Tai Chen on Mencius


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Explorations in Words and Meanings

A translation of the Meng Tzu tzu-i shu-cheng with a critical introduction by Ann-ping Chin and Mansfield Freeman

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The Ch’ing scholar-thinker Tai Chen (1724-1777) was a passionate explorer.  He loved words, and his most important philosophical treatise, the Meng Tzu tzu-I shu-cheng (An evidential study of the meaning of terms in the Mencius), is an exhaustive search for the meaning of the words first uttered by Mencius in the fourth century B.C.  This book by Ann-ping Chin and Mansfield Freeman is the first complete and annotated English translation of that treatise.  Drawing on scholarship from the eighteenth century to the present, it also includes two essays that reconstruct Tai Chen’s life and time and reinterpret his thought.

Unlike most of the evidential scholars of his day, Tai Chen was not satisfied merely with providing reason and proof for his reading.  He was interested in the life of words as their meaning changes with the vicissitudes of time.  Tai Chen felt that the terms in the Mencius, garbled by the Sung and Ming thinkers who had come under the influence of Buddhism and Taoism, would no longer have made sense to Mencius himself.  Key Confucian concepts, such as “principle” and “nature,” had become “blood-less” moral constructs.  Tai Chen preferred their primeval meaning.  Intellectual historians of this century have hailed him as a progressive thinker and a social critic, but he saw himself in a simpler role: as a reader striving to understand every word in his text.   

"This annotated translation of Tai Chen's philosophical treatise does justice to a true classic in Confucian philosophy and fills an important gap in the field of Chinese intellectual history."—Ying-shih Yü

"Tai Chen was an eighteenth-century Chinese scholar whose main work, a study of the language used by the classical philosopher Mencius, is translated in here in full for the first time. . . . The wide range of this book will ensure that it is of interest to both classical and modern historians, philosophers, and sinologists in general."—Britain-China Newsletter

"The first complete and annotated translation of an important philosophical treatise from eighteenth-century China. Tai chen . . . sought to understand the words used by the fourth-century B.C. Confucian, Mencius. The importance of the work is in its investigation into how the meanings of words evolved, or had been altered, in the intervening centuries."—University Press Book News

"This is an intricate text full of allusions and cross-refrences, and the translators must be congratulated on their careful and painstaking rendering. . . . They may . . . rest assured that everyone with an interest in the intellectual life of Ch'ing China will be grateful to them."—Martina Deuchler, Bulletin of SOAS

"The work under review deals fairly and squarely with Dai Zhen. . . . In producing this handsome volume Freeman and Chin have rendered us all a very treat service indeed."—Orientalistische Literaturzeitung
ISBN: 9780300046540
Publication Date: December 26, 1990
244 pages, 6 x 9