Feet, Inches, Centimeters, Millimeters Jins

Feet, Inches, Centimeters, Millimeters Jins

Postby Gianluca Meassi » Thu Sep 11, 2003 5:47 pm

Last nite i was reading the Yang Jwing-Ming book "Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style" where there on of the poems of yang Ban-Hou's Forty Capters about these jins.
I didn't have the book at hand so didn't remember the page number but it's easy to find.
And again YJM in another book describe these jins and the main differences between them. I think was one of the YWM book about Yang style applications where he describes a lot of different types of jins.
My question is : what are the original chinese words used in the poem? Is it a idiomatic sentence?
From the first time i see that translation it sounds so strange to me. I mean i don't think that Yang Ban-Hou used occidental units to describe those jins

Best regards
G.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Sep 12, 2003 6:30 pm

Buon giorno, Gianluca,

These are interesting questions. I'll try to post some comments this weekend.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Gianluca Meassi » Sat Sep 13, 2003 4:51 pm

"Buon giorno anche a te" Image ( Good morning to you too, Louis - plain translation ).

As always you're welcome, Louis.
Sometime i think that learning chinese is a *must* for a Taiji student, one istant after i see the sea of the chinese language and culure. I feel overhanged and i loose all initial stimulus. One of these days hope i will overcome the vastness of that vision and start to make my boat.

Greetings
G.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Sep 14, 2003 1:10 am

Greetings Gianluca,

The four terms are: chi3, cun4, fen1, and hao2. For the moment, let’s just call them words of measurement.

I will attempt to answer your questions, but first I have a few observations about Yang Jwing-Ming’s handling of the texts and terminology. The first has to do with his application of the term “jins” in the context of the four terms, which are essentially words of measurement. You will notice that in his translations of the Yang Forty texts using the four terms, he introduces the term “jins” in parentheses. I believe among the Yang Forty there are at least four texts using the words of measurement (#28, 29, and 31, 35). Of those, the word jin only appears in #29 and #35, and in neither case does it refer even remotely to the four words of measurement. So in my opinion, there is no textual basis for nominalizing the measurement terms as “jins,” although YJM may have a reasonable rationale for doing so—as levels of skill or specific foci of skill and strength. Note also that YJM places commas between the individual terms in the Chinese titles. This punctuation does not exist in the handwritten manuscript versions of the Wu Jianquan line or that reproduced in Yang Zhenming’s book. This may seem a small issue, but how one parses unpunctuated literary Chinese can result in subtle differences of interpretation.

I would also express caution regarding Yang Jwing-Ming’s attribution of the full Yang Forty texts to Yang Banhou. The evidence from the Wu Jianquan tradition consists of Wu Gongzao’s preface to Wu Jianquan’s handwritten manuscript, stating that it records teachings received by Quan Yu from Yang Banhou after he became his student. Does that mean Yang Banhou wrote them? There’s no reason to eliminate that possibility, but the evidence doesn’t compel a positive identification of authorship.

Now as for the terms themselves, you have good reason to find the metric terms of Yang Jwing-Ming’s translation odd. The words far preceded China’s adoption of the European metric system, although as it happens, they do share the feature of being divisible by increments of ten.

The first word, chi3, probably originally stood for a length as measured by a fully spread hand, but later became a larger unit, closely equivilant to the European “foot.” In modern Chinese, chi3 stands for one third of a meter, making YJM’s translation as “meter” already problematic. The problem compounds in his inconsistency of use, even within a given text. That is, after using the translations “meter,” “decimeter,” “centimeter,” and “millimeter,” he then randomly switches to the translations “foot,” and “inch” for the first two terms. Compare Douglas Wile’s translations in his _Lost T’ai Chi Classics of the Late Ch’ing Dynasty_, where he consistently uses “feet,” “inches,” “hundreth-parts,” and “thousandth-parts,” which is probably more representative of the meanings.

The second term, cun4, stood for a measurement about the width of a man’s thumb. There were ten cuns to a chi.

