CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 18, June 2009


The Wujing Project | China Heritage Quarterly

The Wujing Project

—towards a new translation of the Five Classics into the world's major languages

The Five Classics, or Wujing 五經, are the Odes 詩, the Documents 書, the Rites 禮, the Changes 易 and the Annals 春秋. They are China’s oldest, most sacred books. For thousands of years, they have been the canons of China’s culture and the foundation of its statecraft. Formerly, the Wujing were learned by heart by all students. A thorough and profound knowledge of the Wujing and their exegesis was a prerequisite for all candidates at the imperial civil service examinations.

This great tradition came to a sudden stop when the imperial examinations were abolished in 1905. Although the study of the Wujing was not abandoned, Chinese scholarship during the twentieth century mainly turned to other aspects of China’s cultural heritage. As a corollary, the Classics which had previously been so highly valued received far less attention. Only one of the sacred books, the Changes 易 has become internationally famous, whereas the other Classics have drifted into relative or even complete oblivion. Today, except for a small number of Chinese and foreign scholars, most people do not know very much about the Wujing.

The former translations of the Five Classics have been mainly into English, French and German. Most of these translations are very old, some dating from more than a century ago. Many are out of print. At the same time, our knowledge of the history and culture of Ancient China has made enormous progress. Archaeological findings have rendered obsolete a number of the received text editions. Advances in linguistic studies allow us to have a far better understanding of the written word. Therefore new, modern translations should now be made and not only into the major Western languages, but in all major languages of the world, so as to make at long last the Five Classics widely available.

Most translations of the Five Classics—and of many other ancient Chinese books as well—have until now followed the academic tradition. Texts have been translated as close as possible to the meaning of the original Chinese, without much regard for the style and usage of the foreign language they were translated into. The syntax of the translation more often than not followed the Chinese syntax. Also Chinese idiomatic terms were almost always translated literally (e.g., wanwu 萬物, ‘the ten thousand things’). However, a literal translation is not the same as a good translation. A good translation aims at conveying as much as possible of the true meaning in a generally readable prose, while as much as possible doing justice to the literary value of the original.

The Wujing Project has been recently founded and funded by the Confucius Institutes Headquarters in Beijing with Kristofer Schipper and Yuan Bingling as directing editors. The project will be able to provide grants, summer salaries or other financial support for translators as well as to provide subsidies for publication.

An International Committee for the Study and Translation of the Wujing has been called into being in order to advise the program in cooperation with the directing editors for all scholarly and organizational questions that may arise. At present, this committee comprises the following members: Jao Tsung-I, David Knechtges, Li Xueqin, Michael Loewe, Tang Yijie, Tu Wei-ming, Léon Vandermeersch, Xu Jialu, Yuan Xingpei, Zhu Weizheng (honorary members); Sarah Allan, Roger Ames, Peter Bol, Alfredo Cadonna, Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Ken Dean, Carine Defoort, Stephen Durrant, Robert Eno, Ho Che Wa, Wilt Idema, Marc Kalinowski, Martin Kern, Terry Kleeman, Archie Chi-Chung Lee, Li Ling, Li Wai-yee, Tiziana Lippiello, John Makeham, John Minford, Elizabeth Perry, Yuri Pines, Andrew Plaks, Michael Puett, Sarah Queen, Matthias Richter, Antje Richter, Edward Shaughnessy, Jenny F.S. So, Roel Sterckx, Hans Van Ess, Yue Daiyun, (core group members); Brunhild Staiger (associate member). This list is not final as other scholars may join in the future.

The committee will meet in Beijing, 26-29 July 2009. It will discuss the present state of the field and define the guidelines as well as the timetable for the work to be done.

More information on the Wujing Project may be obtained by contacting Kristofer Schipper or the Wujing Project office in Beijing. Email:; Telephone (Amsterdam): + 31 20 7073082; mobile: + 31 6 53893353. Telephone Wujing Project office (Beijing): + 86 10 58595821; mobile: + 86 137 06966124; Skype: kristofer.schipper