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learning the function of 於 in classical Chinese


natalie

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Hello everyone,

I'd appreciate it if you can help me figure out the function of the empty word .

For instance, here is one phrase I had trouble understanding:

寡人之國也,盡心焉耳矣

From what I know 於 should mean "in", "from" and such, but here it's like the meaning of 於 is "attitude towards [the country]".

Oy.. the frustration strikes mercilessly...

Hopefully someone will be able to put some order in my head...

p.s.

Is there a site in English that explains Classical Chinese Grammar? I couldn't find any...

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遊於四方於

the first 於 is a preposition, means "in "

the second 於 is a exclamation, i think execalmation is not often appeared in English. But it is very common in Classic Chinese and modern Chinese, just like "啊"、

"呀" and so on

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forrest19860923

friend ,i am a chinese university student .i understand the chinese words you asked .寡人之於國也,盡心焉而矣 .the 於 means to or toward..

而 means a special sentence structure,

遊於四方於

the second 於 i guess means sentence structure..has no meaning .

friend i guess you are learning chinese ,but it seems you are heading the wrong direction.what you are learning is classical Chinese language.we donot use this in china.that was use in ancient time .and the classical Chinese language is not going to help you understand the chinese we are using .but if you are good at today's chinese language .i t will help you understand classical Chinese language.so why donot you start to learn from today's chinese .

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in "寡人之於國也", 於 does mean "towards", the same meaning as that in the modern using "對於", used to define a feeling to/towards something, or somebody. at the same time, it can mean " under the condition of ..."

about the second sentence, i don't know... it is kind of weird. or maybe you can tell me where it comes from, and i might have a chance to check it up 4 U.

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SChinFChin

This is the entire passage from the Book of Mencius:

梁惠王曰:“寡人之于國也,盡心焉耳矣!河內凶,則移其民于河東,

移其粟于河內﹔河東凶亦然。察鄰國之政,無如寡人之用心者﹔

鄰國之民不加少,寡人之民不加多:何也?”

and this is the English translation:

King Hûi of Liang said, 'Small as my virtue is, in the government of my kingdom, I do indeed exert my mind to the utmost. If the year be bad on the inside of the river, I remove as many of the people as I can to the east of the river, and convey grain to the country in the inside. When the year is bad on the east of the river, I act on the same plan. On examining the government of the neighboring kingdoms, I do not find that there is any prince who exerts his mind as I do. And yet the people of the neighboring kingdoms do not decrease, nor do my people increase. How is this?'

Seems that "於" (于) here means "in", as "in my kingdom" (于國也).

Hope this helps.

Frank

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fireball9261

"於" (于) here means "toward", not "in" in this case.

寡人之于國也 => My (efforts) toward (my) country,

盡心焉耳矣 ->(I) just try my best!

When you read Chinese Classical Literatures, you need to learn when and where to add words, like subject or object, etc. Sometimes, a word is actually the short term for a two or more words phrase. In this case, the king is basically complaining about his effort in managing his country.

When I read an Classical essay, I make sure I could find my subjects and objects first. If I couldn't find them, I go wider range and try to find them either in the previous sentence or the following sentence. I also do the same for any additional verbs, etc. You just keep going wider range until you find what you need to fill in the blanks and meanings. It also drove me crazy, too, and I was on these stuff for the last 35+ years.

In addition, you also need to consider who is talking at the time to consider the sentence in the speaker's point of view. Also, what is the subject being talked about at the time? It is also important. The sentences should be connected to the same subject, also.

Then, you need to memorize a few fixed translation for certain phrases or words in the Classical Chinese so that you could save time and energy without many really bad mistakes when you could have avoided it. Good luck!

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SChinFChin

>> "於" (于) here means "toward", not "in" in this case.

Interesting. The concensus here for "於" is "toward"

Looked up several translations of the passage on the net:

*****************

Translation by James Legge

King Hûi of Liang said, 'Small as my virtue is, in the government of my kingdom, I do indeed exert my mind to the utmost. If the year be bad on the inside of the river, I remove as many of the people as I can to the east of the river, and convey grain to the country in the inside. When the year is bad on the east of the river, I act on the same plan. On examining the government of the neighboring kingdoms, I do not find that there is any prince who exerts his mind as I do. And yet the people of the neighboring kingdoms do not decrease, nor do my people increase. How is this?'

Translation by Charles Muller

King Hui of Liang said: "I exert my whole consciousness towards my people. When there is disaster in He-nei, I move the people to He-dong and bring grain to He-nei. When there is disaster in He-dong, I do likewise.2 Now, if you look at the government in neighboring kingdoms, there is no one who is as dedicated to his people as I. Yet why is it that the people don't move from other states and come to mine?"

