University of Pittsburgh
The Gift of Translation
Describe a historical figure or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
One of the most important books in the world is The Records of the Grand Historian. Written by Sima Qian in the first century B.C., it elucidates more than two thousand years’ worth of Chinese history. The story behind Qian’s masterpiece is fascinating. After offending a harsh emperor, Qian was forced to make a terrible choice between castration, and living as a court eunuch, or taking his own life. Conformity deemed it more suitable for him to take his own life, and in that way retain his honor. However, during the time of his punishment, his book was still unfinished, and so he chose to embrace dishonor in order to see its completion. In a letter he explained his reasoning: “If [my book] may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, … then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have?”
His quote has stayed with me for years. Qian’s dedication to spreading knowledge moves me in a wholly emotional way. However, the quote is also notable because it doesn’t belong to Qian. Not quite. The quote was written by a translator named Burton Watson.
Here is the lovely gray area of language. The quote is Qian’s message in Watson’s words, a linguistic duality that winds the emotional with the intellectual...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 1666 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 10757 literature essays, 2699 sample college application essays, 631 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in