Yu Dan’s "Little Friend" (小朋友)?

Here’s a good post on Yu Dan’s work on Confucius by Alan Baumler at Frog In A Well. I have mixed feelings about Yu Dan’s work, as I explain in one of my earlier posts here. It is certainly amazing that Confucius makes it as a bestseller anywhere, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really Confucius that is making the bestseller lists, or rather some monstrous pop version Confucius’ students would not recognize. I think what caused this turn toward skepticism about Yu Dan’s project is the revelation (from Baumler) that she “apparently thinks that the term 小人 [xiao ren] means ‘child'”. Baumler is far too charitable when he calls this “utterly wrong.” I would not have been so nice. To interpret the Confucian xiao ren as ‘child’ is worse than wrong. It’s stupid. It illustrates a complete lack of understanding of the classical language and context. I won’t attribute this failing to her yet, however–with a charge this great one at least owes the author the benefit of reading her work. I’m going to check out a copy of her 论语心得 (Lunyu xinde), and investigate this charge. I really hope it’s not true.

One response to “Yu Dan’s "Little Friend" (小朋友)?

  1. I am also curious to read her work. I don’t see how she can possibly argue for that translation. ‘Xiao Ren’ in Vietnamese is ‘Tieu Nhan’ where Tieu literally means small, as in size, but only when used in conjunction with an object or a thing. But the word has an extremely derogative meaning when combined with ‘nhan’, as in a person of especially low-station. Even a person who is morally corrupted or an evil doer does not want to be called a Tieu Nhan. In fact, the word ‘Tieu’ when combined with another word ‘Tien’ means to urinate and any act associated with such bodily function is looked negatively, and that is a euphemism.

    I have no idea how she got small child out of it. It only means small when combined with an object but never when combined with the word for man, ren. There are no connotation I know of which allows for this stretch of the imagination no matter how charitable the interpretation.


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