John Minford

British sinologist

John Minford (born 1946) is a British sinologist and literary translator. He is primarily known for his translation of Chinese classics such as The Story of the Stone, The Art of War and I Ching.

China's Story of the Stone: the best book you've never heard of.


  • China's greatest work of literature, the 18th-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, ... is still virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. In its native land, The Story of the Stone, as the book is also known – Stone for short – enjoys a unique status, comparable to the plays of Shakespeare. Apart from its literary merits, Chinese readers recommend it as the best starting point for any understanding of Chinese psychology, culture and society. Interview (2016)

"Professor John Minford: living the classical ways", (23 March 2016)
Great literature is nearly always full of love, in a very broad sense.
  • The Art of War is about how to take advantage of your neighbours, how to destroy people, how to succeed at the expense of other people.
  • [The Stone]'s an absolutely magical work. ... It's about everything, so much detail, and yet the bigger picture is so inspiring. It's about that extraordinary cross connection between human feelings and the ability to see through human feelings – kan po hong chen(看破紅塵). But even though you kan po hong chen, you still have strong feelings. That's what so special about The Stone. It captures that. For me that's what I read about. Every time you read, you find more depth, more detail. ... The author communicates – for lack of a better word, what I would just call – love. It's a love for humanity.
  • Love is one of the great mysteries of life. There is nothing more sacred, nothing more mysterious, nothing more powerful. I come back to that – great literature is nearly always full of love, in a very broad sense. ... You come out of the book with a warm feeling.

Public Lecture (2018)

Lecture at Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong (21 April 2018)
  • When reading, writing and translating, it is important to have a way of keeping track of what you have absorbed and learned, so that you can build on it and acquire richer resources for the future. When reading, read actively and critically. Jot down interesting expressions, forceful adjectives, little turns of phrase, that strike you as effective, as things you might one day be able to use yourself—in both languages.
  • We must never lose sight of the deep and indestructible connections between translation/literature and life. If what we write is to have a chance of living on the page, then we must also live, we must observe life, we must experience and learn to transmute that experience. Translators no less than creative writers.
  • As translators, we must be courageous, free and passionate about what we are doing. We must constantly strive to enrich our own cultural and linguistic repertoire. We must read, we must write. We must be prepared to rethink, to revise, to rewrite, constantly. We must have endless time and patience. Deadlines are there to be ignored, to be kept alive. Above all we must play with words, ideas and feelings. Delight in them. We must never lose sight of the playfulness and creative licence that are the lifeblood of art and literature, and hence of translation.



The Story of the Stone, Vol. 5: 'The Dreamer Wakes' (1986)

  • There, up on deck, standing in the very entrance to his cabin and silhouetted dimly against the snow, was the figure of a man with shaven head and bare feet, wrapped in a large cape made of crimson felt. The figure knelt down and bowed to Jia Zheng, who did not recognize the features and hurried out on deck, intending to raise him up and ask him his name. The man bowed four times, and now stood upright, pressing his palms together in monkish greeting. Jia Zheng was about to reciprocate with a respectful bow of the head when he looked into the man's eyes and with a sudden shock recognized him as Bao-yu.
    'Are you not my son?' he asked.
    The man was silent and an expression that seemed to contain both joy and sorrow played on his face. Jia Zheng asked again:
    'If you are Bao-yu, why are you dressed like this? And what brings you to this place?'
    Before Bao-yu could reply two other men appeared on the deck, a Buddhist monk and a Taoist, and holding him between them they said:
    'Come, your earthly karma is complete. Tarry no longer.'
    The three of them mounted the bank and strode off into the snow. Jia Zheng went chasing after them along the slippery track, but although he could spy them ahead of him, somehow they always remained just out of reach.
    • Chapter 120

Quotes about Minford

  • One of the foremost cultural intermediaries of our day.
    • Timothy Mo, as quoted in 'Acclaim for John Minford's translation of the I Ching' in I Ching: The Essential Translation of the Ancient Chinese Oracle and Book of Wisdom (Penguin, 2014)
  • In the Daily Telegraph, 28 July 2012, John Minford, a professor of Chinese literature, published an article under the provocative headline '[China's Story of the Stone:] the Best Book You've Never Heard Of'. ... It was significant that a few weeks after Minford's article, the Nobel Committee awarded the 2012 Prize for Literature to Mo Yan.
    • John Sutherland, How to Be Well Read: A Guide to 500 Great Novels and a Handful of Literary Curiosities (Random House, 2014)

See also

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