Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How should the 就 in 就必有德 be translated?

I have been translating the old Korean text "Sa Ja So Hak" (四字小學 - 사자소학), which was once used to teach Chinese writing (漢文) to Korean children, when I came upon the following:
People () near () ink sticks () become black ().
People () near () cinnabar () become red ().
When one takes up residence (), one must () select () neighbors ().
That is (), they must () have () virtue ().
Notice that I translated the 就 (취) in the final sentence as "that is" (곧), which is one of the meanings of the character. However, Koreans have translated the 就 (취) in this sentence as 나아가다, which means "to go forward" or "to proceed to." That is also a meaning of the character, but it does not really make sense in the sentence here. Here is how Koreans translate the Chinese:
 나아갈 때엔 반드시 덕 있는 사람에게 가라
When you approach, be sure to go to people of virtue.
I think my translation of 就 (취) is correct. It fact,  就 seems to be a synonym of the character 卽 (즉), which also means 곧 and 나아가다.

In China, they write "that is" as 就是 (취시) or 卽 (즉), which is more evidence that 就 should be translated as "that is" in the above case.

UPDATE: I now think the original Korean translation was correct since the Chinese philosopher Sunja (荀子 - 순자), which the Chinese pronounce as Xun Zi, said something very similar, as is written in the text "Encouraging Learning" (勸學 - 권학).

Therefore (故), when a gentleman (君子) takes up residence (居), he must (必) carefully select (擇) the village (鄉), and when he associates (遊), he must (必) approach (就) educated men (士). In this way (所以), he guards against (防) wickedness (邪) and unfairness (辟) and (而) is nearer to (近) balance (中) and correctness (正).
The 也 (야) character at the end of the above passage marks the end of the sentence, acting as a kind of period.


  1. Hi Sir Gerry. Thanks for the additional Literary Chinese post. About the original post, I'd like to share my idea. As we know, Literary Chinese relies so much on context especially on occasions when there is a need to decide which meaning might be appropriate. Hence, look no further than the original text in this case to know an appropriate meaning for the last line. Very cleverly, the first two lines shows us the way. 1st line) People near ink sticks become black. 2nd line) People near cinnabar become red..... Why do you think this is the case ?? It is precisely because these people APPROACHED/PROCEEDED FORWARD near those objects/things. Hence, we get a warning from the first two lines of how we should act ! Therefore, if you were to take residence, you should APPROACH / PROCEED FORWARD / GO NEAR to people with virtue !! Because by then good things will happen. Just as those who are near the ink sticks become black, Expect to become virtuous by similarly GOING NEAR/APPROACHING people with virtue !! The perfect interpretation of the last line without any doubt !! I think we should rest this case now and consider it solved. Do you agree ? :)

  2. Yes, Arian, I think we can consider it solved.

    I looked at your "Everyday Hanja" blog. It's nice, and I have added it to the Blog Links on the side of this blog.

  3. Thanks for that nice comment. That blog is still at the beginning stage. I don't know when I could make another post. Maybe next year. I plan to make it a reference site for other learners and a blog at the same time. :)