Centre, New Westminster.


"Our ecological approach is paleolithic. It assumes total involvement in process rather than fragmentation and detachment."

– Marshall McLuhan (1969)


Song in the Songless

By George Meredith

They have no song, the sedges dry,
And still they sing.
It is within my breast they sing,
As I pass by.
Within my breast they touch a string,
They wake a sigh.
There is but sound of sedges dry;
In me they sing.


Translated by Joey Su


"Perfect simplicity is unconsciously audacious."

– George Meredith (1879)

 Baggage tag

Luggage Tag (for suitcase) – delivered to New Westminster or vicinity, c.1880.

[In 1885, the 'Chinese Immigration Act' was passed – following a peak of 'foreign' labourers arriving to work on the western portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.]

The tag reads simply: "Barbarian region, Yeong Seon-hung." Apparently Mr. Yeong knew only that his destination was beyond the pale of the civilized Chinese world with which he was familiar. The traditional Chinese view held that the world was composed of a series of concentric regions revolving around the "central kingdom" (China) which alone possessed a fully civilized culture. The Chinese were surrounded by areas inhabitted by peoples lacking in civilization to greater or lessor degrees. It was the conviction of Confucius that civilization would gradually spread outward from China to reach "all under Heaven" (tianxia 天下). When this idyllic state was achieved, peace and a sense of common destiny would be shared by all. The Classic of Rites (Liji 禮記) predicts: "When the Great Way prevails, all under heaven is shared." 《禮記﹒禮運》:大道之行也,天下為公。

-Terence Russell


"1914 was not only the physical deportation of millions of men to the fields of battle, it was also, with the apocalypse of the deregulation of perception, a diaspora of another kind, the moment of panic in which the American and European masses no longer believed their eyes."

– Paul Virilio

"I would like to see more clearly, but it seems to me that no one sees more clearly."

– Maurice Merleau-Ponty


"There is a great stepping up of physical awareness and a big drop in mental awareness when the central nervous system goes outward."

– Marshall McLuhan


"I don't believe in China.


Haven't you felt this too, that you know yourself so well that the ground you tread on is your ground: it is never China or Siberia or anywhere else.... It is always the earth of you, the wood, the iron of you, the asphalt you step on is the asphalt of you whether on Broadway or the Chien Mon.

And you carry your horizon in your pocket wherever you are."

– Malcolm Lowry


"After coming to understand the other side, you come back and live on this side."

– Ch'an Master Nan Ch'uan (748 - 834 CE)


"Nothing is more real than nothing."

– Samuel Beckett


for Joe Chaikin

folly -

folly for to -

for to -

what is the word -

folly from this -

all this -

folly from all this -

given -

folly given all this -

seeing -

folly seeing all this -

this -

what is the word -

this this -

this this here -

all this this here -

folly given all this -

seeing -

folly seeing all this this here -

for to -

what is the word -

see -

glimpse -

seem to glimpse -

need to seem to glimpse -

folly for to need to seem to glimpse –
what -

what is the word -

and where -

folly for to need to seem to glimpse what where -

where -

what is the word -

there -

over there -

away over there -

afar -

afar away over there -

afaint -

afaint afar away over there what -

what -

what is the word -

seeing all this -

all this this -

all this this here -

folly for to see what -

glimpse -

seem to glimpse -

need to seem to glimpse -

afaint afar away over there what -

folly for to need to seem to glimpse afaint afar away over there what -

what -

what is the word –

By Samuel Beckett


給 喬才易京

蠢 –
蠢,有人 –
有人 –
什麼字 –
蠢,由於這 –
這一切 –
蠢,由於這一切 –
鑑於 –
蠢,鑑於這一切 – 

看見 –
蠢,看見這一切 –
這 –
什麼字 –
這這 –
這這,在這裡 –
這這一切,在這裡 –

蠢,鑑於這一切 –
看見 –
蠢,看見這一切,在這裡 –
有人 –
什麼字 –
看見 –
瞥見 –

覺得似乎瞥見 –

必須覺得似乎瞥見 – 

蠢,有人必須覺得似乎瞥見 –
什麼 –
什麼字 –
又在哪 –
蠢,有人必須覺得似乎瞥見那什麼,在哪 –
在哪 –
什麼字 –
那裡 –
在那裡 –

遠遠在那裡 –
遠處 –
在遠處之外,在那裡 –
朦朧 –
在那朦朧遠處之外的什麼 –
什麼 –
什麼字 –
看見這一切 –
這這一切 –
這這一切,在這裡 –
蠢,有人看見什麼 –
瞥見 –
覺得似乎瞥見 – 

必須覺得似乎瞥見 –
在那朦朧遠處之外的什麼 –

蠢,有人必須覺得似乎瞥見在那朦朧遠處之外的什麼 –
什麼 –
什麼字 –

Translated by Joey Su



"Do not point to the east or to the west, but go straight to what is fundamental."

– Ch'an Master Nan-ch'üan Pu-yüan (748 - 834 CE)


"No way in, go in, measure."

– Samuel Beckett



"What does pessimistic art mean?.. isn't this a contradiction? – Yes."

– Friedrich Nietzsche



Ken Lum Punctum


Ken Lum, "Gold Mountain (New Westminster Punctum)," painted plaster, 2014. Installation view (with exhibition-vitrine text) – LEN LUM / CAUSA ... CENTRE / SURROUND ... Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, November 2014.



"The ugly i.e. the contradiction to art, what is excluded by art, its negation – each time when decline, impoverishment of life, powerlessness, disintegration, decay are only remotely suggested, the aesthetic individual reacts with his opposition."

– Friedrich Nietzsche