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The Tso Chuan: Selections from China's Oldest Narrative History (Translations from the Asian Classics) Hardcover – March 1, 1989

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Translations from the Asian Classics
  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr (March 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231067143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231067140
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,087,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


An elegant English translations of thirty-seven of the most famous narratives in Two chuan... Sinologists who use it to check the references to Two Chuan so abundant in later writings may be confident that this translation embodies the careful scholarship of this eminent translator of Chinese texts... Those who are simply curious about ancient China may now, through Watson's selections gain entry into a world that among all the writings from the periodis uniquely Tso Chuan's own: a world marked by an eerie mixture of court intrigue, moralizing, scandal, omens, and battlefield histrionics.

(Journal of Asian Studies) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Language Notes

Text: English, Chinese (translation)

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Customer Reviews

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
The "Tso Chuan" is a massive history -- or set of chronicles and stories -- of early China, originally presented as commentaries on the extremely concise "Spring and Autumn Annals" ascribed to Confucius. In fact it amounts to a remarkable account of the Chinese feudal states and their rulers as the Chou Dynasty faded. Burton Watson has presented some of the most famous stories, set out to make the narratives clear, in his usual elegant English. It is an engaging presentation, which leaves this reader, at least, wanting more. Since Watson has already given us so much other important Chinese literature, it seems churlish to complain this book is too short, but it is also a tribute to his literary skill -- and possibly to his editorial judgment.
There is an earlier, and complete translation by James Legge, as "The Chun Tsew with the Tso Chuen" (Chinese Classics Series). The seemingly inexhaustible Legge's Victorian translation (still available in an edition with Chinese texts) unfortunately prints the "Tso Chuan" in extremely small type, treating it as secondary to the supposedly Confucian Annals. A reader who attempts to follow a story will find many obstacles. Legge's nineteenth-century transliterations also make identifying references difficult for those of us who lack any command of Chinese.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nick on August 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These selections from the massive original are translated with a beauty and crispness that one can always expect from Burton Watson. The copious notes are not only edifying, informative and expertly crafted, but for those only beginning a study of Chinese history and literature, these notes and the introductory comments are absolutely critical. The notes are the threads that bind this translation into a coherent single volume that flows well enough (if not perfectly) to help the reader through what is a disjointed text in itself. I suspect only a small number of translators could have achieved this level of organization creating a great distillation from an initially cumbersome text.

This translation leaves one wanting more. Fortunately, Burton Watson translated a considerable volume of Chinese works. He is not the only truly superb translator to transmit China's writings to the English speaking world. Donald Keene and Arthur Waley are also highly recommended and there are more such translators too.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'd like to start by saying that this is a review by a general-interest reader. A serious scholar would certainly come away with a different impression.

The book has a lot to like. It's a Watson translation, and it lives up to his usual high standards of readability. Watson has compressed the book, omitting many sections generally taken to be tedious. He does give profuse notes, however, describing the omissions and enriching understanding of the text.

The text itself covers the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history, about 250 years ending somwehat after Confucius' death. (This is not the Spring and Autumn Annals, though.) The Tso Chuan describes many major figures to which reference is made in later literature. It decribes major wars of the period, court intrigues, prophecies, moral lessons, gallantry, and treachery. All of these come through in anecdotes usually a page or two long.

The anecdotal style is the first of my problems with the book. It looks more like a series of isolated snapshots, less like a unified whole. I guess I'm used to modern histories, where commentary and causal connection help the reader see the larger picture. Also, Watson softened the blow, but the Tso Chuan still hits the reader with many alternative names and titles for historical figures. Place names often referred to cities or states long gone, or referred to them in allusive ways. My western ear is poorly tuned to Chinese names to start with, so this just caused confusion. It's embarassingly easy to see why Japanese scholars have a term set aside for readers who intend to go through the whole text, but abandon the effort early on.

Many of the stories are amusing, many display the morals or beliefs of the time, and many describe events of great cultural importance.
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