The third, fen1, means in general “to divide” and specifically in mensuration, “tenth,” so, ten fens to a cun.

The fourth term, hao2, means “a hair,” hence a miniscule amount or increment. In modern Chinese, it appears in the compound, “hao2mi3,” which is the translation of “millimeter.”

I mentioned that setting the terms off with commas influences the interpretation, and while they do appear to be treated as individual terms in some places in the texts, there is also another possible reading. That is, the first two terms can be read as a compound, “chicun,” which is a general term for “measure” or “measurement.” The second pair of terms can likewise be read as a compound, “fenhao,” which can mean “a fraction,” “iota,” or just a very slight amount.

To me, although I haven’t spent enough time with the texts to feel confident about the best interpretation, my sense of it is that “chi cun fen hao” is meant to refer to a progressive refinement of technique and focus. In push hands, for example, the slightest change in angle of the torso and relative pressure in the arms can make a huge difference in the result that, say, rollback will have on one’s partner. But as suggested in Yang Forty text #35, while these refinements are important, they are still subsidiary to the greater attainment of “dongjin,” the ability to comprehend energy.

In any case, I’m always interested, linguistically and historically, by terms of weights and measure, which tend to change over time and from region to region. One of my favorite history professors at Berkeley, David Keightley, wrote a fascinating essay, “A Measure of Man in Early China: In Search of the Neolithic Inch,” which explores some of these very terms, including chi and cun, and their earliest antecedents.

I hope other Chinese readers will add their thoughts about these terms appearing in the Yang Forty Chapters.

Take care,
Louis

[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 09-13-2003).]
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Postby Gianluca Meassi » Tue Sep 16, 2003 7:17 pm

Reading Yang Jwing-Ming book give me a very different vision of that fur words. I feel more comfortable now with that concept. Thanks a lot Louis.
Reading again Wiles's book, not just the ones with "chi3 cun4 fen1 hao2", give me a more professional approach to Yang Forty poems translation. I will compare those 2 book in these evenings and i'm sure i will find more answers to my doubts from the Douglas Wiles's book.

Just one question : did you think that Yang Jwing-Ming translations could lead a taiji student to the wrong path? I mean not to judge the work done by YJM or in anyway put it in a bad light, just to understand if it's good for a non chinese reader like me to use it as a reference. In another post you say that the material inside "Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style" is very valuable, are you talking about the chinese parts only?

Please again excuse my poor english.

Stammi bene.
Gianluca

PS: I didn't remember what YJM say about the text, will check it this evening. The ttribution to Yang Ban Hou of that text without giving the reader any doubts about it is a heedleness of the author.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Sep 25, 2003 10:25 pm

Greetings Gianluca,

I’ve been very busy, so I’m just now responding to your question. I would not go so far as to say Yang Jwing-Ming’s translations would lead a student down the wrong path. I’ve personally benefited from his books. I don’t always agree with his interpretations of taijiquan techniques or his translations of texts, but those kinds of disagreement are common, and not always consequential. I sense that the bulk of the problems in his translations are editorial in nature. His personal commentaries are often quite clear and helpful, while the translations can be unclear and inconsistent in quality.

So I would say his books are useful for serious taijiquan students, but should be read critically and cautiously, just as any book should. Assess the texts in light of your own practice. We’re fortunate that there are other translations, such as Wile’s, so that we can make comparisons. The translation of traditional taiji materials into Western languages is still at a very early stage, and we can be optimistic that our knowledge base will grow as more work is done.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Gianluca Meassi » Thu Sep 25, 2003 11:11 pm

Thank you Louis for the reply, i know that asking a opinion about a work done by a colleague is not properly. But for a student like me that is hungry of material and absorb everything he can put his hands over sometimes very difficult to keep the mind on the right path. Probably practising is better than thinking/reading. Even now that i'm a young student i've got so many things to learn and refine before looking for a new material but curiosity is a part of me that i cannot abandon.

Hope I'll see another work done by you in the next years. May i hope it?

(again sorry for my english)

A presto (see you soon)
Gianluca
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