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以 is one of the most confusing words in Chinese. Texts that really challenge me are usually full of it. Today I saw something confusing again:

I encountered the phrase 文以載道。The document claims it means "transport the Way through literature". I know some similar phrases, but the placement of 以 differs. I add some non idiomatic English translations, to explain my idea:

以文會友 : befriend through refined interests

以誠相待 : interact with each other through sincerity

以暴易暴 : replace tyranny through tyranny

以備不虞: through preparation be at ease

以詞害意: through words harm the meaning

From all these I expected the phrase to be 以文載道。What am I overlooking? I know there might be many things, since Chinese is the pinnacle of versatility - at least among the languages I speak!

  • jukuu: 文以载道:Writings are for conveying truth, also see baike.baidu for origin – user6065 Jul 17 '16 at 15:43
  • I don't think all the cases of 以 listed above can be translated as "through". The last but second: 以=in order to. The last one:以=because of – Huang Jul 17 '16 at 16:04
  • @Huang I trust your expertise. I just wanted to show some commonality. Even with your correction, they still appear pretty similar. But the other sentence is different and it turned out to carry a very distinct meaning. – Ludi Jul 17 '16 at 16:56
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文以载道 is 成语 (Chinese four-character idiom), which has its history and origin, and the reason why and how it was formed and determined.

文以载道 originated from 宋·周敦颐《通书·文辞》:

文所以载道也。轮辕饰而人弗庸,徒饰也,况虚车乎。

The original sentence 文所以载道也, the point is to describe the subject , means The writings are used for illuminating the thought. (所以 means use here.) When it was simplified to 成语, the grammar structure was reserved and then became 文以载道.

以文载道 is not wrong grammatically, and we can find such usages (such as this). But its meaning is somewhat different, like To illuminate the thought through writings). It's not the formal usage as 成语, while 文以载道 is the formal one (which you could look up in the dictionary).

  • Thank you very much. Can you show some similar usages of (所)以 there was one in the dictionary you reference, but it was very complicated. Would something like this be theoretically ok? 軍以報國,臣以服朕. Of course, I cannot find beautiful examples... – Ludi Jul 17 '16 at 16:28
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    @Ludi I found another 成语 诗以言志 with the same structure as 文以载道. 诗以言志 originated from 诗言志, it has nothing to do with 所以 (like 文以载道). But it reserved the point of emphasizing the subject (same as 文以载道), so it became 诗以言志, not 以诗言志. Of course the latter is correct grammatically too. Anyway, 成语 is special in Chinese, they have a strong flavour of history, and literature. :) – songyuanyao Jul 17 '16 at 16:45
  • So, is this usage so ancient, that you wouldn't make your own example with it? – Ludi Jul 17 '16 at 16:53
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    @Ludi 文以载道 might be "inkhorn" and not suitable for spoken language. But I think you still could use it according to the context, especially for formal writings. – songyuanyao Jul 18 '16 at 1:35
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    I think the most famous usage of this kind of "以" is "幸甚至哉,歌以咏志", by Cao Cao in the Three Kindoms time. – thinwa Aug 4 '16 at 14:18
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well, lost in translation lah :)

"以文會友", i would suggest: by means of (以) article | essay | writings (文), to interact with (會) people (友)

以暴易暴, i would suggest:

using (以) violence (暴) to cope with | against (易) violence (暴)

then, the term "文以載道" is tricky, it's derived from 文辭第二十八章 of 周元公集, by 周敦頤 of 宋 dynasty:

文所以載道﹒猶車所以載物﹒故為車者﹒必飾其輪轅﹒
為文者﹒必善其詞說﹒皆欲人之愛而用之﹒然我飾之而人不用﹒
則猶為虛飾而無益於實況﹒不載物之車﹒不載道之文﹒雖美其飾﹒亦何所為乎

周元公集, 卷一, page 69-72

p70

in this article, "文以載道" is roughly: "writings ought to convey virtue"

it's not a word by word translation, but to deliver the original meaning in literary chinese.

about "以文載道", i would say that it loses the emphasis of what a writing (文) should be.

last, if possible, translate from the original text. imo, the b**** is, well, unreliable.

edited, more info.

左傳﹒昭公元年

君子有四時﹒朝以聽政﹒晝以訪問﹒夕以脩令﹒夜以安身

is roughly:

morning (朝) is for (以) administrative work (聽政)﹒
afternoon (晝) is for (以) interview (訪問)﹒
evening (夕) is for (以) order amendment (脩令)﹒
night (夜) is for (以) reposing (安身)

that, i would say ^.以..$ is a fixed structure, which emphasises the 1st character (the one before "以")

so, changing to "以朝聽政﹒以晝訪問﹒以夕脩令﹒以夜安身", imo, is inappropriate in the above text.

edited again.

last, the term "以文會友" is from 論語﹒顏淵

曾子曰﹒君子以文會友﹒以友輔仁

so, the "^以...$" structure is roughly "using / by means of" (以 ) + the 2nd character, to serve the purpose of 3rd, 4th characters.

again, changing to "文以會友﹒友以輔仁" is inappropriate in the above text.

have fun :)

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