The Hsu-Tang Library.

Wiebke Denecke at the OUPBlog has welcome news:

Designed to present works from three millennia of literatures in classical Chinese from China and East Asia’s greater Sinitic World in fresh, bilingual translations that are honed to be solidly scholarly, yet eminently readable, The Hsu-Tang Library (HTL) is a pioneering, unprecedented endeavor.

As an endowed library built to last for future generations, HTL will gradually and strategically tap the monumental treasurehouse of “Literature”—scriptural, historical, philosophical, poetical, dramatic, fictional, devotional, or didactic—produced before 1911 in forms of the classical Chinese language. It carries an ambitious symbolic charge through Ji Yun (1724–1805), the maternal ancestor of Agnes Hsin-Mei Hsu-Tang, who served as chief compiler of one of the world’s largest premodern encyclopedias, The Complete Library of the Four Treasuries (Siku Quanshu).

We are launching HTL this year as this encyclopedia celebrates its 250th anniversary and bring classical Chinese-language literature to a new global world of anglophone readers avid to more fully experience one of the world’s most continuous and voluminous literary traditions. At its projected pace of publishing three to four volumes per year, HTL will quickly showcase the immense variety of this literary tradition. […]

It’s hard not to be self-conscious in such a moment, first, because HTL aims to become a library of standard bilingual editions, inspired by the by now century-old Loeb Classical Library of Greco-Roman literatures; and second, because HTL will inevitably create a new anglophone canon of Chinese literature, distinct both from Sinophone canons of Chinese literature or the world-literature-great-books-style mini-canons of Chinese literature institutionalized for example by the Norton Anthology of World Literature (which, as I may say as one of its editors, has its own value and place). […]

Only literarily vibrant translations will entice readers into the wondrous diversity of the human experience, as it intersects with verbal creation—this is what we want our readers to taste. Take our launch volume Changchun’s Journey to the West, a travelogue of a Chinese Daoist master summoned to the court of Chinggis Qan narrated through the eyes of a disciple. Previous translators had dropped the 70-some poems included for lack of “literary value.” They are translated here for the first time. As our author encounters the rough beauty of magisterial mountains and fur-clad, blood-and-meat eating peoples across Central Asia and the Mongolian Plateau, his breathtaking experiences overstretch the Chinese poetic idioms nurtured in Chinese landscapes, cultural and aesthetic values over centuries. Whether discovering Daoist-style primevalness or ambivalently-coded primitive high antiquity, or trying to speak the unspeakable, these poems are fascinating material for a comparative cultural poetics of literary traditions—and humans— stretched at their limits.

As for featuring female authors, we wanted many—something more representative of the female experience. Beata Grant’s An Anthology of Poetry By Buddhist Nuns of Late Imperial China features mostly first translations of poetry by 65 nun-poets, variously driven to the devotional life as children, vulnerable widows, or lone survivors of violent political cataclysms. The experiential depth of these poems—when read as traces of the nuns’ moving life stories—has value beyond “performing” by any type of literary standards.

Click through for links and more information; needless to say, I think this is a great project and I hope it succeeds. It’s nice that they’re starting with something other than the ever-popular classics!


  1. Christopher Culver says

    After the failure of the Clay Sanskrit Library, my first question is who is funding this. That is answered on the linked page: “thanks to a generous gift by Ji Yun’s descendant, Agnes Hsin-mei Hsu-Tang and her husband Oscar Tang”. That sounds like more precarious funding than, say, a state institution, though considering the uneasy relationship that the PRC has with its own classical traditions, state funding would come with its own risks.

  2. Agreed on all points. But we live in hope!

  3. It seems more enormous and complex a project than the Loeb Classical Library, which took decades to cover at least the majority of Latin and Greek texts. All power to them, but I do wonder what the long term plan is.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Are new volumes of the Loeb still being funded by the annual earnings of some huge initial gift from James Loeb which was shrewdly invested for the long-term by the folks in charge of Harvard’s endowment? Or did they develop other funding sources after establishing the value of the brand?

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    BTW the wiki piece on Ms. Hsu-Tang gives some details of prior philanthropic benefactions by her and her husband, which tend to suggest that there’s quite a lot of $ there, although obviously that doesn’t mean infinite, and the future is unwritten and fortune can be fickle. A shame that OUP doesn’t refer to her distant ancestor as Chi Yün out of parallelism with Ms. Hsu-Tang’s preference for a non-Communist spelling of her own name.

  6. The already published titles ( appear to be just too ‘un-classical’ to amount to anything that aspires to be a counterpart of the Loeb.

  7. “bilingual translations”

  8. Christopher Culver says

    Continuing with my dour outlook, I am also curious to see the binding on these. Oxford University Press has converted most of the Oxford Classical Texts series to print-on-demand with a glued binding.

    Thanks, J.W. Brewer, for linking to that Wikipedia article. Very interesting figure.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    @ms: I think part of the issue is that “classical” may mean very different things in different contexts, especially at opposite ends of Eurasia. With a few scattered exceptions (e.g. Bede and Boethius) the Loeb doesn’t cover very much in Latin after A.D. 476, even though substantial and important new works were being composed in Latin for another 13-odd centuries thereafter. HUP does have the similar translations of the “I Tatti Renaissance Library” covering one sliver of that subsequent period, but only one sliver. Here, the new project is very up front that it just means “stuff in the Sinitic variety commonly used for written expression until the early 20th century,” which includes by genre stuff that in Europe was typically written in vernacular rather than Latin for many centuries earlier than that — imagine an alternative Europe in which e.g. the Divine Comedy or Don Quixote or Gargantua & Pantagruel had been written in Latin rather than some new-fangled Romance vernacular and were thus all thought of as “classical” texts.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    By the way, another really awesome translation-series project out there is this one (going for about 25 years now) which aims to make prominent ancient Greek and Latin texts accessible to those whose most fluent reading language is modern Japanese:

    (Someone with time on their hands should do an English version of the wiki page, tho’)

  11. I heard a while back that they apparently have Harbsmeier doing a translation of Zhuangzi with Chinese commentaries. That will be cool and meaningful contribution. The first round is meh…

  12. David Marjanović says

    imagine an alternative Europe in which e.g. the Divine Comedy or Don Quixote or Gargantua & Pantagruel had been written in Latin rather than some new-fangled Romance vernacular and were thus all thought of as “classical” texts.

    That didn’t work for Ruodlieb or Waltharius

  13. Ruodlieb

    That stupid article doesn’t even explain why it’s called Ruodlieb! And what is “ruod” anyway? ‘Red’?

  14. PlasticPaddy says

    Ruod “fame, glory” + laiba (“inheritance, legacy”)–there is an exact ON parallel. The second element could also be liob/liub (“dear, friendly”).

  15. Thanks!

  16. David Marjanović says

    It’s the name of the main character, and the first element is the same as in Hroþgar, Robert/Rupert/Rupprecht, Rudolf…

    laiba (“inheritance, legacy”)

    That would have given -ei-, not -ie-.

    there is an exact ON parallel.

    There’s also an exact Slovak parallel: a 19th-century panslavist name, probably made up for the occasion – Slavoľub.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    For example there is no Gottleib in German; this was “swallowed” by Gottlieb, which is strengthed by equivalence with Theophil(o/u)s.

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