The Genesis of Dao Knowledge at the Beginning of Orientalism
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AbstractOver the past three centuries, a constellation of Western translators has tried to “name the way” and translate this divine canon of Daoism. Past scholarship has merely profiled and examined each translator and their translation approaches as rough silhouettes in translation studies, and there is as yet no detailed translational history of Daoist texts and Daoist translators. Nor has a network been laid out to analyze the genealogy of translators of Daoist texts, especially the Daodejing, from the 17th to the 19th century.
This paper aims to ascertain and analyze the flow of knowledge of the Dao and the translation of Daoist terms over several generations of Jesuits in China, starting from the Jesuit Figurists, who focused on the re-interpretation of the Yijing 易經. It also aims to determine the role of the Jesuit translators in the spread of Dao and Daoist terms in China and Europe.
Influenced by Western esotericism and the prisca theologia (ancient theology), the Jesuit Figurists indulged in locating mystic messages in the Chinese classics: Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730) focused especially on the Yijing 易經 (the Book of Changes), while one of his protégés, Joseph Henri-Marie de Prémare (1666-1736), was engaged in the interpretation of the Dao. The Dao, Taiji, and other symbols, such as triangles, were employed as pre-figurations of Jesus Christ or as aliases of Deus, the Christian God. Their reinterpretation and transformation of the Dao and Taiji were associated with renascent Neopythagoreanism and Neoplatonism, which was also the same trajectory Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat followed in his French translation of the Daodejing.
Translations of the Daodejing had reached a certain fervency in the 18th and 19th centuries. Several French translators, including Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat, Stanislas Julien, and Guillaume Pauthier, showed the West through their translations how the Dao and Daoism were major components in understanding the philosophical and religious landscape of China. It may be that these translators were influenced by the Jesuit Figurists’ translations. In this paper, the genealogy of the Dao from Bouvet to Prémare and to Abel-Rémusat will be especially outlined. Of those on the genealogy, Abel-Rémusat did not merely praise the Figurists’ works, he even revealed in his translation of the Daodejing approaches similar to the Figurists’ interpreting of the Dao, such as the association of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton of Yahweh with Yi 夷, Xi 希, and Wei微 from Chapter 14 of the Daodejing. In this paper, after examining these translators’ decontextualization (moving texts out of their original Neo-Confucianist and Daoist contexts) and recontextualization, (re-fitting the texts into their own theology and hermeneutics) of their translations and interpretations, I will draw exploratory lines connecting the Jesuit translators of the Dao, their notes on the Dao, and the Daoist classics, thereby rendering a definite genealogy of the Dao, from the Jesuits to their successors. This, it is hoped, may prove that their focus on the Dao was no mere historical contingency, but rather that their translations helped form the genesis of Dao knowledge that would play such a pivotal role in the beginning of Orientalism in Europe.
In addition, this examination of Jesuit translations of Daoist classics seeks to demystify the passage of the Dao into the West and attempts to debunk the assumption that the Jesuits had accommodated themselves solely to Confucianism. The results of this study reveal that, starting from the early Qing dynasty and extending into the next century, the Dao and Daoism, in addition to Confucianism, may be seen as another axis of Jesuit activities, and that their translations of the Daoist classics were passageways between China and the West.
All Author(s) ListSophie Ling-chia Wei
Name of ConferenceA Crisis, or a New Direction? Reconsidering the Translation of Chinese Philosophy
Start Date of Conference09/05/2021
End Date of Conference10/05/2021
Place of ConferenceVirtual
Country/Region of ConferenceHong Kong
Year2021
Month5
Day10
LanguagesEnglish-United States
KeywordsDao, Daodejing, Jesuit Figurists, Jean-Francois Noelas, Abel-Remusat

Last updated on 2021-28-09 at 17:04