Supplementary Lectures: The West’s reception of Zhuangzi, and The Sarashina Diary

The RAS are pleased to advertise some supplementary lectures in their Spring programme. Next week sees two of these lectures. On Tuesday 26th May we welcome Richard Lynn, Professor Emeritus of Chinese Thought and Literature, University of Toronto, who will lecture on Early Reception of the Zhuangzi in the West. This will be followed on Wednesday 27th May with a lecture by Sonja Arntzen, Professor Emerita, University of Toronto, who will talk on The Sarashina Diary: a new collaborative translation and study. Both lectures will be held at 6pm.

Professor Lynn writes of his lecture:

The reception of the Daoist classic Zhuangzi in the West has a long history prior to the first translations by Balfour (1881) and Giles (1889) and should be studied in the context of 17th and 18th centuries European encounter with South and East Asian religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, a religio-cultural experience that profoundly shaped the development of modern Orientalism before imperialist ambitions and commercial greed compromised what had originally been essentially a search to expand Western religious perspectives on God, creation, and the individual soul. Key players in this process, especially for the encounter with Chinese traditions, were members of the Jesuit mission to Peking. The majority of the Jesuit fathers attempted a Chinese-Christian synthesis based on accommodation to Chinese culture and figurist readings of the Confucian classics, especially the Classic of Changes, the Daodejing, and, to a lesser extent, the Zhuangzi, Liezi, and Huainanzi. The writings of Joseph-Henri Prémare and Jean-François Foucquet in particular will be examined, as well as those of a coterie of 18th century intellectuals, secular devotees of Christian mysticism associated with the “Quietism” movement, influenced directly or indirectly by the Jesuits, which included Andrew Michael Ramsay and Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte, as well as deists such as Voltaire and Diderot.


The 18th century translation of the short story “Zhuang Zhou Drums on a Bowl and Attains the Great Dao” by the late Ming writer Feng Menglong deserves attention, for it did much to introduce the name “Zhuangzi” [Tchouang-Tse] to the West. Non-clerical sinological writings of the time on Chinese thought and religions often referred to the Zhuangzi, but little was added to what had earlier been known about the man or work until Balfour and especially Giles published their translations. Balfour’s inept work is now all but forgotten, but that of Giles, still in print today, when first published attracted the attention of such liberal intellectuals as the Christian Darwinist Aubrey Moore (1848–1890), Dean of Divinity at Magdalen College, Oxford, and Oscar Wilde.

In contrast Professor Arntzen’s lecture will focus on life for a woman in 11th century Japan as told in the Sarashina Diary:

A thousand years ago, a young Japanese girl embarked on a journey from the wild East Country to the capital. She began a diary that she would continue to write for the next forty years and compile later in life, bringing lasting prestige to her family. Some aspects of the author’s life and text seem curiously modern. She married at age thirty-three and identified herself as a reader and writer more than as a wife and mother. Enthralled by romantic fiction, she wrote extensively about the disillusioning blows that reality can deal to fantasy. The Sarashina Diary is a portrait of the writer as reader and an exploration of the power of reading to shape one’s expectations and aspirations. As a person and an author, this writer presages the medieval era in Japan with her deep concern for Buddhist belief and practice. Her narrative’s main thread follows a trajectory from youthful infatuation with romantic fantasy to the disillusionment of age and concern for the afterlife; yet, at the same time, many passages erase the dichotomy between literary illusion and spiritual truth. This new translation captures the lyrical richness of the original text while revealing its subtle structure and ironic meaning. 
 Both of these lectures are welcome additions to the Society’s programme. And there are further supplementary lectures to look forward to in June.
On Thursday 4th June, at 6pm, Melissa S. Dale, Executive Director and Assistant Professor at the Center for Asia Pacific Studies, University of San Francisco, will lecture on Discovering the Real Lives of China’s Emasculated Servants: Chinese Eunuch History Revisited.
Emasculating males to become servants for the Chinese emperor was intended to produce a submissive and loyal workforce. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), eunuchs played a vital role in the operation of the daily life of the imperial court. Representations of eunuchs in the historical record have traditionally cast eunuchs as conniving, corrupt, and selfish individuals who interfered in politics and illegally amassed personal wealth. Due to high illiteracy rates among eunuchs, restricting eunuch voices, necessitates the use of unconventional and often overlooked sources.

Further into June we are delighted to host a lecture by the winner of the Society’s 2014 Barwis-Holliday Award for Far Eastern Studies. On 18th June George Kam Wah Mak, Research Assistant Professor at David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, will speak on The Annotation Question of the Chinese Protestant Bible in Late Qing China.

What a delightful medley of lectures! We hope that you will be able to join us for some, or all, of them.