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I was asked to translate this passage:

人固有無喜怒時,然謂之未發則不可。言無主一也.

But I find it weird: "All people hace no [emotions] of anger and sadness, thus this we cannot call this a [state of] being not aroused". ( I am not sure how to understand "言無主一也")

I have found the same passege in couple of places but with different punctuation. And it seems to make more sense...

人固有無所喜怒哀樂之時,然謂之未發,則不可言無主也 All people hace no [emotions] of anger and sadness, thus this it is called [state of] being not aroused, but this cannot be said to be [stated of being confused/perplexed (无主)。

How to translate this sentence correctly?

2 Answers 2

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the original verse is from a correspondence to 林擇之, by 朱熹; which is recorded in the book 晦庵集 卷四十三 page 98

如云人固有無所喜怒哀樂之時然謂之未發則不可言無主也

i would read it as:

如云・人固有無所喜怒哀樂之時・然謂之未發則不可・言無主也

roughly, my intepretation would be:

for example (如), [李文, a literati who’s older than mr 朱] said (云)

homo sapiens (人) assuredly has (固有) no-emotions states (無所喜怒哀樂之時)

such states including:

  • meditation, yoga, or any activities that “stabilise the mind”
  • deep sleep (without dream)
  • unconscious (knocked out, injury, near death, . . .)

however (然), calling all (謂之) as “un-triggered” (未發) is inappropriate (則不可)

according to neo-confucianism (理學), when one’s emotion is triggered is called “發”, one’s emotion is not triggered is called “未發”

[the rationale of such ] expression (言) [referring to the notions that un-triggered (未發) is not equal no-emotions states (無所喜怒哀樂之時); is, some states are] not (無) actively, consciously 主 [seeking by homo sapiens]

in mr 朱’s view, “emotion is not triggered” (未發) is a state that home sapiens need to seek, maintain actively & consciously. therefore, it excludes deep sleep & unconscious.

have fun :)

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  • Thank you for this explanation!
    – McCzajnik
    Jun 28, 2023 at 8:43
  • @McCzajnik, just curious, you mentioned “i was asked to translate this passage“; how come someone making such request 😼 Jun 28, 2023 at 8:59
  • It is about a translation of a different text that quotes this passage.
    – McCzajnik
    Jun 28, 2023 at 11:40
  • @McCzajnik, i see 😺 hope the answer helps 😸 Jun 28, 2023 at 12:54
  • @水巷孑蠻 Could you please possibly rewrite the original text in Modern Chinese?
    – Pedroski
    Jun 28, 2023 at 22:42
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Tricky this Old Chinese! Sounds like something buddhistic to me!

I found these:

言无不尽 (I like the double negative: not not)
解释: 把内心的话说尽,毫不保留。
Meaning: say what you think, without reservation

主一无适
解释 专一,无杂念。
Meaning: concentrated, without distracting thoughts

主一
解释 :专一;专心。
Meaning: single-minded, concentrated, focus attention, concentrate

言無主一也: probably: babble, talk without thinking or concentrating.

But translating the whole sentence will need an expert in Old Chinese. Take this below with a pinch of salt!

人固 有 無喜怒時,
person always have not show happy angry times
There are times when people show no emotion,
然謂之未發則不可。
correct say that not show then not can
It is not correct to say that they cannot (show emotion).
言無主一也
talk not concentrate.
That is babble.

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  • From the web, I learned it was 朱子(熹)評"中庸"的一段話, but no further explanation was given.
    – r13
    Jun 28, 2023 at 3:22

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