A translation in progress by Dan Robins

King Hui of Liang said, “I simply exhaust my heart dealing with my state. If there is disaster on this side of the River, I send its people east of the River and bring food to this side; and if there is disaster east of the River, I do likewise. I have investigated the policies of the neighbouring states, and none use their hearts like I do. So why is it that the people of the neighbouring states are not decreasing in number, and my people are not increasing?”

****************************

Legge used "in", Muller used "towards", and Robiins use "with"

Of the three, Legge does not paraphrase as much, quoted the most widely, and appears to stick more closely to the wording of the text.

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SChinFChin
Where are you getting those translations from?

Natalie:

For Legge's translation:

http://nothingistic.org/library/mencius/toc.html

For Muller's translation:

http://www.hm.tyg.jp/~acmuller/contao/mencius.html

For Robin's translation:

http://www.hku.hk/philodep/courses/dr/mencius/mencius/

Then "fireball9261" came up with the closest one compared to the pro's in my opinion.

Robert Legge translated many of the Chinese classics into English, during his stay in China in the late 1800's, with the assistance of his students.

Also, it's hard to translate one isolated phrase from Classical literature, as in your example, because much has to do with the context of what is said, who said it etc

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I do not study the Chinese language, but I study Korean, which is a language that used to use a lot of Chinese characters. Lately, I have become interested in learning to read classical Chinese and saw the question in this forum. I do not know much about the Classics, but my translation of the following sentence would be as follows:

寡人之於國也,盡心焉耳矣

I go to the kingdom and will exert my heart and mind.

寡人 - I (was a humble way in which a king referred to himself)

之 - go

於 (于) - to

國 - kingdom; country

也 - (sentence ending)

盡心 - exert my heart and mind

焉耳矣 (sentence ending)

Remember that I am just a beginner, so I could be wrong.

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fireball9261

Thank you, muddy. You are too kind. I had a good father (who was trained in traditional Chinese school (私塾 si shu2) and his good friend who was a leading Chinese Literature Professor in Taiwan specialized in Qu Yuan's poems. Therefore, I started reading my father's collection of Classical Chinese literatures about 8 years old. I am not that good still because I don't bother with the exact meanings of a word or a phrase, but enjoying the feeling of the whole thing (好讀書不求甚解). :mrgreen:

gbevers, "之 - go" is one way to think of it. I generally translate 之 to be "of" in the same usage as the Japanese character の. (It is the only Japanese character I could remember and know how to translate. :mrgreen: )

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fireball9261
遊於四方於

the first 於 is a preposition, means "in "

the second 於 is a exclamation, i think execalmation is not often appeared in English. But it is very common in Classic Chinese and modern Chinese, just like "啊"、

"呀" and so on

I would translate the first 於 as "around", so the whole thing would be "traveling around the four directions 啊". It has a sense of movement for the first 於, and it is not the stationary "in".

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This phrase is on page 56 of Pulleybank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. He translates it as: "As for my [behaviour] towards my country, I exhaust my mind in it and that's all. He explains the use of 之 in this original sentence as that of a "nominalizer," making 寡人之於國 into the equivalent of a noun phrase. English cannot do this, and so "some such word as 'behaviour' must be introduced into the English translation."

This usage is like the usage of 之 in the following:

百姓之不見保、為不用恩焉

The people's not being protected is because of not using benevolence towards them.

By the way, this usage of 之 is quite common.

Another example of the original construction on page 25 of Pulleybank is the following:

故湯之於伊尹、學焉而後臣之

Thus Tang's [behaviour] towards Yiyin was to learn from and afterwards make him his subject.

By the way, 於 and 于 used to be different characters, which, according to Pulleybank, were pronounced differently in early Mandarin of the Yuan Dynasty. He defines 于 as meaning "go; to, at" and says that it is etymologically related to 往. He defines 於 as meaning "in, at, to, from, than, etc." He distinguishes the two in various constructions, but seems to imply that 于 usually implies literal or figurative motion; whereas 於 is used as a basic locative.

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  • 5 weeks later...
ABCinChina
寡人之于國也 => My (efforts) toward (my) country,

盡心焉耳矣 ->(I) just try my best!

Wow, this is why it is so hard to study Chinese. When I look at these phrases, it just looks like gibberish to me. :oops:

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fireball9261

jade-,

I had the same reaction like yours when I first saw that explanation and translation until I checked some of my older Chinese dictionaris (one was my dad's, and it was way before the invention of zhu4 yin1 fu2 hao4 or pinyin) as well as some other classical sources and found out that I was wrong. There was such meaning being mentioned by some of the ancient (I mean imperial time) scholars when they explained this term.

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  • 1 month later...

Oh, it reminds me of my highschool years studying these articles written in Classical Chinese.

I would like to add some more explanation on 之 in 寡人之於國也,盡心焉耳矣. Here 之 seems to be a pronoun(which I translate with "that" in English), referring to the statement "寡人於國". Therefore the translation is somewhat like:

(The way) that I, the king, towards (my) country, (has already been) "exhausting" (my) heart.

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